The Light from the TV Shows: TGS: 30 Great Shows (That Don’t Actually Exist)

With “30 Rock” departing the airwaves after a not-unrespectable seven seasons – a particularly incredible achievement when you consider what an incredibly off-the-wall, insider-y sort of sitcom it was throughout its run – it seemed only appropriate to offer up some sort of tribute to the show in this week’s column. Unfortunately, since everyone else seems to have swiped all of the good angles that are 100% show-specific (indeed, I actually wrote a piece on the 30 best “30 Rock” guest stars for the “Today” blog, The Clicker), I had to think a little bit outside the box, but since a key aspect of the series was its show within a show, “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable concept to spotlight 30 of TV’s great fictional TV series. Lord knows these aren’t all of them, of course. Hell, even limiting myself to a one-fake-TV-series-per-real-TV-series rule…with the only exception being “30 Rock,” which seemed only fair, given the reason for the list in the first place…there are still thousands of omissions, so feel free to offer up your personal favorites that didn’t make the cut, “Family Guy” fans. (There’ve been so many on that show, I didn’t even know where to start.)

1. TGS with Tracy Jordan (“30 Rock”)

For those who can remember back to the pilot of “30 Rock,” Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) was originally in charge of a not-terribly-great sketch comedy series called “The Girlie Show,” but when GE’s new Head of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming, Jack Donaghy made an executive decision to add the completely unpredictable Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to the show, the comedian’s ego necessitated a change in the show’s title to feature his name more prominently. 136 episodes later, we’ve scarcely seen a single “TGS” sketch in its entirety, and what bits we have seen have rarely been funny (at least not intentionally), but the shenanigans surrounding the series have been consistently hysterical.

2. The Alan Brady Show (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”)

Dick Van Dyke has discussed on many occasions how many TV writers have come up to him over the years and told him that the biggest reasons they decided to break into the business in the first place was because Rob Petrie and his cronies on Alan Brady’s variety show made it look like one of the most entertaining occupations in the world. Strangely, he hasn’t spoken nearly as much about how many of those writers finished their comments by yelling, “Thanks for nothing, you big liar!” I’m betting it’s about 50/50.

By the way, although “The Alan Brady Show” wasn’t real, the folks at MeTV talked Carl Reiner into doing a promo for the addition of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to their line-up where he reprised the character. Funny stuff.

3. Invitation to Love (“Twin Peaks”)

If you’re not a David Lynch obsessive, you may not remember this soap opera, but those with keen eyes will recall that it turned up at least once in each of the first seven episodes of “Twin Peaks.” It’s also worth noting that “Invitation to Love” pointedly features identical-twin characters played by the same actress, which – in no way coincidentally – was more or less what Sheryl Lee did as Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson.

4. The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (“Spongebob Squarepants”)

The best bit about this cartoon-with-a-cartoon was the fact that the “Spongebob” show runners reunited former “McHale’s Navy” co-stars Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway to prove the characters’ respective voices. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

5. The Terrence and Phillip Show (“South Park”)

Disproving a longstanding theory that Canadians can’t be funny while cementing the not-really-in-question suspicion that farts are always funny, it need only be said that Terrence and Phillip are a stone-cold gas. Sadly, this clip is from their movie, “Asses of Fire,” rather than their series, but it’s basically the same thing. Y’know, except filthier. Much, much filthier.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Maurice LaMarche (“Futurama”)

Maurice LaMarche has been my Facebook friend for several years, but I’d never actually met him, talked to him, or even traded email with him until a few days ago…which means, of course, that he really wasn’t my friend at all. I mean, not really, anyway. After I found out that he and I would be chatting in conjunction with the return of “Futurama,” however, I decided I’d tag him on my status update about our upcoming conversation. In turn, I drew Mr. LaMarche’s attention at long last…or, at least, one of my “likes” did.

Eh. Either way, Maurice LaMarche kinda sorta knew who I was when I got on the phone. I’m chalking it up as a win.

Maurice LaMarche: Now, I’m looking here on your Facebook page, and…who are your likes? Because I see you’ve got “The Newsroom,” and then you’ve got this guy with really tightly cropped hair, but then when I go into your page, you’ve got something like 1,200 “likes,” so I can’t tell who he is. Do you know who I’m talking about?

Bullz-Eye: Yeah, he’s…I’m blanking on his name right this second, but he’s part of the cast of USA’s “Suits.”

MLM: Hmmm. Because he looks like a guy who used to be on a show that I loved that got cancelled, a show called “Jake In Progress.” He played a magician, I think, but…God, that’s gonna drive me nuts now. I’ve got to look up “Suits” now! [Laughs.] Sorry! Then we can start. I’m a little compulsive…

BE: Well, look, I’ll help you out: that’s the same guy. His name is Rick Hoffman.

MLM: Yes! I love him! He’s so good. So funny. I love that guy.

BE: Yeah, I think I first saw him on “Samantha Who?”

MLM: Okay, so you never saw him on “Jake in Progress,” then…? Oh, “Jake in Progress” was my favorite show, and it just was treated so… [Puffs up his voice.]  …ignominiously by ABC. Reminiscent of the way they treated a certain futuristic cartoon show, one might say.

BE: I’m sure I don’t know what you’re referring to.

MLM: I’m sure I don’t, either. [Laughs, then puffs up voice again.] But Comedy Central has treated us much better.

BE: Yes, “Futurama” continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. It’s like a zombie: Fox tried to kill it, but they couldn’t get rid of it.

MLM: That’s right. We just keep coming back at you. And we’ll try not to do any zombie storylines, so…thank you for your patronage. [Laughs.]

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Drink of the Week: The Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary plusLong before I began to get more than casually interested in mixology, I wondered into a dive bar on Sunset Boulevard and requested a bloody Mary from a crotchety bartender.

“Bloody Mary’s are what alcoholics drink in the morning!” he informed me brusquely, clearly speaking of a subject he knew first hand. After it became clear he wasn’t joking and really was irritated by my order, I settled for a screwdriver, but I wasn’t happy. Sorry, but in my opinion you should be allowed to enjoy this delicious cocktail at any time of day and you shouldn’t have had to have blacked out the night before in order to merit one. In fact, if you have, you’re probably a lot better off drinking it virgin (i.e., alcohol free), which really isn’t a bad thing to drink regardless.

The origins of this fairly easy to make but still rather complex drink, with loads of potential ingredients, are vague but apparently some credit is due the late comedian and “Toastmaster General” George Jessel — today best known as the inspiration for the voice of Dr. Zoidberg on Matt Groening’s “Futurama.” It’s apparent that the name “bloody Mary” either comes from bloodthirsty Queen Mary I of England or the legendary ghost all 9 year-olds know, but that’s a bit vague too.  We do know that if you repeat the name “bloody Mary” 100 times, you’ll get a bartender even more annoyed than the one who refused to make me this drink.

Below is a good, but rather mild, starter recipe.

The Bloody Mary

1-1.5 ounces of vodka
4-6 ounces tomato juice
1-3 dashes of hot sauce
2-4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1 dash of ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. pure horseradish (or more)
1-3 dashes celery salt
1/2 ounce of lemon juice (optional)’

Possible garnishes: celery stalk, lemon slice, olives, pickled green beans, carrot sticks, dill pickles, cucumber, cooked cold shrimp, whole Maine lobster (just kidding on that one)

Pour tomato juice and vodka over ice into a glass (Collins or larger), add Tabasco or the hot sauce of your choice, Worcestershire, pepper and other spices. Stir vigorously with swizzle stick or bar spoon, add as many garnishes as you dare.

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As you can see, there’s a lot of room for variation and personal taste here. To be honest, I’m still perfecting what proportions and technique work best for me and I’m not sure why sometimes my bloody Mary tastes heavenly and other times, just pretty good.

A couple of quick notes. First of all, don’t be afraid to try other types of liquor other than vodka. I’ve been using gin a lot lately, but also have had reasonable success, believe it or not, with whiskeys. Also, don’t let the fact that you may not have every single one of these ingredients stop you from building your own bloody Mary.

In fact, the best bloody Mary by far that I’ve made myself came from a recipe developed by Hendrick’s gin for use with their brand. It’s just Hendricks, tomato juice, a slice of cucumber, some hot sauce, and ice. My second favorite version of the bloody Mary comes from Canada. It seems our neighbors to the north make theirs with Clamato and they call it a bloody Caesar. I’d say it was “bloody good,” but that would be annoying.

  

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