Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Jackie Bison Show (1990)


One thing you might have noticed about a lot of these failed prime-time cartoons from the early 90s is that they tended, overwhelmingly, to be about animals.  Irrespective of how good or bad each of them were, this may well have been their first mistake from a marketing standpoint.  Traditionally, animation and anthropomorphism have been the tightest of bedfellows, enjoying a rich and prosperous relationship that's spanned decade upon decade of film and television history, so naturally they might have seemed like a pretty safe starting point for devising a new cartoon to suit the sensibilities of modern 90s audiences.  But consider the adult animated shows that actually did catch on - The Simpsons, South Park, King of The Hill, Family Guy, etc - and you'll notice that they tended, overwhelmingly, to be about humans.  Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man is one of the rare examples of an adult cartoon starring an anthropomorphic animal that did well, and even then that was more of a cult success.  Unfortunately, animation has never really shaken the popular perception that it is, first and foremost, a children's medium, and stories about talking animals are saddled with a similar image problem (there are numerous people under the impression that Animal Farm by George Orwell is a children's book, with both film adaptations making the fatal mistake of playing the story in that direction).  So a prime-time cartoon in which the characters are talking animals might have a particularly hard time in getting past that knee-jerk reaction and persuading adults that it's worth their viewing.

Of course, it helps if your cartoon actually contains the slightest iota of a reason for adults to find it appealing in the first place.  Which is why Duckman did okay but Capitol Critters didn't.

After wisely passing up the mangy, worm-infested horror that was Hound Town, NBC took another stab at the re-emerging prime-time animation market the following year with a pastiche on The Jack Benny Program, featuring an anthropomorphic buffalo named Jackie (Stan Freberg) who hosted a popular variety show.   A one-off installment of The Jackie Bison Show aired on NBC on 2nd July 1990.  It was intended as the pilot for a potential Simpsons competitor, only it wasn't well-received and the series was not picked up, leaving The Simpsons unopposed in the prime-time animation game until 1992.  Nowadays The Jackie Bison Show is yet another long-forgotten obscurity, known only to those curious enough to have done their homework on the subject of early Simpsons-era animations that fell by the wayside.

Like Hound Town, The Jackie Bison Show uses a laugh track, a move which worked out rather poorly for Hound Town but is arguably a lot more justified here, given that it follows a show-within-a-show format and Jackie does indeed perform before a studio audience.  To make sense of this pilot, it helps enormously if you're familiar with the format of the The Jack Benny Program, which it mirrors in having an opening and closing monologue in which Jackie appears on stage to address his viewers, and a more traditional sitcom narrative sandwiched in between (confession time: I myself am not a seasoned Jack Benny viewer, although I did watch a small handful of episodes in preparation for this review, so please excuse me if I fail to pick up on any in-jokes which might be obvious to the hardcore fan).  If you can't get your head around the Jack Benny spoof, then you may get a tad confused as to where the show-within-a-show begins and ends, as the variety show material initially looks to be interwoven with scenes from Jackie's personal life - in actuality, it's all part of the same package, with Jackie "playing" a version of himself in the story segments of the episode.  Unlike Hound Town, which was far too crass and hackneyed to be going anywhere fast, I'd say that the set-up for The Jackie Bison Show actually did have a smidgen of potential.  There are a lot of fun things you could do with a show-within-a-show, particularly one featuring spoof newscasts and fake product placement - unfortunately, this isn't very well-realised and the resulting pilot has this weirdly tepid vibe all over.  It's not an altogether hideous effort, and at its very worst it makes for pleasant and inoffensive viewing, but as a cartoon comedy it's pretty limp.  The visual humour never comes together as it should, the dialogue lacks punch and while that laugh track goes off with merciless frequency, one simply gets the impression that Jackie's live audience are easily amused (actually, even they don't come off as all that enthusiastic - as laugh tracks go, this one sounds curiously muted).

The pilot opens with a short scene featuring Jackie's best friend and show announcer, a chameleon named Larry J. Lizard (Richard Karron), who gives us a concise rundown on Jackie's history while being interviewed by a human reporter (Harry Shearer) looking to dig up some dirt on the bull.  According to Larry, he and Jackie met while serving in the army and got their first bite of the showbiz apple participating in one of Bob Hope's USO shows.  After leaving the army, Jackie relocated to Hollywood to pursue a career as an entertainer and wound up becoming the first animal to host his own network TV show.  The reporter presses Larry to be a bit more sensational in what he reveals about Jackie, but an indignant Larry insists that Jackie is the greatest guy he's ever known and that he's always stood by him, even he checked into the Betty Frog Clinic for "moth abuse".  Haha, get it?  Moth = Meth, because he's a chameleon, and they're insectivores and all, and...oh wait, you didn't actually find that funny?  Well too bad, because 99% of the gags in this cartoon run along those exact same lines - namely, puns alluding to the fact that our main characters are a buffalo and a lizard.  Larry cuts the interview short, abruptly declaring that he has a show to announce, but mutters that if he's late again "that big bully'll fire me."  Not only is that a totally predictable punchline for rounding off the scene in question, but they also slipped in another of those dratted animal puns, because of course they would.  (Note: this is the only portion of the episode which doesn't appear to be part of the show-within-a-show, although it features a laugh track anyway.)


We then cut to the set of Jackie's show which, we are told, is coming to us live "from Television City in Wyoming".  Jackie appears onstage, extolling the virtues of a book entitled Achieving Inner Peace and how it's given him a much calmer handle on life, only to immediately undermine this when a telephone starts ringing from offstage and interrupts his opening monologue.  As it turns out, the call is from his new lady love, the sensuous Jill St. Fawn (Jane Singer), a play on Jill St. John, who's calling to let him know that her mother is back from Salt Lake City and is eager to meet him.  There's a bit of light sexual innuendo (that's how we make it plain that we're gunning for an adult audience, correct?) with Jill telling "Big Jack" that he "can't help but measure up".  Big Jack then turns things over to musical performer Nat King Kong (he's a gorilla, obviously) and His Orchestra.  The musical performances were a key component of The Jack Benny Program, although here poor Kong only gets to perform a couple of bars of generic jazz before Larry starts plugging one of the show's sponsors, a brand of breakfast cereal called Frosted Flies, of which he is apparently an avid consumer.  The show does intermittently dip into announcements for spoof products, which feels like it should have been a golden opportunity for a bit of wild and wacky parody, only here there doesn't seem to be much of a joke beyond the fact that Larry's a chameleon and as such he has an appetite for bugs over conventional cereal.  That "not a speck of mosquito" line is a nod to the advertising slogan for Alpo dog food, which claimed to contain "all beef and not a speck of cereal", but I'm not sure if substituting an item with the pertinent equivalent for a particular species of animal automatically constitutes humour in the way it's treated here.  Or is the gag that, to the human palate, the thought of downing a bowl of 100% flies would be no less disgusting than a bowl of flies with a few specks of mosquito added in?


With that, it's finally time to kick off the story portion of the show.  We rejoin Jackie one morning at his luxury prairie home (want to hazard a guess as to which classic western folk song he's singing as we fade into this scene?), where he's swapping pleasantries with Larry over the breakfast table.  Here, we get further product placement for that Frosted Flies cereal, although it's accompanied by a rather curious exchange in which Jackie suggests that Larry cut down on his fly consumption because, "You know what they eat?", and Larry admits that he tries not to think about it - curious, because you'd think they'd refrain from criticism of one of the show's key sponsors.  Also present is Franklin (Pat Paulsen), Jackie's pet canary, whose central shtick is that he resents being held in captivity (something he very clearly vocalises to Jackie and co) and is constantly trying to fly the coop.  The whole business with Franklin doesn't exactly sit well with me, because he's blatantly as sapient as any other animal in this cartoon, yet Jackie seems to have no qualms about holding him against his will inside a tiny birdcage - suggesting that either Jackie is guilty of kidnap/false imprisonment, or that there's something distinctly unequal about the distribution of rights in this universe.  After thwarting yet another escape attempt, Jackie tells Franklin that he's canary and as such should always be happy.  Franklin is also the snarker of the household and never misses an opportunity to put Jackie down and, honestly, who can blame him?  I see no reason why he should be gracious to his abductor about anything.


Jackie is in good spirits because his relationship will Jill St. Fawn is going well and he's considering popping the question to her.  Larry points out that he might be rushing into things and suggests that he's still on the rebound from his ill-fated relationship with Wheel of Fortune presenter Vanna White.  Jackie indicates that Vanna broke it off with him because she ultimately wasn't keen on marrying a cartoon bovine, which Larry sympathises with, on the grounds that it wouldn't bode well for their hypothetical offspring - "You know what happens when a person is half-real, half-cartoon?"  "You mean like Jerry Lewis?" Jackie quips.  Ouch.  Larry then suggests that Jill St. Fawn perhaps isn't the best match for Jackie and that there's someone better out there for him.  Enter Doris Doe (Rose Marie), Jackie's cervine personal assistant, and Larry winks slyly at the camera.  Yep, in the grand tradition of that most gut-wrenching of sitcom cliches, The Jackie Bison Show works in a will they/won't they.  Right from the start, we know that we're being conditioned to root for Jackie and Doris as a couple because the studio audience responds with approving applause the instant the latter appears, but the whole set-up leaves me feeling cold.  Based on this one installment, Doris seems heavily smitten with Jackie but he barely seems to notice her, so I'm not really seeing what hope they have.

Doris is crushed to learn that Jackie is madly in love with another cervine, but her misery is interrupted by the arrival of the local paperboy, a human kid referred to by everyone else as Felix The Boy (Gabriel Damon).  In my opinion he's easily the show's strangest element - not because he's one of the few prominent human characters in a cast predominantly populated by animals, but because he's given a weird amount of significance for a character who barely features at all throughout the course of the pilot.  Jackie apparently considers him important enough to include "a visit from Felix The Boy" in the list of upcoming highlights at the start of the show, like Doris he gets an adoring round of applause from the studio audience the instant he appears onscreen, and he even boasts his own line of in-universe merchandise, pausing the story in order to plug the latest addition, a Felix The Boy Swiss Army Watch.  Why this character is apparently so revered in the context of the show is absolutely baffling to me, but I'm inclined to assume that there's a massive in-joke that I'm just not getting (maybe Jack Benny fans can help me out here).  Felix The Boy also has a dog named Red (who's actually black and white, but perhaps it's a nod to that old chestnut about newspapers) - unlike Franklin, he doesn't vocalise any disdain for being another creature's property, but he seems to have it in for Jackie nonetheless and never misses an opportunity to sabotage his stuff.


Side-note: the newspaper Felix The Boy delivers is called The Daily Gnus, which is one the pilot's few puns that I actually kind of like.  Also, I give points for that vaguely amusing sight gag concerning the story apparently unimportant enough to be regulated to page 3.

After Felix The Boy's confusing diversion, we return to the main story and get a drawn-out non-dialogue sequence in which Jackie tries to pull off various ostentatious methods of proposing to Jill St. Fawn (sky-writing, a message on a blimp, etc) only to fail dramatically every time.  It's terribly dull and almost entirely pointless, its only somewhat useful purpose being to throw in a bit with a pie vendor which gets echoed again at the end of the episode.  At the end of the sequence, Jackie concludes that it would be far safer to invite Jill to dinner and pop the question to her there.  This is followed by another of the show's supporting segments, a spoof news update called "Elkwitness News".  Corny gags still abound, but there's a smattering of quirkiness to this segment which makes it one of the pilot's more successful skits, notably a spoof traffic update in which migrating animals are warned where to watch out for hunters.  The elk anchor promises they'll be back with more later, but sadly this is all we ever see of this particular team.

We return to Jackie's house to find him preparing for his proposal dinner with Jill, while Doris mournfully confides to Larry that she had always hoped that she and Jackie would be married one day.  There's a stab at a fourth wall-breaking gag where Jackie slams a door so hard that he disrupts the fabric of the episode, causing the picture to roll up and reveal a group of stagehands gambling behind the set - like so many of this pilot's attempts at zany visual humour, it probably seemed funny on paper but isn't pulled off with the necessary levels of panache.  Jill St. Fawn then arrives, and she's accompanied by her mother, Mrs St. Fawn (Jayne Meadows), who seems suspiciously captivated by the many valuable items and works of art on display around Jackie's house.  Jackie remains entirely oblivious to the fact that he's being courted purely for his money, but Doris and Larry aren't quite so obtuse and attempt to warn him, while Mrs St. Fawn is off confiding to her daughter that her alimony is about to run out and she'll be darned if they "end up in some petting zoo."  Jackie isn't prepared to accept criticism of the woman he's deeply in love with, warning Doris and Larry that they'll both be fired if they attempt to disrupt his proposal, and warning Franklin that he'll be dinner (whoo, dark).  When Jill and her mother return, Jackie finally pops the question and Mrs St. Fawn, after inspecting the size of the engagement ring, accepts on her daughter's behalf.  Larry attempts to be supportive of his friend's decision, but gets royally spurned when Jackie asks him to be his best man and Mrs St. Fawn scoffs that Jackie should choose someone "higher up on the food chain".  Instead of standing by his reptilian friend, Jackie laughs along with her, prompting Larry to figure that he's no longer wanted and to slink dejectedly away, muttering that he's "cold-blooded but not cold-hearted."


In the following scene, we get another of those stabs at zany humour that feels as if it should be absolutely cracking in theory but in practice falls kind of flat, in which Frank Sinatra Jr (playing himself, and in his regular flesh-and-blood form) telephones Jackie to personally berate him for his disloyalty to Larry.  Just as Frank is about to offer Jackie advice on how to turn things around, his side of the screen goes on the fritz and cuts out, leaving a message reading SPLIT SCREEN OUT OF ORDER.  Jackie is apparently moved enough to contact Larry, and they devise a plan to test if the St. Fawns' devotions are genuine. Long story short, they have Felix The Boy show up (again, he gets an instantaneous round of applause for reasons that elude me) with a paper bearing the headline that Jackie's now broke.  Larry and Doris then arrive, disguised as repossession agents, and proceed to start packing away Jackie's stuff, against the buffalo's protests.  Mrs St. Fawn and Jill are suddenly repulsed by Jackie (before the former denounces him, there's a pretty odd moment where she's seem crawling across the floor like a worm for some reason) and tells her daughter that she knows of a very rich boxer who just got divorced.  "Is it Mike Tyson?" Jill asks.  "Certainly not," replies her mother, "Vincent van Dog himself!"  Okay, that one kind of works.  Jackie is so upset by their betrayal that he starts motioning to sneeze - which, as Larry helpfully explains, is the absolute worst thing that can happen in this universe.  He presses a Sneeze Alarm, and we see images of the world outside erupting into an all-out panic - initially, this is done in cartoon form, but as the scene progresses it piles on an increasingly ridiculous amount of stock footage showing terrified humans running and ducking for cover.  Then, when Jackie does sneeze, we get footage of buildings blowing up, rocks collapsing onto cars, etc.  This, needless to say, is yet another gag built upon a promisingly zany concept that's handled rather perfunctorily in practice.  It fails because the energy just isn't there; I'm simply not buying that Jackie's sneezing really is responsible for all this mayhem, even via suspension of disbelief.  It's also safe to say that, had the pilot been picked up for a series, then Jackie's earth-shattering sneezes would have become a recurring deus ex machina.

Anyway, Jackie sneezes with such tremendous force that he also expels Jill St. Fawn and her gold-digging mother right out of the building, and sends them flying into the trolley of the pie vendor (I did say that he'd come up again), where they land in a sticky, undignified mess.  Larry, who's now well and truly reconciled with his buffalo chum, congratulates him on having pulled off the scheme successfully, but Jackie is disheartened about once again being left without a woman to share his life with.  In the story's final punchline, he asks Doris if she's free for dinner tonight, and when she delightedly declares that she is, he flippantly asks her what she'll be fixing.  If Jackie is aware of Doris's feelings for him then he's frankly a bit of a jerk.

In the show's closing monologue, Jackie reappears on stage and is joined by all of his chums (Franklin is present, but still confined to his cage).  There's a highly predictable bit where they psych him out into thinking that the headline announcing his bankruptcy was genuine, but it isn't long before they're all collapsing in laughter together, and Jackie signs off with the handy warning that drink and stampeding are a bad combination.  With that, we bid Jackie farewell forever.



Laugh Track Bafflers:

There are considerably less of these than in Hound Town - few of the jokes hit with what you'd call genuine precision, but for the most part I'm able to grasp the intention behind them.  I draw a blank as to why Doris declaring that she'll "rustle up some trail mix" gets a laugh, however.

The Verdict:

The Jackie Bison Show is an infinitely more genial attempt at an adult-orientated cartoon than Hound Town - the set-up may be a bit lost on anyone who's not familiar with The Jack Benny Program, but it's bright and cheerful and there's little here that actively rubs me the wrong way.  Ultimately, though, it commits the cardinal sin of simply not being very funny.  Really now, when you were competing with something as innovative and cutting edge as The Simpsons, you needed to have a lot more up your sleeve than just a string of corny wildlife puns.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Voices (1985)




Voices is a short film by Portland-based indie animator Joanna Priestley, which takes the form of an animated monologue, delivered by Priestley herself, on the subject of fear, anxiety and whether our thoughts and emotions are a reflection of the world we live in, or vice versa.  Priestley opens the film by inferring that she intends to do more than simply entertain the viewer with bright colours and cute cartoon characters, or to confound them with abstract symbolism that deliberately obscures what she is looking to say, but rather to address the viewer directly in as clear, intimate and as open a means as possible, a point illustrated by having her rotoscoped self-portrait dissolve temporarily into the underlying live action footage.  This is very much Priestley speaking straight from the heart.

The rotoscoped talking head technique was later revisited in Priestley's contribution to the compilation film Candyjam (1988), which she produced and directed with Joan Gratz, where it was used to entirely playful effect in humorously depicting the compulsions of a candy addict in denial ("Hey, good-looking bon bons!").  In Voices, we see Priestley utilising the freedom and flexibility of animation to make a point about the limitations (or lack of) of the human mind.  Priestley argues that our perception of ourselves and our environment is determined by what is already embedded in our minds, and illustrates this by having her animated counterpart morph continuously from one form to another as she discusses the anxieties all-too familiar to her own patterns of thinking (the use of rotoscoped animation to create a visual aesthetic that exists somewhere between reality and imagination is not too dissimilar to what would later be accomplished in Richard Linklater's feature film Waking Life).  For the most part, the short is lighthearted in tone, with the vibrant imagery reflecting the absurdities of Priestley's more irrational fears - the talking mirror which tauntingly vocalises her fear of aging while trying to escape from her grasp (Priestley's more creative and unconventional means of incorporating those cute cartoon characters she referenced earlier), the monstrous serpent who produces a barrage of incongruously mundane noises in demonstration of how a phobia of darkness can cause even the most benign of sounds to appear threatening.  Occasionally, the imagery takes on a more startling vibe, if only fleetingly - notably, its representation of a world defined by war, pain and famine as propagated by the media.

Voices' most curious arrives in the form of a non-verbal interlude following on from Priestley's musings about her self-image - we see Priestley (literally) go to pieces and reassemble as a Pablo Picasso-style portrait, before morphing into a jointed paper doll which dances against an abstract backdrop.  This is about the closest Priestly comes to that confounding symbolism she hinted earlier that he was seeking to avoid; significantly, this is the only portion of the short in which the titular "voices" are no longer the main driving force behind the action and the central figure is free to indulge in independent movement and expression.  It offers, one assumes, a fleeting glimpse of a soul unfettered by irrational worries, having rejected the aforementioned slew of meaningless concerns and embraced life in its flawed and chaotic glory.  Above all, Priestley seems keen to remind us that we should only take ourselves so seriously - a point summed up by having her animated portrait break out into spontaneous laughter as a teasing epilogue to her words.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Children's Lessons in Mortality: Paz The Penguin - "Things Change"


If you think that death is a subject that no pre-school show would ever touch with a 50-ft pole, then think again.  Because we have Paz to demonstrate otherwise.

Paz The Penguin, also known as The Paz Show, was a Canadian/British co-production that debuted in 2003, and aired on Discovery Kids in the US as part of the Ready, Set, Learn! block.  Based on a series of picture books by Irish author Mary Murphy, it follows the adventures of an inquisitive young penguin named Paz as he explores the world around him, learning how to make sense of various concepts and the emotions they evoke in him.  Paz is often accompanied by three friends of assorted species and accent - Pig (Russian), Dog (Scottish) and Rabbit (English) - and is parented by an adult penguin whom he only ever addresses as "Big Penguin", leaving me a bit unclear as to what her actual relation is to Paz.  The other prominent adult in Paz's life is his grandfather, Pappy, a seasoned globe-trotter whose many anecdotes and pearls of wisdom from his exploration days are nectar to Paz's adventurous spirit.

As pre-school cartoons go, Paz The Penguin definitely leans on the underappreciated side - it's every bit as cute and colourful as you would expect from a show about a playful, pint-sized penguin and his motley crew of animal friends, but there's a surprisingly sharp layer of poignancy to numerous episodes which makes watching these endearing tykes going through their struggles and overcoming personal obstacles a fair bit more affecting than you might expect at first glance.  Certainly, there were none more affecting than "Things Change", the episode in which Paz must come to terms with death for the very first time in his life.  Hard-bitten adults with an aversion to letting their sorrow show are advised to approach this one with extreme caution, because it's an absolute tearjerker; unassuming, yet unflinchingly blunt in its examination of a young child's budding awareness of the reality of death.  I cannot overstate just how thoroughly this simple but elegantly-told little tale will succeed in ripping your heartstrings apart.

Compared to "Cookie Chomper", the Alvin & The Chipmunks episode on the subject of death, "Things Change" doesn't deal with personal loss or bereavement so much as the basic concept of death and the necessity of coming to terms with its place in the cycle of life.  It does so in an admirably stark manner which makes no bones about what death is - the permanence and the irreversibility of the state - but it also ends on an uplifting note which points to the ultimate resilience of life, a reminder that the cycle of life must keep on moving no matter what kinds of loss or hardship it's forced to endure.  "Things Change" acknowledges that when death occurs it's sad and, potentially, unfair, but that it is nevertheless an inescapable part of the order of things.  Paz doesn't get an easy answer to some of the questions he poses - in fact, Pappy flat-out tells him at one point that there are no answers when he asks him why a death had to happen - and while in the end he has little choice but to accept the disturbance and to learn to live with sadness, when he becomes aware that the world around him is healing and moving forward, he too learns to find solace in the hope and promise of a new day.

"Things Change" opens with Paz, Dog, Pig and Rabbit playing up a tree when Paz stumbles across a birds' nest home to three baby robins.  The four friends coo benignly over the tiny nestlings, only to be driven away by the angry mother bird who, Paz correctly deduces, doesn't appreciate them getting so close to her offspring.  Later, we rejoin Paz on a particularly stormy night; Paz is looking forward to going on a fishing trip with Pappy the following morning and worries that the weather might spoil their plans, but Big Penguin assures him that stormy weather is part of the natural cycle of life and enables things to grow.  Unfortunately, it also comes with a more destructive side that Paz is totally unprepared for.


The following morning, as Paz and Pappy are making their way toward fishing grounds, they pass the birds' tree and notice the nest lying in a crumpled wreck upon the ground.  The mother robin is standing nearby, visibly distressed and huddled protectively over her babies, although only two of them are actually in sight.  Inspecting the scene more closely, Pappy finds the body of the third baby bird concealed in the wreckage of the nest.  Paz, who has never seen anything like this before, is startled and confused, and struggles to comprehend the nature and permanence of death.  Below is a transcript of the ensuing discussion between Paz and Pappy:

Paz: Pappy, is he hurt?  Is he okay?

Pappy: No Paz, he's not okay.

Paz: Can we help him?

Pappy: I'm sorry, Paz, we can't help him.  He's dead.

Paz: What do you mean?

Pappy: Well, the winds from the storm must have blown the nest from the tree.  When the bird fell, his body was hurt so badly that he died.

Paz: He looks like he's asleep.  Maybe he's going to wake up and wanna play again.

Pappy: No Paz, no, he's not going to wake up again.  He can't play any more.  His body has stopped working.

Paz: Oh...why did it have to happen?

Pappy: Oh, Paz, I wish I had an answer.  Things happen.  Good things, bad things, happy things...

Paz: Sad things.

There follows a tender scene in which Paz and Pappy bury the dead baby bird by covering his body with leaves and then salvage the nest, allowing the mother bird space to return her two surviving babies before restoring it to its original spot in the tree.  Afterwards, Paz tells Pappy that he doesn't feel like going fishing any more, which Pappy understands, assuring Paz that sometimes there is no other way forward than to allow yourself time to be sad.

A short while passes and Paz remains very affected by the experience, expressing concern that the two remaining baby birds might suffer a similar fate.  Big Penguin assures him that birds are well-adapted to living outside and know how to protect themselves, but this bothers Paz, who questions how the baby bird could have died anyway.  Big Penguin explains that sometimes accidents simply happen, which doesn't exactly put to rest Paz's concerns.  He remains troubled, but ultimately takes comfort in the sight of the mother robin flying overhead with her two surviving babies in tow - they, now, are capable of flight, a development which delights and amazes Paz.  The cycle of life continues to turn, and although Paz has learned that this has its cruel and painful side, he takes joy in the beauty and pleasure it equally brings.

The episode closes with a sense of renewed optimism, evoking the fragility of life but also its tremendous strength, and the will and energy which enable it to keep on moving in that continuous cycle of growth, change and replenishment.  This is definitely the most understated lesson of the episode, as Paz never explicitly acknowledges it - he simply sees the baby birds flying and becomes happy again - but it's communicated very effectively.  The episode title, "Things Change", encapsulates both aspects of this, alluding to the inevitability of death and loss as an aspect of life, but also to the necessity of life to carry on and to bring renewal, and to the hope and happiness that will eventually follow on from sorrow.  Birth, death, growth, change - nothing in life can possibly stay the same, and learning to accept and understand all stages of that cycle, and how they connect to one another, is an integral part of figuring out how to thrive in the world.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Hound Town (1989)


In my review of Hollywood Dog, I lumped Hound Town in with a list of failed animated pilots looking to capitalise upon Fox's unexpected runaway success with The Simpsons.  I realise that was probably a mite unfair of me, given that IMDb has Hound Town's air date listed as 1st September 1989, well ahead of the initial airing of the debut Simpsons episode, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", on 17th December 1989.  So it's probably safe to say that this wasn't a reaction to the Simpsons' success so much as a coincidental attempt from around the same time to restart the prime-time animated sitcom.  Hound Town was directed by indie animation whizz Ralph Bakshi, most famous for the feature films Fritz The Cat (1972) and The Lord of the Rings (1978), the former of which was a landmark in the history of adult animation, it being the very first cartoon to be rated X (time has not been especially kind to it, though if you ask me it still holds up infinitely better after 45 years than Sausage Party does after less than one).  In the late 1980s, he'd found success (and a share of controversy) in children's television with the series Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, and Hound Town was an attempt to expand that craft into the prime-time adult market that had eluded animation for so long.  A pilot was created for NBC, although it failed to impress the powers-that-be, who reportedly aired it only once before canning it forever.  As a result, Hound Town is another of those obscure animated projects that's proved devilishly hard to find over the years.  The recording making the rounds on YouTube right now is of very poor quality, which is tolerable enough if you're really determined to see this thing, but not at all ideal for image sourcing - meaning that, aside from the above title card, this is going to be an all-text review.

Update April 2017: A better quality version of the pilot has since surfaced, so I've added in a few images.

Hound Town wasn't the only discarded Bakshi series from the same era to live on as a solitary pilot - the 1988 special Christmas In Tattertown was originally intended as the launching pad for a series called Junktown on Nickelodeon, which didn't happen, though we'll get to that one at a later date.  Unlike Christmas In Tattertown, Bakshi did not write Hound Town, with scripting credits going to Prudence Fraser and Robert Sternin, who also wrote for the fairy tale-inspired sitcom The Charmings.  Bakshi also apparently wasn't very fond of the finished product - in fact, he went so far as to denounce it as an "embarrassing piece of shit."  Harsh words, but certainly, compared to the offbeat sharpness of The Simpsons, there's something distinctly naive and outmoded about Hound Town's efforts to appear hip and daring (it uses a laugh track, for eff's sake). We can tell that they were courting an adult audience because the characters drop a shit-ton of sexual innuendo throughout, but the script lacks bite, and the resulting cartoon feels like a weird hybrid of a somewhat off-kilter children's show and the hoariest sitcom imaginable.  It's not helped along by the presence of that infernal laugh track, which goes off at numerous points where I frankly don't even see what the joke was supposed be.


Hound Town's premise is essentially very similar to that of Illumination's recent merchandise spinner, The Secret Life of Pets, in that it follows the exploits of an assorted group of domestic mutts, here living in an ostensibly pristine suburban neighbourhood, and what they get up to when their owners aren't around.  Our main trio of dogs are the timid, pint-sized Rusty (Michael Manasseri), cocksure womaniser Napoleon (Christopher Rich) and a despairing bulldog named Patton (Charlie Alder, doing a telltale Harvey Fierstein impersonation), whose chaotic household is a hotbed of psychological torture in ways that make Family Dog's life seem luxurious by comparison.  In the pilot, Rusty's life is turned upside down by the arrival of Sasha (Miriam Flynn), an alluring and mysterious saluki whose uptight family have recently moved in up the street.  Napoleon offers to play matchmaker between the two, but is secretly looking to score with Sasha himself (via an elaborate scheme which involves throwing a wild party at Rusty's house while his owners are out of town), all while having to fend off the advances of Muffin (Jennifer Darling) a morbidly obese basset hound who fancies herself and Napoleon as a couple.

Hound Town has a barrage of issues that make much of it unappealing - first and foremost being that Napoleon is a thoroughly despicable character (why does a nice dog like Rusty even choose to hang around with such a manipulative and self-serving creep?), and the whole business between him and Muffin is pretty fucking obnoxious.  The viewer is blatantly intended to sympathise with Napoleon in being repulsed by Muffin because she's fat, ungainly and everything that Sasha isn't, which as a dynamic is odious enough, but it gets even more problematic toward the end when Napoleon gets liquored up and Muffin is heavily implied to have taken advantage of him in his severely drunken state - as in, she carried him off and fucked him in the bushes.  Yikes, that's seriously uncool.

Secondly, there's the utterly tone-deaf manner in which Patton's miserable home life is played for laughs.  I gave Family Dog quite the roasting for its casual depiction of a dysfunctional household in which the dog suffers constant ill-treatment at the hands of a family we're expected to believe are ultimately good for him, but Hound Town takes it up a whole extra level of unbearable by making Patton's family much more flagrantly abusive to one another.  In addition to being harassed by a pair of eight year old psychopaths, Patton has to contend with being caught in the crossfires of constant screaming matches between the mismatched mom and pop of the household, who each have very different ideas about how to treat their dog.  We don't see that much of the humans in this story, but for what little we do they seem to do an awful lot of screeching at one another - there's a scene where we see Rusty's family drive by in a car and they're likewise going at each other's throats.  Like Family Dog, Hound Town appears to fatally misjudge what viewers will find hilariously relatable about the chaos of everyday family life and what just looks like a bunch of humans being incredibly obnoxious.


Is there anything that Hound Town does right, then?  Yes - once you get past her fanboy-baiting character design and her somewhat ridiculous backstory (she's an ex-show dog who harpooned her showing career because she once ate a hot dog), Sasha the saluki is actually fairly likeable, and her interactions with Rusty in the latter half of the story do offer one or two genuinely heartfelt moments amid the inanity.  Outcast from the show dog circuit, Sasha fears that she's nothing more than a "bad investment" to her humans, but Rusty convinces her that being a faithful family pet is a worthy occupation.  Sasha's home life is troubled in a way that's sadder and more understated than Patton's, and she's able to convey a air of vulnerability lurking beneath her aloof exterior that's rather affecting.  Rusty makes for a fairly bland hero, but up against an insufferable jerk like Napoleon it's nevertheless gratifying to see him come out on top.


Scatological/Gross-out Factor:

Scatological gags are few and far between, the rude humour being more heavily focused upon the dogs' reproductive urges, but obviously in a show revolving around the finer points of day-to-day canine existence, it's going to figure somewhere.  So, Napoleon sticks his nose (albeit inadvertently) up Muffin's butt crack, Patton takes a leak over his owners' carpet (off-screen, but we hear the noises plainly enough) and Napoleon threatens to shit in a flower bed.


Disturbing/Inappropriate Humour Factor:

As noted, Napoleon is a lecherous womaniser, and he doesn't just restrict this to his own species.  There are a couple of scenes in which he's implied to get sexually aroused by the sight of his human mistress in a bikini and by staring at her butt while she's doing aerobics. Sorry, but that's all just a little too weird and creepy for my tastes.  I know that cartoon bestiality was in in 1989, what with the "Opposites Attract" video and all, but then MC Skat Kat didn't also happen to be Paula Abdul's house pet.

There's also a painfully misjudged gag where Patton's human mistress asks him if her children were scaring him and he thinks in response, "They should be taken to the pediatrician and put to sleep."  The kids in question may be utter sociopaths, and I certainly pity that poor cockroach they're last seen racing after, but DUDE!


Random Observations:

  • The pilot doesn't make a huge deal of it, but Patton is blatantly intended to be gay.  His voice being modeled upon that of Harvey Fierstein (one of the few openly gay celebrities of the time) is a big enough hint, but the dead giveaway occurs during a scene where Sasha walks into the party and the guys all Tex Avery over her, while Patton can be glimpsed sitting nonchalantly with the unimpressed females.
  • The script may be lowbrow as sin, but it does throw in a Mephistopheles reference to appease any literary boffins who may be watching.
  • Somewhat dodgy scripting...as Sasha tries to leave the party, Rusty mutters to himself, "Oh great, Rusty, you blew it already."  Sasha overhears this, then immediately asks Rusty for his name.
  • There are a couple of cats who show up in the latter half of the episode and look for a fleeting moment like they're going to become the villains of this scenario (there is an air about them that's vaguely reminiscent of Si and Am from Lady and The Tramp), but nope, turns out that, as characters, they're pretty incidental.  We never learn their names or where the heck they even stand in this particular dynamic; they're just a pair of random cats thrown in as a plot device to send Rusty's party off the rails.  Oh, and speaking of Lady and The Tramp, there's a scene where Rusty and Sasha are dining at the back of a Mexican restaurant that's so reminiscent of that film's most famous scene that it has to be deliberate.


Laugh Track Bafflers:

The inclusion of a laugh track was one of Hound Town's biggest technical misjudgements, making it reminiscent of the old Hanna-Barbera sitcoms in a way that no cutting-edge cartoon at the dawn of the 90s ever wanted to be.  It also makes watching it a greatly more confusing experience.  The laugh track is plastered all over the shop, to the extent that the characters can't seem to do or say anything without the damned thing erupting, irrespective of whether it actually makes sense or not.  Below are some of the most baffling moments where the laugh track indicates that there should be a real knee-slapper here but I just don't see it:


(As Napoleon leads Rusty and Patton across the road, having just caused a pile-up with his carelessness.)
Patton: "Oh, I'm going to be road pizza."
"Pizza" is a quirkier term than "kill", I suppose.


(At the party, as Patton begins to suspect that Napoleon is planning something underhanded.)
Patton: "How long have you known Napoleon?"
Rusty: "People years or dog years?"
Dogs age at a different rate to humans, of course...but what's the joke here, exactly?


(As Rusty tells Sasha that he shares her love of junk food, including hot dogs, cheeseburgers and tacos.)
Sasha: "Tacos?  Qu'est-ce que c'est...tacos?"
This one in particular vexes me.  Is the joke really that Sasha doesn't know what tacos are, or is there something more to it than that?


(As Rusty explains to Sasha why being a family dog isn't so bad.)
Rusty: "Don't get me wrong, now, as a species, humans have their problems.  I think it all stems from too little hair."
And the joke here is that humans have less hair than dogs, and from a dog's perspective that looks weird?


(As Rusty shows Sasha around the neighbourhood.)
Rusty: "Hey, see this maple over here? That's where I tree'd my first mailman."
Yes, I know that dogs have this thing about postal workers.  Maybe I'm being nitpicky but, as with a lot of these gags revolving around canine behaviour and impulses, I don't get what's automatically so damned funny about it.


The Verdict:

If not for one or two genuinely sweet moments between Sasha and Rusty and the agreeable quality of the animation, I'd be inclined to dismiss Hound Town, much as Bakshi did himself, as an all-out disaster.  The characters are largely unlikeable, the humour is crass and unfunny and the story hinges upon one of the most hackneyed sitcom plots of all-time, with the narrative thread involving the party at Rusty's house playing out note-for-note as you would expect it to (of course the house will get trashed, and of course Rusty will clear it up in a madcap frenzy right before his humans return, and of course he'll overlook one tiny incriminating detail which will have him in the doghouse).  In the end, I would recommend Hound Town only if you're a Bakshi completist, a hardcore animation buff or simply pathologically obsessed with failure.

All the same, I would sooner subject myself to this again than Sausage Party.  At least Hound Town doesn't waste half as much of your time with its tedious sexual fixations.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Hollywood Dog (1990)

 
We've already touched on the misfortunes of that wave of early 90s prime time cartoons which wanted to run with the grown-up crowd but tripped up and perished straight out of the gate, living on now as a mere footnote to animation buffs and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it sight gag in a Halloween episode of The Simpsons to everyone else.  Fish Police, Capitol Critters and my somewhat ironic favourite of the triad, Family Dog - they all had it coming, believe me.  But what of that wave of prime time animations more unfortunate still, to the extent that they never made it past the pilot stage and, as such, don't even have the luxury of being remembered as a flop Simpsons competitor?  If you're familiar with the likes of The Jackie Bison Show, Hound Town and Hollywood Dog, then it seems a safe bet that you're not only a pretty hardcore animation buff but that you share my particular interest in the obscurities and castaways of the medium.  When, having kicked off their career as a supporting skit on The Tracey Ullman Show for a few years, The Simpsons were given their own series on Fox in 1989, its success surprised many and led to some interesting knee-jerk reactions from other TV networks eager to replicate a bit of that lucrative cartoon magic for themselves.  Even before Fish Police and Capitol Critters had made it to air in 1992, the path to concocting a successful Simpsons rival was already littered with failures and dead-ends, a handful of cartoon pilots having been cranked out at the dawn of the new decade and immediately discarded.  Among these was a second attempt by Fox at catching that all-elusive ink-and-paint lightning in a bottle, this time with the set-up for a would-be series that was only partially animated.

Hollywood Dog was based on a comic strip by R. P. Overmyer and aired on Fox on 25th July 1990, but was ultimately not picked up for a series.  It centred around the exploits of a sleazy entertainment promoter who just happened to be a two-dimensional cartoon dog living in a world populated by flesh-and-blood humans, and his partnership with a Hollywood newcomer, aspiring musician Bodine Frank (Tim Ryan).  Although it arrived during that initial wave of wannabe Simpsons bandwagon-riders, this one was clearly more interested in capitalising upon the goodwill directed at the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), which was then still pretty fresh on the public's minds.  Of course, minus a lavish Hollywood budget and the art direction of an animation legend like Richard Williams, the results were never going to be quite as impressive. Integral to the appeal of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the breathtakingly believable way in which cartoon creations like Roger, Jessica, Baby Herman, etc, appeared to inhabit the same physical space as Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd.  Needless to say, Hollywood Dog couldn't scratch up the same effect.  The titular character connects with his live action world with all the seamlessness of a flat pencil drawing that's been crudely pasted on top of it, and efforts to have him interact with the human cast end up looking really, really ropy.  More crippling still is that the animation for Hollywood Dog is so stiff and limited that the character is denied the dynamism and flexibility he desperately needed in order to make the show's central concept fly.  Clearly, he's supposed to be this Tex Avery-style whirlwind of anything-goes anarchy, the kind of cartoon creation who can randomly set his face ablaze and flash headlights from his eyes because he's not bound by the rules of the flesh-and-blood world, yet in practice he moves about as fluidly as the characters from Rude Dog and The Dweebs.  It somewhat defeats the purpose of doing a show about a cartoon character living in a live action world when your animated creation frankly isn't.

One thing that Hollywood Dog DOES have in its favour is that it boasts the talents of a Simpsons voice actor, the title character being voiced by Hank Azaria and sounding recognisably like Moe the bartender.  Azaria was a pretty solid choice for the role, giving the character an enjoyable spunkiness that exceeds the limitations of the animation.  Whenever Hollywood Dog does exhibit any kind of verve or dynamism, it's thanks to the liveliness of Azaria's performance.

For a long time, Hollywood Dog was the stuff of mystery, this weird little failed show which I'd delved deep enough into the history of television animation to know existed but could otherwise uncover precious little information about.  If it was a misfit animation from the early Simpsons era then my curiosity was definitely piqued, but the pilot long proved impossible to find - until very recently, when it surfaced on YouTube, and I was able to cross off one item on my grail list (alas, still no sign of the Carlton Your Doorman special to date).  Which means that we now have the joy of getting to go through it with a fine comb on here.

First off,  I have to say that I don't much care for the show's theme music, which sounds like the kind of blandly generic theme you'd find in any number of second-rate sitcoms from this era, and doesn't exactly make for the best of initial impressions.  Before we get to Hollywood Dog, we're introduced to our human protagonist, Bodine, who's in desperate need of a fresh start after being dumped by his fiance and decides to leave his life in Nebraska and pursue a music career in Hollywood - much to the chagrin of his mother, who warns him that "those California people are animals!"  Of course, in the case of the Californian he'll be befriending shortly, that's literally so.  After a few establishing shots, we enter into Hollywood Dog's apartment at the Bahama Lounge Hotel (the show's principal setting), where he's having a heated telephone conversation with a musician named Dave La Rock who he'd booked to play at the hotel bar tonight but who now apparently wants out.  Hollywood Dog is kept largely off-screen during the initial portion of this scene, with the occasional fleeting glimpse of an animated arm teasing us as to his true identity.  La Rock's cancellation comes as quite a blow to the cartoon mutt, not least because he's being hounded by the building manager, Duane (Raymond O'Connor), for having racked up some significant rent arrears.  As Duane listens in on the disastrous phone call from outside, he's briefly approached by another tenant, a young artist named Rhonda (Lenora May).  We'll get to Rhonda later, but those of you who know your sitcom cliches inside out won't be surprised to learn that she's basically there to be Bodine's gratuitous love interest - certainly, in this episode she serves no real purpose other than to set up a will they/won't they that evidently didn't.


Duane eventually loses patience and tries to enter in on Hollywood Dog, but is kept at bay with a bark of, "Hold it, I'm naked!"  Duane pauses, then realises that he's being taken for a chump - "Wait a minute, you're a dog, you're always naked!"  Actually, given that Hollywood Dog is never without his yellow shirt, that punchline doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Regardless, Duane barges in, but Hollywood Dog has found an ingenious hiding place that takes advantage of his two-dimensional physique, by slapping himself upon a painting hanging on his apartment wall.  Here, we get our first proper glimpse of the titular character, as Hollywood Dog peels himself from the picture and makes a stealthy escape through the window and into the front seat of his car, conveniently parked below.  Upon landing, he pulls out and discards a couple of bras, muttering "Twins" with a sly grin.  Yep, it's hinted that Hollywood Dog gets off with human females, a thought which you may or may not find palatable, although this was around the same time that Paula Abdul made a music video implying that she did the backseat mambo with a cartoon cat, so chalk it up to the spirit of the age.

Duane heads back down to the hotel lobby to excitedly announce to his mother and building head, Louise (Conchata Ferrell), that Dave La Rock has cancelled and Hollywood Dog therefore won't be coughing up the long-overdue rent money.  Duane is essentially the closest thing that the pilot offers to an antagonist, in that he blatantly doesn't care for Hollywood Dog and would like to see the back of him, although it's never made clear what his specific beef with the dog is.  Hollywood Dog may be a total sleazebag, but he has heart and everyone else at the Bahama lounge seems to enjoy having him around.  Louise is a lot better-disposed toward the albino mutt than her son, but has her limits and reluctantly concedes that she'll have to evict him.  This upsets Rhonda's kid brother Tyler (Matthew Brooks), who idolizes Hollywood Dog, although he's confident that the wily pooch will think of something.

Sure enough, it dawns on Hollywood Dog that, since no one at the Bahama Lounge even knows what Dave La Rock looks like, he could pluck any random musician off the streets and pass them off as La Rock.  As chance would have it, he happens to spot Bodine getting off his bus from Nebraska with his guitar case in hand and decides that this is too good an opportunity to pass up.  He pulls over and offers Bodine a lift, which Bodine accepts although he's somewhat overwhelmed by Hollywood Dog's appearance.  He admits that, "I've never met anybody so..."  "Animated?" offers Hollywood Dog, pulling a wacky but still very stilted-looking face.  This is another gag which doesn't quite work because, as we've discussed, Hollywood Dog really isn't.


This is also the only point in the episode in which anyone even vaguely alludes to the inherent weirdness of a talking cartoon dog being a part of this live action world.  Nobody else so much as bats an eyelid at the concept.  Must be a Californian thing.

Hollywood Dog get to know one another a little better, and then Hollywood Dog impresses Bodine by revealing that he knows Canadian actress/model Shannon Tweed, who makes a guest appearance as herself, and who the randy mutt unsuccessfully attempts to work his flea-bitten charm on.  Hollywood Dog asks Bodine where he'll be staying and mentions that he has a spare room in his place at the Bahama.  When Bodine confirms that he has money, that seals the deal.

At the Bahama Lounge lobby, Hollywood Dog points out his friend Maurice, who happens to be playing the drums in the backdrop, and who's really just a weird means of inserting a suggestive drum beat every time something wacky or alluring happens to Bodine in this scene, starting with a random encounter with twins played by Anadel and Adele Baughn (it's never revealed if they're meant to be the same twins Hollywood Dog is implied to have had a threesome with earlier).  The inclusion of these twins is entirely arbitrary as they serve no useful purpose in story terms whatsoever, but maybe their intended function would have come to light had the show been picked up for a series proper; we can only speculate.


Hollywood Dog is spotted by Louise, who calls him over and demands that he come clean about the status of tonight's La Rock gig.  Louise frankly doesn't take much convincing that Bodine is La Rock, although Hollywood Dog further protects his scheme by telling her that "La Rock" is a little sensitive right now because his fiance barbecued her entire family and has just been committed to a mental hospital; thus, he could do without any unnecessary hassle.  Louise never questions his ridiculous story (then again, she lives in a world where having a tenant who's a cartoon dog is regarded as entirely normal) and tells Hollywood Dog to take "La Rock" straight to his room.  Hollywood Dog still needs to stall Bodine while he converts the closet in his room into a spare bedroom, so he calls Tyler over and has him hogtie Bodine.  At this point, Rhonda shows up and we get our awkward initial meeting between the two would-be lovebirds, with Tyler making a point of the fact that his sister is single (seems an odd thing to say off the bat to a total stranger, unless he's really determined to see her hook up with someone) and Maurice throwing in another telltale drum beat in the backdrop.

Bodine later joins Hollywood Dog in his apartment and finds him nosing through the songs he's written.  He gets miffed when Hollywood Dog refers to his creaky old guitar as "firewood", but his annoyance turns to awe when he notices pictures showing all the famous celebrities that Dog has rubbed shoulders with over the years.  Which leads into this exchange:

Bodine: You really are a celebrity!

Hollywood Dog: Celebrity-slash-promoter, entrepreneur, actor, musician, not to mention impressionist...

Bodine: Impressionist?  Can you do Roger Rabbit?

Hollywood Dog: (Glances at camera) Not on this budget!

(Drum beat)

Thus, we get a stab at self-depreciation over the show's real elephant in the room.  As a gag, it feels jarring as hell, although it is the one that the promos seemed to favour.

Bodine is pretty taken with Hollywood Dog's place, until he realises that Dog intends for him to bunk in his old closet, at which point he cottons on to the likelihood that his new companion is looking to scam him and opts not to stay.  In desperation, Hollywood Dog offers him the first two weeks for free, but Bodine isn't biting - however, on his way out he bumps into Rhonda, who spills paint all over his shirt.  Spying an opportunity to delay Bodine's exit, Dog rips off the shirt and suggests that Rhonda dry clean it while Bodine take a shower.  This leads to an awkward bit where Bodine is left standing around the hotel corridor with his chest exposed while Rhonda gawks at him, in case it wasn't already painfully obvious that they're setting up for a thing between these two.

While Bodine showers in his apartment, Hollywood Dog stumbles upon another potential wrench in the works; namely, that Bodine is a pretty terrible singer (in Dog's words, he "sings like a seal", which is a simile I'd never encountered before).  He hatches a fresh plan, and asks Bodine if he can borrow a bit of money to buy them both food - Bodine permits him to take five dollars from his wallet.  Bodine then realises that he's been lathering up his hair with Dog's anti-flea shampoo and is predictably horrified.

Bodine later attempts to order a soda at the hotel bar, where Duane is serving, but realises that Dog has stripped his wallet completely bare.  Duane mocks Bodine for allowing the dog to scam him, but Louise intervenes and orders Duane to leave "La Rock" alone, as his girlfriend was recently committed.  This is the first whiff Bodine gets of the dog's massive fib, so he storms off to confront him, while Louise instructs Duane to try and soothe his hurt feelings by bringing him a sandwich.  Before Bodine gets to have it out with Dog, there's another gratuitous moment between him and Rhonda which results in her inviting him into her place for jalapenos (nope, not a metaphor).  When that's done, Bodine overhears the dog playing one of his songs on his own (cartoon) guitar, and bursts into the apartment to find him in the process of trying to sell the song to his agent Ziggy over the phone.  Bodine now has a barrage of reasons to be pissed with Dog, who decides to come clean with him and explain that he was hoping to be able to pass him off as La Rock, and that he used Bodine's money to get his guitar, Loretta, out of hock so that he can back him up on stage should his singing prove much of a problem.  Bodine refuses to go along with his scheme, angrily asserting that all they'll be doing is going to get his money back.  He then heads off into his converted closet room to pack, while Dog dejectedly tries to take himself for a walk (producing a collar and leash out thin air) and discovers that Duane has been eavesdropping on the conversation (while munching on that sandwich he'd prepared earlier).


Duane now knows Dog's entire scheme and berates him for thinking he could pass the newcomer off as Dave La Rock.  Dog tries to bluff his way out by hastily explaining that he was trying to protect his true identity, Blind Lazy Bones Jackson, who he states "has vision - limited, I admit, but he writes great songs."  Duane isn't buying it, but Bodine discovers that Dog didn't just get his own guitar back but has also gifted him with a new one and, touched by the gesture, decides to assume the role of a blind musician in order to give his story credibility.  Duane is a bit confused, recalling that this man didn't appear blind when he saw him downstairs earlier, but Dog insists that "the kid's a pro, he doesn't look for pity," and sends Duane off to prepare the stage for Blind Lazy Jones Jackson.  With Duane gone, Dog thanks Bodine for covering him and assures him that he was being totally sincere when he describd his songs as great.  Bodine agrees to go on stage and perform, but only as Bodine Frank, singing his songs, his way.  Dog assures him that he'll see his name in lights, which gives Bodine the inspiration to finally finish a song he'd been penning.

That evening, Duane introduces Bodine on stage (realising in the process that Dog has gotten the best of him), only his singing doesn't go over too well with the lounge patrons (Tyler also uses the similie "sings like a seal").  Louise is all prepared to pull the plug on Bodine, when Dog comes to the rescue with Loretta in hand and the two friends perform on stage together.  This gets the audience going, and even Duane seems won over by their charm.


In the final scene (which includes an endearingly tacky-looking shot with an animated moon sinking behind the hotel) Hollywood Dog pays off his debts to Louise and returns the money he borrowed from Bodine, but adds that if Bodine intends on staying then he'll take back half the rent money.  Bodine, who's no pushover, reminds him that the first two weeks are free and proceeds to negotiate use of Dog's car into the package.  The pilot ends with Dog advising Bodine that another local hotel, this one crawling with chicks, is looking for a cabana boy, and suggests that he might be able to help him out, because "I never met a dame who could resist a guy with a cute dog".  "Cute dog?" Bodine retorts,  "Do you know where I can find one?"  "You're quick kid," replies Hollywood Dog.  "I like that."  Drum beat (actually, there is something strangely fitting about giving Maurice the last word here).

Anyway, contrary to what Dog insists at the end, obviously neither he or Bodine were going places, their television career being stopped dead after this one measly installment.  Not too surprising, given that they clearly didn't have the resources to make the show's central conceit work, and the entire thing falls fatally flat as a result.  Otherwise, there's nothing really offensively bad about Hollywood Dog - central gimmick notwithstanding, the writing feels totally generic, the human characters have no real depth or outstanding qualities, and the set-up for the intended romance between Bodine and Rhonda is handled with all the grace and subtlety of an echidna in a balloon factory, but it remains more-or-less watchable throughout, and Azaria is always on hand to pepper things up a notch.  Personally, I doubt that the world missed out on anything too earth-shattering by stopping this show in its tracks, but it's definitely one to look up if you have a fascination with the rejects and misfits of television history, and with long-forgotten stabs at novelty premises that may well have been hits in alternate timelines.