THE ADDAMS FAMILY: VOLUME ONE
Image B Sound B- Extras B+
"The Addams Family Goes to School," "Morticia and the Psychiatrist," "Fester's Punctured Romance," "Gomez, the Politician," "The Addams Family Tree," "Morticia Joins the Ladies League," "Halloween with the Addams Family," "Green-Eyed Gomez," "New Neighbors Meet the Addams Family," "The Addams Family Meets the V.I.P.s," "Morticia, the Matchmaker," "Lurch Learns to Dance," "Art and the Addams Family," "The Addams Family Meets a Beatnik," "The Addams Family Meets the Undercover Man," "Mother Lurch Visits the Addams Family," "Uncle Fester's Illness," "The Addams Family Splurges," "Cousin Itt Visits the Addams Family," "The Addams Family in Court," "Amnesia in the Addams Family"
BONES: SEASON ONE
Image A Sound A+ Extras C-
"Pilot," "The Man in the S.U.V.," "A Boy in a Tree," "The Man in the Bear," "A Boy in a Bush," "The Man in the Wall," "The Man on Death Row," "The Girl in the Fridge," "The Man in the Fallout Shelter," "The Woman in the Airport," "The Woman in the Car," "The Superhero in the Alley," "The Woman in the Garden," "The Man on the Fairway," "Two Bodies in the Lab," "The Woman in the Tunnel," "The Skull in the Desert," "The Man with the Bone," "The Man in the Morgue," "The Graft in the Girl," "The Soldier in the Grave," "The Woman in Limbo"
by Ian Pugh Charles Addams's darkest cartoons for THE NEW YORKER were routinely hilarious, not just for their brazen denial of the nuclear family unit, but also because, unlike so many of the publication's other strips, they take their one-panel restrictions to heart without coming off as smarmy. Moreover, Addams's scenarios were simple without being stupid, e.g., family of ghouls about to dump boiling oil on Christmas carollers. The problem in turning these characters into a half-hour sitcom, namely "The Addams Family", should be self-evident: it bloats the brisk silliness into a particularly tiresome game of "Opposite Day"--thirty minutes of a family that cheerfully approves of the macabre and homicidal while despising normalcy and respectability.
By the second episode, the show is reduced to a science, to the point where episode titles tell you everything you need to know: "The Addams Family is/and/Meets [blank]." From there, between about a hundred versions of the pun "nice and gloomy," you move on to discussing odd relatives and meals consisting of disgusting/inedible items, creeping out whatever visitor the family mansion is hosting, and finally, thinking back on the day to figure out what's happened to the latest house guest (who's typically carted off to the crazy house). Because the "victims" are usually stocky, moustachioed businessmen in their mid-Fifties, it's tempting to say that the Addamses, in their weirdness, somehow represent the working class by deflating the pretensions of the bourgeoisie--but one should bear in mind that Gomez (John Astin) is a stock trader who keeps unkempt stacks of cash in unlocked drawers. As the Addams regard everyone outside their sphere of influence as "nice" but "strange," the series reveals itself as something of a lowbrow comedy of manners: a family not necessarily comprised of kooks but of rich eccentrics bound by a sense of noblesse oblige.
In its use of snobs and weirdoes, "The Addams Family" confirms societal norms instead of repudiating them according to the original artist's intent. The creators of the 1964-66 series were none too happy that the times were a-changin', and two consecutive episodes confirm this: "Art and the Addams Family" (1.14) and "The Addams Family Meets a Beatnik" (1.15). In the former, the Addams hire a work-phobic modern artiste named Sam Picasso (Vito Scotti) to teach Grandmama (Blossom Rock) how to paint; in the latter, a professional rebel, Rocky (Tom Lowell), crashes his motorcycle on the Addams' lawn. The family swoons over the fruits of Sam's "labour"--really Wednesday's (Lisa Loring) kiddie finger-paintings--and of course they just love Rocky's "like, coolsville, daddy-o" language. No doubt that the modern art and Beat movements generated their fair share of frauds and losers (as all artistic movements do), but "The Addams Family" massages Middle America's outcries of "I don't get it" and "these kids today" by equating Sam Picasso with his famous namesake and Rocky with his entire generation.
Rocky's stock-broker father is touched by the Addams' acceptance of his son and allows Rocky to go his own path; the boy, apparently having achieved what he set out to with his rebellion, responds by giving up his motorcycle and joining Daddy's firm. Although it reluctantly acknowledges that beatniks are human, the episode makes sure you understand that Rocky's lifestyle is creepy and weird by virtue of the morbid Addams clan embracing him. With the promise of a steady job and his father's support, though, Rocky was bound to come around sooner or later. (The solution to Sam Picasso is simpler but no less condescending: they throw money at him and he goes away.) More than merely indicative of the generation gap, it's hopelessly naïve and laughably uninformed, the last gasps of Golden Age sitcom scribes slowly getting stripped of their relevance.
The cast picks up the slack, however, turning their repetitive jokes into endearing catchphrase shtick. Perhaps as a reflection of his training under Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan's Uncle Fester is the kind of blustery, funny-faced moron who remains so timeless in comedy. (His grating voice feels like a precursor to Dana Snyder's obnoxious Master Shake on "Aqua Teen Hunger Force".) And then there's the incomparable John Astin as Gomez; Astin has been an authority in voice acting for the past few decades, but you feel privileged to see him here in full body: his expressions encompassing both "Father Knows Best" and Charles Addams's own wide-eyed caricature of a psychopath, he discovers the delicate balance of satire that often eludes his writers. Find him at his hilarious best in a running gag--used at least once per episode, natch--where Morticia's (Carolyn Jones, charming and bitter) blasé use of the French language causes Gomez to "go wild" and manically kiss her along her arms and back. Ah, but Astin's brilliance only furthers the rub: "The Addams Family" mocks Gomez's ardour while simultaneously arranging marriages for various friends and relatives with a smile and a shrug, marking off yet another concept worthy of disdain: passionate sexual relationships. I have a feeling the Summer of Love couldn't have come any sooner.
Very much a modern-day "Addams Family" filtered through "CSI"'s analysis and "House"'s resident-genius premise, "Bones" finds its macabre clan of social outcasts in a group of detached intellectuals. The joke, I guess, is that forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), nicknamed "Bones," is more Spock than McCoy: she clinically describes the grisly details of the corpse du jour to whomever will listen--like, say, the family of the deceased. Brennan works in identifying skeletal remains and the details of their murders for an ersatz Smithsonian, joining a crew of conspiracy theorists (TJ Thyne), grad students (Eric Millegan), and other such geek-show attractions. As they all likewise enjoy loudly recounting the technicalities of dead bodies in public, Brennan's FBI cohort Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz, trading Angel's mopey anger for sarcasm) stands in the back, rolling his eyes and clearing his throat in exasperation of their faux pas.
Despite its touted grimness (note that episode titles are usually distant descriptions of victim and location), "Bones" fits comfortably into the same category as most modern cop shows: obscure clues; lots of fancy-schmancy graphics; and speculative hunches that always turn out to be right. Torn-from-the-headlines suspects--terrorists, corrupt politicians, illegal immigrants--are treated to the same cursory examination as "The Addams Family"'s beatniks, if depicted with the "somebody's gotta do something" mentality that transforms the innocent on "CSI" and "Law & Order" into heroes solely because they act as angry Letters to the Editor brought to life. A sense of impotence never rings clearer than in an episode (1.20, "The Graft in the Girl") wherein Booth and Brennan stumble upon a black market scheme to sell cancerous bone grafts to doctors in the area. Cuffing the perpetrators of this monstrous crime is not enough for "Bones", alas: it must also trot out a cancer-ridden girl and pair her up with Angela (Michaela Conlin), the "sensitive one" on the team. Mistaking rank exploitation for lending a face to the disease, the script limits her identity to the "cancer child" cipher-for-pity so effectively sent up in Thank You for Smoking and Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy.
What really sinks "Bones" is its dogged insistence that, despite the subject matter, it's sensitive, damnit! Apparently afraid that Brennan will be seen as too much of a cold fish or a misanthrope in the "House" vein, "Bones" saddles her with a lot of pedantic speeches about humanity and identity in their line of work, complete with that sombre, deadly piano-and-violins soundtrack. (Hilariously, the show actively mocks insincere monologues but engages in several in 1.10, "The Woman at the Airport," an episode about the excesses of image-driven Hollywood; the Horner-esque score is the only way to discern the lampoonery from the genuine article.) The desire to have it both ways seriously hinders its ability to achieve either, especially late into the season when it actually matters. As a military murder deeply affects ex-Army sniper Booth (1.21, "The Soldier on the Grave"--basically a Pat Tillman scenario made into a deeper conspiracy) and a tearful Brennan investigates the skeleton of her missing mother (1.22, "The Woman in Limbo"), the rest of the series forces us to question and eventually disbelieve the honesty of the exercise, and all the emotion melds together into one bland, indiscernible lump.
The series says volumes about itself as Brennan blathers on academically. While outright condescension is commonly restricted to straightforward dialogue in shows of this ilk, "Bones" manages its own unique form of looking down on subcultures of humanity (comic book geeks, documentary filmmakers, rap artists) by equating them with Brennan's calculating nature or by earning her anthropological admiration. It offers a none-too-subtle screed against intellectualizing things that it deems unworthy through the art of broad generalization; Booth, the surrogate for the average Joe, always gives the tersest, clearest, and most accepted response to (and criticism of) Brennan's deep analysis, some form of "They're weirdoes/morons/criminals, is what they are." In forty years' time, we've come to accept that nonconformists have the right to coexist, yet we still refuse to believe they have anything to offer us other than an affirmation of the status quo. Somewhere along the line, "why don't you try acting normal" became "go be a freak somewhere else."
Through Fox, MGM brings the first twenty-two episodes of "The Addams Family" to DVD in a three-disc package. The series was shot on film and I'm not sure where cleaning or preservation played into this presentation; at any rate, the 1.33:1 image is nice but soft, with print debris (dust and scratch lines) periodically rearing its head. Surprisingly, the Dolby 1.0 mono audio is powerful, if excessively loud in the SFX department, a definite problem for when the family pulls a noose and rings a gong to summon their butler Lurch (Ted Cassidy)--and that's fairly often. Yak-tracks featuring Loring, Ken Weatherwax (Pugsley), and Felix Silla (Cousin Itt), and moderator Stephen Cox, author of The Addams Chronicles: An Altogether Ooky Look at the Addams Family, accompany three episodes (1.1, "The Addams Family Goes to School"; 1.12, "Morticia, the Matchmaker"; 1.20, "Cousin Itt Visits the Addams Family"). Cox is a bit of a sycophantic bore, Silla is a trainspotter, and Weatherwax and Loring tend to recycle anecdotes--particularly emphasizing their insistence that this incarnation of the family is superior to Barry Sonnenfeld's big-screen adaptation. That said, these yakkers are amiable, relatively short, and occasionally informative; I didn't know that Alice Cooper was a fan of the show, and Loring keenly observes that the slapstick-oriented Munsters were the Three Stooges to the Addams' Marx Brothers.*
Housed on side B of the third platter, video-based supplements begin with "You Rang, Mr. Addams" (12 mins.), a short but fascinating overview of Charles Addams's life courtesy interviewee Kevin Miserocchi, a member of the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation. A collector of antique weaponry who held the last of several marriages in a pet cemetery, Addams sounds like a genuine loose screw in the way that only an obsessive artist can be. Miserocchi also reads from Addams's descriptions of his characters' personalities, as requested by the producers of the TV series; he was a hell of a writer, too. "Snap, Snap" (5 mins.) is an all-too-brief discussion with Vic Mizzy, the show's composer, who delightfully talks us through the indelible theme song's creation and the musical pieces created for individual characters. In the retrospective "The Family Addams Portrait" (15 mins.), Astin finally joins Weatherwax, Silla, and Loring. All are rendered nearly unrecognizable by the passage of forty years, though admittedly that says very little for two children and a man buried under a mop of hair. (Loring, funnily enough, grew up to bear a passing resemblance to the late Carolyn Jones.) It's a brisk and agreeable featurette, although most of the material found therein is already present in the commentaries.
"The Addams Family Karaoke" (1 min.) is a silly little diversion in which Thing waves a conductor's baton to the TV version of the theme song and the lyrics are printed for our singing pleasure (?). Lastly, a picture gallery--which samples Addams's indispensable cartoon collection (along with childhood scribblings!) and family photo album--rounds out the set. Interesting to note that several episodes lack Spanish audio, while two episodes (1.7, "Halloween with the Addams Family"; 1.16, "The Addams Family Meets the Undercover Man") are listed as not containing the song "It's So Nice to Have a Man Around the House," apparently parodied by Morticia but omitted due to licensing issues. "The Addams Family: Volume One" docks on the format in a pair of thinpaks that slide into a cardboard slipcover.
Fox's four-disc "Bones: Season One" arrives on DVD in a similar configuration. The 1:78:1, 16x9-enhanced image is fantastic, but the Dolby Surround 5.1 is even better: while the rear channels are primarily used for ambience, when the bass-heavy music pipes in, it really gives the system a workout. My favourite moment, sound-wise (and maybe series-wise, too): Brennan's stereo blasts Foreigner's "Hot Blooded," only to be interrupted by an exploding refrigerator. Note that the pilot episode is in DD 2.0 stereo, though it includes optional audio commentary from creator Hart Hanson and executive producer Barry Josephson. While the yakker at first sounds like your typical intra-crew love-in (tags of "genius" abound for director Greg Yaitanes), they soon chart more involving territory: Josephson is fond of detailing the stories behind locations and CGI inserts, and Hanson has a real love for small moments and the general minutiae of scenes--which, unfortunately, eventually devolves into singling out logical errors and cracking jokes about odd shots. We learn that test audiences played a big role in the pilot: a few scenes of the female leads in form-fitting clothing were inputted for male reaction (apparently, the women demanded that it never happen again), and it's confirmed that the suits at Fox suggested that Brennan needed to "connect to the victim." The latter leads Hanson to the very telling, very damning statement, "When in trouble, go to a montage."
A second commentary from Boreanaz and Deschanel can be found on 1.15, "Two Bodies in the Lab." You think you might be in trouble as soon as they cutely introduce themselves as each other; you know for certain you're in trouble when Deschanel offers a disclaimer: "If anyone thinks they're going to get any insight into anything whatsoever, they are sadly, sadly mistaken." Indeed. She and Boreanaz act like two giggling idiots, finding humour in the smallest onscreen action; it reminds of that episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" where Mike and the 'bots replace themselves with wooden silhouettes and play a self-effacing recording of themselves: "Uh-oh! It's that guy. What's he gonna do?" If there's an episode of "Bones" where silly non-commentary has a place, it's probably this one (it featuring the aforementioned Foreigner/fridge incident), but as the stars rattle on endlessly about ringtones, funny words like "keys," and Cat Power, you'll swear this will be the icebreaker to introduce television into THE ONION A.V. CLUB's "Commentary Tracks of the Damned." Allow me the "commentary in a nutshell": when Boreanaz asks "What's a Luddite?" in response to a line of dialogue (followed by Deschanel responding--after a brief pause--"exactly"), you'll never be sure of whether or not he's joking.
Special Features are spread across both sides of Disc Four. "Squints" (8 mins.), so named for the derogatory term cops (including Booth) use for forensic scientists, is an obnoxious talking-head compilation manically edited in the splitscreen-heavy "Access Hollywood" aesthetic. No one has anything eloquent to say about their characters; Deschanel marvels at how many big words she has to use, Boreanaz draws a bizarre comparison to Tracy and Hepburn, and everyone else confirms that working with prop corpses is, in fact, pretty gross. "The Real Definitions" (7 mins.) is an incomprehensible attempt to sex up med school by offering definitions of the various ailments and gussying them up to resemble "Bones"' shaky, green-tinted title sequence. Relevant scenes from the series are interspersed throughout; strangely, these individual segments end with the respective episode's conclusion on the pretense that it recalls "how it pertains to the case." Are we to assume, then, that your average instalment of "Bones" can be pared down to a minute-and-a-half of analytical money shots? "Bones: Inspired by the Life of Forensic Anthropologist and Author Kathy Seichs" (7 mins.) sits down with the show's creators and Seichs, producer and author of the original Temperance Brennan novels; you can glean everything to learn from this piece by the title alone. Character profiles finish off the set. Originally published: January 31, 2007.
*That said, the funniest episode on "The Addams Family: Volume One" is probably the last, "Amnesia in the Addams Family." By hitting himself over the head with a pair of Indian clubs, Gomez has a lapse of memory and becomes horrified by his surroundings. As each family member takes a turn braining Gomez to bring him back to normal (but only succeeding in shunting him between "sickness" and "health"), Astin's reactions are priceless. return