TV Rewind – Where’s Rodney? (1990)

Episode #1 – Where’s Rodney? (1990)


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From the Phuyuck and For Your Consideration Podcast Archives we bring you repackaged and brand new episodes!!

VHS Rewind! Creators, Mark Jeacoma and Chris Hasler discuss the 1990 pilot episode of Where’s Rodney?

A 12 year old boy looks for advice and inspiration from his idol – stand-up comic Rodney Dangerfield!

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982”

“You’ve managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target!”

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982 (William Shatner), Paramount Pictures

Considered the best of Star Trek movies, director Nicholas Meyer wisely applied the lessons learned from the first film to launch the popular television franchise and utlized television production techniques to craft this clever sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. To say that Star Trek II is faithful to the NBC television series is obvious even down to the story, which sequelizes not only the film series, but also the first season episode, “Space Seed.” Star Trek II brings back Khan Noonian Singh (electrifying Ricardo Montalban), a product of 20th century genetic engineering, who we last saw being shipped into exile with his crew by Kirk at the end of the episode. Unfortunately, a short time later, the disruption of a nearby planet causes Khan’s new paradise to become a desert filled with horrid, mutated creatures.

Khan captures the U.S.S. Reliant (a science vessel on alert for appropriate planetary bodies upon which to experiment) by means of hideous slug-like creatures inserted into key personnel Chekov and Terrell’s ears to control their minds. Khan and his crew travel to space station Regula 1, where Doctors Carol (Bibi Besch) and her son, David Marcus (Merritt Buttrick) are developing the “Genesis” device, which can turn any lifeless astronomical body into a fertile garden. Khan wants “Genesis” (for reasons that are never adequately explained – perhaps he feels he has it coming to him), but he has to get through Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) to take it. Kirk, obstensibly on board the U.S.S. Enterprise to supervise a training assignment under Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy), assumes command of the ship to rescue his former lover, Carol, and their son.

This presents difficulties for Kirk, who is “celebrating” his birthday. For the first time in his life and career, he is confronted with his own mortality, which turns out to be a much greater foe than Khan, or an irate Gorn, or a community of sadistic telepaths. With Spock and McCoy serving as advisers (and even more fascinating, Jungian extensions of his subconscious in the form of wisdom and logic), Kirk must fight an enemy who swore vengeance upon him fifteen years before, as well as form a temporary truce with his new family in the form of Carol and David. For his part, David is an angry genius who would like to flatten his father for what he perceives as abandonment. The “Genesis” device represents an analogy for our own atomic bomb; utilizing science that could’ve saved us, the bomb has the power to kill us all. Nicholas Meyer’s next project would be The Day After for ABC.

The beginning of a successful trilogy that ended with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a rare case of a cinema adaptation that succeeds and then eventually improves upon it’s source material (in this case, the television series) by embracing the finest aspects of the original material. All of the narrative beats are there: the fundamental conflict between Spock and McCoy (DeForest Kelley), which would be turned on it’s ear for the sequel, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, a great villain in Khan, a hysterically angry and passionate Kirk, excellent visual effects and battle scenes, and a complex moral/philosophical argument embodied in “Genesis.” This is what a Star Trek film should be.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is being re-released to theaters for two nights only, September 10th and 13th, as part of a 35th anniversary event. I recall seeing the film upon it’s first release in June of 1982.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“Rumble Fish, 1983”

“Black & white TV, with the sound turned low.”

Rumble Fish, 1983 (Matt Dillon), MCA/Universal

Rumble Fish is a world unto itself; black & white with interesting splashes of color (represented in the Fish of the title).  Mickey Rourke’s “Motorcycle Boy” and his little brother, stare longingly into the underwater world and make play with colorful fish in an aquarium tank.  The characters long to be free, to be “in color” while we note the fish are not “free”, but trapped in the devices of Man.  Fish don’t rumble, therefore fish cannot be Man.  While S.E. Hinton’s excellent novel does not care for the fish, Francis Coppola’s exquisite, beautifully photographed (bearing striking similarity to live television production) seems preoccupied with the notion of using the fish as a metaphor for Man.

Laurence Fisburne walks into Tom Waite’s pool hall and tells young Rusty James (Matt Dillion) he’s gonna get killed by a rival.  Dillon’s buddies, Chris Penn and Nicolas Cage wonder about the Motorcycle Boy, and Dillon tells them he might as well be dead.  His four-eyed friend, Steve (Vincent Spano) doesn’t think he should get into any more fights, and exists as Rusty’s fractured psyche talking back to him.  Rusty has been living in the shadow of his older brother for a long time.  He makes out with his girl (Diane Lane) and fends off the advances of her younger sister (Sofia Coppola) as Fishburne and company wait for his arrival at the designated meeting place: the railroad tracks.

The ensuing “rumble” plays as a variation on West Side Story.  The opponents are dressed in stark blazers that recall mods and rockers.  The fight is overly choreographed to appear as dance.  At the climax of the fight, the Motorcycle Boy appears and tends to his wounds.  Motorcycle Boy explains he was in California, and it becomes obvious Rusty lives through his brother.  Mickey Rourke is such an unusual actor.  Not conventionally good-looking, he has a soft-spoken quality, and a great deal of torment in his eyes, that I could not think of a better actor to play this part.  He’s almost like a ghost in this movie.  Because of that, there were inevitable comparisons to Motorcycle Boy when he appeared in later films.

From this point, the movie is a series of episodes, usually involving Rusty’s misdirected anger, negotiating his uniform fantasies of his girlfriend, Motorcycle Boy’s strung-out substitute teacher girlfriend (pathetic Diana Scarwid) and his older brother’s impossibly high standards.  Turns out Motorcycle Boy has grown, perhaps become a man, and where he traded his violence, he learned enough humility to stay out of jail but not enough to mercilessly criticize Rusty for the same choices he made when he was younger.  You begin to understand why they are the way that they are when you meet their father (a wired Dennis Hopper).  I’m reminded of Apocalypse Now where we had Hopper’s drug-addled lunacy completely in tune with Coppola’s vision of war.

“You’re smart. You’re just not word-smart.”

I love the way Rumble Fish is photographed, but, even now, I can’t quite understand why Coppola chose to make this movie the way he did.  It harkens back to the first golden age of television with tight, stagey close-ups and scenery-chewing, but it’s a contemporary piece, with contemporary technology and automobiles.  Stewart Copeland’s interesting score is rife with sonic anachronisms.  The language is contemporary as well.  We try desperately to sympathize with Dillon’s character, but he’s a complete asshole, and he doesn’t deserve all the chances the people in his life give him.  Coppola made the much more successful The Outsiders (also based on an S.E. Hinton book) earlier in the year.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“Too Much, Too Soon: The Rise of HD and the Death of CRT”

You want a new TV?  Okay, you look at the prices.  Steep.  You check out the Best Buy flyers.  Prices are coming down.  So you save up, buy a big-screen LCD, or LED, or (God forbid) Plasma TV, 1080p, 40 inches or more across.  You hook it up to your cable or satellite.  It looks great on the HD channels.  There are more HD channels than ever.  All your local programming is HD.  All the premium channels, the sports, the key basic channels all in big, bright, bold, colorful high definition.  It’s like having a movie theater in your living room!

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Samsung 102″ Atlas

This is the problem. You have hundreds, maybe thousands of DVDS gathering dust on the shelf because they just don’t look that great on your new TV. You’ve spent a lot of money in the 20 years since the advent of the digital versatile disc and you don’t want to throw everything away. There’s a very good chance you won’t find another copy of “La Strada”.

You do your homework, research up-converting 1080p DVD players with HDMI hook-ups for your new TV. The good news is they’re fairly cheap. The bad news is they’re not that great. They suffer the same archiving problems, the same stuttering, jarring effect of your old DVD player. Blu-Ray swoops in like Han Solo to save the day, but for a price. The first commercially-available Blu-Ray player (from Sony) cost about a grand. It was a great, clunky thing that took several minutes to load a disc.

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Advertisement for a Zenith projection TV.

As Blu-Ray players become accepted into living rooms, the prices go down, and it is now possible to find a decent player for under a hundred bucks, but these new Blu-Ray players do not have RCA/composite audio/video jacks, only one HDMI output and (if you’re lucky) a digital audio out, but you have to buy all-new gear to support it.  Wasting money with new technology is nothing new.  How many cell phones have you owned in your lifetime?

The problem is that these new technologies are rolled out before anybody knows what to do with them.  I mention the composite jack problem because I’ve been looking for a Blu-Ray player to replace the old DVD player in my bedroom, but I keep a big-screen CRT (cathode ray tube) TV in there.  I have my HD and my Blu-Ray player (which I love because it has a USB connection and wi-fi so I can watch almost anything I have on my computers) in the living room, and I will not let my old CRT go.

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Advertisement for an RCA projection TV.

The CRT TV does not have an HDMI jack, so if I shell out for a new Blu-Ray player, I’ll have to find a HDMI-to-RCA jack, not just a jack, but conversion box to decode the signals from the HDMI and make them palatable for my analog receiver! These jacks are very hard to find. You won’t find them at Best Buy for some reason. Electronics companies and retailers want to steer you away from CRT, once and for all. It’s not a conspiracy or anything. It’s just too confusing dealing with all these different formats and wires.

So why not just give up on the old CRT TV? Get with the program! Buy a brand new television! Not too long ago, I took a walk with my daughter down the road to a gas station. It was rubbish removal day in our small town and at the curb of nearly every residence was a television, sometimes more than one television. For the most part, they were CRT TVs, so we played a counting game. We counted all the televisions we saw.

This is a half-mile stretch of road that connects Putnam Avenue and Main Street. By the time we made it to the gas station, we had counted twenty-seven (27) televisions and I think three of them were hi-def. The basement of our new home is a graveyard for CRT televisions, and all of them work perfectly. It seems obvious people want their toys, and it makes disposing of old television sets very difficult, but considering over the last century most programming was produced for standard 4:3 CRT sets.

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“Hold the future in your hand.”

If you’re a connoisseur of old movies, television shows, and sports (in other words anything produced before March of 1997 when the first widescreen productions were broadcast), you know that most of those products look like crap on high definition screens. Chances are these shows were not given 4K transfers to HD or Blu-Ray. Only a few TV shows have taken that route (“Star Trek: The Next Generation” comes to mind) because production costs make it prohibitively expensive to restore and remaster so many classic TV shows for a niche market of fans and pop culture junkies like me. From the late 70s up until the mid-90s, filmed television shows were immediately transferred to video and then edited from U-Matic or Betacam SP tapes which were then shipped to affiliates for broadcast.

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The Sony WEGA widescreen CRT.

That’s where CRT comes in. It’s quite frankly the only way to truly enjoy all your favorite TV shows, even at the restricted number of pixels (480i as opposed to 1080p, but there is a reason for interlaced as opposed to progressive frames – interlacing fills in the blanks to provide a cleaner image whereas progressive pixels stick out like a sore thumb as they try to interpret DVD and video-tape signals). This is why DVDs and videotapes look better on a CRT screen.

If the rise of DVD wounded the VHS market, then hi-def flat screens killed it. For a while, there was an unusual compromise with high definition CRT television. These were 1080 interlaced tubes that delivered superior picture and were able to display live widescreen television. They worked perfectly with letterboxed TV shows and movies, VHS, DVD, and broadcast high-definition signals. At best, you could get the 480 lines for standard definition and up to 720p for high definition and 720p on CRT looked better than the highest resolutions produced even today. There were drawbacks. The obvious weight issue aside, there were voltage concerns and the coils would superheat. The first models were pricey and this was right before the first plasma and LCD televisions came into market.

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Ultra HD!

The technology was too fast for it’s own good.  There was virtually no product to support these new enhancements.  Even now, eighteen years out, DVD and Blu-Ray technology has not out-produced conventional video technology nor has it marketed the simplicity that a CRT television and a VCR can provide.  Physical product is being scaled back while the popularity of downloads and streaming soars.  They’ve made it more complicated, more computer-dependent, but not terribly simple.

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A television graveyard.

Screens are getting bigger but it doesn’t matter.  There’s only so much visual information the eye can take and when we go to a movie theater, our eyes selectively rule out anything with limited visual interest, and now we have to do that in our living rooms.  We have the 4K Ultra HD with hundreds of inches of screen space, yet our homes are getting smaller.  Is there a point to this?  Why, I think not!  It doesn’t ultimately matter because we need our toys and we will continue to purchase our toys, and scores of newer high definition televisions will join their CRT counterparts piling up in landfills across the country.