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What I Watched Last Night

When you have satellite TV, you get all sorts of programming surprises popping up regularly. These are mostly in the form of channels you've never noticed before, and new blocks of free preview channels. Seriously, I have something like 700 channels (with probably half devoted to things I never bother with, like sports, Jesus, and home shopping), so it's impossible to keep track of all the comings and goings.

Tonight, I noticed a block of 17 new channels. Most are HBO derivatives, but one is Cartoon Network's "Boomerang" channel. For someone like me, this is the TV equivalent of Christmas morning because I remember when Cartoon Network became not-your-dad's-Cartoon-Network by dumping its cable TV lineup of 1950s/1960s-era toons to shift to the whole Transformers and Ren & Stimpy-sorta school. This was great if you smoked a lot of dope, but overall it was a shame because a lot genius disappeared - particularly that of legendary voice Daws Butler in the toons generated by Walter Lantz Studio before the mid-1960s. Since they were originally movie-theater shorts, the Lantz stuff had plenty of adult humor.

A scan of the Boomerang listings through Tuesday night included Top Cat, Johnny Quest, The Banana Splits, The Flintstones, Wacky Races, The Jetsons, Huckleberry Hound, Magilla Gorilla, Secret Squirrel, and Yogi Bear. It's also showing The Amazing Chan Clan and Smurfs, but still. All I know is I'm almost certainly in store for some major Dad points when my kids get a load of this channel because they've seen every possible cartoon on regular cable more times than even God thought would ever be possible.

I caught Boomerang just long enough to see an episode of Micro Ventures, one of the most obscure cartoons of 1968. Basically, Dad and kids Mike and Jill shrink themselves and their hotwired yellow Wisconsin Dells Duck to ant size with their Micro-Reducer to get an up-close look bugs and other small creatures. Naturally, they spend a lot of their time not getting eaten by nature, which really wants nothing more than to take a spin in a Wisconsin Dells Duck.

Only four five-minute Micro Ventures episodes were made because it was educational and, well, those five TV minutes could be better spent selling boatloads of cereal and toys and shit. In this one, Dad and kids get small to barely escape being eaten - Dells Duck and all - by a largemouth bass with a Tommy Bartlett Water Show bumper sticker stuck to it while en route to learning all sorts of swell things about pond frogs.

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I come across a new Kirstie Alley/Jenny Craig commercial on The Learning Channel. This is when I realized I spend far too much time not paying attention to the tabloid rack while standing idly in line at the checkout counter. If I was a more-astute observer, I wouldn't be sitting here thinking, "Holy shit! When did Valerie Bertinelli turn into such a whale?"

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Unlike ABC, which makes cheap shows that suck, NBC came out with a cheap show that pretty much didn't suck with the premiere of Thank God You're Here, an improv sketch show that owes its title to the fact that every sketch begins with the phrase, "Thank God you're here." Participating famous and semi-famous comedic actors get stuck into a costume and walk through a stage door in front of an audience to who-knows-what next. The idea is to stay in character and stay funny.

This was the same sort of improv idea behind the ABC/Drew Carey version of the British Whose Line Is It Anyway? except I never completely believed it was unscripted. Thank God seems to make the unscripted claim believable - especially when guys like Joel McHale (Talk Soup) are out of their element enough to stall for time and end up not being all that funny.

(Additional programming note: The disembodied voice of the show's Annoying Break Announcer Guy seems to be gunning for the Annoying Break Announcer gig on America's Funniest Home Videos.)

Besides McHale, last night's participants were Wayne Knight (Seinfeld), Jennifer Coolidge (Legally Blonde), and Bryan Cranston (Malcolm In The Middle). Of this bunch, Knight was the smoothest, and consistently pretty damn funny. This surprised me because, well, just about every character in his TV and movie career has annoyed the piss out of me. He was even annoying as a cartoon character in Toy Story 2. That's talent.

The show also includes the always-inconsequential David Alan Grier as host and Dave Foley (NewsRadio) as the judge guy behind the desk with his finger on the button of the really loud cartoon AH-OOO-GAH noise that stands in for the old shepherd's crook. Dave's cultivating a facial-hair fashion akin to one of the guys off a Dutch Masters cigar box, but I suppose you don't have to look like you're all that when the show's grand prize is "bragging rights, Hollywood street cred, and a trophy handcrafted in shatterproof plastic by the Franklin Mint."

Notable was Knight's opening-sketch performance as a vitamin huckster ("It's an alternative to medicine . . . There aren't any vitamins in it - it's a supplement to vitamins") being interviewed on a local morning TV program:

Interviewer: "Is there any Omega-3 fish oil?" (or something like that)

Knight: "The truth is, I don't really give a damn. You take a hammer to a fish and you're going to get a lot of oil."

Interviewer: "I hear there's a mystery ingredient" (or something like that)

Knight: "Yes, it's . . . I have no idea. There are people in Singapore who put in whatever the hell they please and we just ship it out."

Of course, Foley gave the plastic award to Cranston, who earned 10 million points and a book of S&H Green Stamps because, well, it's all made up and points don't matter. But the Green Stamps will come in handy when his career tanks.

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Check out the What I Watched Last Night collection.



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Posted on April 10, 2007


MUSIC - What FBG Duck's Mother Says.
TV - The Comedic LA Dodgers.
POLITICS - Wilmette Man Translated Nazis To Death. Heed His Lessons.
SPORTS - Tweeting Foles.

BOOKS - The Endurance Of The Rubik's Cube.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Charles E. Cheese Boo-tacular.


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