By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 16, 2014 at 12:04PM
If the term 'one of Ron Howard's best movies' sounds like a backhanded compliment, that's probably a testament to the aggressively middlebrow nature of most of the actor-turned-director-turned-"Arrested Development" narrator's output. But there are good movies among the Howard canon ("The Paper," "Apollo 13," "The Missing"), and for the most part, "Parenthood" takes its place among them. It's unashamedly a big-screen sitcom (it's understandable that it's spawned two separate TV series over the years), but a pretty good one, deeply felt, very well acted and with a pleasing messiness to it that rings home to anyone that's part of a large family. Steve Martin, in one of his more satisifyingly grounded performances, heads up the family unit, with Mary Steenburgen, an Oscar-nominated Dianne Wiest, Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton, Joaquin Phoenix, Rick Moranis, Jason Robards and Tom Hulce (especially good as the dark horse) all doing some strong work. Howard and "City Slickers" writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel can't help themselves from going super-broad in places, but given how poorly this sort of film can be done, this isn't a bad effort at all.
"Parenthood" (1990) and "Parenthood" (2010-present)
Like we said, it's not surprising given the feel of the movie that it spawned two separate small-screen series over the past 25 years. First up, and produced by Ron Howard, was the 1990 NBC series, which was cancelled after only 12 episodes. From what we've seen, it was a perfectly decent show, but it's probably about right that it's remembered principally for giving very early showcases to future stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Thora Birch and David Arquette (as well as an early writing gig for Joss Whedon) than for changing TV comedy. The 2010 re-rub, again produced by Howard but showrun by "Friday Night Lights" legend Jason Katims, was more successful, at least in terms of its staying power. Departing more from its source material, the show was an hour-long drama (with comedic elements) rather than a comedy with serious bits, and it's something that really gives the subject breathing room—no series currently airing is able to make viewers cry as successfully as this one. In part, that's thanks to a very strong cast: Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, Peter Krause, Monica Potter, Lauren Graham, Mae Whitman, Erika Christensen, Sam Jaeger, Dax Shephard, Joy Bryant et al. But it's also a testimony to the quality of the writing by Katims and the rest of his team. Never a ratings monster, it's nonetheless improved with each subsequent season, and, like "Community" and "Parks And Recreation," has managed to fail less than anything that NBC have tried to replace it with, so looks like a decent prospect to make it to a sixth season later this year.
"Planet Of The Apes" (1968)
"You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!" The defining contribution of "Planet Of The Apes" to pop culture (along with "Simpsons" musical version "Stop The Planet Of The Apes I Want To Get Off") is probably its shocking gut-punch of an ending, but that often overshadows a film that, 45 years and two reboots on, remains a solid-gold sci-fi classic. Franklin J. Schaffner's film (based on Pierre Boulle's novel "La Planete des singes") should be something silly, like an overblown "Twilight Zone" episode (in fact, Rod Serling wrote the first draft of the script)—the story of an astronaut who lands on a world where humans are slaves to a race of hyper-intelligent talking simians. But there's an intelligence and inventiveness to the way that the film is executed—not to mention the legendary, and still impressive make-up effects—that's prevented it from aging in the way that many films of its time did, thanks in part to the potent subtext, rigorous structure and the true awe that it inspires. It says something that despite the many sequels, spin-offs and reinventions (including the very solid recent "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes"), the original remains the definitive version of the material. We'll see how Matt Reeves gets on with this summer's "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes."
"Planet Of The Apes" (1974)
After the film series ran into the ground with 1973's "Battle Of The Planet Of The Apes," and the death of producer Arthur P. Jacobs, successful broadcasts of early films in the franchise caused CBS to press ahead with the idea of a small-screen version of "Planet Of The Apes" version. Again, Rod Serling was brought in to write scripts that ultimately went unused, with the eventual series focusing on chimpanzee Galen (franchise veteran Roddy McDowall, who'd played Cornelius and Caesar in earlier films), who goes on the run with another pair of Earthbound astronauts (Ron Harper and James Naughton, making Charlton Heston look like the greatest actor alive in retrospect). McDowall remains a great presence, and there are some intriguing allegorical aspects to some episodes (one episode involving chemical weapons was buried by CBS after the controversy over Agent Orange), but it's otherwise pretty aggressively mediocre, falling swiftly into a "Fugitive"/"Incredible Hulk"-style formula that becomes highly repetitive almost immediately. Airing opposite comedy behemoth "Sanford & Son," the show struggled in the ratings, and was cancelled after thirteen episodes aired. That wasn't the only attempt, though: animated series "Return To The Planet Of The Apes" also managed a single season on NBC the following year.
“Working Girl” (1988)
It’s perhaps not a fashionable point of view to hold, but for this writer, as Hollywood romantic comedies go, Mike Nichols’ “Working Girl” strays dangerously close to perfection. Wait up, hear us out: it’s a tight, very funny script, delivered by a terrific cast: Melanie Griffith was literally never this good again; Harrison Ford manufactures some genuinely hot chemistry with her; Sigourney Weaver has a great time as a stone-cold bitch; Alec Baldwin is a huge creep as the philandering boyfriend; and Joan Cusack steals every scene (everyone knows the “Coffee? Tea? Me?” line, but her delivery of “6000 dollars for a dress? It’s not even leather” deserves more attention). But more than that, it’s a film about class and classism, which is not traditionally a topic that Hollywood has any time for, and yet here it’s dealt with head on, along with sexism and careerism and corporate backbiting and other such non-frothy themes. Of course it helps to have the frequently brilliant Mike Nichols in the director’s chair (and an Oscar-winning song in Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run”), and his tendency to undercut excessive sweetness with a welcome dose of bitter is in evidence here too, right up to the last shot of a triumphant Tess sitting at her desk in an office that a vast wide pull-out reveals to be indistinguishable from a few hundred other offices on in that city block alone. Surprisingly intelligent for a romantic comedy that is both romantic and comedic as well, in addition to being genuinely fond of its characters.
“Working Girl” (1990)
On paper, there’s no reason why the essential premise of “Working Girl” couldn’t translate well to a small-screen format, especially if the decision was made (as it was here) to start the series after the film ended (the show is largely about Tess’ teething problems with the corporate culture of her job with Trask Industries—the job she gets at the very end of the film). I mean, they had an Oscar-winning theme tune in the bag! But the execution turned out so uninspired that even the charms of rising star Sandra Bullock (four years pre-”Speed”) couldn’t get people invested in this dud, and, itself a midseason replacement, it was cancelled after just 12 episodes. In fact the show is more of a curio for diehard Bullock fans these days, or for anyone really fascinated by the career of perpetual nearly-man George Newbern, but Bullock was in fact the second choice for the role of Tess here, with the show originally being conceived as a vehicle for “Facts of Life” star Nancy McKeon (who would go one to lose out the rather more long-lasting role of Monica in “Friends” to Courtney Cox too). But mostly the show feels like it suffers from the “blandification” that dogs so many movie-to-TV transitions; without the more acerbic tendencies of the film, and with all ambiguities hammered out to turn in situations and jokes (and sets) that were pretty much interchangeable with those from about ten other early '90s shows, even Bullock’s endearing puppyish appeal starts to grate pretty quickly. It’s not hard to see why it never pulled in the ratings, when it felt so indistinguishable from everything else, but let’s not worry too much about the show’s peppy star. She did OK for herself without it.
Honorable Mentions: Among the more successful of the ones that we didn't have space to include include "In The Heat Of The Night," the two TV series based on Luc Besson's "La Femme Nikita," "The Dead Zone," "Serpico," "Alien Nation," "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "The Dukes Of Hazzard" (based on the movie "Moonrunners"), "Highlander: The Series," "Stargate SG1," "Dixon Of Dock Green," "Fame," "Mr. Belvedere" (based on the film "Sitting Pretty"), "What's Happening!!" (based on "Cooley High"), "Harry And The Hendersons," "Teen Wolf," "The Courtship Of Eddie's Father" and "Weird Science."
Other shorter lived ones include "Beyond Westworld," "Blade The Series," "Blue Thunder," "Casablanca," "The Crow; Stairway To Heaven," "Animal House" spin-off "Delta House," "Ferris Bueller," "Mortal Kombat: Konquest," "My Big Fat Greek Life," "Private Benjamin," "RoboCop: The Series," "Shaft," "Starman," "Timecop," "Tremors: The Series," "Uncle Buck," "Anna & The King," "Baby Boom," "Bad News Bears," Bagdad Cafe," "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," "Bustin' Loose," "The Client," "The Firm," "Dangerous Minds," "Dirty Dancing," "Down & Out In Beverly Hills," "F/X: The Series," "Fast Times," "Foul Play," "The Four Seasons," "Freebie And The Bean," "Going My Way," "Gung Ho," "House Calls," "How To Marry A Millionaire," "The Magnificent Seven," "The Net," "9 To 5," "Paper Moon," "Party Girl," "Peyton Place," "Stir Crazy" and "12 O'Clock High." — Oliver Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang