'Elephant' Innovator Serves Up Some 'Duck'
By Andy Wickstrom
As the first recording artist to win a Grammy Award for a video production, Michael Nesmith has a reputation as an innovator in the field. In the introduction to the award-winning made-for-video program Elephant Parts (1981), he referred to it as his first video album - in fact, the first video album ever. It was a spectacular blend of highly original music videos, skits and commercial spoofs.
Now comes another blend, under the painfully coy name of Dr. Duck's Super Secret All-Purpose Sauce (82 minutes, Pacific Arts Video, $39.95). If that title strikes you as trying too hard to be clever, you'll probably not find the concoction to your taste. Five years have passed in the brief history of home video, but Nesmith seems not to have noticed. His Dr. Duck is hardly more than warmed over Elephant Parts, and not the choicest cuts at that.
The charge that Dr. Duck is serving leftovers is lamentably accurate. The advertising and packaging for this tape are careful to mention the hallowed Elephant Parts, but they avoid naming the program's true predecessor, a fizzled network television show.
In the summer of 1985, NBC aired half-a-dozen installments of Michael Nesmith in Television Parts, a comedy-variety show trading on the cachet of the cassette. This led in turn to its own cassette, Television Parts Home Companion. If Dr. Duck has a "super secret," it's that some of this material was conceived for, and in some cases was shown on, the TV show. One segment (Jay Leno describing a '55 Buick) even begins in front of the Television Parts graphic.
Dr. Duck is unmistakable television fare. In contrast to the virtual one- man show of EP, this venture is awash in a guest celebrity roster fine-tuned to the hippest of demographics. Appearing in song or comedy bits (besides Leno) are Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Buffett, Roseanne Cash, Gary Shandling, Martin Mull, Jim Stafford, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Goldthwait and Ed Begley, Jr. (Perhaps Nesmith's nom de video on this program comes from his ducking the camera.) It's a veritable list of Johnny or Joan's guests next week.
The mere fact that this is a TV retread is no reason to dismiss it entirely. It has some very entertaining moments. Nesmith figures in one as a Fassbinder-esque film director being interviewed by Dick Cavett. Puffing intently on short cigarettes, Nesmith expertly parodies the pretense of foreign "art" directors. In another fine bit, Lois Bromfield works herself into a frenzy while recounting the details of a slasher movie to her cowering date.
Other segments have a decidedly stale air. Goldberg does a turn as a surfer chick, a variation on the airhead Valley Girl that may have been funny two years ago but has since been worked to death by every talk-show comic. Goldberg contributes nothing new.
Even more boring is Goldthwait, who does his "Bobcat" routine introducing animal escape artist Houdini the Pig. Goldthwait is another in the current rash of comedians - such as Pee-wee Herman and Emo Phillips - who affect personas so geeky that the viewer squirms. It's funny at first but it's strictly one-note humor. After a minute's time, you've seen the entire repertoire of tics and grimaces.
There's one big music video production number that recalls the glories of EP. In Buffett's "La Vie Dansante," a Caribbean beach bum imagines a dreamy world of tap-dancing people in white tails, culminating in the appearance of a huge top hat that goes soaring among the stars with a line of dancers on its brim. That's just the kind of outlandishly beautiful image that Nesmith is known for, but has it become a trademark or a cliche?
This article was originally published by the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 7, 1986.