Here’s some more early Tom Hanks weirdness … he starred in ABC’s cross-dressing comedy “Bosom Buddies” between 1980 and 1982. The show ran for just two scant seasons. I’m surprised at that, because I seem to remember it being a much bigger deal in the 1980’s — maybe just because it was a big hit at my house, when I was in second and third grade. I wanted to be like the guys in the show, albeit without the cross-dressing. I wanted to be grow up to live in New York City with my best friend and a beautiful blond girlfriend name “Sunny,” and get into zany hijinks.
I remember thinking that Hanks’ co-star, Peter Scolari, was the cool and funny one. I thought Hanks was annoying, even if he did look like Billy Joel, whose music my older sister had taught me to really like. (Joel’s “Glass Houses” album was stacked vertically with the others beside the living room record player, not far from where I watched this show on the family’s color television.) And that is indeed Billy Joel’s “My Life” playing as the show’s theme song — but it had a different vocalist, for some reason. (No matter how many times I hear it, that song will always take me back to the 80’s.)
Scolari’s career following the short-lived “Bosom Buddies” certainly hasn’t paralleled Hanks, but he’s still done a hell of a lot of television. (Among many other things, he surprisingly starred as Commissoner Loeb in “Gotham” in 2015. I didn’t see that one coming.)
As you can see from the opening credits below, the central plot device for “Bosom Buddies” was that the two guys had to pretend to be women in order to live at an all-women’s apartment building. It only occurs to me now as I’m writing this that the show’s title was a double entendre. I actually asked my Dad what the word “bosom” meant when I was a kid, and he gave me an answer that was accurate, if incomplete. (He explained the colloquial meaning of the expression — a “bosom buddy” was a best friend, who you figuratively held close to you. I subsequently told my best friend next door that he was my “bosom buddy” at one point.)
Yeah, I know it’s strange that I can remember a conversation from 39 years ago about an obscure TV show. It’s weird what people remember.
I had a subscription to Boys’ Life magazine for a couple of years when I was a Cub Scout in the early 1980’s. My parents canceled it after a year or two, and I can’t blame them — I just wasn’t reading it. Boys’ Life was the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America, and it was pretty wholesome stuff … it just didn’t offer the excitement of my comic books or the occasional copy of Fangoria that I manged to get my hands on.
But there was one feature of Boys’ Life that I followed religiously — the serialized comic strip adaptation of John Christopher’s The Tripods book trilogy. (Christopher published the first three of his books in the late 1960’s; he added a prequel novel in 1988, but that was long after the Boy Scouts and Boys’ Life was behind me.)
The Tripods was cool, dark dystopian stuff. The story opened with the first book, The White Mountains, to find humanity settled into an agrarian, pre-industrial age in which their overlords were the titular “tripods” — massive three-legged vehicles piloted by unknown beings. Humans were ritualistically “capped” with a brain-altering device when they reached age 14 — thereafter becoming docile and conformist and easier for the mysterious machines to subjugate.
The White Mountains followed a trio of 13-year-old boys who escaped the “capping” to seek out a human resistance movement; the second book, The City of Gold and Lead, shows two of these protagonists infiltrate the city of the tripods’ operators. (Spoiler — they’re grotesque aliens.) The third book, The Pool of Fire, presumably picks up from there, but my Boys’ Life subscription ran out before the magazine got to that.
I recently, however, used this Interwebs thingamajig to discover what looks like a real gem of a find — a 1984 BBC mini-series adaptation of the books. I started the first episode and it looks quite good. If I get around to watching the whole thing, I’ll review it here.
These early 80’s Clairol ads, of all things, came up on Facebook — after I lamented the waves of gray that have flourished across my head with astonishing suddenness. (I swear this seems like something that happened overnight. I honestly thought that there something wrong with my eyes, or maybe the bathroom light.)
I remember this little jingle quite well — it’s catchy, and there were a few variations of the 1980 TV spot that you see below. I never knew that it was a send-up of a number from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” — “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair.” For some reason, my friends thought that was really funny.
Chuck Barris’ “The Gong Show” (1976-1980) was another show I remember vaguely (but quite fondly) from when I was in kindergarten or the first grade. (It aired its original run between 1976 and 1978, and then was syndicated the latter two years.) I still remember laughing uproariously at its weird acts, and it might have been one of those shows that ended just before my 8 PM bedtime.
The idea was this — a panel of three celebrity judges would view a handful of amateur talent acts, and would bang the titular gong if an act was so bad that they decided they couldn’t allow it to continue. (Along with legitimate talent, the program deliberately fielded acts that were weird or just plain bad.) What’s interesting is that this seems like a very tame precursor of contentious current reality shows like “American Idol” or “Britain’s Got Talent,” which are still going strong since their advent in the early 21st Century. “The Gong Show” was a lot more laid back.
This probably seems like it should be a Throwback Thursday post around Halloween, but “Gre-Gory the Bat” was actually a cherished Christmas present I received in the early 1980’s. I’m not completely certain about when the toy was released; its current eBay sellers keep listing it as a 1979 toy, but nostalgia sites claim it was released by Mattel in 1980. (Astonishingly, the eBay folks are hawking ol’ Gre-Gory for between $150 to $600.)
A few toy collectors recall this toy with derision, but … hot damn, did I love Gre-Gory when I was a young kid. It was a good-sized toy, at eight inches tall and a foot wide, made of heavy, durable rubber, and it made me feel like I had my own pet monster in my closet. Those circular claws were supposed to enable you to perch Gre-Gory from a pen or pencil, though it weighed too much for that. Best of all was its built-in special effect, which, to my delight, inspired genuine revulsion in adults — by depressing a button in the back, you could manually pump its syrupy, visible “blood” through that transparent chest cavity that you see below. (There are a few videos on Youtube that show how weird and gross this was; I found it quite entertaining as boy.)
Ghosts seldom scare me, because I’m never 100 percent clear on what sort of threat they present to the protagonists of a horror film or TV show. They’re not like zombies, vampires, werewolves or serial killers, all of which will do predictably horrible things to their victims.
Can ghosts … kill you? Injure you? That usually doesn’t make sense, given their non-corporeal nature. Can they … scare you to death? How would that work? Would they cause a heart attack? Or drive you mad? That’s fine, I suppose, but here they’ve taken a back seat to the demons of horror films since 1973’s “The Exorcist” spawned a sub-genre with far more frightening supernatural baddies. Are ghosts supposed to inspire existential dread, by reminding the viewers of their own mortality? For me, that backfires — their existence would strongly suggest the existence of an afterlife, which would be paradoxically reassuring.
It’s therefore a testament to the quality of Netflix’ “The Haunting of Hill House” (2018) that it’s frequently so scary, even to me. We find out in the first episode that its ghosts indeed do more than frighten the story’s protagonists, but it’s the show’s writing, directing and acting that make it so memorable. It’s an a superb viewing experience, and I’d rate it a 10 out of 10.
The cast roundly shines — but especially Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton (even if his performance was a little understated). Catherine Parker is deliciously evil in a supporting role as the house’s most outwardly vicious spirit. The best performance, for me, however, was the young Victoria Pedretti as the traumatized Nell — she was goddam amazing, and deserves an Emmy nomination.
Mike Flanagan’s directing was perfect — his use of long angles and colors to make lavish interiors disorienting reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s similar sensory trickery in “The Shining” (1980). Michael Fimognari’s cinematography was beautiful. Even the makeup effects were damned good. (Nothing beats Greg Nicotero’s work in “The Walking Dead” universe, but the work here is sometimes horrifying.)
I’m not the only one who loved this show either. It is broadly praised in online horror fan circles (though I’d recommend avoiding most of those for spoilers). I haven’t read Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel that is its source material, but a bibliophile who I trust assured me that the show is even better.
Sure, there were some things that didn’t work for me. “The Haunting of Hill House” actually does take a while to get where it’s going; it favors in-depth, flashback-heavy character development over advancing its plot, in much the same manner as “Lost” (2004 – 2010) once did. And some viewers might feel the same frustration here as they would for that show.
Its story and supernatural adversaries are also distinctly Gothic. (Your mileage may vary as to what’s a comfortably familiar trope and what’s an archaic cliche. I myself was more interested the more modern and three-dimensional interpretation of ghost characters seen in 1999’s “The Sixth Sense.”) I’d even go so far as the say that the first ghost that we see in any detail is actually disappointing — the otherworldly figure connected with the bowler hat felt too cartoonish for me, like something we’d see on Walt Disney World’s “The Haunted Mansion” ride. (Trust me, they get more intimidating after that.)
Give this show a chance — and stay with it if you think it’s too slow, or if you find its characters a little unlikable at first. You’ll be glad you did.
Weird world: if the diffident, sometimes off-putting character of Steven looks familiar to you, it might be because that’s none other than Michiel Huisman, who plays the charismatic Daario on “Game of Thrones.”