Saturday, September 30, 2017

Door Number Three

Today we found out that the great Monty Hall, the host of Let's Make A Deal, passed away at 96.

No, that's Monty Python.

No, that's Monty Burns, although we're getting closer.

There we go, THAT'S Monty Hall. Weird, I'm the only person writing this blog, I don't know why this didn't get it right the first time.

Anyway, you might have read this entry I wrote about a Let's Make A Deal episode I saw some time ago. If you didn't, you're more than welcome to catch up. I'll wait.

With all the ninety-plus year old celebrities that died recently, like June Foray, Jerry Lewis, and most recently Hugh Hefner, I wondered, dark as it was, who would be next. Monty Hall was the last person I expected it to be. I'm gonna be honest with you folks, I thought Monty Hall died over a decade ago. Seriously, I could've sworn I read an obit for him and everything. I'm pleasantly surprised that he remained among the living for as long as he did. Maybe it was some other game show host that died?

Monty Hall was always a guy you pictured when you thought "Game Show Host." Square face, a head of jet black hair that looked like it belonged on a Lego man, and lots and lots of plaid suits. A show like Let's Make A Deal needed a host that could sweet talk you into trading away thousands of dollars for a chance of something better behind a door, even when that something was a donkey pulling a sleigh or some weirdo on a giant rocking horse.

Monty Hall was the perfect man for the job. If Top Cat wasn't based on Phil Silvers, he would've been based on Monty. The show seriously wouldn't work without him, and pretty much doesn't when you account for all the reboots over the years. Seriously, TV execs think you could just let anyone loose in a room filled with people dressed in ridiculous costumes and play games with them and that would equal ratings gold. Nobody remembers those other versions, just Monty's.

We already have The Price is Right, and most of the pricing games they played on that show were really similar to Let's Make A Deal, right down to the final game. The Big Deal and The Showcase were pretty much the same, save for a giant wheel on one of the shows. But just imagine TPIR if Bob Barker shamed people when they made a wrong decision, and you'd have this show in a nutshell.

I'd say that game show hosts are a weird breed of people, but if they weren't, they wouldn't host game shows for a living. Monty Hall was one of the best, and I hope that wherever he is, Door Number Three leads to a better place. You will be missed, buddy.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Simpsons Music!

With the news that longtime composer for The Simpsons Alf Clausen (along with his orchestra) had been fired from the show, I got to thinking about my favorite pieces of music from the show's run. The show's still on, but I know it's not gonna sound the same. Orchestras in TV shows, especially cartoons, are pretty rare these days. The Simpsons and anything Seth MacFarlane makes have been some of the last survivors of this. Seriously, regardless of who takes over for scoring the show, I keep fearing it's gonna be like when Looney Tunes replaced Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn with Bill Lava.

Milt Franklyn's part starts at roughly 2:53 while Bill Lava's starts at 3:16, and man is there a world of difference between the three of them.

But I'm getting besides myself. Lets listen to some music. We need to begin where the show does: with the theme song.

Composed by Danny Elfman and far and away the most recognizable piece of music from the show. At the time, an intro like this for a TV show was unheard of. It's about a family that runs home to watch TV! TV theme songs usually introduced characters with matte paintings or just having them pose for the camera, but this minute and a half segment tells you all you need to know about the family: Homer works at a nuclear power plant, and is pretty bad at his job. Bart is a troublemaker. Lisa is into music, but is mischievous in her own way. And Marge is the mom that goes grocery shopping with the baby. To this day, the part that sticks with me is that toy steering wheel Maggie "drives" the car with. After years upon years of watching this, I just now noticed that the toy wheel was attached to Maggie's seat and not the dashboard. It just seems so obvious in retrospect, and that's the beauty of this show. I can watch every episode for the last 25 odd years and catch something new every time.

The intro seen above is actually the second version. The version that only played during the first season was roughly the same, but with a few differences. We see more of Lisa on her bike, Bart steals a bus stop sign that weirdly drawn people run after, and slightly different sound effects that makes the whole thing seem a little off. Like the rest of the show at the time, the animation is much cruder but also more fluid, giving it some much needed charm.

And halfway through the twentieth season, the show converted to HD and thus a new intro came with it.

Like the other two, the animation here reflects the rest of the show at the time: it's slick and the colors are more vibrant, but sadly stiffer. Other Simpsons sites have talked about this more in length, so I'll just leave it here and move on. I do appreciate all the easter eggs (and there are loads of them), but the feel of the show seems different. It's still a family that runs home to watch themselves on TV, but it's now a show that's aware that it's a show that's been on a long time, and seems more like going through the motions than anything else. There's no jokes to them, it's all just there for the sake of being there.

There have been other variants of the intro, too, like in Cape Feare when the family became the Thompsons, a version that was set after the movie and Springfield was being rebuilt, and even a live-action version.

But the best variants are definitely the ones made for the Treehouse of Horror episodes.

So spooky, I'll be honest when I say that I was slightly scared of these intros as a kid. I guess at such a young age, I took Marge's threats of showing "3000 Miles to Oregon" to heart. And as luck would have it, I found a playlist of every Halloween intro and embedded it above.

And now on to one of my favorite pieces of music within the show itself. And you can't mention music on the Simpsons without my personal favorite: the Land of Chocolate music.

I'm not sure if this was Alf Clausen's doing or a piece of stock music, but whoever was responsible for this is worthy of sitting in the pantheon of the greats like Mozart, Beethoven, and John Williams. It's so floaty and whimsical, you can't help but dance along like Homer is. It's also one of the best cutaway gags in the show, years before Family Guy ran this trope into the ground.

The music is similar to my second favorite, the music that plays when Burns and Smithers run the nuclear plant themselves in Last Exit to Springfield.

Like the Land of Chocolate music, it's very whimsical, but with a touch of Raymond Scott's Powerhouse or something of that ilk. It definitely feels more like a trip down an assembly line rather than a run through a fantasy land, but the point comes across just well. And I've mentioned here before that this sequence contains my favorite piece of the animation in the series.

I don't know who is responsible for this, but I thank them. I have no idea why I love it so much, but I do.

And speaking of Last Exit to Springfield, I love Lisa's protest song.

When Homer and the rest join in, you can't help but get tears in your eye, and then the tears turn into laughter when Lenny requests Classical Gas. The show used to be really great at pulling your heartstring every which way possible.

Speaking of which, I need to bring up the genius that is the Streetcar musical.

As the story goes, the writers set out to make an episode where Marge is cast as the lead role in play of A Streetcar Named Desire. One problem: due to legal reasons, they could only use one line from the book. So what did they do? They made it into a musical and wrote their own lyrics, dammit! It's pure genius. Above is the opening song, where everyone sings about how crummy New Orleans is (a spoof of the opening to Sweeney Todd). The city of New Orleans was so peeved at this song that the show had to apologize for it the following week.

And as we all know, it was the worst thing to ever happen to New Orleans. And on the topic of unlikely genius musicals, gotta give it up for Stop The Planet of The Apes, I Want to Get Off!

On paper, this should not work. A parody of Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus," about Planet of The Apes, and filled with nothing but dumb Borscht Belt jokes. But it manages to work! It's the perfect storm of greatness: great music, cheesy jokes, Phil Hartman singing, and a breakdancing monkey man.

And we can't talk about amazing spoofs without See My Vest.

Thanks to what's known as The Weird Al Effect, I know the lyrics to this way better than Be Our Guest by a mile. Honestly, I don't remember any of the original lyrics besides the grey stuff, that's how much this song has seeped into my head.

Also, does anyone else thinks Burns sounds like Ren from Ren & Stimpy during this song? Just me? Okay.

Another amazing song was "We Do," the Stonecutters song.

This is a good song that becomes incredible thanks to the backing orchestra. Again, lots of whimsy behind a song admitting that it's behind every major conspiracy, like making Steve Guttenberg as star and robbing cave fish of their sight.

I'm going to go back to scores because I almost forgot about Sideshow Bob's theme.

It's a lawyer-friendly version of the theme from Cape Fear, but it's become so iconic to the character that it plays in all of his appearances since season five's Cape Feare. Yeah, some of the old titles weren't really creative, but that was from an era when no one but the crew knew what the episodes were called.

Something this show pulls off very well is how they handle the elementary school band.

When you usually hear kids playing music in anything, it's either really crummy because they're just learning how to play (or, they're, you know, really crummy), or unnaturally good. Like, you know there's professional artists recording all the music, because playing well is all they know. This orchestra handles the kids they way they actually play: doing the best they can, but not good at all. There's really no good video footage I can find right now of just the band playing, but you can hear it in the theme song. It's why Lisa gets kicked out of class, she's too good for them. It's stifling her, and she wants to play the music SHE wants to play.

And because it's getting late and I'm tired, I'm gonna end it with the Monorail Song.

It's another parody, this time of "Ya Got Trouble" from The Music Man, and it completely nails the tone of the absurdity of the situation. Like in the original song, a charismatic man in a straw hat arrives in town and creates a problem that can only be solved by listening to him sing. Only according to Lyle Lanley, Springfield's trouble is not in its crumbling Main Street, but that it lacks a monorail. This is a man who could've sold the town anything, but for some strange reason he went with a monorail.

And again, that's something that makes the Simpsons so incredible. It takes something familiar, like a plot of an old musical, create a stranger premise from it, and then from that the entire show turns into a disaster movie ripped out of the seventies.

I know that I've barely scratched the surface on this, and I'd like to hear your comments on your favorite Simpsons music. Thanks for reading.

All screenshots and gifs courtesy of Frinkiac. The gifs look weird, and I apologize for that. If anyone can fix it, let me know.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

June in July

Last week, a day I did not want to come ended up coming: June Foray, known as the First Lady of Voice Acting, passed away at 99.

Over a career spanning from roughly the late 1940s until 2014, she voiced many many characters in cartoons, movies, and even an episode or two of the Twilight Zone.

Yes, the infamous Talky Tina was voiced by her, as well as the doll it was based on, Chatty Cathy.

Yeah, I just watched that commercial for the first time and Rod Serling was right to take that damn thing down a peg or two. It's amazing that June was able to voice both dolls, it's seriously the equivalent of...hmm. If My Buddy talked and was voiced by the guy who voiced Chucky? That seems to be the closest thing to that.

It just goes to show just how talented June Foray was, and how limited the acting pool was to women back in the old days. In the Golden Age of Cartoons, if you heard the voice of a woman or a little girl, or even boys, nine times out of ten you were hearing June Foray.

Let's go through some of my favorite roles that she's done.

I'm gonna start with what's probably her most famous roles: Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale from Rocky & Bullwinkle.

I always liked that while Bullwinkle was the most popular character, Rocky always got top billing. I'm actually sad that kids these days don't have much exposure to this brilliant cartoon. Seems like it's down to Youtube and DVDs, just like everything else.

At the dawn of TV, budgets for cartoons were abysmal, but Jay Ward and his crew put all of their talents into the writing and acting, and it definitely showed.

Essentially, Rocky & Bullwinkle go on silly adventures, while Boris and Natasha (spies from a country that was an obvious stand-in for Soviet Russia) try to antagonize them with paper-thin disguises that the heroes always fell for. Three seasons of serialized stories based on dumb premises (a pie recipe was actually a recipe for jet fuel and spies want to steal it, for one) filled with even dumber puns (Wossamatta U, The Ruby Yacht of Omar Kayhem, etc), but they made it work!

Natasha's voice was so iconic, I'm pretty sure that she's what anyone thinks of when they imagine Russian women to sound like. Sultry, husky, and calling everyone "dahlink."

If you ever heard that kind of voice, it was most likely June's. Hell, she used it several times in her career, most notably Magica DeSpell from DuckTales.

Hard to believe that she's actually supposed to be Italian. I seriously hope the creators of the new DuckTales show remembers that.

Also of note that she reprised the role in the DuckTales Remastered video game a few years back with Alan Young, the voice of Scrooge.

They were in their nineties when they recorded their parts, but you know they still brought the goods.

Besides Natasha I pretty much associate that voice with Millicent the rabbit from Rabbit Romeo.

Man, you can just hear that voice just looking at that picture. Like I said above, sultry, husky and Russian. She's definitely one of my favorite obscure cartoon characters. I think she only appeared in this one short?

It was another one of those "character tries to escape an unwanted suitor" cartoons, but this was one of those rare instances where it happened to Bugs Bunny. It's been a while since I've seen it, but it was made during that period of time when this type of woman was the butt of a joke. But those times were dumb, I think she's wonderful, if a little too forward. 

If I remember right, the episode ends with Bugs, ever the gentleman, siccing her on another target. I wanna say Elmer Fudd dressed as a rabbit?

And I can't talk about June Foray and Looney Tunes without talking about Witch Hazel.

Everything about this character is fantastic. Her design, her animation, her personality her cackle. I love the bobby pins that hang around whenever she darts off the screen. This is yet another character that went after Bugs pretty frequently, and one cartoon had her get turned into a rabbit and Bugs decided "eh, why not? Aren't they all witches inside?" Like I said, different times.

Here's a great video of her in action:

And a video of one of my favorite Looney Tunes moments, her laugh duel with Bugs.:

I'm sure I'm not the only one who got into trouble trying to imitate this, especially Bugs' poses. It would explain a lot about my childhood, really.

The innocent-looking grandmother that's secretly evil was an archetype June Foray did so well, and she only got better at it the older she got. Like her turns on Garfield & Friends and The Garfield Show.

A generic witch from Garfield & Friends that wanted to turn Odie into a gerbil.

And Miss Cauldron from The Garfield Show, for which she won her first Emmy. Seriously, it took her that long to win one because everyone assumed she already had one. Writer Mark Evanier realized that she had never been submitted for one, so he did submitted her and she won. So, that award was sort of more for her entire body of work than for The Garfield Show, but it wasn't any less earned.

I could go on about how cheap hand drawn animation comes off a thousand times better than cheap CGI animation, but that's another entry for another time.

One of her longest-known roles was as Granny from Looney Tunes and pretty much any sequel series, like The Looney Tunes Show, and The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries.

But there was one episode of Tiny Toons that she was in that really stood out for me. It was a short called "One Minute Til Three" from "The Best O'Plucky Duck Day." It's not on Youtube, but you can watch it here (but don't tell anyone I showed you this).

Good old weird Kennedy Animation.

The short was fairly simple: It's a minute until school ends for the weekend and Plucky just wants to go home, but class will just. not. end. Granny is the teacher here and she's just so unexpectedly sadistic it just took me by surprise. Kindly old Granny is the one screaming in everyone's faces, giving them insanely hard pop quizzes or else face writing a term paper hundreds of pages long over the weekend. This might've been the one thing that instilled my fear of "term papers" once I got older in school. Seriously, she assigns Hampton a 9,000 page term paper! Could teachers do that?! I was almost relieved that high school and college ALMOST didn't do this. Almost.

I can relate to Plucky, praying to every God imaginable that he isn't called on before the bell rings. I won't spoil the ending, but it's a very good, if not underrated cartoon.

During the later years of her career, she showed up in cartoons pretty much for the sake of having her on, because she's been around for so long and such a legend. Essentially, let's pay tribute to her before she dies.

Like on The Simpsons

The Powerpuff Girls

The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack

And even on Rugrats as both a Rocky doppelganger named Blocky

And a woman that's definitely supposed to be Natasha. The Bullwinkle and Boris stand-ins were sadly voiceless.

And finally, I can't leave out Cindy Lou Who from How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Seriously, I didn't know it was her until a few years ago and now I can't unhear it. It's so good to know that to this day, her voice will be heard in homes long after all of us will be gone.

You will be missed, June Foray.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Six Flags Time!

Last week I took a trip that I've been wanting to make for years now: Go to Six Flags Great Adventure in Jersey, but doing it solo. Sure, I've been to the park several times in the past 12 years, but I've never made the journey alone. If you remember my past trips to The Big Duck, the Montauk Point Lighthouse, and even to Boston, they were secretly training missions for enduring a solo car ride across state lines.

For years I've been putting off just spending one day going to the local Big Amusement Park. Nerves is what stopped me, I guess. I was going to NEW JERSEY. Alone. That's enough to make anyone a wreck with the anxiety. But having time off for the first time in months and drinking lots of Coke cans with the coupon on the side is what finally prompted me to try to pull this off.

So last Thursday, two and a half hours and a faulty GPS later, I had made it to what's pretty much the best amusement park in the Northeast.

Say it with me folks: We're parked in the Itchy Lot. Because I went in the middle of June, school was technically still in session and that meant barely any waiting for any of the rides. Everything I either got right on, or waited about 15 minutes max. For a park that sees hour-long lines enough to declare a War on Lines back in the 90s, being able to immediately hitch a ride on El Toro, my vote for the best coaster in the park, is what made this whole trip worth it to me. No line for the back row whatsoever, and being able to get right back on because no one else was waiting is nothing short of a miracle.

That's El Toro to the left, still as picturesque as it had been. Thanks to the magic of Facebook reminding you of stuff you did years ago, I made this trek exactly four years to the day of my last visit, which is pretty neat in and of itself. And as luck would have it, I also took a picture in pretty much the exact same spot.

That picture is honestly one of the best pictures I've ever taken. There's just so much going on. Really, the main difference between the two is that the 2017 picture above has Zumanjaro added on to Kingda Ka. It's an enormous drop tower that takes you to the top of the coaster, some 450 feet off the ground. I'll admit I chickened out on riding it a few times, but after pacing around for a bit, I said "to hell with it" and jumped right on. Again, there was no line but we had to wait our turn because Six Flags didn't think things through and couldn't run that and Kingda Ka at the same time. Damn you, physics.

My buddy Jay over at The Sexy Armpit says that roller coasters are a type of therapy to him, being able to strap yourself in to be tossed around through loops and whatnot puts a lot of problems in perspective, and I'm going to agree. After falling 450 feet at around 90 mph, my one thought was "I'm alive." Suddenly everything I was stressed out about had vanished for the day, and that I could conquer anything.

Like this bad beast, The Joker. One of those 4D coasters that's been getting put into other Six Flags parks. Up until a few years ago, one of the only coasters of its kind was X (now X2) at Magic Mountain in California.

Crazy, isn't it? Because it was the first of its kind, where the ride cars flipped you around while you were going around the track, it was plagued with its own set of problems for years. For the first few years of its life, it had to be closed on Wednesdays just for maintenance. These newer models seem to be much simpler in design, but downtime is still a problem. This thing's been open for what, a year or two and I had to wait for this to finish testing after working all day.

The coaster itself isn't all that intense, but those flips really take you by surprise, especially the first one; you can see it above. A few hours prior, I was riding this ride called El Diablo, which is a kind-of roller coaster that just spins in a loop and you just hang there at the top for a while.

Sitting in Rolling Thunder's old spot, to boot. Pic is from here.

I'm not a fan of those kinds of rides, but after riding stuff like El Toro and Bizarro (a floorless coaster, which is awesome), it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. But the kid next to me was NOT having it, freaking out and everything. All I could do was laugh and ensure the guy that it wasn't so scary as he was making it out to be. I'm still not going to go on one of those pirate ship rides anytime soon, though.

Well, on The Joker, I was in that role, and the little kid sitting next to ME had to reassure me that it wasn't as scary as we thought. Within those few minutes, we became fast buddies that just experienced a war. Like Jay said, it puts everything into perspective.

Speaking of the dearly departed Rolling Thunder, this is what's left of it. Once a pair of racing wooden coasters, it's been reduced to a dumb photo op. The rest of its cars are scattered around the park, and you can see most of them when you're on line for El Toro.


This was the park's newest ride, Justice League: The Battle For Metropolis. It's a dark ride where you get to shoot things, not unlike Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin or Toy Story Mania at Disney World. But unlike those rides, you're wearing 3D glasses so you get to shoot at screens where various robots and baddies try to pop out and attack you. The story is that the Joker and Lex Luthor have kidnapped most of the major DC heroes, so the Justice Leagues recruits ordinary citizens to do their dirty work, and whoever gets the most points wins the war, I guess?

I was reading up on this, since it opened the week before I got there and heard nothing but rave reviews and lots of hype. Well, I'll tell you one thing, I think this ride delivers. Disney and Universal might be at the top when it comes to immersing yourself into the experience of the ride, but this does the immersion thing pretty damn well. The 4D effects are loads of fun, there's a few animatronics scattered about (including a sweet Joker one), and there were times where I totally forgot I was even on the ride, I was so focused on shooting things that a simulated loop caught me off guard.

The only problem is that it's really hard to tell your lasers apart from the five other people riding with you, so you don't know who really gets the kills until you see everyone's score at the end. Other than that, I give this a solid A. If the line wasn't nearly an hour long, I would've definitely gotten back on to try it again. That's the sign of a great ride, folks.

And of course I needed to see what this place looked like in Pokemon Go. There are Pokestops everywhere, and as luck would have it, the gyms came back online while I was there. Niantic finally got their act together when it came to gyms, and now you can access them like Pokestops, and doing so earns you its gym badge. They're nothing more than a picture of where the gym is in real life, but it's good enough for me. I'm actually sad that I only have four out of five badges that are in the park. Hey, it was late in the day and I was tired of walking, so sue me. It gives me an excuse to go back.

Bleh, no. I love tourist places, but I hate it when they try to cash in on the latest meme, one that's not even that good in the first place! There were also fidget spinners at just about every stand in the park, and even those were at inflated theme park prices at ten dollars a pop. Needless to say, I bet that their next ride will be built out of all the ones they weren't able to sell.

I didn't want to leave, really. But it was 8pm, and the Mass Exodus had everyone shuffling out of the park. But I was beat. A good kind of exhaustion, but it was exhaustion all the same. Seriously, I went last Thursday and my legs didn't stop hurting until yesterday.

But all in all, it was probably the best day I ever had at Great Adventure. Aside from Skull Mountain (closed) and Kingda Ka (didn't ride), I was able to hit up every coaster in the park. My top three: El Toro, Bizarro, and Nitro I was able to hit twice. I could've spent the entire day just getting back in line on any of those coasters, but I wanted to make the most out of my time, and I think I certainly did. Justice League was the longest ride I had to wait for, and that's because it was new. If a 50 minute wait was the norm for when this place was dead, I don't want to know how long it'll be in the middle of July. If anything, some of these lines were too short. Looney Tunes cartoons play on TVs while you're waiting and I had to miss a lot of them because I wasn't standing around.

Would this day had been better if someone else was with me? Absolutely. But going solo is its own experience, you get to make tons of new friends in line, and riding and you get to compare which coasters were better, or comparing stories at being at other places. And do not underestimate the value of being a single rider, you get to bypass a lot of the lines. And on crazy days, it's the best option to get the most out of your day.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Be A Good Neighbor

For the past two weeks and change, Twitch has been running a marathon of one of the greatest kid's shows of all time: Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

If you were a kid anytime between the seventies and the nineties, it's a good chance this show was a staple of childhood TV viewing on PBS. The show has a very simple premise: A kindly old(ish) man welcomes you into his home and teaches you important lessons how it's good to be yourself, to be a socially healthy person, to understand how things are made, how it's perfectly natural to have emotions, those sort of things. And at least once an episode, a trolley helps us travel to the Neighborhood of Make Believe, a town populated by humans and puppets where anything can happen because this is a TV show and it's all make believe. Those segments tend to follow a storyline over the course of a week, expanding on the lessons Mister Rogers was teaching earlier in the show.

What set this show apart from all other educational shows, even Sesame Street, was its warmth. Mister Rogers was always happy to see you and welcoming you into his TV set of a house. He never talked down to anyone, was always excited to show you new things, very earnest about learning things about anyone he met, and always reassuring us that we're perfectly fine just the way we are. Those are always important lessons to learn, how it's best to learn how to communicate with other by honestly talking to someone about your feelings, not holding anything in feeling safe and confident. You know, being a good neighbor.

He was also not shy to cover more serious issues, like death, divorce, even war. Seriously, there's a series of episodes where King Friday thinks the town of Southwood is building bombs and escalates a conflict.

Yeah...they don't show those anymore. And the marathon skipped that week, too.

My dad would tell me stories about how when I was younger, he'd watch the show to calm down after a busy day at work. I still think I got more out of that show than he did.

Now, it's been over fifteen years since I saw an episode, and I barely remember any storylines so this 24/7 marathon that's been running has been a total godsend. It's so interesting to see how the show started, how it evolved and became the show we know and love today.

Thanks to a site called the Neighborhood Archive, the most comprehensive site about this show I could find, you could look up almost everything about this show like specific episodes, cast members, even every time it was spoofed on TV. What I was most surprised to learn about this show was that the bulk of the 882(!) episodes were made between 1968 and 1976, producing 65 episodes a year, except for 1968 which had 130, and 1976 only having five. After a two year break, the show moved to roughly fifteen episodes a year until the end of the series in 2001 (that year only had five shows).

Those first 130 shows were in black and white, and it was pretty wild to watch. The 1968 shows were quite different than anything that came after it. For one, a good chunk of the familiar puppets, weren't around yet. The Platypus Family, seen here:

Would move into the neighborhood in 1969. In their place was the Frogg family.

Yeah, they were creepy as hell, so they had to go. People keep saying they were scared of Lady Elaine Fairchilde, but those folks had never met the Froggs. They're voices weren't friendly, either. They sounded like they were about to run out of breath, literally croak. Above we see Dr. Frogg's son Tad "sleeping." Sure doc, he's sleeping.

And there was a different song that closed out the episode, called "Tomorrow."

And before PBS, there was NET.

That building could still be seen in the later episodes, as that big red building the show always ends on.

I've been watching this show for years and it took me until yesterday to make the connection. My one regret during this marathon was that I didn't screencap more of the black & white episodes, just this one instance. Kids these days might not have the attention for it, but I was mesmerized an episode early on where Mister Rogers assembles and tries the play the clarinet. He made learning an instrument fun and showing that not everyone is immediately good at playing music right away.

Music was a big part of the show, and we see instruments of all types being shown and played.

Like, of course, an accordion. He drew along to the music, and wouldn't you know it, he points out that everyone would've drawn something different, in their own way.

One time he went to a factory that made mouth organs, er, harmonicas.

Mister Rogers even made the harp seem cool.

King Friday was known to play his Bass Vial (violin) every now and then.

One of my favorite instruments was a stalactite organ.

It was a weird instrument that pounded on the rocks in a cavern to play the tones. Neat, huh? And one episode devoted a good chunk of time to playing an ocarina.

Here we see Mister Rogers teaching Mr. McFeely how to summon Epona. The ocarina is apparently known as the Sweet Potato, so he tried to play it with an actual potato.

This is like some divide by zero stuff right there. And it's currently my twitter avatar, it's just so funky.

You might have noticed above that before his house was painted that familiar blue color, it was beige. And before that, an ugly shade of yellow.

That's the seventies for ya. Speaking of a bygone time, he loved touring factories, including everyone's favorite: the crayons!

I could watch Mister Rogers tour factories and other places for ages, and he was always happy to deliver. This was made in 1985 but I swore I watched that as a kid in the nineties. It just shows how timeless the show was. There was even a show where Mister Rogers visits an arcade and is shown Donkey Kong. Sadly, I don't have a picture of that one, it ran while I was asleep.

You might have also noticed that I've included the Twitch chat in all of the screencaps. Much like the Power Rangers marathon a few months back, it was great to watch a show in a virtual group. It's so weird to see a chat room stay mostly positive and loving. But then there's always people (everyone) trying to riff it, and it's not like it gave a treasure trove of material.

Not many people know Fred Rogers was the inspiration behind Max Headroom.

Hischer the ventriloquist dummy showed up at least three times so far, scaring the crap out of everyone.

Showing us how it worked did NOT help.

And then came clown masks. I'm not afraid of clowns, and Mister Rogers assures us that clowns are friendly, and that it's just a person in a mask.

Until an actual clown showed up in the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Chuckles here had to power to give people costumes.

Yeah, Lady Aberlin's a chicken now. And Chuckles was just so...happy.

Then there was an episode where an alien showed up, aping ET. That was a weird one.

One episode had Margaret Hamilton show up, dressing up like the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz. She assured us that she's a kindly old actor, but hearing her go all nuts as the witch? Awesome.

Then Big Bird visited the Neighborhood of Make Believe for a drawing contest. Did anyone else start smiling when he showed up? I did, I even revolved my Sunday around this episode, I wanted to see it that badly.

Why yes, that's a young Michael Keaton as an acrobat.

And yes, that's Keith David! The Electric Company may have had Morgan Freeman, but they didn't have the voice of Goliath from Gargoyles in their cast. Ming-Na Wen (Agent May from Agents of SHIELD) showed up in a few episodes too, but I didn't catch them.

And look, it's Tony Bennett! Did you know he loves drawing?

I always wanted those models as a kid. I wonder what ever became of them? Hopefully in a museum somewhere.

Don't ever talk to me or my son ever again.

And yes, Mister Rogers has gotten mad on occasion. Well, "mad" is too strong of a word here. More like "cross." That frown was as bad he ever got. He had ordered posters of nursery rhymes, but the posters didn't have any characters on them. Turns out you had to pay extra. Even in the pre-internet age, DLC was a bitch. He even sang a song about being angry, and yet it was the most calm song on Earth.

And now for my favorite running gag in the chat: feeding the fish.

About every three episodes or so, Mister Rogers would take a few seconds to feed the fish. Naturally, the chat started to act as the fish and celebrate whenever they were fed.

And when Mister Rogers passed by the tank without feeding them, they get mad.

Then there was an episode where he visited an aquarium and THOSE fish got fed, and the chat just went nuts.

I've seriously been having fun with this. There was even an episode where a Russian children's show host got to feed the fish and the chat was immediately won over.

Zoomed in.

That's how the iron curtain fell, folks. Not by economic collapse, not by David Hasselhoff singing. But when Mister Rogers let a Russian friend feed his fish.

The show also used to hold operas, usually mashing up whatever topics Mister Rogers and the gang were teaching that week into a coherent story. There was one where Daniel Striped Tiger gained a grandpa, that was a touching one. There was one where they're on a farm and a potato bug tries to invade it, one where two people fall in love due to a mutual love of tomatoes. And then my personal favorite, where Lady Elaine is a hummingbird trying to defend Bubbleland from a guy dressed as the North Wind.

Yes, that's all real, and a real story that happened and yes, that's a guy in a dolphin costume. It was amazing.

The marathon continues through Saturday and I urge you to watch at least one episode. It's kept my life calm and sane over the past two weeks, and I hope it helps you, too. We're almost near the end and I kind of don't want to see it end. Mister Rogers got wrinkles, went gray, dyed his hair, then went gray again, and Mr. McFeely aged into his makeup. The episodes with Arthur and Koko The Gorilla haven't run yet, and I'm dying to see them.