PopEntertainment.com

It's all the entertainment you need!

 

FEATURE STORIES MOVIE REVIEWS MUSIC REVIEWS BOX SET REVIEWS TV SHOWS ON DVD CONTESTS CONCERT PHOTOS

 

 

  FEATURE STORIES
  INTERVIEWS A TO E
  INTERVIEWS F TO J
  INTERVIEWS K TO O
  INTERVIEWS P TO T
  INTERVIEWS U TO Z
  INTERVIEWS ACTORS
  INTERVIEWS ACTRESSES
  INTERVIEWS BOOKS
  INTERVIEWS DIRECTORS AND SCREENWRITERS
  INTERVIEWS MUSIC
  INTERVIEWS OSCAR NOMINEES
  INTERVIEWS THEATER
  IN MEMORIAM
  REVIEWS
  MOVIE REVIEWS
  MUSIC REVIEWS
  CONCERT REVIEWS
  BOX SET REPORT CARD
  TV SHOWS ON DVD
  MISCELLANEOUS STUFF & NONSENSE
  CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY
  LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  CONTESTS
  LINKS
  MASTHEAD
  EMAIL US

"WILD YEARS-THE MUSIC & MYTH OF TOM WAITS" BY JAY S. JACOBS

AVAILABLE IN BOOK STORES EVERYWHERE!

 

www.wbshop.com

 

PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > TV on DVD Reviews > That Girl - Season One

 

That Girl

Season One (1966-1967) (Shout! Factory-2006)

RETURN TO TV SHOWS ON DVD REVIEWS MENU

 

LinkShare  Referral  Program

Sharper Image

125X125

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Shop Aeropostale

VenueKings.com provides Sporting, Concert & Theater Tickets throughout North America. Find Tickets Now!

Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 26, 2006.

Like one of Marlo Thomas’ minidresses, That Girl perkily sashayed into TV history as a feminist-era earthshaker. It gladly took credit for bravely paving the way for the likes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and even – according to this DVD’s liner notes – Murphy Brown and Ally McBeal.  

We could argue and bicker about this all day if you want – but the thing to do is watch the first season of this gentle giant and write an essay determining if you’re watching a pioneering landmark or simply a hyper-condensed Doris Day movie. And while we’re at it, is the Marlo Thomas character a strong, independent woman – or a spoiled brat? 

Sure, the concept was novel for 1966 (the original title of this series was Miss Independence).  Despite the dizzying social upheaval that was happening – and “happening!” – by that decade’s midpoint, prime-time television was not only slow to change, but decidedly resistant.  

The party line was this (and it was a pretty dull party): enough bad news was happening in the real world; viewers opted to trade off one type of madness for another at the end of a hard day. This explains the popularity of such mild fare as Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies and Family Affair, which accompanied That Girl on that very cozy, tiresome-as-cornflakes television schedule.  

Programs like these would lull you off to sleep before the eleven ‘o clock news. As an average sixties person, you would never realize that there was an immoral war being waged, and both an increasingly influential youth movement gaining momentum and a women’s liberation front gathering steam. However, in That Girl’s Manhattan, the heaviest thing stated to wit was by Ann’s ditsy neighbor, who said, “don’t you know there’s a population explosion?”   

However, despite punches being pulled left and right, Ann Marie was the girl with something extra (Ann Marie was Marlo Thomas’ character’s name – and yes, Marie was her last name, based on the nomenclature of Ann Margaret). She was free to be you and me, but her claims toward feminine liberation may be too strong a term, at least for this first season, which still focused on the cute and the adorable.  

Yet here’s where the show detours from the humdrum: this That Girl moves to New York and dreams of being an actress (that’s not the novel part) but – and dig this if you can – she has absolutely no designs to get married!  Her career – such as it is – comes first, and she actually means it. Yes, she has a boyfriend, but no, they don’t ever sleep together and very rarely discuss getting hitched. As Liz Smith says, only in New York, kids! Only in New York!   

We don’t care anyhow, since there would be nothing really to see, would there? The boyfriend, Donald Hollinger (everybody say it together: “oh, Donald!”), was played with nervous energy by the late, great Ted Bessel. In the pilot, he was known as Don Blue Sky, but skittish network executives insisted he be painted whiter. As well, her parents in the series’ pilot (one of them being the terrific veteran character actor Harold Gould) were considered “too ethnic” by network a-holes. Apparently, for all the talk of groundbreaking, on both counts Thomas caved.  

In an episode amazingly written by James L. Brooks (responsible for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Simpsons, among others!), That Girl and her boyfriend get stranded at a faraway lodge in a snowstorm, and have to deal nervously with sleeping in separate rooms, since they are not married. The comedy begins when it appears that they will, after all, have to share a room, and maybe even a bed. It’s moronic, but ultimately kind of sweet, considering the sitcom sexual obnoxiousness that is to come and bore us to tears in future decades.  

“I’ve never seen your ankles before,” Donald says of Ann in another episode, which is code for us to be reassured that they have never been intimate. In fact, according to Thomas in the commentary track, network censors were constantly worried that it didn’t look like Donald was leaving Ann’s apartment and going home for the evening.  

That Girl delights in its own sexual revolution, void of sex: she gets a job at The Caveman Club, which is based on The Playboy Club, but the most action she sees is a gangster fistfight and a night in the slammer; of course all as a result of a comic misunderstanding.  

That Girl and that boyfriend are more like brother and sister than Manhattan lovers, but their chemistry is so right-on that it never sticks in the craw. And let’s face it – would you really want to endure a proto-type will-they-or-won’t-they storyline, a la Sam and Diane or Ross and Rachel? Be thankful to Thomas that she at least spared us that.  Now that’s groundbreaking.  

However, the real co-star of this series is not her boyfriend, but her very false false eyelashes. And let’s not forget those sunglasses worn on the top of the head (how can we?). 

Like Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City, Thomas wears outfits that no self-respecting New Yorker would ever, ever wear, and more often than not, the clothes look like they are wearing her. 

Thomas says (actually out loud!) on the commentary track, “I don’t remember much about any of these shows, but I remember the clothes!” 

Although Sex and the City matches That Girl for its less-than-real take on a real life in Manhattan, at least Thomas takes measures to depict her character trying to earn a real living the way real people do (waitressing, catering, shoe sales, and appearing in thankless, low-level, low-paid roles on television programs).  

However, like Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, how she manages to live alone in a swell one-bedroom apartment on East 78th Street is what fairy stories are made of.  Additional funding probably comes from her biological parents that she doesn’t resemble in any way (played by Lew Parker and perennial TV-mom Rosemary DeCamp).  

Her overprotective dad is a pain in the ass to the point of distraction, but that’s nothing compared to her boyfriend’s mother, played by Mabel Albertson, the same woman who played Darren Steven’s pain-in-the-ass mother on Bewitched (was there actually a shortage of actresses who could play pain-in-the-ass mothers?).  

What also contributes – or rather, takes away from – the show’s claim to being groundbreaking is its insistence on giving the glamorous main character a dowdy, ugly-duckling best friend (a la Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and LaRue on Gidget). This is to reinforce the leading lady’s inherent loveliness.  

This humiliating duty is dropped in the lap of actress Bonnie Scott, who goes redhead midway through the first season, though it doesn’t help us to warm up to her. And, for all its aspirations toward sophistication, the Japanese maid still says “herro” instead of “hello.”  

It’s New York’s last glimpse of pure, Breakfast-At-Tiffany’s-type glamour, a civil world of dining and dancing and eveningwear, before that city sunk into its dark night of crime, bankruptcy, graffiti and an X-rated Times Square. That Girl’s dark unbelly is actually white and smooth: the seediest New York criminal Ann Marie encounters is a blonde, bumbling Jerry Van Dyke, who goofily holds her up at pretend-gunpoint.  

You’ll marvel at the stunning exterior shots that accent the cosmopolitan feel of the series, from the dazzling, Broadway-overture style opening to the fashion-toned closing credits (she throws food at pigeons, and they all respond by rising up in the air. It will take some research to determine whether this was cliché before or since).  

Incredibly cool footage also includes amazing vintage traffic and real-time film of Broadway at its very peak (a sign reads, “Funny Girl In Its Third Smash Year!”). It’s a disorienting, Olde New York, long gone – filled with only white people, especially men in suits, and women in day dresses. No jeans, no tattoos and no languages other than English. Archeologists should be studying this.   

The color on which this series is filmed is vibrant, almost thrillingly so, and a full orchestra optimistically provides the incidental music (unlike today’s tiresome synthesizers).  

One troubling curious moment, though: in the opening credits, Thomas is not too busy being perky to stop in her tracks and help lift a toddler up so that the baby could get a drink from a water fountain. This is marvelous in theory, and is meant to endear That Girl to us as a nation. However, ask yourself this: what is this small baby doing by herself, right next to traffic on Columbus Avenue, with absolutely no parent or guardian within range? And even more infuriating, Thomas puts the child down and continues on her rushed, perky way, leaving the child again endangered by oncoming traffic.  

Equally troubling: her father, worried about her getting home safely, says to her, “I’ll take you back to your place and I’ll spend the night at a Turkish bath.” Uh, okay.

Also worth the price of admission: Carroll O’ Connor (only a few short years before Archie Bunker) playing a temperamental  Italian opera singer (this is not a misprint); Rob Reiner, in one of two appearances, channels an obnoxious New Yorker (big stretch); an extremely well-groomed Bernie Kopell offers fortune-cookie logic like, “As I always say to someone who don’t  know what they’re doin’, ‘you know what you’re doin’.”

You’ll also witness Dabney Coleman, very young and hardly recognizable, as Thomas’ dependable doctor-neighbor; Richard Dreyfuss playing an exuberant actor/waiter (with a failed mission to charm us and not annoy us); and Jerry Seinfeld’s “Uncle Leo” (Len Lesser) playing a tough security guard (“That Girl! Hello!”). And what sixties series would be complete without Paul Lynde, in extreme Paul-Lynde mode?

The episode most fondly remembered by our collective culture is the one entitled “This Little Piggy Had A Ball,” and it’s available on this collection. In it, That Girl gets her toe stuck in a bowling ball (long story) and has to go to an awards dinner to make an acceptance speech for another actress – she’s all decked out, sixties style, with the bowling ball stuck on her foot.

To try to shake the ball loose, she takes an overdose of muscle relaxants – with absolutely no side effects, except for one, which is a doozie: she runs into Rob Reiner and Teri Garr, looking intensely sixties (how would you like to go back in time and explain the future to all of them?).

Her drug overdose causes no physical or emotional consequences whatsoever, and in the end, rather than a visit to an emergency room or a detox unit, her boyfriend simply sighs to himself and says, “oh, that girl.”

The main highlight of the entire DVD is not the series itself, but a promo reel from its original network, ABC (you’ll want to replay all of that sixties energy – it’s deliciously dated and pure feel-good). And don’t miss a pre-hippie and handsome George Carlin, appearing only once as Ann Marie’s dippy but well-groomed agent, in an episode with the great and not-yet-famous Sally Kellerman, who acts rings around everybody.

Ultimately, though, what fills us with intense anticipation is the regularly scheduled set-up in the initial scene, as we wait for someone – anyone – to point to Marlo Thomas and say, “THAT GIRL!” We are not disappointed, ever, as what was meant to be a one-time event became a weekly writing challenge and a series signature throughout its five-year run (example: “Which girl? This girl?” “No – THAT GIRL!”).

Ron Sklar

Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 26, 2006.