I know I’ve been sporadically posting for the last few years. The truth is, I just cannot stand the way WordPress is setup now.
Oh how I long for the days of that old school “classic editor”! I can’t tell you how many times I accidentally deleted shit when writing last year’s Summer of Swayze and I kinda just didn’t want to finish it because the formatting process was so cumbersome and unfulfilling. And I don’t feel good about how many projects I’ve deprioritized because it takes too long to make them work on here.
That’s why I’m going to move on over to Substack. I hope you’ll join me! You can either read “The Very Special Blog” directly on Substack or subscribe to receive my newsletter directly to your email. It’s real easy, just head to: https://theveryspecialblog.substack.com/
I’m starting a new series this summer where I will be covering the “Malibu Sands” episodes of Saved by the Bell. In addition to my hot takes on Jesse Spano’s perfect beach waves, you’ll also be receiving a cool homemade ice cream recipe with each episode. (I couldn’t even crack an egg when I started this blog, so if I can make ice cream, then you can too!! As an added bonus my recipes do not require an ice cream machine.)
I’m keeping this blog active because there’s almost eight years worth of content on here! And I’m not ruling out posting on here in the future…but I think it’s time for something new.
While I would argue that Hamlet has a better plot than Romeo and Juliet, I’m grading on what we actually see of the production in each of these sitcoms. And based on that alone, FamilyMatters is the clear winner. (If we were judging on episode plot it would be all about Boy Meets World though. Cory squanders the lead in Hamlet because he doesn’t want to wear tights and it’s all a very good insight into gender roles and insecurities whereas FM is about Laura and Steve kissing as the leads in R&J).
But now back to the shows within the shows. We get to see most of the balcony scene uninterrupted in Family Matters. And Steve’s undying love for Laura makes him a pretty good Romeo…that is until he accidentally destroys the entire set which appears to be all interconnected by a pulley system.
Flying in set pieces is all well and good. But connecting each and every joint with string? That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen! However, I have to imagine that this makes strike a lot easier.
It’s major flaws aside, the set really is beautiful. It has a lot of levels, uses the full stage, and showcases a fairly interesting lighting design. In the screenshot for this episode, you can see Laura and Steve lit from behind the curtains of Juliet’s bedroom and from the front by “the moon.”
However, if the set was built with a kill switch, then the staging should have been such that Steve Urkel was NO WHERE NEAR IT. Point to Boy Meets World for staging because they have a whole cast visible and nothing breaks.
The costumes for both productions are really strong. However, I’m going to give the point to BMW because there’s just a little more going on with them. Shawn has a prosthetic belly, Minkus is sporting a monochromatic ensemble as the replacement for Cory in the title role, and there’s more diversity in the fabrics and color palettes.
In I Love Lucy, Ethel and Lucy write an operetta for their women’s club because Lucy (as treasurer) has so badly managed their finances that they desperately need to fundraise without spending any money. The show starts off really well. We get to see Ethel as the ingenue, which is nice because the show frequently forced Vivian Vance into a frumpy look, and its great to hear her show off both her lyric and coloratura soprano styles.
Ricky play the romantic lead and Lucy plays the “queen of the gypsies” whose solo song is drowned out by a chorus of much better singers — much to Lucy’s chagrin. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the full production because Lucy paid for all the costumes and set pieces with a post-dated cheque. Annnd everything gets repossessed mid-production. That said, the set pieces are truly beautiful and we do get to hear some of the wonderful music as composed by series composer Eliot Daniel. I would almost have awarded I Love Lucy the point for costumes…but…The Golden Girls knocked it out of the park on this one.
I mean SERIOUSLY just look at the detailed feather work here, people!
This was a close matchup, but The Golden Girls won with three points over I Love Lucy‘s two. Here’s a snippet of the winning production production:
One thing unique about Growing Pains versus most of the other contenders in this contest is that we do get to see a whole lot of the production. We’re treated to several minutes of Our Town and lots of quirky true to school amateur theater moments — the lights are too bright, the kids forget their lines, the director (the school’s coach and PE teacher) is still on stage when the curtain rises, etc. It’s very cute and I got a kick out of watching it. That said, the staging is horrible. No one seems to know how to cheat out — either because they wanted to keep that real amateur vibe or because these are a bunch of film actors with no stage experience. Needless to say, this isn’t a problem on The Golden Girls.
While the costumes are good on Growing Pains (and once again true to a high school costume shop where everything is just a bit ill fitting) I just couldn’t resist the mid-century dresses they put our girls Blanche and Rose in. Plus, Dorothy shows up as the small town sheriff (as a last minute understudy because no one else can fit into the costume) and I just love her energy in this role. So I did award the point to The Golden Girls for costuming.
Scenic design was a tricky point in this matchup. Those of you familiar with Our Town will know that the set is intentionally sparse. And the Growing Pains crew did a nice job honoring this in a way that’s both true to the tradition but also still interesting to look at.
But I did give the point to “Picnicish” (lol I’m not actually sure what the play is called but it’s not quite “Picnic”) because frankly I just thought this set was gorgeous.
You can see the stage a little bit in this video of the Blanche’s audition:
Growing Pains wins on overall plot because they do follow the Our Town script and we see a lot of their production! Also, I’ve never seen Christa Denton in anything other than this (she plays “Monica” as Our Town‘s “Emily) but oh my gosh I can’t take my eyes off her. She makes what could be a boring ingenue role really charming to watch.
The Golden Girls is great but um…they definitely go off book…as it turns out the out of town actor paying the lead turns out to be a romantic scammer. He sleeps with the entire cast of women and tells them all that they’re secretly in love. He’s gross. The GOOD NEWS is that Blanche confronts him on stage and it does kind of track with the performance…he’s playing a drifter…the call him out for lying to everyone…and then Dorothy, the sheriff, runs him out of “town.” The audience, none the wiser, erupts in applause. But it’s unclear how exactly the show will continue after the opening scene…it’s probably just a wrap at that point.
Welcome to our first matchup of the Show Within A Show Showdown! Today, Square Peg‘s original musical “A Cafeteria Line” faces off with Saved by the Bell‘s rap-operetta, fractured-fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dorks.”
Before we get into the nitty gritty of each production, I’m so fascinated by the fact that both of these shows put a lot of work into the show within a show aspect of this. There’s a ton of original lyrics (and, in the case of Square Pegs, music) and I’m like damn who wrote all of this?? I’m just dying to read an oral history of these two episodes, but I couldn’t find one on either.
Based on what I could dig up on IMDB, Paul Shaffer (yes, that Paul Shaffer) is credited for “special musical material” on “A Cafeteria Line” along with composer Jon Wolff (who based on an interview I was able to find with him was the credited composer for the show’s entire run).
“Well, Paul was in New York, and my job in L.A. was to wait for him to send the compositions, the songs for the dance number and one that Sarah [Jessica Parker] is singing, and there were a couple of other numbers in Janis Hirsch’s script. So my job was to receive the compositions, arrange them, orchestrate them if they needed to be, hire the musicians, book the studio, produce the music, deliver it to stage, music supervise the production of it, teach it to the actors, work with the choreographer… Everything but compose the music. And I was okay with that, because that fit squarely into my description as the utility guy, the chores guy. It was just another job for me.” — Jonathan Wolff interviewed by Will Harris
As for “Snow White and the Seven Dorks,” the only credited musicians on this episode are Richard Eames and Scott Gale, who are credits on most (if not all) of the show’s episodes. I’m assuming they also wrote for “Snow White and the Seven Dorks,” but I wasn’t able to find anything super specific so that’s just my best guess.
And now for the point breakdown: Let’s start with “A Cafeteria Line.” If this was truly a contest of musical numbers only — Square Pegs would win by a landslide. I knew Sarah Jessica Parker was a Broadway kid, but I so rarely get to hear her sing. It’s pretty much this episode and that one song in Hocus Pocus, but her voice is so lovely! I want to hear more of it! She totally nails it as the sweet nerd, Patty, who finally gets to be seen.
There’s also the splashy big group number, reminiscent of Fame‘s “Hot Lunch Jam,” about cafeteria food with such lines as “creamed corn, ketchup is a vegetable” or the more romantic, “You don’t know how I felt, when I shared your tuna melt.”
It’s cute, it moves, this show should win by a landslide, right? Well, I hadn’t seen this in so long that I forgot the actual plot of the musical. The show has a very creepy director who like clearly wrote this experimental piece and wants to be controversial — you know one of those self important drama types who doesn’t seem to recognize he’s working with children — and the plot of “A Cafeteria Line,” as it turns out, is Patty’s high school teenager character in a romantic relationship with her drama teacher (who is played by another high school student). There’s a scripted kiss and everything. It’s so creepy and unnecessary.
Both lead characters are played by students, so why make one a teenager and one an adult? Like wtf. I love Anne Beatts work on this show for the most part, but this totally shocked me. Unless this is like a super dark joke that I’m not getting? Anyway, points awarded for music and choreography, but by default I was going to award the plot points to Saved by the Bell…except…it turns out they didn’t win by default…the plot of “Snow White and the Seven Dorks” is…dare I say…good?
This starts off as a drama club production at Bayside High School. Their teacher encourages them to present a fresh take on an old classic, so bubbly Kelly Kapowski suggests they do a rap version which is oh so cringe. And it’s not just cringe because they’re a bunch of mostly white teens who seem to have known knowledge or no appreciation of rap’s cultural significance and a sociopolitical art form — it’s cringe on a physical level as well. My ears hurt. The Beastie Boys they are not. Also, all of the rapping is done over one repetitive beat that I think is just that pre-programmed setting that every keyboard had in the 90s.
The plot is the more interesting part, thankfully. Due to some 90’s stereotyping the dorks of Bayside are the techies, but this year they refuse to be board ops and insist on being on stage. This leads to the 7 dorks characters (but Slater plays a dork too so it isn’t full-on type casting). Zack is cast as the prince, but Kelly is cast against-type as the Evil Queen, whereas Jessie plays Snow White (which is cool because she makes her a more feminist, character with a surprising amount of agency for this fairy tale).
Zack tries to drop out of the show immediately because the only reason he auditioned was that he didn’t want anyone else to kiss Kelly (who he assumed would be cast as Snow White). At Kelly and Jessie’s urging, he decides to stay in the show. Throughout the rehearsal process, there appears too be maybe TOO much chemistry between Zack and Jessie. Slater and Kelly get super jealous and behave like jerks, so Jessie and Zack rewrite the whole ending of the musical (which works seamlessly because the music is just that one basic drum kit backing track on loop).
Zack and Jessie surprise everyone with the new ending of “Snow White” in which Snow White wakes herself up and decides that kissing the dork she wants to kiss (Slater) is what will fully revive her from the witch’s spell. And the Prince decides he really prefers the Evil Queen. The heart wants what it wants! (But I sure do hope these teens learn about healthy relationships because you shouldn’t have to rewrite a whole play because your partner doesn’t trust you.)
Also the costumes are CUTE and the scenery is flashy but not distracting. Both “A Cafeteria Line” and “Snow White and the Seven Dorks” use a graffiti unit set, but “Snow White” uses more color and it is coordinated nicely with the color scheme of the costumes.
Sorry, “A Cafeteria Line,” I almost loved you but you were too creepy. Plus, Jessie and Zack did a really nice riff on the misogynistic plot of “Snow White.”
It’s been a looong time since we did a bracket challenge, Very Special Readers! In fact, I thought of doing one during quarantine but I couldn’t remember how to do them because that’s how much my brain didn’t work! Anyway, I’m happy to say that most (if not all) of my executive functioning has since returned. With that said, allow me to introduce The Show Within a Show Showdown.
Each of the shows in the showdown were selected because each production included a least one of our regular lead characters. The productions are “real” within the context of the show, a.k.a. no dream sequences, daydreams, or hallucinations (this excluded the “Lucy Goes to Scotland” episode of I Love Lucy).
We also must see the cast in full costume for a minimum of one full minute’s worth of airtime (this excluded a super cute Sister, Sister sequence which only had about forty seconds worth of “show within a show time” and just isn’t enough airtime to compare it to the other contenders.) While my reviews will describe the episode in its entirely, points will only be awarded for the show within a show. Thus, there needs to be enough of the play or musical itself to be able to give it a score within the point system.
Here’s the point system:
All episodes will be graded on a 5 point scale and the winning episode will have the higher score in each matchup:
For MUSICALS* -Overall Plot of the musical – 1 point -Music – 1 point -Choreography – 1 point -Costumes – 1 point -Scenic Design – 1 point
For PLAYS -Overall Plot of the play – 2 points -Costumes – 1 point -Scenic Design – 1 point -Staging – 1 point
*Please note, I will use the play rating scale for the final round when a musical faces off against a play.
Any questions? Pop them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you!
Grab your bracket below! And stay tuned for posts every Monday starting January 10th.
Let me preface this by saying, this show was the best. If you were a child of the 90’s who loved Nancy Drew Mysteries, then you were into The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. In each episode, Shelby shows us one of her case files (on an old ass computer that was very innovative at the time). She also lives with her grandpa, Pat Morita, who I recently learned once had his own detective series!
This Christmas episode is kind of weird. The mystery starts at a restaurant where someone has swapped out an entree with um…live mice…
The very easy solution here is to not serve covered dishes at the table…but this restaurant is very into the room service aesthetic, so unfortunately live mice have been served up for dinner. Yikes.
When the health department closes the restaurant. Shelby not only tries to find the culprit because she loves a good mystery, but also because her friend’s parents own the place.
Clue #1: An empty strawberry basket filled with cheese is in the kitchen trash. (Both Shelby and the detective think it’s mouse-related because obviously this kitchen wouldn’t have cheese for any other reason. But to be fair, the cheese in the strawberry container is odd and does look just like the cheese on the mouse plate).
Back at the station, we’re introduced to a B-Plot: Secret Santa! (More on this later.)
Clue #2: The chef destroyed the original plate of food before the detectives arrived. (Okay, but seriously who sends a detective to respond to mice at a restaurant? Is this a thing?)
Oh also the C-plot is Pat Morita playing Santa for a bunch of underprivileged kids. He takes knowledge of Santa’s backstory very seriously and studies the lore extensively throughout the episode.
In the midst of all these happenings, the restaurant owners’ older daughter finds the time to help the younger daughter study fractions by using measuring cups and the restaurants supplies…but okay that also feels like another health department no-no. Anyway…
Clue #3: A very small attempt at arson in the restaurant’s kitchen with a type-written note that mentions going out of business. Bold move to leave a paper message in the midst of arson. (Also note, the couple’s younger daughter tries to throw the half-burned note away before Shelby can read what’s left of it.)
Clue #4: The chef buys cooking spices at the market. Buying his own ingredients is suspicious cause he’s trying to destroy the restaurant and take it back from the owners (according to Shelby) but…I dunno…I’m not buying it.
Later on at the restaurant, the food has been spiked with chilies!!!
Clue #5: One guest’s table doesn’t get any spiked food. Shelby also remembers that she saw this guest drive past the restaurant on the night of the fire.
And time for another C-Plot, Pat Morita appearance. This time, he’s testing the authenticity of his beard.
Clue #6: Shelby’s friend’s eyes hurt from the chilies but all she touched at the restaurant were the plates, not the food. She also touched the sugar dispenser.
This final clue helps Shelby solve the mystery…
Did you solve it as well?
Time to find out…
THE YOUNGER DAUGHTER IS THE CULPRIT!
She doesn’t see her parents anymore because they are sooooo busy. They’re even working on Christmas Eve!! And before you’re like woah woah woah but that arson was still psychotic — the fire was an accident. The note was the intention (the candle was presumably to call attention to it). The good news is they decided to keep the restaurant but just close for family time on Christmas Eve. And hopefully, that child decided to stop handling live mice for good.
And now back to the B-Plot: Shelby and her crush are each other’s secret santas and they each got one another thoughtful gifts and they are probably in looooooooveeeeee. Shelby made him a painting and he made her a mixtape. The 90’s awwwww.
And Pat Morita finally nails the Santa thing.
And in what we now know is workplace sexual harassment, Shelby’s boss makes her kiss her crush underneath the mistletoe.
Very Special Lesson(s): Really what I learned is that it’s important to STATE YOUR NEEDS and not BE RUINING EVERYONE’S LIVES because you’re being passive-aggressive. Yes, this culprit was a child and so I’m willing to grade on a cruve. Now that I know she’s not literally trying to burn down the place, she seems fine. However, I think we could have avoided this whole thing if she had simply left a note (without an open flame) saying she wanted to spend Christmas Eve at home as a family.
Also Pat Morita is the perfect Santa. I mean. Wow. I didn’t know I needed to see Pat Morita as Santa, but my heart knew. You know? And it was awesome.
I also do have some questions about how long they left that food unattended in the kitchen long enough that the kid could swap out a plate of food for a plate of mice but oh well it’s Christmas so I’ll overlook it!
I hope you have a Merry Christmas, Very Special Readers! See you in 2022 for more very special episodes!
I did a double take at the beginning of this episode because it begins with a flash forward to the Christmas of 1998 and I was like wait what year is it???? Anyway, little Nicky is asking Phil to tell him a bedtime story about his four middle names…and now we go back to Christmas Eve 1993.
Carlton is so into the holiday spirit that he had jingle bells sewn into his pants cuffs. It’s extra but it’s cute.
Evidently, the whole family has bought really lovely, expensive gifts for Nicky’s christening. But Will has purchased a hand puppet.
Realizing his gift is crap, Will becomes inspired when he discovers that Nicky really likes listening to Ashley’s Boyz II Men CD. So he tells everyone that he got Nicky a private concert with Boyz II Men. (He claims that he knows them from Philly…which of course…he does not.)
And then we get to see Boyz II Men ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤
As you can see in the video clip, Will sneaks into their recording session. But as it sort of turns out…he does kind of know them…he stole Nate Morris’s girlfriend back in Philly. So yeah. Boyz II Men isn’t going to do Will any favors.
When Will’s mom arrives for the christening, Will tries to ask for her help. But she’s so excited about Boyz II Men that he can’t bring himself to tell her the truth.
So Will tries again. He dresses up in Carlton’s Santa suit and heads back down to the recording studio. He announces that he received a Christmas wish from a boy who wants them to sing at a christening. And somehow. It works! Until he accidentally catches his beard on the audio board, and reveals that he’s the guy who took Nate’s girl.
As Will begins to confess his lie to the whole entire family at the christening, Boyz II Men shows up!
And that is how Nicky got four middle names! He’s named after every member of Boyz II Men!
Very Special Holiday Lesson: Honestly the saddest thing is that Boyz II Men had to work in California on Christmas Eve and they couldn’t be with their families. Work-life balance is so important! Luckily, Will did promise them a really nice reception after the christening. And at least they got to spend Christmas with the Banks family. And I love them sooo much! Every time they sing I get a tear in my eye! Merry Christmas Eve, Very Special Readers!