Loading...

Forward Into the Past 

The terrifying togs of That '70s Show; the retro robots of Rolie Polie Olie

Wednesday, Sep 30 1998
Comments
Life magazine, the official gazette of our age, has just published, in a handsome, perfect-bound special edition you're sure to treasure for weeks to come, its authoritative estimation of the 100 most important events of the last 1,000 years. The invention of television comes in at number 14, right between the smallpox vaccine and the theory of evolution - and who couldn't have predicted it? Well, all right, it does seem a little low. But remember that a millennium is a long time, and that TV is yet in what the giant floating, disembodied brains of the future will consider its infancy. Even our most ambitious, technologically sophisticated productions will to their hideous "eyes" look as backward as cave paintings, as unformed as a toddler's scrawl.

As to the television of A.D. 2999 . . . I mean, the laugh-track technology alone . . . The mind reels. It boggles. It swells with envy. It defensively contracts. Some things, however, will surely remain unchanged a thousand years hence: "TV will lie to you," said Bill Cosby on the first show of his current series' third season. (Does this mean he was lying?) "TV doesn't care about you." And all TV's protestations to the contrary, that does seem to be the case. It provides stimulus without warmth, company without compassion, information as a commodity. It has never so much as helped with the dishes, other than to offer conflicting advice on which detergent I should use. It's not what you'd call a healthy relationship. But even though I don't trust TV any farther than I can throw one, I won't deny we've had some good times. I won't say we haven't been through some stuff. Oh, yeah, the stories I could tell: the one about the two dates for the prom, the one about the lost borrowed diamond necklace that turns out to be paste, the one where the boss comes to dinner with hardly any warning. And that mistaken-identity thing - now that was hilarious. And god knows but we go back, way back, all the way back down memory lane. History counts for something. And what's "healthy," anyway? It can still work. I know it can. High five. Big hug. We're survivors. Here we go again.

Related Stories

  • Hold This Thread as We Run Away

    Christmas is the only time of year that bad fashion is actually encouraged. Namely, the ugly sweater, whose eponymous Ugly Sweater Run encourages owners of that tacky and ubiquitous holiday statement piece -- be it Bill Cosby-style, battery-operated or homemade with glue and felt -- to wear their prized possession...
  • L.A.'s New Wave of Indie Comedy Labels

    In a single-room Cypress Park office, comedians Al Madrigal and Bill Burr spearhead the efforts of the six dozen comics who make up the collective All Things Comedy. Their enterprise, which began in October 2012, emphasizes DIY over decor — concrete, brick, single corner computer, a green-felt poker table holding...
  • Cosby's Sweaters Website Changes Name After Bill Cosby Objects

    Updated at the bottom with comments from the site's co-founder, who tells us he'd sell the domain to Cosby for $10 million. First posted at 4:01 p.m. Remember in high school when there were the geeks? And then there were the jocks? But never the twain shall meet, unless one...
  • Las Vegas Is Out of Ideas 31

    I’m in Las Vegas. I will be in and out of the city for several days. Before anything else, the heat. It is incredible. Walking around in 106-degree air makes you question your sanity. Yet here we are out in it — that is to say, myself and countless other...
  • Advertiser-Funded The Beauty Inside, Rediscovered

    Every morning, Alex (Topher Grace) wakes up in a new body. Some days he's a virile, chisel-jawed man; others, a prepubescent girl or an overweight hipster. Some days he can speak only Mandarin. The pain of his predicament hits home when we see that he has to measure his feet...

Excuse me: I appear to have been having an episode. Let's just call it the season opener. In this not so very special episode, I have an . . . episode. (Rated TV-MA for language, dammit, adult themes and partial nudity - I'm writing this barefoot.) I'd blame it on the start of another new TV year, but actually, most of what I have seen of the Broadcast Six's incompletely unveiled fall line looks to be, if not particularly divine, certainly not disastrous, and if not remarkable, at least professional. Costello, Sports Night, Will & Grace, Encore! Encore!, Conrad Bloom - none of these programs will do you any more harm than TV does anyway just by being on. We will speak more of some of them in the weeks to come as it becomes clear where they're headed, and what they have to say, and what I have to say, apart from "harmless." Other series (see ya, The Army Show; later, Holding the Baby) will, I am quite sure, never be mentioned here again. Meanwhile we are being offered, indefinitely, the two-dimensional electronic company of Joan Plowright, Glenne Headley, Dan Lauria, Joe Morton, Kellie Martin, Debra Messing, Faith Ford, Jon Lovitz, Christina Applegate, Frank Whaley, Jeremy Piven and (shifting briefly to daytime) Marie Osmond, not to mention a small army of returning old reliables, and for this relief, much thanks, for 'tis bitter cold and I am sick at heart.

Come to think of it, I have seen one truly remarkable - and rather divine - thing this season: six TV teenagers, some of them actual teenagers, singing along to a remake of Big Star's 1972 "In the Street" as if it were a bona-fide classic-rock classic, like "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Go Your Own Way" - which it was in my parallel universe, but not where most earthlings live. This astonishing sight occurs weekly under the opening credits of Fox's inelegantly named That '70s Show, and if it is reminiscent of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" sequence in Wayne's World, that might just have something to do with the fact that that film's co-authors, Bonnie and Terry Turner, are in charge here. As in the '70s themselves, small premium has been put on "reality" (what is it, after all?), and that is not surprising given that the Turners are also in charge of the burlesquesque 3rd Rock From the Sun. Apart from nods to the gas crisis, the Equal Rights Amendment, Todd Rundgren and Chico and the Man, and some terrifying togs and upsetting wallpaper, the show has substantially no more to do with its titular decade than Happy Days did with the 1950s. And apart from its shyly lovestruck principles (geeky but groovy Topher Grace - I don't make up these names, I just write 'em down - and wide-shouldered Laura Prepon, approximating perfection), who get reasonable dialogue to speak and human emotions to play, it's all cartoons in a cartoon land: the dumb hunk, the ditz, the haplessly comical foreigner. Riverdale with (implied) pot smoking.

And apart from the pot, and some unusually clever, gag-enhancing camerawork, there's not much new: The pilot was a variation on a Wonder Years episode, some of the naughtier jokes have an almost contractual tang (Fox will be Fox), and if you haven't seen these characters elsewhere 50 times before, you've been trying hard not to look - but I don't mind it at all. The universally charming younger cast members may be forgiven their anomalous post-Bicentennial speech patterns and body language, as most of them weren't yet born in 1976, the year the show takes place; Grace and Prepon have believable, attractive chemistry; and Tanya Roberts, once a Charlie's Angel and now a sexy mother, is funnier even than the idea of casting her. And, really, what else are you going to do between The Simpsons and The X-Files? Get stoned?

Sentimentally as plausible as That '70s Show, though it is an actual cartoon and set in a world of living machines in which the merest toothbrush is sentient, is Rolie Polie Olie, a new computer-animated series produced for the Disney Channel by Canada's Nelvana Ltd. in concert with France's Metal Hurlant. Brightly colored and psychedelically luminous, the show concerns the ordinary adventures of 6-year-old Polie Olie and his robot nuclear family, his dog, Spot, and a lot of especially helpful furniture, and is designed and co-commanded by William Joyce, author and illustrator of Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures With the Family Lazardo and A Day With Wilbur Robinson; like those books, it is steeped in '30s style, from its retro-futuristic design and "boy howdy" lingo to its early-swing soundtrack and Betty Boop anthropomorphism. (There are Disney references as well: Olie's two-button shorts; a recurring white-glove motif.) The final look of the show, perhaps because of the exigencies and effects of digital animation, is less suggestive of Joyce's own line and palette then it is of a cross between the work of David "Miss Spider" Kirk and Rodney Alan Greenblat, with perhaps a touch of the Timbertoes, but that is hardly a bad thing.

"Happiness," sang Donovan back before the day, "runs in a circular motion," which might be the motto of this curvy, sphereocentric, computer-plotted world, spatially persuasive and geometrically consistent, well-cushioned and wonderfully benign. Though the playlets are not empty of tension, they pose no problems that can't be resolved in the space of a seven-minute episode (three of which make a show), and though the stories are modest - like chapters in a kids' primer in which the possibilities of plot are limited by the extent of the vocabulary - they are, under the extraterrestrial trimmings, true to simple kid stuff and family dynamics, notwithstanding a certain Ward-June creepiness about the parental units. The pictures, meanwhile, pulse with peripheral action, and what would be the camera - if a camera came into the process at all - gyres and gimbles through artificial real space with balletic grace, executing tracking shots Martin Scorsese sees only in his dreams. The giant brains of the 30th century may look back and shrug, but permit me, please, my primitive amazement.

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending