Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tastes like Fresno

If Fresno were a 2011 TV show instead of a 1986 show, the raisins would be heavily Botoxed.
(Photo source: TV Time Capsule)
The craziest damn thing on TV right now is not American Horror Story. It's the funny six-part miniseries The Heart, She Holler, which is airing for six straight nights on Adult Swim until Friday. The Heart, She Holler is the Southern Gothic story of Hurlan Heartshe (Patton Oswalt, looking like a stand-in for Nick Swardson in Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star), a feral man-child who must battle with his poor-white-trash sisters, the devious Hurshe (Kristen Schaal) and the telekinetic Hambrosia (Heather Lawless), for control of Heartshe Holler, the small town that Hurlan inherited from their deceased cult leader father. The inbred yokels who populate Heartshe Holler are so filthy even Cletus from The Simpsons would tell them, "Git yerself a washcloth!"

Because it's from the minds of Wonder Showzen creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee, The Heart, She Holler gets its laughs from nightmarish and meth-y imagery that would cause most of the viewers who made a hit out of Modern Family (a show Schaal once guest-starred on) to puke into their tubs of Häagen-Dazs. A man pulls from an electric outlet intestines that go on forever. Another man French-kisses a glory hole that was carved into the cover of a Bible. If this show had a Baby Lily in its cast, she'd probably be walking around with a rotting piece of roadkill as her dolly.

The Heart, She Holler's nightly miniseries format and Schaal's soapy villainess both remind me of another comedy miniseries that aired over the course of one week 25 Novembers ago: Newhart creator Barry Kemp's not-as-meth-y Fresno. From November 16 to November 20, 1986 on CBS, this spoof of wealth-obsessed '80s CBS nighttime soaps like Falcon Crest and the soon-to-be-revived-on-TNT Dallas followed the nasty power struggle between the Kensington raisin empire, led by matriarch Charlotte Kensington (Carol Burnett), and rival raisin baron Tyler Cane (Dabney Coleman). Caught up in the feud are Charlotte's dickish eldest son Cane (Charles Grodin), his unhappy nympho wife Talon (Teri Garr), Charlotte's demure adopted daughter Tiffany (Valerie Mahaffey), the always shirtless ranch hand Torch (Trapper John, M.D. star Gregory Harrison, poking fun at his '80s himbo persona), gardener-turned-corporate spy Juan (Luis Avalos), country singer Bobbi Jo Bobb (Teresa Ganzel) and her convict husband Billy Joe (Bill Paxton!).

Shot on a bigger budget than The Heart, She Holler (for example, the gowns were designed by a name I became familiar with because I'd see it pop up during so many '70s or '80s opening or closing credits: Bob Mackie of Burnett's Gone with the Wind sketch gown fame), Fresno isn't quite a classic, but it's a fun comedic soap made for viewers like me who avoid actual nighttime soaps like the plague. Maybe if each episode had been 11 minutes long like each installment of The Heart, She Holler or other live-action Adult Swim shows like Childrens Hospital, the current live-action crown jewel of the Adult Swim lineup, and its spinoff NTSF:SD:SUV, Fresno would have been a classic. When I first caught it in reruns on Comedy Central in the '90s--fortunately without the laugh track that CBS reportedly tacked on to the miniseries when it rebroadcast it--Fresno felt like it was several minutes too long at an hour per episode (with commercials).

There are so many reasons to be pissed off at Fox--besides one of its cable channels' unusual definitions of the words "fair," "balanced" and "news"--like the fact that Fox owns the MTM Enterprises library and either butchers MTM properties on DVD or Hulu (worst example: the WKRP music clearance fiasco) or doesn't take advantage of reintroducing via DVD hours and hours of great or good MTM shows like Fresno (does Fox own Fresno?--I'm not quite sure) to younger viewers who'd get a kick out of these shows that were around either before they were born or when they were too young to understand why Dr. Johnny Fever always looks so exhausted. So because of that, YouTube is all we can rely on for little glimpses of Fresno.

As you can see from the YouTube clips of Fresno (hey, it's Kramer), one of the highlights of the miniseries is Mel Brooks film score composer John Morris' original music, from Bobbi Jo's fake country songs ("Just because you're a migrant worker don't mean we got a migrant love") to the main title theme, one of the best obscure TV themes of the '80s. Morris' theme morphs from bullfighting music to Big Country score-style Americana. It's amusingly over-the-top and awesome.

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