S&E ATM 1998 Worst of 1997

Siskel & Ebert At the Movies 1994- Worst of 95

Siskel & Ebert At the Movies 1993-Worst of 93

Siskel & Ebert argue over Full Metal Jacket

Gene jumps all over Roger for giving this film a thumbs down yet he gives Benji the Hunted thumbs up. They also discuss Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove.

Siskel & Ebert At the Movies 1991-Worst of 91

Been watching some S&E worst movies lists on You Tube and thought I'd share some. They're fun to watch because the movies are so bad, and also you can ask yourself if you remember any of them? I'll upload more in time. But here's a few years to get you started.

Siskel & Ebert At the Movies 1985- Worst of 1985

At the Movies with Siskel & Ebert, 1983-Stinkers of '83


Jean Simmons- Great Expectations

Here she is in her first star-making turn. What a sweetheart!

Jean Simmons & Marlon Brando

Jean Simmons Interview

Jean Simmons- Goddess

Jean Simmons- Babe

Jean Simmons- What's My Line?

Jean Simmons RIP

Jean Simmons was a better looking and more talented version of the sort of babe that Elizabeth Taylor was. And she was definitely better looking than her nominal doppelganger, Gene Simmons

No wonder she never got the fame and fortune Liz did. She starred in films like Spartacus, Great Expectations, and many others, and even did a guest starring turn on the tv show, The Odd Couple.

Here are the obits:




Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt

A bit overrated, but still in the upper third of Hitchcock's film canon, if only because of Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright.



Some movies become famous because of specific scenes (usually nudity or violence) and gain a reputation of a "must see". Most people fail to look at those movies outside the box (beyond the famous scenes), and this is the case of Noe's work.

France, 2002

Written, directed, edited, and shot by the Argentinian-born French Gaspar Noe (talking about a one-man show). Irreversible starts from where Noe's previous work (Seul Contre Tous) left the audience, and with the same character: the butcher; only to diverge shortly after into a separate entity.
"Irreversible" is not by any mean a linear continuum to "Seul Contre Tous" but the initial (and only) sequence featuring the previous protagonist would emphasize the fact that Irreversible will deal with a similar territoire: nihilism, absurdity, existentialism.

Noe's cinematography is strikingly remarkable for computer-edited long sequences (merging into very few long scenes). The camera is so shaky initially, and continuously rotating giving the feeling of confusion and loss (adding the voice sound effect). As the movie progresses folding back in time (retrospective), things will make more sense and at the same time the camera would become less and less lost, more focused, and more light would dissipate into the picture. Noe's cinematographic technique couldn't help more the substance of his work, the movie reaches a climax after what the picture becomes intensely (and unrealistically) monochromatic, then reaches complete blurriness. The famous rape scene plays the role of the median axis for the narrative (hence, Irreversible)

Compared to his previous (Seul Contre Tous), Irreversible is a better work. Bellucci gives a remarkable performance (only surpassed by her performance in Tornatore's Malena)

Seul Contre Tous, looked more like a Godard work

Noe (from the two movies I saw) is a far better director than currently over-praised French directors like Ozon and Breillat.

Overall, IRREVERSIBLE is a very good movie. I recommend watching it. The most difficult part in it is keeping focus on the first 15 minutes or so, when the narrative doesn't make any sense, and the camera is shaking in circular motion (like the enraged and confused protagonist).

This is Bellucci in G.Tornatore's (the director of Cinema Paradiso) Malena

Woman In The Dunes Trailer

Woman In The Dunes

This clip is from Horoshi Teshigahara's Woman In The Dunes- the best of his boxed set trilogy because it has the least flaws.

Baby Jane- Parody Trailer

Baby Jane- Trailer

Baby Jane- Assault

Baby Jane- Confrontation

Baby Jane- Lunch

Baby Jane- I've Written A Letter To Daddy



Joan On Cavett

Joan On Acting

Mildred Pierce Trailer

Woody's Radio Days.

Dan and I were talking about Radio Days last night and we both think it is one of his greatest. What I particularly admire is his use of memory and narration. It is something I've used in my own works, where the speaker is recalling something and what is being recalled doesn't necessarily seem accurate, but you accept this as the speaker's memory.

Examples would be when the boy recalls his parents fighting over oceans or when he and his classmates remember the hot teacher in front of the class wiggling her ass, when in reality, his parents likely did not fight over oceans and the teacher did not wiggle her ass quite as much as he might remember--but the point is, this is how he has chosen to remember it. I use that as a technique myself and it can lead to much comic relief. Most intelligent people can catch onto this, but if you're a lit agent, you won't. Here's the trailer:

Watch more clips here.

Woman in The Dunes Video Essay

note the sound-track music (similar to Persona/ En Passion). There's also the famous monologue scene... a remarkable movie maker.


Re-visiting Ramsay's RATCATCHER

I had mentioned Ratcatcher before. I saw most of it again and I still think it's a great movie.
Though the movie is a realistic drama based on Ramsay's own childhood (like most first-feature works), it has this great absurd scene that breaks the acceptable and crosses into the realm of fantasy. It's done to describe what's on one of the kids' mind, he speaks about sending his mouse (snowball) to the moon for a better life... Ramsay creates this imaginary subsequent life for the mouse based on documentary and pseudo documentary images (the mouse leading a prolific, happy life). The caricature, unrealistic sequence dares to break the overall gloomy, real, and harsh mood of the work and it works brilliantly.

Teshigahara's Pitfall

Trailer for the first film, in 1962, by this intriguing filmmaker.

The Face Of Another (2)


The Face Of Another

If one is into 1960s symbolic cinema, such as Ingmar Bergman's Persona, then The Face Of Another, by Hiroshi Teshigahara is right up your alley

Sunset Boulevard Ending

One of moviedom's most famous ending lines.

Sunset Boulevard Trailer

A film that is very good but, as with many older films, a tad overrated. The tale of a faded star's attempt to return to glory is universal in life, art, sports, but rarely has it been more directly broached.


All About Eve Critic's Pick

Here is a video pick.

All About Eve Trailer

All About Eve

This is one of the most snappily written films of all time, and lately I've been looking at films from the Golden Days of Hollywood, particularly those labeled Grand Guignol, and featuring actresses like Davis.

A sample of Joe Mankiewicz's dialogue:


Teresa Wright

An underrated actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood.


M. Haneke's The White Ribbon

There's something weird happening in the past two years: movie makers that were supposed to continue their peak (Ceylan, Tarr) fell into less than expected works; while directors that -at least personally- I wasn't expecting much from actually did -relatively- very well. Lars Von Trier came last year with Antichrist, though far from great but nevertheless worth watching and one of his best since Breaking The Waves and Dogville. In that category, and with a more remarkable success falls Michael Haneke.
Haneke is one of those annoying directors, but very wrongly hailed as a master, a genius... etc. He gained attention really by the end of the 80's with his "Seventh Continent" about a family that decided to commit suicide for no obvious reasons. He admits having the goal of "irritating" viewers

Style-wise, in" Seventh Continent" he shoots with quick-edits close up on random objects used by the characters (door handles, steering wheels....) over and over again, and after 10 minutes you feel already fed-up with this "childish" insistence in cinematography. Having said that, Seventh Continent was far better than most of the movies I saw of his (The Piano Teacher, Cache, Time of The Wolf, Funny Games). I can take Godard anytime if I had to be tortured by watching one of them. At least Godard tried few styles (Alphaville is very different -let's say- from Week End, and both are different from "Tout Va Bien", though all of them were not good movies). Haneke made movies with one message: irritation, with insistence. Think of it like banging your head against the wall over and over again for two hours and you get close to what I'm saying. When I thought that Haneke won't get any worse, he remade (frame-by-frame) for the USA, his latest mediocre -and the most annoying- Funny Games.

Being so stubborn I wanted to check his latest that took Cannes (Palme d'Or) and I'm glad I did.

The White Ribbon isn't only very different and far superior from all his previous work. It is actually a very good work. For once Haneke is making a movie for the sake of cinema and not only to disturb people. The narrative is solid, well told through a "passive" young school teacher in retrospect. The stunning outdoors white (snowy) calm landscapes and nature contrast the disturbing events lurking under the surface. Also for once, he paid more attention to the cinematography, the pale B&W is very well placed but most importantly are those superb indoors claustrophobic -though nicely framed- shots; I couldn't escape that the feel resembled Dreyer's Day of Wrath or Ordet. Also style-wise two dialogue scenes (between the village educated physician and his mistress, and between the the pastor and his kids) were -almost- Bergmanic (except for Bergman's intruding close-ups, but with the signature sophisticated self-loathing dialogues). Many characters are "the main" characters and they all take time and mature into multi-layered (and neither good nor bad) qualities. The only character that stays -relatively- white the whole movie is the narrator (school teacher) whose passivity puts him as a spectator. The acting overall is superb, including all the children. Haneke did not conclude the story with a routine ending but he did so well getting us very close to his characters that you don't really miss -or need- a standard conclusion.

I definitely highly recommend The White Ribbon, especially if it's playing on a big screen near you. It's annoying to see people hailing Haneke's last movie as a continuation of his "great" work, it's a radical shift from all the BS he made in the past.


Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler.

Dan and I watched Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler the other night and we were both pleasantly surprised by how good it was. I had seen Pi and also Requiem for a Dream--the former was pretty good up until the ridiculous Jewish conspiracy and the latter was an atrocious disaster. The Wrestler, however, was excellent, and quite sad, as it put us both in mind of The Jimmy Show.

Both films are about fuck ups, albeit told differently and realistically. Mickey Rourke is also excellent in the film, and should have won the Oscar. He looked terrible, but gave such a convincing performance. It is also interesting how he bonds with the stripper, played by Marisa Tomei, and both are past their primes. She, for example, is unable to get any customers interested in her, (save for Rourke) despite her efforts. It's amazing this is the same guy from Diner. My, what aging can do. Dan will have a review up soon enough, but I definitely think this film is worth the watch. So on to the trailer:

Kubrick's Napoleon

Taschen's book on the film Kubrick never made:


2001: A Space Odyssey- HAL's Death Scene

2001: The Monolith's Meaning (Part 2)

2001: The Monolith's Meaning (Part 1)

2001: A Space Odyssey- Ending

2001: A Space Odyssey Meets Star Wars

Star Wars Meets 2001: A Space Odyssey - The funniest videos are a click away

2001: A Space Odyssey- Parody

2001: A Space Odyssey- The Dawn Of Man

On the DVD the actors reveal that the shots of Africa used were all still photographs enlarged and backlit on a sound stage. The reason? Kubrick hated flying and would not film in Africa.

2001: A Space Odyssey- Documentary

A condensed version of a featurette from the 2 disk DVD version of the film.

2001's Opening

2001: A Space Odyssey

Watched the DVD today, with commentary by Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea. A very good commentary on one of the greatest and most profound films (and works of art) ever made.

Here is the official trailer:


Metropolis is one of those films everyone has heard of and many film buffs claim to have watched, but when one speaks of it, most details, save for the scene of the fembot's clothing in flesh, tend to disappear.

But the truth is that the film, although technically sci fi, is really a polemic. Fritz Lang would make one of the more interesting films on class struggle ever made, yet, like Rod Serling would do decades later, in the television series The Twilight Zone, he would get away with his attacks on materialism and social disorder and dehumanization because many people, in that day, dismissed all sci fi.

The best version of the film that I've seen is the one released by Kino. It is restored to its full length (give or take a few seconds) and is remastered digitally.

But, the truth is that, even in the public domain, the film is worth seeing. I saw a scratched up version of the film decades ago, on tv, and it still impressed.

One thing to bear in mind, though, is that the film is a silent film, which means it is, in a sense, a different art form than modern sound and color film. It has its own rhythms, and once one gets used to them, the film unfolds very naturally. But, if you are expecting the spoonfed crap of modern Hollywood, you'll loathe this film.

You've been warned.


Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror

F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu is one of my favorite all-time films, and perhaps my fave silent film; although Metropolis and a few Chaplin shorts come close.

While not as psychologically complex as The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu is a more political film, as well as a blatant ripoff of the novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker, in his 1979 redo, Werner Herzog restored his count's name to Dracula, vs. this one's Orlock.

There is something a bit more eerie and touching about this vampire than any of the vampires played by Bela Lugosi, or even Christopher Lee. There's also a bit more scariness and 'realism,' of a sort.

Max Schreck's portrayal of Orlock has also become legendary; as in the film Shadow Of The Vampire it was posited that Schreck (as played by Willem Dafoe) was a vampire in real life, and the name was referenced in the 1990s film Batman Returns.


The Golem

This was a solid film, but it never quite had the panache and verve that Caligari did.

Here is the whole film:

Watch The Golem: How He Came into the World in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com


The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari

I cannot recall when first I saw this film, but it was likely on PBS in the 1970s. I had grown fond of old silent films after watching The Joe Franklin Show in the summers of mu childhood, but he showed mostly the great silent comedians' best stuff. Real cinema, like this, came to me later.

The big twist of the film is one that, by now, is old hat, having been ruined after the revelation that a season of Dallas, the 1980s prime time soap opera, was all a dream. Yes, this film is where the 'It's only a dream!' trope started.

But, in films like this it's rarely the what will happen that matters bit the how it happens. I know this film was recently remade, although it was in a shot by shot replay of the film, not unlike the Psycho remake of some years back, but one has to wonder why, if done shot by shot, there is a need to remake a film as influential as this one?

Other silent horror films, notably The Golem and Nosferatu, also had moments of greatness, but Caligari also had a psychological aspect that they were missing, and it's likely this aspect why the film retains its power in my mind, whereas The Golem is hazy and Nosferatu was superseded by Werner Herzog's 1970 updating.

Check it out for yourself:


Best Sitcoms- Near Misses

Oddly, when I finished my post on WKRP In Cincinnati, two fortuities emerged. 1) I could think of no truly great sitcoms in the last three decades, and 2) I rounded out my list at an even 10, with all of them beginning in the 1970s or earlier, and 7 of the 10 representing the Golden Age of the 1970s.

In thinking over the last 3 decades, there were some good sitcoms: Night Court, Cheers, and Seinfeld are the three most well known 'choices.' But Night Court was Barney Miller Lite, Cheers, like M*A*S*H*, ran too long, and, frankly, I think Ted Danson's other sitcom, Becker, was actually better written and acted, and Seinfeld failed for two reasons: first, it was really an inferior version of the old 1950s sitcom, The Abbott And Costello Show, and two, one never really cared about the characters. Add to that the fact that for every memorable Soup Nazi episode there were three or four simply bad episodes and a bevy of rather generic episodes.

I then thought of Married....With Children, and was tempted to name it, for it was the best example of a slob comedy around. It was vulgar, anarchic, disrespectful, and very funny. But, it also ran too long and, despite sexy Kelly Bundy, also fell into banality in later seasons. But, it was far better than pretentious crap like fellow slob comedy Roseanne.

Then there was Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond, 30 Rock, The Office, Scrubs, but every episode I've seen of those shows mark them as utterly generic and non-innovative. Of course, innovation gets harder as time wends onward. And don't even get me started on the crap that was The Cosby Show and its spinoffs.

Two exceptions have been The Simpsons and, even more so, Family Guy. Unfortunately, they are both more properly satires and cartoons, not really sitcoms. Besides, The Simpsons long ago Jumped The Shark.

Family Guy - Disney Style - For more funny movies, click here

In looking back in time, a good argument can be made for I Love Lucy, but that was all Lucy, not SITUATION comedy, and it ran too long. Other 1950s entries were simply too mediocre: Burns And Allen, Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver.

The High Concept 1960s offered only one possibility as being overlooked, and that was the gleefully non-PC F Troop, which ran only two seasons. But, it was quite formulaic, even with brilliant moments from Larry Storch and Ken Berry.

The Monkees also ran only two years, and was quite innovative vs. other sitcoms, but it never had much depth. The same can be said for copycat shows like I Dream Of Jeannie and Bewitched, The Munsters and The Addams Family, The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres, The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, etc. And, Desilu shows like The Andy Griffith Show were simply too tame and predictable. Hogan's Heroes offered some quality, but was too formulaic in its scenarios- the Nazis scheme and lose (repeat formula).

The 1970s offered shows from the three titans of sitcoms: Garry Marshall, Norman Lear, and MTM, but none matched the shows that made my cut, from those ranks. Mork And Mindy had brilliant moments, but it was all Robin Williams. Three's Company started the T&A comedy scene, but offered no depth. Sanford And Son, Chico And The Man, and Welcome Back, Kotter offered ethnic humor and little else (although Redd Foxx could be brilliantly funny), while Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts Of Life offered crap. Same with Family Ties.

So, there you go. If I've overlooked a gem (American made) let me know. Enjoy the clips of those shows I mentioned and maybe in the near future I'll tackle another television genre.


Best Sitcoms- WKRP In Cincinnati

The last great sitcom from the Golden Era of the 1970s was another MTM production- WKRP In Cincinnati. Like the other classic shows from that stable, in many ways, WKRP was a classic sitcom. It did not push boundaries the way the Norman Lear sitcoms did, but it was not as lightweight as most of the Garry Marshall sitcoms.

The show was created by Hugh Wilson, a former radio executive, and based on his experiences working in advertising as a client of a classic album-oriented rock radio station. The cast consisted included Gary Sandy as the station manager Andy Travis, Howard Hesseman as DJ Dr. Johnny Fever, Gordon Jump as station manager Mr. Carlson, Loni Anderson as his intelligent bimbo secretary Jennifer, Tim Reid as DJ Venus Flytrap, Jan Smithers as Bailey, Richard Sanders as newsman Les Nessman, and Frank Bonner as salesman Herb Tarleck. While a good ensemble, the show's four funniest characters were Fever- a drug user, Mr. Carlson- a Mama's Boy, the nerdy Les, and the lecherous Herb, who always lusted for Jennifer.

Many episodes centered around the dumb things Carlson, Les and Herb did or the wacked out adventures of Fever. Next to the Chuckles the Clown death episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, perhaps the most fondly remembered sitcom episode of all time is the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP. The show revolves around Mr. Carlson's attempts to prove he can run the station as well as Travis. He cooks up a turkey giveaway promotion by dropping live turkeys out of a helicopter over a shopping mall. As turkeys cannot fly, they die, crashing into buildings and cars as shoppers run for their lives. What makes the event even funnier is that, like the film My Dinner With Andre, we only hear (and do not see) a description of the event from on the spot reporter Les Nessman, who, at first believes the turkeys to be parachutists, but when he realizes they are turkeys, goes into a re-enactment of the famed radio broadcast of the Hindenburg Disaster of broadcaster Herbert Morrison, replete with an 'O the humanity!' DJ Fever quickly switches from the disaster, chiming in that the mall is being bombed with turkeys. Later, Mr. Carlson and Herb return to the station, covered in turkey feathers, and Carlson says, in a daze, 'As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.'

Here's the whole episode:

What sells the episode, and many of the crazy antics in the series, is that one believes that the characters are sincere. And, of all the sitcoms so far surveyed, WKRP is truly the most ensemble based, as it never had any real star. The show only ran 4 seasons- the shortest run for any of the great sitcoms after The Honeymooners and Gilligan's Island, but it has fared well in syndication.

None of the actors had much success after the series, save for Howard Hesseman, who had a mild comedy hit in the mid-1980s with Head Of The Class, a show starring an actor who shares my name, and later went on to produce mindless sitcoms for children on cable tv. But, other than that, WKRP In Cincinnati remained the highlight of many of the actors' careers, as well as the last gasp of a Golden Era for its genre.


Reitman's Up in The Air

Up in the Air

Young Canadian director Jason Reitman co-wrote this adaptation (a 2001 novel with the same title) with George Clooney in mind. He plays the role of a transition counselor (Ryan Bingham) at a management consulting company, i.e, he is hired by companies with financial problems to fire their employees (people he never met). Bingham spends most of his time "en route", he perfected skills in packing, airport security check points, staying in hotels...etc. He collects limited-edition credit cards. He also lectures about a theory of leaving everything behind that he implemented in his book. Clooney gives a humble, believable, and smart performance; with narrative monologues and silent facial expressions dominating over dialogues.
The movie overall is the best that one can expect from an American movie these days: merely good (though not 100% true if T.Malick is really releasing his movie soon). Reitman has a promising story to tell, but he falls into cheesy cliches (moments like when Bingham leaves in the middle of lecturing and run after a woman he met, the predictable cliche continues with that woman -spoiler alert- being involved in a family and being a mother of a couple of kids....etc). Despite that, the movie actually works; mostly because of Clooney's excellent performance and a good -interesting- story, the movie actually doesn't conclude in the expected Hollywoodian way at all and that was an element of strength. Now do I recommend this movie? it depends; if you're bored with your books, and you don't feel like watching some great cinema on DVD, and you have a couple of hours on you... than yes (and that's not -again- because Up in The Air is a bad movie, as I said it's a good movie, and the best that you can expect in theaters screening crap like 2012...etc ). I had even a better reason to actually go and watch it: I wanted to try a cinebistro that is near a friend we were visiting at Tampa (Florida) and it wasn't bad at all. The theater has the usual-size big movie screen but only 40 seats (big couches) or so, most made for couples and mounted with a tray/table. I always liked having coffee (instead of soda and popcorn) but a couple of theaters in NYC have that, but having a wine bottle in a cooler next to your seat and being served "actual" serious restaurant-quality food (we're talking full menu) instead of the cheap, plastic, over-priced snacks...etc, is actually something!!! the theater was even more quiet than a usual movie theater (no kids, and way less audience).

Here's Reitman on Charlie Rose

Best Sitcoms- M*A*S*H*

M*A*S*H* is another unequivocally great sitcom from the 1970s, American television's Golden Age of sitcoms. And, if I've not pointed it out before, I should, this list is for American tv only. I make no pretense to other nation's television offerings.

M*A*S*H* ran for 11 years on CBS and underwent many changes in personnel, ala Barney Miller. It also metamorphosed from a Buster Keatonesque type humor, in its early years, to a more Charlie Chaplinesque humor in its senescence. Not that this was always a bad thing, for along with every sappy, bleeding heart liberal episode there was a touching episode of depth; something the Trapper John era show could not muster.

It had a good cast, but the acting was never as consistently good as others of the great sitcoms listed, and the actors were also hit and miss. This is because it ran much longer than the other sitcoms.

The major players in the series- Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Harry Morgan, Larry Linville, David Ogden Stiers, and Mike Farrell, were usually spot on, but lesser characters, like those that played Father Mulcahy, Radar O'Reilly, Klinger, Trapper John, and Colonel Blake were less reliable.

McLean Stevenson, who played Colonel Blake, provided perhaps the most genuinely moving moment in all of sitcom history, when Radar came in and read a telegram that, after being transferred stateside, his plane had been shot down, with no survivors.

Now, compare that episode with the series finale- a bloated 90 minute schmoozefest that made the ending for The Mary Tyler Moore Show look like an Ingmar Bergman film.

That the series lasted three times as long as the war it portrays, and given that they really screwed up with the internal chronology of events (not unlike The Odd Couple), it is amazing that the series did last so long. Like many great shows, though, none of its regulars ever achieved the kind of success after the show that they did with the show.

There were many great episodes, but, of all the sitcoms so far noted, M*A*S*H* had by far the most filler. My favorite character was probably Col. Potter, and my least favorite was Corporal Klinger.

The oft-debated question is which was better? M*A*S*H*, the 1970 film by Robert Altman, or M*A*S*H*, the television series? But, as noted earlier, it's likely just a preference issue. The film was bolder and more sacrilegious, but also lacked the depth and humanity the series had. But, while the series had moments that went higher than the film it also reached nadirs the film could not. Again, it's preference. But, no matter what the answer, even its biggest detractors cannot deny M*A*S*H* its place in the pantheon of great American sitcoms.


Best Sitcoms- Barney Miller

Continuing in the Golden Age of sitcoms- the 1970s- we come to Barney Miller; a show whose titular character was not even that funny, but who was a police captain in a precinct filled with zany cops and zanier prisoners.

Like many other successful sitcoms, it spawned a spinoff series, Fish, helmed by one of the series' early regulars, Abe Vigoda. That show bombed but Barney Miller ran for 8 seasons on ABC.

The other officers (mostly detectives) included a Polish cop who was legendarily dumb, Wojo (Max Gail), a snazzy black cop, Harris (Ron Glass), a gambling Japanese cop, Yemana (Jack Soo), and Puerto Rican Chano (Gregory Sierra). Later characters who were added, as other characters left or died, were gung ho Inspector Luger (James Gregory), Napoleon complected short cop Levitt (Ron Carey), and Jewish intellectual Dietrich (Steve Landesberg). While the first season featured home scenes between Barney and his wife (Barbara Barrie), later episodes were strictly set in the detective's squad room, and the very idea of rotating fruitcakes was later copied by the good (not great) 1980s sitcom Night Court. In essence, the sitcom became a de facto 24 minute comic play, with only one set available. After the second season it was very rare that any action took place off the main squad room set.

The multi-ethnic cast of the show resembled, in a superficial way, the cast of another ABC sitcom of the era, the juvenile delinquents known as Sweathogs on Welcome Back, Kotter, with the Miller character as the grownup Mr. Kotter stand in trying to reign in the juvenile antics of his 'children.' The differences between the two shows, however, were more than just the age of the characters and settings. Barney Miller was taut and well written, and featured, in my book, the best large ensemble of comedic actors in television history.

Think about it: I Love Lucy was all Lucille Ball. The Bob Newhart Show had great supporting roles, but none of them rivaled Newhart himself. Gilligan's Island, The Honeymooners, and The Odd Couple were all propelled by great comedy duos. The Mary Tyler Moore Show and M*A*S*H* had good ensembles, but Barney Miller, with its play-like atmosphere, delved further into character and 'situations,' whereas M*A*S*H* simply ran too long and had too many flaccid and preachy episodes.

Barney Miller, however, went out on the top of its game.

As a final note, and as a youth who had my unfair share of dealings with the NYC Police of the 1970s (from Serpico to Barney Miller) there is utter truth to the claim that Barney Miller is and was the most realistic cop show ever to grace television. Forget all the glamorized portrayals in dramas from Dragnet to the CSI franchises; Barney Miller was it, just as (in many ways) Welcome Back, Kotter (along with The White Shadow) was the best representation of high school kids ever put on tv (if you overlook the fact of thirtysomethings playing teenagers).

Barney Miller was a classic of the sitcom genre, and a great piece of American television entertainment.

Best Sitcoms- The Bob Newhart Show

Along with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, this titular series was one of the mainstays of the MTM sitcom empire of the 1970s. And like Moore's show, there were no great comedy teams; only the incomparable reaction comedy of Newhart, and a motley crew of regulars who played gag man to his straight man.

Because his later hit series Newhart was, in its final episode, revealed to be a dream of the character Newhart played in this show, psychologist Bob Hartley, and that last episode is amongst the most famous in tv history, this first sitcom of Newhart's (he has an earlier variety show of the same name in the early 1960s) is often forgotten. Or, at least, underestimated.

That's a shame. It shouldn't be. It was a great adult comedy. Nary a child in any episode. In fact, Newhart was once told that the producers wanted Suzanne Pleshette, who played his character's wife, Emily, to get pregnant, and Newhart replied, 'Great, so who are you going to get to play Bob?' That was the end of that idea.

But, the sexy and sultry-voiced Pleshette was only one of the great supporting characters, which included Bill Daily (fresh off of an I Dream Of Jeannie run), Peter Bonerz, Marcia Wallace, and a bevy of wacky 'patients,' including Jack Riley, John Fiedler, Howard Hesseman, and occasional appearances by Tom Poston, who'd become a regular on Newhart.

Bob Newhart Show Opening Theme - Click here for more free videos

Like Moore's show, and The Odd Couple, this show really has not dated; a tribute to its writing and the universality of its characters who were never stereotypes, merely archetypes (albeit stretched a bit).

Here's a typical episode:

The Way We Weren't

The Bob Newhart Show | MySpace Video

The series' final episode spoofed the weepfest ending of Mary Tyler Moore's show, and showed why Newhart lasted decades in the business.

Best Sitcoms- The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Ok, its theme song is (bar possibly the theme from The Twilight Zone) the most covered in television history. But, it was a great show, and the flagship series for the third great sitcom production company of the 1970s, along with Norman Lear and Garry Marshall.

MTM, like those other two powerhouses, had a stable of shows it produced- from this one to The Bob Newhart Show to Phyllis and Rhoda (spinoffs of this show- as well as the drama Lou Grant), and a myriad of other shows. All three companies took up the banner Desilu left.

First, there is Mary Tyler Moore- a great looking babe with a great acting ability and underrated comic ability. She is a reactor, in the mode of Buster Keaton or Bob Newhart, albeit in a subtler way. She first came to prominence in the 1960s sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, which is often cited as a great sitcom. It's certainly good, but Moore's own show surpassed its forebear in every way: better characters, better actors, more realism and dealing with adult issues, while still being able to have humor emerge in slapstick (see Ted Knight) or truly situational comedy, like the Chuckles the Clown funeral scene. After spending the whole show chiding others over Chuckles' death in a peanut suit, squeezed by an elephant, it's Mary who loses it at the funeral:

That episode is often considered the best sitcom episode ever. I would disagree, but it surely is great.

Here are some bloopers:

This was a show, despite not being in the Norman Lear stable, that first explored the life of a woman's libber; unmarried and not desperate. Yet, there was none of the 'topicality' that dates All In the Family. Yes, styles do, a bit, but like The Odd Couple, it is timeless.

The final episode of the series was one of the most watched in television history, but it was also one of the lesser episodes, and started a trend toward ending television shows with sappiness. After a group hug, the cast heads out:

Compare that to the perfectly in character ending for The Odd Couple, two years earlier, wherein Felix salutes Oscar, after remarrying Gloria, by dumping a trash can over the floor. Oscar says he'll clean it up as a tribute to Felix. When Felix leaves, Oscar walks away without cleaning up the garbage. Felix re-enters the apartment and puts the trash back in the can. Just perfect! Of course, the sappy ending this show started reached its nadir a few years later when M*A*S*H* ended its 11 year run, but that's for another post.

Nonetheless, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a classic I watched every week as a boy.

Best Sitcoms- All In The Family

In the mid 1980s I recall seeing comedian Bill Cosby on the Phil Donahue talk show. He was pushing his own mediocre sitcom, at the time, and as it had been #1 in the ratings for a few years, it was drawing comparisons to Norman Lear's breakthrough comedy, All In The Family, from over a decade earlier, which similarly had been a ratings titan. Cosby then showed off both his envy and stupidity when, on national tv, he declared that he did not think All In The Family a good show because its lead character Archie Bunker was an unapologetic bigot.

Yet, that was the POINT! The show's episodes did not follow in the now noxious habit of tidying up every episode at its ending. Similarly, like most real world bigots, Archie Bunker was unrepentant, although late in the series run, viewers found out part of Archie's bigotry stemmed from emotional sufferings he endured as a poor Great Depression era child.

Whereas Garry Marshall built a 1970s sitcom empire based upon relatively lightweight comedies like Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley (the exception being his first hit, The Odd Couple), Lear built a stable of hit comedies based upon social issues: Maude was based upon feminism; The Jeffersons was an extension of bigotry, based on All In The Family; Good Times was based on poverty; One Day At A Time was about the aftermath of divorce, etc. But none was better than Lear's first (just as The Odd Couple was Marshall's first).

Here's typical Archie stupidity:

Incidentally, the friend mentioned in the above episode, the character of Roger was played by General Hospital superstar Tony Geary.

Another classic:

And another:

While Archie had many foils: Lionel and George Jefferson, his wife Edith ('Dingbat'), and his son-in-law Mike ('Meathead'), he was really a one man wrecking crew, and as played by Carroll O'Connor, a great character. TV Guide once voted Archie Bunker the greatest character in American television history, and that could still hold true today.

But he is great because of his great flaws, and the slow way that, over the years, he recognized a few of them; even if he was not able to change. Compared to Cosby's benign and neutered Cliff Huxtable, Archie Bunker was 'real.'

The show was a rework of a 1960s British sitcom, Till Death Do Us Part, but the series was so true to its time and place that both the show and its main character are quintessentially American.

On the down side, the very essence of the show cannot be extricated from its Vietnam/Watergate heyday, even as some of its themes resonate still. One has to look at the slew of predictable television shows on today- cops and lawyers, medical dramas, fantasies, banal and formulaic sitcoms, dull 'reality' shows, to see that a show that really pushed the envelope, as all the Norman Lear shows did, would likely score well in the ratings. If nothing else, it could help turn the tide against the conventional conservatism of Political Correctness.

In one other way, this show was important, as it was the first of what would be called 'slob comedies'- the likes to be followed by Married....With Children and Roseanne; two shows inferior to the original.

Above is Mike's view of his father-in-law.

All In The Family was NOT the greatest sitcom ever made, although a couple dozen of its episodes are gems. It simply went on too long, and got too diluted. But, in its heyday it showed what the medium of television could do in handling issues like abortion, rape, racism, illegal wars, menopause, and a plethora of others. Its biggest flaw was failing to show that left Wingers were just as dumb, bigoted, and sanctimonious as Right Wingers. But, it was, undoubtedly, flaws and all, a great sitcom.

This middle finger's for you, Mr. Cosby!