The centenary has arrived.
Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the 100th in Philadelphia history to celebrate this uniquely American holiday.
A bygone department store chain, Gimbel’s, created the first Thanksgiving Day march in 1920. Its purpose was to kick off the Christmas shopping season by welcoming Santa Claus to town. Santa was usually played by a firefighter who would climb a ladder and enter Gimbel’s toy department through a window.
Gimbel’s continued the parade until it went out of business in 1986. Philadelphia boasted the oldest Thanksgiving Parade in the United States, but that standing seemed to be in jeopardy.
Channel 6 to the rescue.
Once upon a time, there was a bidding war to see which of the local network-affiliated or owned stations, Channel 3, 6, or 10, would be granted rights to televise the parade. Hosting stations varied, but throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the march consistently landed on Channel 6.
Faced with the prospect of no march, and not finding an entity like Gimbel’s that would present it, Channel 6 took ownership of the annual event and began producing the main cog in Philadelphia’s official Thanksgiving celebration.
This requires more work that one might imagine. Channel 6 begins producing the next year’s parade the minute the current year’s telecast signs off the air.
There are bands to be found, floats to be considered, and decisions to be made about what characters should be represented by via giant balloons.
The results of this year’s preparations can be seen starting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday when hosts Cecily Tynan and Rick Williams begin their descriptions of the line of march while Adam Joseph, Karen Rogers, and Alicia Vitarelli turn in stories from the parade route (20th and JFK to 16th and JFK, then up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum).
This being a milestone year in Parade history, Channel 6 is bringing back two hosts from decades past, Dave Roberts and Lisa Thomas-Laury, to share memories and introduce a tape of highlights from other Thanksgivings. In a sound byte on Channel 6’s web site, one hears Roberts wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to Carter and Pat Merbreier, better known to the viewing audience as Captain and Mrs. Noah, who answer back with greetings of their own.
A float carrying a cadre of Channel 6 favorites was a staple of former parades and will be part of the 100th march, as will the parade mascot, Captain Drumstick, a balloon turkey.
Music and performance will abound as several bands, dance teams, choirs, and tap ensembles from throughout the country entertain.
Appearing amid them will be some of the country’s finest professional performers, all of them representing touring musicals that will play in Philadelphia via the Kimmel Center’s Broadway series at the Academy of Music and Forrest Theatre. These include actors from “Sponge Bob Squarepants: The Musical, arriving at the Forrest Dec. 3 – See next week’s column for how a Nickelodeon cartoon series was transformed to a Broadway show – “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Cirque Dreams Holidazzle,” and “Donna: The Donna Summer Musical.”
These national companies are joined by some regional troupes such as the fun-providing cast of “Shrek: The Musical" (Nichalas L. Parker, Ben Dibble, Julia Udine, Dana Orange, Adam Hoyek, Cary Michele Miller) from Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre and dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker.”
Celebrities extending their best holiday wishes include “Good Morning America” weather anchor Ginger Zee, Disney Channel favorite Billy Flanigan,” initial “America’s Got Talent” winner Bianca Ryan, perennial radio and dance party host Jerry Blavat, and entertainers Kathy Sledge, Yolanda Adams, Il Divo, Carson Kressley, DaVonda Simmons, Macy Gray, Julian King, Meg Donnelly, and Aloe Blacc.
Also appearing will be the reigning Miss Pennsylvania, Miss Delaware, and Miss New Jersey as well as local sports mascots, most notably the Phillie Phanatic and Gritty.
The parade is officially called the 6ABC-Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade in recognition of the station that salvaged the Thanksgiving march from likely extinction and Dunkin’ Donuts their main sponsor/partner in this year’s endeavor.
In addition to producing the parade, Channel 6 allies with various groups to collect canned and packaged goods for the needy as part of an annual Food Drive. Food items can be brought to the parade route where there will be places to deposit donations and local Boy Scouts to help collect them.
Finding fun with Yoda
Yoda is the reason I intend to keep watching “The Mandalorian,” the Disney+ series that extends the “Star Wars” franchise to include this program about a bounty hunter operating on a far, bleak end of the galaxy.
One of The Mandalorian’s bounties is a 50-year-old that turns to be a baby Yoda, obviously a member of slow-developing species.
Until this Yoda figure emerges “The Mandalorian” plays like a typical, unremarkable Western set in the future and wrapped in the garb of the distant Space Age rather than spurs and chaps.
Adventure and suspense are not as rife as familiar “Star Wars” setting such as a saloon where various species congregate and argue to the death, constantly malfunctions spacecrafts, and dusty red mountains interspersed with seedy towns and various gadgets.
I did not find “The Mandalorian’s” story compelling or suspenseful. Except for my curiosity about Yoda’s origins and how he fits in with the Mandalorians primary story, I would have tuned out of the series early on.
Yoda, if it is Yoda, and I suspect it is, keeps me going. I don’t care much for or about the Mandalorian, but Yoda captured my affection and interest.
I truly want to see how he becomes such a sage advisor to Luke Skywalker and others. I want to see if there’s a reward in store for the Mandalorian or if he is merely dispatched week after week to bizarre lands to cover or quell the inconsequential.
It’s hard to cheer for a character that’s distant. I never felt invested in “The Mandalorian,” his many impressive skills, or his occasional dilemmas because in the three episodes shown so far, he come across as one who prefers to profit solely from doing a job without asking questions or wondering whether the job is beneficial in any but the short run rather than a hero with an independent spirit.
To be fair, I see some of that individuality, which differs from lonesome single-mindedness coming, but for now, the Mandelorian is too lacking in personality or wit to be appealing. “The Mandalorian,” as a series, seems devoid of charm and sorely misses the grand humor that is so much a part of the fabric of movies from the “Star Wars” canon. The character played by Pedro Pascal, is too laconic to capture one’s imagination. The TV program cannot muster the sense of fun with which George Lucas endowed the three original movies from yikes, 35 or more years ago.
Adventure and novelty are not enough to carry the day. The Mandalorian’s battles are too derivative and too sporadic. They don’t seem dangerous or even threatening. A skirmish with the Jawas, a group of jabbering thieves, seemed more formulaic than dramatic, or even funny. Dark and bleak seems to be the prevailing mood for the sake of being dark and bleak rather than to set a tone for the time, allegedly fraught with tension because a regime change has occurred that appears to be equally oppressive and anarchistic.
Like a ‘60s Western, “The Mandalorian” seems episodic, but it needs high points and more reasons to root for the title character, who is sometimes called Nando by the agent who gives him bounty commissions, played by Carl Weathers, but has no defined name, and who is never seen outside of his armor, which makes him come across as a generic mercenary.
Yes, the character is quick and shrewd in combat, but as happens in many action pictures today, the battles happen quickly and fussily and don’t grant time to focus on what is going on beyond fierce mayhem. I prefer more focus of the kind that generates actual suspense and nail-biting worry for the safety and survival of the lead. “The Mandalorian” is more content to rely on the various creatures of various species and the alien setting of the “Star Wars” universe than to pull you in.
The infant Yoda is his self-powered floating bassinette, and with his display of mental power, makes the difference.
Yoda is beloved and familiar. Even if the baby we see, immature at age 50 by human standards, turns out to be a forebearer or descendent of Yoda, he excites interest and sympathy. He piques our sentiment and our admiration, even at a time before he can speak, and we can’t tell whether he’ll blurt out something in Yoda’s mixed-up grammatical pattern.
Learning what happens to Yoda will bring me back to “The Mandalorian” for Episode 4. If it wasn’t for the esteemed sage, I’d dismiss “The Mandalorian” as same-old, same-old, a story that follows a paradigm and isn’t as original or engaging enough to make me a steady viewer.
This must be Dolly Parton week.
On Friday, Netflix began streaming a multi-part series called “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings,” in which the singer appears in episodes that mirror the stories in her songs.
Tomorrow, NBC (Channel 10) airs a special variety programs featuring Dolly at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.
Other than looking in on the always-entertaining Parton, about the only premiering series than grabs my attention this week is “Servant,” an Apple+ offering that features Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbell as a couple that sublimates losing its newborn child by replacing it with a doll.
Normally, this kind of science fantasy wouldn’t attract me, but besides starring Ambrose, whose work I know from the theater, and including “Harry Potter’s” Rupert Grint in its cast, “Servant” is by local filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, who hasn’t really had a major hit since “The Sixth Sense” in 1999 – well maybe “Unbreakable” in 2000 – and whom I root for to repeat that triumph.
Oh, and Sunday brings new episodes of “Brain Games” to the National Geographic Channel. This show, and its host, Jason Silva, never fail to fascinate me.
Interesting fact (at least one I find interesting): While I was interviewing Silva several seasons ago, when “Brain Games” taped at the Franklin Institute, he and I said we both know where we would live if we could choose any place in the world. We decided to write our answers and compare them.
Yes, you guessed it. We each wrote the exact same place, the Vondelpark section of Amsterdam.
Eerie, right? What you see on “Brain Games” is eerier.