SUMMARY: Japanese pop stars and fading TV personalities put on a show. Nobody notices.
Ah, Pink Lady... and Jeff, the high-water mark of “What the hell were they thinking?”
Most of you have never heard of this show, and with good reason. They only made six episodes, of which only five ever aired, and despite the involvement of the legendary Sid and Marty Krofft, and the fact that it gave ensemble member Jim Varney his big break, there is not one human being in existence who puts this show on their résumé.
It all began when someone at NBC saw a news story about then-legendary pop duo Pink Lady, who were sweeping Japan at a time when disco was still big (actually, now that I think about it, Japan held onto disco for a while). Deciding that that Mie and Kei would be perfect to revive the dying “low-level pop singer hosts a stale variety show” format, said executive snapped Pink Lady up, and had sets built and scripts in the hopper so quickly that no one had any time to realize that the lovely ladies didn’t even speak English.
With no time to switch things up before the show debuted, they hired Jeff Altman, erstwhile cast member of The Dukes of Hazzard to act as emcee, but between the language barrier and Pink Lady’s extensive touring schedule back in Japan, he’s basically the star of the show. Actually, Mie and Kei are barely present at all, which makes you wonder why they even bothered.
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They tried to smooth things over with as many guest stars as they could get to show up for scale (every episode had at least three), and music from such diverse talents as Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, and Alice Cooper. They even managed to develop a few signature bits in the short time they were on air, which weren’t terribly funny, but had their charm. Hell, it was worth airing just for the second episode, which features the bizarre sight of Sid Caesar in samurai drag doing his best to mumble a few Japanese phrases with a Yiddish accent.
But even after all that, it was for nothing. A show this weird simply couldn’t last back then, especially with such a weak host. Don’t get me wrong, Jeff Altman (in the role of “Jeff”) seems like a nice enough guy, but as a stand-up, he’s not very good. And while a show about the hilarious antics of two hot Japanese pop singers might have been a hit, nobody, then or now, was terribly interested in The Jeff Altman Show.
In the end, what we have here is a fairly standard variety show, each episode of which can be summed up by Rhino Home Video’s defeatist ad copy:
After some awkward banter, Pink Lady performs a medley of pop songs. Guest stars and screen legends join Jeff, Mie an [sic] Kei in a series of comedy sketches and musical performances.
Yes, the box set has been out for nine years and I’m the first one to notice the spelling error.
(Speaking of which, there seems to have been some confusion about Mie’s name. The box lists it as “Mie”, but the chapter cards have “Mei”.)
After an unfunny intro from a modern day Jeff (where he hilariously states, then forgets the year the show aired) we zoom back into the ‘80s, where a strangely shaped pink bird flies through outer space and settles over a baseball field, where it morphs into the title: Pink Lady!
Mie and Kei ride through the baseball field in separate limos, then we cut back to Jeff at the studio, followed by more shots of the girls dancing, then a series of quick clips from the various terrible blackout gags you’re about to see, and footage of our guests for the evening: Blondie, Sherman Hemsley, and Bert Parks. If you have no idea who any of those people are, they are: the band that did the theme to American Gigolo, George Jefferson, and I have no fucking idea either.
The casts stands in front of a matte painting of the Hollywood sign, while superimposed fireworks go off overhead, only for the scene to be quickly erased by the same bird from earlier. I think it might be a swan, or something.
Jeff comes out to do the opening monologue, but can’t shut up about how excited he is to be here. He wishes his parents could be here to see this, but they’re in the studio next door “watching Merv Griffin interview his suit”. Aroo?
More jokes about how nobody knows who he is, which are actually funnier now than they were then, then he tells the old one about how we all have “a little [whatever profession] in all of us” punctuated by pulling a doll out of his jacket.
This show is an hour long.
A pratfall and some more jokes follow, then Jeff finally gets down to explaining just who the hell Pink Lady is, which brings us back to that baseball field from earlier. Admittedly, the stadium is packed, so it makes sense that Mie and Kei are being brought to the stage in separate limos, singing out of the sunroofs. If that many people are willing to buy tickets, I say the concert promoters have got the right to splurge a little. But look closely, and you’ll notice that while you can hear the cheering, their song has been overdubbed by an instrumental version of “Call Me”.
This, so early into the episode, is the first nail in the coffin: when I said Pink Lady didn’t speak English, that means they also couldn’t sing in English.
We’re in for some fun.
Jeff brings the girls out to do a “traditional Japanese number” (I think we can see where this is going), and soon enough, kimonos are flying and the girls switch from their native tongue to a gut-bustingly Engrish version of “Boogie Wonderland”. Call me crazy, but didn’t America stop liking disco about a year or so before this show aired? Nice to know the Grammys aren’t the only ones out of touch.
The song goes on, without much in the way of choreography, but when the two are this attractive, I’ll let it slide. About halfway through the song, they leave the stage and seven or eight Assorted Blondes™ make with the movement in their place.
Would it shock you if I told you Jeff would later co-host Solid Gold?
Mie and Kei return to the stage, and the dancing dials back down to its most basic moves. Still, even though it’s not terribly impressive, the girls are clearly still in their element, before the second nail gets hammered in.
See, in typical East Asian fashion of the time, the girls’ schtick was that they did everything in perfect unison. This didn’t jibe well with the NBC execs, so in accordance with Hollywood Law #947, Clause B, Subsection 40-96 which states that “Whatsoever has made said entertainer famous prior to signing a contract with a television network, the exact opposite shall be their gimmick on any sitcom, variety show, or TV movie, excepting in cases where these shows appear on Comedy Central,” the girls were quickly forced to develop their “own” identities, which was obviously as foreign a concept to them as ketchup flavored potato chips.
The song ends, as Jeff expresses shock that the girls’ “honorable ancestors” had “boogie fever”. The subtle racism just gets worse from here, kiddies.
Jeff tells the audience which one is which (Mie is the one with the bob, and Kei is the one with the Farrah). They say “Right!” in unison, which pleases the audience to no end for some reason, after which Jeff quizzes the girls about their English skills. Mie is a suck up, while Kei has this little exchange.
Jeff: And you speak English, too?
Kei: Yes. Do you?
This goes on and on, with Kei being the feisty one, and Mie sucking up to Jeff, and Jeff thinks she’s just turned on by his “sexy round eyes”.
The not-so-subtle racism gets even worse than this.
Jeff monkeys around while Mie and Kei look on in confusion. Kei in particular is clearly not having any fun, until Mie interrupts to quiz Jeff about whether he knows any celebrities.
This leads to Jeff doing a terrible impression of Walter Cronkite, while continuing to talk about himself. Kei isn’t impressed, but Mie rises to his defense, saying he’s the cutest American they’ve ever met. Kei counters by listing an extensive number of other guys she’s also said this about, until they start arguing in Japanese, and then Jeff stops them, saying there’s no point in arguing if other people don’t know what they’re saying.
I’ll say one thing for the writers, they certainly wouldn’t get hired to do ALF.
There’s a quick gag where the girls introduce their bodyguard, who’s a sumo wrestler, and then they introduce their guests. I’m starting to notice Kei’s English is slightly better than Mie’s, so of course, they make her the bitchy one.
After a quick commercial break, we come to their most endearing segment: the Radio Dance! Almost every episode, Mie and Kei would dance in front of a giant boom box, singing “Turn Up the Music”, while cutting to Jeff doing various blackout gags involving different professions.
On this episode, Jeff appears as a televangelist, a boxer, and Richard Nixon singing with the Temptations [?].
Back on the main stage, the girls outsmart Jeff by using a map of stars’ homes to get Sherman Hemsley on the show (are we absolutely certain this isn’t a kid’s show?). Sherman immediately upstages Jeff, who cracks wise from the sidelines while the girls fawn all over George Jefferson, for crying out loud. Oh, wait, people actually watched The Jeffersons back then.
Mysteriously, the girls ask Sherman if they’ll ever draft women into the army, which segues into a fantasy about what a USO show for an all-girl audience might look like. Nothing funny happens, for a very long time.
The sketch finally ends, and after another commercial, they introduce Bert Parks. Turns out he used to be the guy who hosted the Miss America pageant, but by the time this show aired, they’d given him the axe.
Jeff makes a few offhand comments about how Bert’s “heading for the last round-up”, words he’s forced to promptly eat when Bert cartwheels out on stage. Or rather, some guy in a Bert Parks costume cartwheels out, and then they cut to Bert.
Mie innocently asks Bert if he brought his horse, which leads to Jeff’s comments about him “heading for the last round-up” coming back to haunt him. Bert pretends to be so angry that he swiftly banishes Jeff from the stage.