The Black Box: “Heil Honey, I’m Home”

Television pilots are tough to make. It’s hard to introduce the concept and entire cast of characters of a show in one episode and still have that episode hold up on it’s own. But just because something’s hard doesn’t make it any more excusable when you fail spectacularly at doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Black Box, where we check out pilots that crashed and burned to see exactly what went wrong. This week, we look at a sitcom! About Hitler!

it’s not good.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you took a bad Family Guy cut-away and tried to stretch it out into a full television show? Of course you haven’t, because you’re not a monster. But if you had, it would look something like “Heil Honey, I’m Home”. Originally aired on September 30th, 1990 on British television channel Galaxy, the show was an attempt to parody 50’s American sitcoms using Hitler and Eva Braun as the protagonists. The show had eight episodes ordered, and several completed, but it was canceled after the first episode aired and all subsequent episodes were pulled from the schedule. If you really want, you can find the pilot (the only surviving episode) on youtube in its entirety. It is said that the show was pulled due to its controversial premise, but I think it was more due to the show being really fucking unfunny. but that’s just me.

What they did right: Um… the theme song is pretty catchy.

What they did wrong: Jesus Christ, where do I start? Ok, the plot of the first episode revolves around Hitler’s meeting with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. If you don’t know what half of those names mean, then you see one of the defining problems with the show. Don’t worry, It gets worse. Hitler, nervous about winning over Chamberlain, informs his wife Eva to make sure their annoying neighbors Arny and Rosa Goldenstein (yes, I know) don’t find out about Chamberlain’s visit. The Goldensteins find out about the visit (because of course they fucking do) and hilarity ensues. Except… it doesn’t.

This show really isn’t funny. It’s not the cast’s fault, in fact, I’m not naming any of the actors involved in this abomination because I’m sure they don’t want to be associated with it, and I can’t blame them. This was clearly a project ruined by the script and direction. All of the “jokes” in the episode fall into two categories: obscure WWII history jokes, and cliche sitcom jokes. Even I had trouble keeping up with some of the history jokes and I am a history dork through and through. I know some of you are thinking “well of course it’s full of cliche sitcom jokes, it’s a parody of cliche sitcoms” but here’s the thing: I love satire, but satire is when you take cliches and extrapolate on them to make fun of those cliches. Satire is not just writing a shitty sitcom and then putting Hitler in it. The dialogue is trying for shock value but fails to even elicit that. The line “I’m a very naughty Hitler” gets spoken at one point. That should be all you need to hear to figure out how little these writers tried. The entire show is a one joke premise (what if Hitler was a sitcom star with two annoying jewish neighbors) that might work as a five-minute sketch but absolutely does not have enough meat to last 22 minutes. All the scenes Hitler isn’t in are boring and cliche and all the scenes WITH Hitler have fucking Hitler in them so they aren’t much better. According to my research, the unaired episodes revolve around Eva and Hitler trying to secretly murder the Goldensteins, which just sounds hi-frickin-larious.

Every character is annoying as hell and one of them is LITERALLY HITLER. Hitler speaks with a New York accent because fucked if I know. His entire role is to prance around and reference Joeseph Goebbels and the Sudatenland. A running theme is him pretending to be nice to people he dislikes, something the real Hitler, if you’ll remember, didn’t really do at all. Eva Braun (Hitler’s wife) exists only to further the plot by telling the Goldensteins about Chamberlain’s visit. She is also super annoying and her voice makes me want to push a kitten down a well. And let’s not forget Rosa and Arny Goldenstein, two characters so annoying and unwatchable I wouldn’t be surprised if they were pulled from actual Nazi propaganda. They are supposed to be “wacky neighbors” but they’re just unlikeable and downright careless and thoughtless. Watching this show, I’m unclear who I’m supposed to root for. The Goldensteins act like sitcom villains but Hitler is goddamn Hitler so it’s really a coin toss. I feel like I should also mention the Goldenstein’s niece Ruth. There, I mentioned her. She serves no purpose in the episode and I had to look up her name three times because I kept forgetting she was even in the damn thing. Rounding out our cast is Neville Chambelin, the British Prime Minister and only character in this british show with an English accent. He’s, like, fine, I guess. He does the “I’m a little teapot” thing at one point, so if that floats your boat then I guess you’re set. Again, I want to stress, I don’t think it’s the cast’s fault they’re terrible. I don’t think even the best actors of all time could pull off this script. Also, seeing Hitler turn to camera and shout “She knows!” is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen.

I had to watch this fucking thing TWICE, once with friends just to see it, and once by myself to take notes for this review and it got worse each time. This thing is the kind of unique piece of media that just makes you angrier the more you think about it. And I want to be clear: I’m not mad because I find it “offensive”, I’m mad because of just how terrible of a comedy it is. It’s not “so bad it’s good” it’s “so bad it’s shocking”. I’ll conclude with this, the last note I took while watching the episode. All it says is “HAAAAAAAAAATE!” Hopefully whatever pilot I pick next doesn’t make me cry as much as this one did.

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Ok, Fine, I Watched It: The Graduate

Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So, with summer in full swing, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps. This week, a double feature of “How have you not seen this” cinema, 1967’s “The Graduate” and 1997’s “L.A. Confidential”.

THE GRADUATE

I was honestly not expecting to like this film nearly as much as I did. It takes a good story and elevates it dramatically with expert filmmaking in every way. Hell, I could probably write a paragraph and a half just on the sound design!

Ok, first off, the plot: Based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Charles Webb, The Graduate follows recent college graduate (I GET IT NOW!) Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) as he meanders through his immediately post college life, centering around his affair with family friend and pretty-much-sexual-predator Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and his falling for her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). While the plot is fairly simple to explain, it’s the character work that makes the film. Hoffman plays Ben as extremely emotionally detached and isolated, in a way that is relatable while simultaneously keeping the audience at arms reach. Mrs. Robinson herself, while she is the closest thing the film has to a villain, is still just as well-rounded and understandable as any of the others. ┬áTogether, this excellent cast, plus supporting characters like Mr. Robinson and Ben’s parents, assemble into a film where every character has a distinct role to play. Also, I feel like I should mention that this film is quite funny? Like, It is a dramedy, and the funny parts are really funny, but most of what I’ll be complementing it on are it’s dramatic parts. it is real funny though. I swear.

The film’s greatest strength is in it’s methods of storytelling. By leaving large sections of the film silent, the sound design allows for some truly haunting moments in this quirky dramedy. A few times, like through some of Ben and Elaine’s conversations, the audience is not allowed to hear what the characters are saying, adding to our isolation. The stand out sequence of the film for me, and one that left my jaw on the floor, is a scene in which Ben, at the insistence of his family, exits the house and climbs into the pool in full scuba gear. The sequence works so well because, when we get to see the scene from Ben’s point of view, we only hear what he hears: the sound of his own breathing. Even while others flap their mouths open and closed around him, he is still perfectly isolated from them in his own little bubble.

Speaking of isolation, this movie does its best to alienate the audience, while still keeping them engaged. The famous “Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me,” scene practically weaponizes uncomfortability, but still keeps it comedic enough to keep you watching. Many of the film’s most important moments of dialogue (Ben’s marriage proposal, Ben and Mrs. Robinson’s attempted conversation in bed) are delivered so that we cannot see the faces of the speaking characters. This runs counter to pretty much anything taught about filmmaking, but it works perfectly in this movie, going a long way to foster a sense of detachment in the viewers. This is helped even more by the tight, purposefully stressful camerawork in some of the early scenes. I could keep listing examples, but in my notes, i literally just have the sentence “Elaine’s face slowly comes into focus as she figures out what’s going on? Holy f*ck, that’s some good sh*t.”

Finally, I wanted to talk about the ending. Reviewing The Graduate and not analyzing the ending is like telling the story of 1930’s Europe and leaving out the whole “World War II” thing, so let’s get to it. For me, the meaning of the ending (in which Ben and Elaine flee Elaine’s wedding together and sit, conflicted in the back of a bus) is brought into focus by a seemingly pointless detail from earlier in the film. At one point early on, just before Ben and Elaine meet, Ben stands in the room with an upset Mrs. Robinson, who is watching the 60’s game show “The Newlywed Game”. For those who don’t know (read: “for those who aren’t huge game show nerds like me”) the point of The Newlywed Game was for couples to prove just how much they knew about each other, with the couple that new each other best winning. Elaine and Ben don’t know each other. They have a connection, yes, but they know hardly anything about who they are as people. the final moments of the film show the two of them, slowly retreating into isolation and contemplating what they have just done.

All in all, The Graduate is an absolutely stunning movie on multiple levels.

Five out of Five stars.

 

Look forward to next week, when I’ll probably wind up accidentally picking a film I hate and feel really bad about ripping into. And for now, thank you to the friends who suggested these films, I loved them both.

‘Till next week!