Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow: Some Early Thoughts

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As we near Thanksgiving and the upcoming winter holidays, I’m reminded of the days when I would do wild and crazy things like review old Thanksgiving episodes of Gilmore Girls or the Christmas Challenge of watching Christmas episodes every day leading up to Christmas. While I know it’s been tough to keep up with writing in recent months, maybe now’s a good time to get back into it. And I’ll start with some early thoughts of Lifetime’s new movie Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow, which premieres tomorrow night at 8:00 ET/PT.

If you haven’t heard about this movie, here’s a quick description:

The movie follows the story of the Emmerson family, recently divorced father Ron and his kids Tim and Annie, as they head to the quaint town of Turkey Hollow to spend a rustic Thanksgiving at the farm of Ron’s eccentric Aunt Cly. Surprised by the lack of internet and technology in Turkey Hollow, Tim and Annie soon find themselves swept up in tracking the “Howling Hoodoo,” an elusive monster that, up until now, Turkey Hollow residents have long dismissed as mere legend. The Thanksgiving holiday threatens to take a bleak turn when a scheming neighbor frames Aunt Cly for turkey theft, but the fractured family teams up with some surprising new friends to save the day.

Now, the minute I hear “Henson,” I’m interested. And while the Muppets haven’t met my expectations (or their potential) in recent years — sorry, I’m an old school Muppet Show and movie fan — I still wanted to tune into this and check it out. Plus, hey, it has Mary Steenburgen in it, so that’s a plus.

What I didn’t know is that it was based on original characters and a story written in 1968 by Jim Henson and his longtime writing partner Jerry Juhl. This definitely gives it some credibility. It also starred Jay Harrington, of Better Off Ted fame, as well as Ludacris as the narrator. Now, you might find the fact that Ludacris is in a Henson film is, well, ludicrous, but quite honestly, he was fantastic. He brought a great sense of humor to the movie, and I could’ve had more of him in it — had the narrative had allowed for it, of course.

Overall, it was a cute movie. Sure, the premise was a little contrived and cheesy — and it had some rather slapstick villains, which usually goes on my don’t-like list — but it was cute. I mean, the plot includes turkey theft and it’s a holiday-themed movie on Lifetime. What do you expect?

Now, my one caveat is this: If you’re looking for a movie filled to the brim with Henson creatures, like Muppet or Sesame Street films, this isn’t really one of them. It’s a good bit of time before any Henson creature appears. That said, once it does, they were adorable and used well. Plus, they used other elements throughout the movie in its scenery and setting that really seemed magical and fun. So you might have to wait for it, but it’s well done.

So my recommendation? Check it out. It’s a cute family movie and a little different from the usual TV movies coming out right now. And it’s a good taste of Turkey Day, a few days before Thanksgiving.

Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow premieres Saturday, November 21, at 8 pm ET/PT on Lifetime.

*Photo by Richard Paris/Lifetime.

Some Early Thoughts on Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever

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Thanksgiving has passed, which means we’re officially in Christmas territory. Don’t hold it against me, but I’ve already dipped my toes into some Christmas movies, though in my defense, not many. We’re talking one or two from Hallmark (which I won’t name here — they weren’t worth seeing, even if one was a new premiere this year). And, I did go ahead and check out the screener for Lifetime’s upcoming movie Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, which premieres tomorrow night at 8/7c.

You may remember Grumpy Cat from her (yes, her) internet fame. If not, just take a look at this rather straightforward Google image search. Well, this very “famous” cat has moved from meme to merchandise to movie.

In the movie, Grumpy Cat (voiced by Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Rec fame) lives in a pet store, sarcastic and bitter from having one too many families return her. Or just because she wants to be sarcastic and bitter. It’s your guess as to which is the right reason. But Grumpy is surprised to find a friend a young girl named Chrystal, who can suddenly hear Grumpy speak. Together, they must stop some big bads from stealing a very important object in the mall: a million-dollar dog.

Naturally, this description would make you believe this is a kid’s movie, right? Well, it is — kind-of. Sure, the heroine is a young girl and there are talking animals. In addition, there’s some rather Home Alone slapstickish antics. That being said, it all takes place in a mall, and they knowingly call their mall Santa “Rodney,” so if you’re like to have your kids watch the movie, you better set them straight about why this particular mall might not have a real Santa. (Sure, you may discover that there’s some magic in the air, but I’d imagine there might be some level of complication there.)

So let’s put aside the idea that this could be considered a kids movie. How about the adults? Well, in its defense, it does make fun of itself. You know how I mentioned that Grumpy has progressed from meme to merchandise to movie? That’s literally a joke in the movie itself. Not only that, but it introduces its own commercial breaks, and Aubrey Plaza even appears in the movie in a soundstage at one point. It’s very meta.

Unfortunately, what happens is that all of these quirks adds up to a rather disjointed movie, which is probably why even Aubrey Plaza said that this movie is best watched drunk.

In addition, this movie has its own definition of grumpy. Sadly, Plaza fails to come across as grumpy — just sarcastic. In fact, the same tone of voice she uses comedically in Parks and Rec when she’s trying to be over the top is the voice used throughout the entire movie. I’ve seen enough Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street and even dwarves in Snow White to understand what it means to be grumpy; sarcastic is not the same. And in the end, it comes across more as annoying narrative than anything else.

Overall, I can’t specify who this movie is supposed to be for or who would necessarily enjoy it. If you can get over the “mall Santa” thing, perhaps it’s a nice family film. But even then, I think you’ll discover that the way it’s spliced together will be too distracting and quite frankly puzzling to enjoy.

My recommendation? Pass on this movie and look for the next Christmas family film. I’m sure ABC Family is counting down to one even as we speak.

Disclaimer: As a side note, I did receive a rather entertaining Grumpy Cat calendar to go along with the screener. My 1.5 year old son truly enjoys it. Given his love of cats, he’d probably highly recommend the movie. Take that as you need to.

*Photo by Joseph Viles/Lifetime

What’s on Tonight: ‘Big Driver’ on Lifetime

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You know me. I’m a sucker for new Lifetime movies on a Saturday night. And tonight, Lifetime combined two of my guilty pleasures: TV movie thrillers and Stephen King.

If you don’t know the story of Big Driver, which is based on a novella by King, here’s a quick summary:

Some Early Thoughts on Lifetime’s ‘The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story’

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Full disclosure: I have not seen a screener of The Unauthorzed Saved by the Bell Story, which premieres tonight on Lifetime (9 ET/PT). I have, however, seen many clips and promos, most — if not all — of which are on the movie’s website. This includes the first five minutes and a clip where the gang is taking promo pictures and bickering in a very juvenile way. This is all to say that I know probably just about as much as anyone else about this movie (which I do plan to watch tonight), but I thought I’d pass on some early reactions nonetheless.

I was a Saved by the Bell fan. I never really cared all that much about what happened behind the scenes. Sure, you could guess that there were drugs, alcohol, parties, and sex, and while I’d love to convince myself that child actors are different, well, that’d just be naive. (It’s actually, rather sad, but we won’t go into that. I’m sure Bieber and Lohan fans all over the world have written enough about that.) But anyway, if you’re going to hand me the story in a neat little Lifetime package, I’m going to take advantage of it. That being said, I think it’s going to be a horrible train wreck… in the best possible way.

Let’s start with the casting. If you watched the first five minutes, you’ve already discovered that our SBTB narrator, Zack Morriss, is not the narrator of this particular tale. While this movie swings the spotlight in another direction, I must admit that I find the actor who plays Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Dylan Everett, a terrible pick. I can’t speak to his acting chops (like I said, I’ve only seen a few clips), but for such an iconic character, he just doesn’t look like him and the voice doesn’t match. He’s too short. His face is too wide. Beyond the blonde hair, brown eyebrows (which SBTB costar Dustin Diamond relentlessly mocks in his book, of all things), and comically large cellphone, you wouldn’t really know it was supposed to be Gosselaar at all. That’s not to say Everett isn’t going to do a good job, but he’s certainly going to have to convince us more than the others. It’ll be a tough hurtle.

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On the other side of the spectrum is Taylor Russell McKenzie, who plays Lark Voorhies. Because I read Diamond’s book, I know that Voorhies was a rather quiet one on the set (he called her boring, but given the tone of the entire disaster of a book, I’m a wee bit skeptical). So between her look and her demeanor, she might just be a good choice. All that being said, it will be interesting to see what she does with the role — and what Lifetime does with the part. We don’t want any boring characters, even inadvertently. I wonder what she’ll get herself into. Continue reading

In advance of Lifetime’s movie, I read Dustin Diamond’s ‘Behind the Bell’

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We’re less than a week away from Lifetime’s new movie, The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story. The movie delves into the lives behind the stars of the well-known series, “exposing the challenges of growing up under public scrutiny while trying to maintain the squeaky clean image of their popular characters both on and off-screen.”

Lifetime isn’t the first to reveal the story. Years ago, SBTB‘s own Dustin Diamond (aka “Screech”) reveals the “truth” behind the series in his book. From what I understand, the movie will not be based completely on Diamond’s book, but if you watch the first five minutes of the movie, you’ll soon discover that it is Diamond’s young doppelganger who is the narrator, so I’m sure a good bit will be pulled from it. In advance of the movie, I thought I’d dive into the book for a taste of what’s to come.

behind the bellA long while ago, I bought Diamond’s book for my Kindle for 99 cents. I’m not much of a memoir reader or one to delve into “true Hollywood stories.” But I was a fan of SBTB and I saw Diamond’s stand-up over a decade ago while he was on the college tour (he references his quick time on college campuses briefly near the end of his story), so I figured, What the hell? It’s only a dollar.

Let’s just say, I’m glad I didn’t spend any more than that. A hardcover for $23+ on Amazon? Are you kidding me? Not worth it. That being said, I read the entire thing on my iPhone in two days, so it’s an easy, quick read. So it’s got that going for it. (Update: I see the book is now no longer available new on Amazon. It’s also no longer available on Kindle, but you can get it on your Nook.)

The book promises to share the behind-the-scenes stories of SBTB, and from the bits and pieces that I read over the internet over the years, it hinted at sharing all the dirty details of his costars. While, yes, I suppose Diamond does “out” some ugly behavior — Mark Paul Gosselaar’s public urination and Tiffani Thiessan’s affairs with cast members — what was offered as a salacious tell-all was really a has-been actor’s bitter, self-centered, disgusting tale of…geez, I don’t even know what.

Continue reading

Early Thoughts on ‘The Lottery’

Lifetime’s new series The Lottery premieres tonight at 10/9c. For some reason, weird futuristic scenarios have always been interesting to me. Here we’re a mere eleven years into the future, only to discover that no one has had children in the past six years. It’s a full-on fertility crisis, and only one person so far has found answer: One scientist has fertilized 100 embryos. And now the government needs to decide what to do with them.

It’s an interesting premise. And in watching the screener, I enjoyed it. They’ve done a commendable job making interesting characters within the first episode. Pilots can easily be weak episodes for series, in balancing introducing the plot, back story, and characters all at once. The Lottery seems to have done a good job at it.

That being said, I don’t know how a series like this could be sustainable. There is a fight for the eggs, certainly. And a bit of a mystery as to whether certain people have good intentions when they want them. So I am interested in hearing more.

And while I like the characters (in particular, and adorable little six-year-old boy), I just don’t see how this show can remain a series. A mini-series, sure. But a multi-seasoned television show? I just don’t know.

I mean, think about it. Once the embryos are divvied up, what’s next? We watch them until they’re born? We make more embryos? Or will we play the game of taking a very very long time divvying them up, or maybe they get stolen? Or maybe there’s a risk that they may not survive before they’re divvied?

Should I say divvied once more?

Basically, that’s the key here. How do you make a series like this last? I suppose the fertility situation could get progressively better or worse, but if we’re looking at 100 embryos — once you’ve got those settled, what more can you do? It’s a finite number that can’t last too long.

So I suppose I have to watch a little more to see where it’s headed. I am curious. It’s not the kind of show I’d expect to see on Lifetime. But I’m not sure what hope I have for the series. If I had to pick, this is one of those shows I would have put a defined number of episodes for, instead of an open-ended series.

Tonight: Emily Osment and Paul Johansson in ‘A Daughter’s Nightmare’

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Well, you One Tree Hill fans can rejoice. One of our favorite people we love to hate is back on the small screen. Paul Johansson is starring alongside Hannah Montana alum Emily Osment in Lifetime’s newest movie, A Daughter’s Nightmare, premiering tonight at 8 pm.

Soon after her father’s death, college freshman Ariel (Osment) meets Adam (Johansson) and his step-son Ben (Gregg Sulkin, Wizards of Waverly Place). Having recently dealt with their death in the family, Adam and Ben naturally feel like a good pair to confide in. But when Adam starts spending an unusual amount of time with Ariel’s mother and her health begins to suffer, Ariel needs to discover the truth about Adam’s past.

So does this mean Dan Scott is up to his old tricks?

Well, you’ll have to watch to find out. I had the opportunity to check out the movie early, and like most Lifetime movies, it has just the right amount of compelling plot points to keep you watching to see how it all unfolds. Sure, some of the events may be a bit predictable. But they do a good job keeping you guessing who is who (and who is not what they seem) at the start. Here are a few things that grabbed me:

  • I’m familiar with most of the cast, which I like. It’s even got Al from Home Improvement. Talk about a blast from the past.
  • It’s got a perfect Lifetime movie title.
  • They reference the South, which always gets my vote. Too bad most of it is when discussing grits.
  • Osment’s eye makeup is fabulous.
  • You’re left spending most of the movie trying to answer one question: Does Sulkin have an accent, or not?
  • They have a suspenseful finish — a necessity for any Lifetime movie, from what I can tell.
  • It contains what I’d define as a perfect “Soup-worthy moment” — my own necessity for any Lifetime movie.

Sure, it’s not going to be on any nomination ballots, but as a fan of the cast, it’s entertaining. If you find yourself looking for something to watch tonight — particularly if you’re an OTH fan — flip it on. Then come back here and let me know what you think about Dan Scott, er, Adam in the end.

*image courtesy of Lifetime