Friday, August 22, 2008

The Overlooked Awards - Part 1

Here's the first installment of what I call "The Overlooked Awards". In these posts, I'll be giving a shout out to the overlooked, underrated and underappreciated, be it in film, comics, tv or music.

For the inaugural post, I have selected NewsRadio.

NewsRadio was a sitcom that ran on NBC from 1995 - 1999. Created by Paul Simms, who was a former Letterman and Larry Sanders Show writer, the series was set at Manhattan's WNYX radio station. The show began with the arrival of new news director Dave Nelson (Dave Foley), who finds that he must contend with an assortment of odd and eccentric staff members and a decidely unique station owner.

First off, the show had one of the best ensemble casts for a sitcom since The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In addition to former Kid in the Hall Dave Foley, the series also starred Stephen Root, Andy Dick, Joe Rogan, Vicki Lewis, Maura Tierney, Khandi Alexander and Phil Hartman. Combining physical humour, sight gags and witty dialogue with a touch of absurdism, a fast pace and numerous pop culture references, the show created one of the most seamless and classy half hours of comedy seen in the 1990s.

All right, it wasn't as innovative as Seinfeld, as hip as Friends or as safely appealing as Home Improvement, but it was somehow effortlessly hysterical. This was largely due to its stellar cast, which worked together in an almost magical way, without ego or grandstanding.

The writing was top notch as well, with the humour being always sharp and vital, never complacent or familiar. The episodes could veer from standard sitcom hijinks to fantasy episodes set in space or on the Titantic, to thinly veiled attacks on the network that produced the show, to stream of conciousness dream episodes.

Both of these factors combined to create a scrappy underdog of a show. You get the sense that they did whatever they wanted because they knew very few people were watching. And that gave them freedom. The death of undisputed comedic genius Phil Hartman severly hurt the show, and even with Jon Lovitz joining the cast, the ensemble was never quite the same. Still, its final season remained hilarious, and it went out as class act all the way.

Here's some great quotes:

Bill (Phil Hartman): You're not in Wisconsin, Dave. The big story isn't about a cow wandering into the town square.
Dave: You know, I worked in Milwaukee, it's a city with a population of a million people.
Bill: So, there must have been a lot of hub-bub when that cow got loose.

Dave: I just had no idea that the (Nicotine) Patch could have side effects.
Bill: And I had no idea you're only supposed to wear one at a time.
Dave: How many were you wearing?
Bill: Fifteen, sixteen. I sort of stuck them all around my waist like a belt.

Jimmy (Stephen Root): You think if Hunchback of Notre Dame was running a deficit, Micky Mouse would jump in and bail him out?
Dave: What about Scrooge McDuck? He's the one with all the money.
Jimmy: Nah, ducks hate hunchbacks.

Dave: Normally at a time like this I'd ask you for advice, and you'd say something that would make no sense at all, but somehow it would all fit together. Like, I would tell you, "Sir, I have a problem," and you'd say, "Well, what is it?" and I'd say, "Well, sir, Lisa wants to have a baby, but she doesn't want to get married," and you'd say "Dave, why milk the cow when you have a fridge full of steaks?" And I'd say, "Sir, that makes no sense," and you'd say, "Well, it sure made sense when that guy Chuck Connors said it in that movie Chinatown," and I'd say, "Sir, Chuck Connors wasn't in Chinatown," and you'd say, "Dave, if I wanted to have this conversation I'd have hired that guy Siskel Ebert to do your job," and I'd say, "Sir, Siskel and Ebert are two people," and you'd say, "Dave, just because the man is fat is no reason to make fun of him."

Beth (Vicki Lewis): Matthew, I think you mispronounced that guy's name a few times.
Matthew (And Dick): What, it's uh, Joey Buttafu-
Dave: No it isn't Matthew! It's, uh, Buttafuoco. Butta-foo-co.
Matthew: What did I say?
Dave: Well Matthew, of all the possible mispronounciations of that name, you seemed to have stumbled on absolutely the worst one.

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