Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Deck the blog with holiday specials!

T'was about four weeks until Christmas
and all across the nation
all of America's eyes
were tuned to one TV station.

This week, holiday specials have been everywhere,
as the networks scramble with no new shows to air!

Charlie Brown upon Grinch upon ogre upon Claus,
it is time to sit back, take a breath and hit "pause"
as we review three holiday specials airing this week,
of course I watched them all -- I'm a television freak!

So take a break from your television drama,
because it is time for the holiday special review-o-rama!

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Originally aired: December 9, 1965

The episode opens on the Young Skater Tabernacle Choir, setting the scene for that little holiday that we all would forget about if it weren't for the ads that began airing in August.

The majority of the special is spent discussing Charlie Brown's bouts with seasonal depression (what else is new...). Apparently, if its a day ending in "-day," then Charlie is depressed. On the advice of his Shrink, Charlie gets involved in Christmas, directing the school's play for all of the foghorns parents of the town. Unfortunately, the actors would rather dance then act, and a lot of valuable rehearsal time is spent on dancing...not that I am against sporadic dance parties, but don't they realize that their director is on suicide watch?

Frustrated at the over-commercialization of the holidays exhibited through his greedy friends and family, Charlie decides to make the play as traditional as possible, starting with a tree. Unfortunately, the town's Christmas Tree lot only sells tin trees, save for one small mini-tree desperately clinging to life. Stuck in his mindset, Charlie and Linus choose the tree, much to the horror of the play's cast. They wanted a huge tree with flashing lights and musical tinsel! Is that too much to ask for?

Frustrated, Charlie cries to the heavens and everyone listening for the answer to a simple question: "Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?" Fortunately, our little bible expert Kirk Cameron Linus has memorized Luke 2:8-14, and proceeds to retell how God brought peace to the land through the birth of his son, Jesus. Refueled by Christianity, Charlie and the gang proceeds to fix up the tree with their newfound magical arm-waving Jesus decoration powers! Suddenly, as the true meaning of the holidays becomes apparent, everyone gathers to sing as we fade out.

Wow. What an amazing special-

Wait. What is this? WE STILL HAVE ANOTHER THIRTY MINUTES?! Following A Charlie Brown Christmas is Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales, a series of short vignettes compiled in 2002 to remind people that ABC is not too preachy. Unfortunately, the shorts are wayy too cheesy, and although they look and act the same, the characters are not Charles Schultz's gang.

Back to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Even though I am Jewish, I can totally appreciate the message of the special: We oftentimes forget about the true meaning of the holidays as we spend way too much money on presents and not enough time on tradition. Aside from the month of Christmas music played by Sunny 99.1 and the 24-hour Christmas Story marathon on TBS, there is not much to look forward to year after year on Christmas. Through the teachings of the great Linus Van Pelt, we all can learn what it truly means to be thankful this holiday season.

Cheer Rating: ***** (For the sake of the blog, those are snowflakes.)

Note: For more laughs, check out this hilarious re-dubbing, courtesy of the cast of Scrubs.

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Originally aired: December 23, 1966

Time for another classic tale, featuring the fantastic voice talents for Mr. Boris Karloff (The original Frankenstein film). The special opens on Christmas Eve in the small (pun intended) town of Who-ville, where, as we learn through song (rhymed in a way only Dr. Seuss could pull off), all of the citizens prepare year-'round for Christmas. Everyone is frantically decorating for the day, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Santa. Unfortunately, one Who-ville resident is not looking forward to the holidays- The Grinch.

Apparently, the Grinch was born with a heart defect that does not allow him to feel the warmth and love of the holiday season. Sadly, this is not enough for Mr. Grinch. He must also stop everyone else from enjoying the holiday...because the celebrants make too much noise. unfortunately, it seems that the children of Who-ville not only asked for toys, but they also want to play with their toys -- I totally see the Grinch's point! What an odd tradition!

Also, acting as the Who-ville rep for PETA, The Grinch speaks out against the eating of roast beef, proclaiming it as the thing that he likes the least. That is, besides singing/ noise/ holiday cheer. On Christmas Day, every Who gathers in town square to sing around the Christmas Tree, joyfully celebrating the magic of Christmas. This idea does not sit well with our green friend. The whole holiday must be stopped! But how?

Channeling Danny Ocean, The Grinch hatches the perfect scheme- dress up as Santa Claus, and steal Christmas! Cue the training montage, to the tune of my favorite holiday song. Enlisting the aid of his dog/slave, Max, Grinch hatches his plan, going through the town and stealing everything, from the stockings to the presents to the yuletide log! His plan is almost foiled by one tiny Who named Cindy, but luckily kids are gullible and easy to lie to. With a sled full to the brim with holiday cheer, the Grinch heads back up to Mt. Crumpitt to listen for the cries of sadness from Who-ville.

What we does here, however, is something completely different. The sounds coming from the town were not cries of sorrow, This is not Charlie Brown's town -- no one here is the least bit materialistic! With or without holiday decorations and presents, the Whos are just happy to be together.

Suddenly, the Grinch's heart, through some medical miracle, grows three sizes in his chest! Saving the sled from being demolished at the last minute, the Grinch rushes down the mountain and returns Christmas to the town, even staying long enough to carve the roast beef. If you can't beat them, join them, right?

Although completely different, the same message that Linus tries to get across to his friends is evident here -- it is not the presents and decorations that make Christmas special. It is the people, the cheer and the festive traditions that make the holidays memorable. Well, that and the ridiculous eggnog stories.

Cheer Rating: **** (Snowflake deducted for the lack of bible references)

3. Shrek the Halls
Originally aired: November 28, 2007
*Featuring the voices of Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas

From one mean, green fellow to another, we now travel away from Who-ville to the kingdom of Far, Far Away, where a happy ogre family is celebrating the last days of summer. Unfortunately, Donkey shows up channeling the mind of corporate America, reminding Shrek that there are only a few days until Chirstmas...better get to work! Shrek dismisses these reminders, refusing to plan ahead of time for Christmas. Suddenly, it is too late, and Shrek is left empty-handed as Fiona eagerly anticipates her first Christmas with her family.

Shrek ventures through the snow, ice and blizzards to purchase a copy of Christmas for Village Idiots. Simply put, Christmas is broken down into steps, the most important of which is retelling the Christmas story. Reassured by this step by step guide, Shrek steps out of the store and smack into the middle of the last minute-shopping hurricane, randomly sending parents careening into stores looking for that one action figure that can't be lived without.

The next day, Fiona wakes up surprised to find Shrek decorating the house for Christmas and getting into the spirit. As always, Donkey stops by to hatch a plan that in theory sounds great but probably won't work until the very end of the special when a lesson is learned. Just a hunch.

Together, Fiona and Shrek prepare for Christmas, utilizing the natural manna of the swamp for inspiration, decoration and mastication. Pretty soon, everything is perfect for Shrek's retelling of The Night before Christmas, which probably hasn't even been invented yet, but whatever. Of course, this is when Donkey shows up, bearing gifts and followed by the entire Shrek clan- Gingy, Big Bad Wolf, Puss in Boots and more.

Naturally, everything is ruined as a rave suddenly pops up in Shrek's house, courtesy of Fatboy Slim and Journey.

Angered, Shrek storms out, missing his family-style Christmas. Inside, things have gotten even crazier, as "drunk" Gingy begins to belt out a rendition of "Don't Stop Believing". Resigned to defeat, Shrek calls his kids over to continue telling his Christmas story. Bored, Donkey cuts in, and tells the story of his impressive decoration display, complete with a parade and 50-foot waffle robot- don't ask.
Next, Puss tells his tale of his time back in Spain, acting out the role of Santa "Claws". Next up is Gingy, discussing his time at Make-out Peak with some cookie floozy. Sadly, tragedy strikes as a giant Santa devours Suzy...the horror!!!

Finally, Shrek has had it, and freaks out, setting off a chain reaction that ends guessed it...ruining everything. Finally, Shrek gets rid of everyone, ready for quiet time. Sadly, Fiona takes the side of the chaos, and puts on her coat to follow the crowd. On Christmas, according to Fiona, the rules can be bent. Yes, it is crowded, yes it is loud, but friends become family. On the bright side, Shrek finally has his alone time!

In front of the fire, Shrek begins to reminisce on the past 15 minutes of the special, remembering all of the good times...

Outside, Donkey is fuming about the whole situation, refusing to acknowledge what Shrek wanted. Suddenly, Shrek appears, ready to apologize -- apparently, Christmas alone is just not the same. Perfection is not what Christmas is all about, and Shrek admits that this is his first Christmas too -- apparently, ogres are not Christian. One awkward apology later, everyone heads back to Shrek's, ready for more zaniness.

At the SLEEP OVER!!! everyone prepares to sleep, but not without a bedtime story. Throwing the rule book out the window (literally), Shrek tells his version of The Night Before Christmas, starring Ogre Claus! Using his magic burping power, Ogre Claus "beautifies" the house and uses his mucus to squeeze up the chimney, proclaiming a "smelly Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Cue Santa flying across the screen, and...fade to black.

Lacking in the depth of the other two specials, Shrek the Halls is certainly no classic. However, aside from all of the fart jokes and one-liners, there is still a message of the importance of family...and, as I noticed, also a message of tolerance. Gingerbread men, wolves, pigs and ogres can all be friends!

Cheer Rating: ***.5 (Snowflakes deducted for no pop culture references, the redeeming point of the Shrek movies)

In my opinion, that is quite enough holiday spirit for one night. However, with Chanukah just 5 nights away though, it is time to start celebrating!

Happy holidays to all, and remember- it is not the presents that matter, but the people that give them to you. The presents just help.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Like a Jew Loves Santa

What is it about Christmas that makes it such a beloved holiday worldwide? Even as a Jew, I have always found something about Christmas to be absolutely wonderful...from the cheery attitudes to the delicious food to the great music, there is nothing not to like about Christmas...Even without the added bonus of the gifts, I would still be Christmas' #1 Hebrew fan!

Us Jews, we have our little "Chosen People" tradition called Chanukah- the celebration of the rebuilding of a destroyed temple, and the oil that burned for eight days, sustaining us. We celebrate by gambling with chocolate, lighting candles and giving gifts for not one, not four, but seven days...take that, christianity! Of course, after one minute of research, any interested person would discover that the majority of the Chanukah celebration was created so Jewish kids wouldn't get jealous. But I mean, come on- who wouldn't get jealous? Without Christmas, Frosty, Rudolph, Santa, Buddy the Elf, Hallmark and Charlie Brown would all be out of a job! and I LIVE FOR Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown- would you want to be the one to take that away from a guy??

So what has spawned this sudden interest in the most wonderful time of the year? Look- it is 11/1! The Christmas CDs have started coming out, the shopping season has begun, and all of the cards are out and ready- in today's uncertain times, preperation is key to I think it is time to start hunkering down...stitch up those stockings, being comparing tree prices, and pick your ultimate playlist to drown your eggnog-fueled sorrows, because, to quote Robert Smigel, it is Christmas time for the Jews!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Perils of Planning: Part III


In case you missed it, here is a summary of my previous entries on this event...

Planning? UGH.

Well, everything turned out is the rundown:

I got to Gatherings, the banquet center where the event was hosted at 1:30- the place was digusting. It smelled bad, was hot and there was debris everywhere...the place looked like a storm had plowed through the Bellaire strip center! In an hour, my co-chair and I had managed to get tablecloths on four tables...and that was about it. Come 4:00 pm, the place looked ready for an Elementary School open house, and I had to leave to pick up Geralyn Lucas. I left my co-chairs with my life and reputation in their capable hands, typed "George Bush airport" into Google Maps, and set off with a friend and a large time margin for error.

Traffic was easy; the airport was difficult. We got there thirty minutes early, and chose to rest at the cell phone lot with all of the cab and limo drivers. Finally, we got sick of waiting, and chose to circle the airport for forty-five minutes. Finally, Geralyn arrived, and we set off for home at 6:15 (with an arrival time set for 7:00 pm). Luckily, the traffic gods were good to us, and we made it in time.

Needless to say, the placed looked stunning. And although a measly twenty people braved the beautiful weather to show up, they were a great crowd who cheered for our amazing speaker. Weaving tales of humor, inspiration and love, Geralyn Lucas brought the house down, destined for a return visit next year. The silent auction portion of the night, although measley and poorly implemented, was also a success, raising $900! We all went home with love in our hearts and pastries in our stomachs, ready for the sure-to-be successful day two.

With an attendance estimated near 500, the day began with a unique performance by The Pink Ribbons Project, the only nationally touring dance troupe dedicated to raising breast cancer funds and awareness. Following the performance, the lunch event began, featuring performances by Bellaire's own eMOTION hip-hop and modern dance group and the Bellaire Jazz Combo. Those distractions, combined with food catered by Chic-fil-a, Dunkin' Donuts, Auntie Pasto's and Arandas Bakery made the event a resounding success, bringing our two day total to...

$1213.64!! An unprecedented amount of money for an event that was literally being planned up until the day before it was scheduled to take place.

And with that, BCAD 2007, an event six months in the making, draws to a close. What was once a stressful cloud haunting my future is now an amazing memory of what teenagers can accomplish if they really put their mind to a goal...and I did it all without CTU, Jack Bauer, or even a missile! All in a day's work for this agent.
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The Perils of Planning: Part II

Previously, on The Perils of Planning...
-No Venue for Ellen Cohen!
-Pep Rally vs. Fundraiser!
-Sign up sheets missing!
-Sally stuck in a well!
( a little carried away....)

And now, TPoP: II

October 17, 2007- One day until BCAD 2007

So, unable to defeat the behemoth of school spirit facing us, the Breast Cancer Awareness Day troup chose to move ourseleves to another venue...and with only the library to choose from...we chose the library.

The Bellaire library is set up to achieve the maximum level of feng shui- lots of aisles, computers out of the way of students' chi flows. Unfortunately, the library is not equipped to host 200 students, 12 eager teachers, four friendly librarians, two roving reporters and one golden councilwoman!!!

Also- with our guest of honor needing to be back in NYC as soon as she is done speaking, fligths need to be changed and re-arranged. Fact- Houston needs to have a redeye flight to New York.

# of tickets I have sold- approx 22
# needed for profit- 60
# needed for full house- 150
# of blood pressure- 847589760

Well, the event is tomorrow- preapre for a full analysis as soon as details come in.

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The Perils of Planning: Part I

October 16, 2007- Two days until BCAD 2007

I recently read a book by Chuck Klosterman, in which he logged his attempt to watch nothing but VH1 Classic for 24 hours. Of course, I would never attempt to do something as crazy as that (there's only so much Jefferson Starship I can take!), but nonetheless, I still like the idea of blogging on one 24 hour period during a time of crisis...this is probably why I love shows like 24. So, for the next week, I will be blogging on one thing: my issues in planning Breast Cancer Awareness Day 2007. It may not be as exciting as a day of rock videos, but hey, we can't all sit around all day watching TV.

To begin, here is a timeline of the two day event:
12:30- school is out
12:30-3:00- decorating venue for silent auction and speaker
3:00- pick up speaker (Geralyn Lucas) from airport...probably in bad weather and traffic.
7:00- event begins
8:00- speaker speaks
8:30- 10:00- Silent Auction

11:00-11:30- Pink Ribbons Project dance troupe performs
11:30-12:30- Breast Cancer Luncheon
2:45- Ellen Cohen speaks

And that is it, organized with NO ROOM FOR it? OK...let the great experiement begin!!! (Spoken by Tobias Funke of Arrested Development)

I begin taking reservations to see the Pink Ribbons and Ellen Cohen in the morning with a sign-up sheet conveniently located in the Main Office. Unfortunately, by third period the sheet is gone...and with it apparently my patience. I discover that to have a paper posted in the main office, one must first have it approved by an administrator. I go to my favorite administrator's office, where I run into a counselor. I explain to her what happened, and she informs me of a pep rally in the room next door to where Ellen Cohen is speaking.

"But don't worry," she assures me, "It is a breast cancer-themed pep rally!"

Without a home for my speaker and against facing the enemy that is school spirit, I realize...this is what life under pressure is all about!

And then I realize...I am Jack Bauer! I live hour to hour, minute to minute, with a mission under fire. One major difference- I'm not exactly sure how well I could handle torture.

Now where is my Chloe when I need her?

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

If I were to win a prize...

Wow...this honor is completely...this is such I am blown away. Never would Ithink in a million years that I would be honored with a McArthur Genius Grant AND a Nobel Prize in the very same year! Who would have thought that me, a small-town PE coach from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales, would be the man who would cure SARS and AIDS in the very same year? Two of the deadliest acronyms ever created (besides G8 of course), wiped off the face of the earth in one swoop. Of course, I couldn't have done it without my students, who unfortunately had to be sacrificed for the greater good of civilization. And of course, without my faith in God 2.0 (© 2020 Microsoft inc, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson), none of this could have even gotten started. Of course, a thank you to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Recording Artists and Dancers and Animals and Verans of Foreign Wars (AMPASRADAVFW), the Grammoscky award was simply icing on the cake- my work as Director and Choreographer of the smash-hit TV movie Sophie's Choice 2: Sophie vs. Predator was an eye-opening experience to the plight of the Millionaire population of Upstate New York. Without this experience, I never would have started the Bill and Melinda Gates Fund for Bill and Melinda Gates, which has raised over 20 Pokemon cards [The currency of 2020] in seven weeks! This whole I am speechless. Well, I do have a little something prepared, but I am being inducted into the TV Watcher's Hall of Fame tonight, so I will save the speech until then.

Oh no...the music always starts right when I get to thank my family! Thank you to everyone who I have ever talked to ever! This is is the greatest night of my life! Re-elect Bobby Brown in 2020! AWOOHOO!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sam's got the Power

When we last left the CW’s devilishly fun “Reaper”, 21-year old underachiever and slave to the minimum wage Sam Oliver, discovered that his parents had sold his soul to the devil before his birth in exchange for his father’s health (for a more detailed account of the pilot and back story, click here for a brilliant synopsis). Last episode, Sam did battle with an arsonist escaped from Hell. This week, Sam deals with another pesky demon- But more on that later.

The episode opens with Sam waking up in bed, discovering that the Devil has sent him his newest soul-sucking device in a wooden box. Reluctant to take another job, Sam ignores the vessel and goes off to work. Unfortunately, Sam soon discovers that the box (and inherently the Devil) just cannot be ignored. Ironically, this sounds very similar to the classic Bible story of God chasing Jonah as he continues to shirk his duties. And although it seems unlikely that the devil would resort to a bible story for comedic inspiration, the idea certainly grabbed the attention of this blogger.

But I digress.

Sam gets a rude awakening when the Devil teleports him face to face to tell Sam to open the box. Basically, the devil gives him two options: He can either "quit", or "put one foot in front of the other and tough it out". However, with quitting meaning certain doom for himself and the people of his hometown, Sam eventually decides to open the vessel. Inside, Sam finds his next soul trap- a remote-controlled toy monster car running on dark energy and D batteries. After an electrical storm leaves the local hospital without power, Sam volunteers to bring them a backup generator from the hardware store. Once there, he discovers that lightning struck the wall of the building (twice), revealing the hospital's old name- Arthur Ferry Hospital. Apparently, Arthur Ferry was an energy trader who got caught stealing energy and selling it to different states. His punishment in the afterlife was to be struck by lightning for eternity- enough to drive anyone insane. Since escaping from hell, Ferry has been returning his punishment to the citizens of earth in the form of lightning showers and rolling blackouts, causing many accidental deaths on his way to revenge.

Armed with rubber wetsuits, Sam and his two coworker sidekicks meet the soul for battle at the top of a hydro power dam. However, when Sam starts channeling Dirty Harry and becomes too cocky, the spirit disappears, vowing to hunt down Sam and his friends himself.

Back at the hardware store, the spirit possesses Sam's brand new hybrid, forcing the three spirit hunters to barricade themselves in the powerless hardware store. Well, all the appliances and tools have come to life and are out for blood- but there is no air conditioning! After his friend gets hit with a possessed nail gun, Sam decides to confront Arthur Ferry and his electric personality (sorry for the pun).

Ferry, however, refuses to apologize and go quietly. Trading in his toy car for a lightning rod, Sam captures the soul by force and sends it back to the DMV (the direct portal to hell), where it belongs.

The episode, an obvious homage to Enron’s now infamous energy traders, finds the perfect way to turn a recently serious event into something to laugh about- imagine one of the people responsible for countless deaths in California being eternally struck by lightning…Now, doesn’t that bring a smile to your face?

With an infinite source of inspiration appearing almost daily, I have a feeling that these writers won’t have a tough job keeping the show current and humorous. However, building a comedy out of a show revolving around murderers might pose a problem for the writers in the future. And using news stories as inspiration is bound to offend somebody. But for now, we can all rest easier at night knowing that Sam Oliver is saving us all from escaped demons and the creatures of our qorst nightmares.

But why hasn’t he captured Ann Coulter yet?