Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pink Lady & Jeff, Episode 1

Directed by: Rudy DeLuca
Starring Pink Lady, Jeff Altman, Sherman Hemsley, Bert Parks
Genre: Variety show/Insanity

"I loved the song, I just didn't realize your honorable ancestors had boogie fever."

Everybody loves a good train wreck - at least on television - and they don't come much wreck-ier than this. Pink Lady (AKA Mei and Kei) was a popular Japanese singing duo - popular in Japan, that is - who happened to catch the eyes and ears of NBC president Fred Silverman, who saw a potential goldmine in the disco-pop duo. Without nary a whiff of homework, he signed the bewildered Japanese dolls to a contract and roped in psychedelic kiddie-show kingpins Sid and Marty Krofft to produce a weekly Pink Lady-hosted variety show. There was, however, one major stumbling block to this operation: the girls didn't really know how to speak English.

In these more sober times, that devilish detail would be a deal breaker. But this was 1980, brother, and anything could happen in the 1980's. And so Sid and Marty forged on. Schlubby comedian Jeff Altman - probably most well-known, if at all, for a series of Arby's commercials in the mid 1980's - was signed on to smooth over the rough spots, and a cast of low-watt yucksters were recruited (including a pre-Ernest Jim Varney) for further distractions. Ultimately, it all proved futile, and all Pink Lady could really do was (badly) lip-synch their phonetic-English versions of hit pop and disco tunes and push Jeff into a hot tub at the end of every show. There were also a few bewildered guest stars (Lorne Greene! Larry Hagman!) and some surprise (and weird, and godawful) duets as well, including Pink Lady with Donny Osmond and Pink Lady with...erm, Greg Evigan.

Suffice to say, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The pilot opens with a montage of Mei and Kei playing in stadiums and rolling around in limos, cut with scenes  from the show. And then Jeff Altman comes out. No Pink Lady, just Jeff. He does a pretty painful monologue ("I wish my parents could be here to see me, but they're over at the studio next door, watching Merv Griffin interview his suit"), and then he introduces Pink Lady. They come out with Kimonos and sing in Japanese for a couple seconds, and then rip those off to reveal matching pink dresses underneath. And then they lip-synch to "Boogie Wonderland". Eventually, they're joined by a bunch of over-ripe, crazy-eyed dancers, who at least offer a distraction from the girls' not-even-close lip-dubbing.

Anyway, after that travesty, the girls saunter down to the lower-stage to goof around with Jeff. He goofs on them for not knowing English very well, and Mei changes the subject by telling him she thinks he's handsome. His reply: "Oh, you're just turned on by my round eyes." Ha ha, what?

Then there's a gag about how the girls have a bodyguard (a sumo wrestler busts through the wall) and then, mercifully, the bit comes to a close when Mei and Kei announce tonight's guests: Sherman Hemsley ("Chermin Humsley"), Bert Parks, and Blondie ("Blundie").
"And don't forget our bodyguard-o friend here," adds Jeff. "He might come on the show later and swallow a Dastsun."

In the next segment, the girls dress up in spandex and dance in front of a giant boombox. Every so often, the camera zooms into one of the speakers, which opens up to reveal a hilarious skit waiting inside! In one, Jeff plays a pompadour'ed preacher trying to cure disco-obsessed Mei from hearing loss by hitting her on the head.

In another, he plays a brain-dead boxer being interviewed by a hot redhead (Anna Mathias).

And in yet another hopeless gag, the girls dress up like the Supremes and Jeff does a soul-powered Richard Nixon impression. This is in 1980, mind you.

Next, Jeffersons' star Sherman Hemsley drops by to goof around with the gang. Somehow or another this leads us to a another skit wherein Pink Lady play sailors watching a USO gig at the first all-girl army base.

Jeff plays some kind of medallion-wearing, bare-chested stud. And then Sherman Hemsley (in shorts) does an Andrews Sisters send-up. Hilarity does not ensue.

So then Bert Parks comes out. He used to host the Miss America pageant. They have a guy dressed up like him somersault onto the stage, to give the impression that he's still spry. Pink Lady act super-excited, even though they clearly have no idea who he is. Burt introduces a skit, which turns into another skit - neither of which feature Pink Lady - and then they show a Blondie video. "Shayla". Horrible song.

There's a short skit called "The Adventures of the Pink Falcon" wherein Pink Lady are jewel thieves and Jeff is a Cagney-esque gumshoe. Pretty stupid, but at least the girls wear black leather jumpsuits for it.

Next up: A Tonight Show parody. Jeff, naturally, does his Carson impression. The girls are serious marble-mouths in this segment. Who knows what they're talking about? All I can say for sure is they show a television ad Pink Lady did in Japan for some weird product - looks like a portable smoke alarm? - and then they introduce a Japanese stand-up comedian, "Shecky Nakamoto" (Richard Lee-Sung). He does his act in Japanese. It's the funniest part of the show so far.

And then Bert Parks and Sherman Hemsley come back for a long and pointless "salute to old Hollywood". There's a Kissinger joke in there. That's all I remember.

And there's a Howard Cosell meets Marilyn Monroe thing, too. Sketch comedy gobbledy-gook.

Finally, we reach our finale. Jeff comes out with Pink Lady and says, "Girls, I think we're going to make a great team."
"Don't bet on it!" Snaps Kei. Truer words may have never been spoken.

And then they lip-synch their cover of James Taylor's (by way of Carole King's) "You've Got a Friend". Or, more accurately, "You've Got a Fwend".

You figure that would be enough 'entertainment' for one evening, but nope. Suddenly, a full rock band appears out of nowhere and the ladies launch into "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow". There's even some psychedelic video effects!

They finish up with their Engrish take on "Knock On Wood". Not one word of it is understandable. Complete gibberish. Sort of adorable gibberish, but gibberish nonetheless.

Oh yeah, and then they take off their dresses and change into bikinis!

And then they dunk Jeff into the hot tub. This part, I like.

So ends the pilot. Any sane group of individuals would take a hard look at the horror they just created and close down production, but clearly the lunatics had taken over the asylum, because Pink Lady and Jeff hobbled along for another five magnificent episodes.

Stay tuned.

- Ken McIntyre 

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