Critic’s Choice: ‘Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party,’ ‘Dream Corp LLC,’ ‘USO: For the Troops’
“Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party” (VH1, Mondays). Although the superficial contrasts are what drive the high concept, the pairing of pot-smoking Snoop Dogg, 45, and pot-cooking Martha Stewart, 75, in a VH1 lifestyle-party show makes a certain sense. Two of America’s most chill celebrities, both are television veterans, both have done time. Both sell a version – not entirely incompatible – of the Good Life. It’s odd at first; Stewart seems dazed by the noisiness of the production, to be moving as if on castors. But once they’re past the awards-show scripted banter and into their improvisational comfort zone, the hour gets interesting and amiable.
In the episode out for review, they compete to see who makes the best fried chicken, with guests Seth Rogen, Ice Cube and Whiz Khalifa as judges. (Rogen brings the gift of a fire extinguisher, because “a lot of us smoke”; Khalifa arrives with a bag of “a little extra seasoning,” prompting Martha to say, “Oh, look, lots of green – don’t waste it.” Snoop makes them drinks first; something he calls “The Laid Back,” made of Tanqueray, Ciroc Apple and pineapple juice. “Pineapple’s your favorite fruit, I think,” says Martha, like a person who has some experience of Snoop’s fruit consumption. They have in fact known each other for a while.
The onstage space feels — perhaps not weirdly — relaxed, friendly and forgiving. Describing the “buttermilk bath” into which she dips her chicken, Martha asks Snoop, “Have you ever had a buttermilk bath? You would like that…. If you took a buttermilk bath, you’d be whiter,” a line it’s hard to imagine playing many other places. “If one person knows how to make [stuff] whiter it’s Martha Stewart,” observes Seth, though Ice Cube describes her as tough; asked if she’d ever killed a chicken, and how, Martha replies, “I fed it some vodka, and then I cut off its head.”
Later all five sit down to play that game where you tell two lies and one true thing about yourself and the others have to guess the true one. Was Snoop’s best subject calculus? Did he once smoke a one-pound blunt? Does he coach his son’s basketball team? Was Martha born in Poland? Is her signature scent Chance by Chanel? Or was she struck by lightning three times? The answers, naturally, may surprise you.
“Dream Corp LLC” (Adult Swim, Sundays). Daniel Stessen wrote and directed this series, mixing live action and computer-rotoscoped animation (by Michael Garza, Stessen’s collaborator on the short “The Gold Sparrow” and a veteran of Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly”). Jon Gries (Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite,” the film and the series) plays Dr. Roberts, a distracted mad scientist somewhat in the Rick of “Rick & Morty” mold, who has a machine that lets him enter into patient’s dreams in order to straighten out their heads. More or less.
His clinic, one of those ramshackle, actually kind of filthy, used-parts scientific spaces in which nothing should actually work, owes a debt to Terry Gilliam. His assistants, who seem as unlikely and undependable as his equipment, include Mark Proksch, a member of Tim Heidecker’s “On Cinema”/”Decker” family, and comedian Stephanie Allynne, who, welcoming new patient Nick Rutherford, asks, “Do you have someone picking you up after your procedure?” “No,” he replies. “Perfect,” she says. Stephen Merchant, who, along with John Krasinski is an executive producer, lends his voice to the team robot. The venue being Adult Swim, the humor is a little upsetting, with an emphasis on mental and bodily urges and disturbances, functions and dysfunctions. The episodes are cartoon length, and just long enough.
“USO: For the Troops” (PBS, Monday). This hour-long look at the famous military support organization often feels more like a promotional film than a real documentary; but it’s a good thing to promote – it led me to hunt them up and make a donation – and there’s enough history included to keep it interesting. (A brief segment about a woman who traveled from hospital to hospital sketching portraits of wounded soldiers wants to be a film of its own.)
Although for civilians raised on Bob Hope specials, tapes of old radio shows or the movie “Hollywood Canteen,” the USO may be synonymous with entertainment, it provides a host of services for military personnel and families; the acronym stands for United Service Organizations. (Although the film does not specify, they were: the Salvation Army, YMCA,YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, National Travelers Aid Assn. and the National Jewish Welfare Board.) George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Jon Stewart, Al Franken, Connie Stevens, Brooke Shields, Ann-Marget and Raquel Welch, among others, comment, reminisce or testify. Hope’s daughter Linda Hope speaks for her father, the organization’s patron saint nearly since its inception.
The film doesn’t totally skate on the darker details: The homey USO posts that sprang up around the country during the Second World War were intended in part to keep servicemen out of bars and away from prostitutes; Southern posts were segregated. During Vietnam, joining a USO tour could be considered as support for the war; we are a little better now at regarding the fighters as distinct from the fight.
New footage of a contemporary USO tour of a troupe made up of Craig Morgan, former NFL player Charles Tillman, a brace of UFC fighters and a Miss America alternates with archival clips. There are breakneck glimpses of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe, Robin Williams and Stephen Colbert; Raquel Welch frugs in a knit minidress; Ann-Margret, in a black, flared-leg pantsuit, sings “Dancing in the Street.” And there is Hope, of course, seen through the years and conflicts, from World War II to Korea to Vietnam (“I don’t know what you guys did to get here, but let that be a lesson to you”) and beyond. He made his last tour, at 87, to Kuwait. “Flies in undetected, bombs, then flies away,” Hope says of the stealth bomber. “Hell, I’ve been doing that all my life.”
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd
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