Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy Birthday Dave Foley

For all his excellent work over the years - be it in obscure Canadian movies or the combination cult classic yet simultaneously middle of the road American sitcom NewsRadio - there's really only one reason Dave Foley's birthday is being celebrated here today and that's for his part in the revolutionary sketch comedy program The Kids in the Hall...

PhotobucketFrom the first time the opening notes of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet's theme Having an Average Weekend played until the final credit rolled away 102 episodes later, I never once encountered a bad moment anywhere in a Kids in the Hall episode - and I've seen all of them, many times over. Quirky without being inaccessible, innovative without being pretentious, respectful of its genre without being derivative, as well as being oddball, surreal, and a laugh-riot, Foley and his castmates - Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson - seemingly did the impossible, by producing a funny Canadian television show and thereby keeping some of this country's burgeoning comedic talent at home before the inevitable brain drain could sweep them inexorably south.

Even their 1996 movie Brain Candy - which suffered somewhat in the transition of their unique skills from sitcom with live studio audience to film - pushed the envelope of what could be done in cinema by having five people playing all the major characters in what would otherwise have been a cast of dozens; following its poor performance at the box office but before its cult status could kick in, the troupe undertook a tour with a live show and an appearance at the 25th Annual Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, as well as pursuing their own careers.

In this instance, Foley could be seen as the early victor, as NewsRadio managed to limp through five seasons despite the network's constant changes to the show's time slot and the devastating loss of the cast's biggest star, Phil Hartman, who my regular readers will remember was murdered by his sick bitch of a cokehead wife in May 1998*; had NewsRadio been on during the Internet era, I feel certain the fans could have preserved it.

In recent years, Foley has appeared in another Canadian sitcom (the tragically short-lived Robson Arms) and turns up regularly on The Late Late Show with TV's Craig Ferguson; he's also had memorable roles on Celebrity Poker Showdown, Blast from the Past, and Sky High - as well as providing his voice to such animated features as South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and Pixar's A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2 and Cars. More recently, Foley reunited with his old troupe-mates in an eight-part series on Canadian television, entitled Death Comes to Town.

*I'm not over it yet, and I may choose to never get over it.

share on: facebook

Last Of The Summer Wine: "Of Funerals and Fish"

On this day in 1973 began the longest-running sitcom in television history in terms of consecutive years on the air, Last of the Summer Wine; written by comedy legend Roy Clarke - who has to date written all 295 episodes! - Of Funerals and Fish originally aired as part of the BBC's Comedy Playhouse. Set in the West Yorkshire village of Holmfirth, the show concerns a group of late middle-aged eccentrics whose cast has changed over the years as costars have died or otherwise left, even as the antics of their group have remained consistently amusing.

The original trio consisted of Bill Owen as the scruffy and child-like Compo, Peter Sallis* as meek philosopher Clegg, and Michael Bates as authoritarian and snobbish Blamire; they are joined in this episode by Rosemary Martin as Mrs. Partridge, Kathy Staff as Compo's perennial love object Nora Batty, Blake Butler as the librarian Mr. Wainwright, John Comer as Sid, and Jane Freeman as Ivy.

Everything about the show has militated against its success - its un-vulgar humour, its elderly cast, its northern setting, even its low-key music by Ronnie Hazlehurst; clearly the best way to succeed is to try and fail, then, for its 31st consecutive annual appearance aired in 2010, as dark rumours set a-swirling by producer Alan J. W. Bell were later confirmed...  Never ones to let a pesky thing like popularity get in the way of their whim, executives pulled the plug; the show's final appearance, entitled How Not to Cry at Weddings, was aired in August 2010.

*Who went on to greater fame as the voice of Wallace in Aardman Animations' Wallace and Gromit films.

share on: facebook

Pop History Moment: The Election of Nancy Pelosi

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn this day in 2007 Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, was elected Speaker of the House for the 110th United States Congress, making her the first women to hold the post at a federal level*; previously she was the House Minority Leader. Pelosi represents the 8th Congressional District of California, which encompasses San Francisco.

Her appointment came amid disastrous mid-term election results for the Republicans in 2006, and persists as things get even worse for the so-called Grand Old Party, whose attachment to neoconservatism and religious evangelism cost them control of the White House, Congress, and the Senate in 2008. Good times...

Pelosi lost her position after Blue Dog Democrats lost their House majority by turning their back on progressive ideals during the 2010 midterm elections, and is once again the House minority leader, having ceded her position to the sniveling Oompa-Loompa John Boehner.

*Minnie D. Craig, of course, became the first female House Speaker in the US in 1933, fulfilling that role at the state level in North Dakota.

share on: facebook

POPnews - January 4th

[At its apex the Palace of Whitehall was both the largest royal residence in Europe and indeed the largest building in the world, comprising more than 1500 rooms in a hodge-podge of styles; following a fire on this day in 1698 it was reduced to this single structure, the exquisite Banqueting House, built in a revolutionary style inspired by Andrea Palladio. King Charles I commissioned it, at a cost of £15,618; 27 years later he was executed in front of it.]

46 BCETitus Labienus defeated Julius Caesar at the Battle of Ruspina.

871 CE - At the Battle of Reading Ethelred of Wessex and his brother Alfred the Great attacked and were defeated by a Danish invasion army.

1698 - Most of the Palace of Whitehall in London, the main residence of the English monarchs through the previous 2 centuries, was destroyed by fire; only Inigo Jones' Banqueting House of 1622 survived.

1854 - The McDonald Islands were discovered by Captain William McDonald aboard the Samarang.

1878 - Sofia was emancipated from Ottoman rule by the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo-Turkish War; it was later made capital of the Principality of Bulgaria.

1884 - The Fabian Society - itself an offshoot of The Fellowship of the New Life - was founded in London to advance the socialist cause by gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary means; while it is considered the forerunner of the Labour Party it is still in existence today as its own entity.

1896 - Utah became the 45th US state.

1903 - Topsy the Elephant was electrocuted by Thomas Edison during the War of Currents campaign.

1912 - The Scout Association was incorporated throughout the British Commonwealth by a Royal Charter granted by King George V.

1936 - Billboard magazine published its first pop music charts.

1948 - Burma regained its independence from the United Kingdom.

1958 - The Soviet-built Sputnik 1 - launched in October 1957 - fell to Earth.

1972 - Rose Heilbron became the first woman to preside over a courtroom at the Old Bailey in London.

1973 - The world's longest running sitcom (in terms of consecutive years on the air) Roy Clarke's Last of the Summer Wine was first broadcast on the BBC's Comedy Playhouse and is still running on this, its 37th anniversary; at nearly 290 episodes it is minor league compared to American sitcoms, but in British terms has set a record never likely to be beaten.

1974 - Serial killer Ted Bundy attacked his first known victim when he entered the basement bedroom of 18-year-old 'Joni Lenz' through an unlocked window before viciously raping her; although she survived the attack, because of it she suffered horrific internal injuries and brain damage.

1989 - The so-called Second Gulf of Sidra incident occurred when a pair of Libyan MiG-23 'Floggers' were shot down by a pair of US Navy F-14 Tomcats during an air-to-air confrontation.

1999 - Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was sworn in as governor of Minnesota.

2006 - Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a second, apparently more serious, stroke - whereupon his authority was transferred to acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

2007 - The 110th United States Congress convened, electing Nancy Pelosi its first female Speaker of the House.
share on: facebook