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TV Reviews / Those '70s shows: Bradys and Muppets vie for laughs Friday

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

First Fox announced that "The Brady Bunch in The White House" will air Friday. Then NBC said it would premiere "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie" in the same time slot.

IT'S A VERY MERRY MUPPET CHRISTMAS MOVIE: Pictured (clockwise from top) Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Pepe, Gonzo, and Kermit. (Alan Zenuk, NBC Photo)

"It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie"

When: 8 p.m. Friday on NBC.

Starring: Joan Cusack, David Arquette, William H. Macy

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Not-so-exclusive: Kermit tells all!

Boo! Hiss! Way to ruin the spirit of the season, NBC. VCRs notwithstanding, asking anyone who grew up in the '70s to choose between the Bradys and the Muppets is downright cruel.

Normally it would be an easy pick: Goofy fun (the Bradys) or heartwarming, nostalgic amusement (the Muppets). But "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie" is funnier than most recent Muppet efforts, although not initially.

Early on there are too many human celebrity guest stars and too few Muppets. But "Christmas Movie" improves as it goes along, hilariously invoking memories of Christmas movies past, from "A Christmas Story" to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." "Moulin Rouge" is even spoofed.

The story begins as Kermit (See interview with him, Page D-14) and company find they may lose the Muppet theater to an evil bank executive (Joan Cusack) who's an object of affection to Pepe the king prawn (most recently seen in the Long John Silver's commercials).

Daniel (David Arquette), an accountant in heaven, sees Kermit's plight and comes to his rescue by getting help from God (Whoopi Goldberg), who's busy meeting with archangels.

"We're talking about Armageddon," she says. "We're trying to get Streisand for the after-party."

On second thought, maybe it's hell.

Later, Daniel helps Kermit have an "It's a Wonderful Life" experience, which picks up the film's pace and injects a surprising number of pop culture jokes.

"Corporate synergy is out of control," Kermit says, lifting his webbed foot to reveal the NBC peacock logo.

Written by Tom Martin ("The Simpsons") and Jim Lewis ("Muppets Tonight"), "Christmas Movie" is better than August's "Kermit's Swamp Years" and all the most recent Muppet movies. The new, hipper vibe that courses through the film mostly works, although seeing Animal funnel-chug eggnog is a little disturbing.

At the same time, seeing the world if Kermit had never been born is pretty funny, especially skinny science nerd Beaker as a muscle-bound, tattooed night club bouncer.

Longtime Muppet fans may notice one disappointing difference from past films: Frank Oz, long the performer and voice of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and other Muppets, didn't participate this time around.

'The Brady Bunch in the White House'

Your tolerance for the latest "Brady Bunch" project will depend on your fondness for the squeaky-clean sitcom family and the '90s-era big-screen films the TV show spawned.

Clearly, this is not intended for "I-watch-only-HBO" snobs, aiming instead for fans of nostalgia, irony and '70s cheese.

The intended audience should get a kick out of this latest "Brady" saga even as the law of diminishing returns is borne out. After a while, even loving references to Cindy's Kitty Karry-All doll and plays on "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" grow old.

"The Brady Bunch in the White House"

When: 8 p.m. Friday on Fox.

Starring: Gary Cole, Shelley Long


It's been six years since "A Very Brady Sequel," making some of the retread jokes in "The Brady Bunch in The White House" less tired than they ought to be. It's an enjoyable two hours, a light dessert after a heaping helping of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Before the first commercial break, Mike Brady (Gary Cole) has, through a series of implausible plot turns, become the president of the United States.

"Our housekeeper is not an illegal alien," Mike brags of Alice before the Congress.

He quickly names Carol his vice president/first lady, a position she clinches in the minds and hearts of legislators after she and the kids sing a patriotic tune while dancing around the House chamber.

Humor-impaired fans of "The West Wing" will be horrified.

At a state dinner, Alice (Tannis Burnett) prepares a meal that brings together a black radical and a white racist. Peter (Blake Foster) ignores Carol's advice and plays ball in the White House with disastrous results. And Cindy (Sofia Vassilieva) tattles on her family to the White House press corps.

Naturally, there's a scheming speaker of the House (Sal Rubinick). We know he's evil because he disparages our fair city.

"When I get done with you, you'll be a crossing guard in Pittsburgh," he rages. "You ever been to Pittsburgh in the winter?"

Sherwood Schwartz, creator of the original series and executive producer of the movies, returns in the same roles for "Brady Bunch in The White House." His son, Lloyd, wrote the film's script with Hope Juber, inserting enough inside references to satisfy legions of Bradyphiles.

The tone of this latest "Brady" outing is the same as "The Brady Bunch Movie," a good-natured spoof that both gently mocks and upholds Brady values.

Although Cole and Long return as Mike and Carol, new actors cast as the Brady kids look to their film predecessors for inspiration rather than to the original cast. Ashley Drane, who takes over the role of Jan, tries her best to ape actress Jennifer Elise Cox, who played Jan in the movies, but Cox remains the superior Jan Brady.

"The Brady Bunch in the White House" will entertain its intended audience, but as with any copy of a copy, the quality diminishes.


If you already wasted several hours of your life watching ABC's May "Dinotopia" miniseries, you probably don't need me to warn you away from the new series version of "Dinotopia."


When: 8 p.m. tomorrow on ABC.

Starring: Erik von Detten, Shiloh Strong


The lead actors are slightly improved -- although Erik von Detten's hair is more expressive than his face -- but the story plods like one of the less graceful dinosaurs on screen.

Half-brothers Karl (von Detten) and David (Shiloh Strong) continue to explore the strange land of Dinotopia, where they crashed in a plane with their grumpy father, Frank (Michael Brandon), who spends tomorrow's two-hour premiere trying to get off the island.

David, a Skybax rider, gets assigned to return a magical sunstone to a village.

"After all you've been through, it will be a walk in the park," his commander says.

"Yeah, Jurassic Park," David replies, bringing to mind a far superior series of dinosaur flicks. Acknowledging its influences doesn't help "Dinotopia," especially since it has more in common with "Land of the Lost."

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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