Mork and Mindy

Mork form Ork wasn’t Robin Williams’ first role, but it was certainly the one that made him a household name. So, as we mourn the passing of a man whose life’s work was to bring joy to others, I thought I’d take a look at the pilot of Mork and Mindy. It premiered in 1978, after the character earned raves in a dream sequence on Happy Days.

Mork’s story is told in linear fashion, with one exception, which I’ll get to in a moment. The show opens with him being called into the principal’s office, so to speak, as he appears before the shadowy Orson, his boss. Orson (named for Orson Welles?) reprimands Mork for his constant joke-making. Humor has no place on their planet, so Mork is being sent on assignment to Earth.

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His ship lands in the woods near Boulder, Colorado, where Mindy (Pam Dawber) is being sexually assaulted by a date, who then steals her Jeep. This is an interesting scene, because in a more clichéd show, Mork would have rescued her from the douchebag, and then she would have fallen for Mork romantically. Instead, in the show’s emblematic fashion, she mistakes Mork for a priest because he’s wearing a suit backwards and the collar looks vaguely like a priest’s. He walks her home, where she offers him some iced tea, and his true identity comes out.

The role was perfect for Williams, as it provided ample opportunity to showcase his skill with impersonations and physical comedy while also allowing room for his serious side. His extraterrestrial perspective offers a platform to comment on human society.

Mindy’s reaction to discovering she’s brought home an alien is delightful. Her pure wonder overrides any fear she should probably be feeling. Mork’s antics, from his strange handshake to “sitting” on his head come with such charm that she just goes along for the ride. One can image that what we’re seeing is actually Pam Dawber, the actress, just reacting in wonder at working in the presence of such charisma and energy.

An extended cutaway — lasting 15 minutes — that manages to work in Happy Days‘ The Fonz and Laverne and Shirley‘s Laverne almost kills this pilot. It neither forwards the plot nor enhances Mindy’s understanding of Mork’s background. It’s not even that funny. Mork’s ineptness with human interaction in Milwaukee far eclipses the skills he demonstrates in Boulder. If I had to guess, I’d say the scene on the Happy Days set was shot well before the Mork and Mindy pilot script was even completed. 

The difference in timeline presents questions, which are not addressed about travel between Ork and Earth, since 20 or so years have passed between Mork’s two visits. Did he travel through time, or do Orkans not show their age as Earthlings do? Or did a fold in the space-time-continuum allow him to move directly between 1950-something and 1978? (As a sci-fi fan, I need to know these things.)

Mindy’s dad (Conrad Janis) and grandmother (Elizabeth Kerr) also appear as characters and the former’s interactions with Robin Williams really sparkle. Dad mistakes Mork for a live-in love interest, and while he’s angry, you can almost see him wanting to laugh at Williams’ antics. In the end, he helps Mindy save Mork from a trip to a mental institution. We’ll leave the paternalism/sexism, a 21-year-old living with a man making her a “loose woman,” for another discussion. 

It’s nice that the show doesn’t push a romantic link between its two leads, although it would go down that road in later seasons. The budding relationship between the two is interesting enough as it is.

Mork closes the episode by checking in, psychically, with Orson, as we would come to do weekly. This is where the show dips its toe into social commentary. Mork asks, “If everyone’s different, how can a society function”? In a way it’s a celebration of the messed up human condition. That’s probably why the show was so loved, and why we’ll always remember Mork emerging from his glowing egg to light up our living rooms.

Pilots screened at Comic-Con 2014

During the pilot episode of Constantine, the eponymous character (Matt Ryan) says something about impatience being a 21st century disease. It’s an apt observation in comparing the two pilots screened last night at San Diego Comic-Con, The Flash and Constantine.  Constantine_Official_Trailer

The two shows had more in common than just being derived from comic books. Themes of weather and dead parents recur, for example. I’m not analyzing them in terms of how faithful they are to their origin materials, or whether characters lived up to expectations, but only how each pilot functions as a pilot. Continue reading

What makes a good sci-fi pilot?

Any fan of genre television probably has a mental list of dos and don’ts when it comes to pilots. With so many entries into the sci-fi category in the past few years, we’ve seen them all. You probably have your own. These are a few of my “dos.”

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Mal Reynolds. Awesome. Not crazy.

1. Don’t overdo it on the exposition.

Nothing kills a pilot like heavy exposition, but there’s a little room for forgiveness with science fiction or supernatural settings. There’s simply more that needs explaining. Still, a long voice-over that tells us a bunch of information that we’re going to learn anyway, more organically, is a waste of time. The single episode of Delirium is the best recent example of this. In addition to boring the audience, the opening VO revealed a character much more mature and aware than the one who belonged to the voice. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Orphan Black pilot, which left us saying “WTF”? In a good way. Continue reading

Wilfred

Wilfred is one of those high concept shows that was so bizarre when it was new, it was hard to imagine it could last. If you’ve hung with it over its four seasons, reflect on how weird it seemed then and how weird it seems now. A pilot can “teach” us to accept a show’s premise and then *bang* we’re on board.

WILFRED: L-R: Elijah Wood as Ryan and Jason Gann as Wilfred. CR: FX.Go back and re-watch the pilot. I forgot how funny it is. It might actually be funnier now, since I’m not wasting mental energy trying to figure it out. Is Ryan dreaming? Is he dead? Is he high? Can he possibly keep it secret that his neighbor’s dog is coercing him to commit petty crimes? It doesn’t matter. Continue reading

The Last Ship, and point of view

Let’s talk about The Last Ship. It’s been on for several weeks now, so if you were planning to watch it you probably already are. It’s what you’d expect from a basic cable show executive produced by Michael Bay. But the pilot — which has lots of explosions — got me thinking about the character from whose point of view a writer can choose to tell a story.THE LAST SHIP I know, I know, it’s based on a book. I haven’t read it, but I’m assuming that, like the show, it’s told through the eyes of Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane). He’s a big, tough white guy who, no doubt, has proved his mettle serving in the U.S. Navy. Plot developments in the pilot demonstrate for us that he’s brave, dedicated to his men, and loves his wife and children. Basically, he’s an all-around Good Guy, complete with the white hat, which he places on his head with great symbolic purpose. Continue reading

Pilot Titles, Part 3

If you’ve read this blog before, you know I enjoy titles of pilot episodes, and television naming conventions in general. Can you identify the show by the title of its pilot? Air dates range from the 1970s to just last month.

  1. Natural Selectionpramface
  2. Happiness
  3. Mark 8:36
  4. Welcome to Camelot
  5. Winter is Coming
  6. La Sicaria
  7. Ghosts
  8. Like Narnia But Sexy
  9. Phase Six
  10. The Lights of Mystery Mountain

Continue reading

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Now that its premiere season is behind us, it’s a good time to look back at the pilot of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and remember how we got here. A re-watch of the pilot serves as a reminder not only of the show’s charm — maybe the reason we hung on through some slow weeks — but the Whedon/Tancharoen family’s skill at storytelling. Despite the lukewarm reaction when it first aired, this is a hell of a good pilot, in hindsight. It kicks off the season arc, the story of Coulson (Clark Gregg) building his team and gradually learning about TAHITI, and all of the relationships therein. But instead of making its B-plot a one-off, it too sets up a long, methodical hero’s journey.

MikePetersonThe latter is what interested me most. Even though we had a long stretch of Mike-less episodes, this season was very much Deathlok‘s origin story. In fact, Mike (J. August Richards) himself says that at minute 30. Continue reading

Orange is the New Black

I almost didn’t give Orange is the New Black a chance, based simply on hating the title. It suggested to me that we’d be watching “Elle Woods Goes to the Big House.” I envisioned a main character who would apply for dispensation to wear Manolos with her jumpsuit, or teach her cell mates whatever is the 2013 equivalent of the bend-and-snap.

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A show about a woman going to prison, produced exclusively for Netflix, could as well go the other way: all rape-y and terrifying. Also not something I was eager to embrace.

Somehow, this show–evidenced by the pilot–pulls off a delicate balance of realism, drama and humor. I was surprised at how much I laughed. More amazing, it actually made me, an average middle-class white woman look at the central character, Piper (Taylor Schilling), and think, “That could be me.” If, somehow, I had done something in my past that came back to bite me in the ass, I would totally go on Amazon and buy books to prepare for prison. Continue reading

Orphan Black

ImageIf you are lucky enough to have no idea what Orphan Black is about, don’t hit the jump. But do tune into the inevitable marathon that will take place before season 2 kicks off April 19. Orphan Black is one of those shows that, the less you know about it going in, the better. When I first watched, I hadn’t heard anything more than one little tweet about it, and even that contained what I now consider a spoiler.

I love a pilot that surprises you and makes you go, “Where is this going?” If you’re into suspense, amazing acting and East London accents, you’ll like this show. Continue reading

Why I Didn’t Hate the HIMYM Finale

bluefrenchhornhimym…because I feel very alone in my non-hatred. Need I warn you that there are major spoilers ahead?

  1. I never, for a second, bought Robin and Barney as a couple. They had no chemistry. She had played witness to too much of his debauchery. Even with his vow to never lie, how could she trust him? Although I love Barney as a character, I would never wish a marriage to someone like that on a woman I cared about. I actually wanted her to run out on the wedding, but I’ll take this outcome just as well.
  2. Continue reading