Critic’s Pick: TV Picks: ‘Thunderbirds,’ ‘Incredible Crew,’ UCB does ‘Seinfeld’
“Thunderbirds: The Complete Series” (Shout Factory Blu-ray). “Thunderbirds” is go! The complete run of the fourth and best known of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Supermarionation puppet series -- following “Supercar,” “Fireball XL-5" and “Stingray” -- has just been released on Blu-ray, and I am hissing “Yes!” like a small child in a badly written comedy. A show, an opus, a concept intensely of its time -- 1964 to 1966, the culmination of midcentury cool -- “Thunderbirds” is a mix of James Bond and “Bonanza” set in a non-dystopian future that still sees its share of industrial accidents and criminal master plots. Help where help is needed is provided by the secret aid organization International Rescue, run by retired astronaut Jeff Tracy and staffed by his five wooden-headed sons, all named for Mercury Project astronauts, with the help of a genius called Brains, a Malaysian father-daughter duo, a British aristocrat and her butler. (The show was British, but the Tracys were made American, for transatlantic appeal.) From their headquarters on stony, tropical Tracy Island, they sally forth in an array of air, space, earth and seacraft -- the eponymous Thunderbirds -- to put out fires, defuse bombs and pull things out of holes.
It’s a marvelous construction, if by today’s standards a quaint and humble one -- a puppet show, mixed with miniatures. But it’s logistically complicated (it is highly “cinematic”) and, in its Olde Timey way, technologically cutting-edge: the movement of the marionettes’ mouths was electronically triggered by the pre-recorded dialogue. (They had swappable heads, too, to increase their range of expression.) The effect is not only artistic, but almost artisanal. Indeed, what’s so exciting about the Blu-ray set, which upgrades an earlier DVD collection, is how the clarity brings out the workmanship: you can see the materials and textures and even the strings that the creators did their best to render invisible. What makes “Thunderbirds” so magical is not the illusion of reality but the complete lack of one; it amplifies the handmade, human element that modern computer animation and special labor efficiently obscure. Indeed, a CGI remake/remodel, “Thunderbirds Are Go!,” premiered in the U.K. this year, with Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike as London agent Lady Penelope; and though it seems to have been made with love and respect for the original, and the version a child of the 21st century would likely prefer, it is a thing like many other things. And this is not.
“Incredible Crew” (Cartoon Network online). Thoughts of this long-gone, short-lived 2013 favorite burst into my head the other day, and I went onto the Internet to seek it out, like an old high school classmate. (I found it in bits and pieces -- not like an old high school classmate.) Cut down in its 13-episode prime, this single-camera series was Cartoon Network’s quickly retracted toe in the waters of live-action teenage sketch comedy, and it was good not merely by teenage sketch comedy standards; it can stand next to “Kids in the Hall” or “The Birthday Boys” without embarrassment. Some of it is prankish or silly; but much more of it is strange, surrealist, sometimes twisted and dark. Jeremy Shada (then, and since, the voice of Finn on “Adventure Time”) was the show’s big name, at least among people who pay attention to voice credits, but Chanelle Peloso might best embody its off-kilter spirit; she does beautiful things with existential confusion. Sketches include “Really Enthusiastic Snowman,” ""Young Lady Gaga” and the only technically describable “Solar System Wolf”; there are ads for nonexistent products like Sparkle Beard, a facial-hair play set for girls; Friendship Braces (“the cool, fun way to show off your friendship to everyone who’s not your friend”); and Hot Dog Cereal (“the best part of lunch coming straight to your breakfast bowl”). Video-style musical numbers include “Doing Something Fun While Doing Something Boring,” “Putting Shaving Cream on Stuff” and the Peloso-led, full-throated power ballad “Questions Before Bed”: “Like, do bees cry? Who invented houses? Did caveman ever ride on dinosaurs? Why are stop signs octagons and not squares? How come it doesn’t hurt when I cut my hair?” Cartoon Network has a collection of clips here, but you can find more clips floating out there in the great sea of copyright violation called the World Wide Web.
“Sexual Harassment & Smoking Pot -- Is This OK?” (Above Average); “Seinfeld: The Leaning Susan” (BellevueUCB/YouTube). Into one of my 10,000 information feeds came “Sexual Harassment & Smoking Pot,” a little video piece in which newly hired, or supposedly newly hired, Above Average writer Glenn Boozan quizzes HR head Patti on acceptable workplace behavior, i.e., what she can get away with without getting fired. (“Hear me out: If I’m sexually harassing someone but I say it’s sexual harassment, is it OK?” “Sexual harassment is never OK.” “Can I wear pants to work? Is that OK?” “Absolutely,” “Just pants, though?” “No.” “Too bad. I got a great pair of pants.”). There is something disarmingly charming about Boozan’s deadpan interrogation and what seem to be the genuinely bemused responses of her interlocutor; anyway, I liked this a lot, I’m telling you about it now. (Note before you click: Most of it is NSFPOBJABFOP, Not Safe for People Offended by Jokes About Bodily Functions or Parts.) Boozan performs less than she writes -- “I Joined OKCupid for a Month and BOY Was My Boyfriend Upset About It,” “How to Defend Yourself Against a Pit Bull Owner Attack” and “I’m More Sexually Attracted to the Old Hamburglar” are among her excellent prose pieces on the Above Average website -- but she has a good camera presence when she chooses to share it. (You may have seen her as Aide #3 in the Above Average clip “Hillary Clinton’s Chipotle Order,” the one who says “Nate Silver says chicken is most popular.”)
As a member of the (New York) Upright Citizens Brigade sketch team Bellevue, Boozan is also one of the writers of the full-length live “Seinfeld” pastiche, “The Leaning Susan,” a video of which went up online last month. (She appears briefly as a salon receptionist.) On a black stage empty but for a few chairs, and with not much else in the way of props, Bellevue mounts a creditable new episode of America’s favorite Upper West Side sitcom -- with a couple of signal differences. Jerry (Noah Forman), Elaine (Cathryn Muldon), George (Dru Johnston) and Kramer (Michael Antonucci), though their manner and mannerisms are well captured, are all about the same height, as in a Charles Ray sculpture; and George’s late fiancee Susan (Joanna Bradley) is back from the dead -- undead -- after 10 years and ready to pick up where she left off. (The real “Seinfeld” drew the line at the supernatural.) If on the one hand it might seem to lessen a show by demonstrating how easily its effects and rhythms may be replicated, on the other hand, the bigger hand, one might say, it celebrates them all. As often happens, Elaine is going to great lengths to obtain a small thing, Kramer has a big idea, George is trapped and Jerry is alternately encouraging and mocking. There are new catch-concepts to add to the old -- “The Big Spoon,” “The Grief Cut” -- the question of finagling (“There was no finagle,” “I think there was a finagle”) and a late confession from Jerry: “You know, this may be the first time I’m admitting this: I don’t think I understand women.”
Robert Lloyd is on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd.
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