Saturday, December 31, 2016

RIP William Christopher

This awful awful year just will not end.   Bill Christopher, who played Father Mulcahy, has passed away at 84.

A sweeter, nicer, more gentle man you'd never find.  He was an absolute pleasure to work with.  And he took a thankless role and turned it into a vibrant character.

I've always felt that Bill had the single greatest moment of MASH.  It was during "the Interview" episode when Father Mulcahy says this:

When the doctors cut into a patient and it's cold, you know the way it is now, today steam rises from the body and the doctor will will warm himself over the open wound.   Could anyone look on that and not feel changed? 

I never thought that line could make me any sadder, but from now on it will.  RIP Bill Christopher. 

And what's very eerie, Bill died one year to the day that Wayne Rogers died.  

I love LA... when it's empty

The best week of the year in Los Angeles is always this one, the final seven days of the year. More property taxes and obligations are on tap for me in January, but here on the last day of December I can bask in the glory of the city that Zorro once called home.

First of all, the town is practically empty. Most people from the industry are gone, terrorizing the help in Hawaii and Aspen. There’s very little traffic. You can actually make the fifteen minute drive between Brentwood and LAX on the 405 Freeway in only forty minutes. It’s like you’re flying! Hard to get into restaurants? Not this week. Spago will even make reservations for people they don’t know. And at 7:00 not 10:30. (Unfortunately, their chefs are probably in Aspen and Hawaii.)

Los Angeles is so deserted I heard of a friend who found a parking place at the Grove shopping mall. But that’s still just a rumor.

For industry guild folks there are free movies. In the hopes of snaring nominations from any organization that gives out awards (even the WGA), studios let eligible voters and guests attend contending movies gratis. It’s also their way of giving back to the community. However, the nanosecond the nominations are announced this lovely gesture ends instantly. And they go back to the business at hand – busting the unions.

Most of the city’s attention this week is on the upcoming Rose Parade and Bowl. If you have six friends over to your apartment to play poker, the Rose Queen and her court will come and speak to your group.  This year both events will be held on Monday, January 2nd, because you can't drive a flowered vehicle in Pasadena on Sundays.  Blue laws still exist. 

The Rose Bowl is the "Granddaddy of Bowl Games."   I forget the corporate sponsor this year.  The combatants are Penn State and USC. And if I'm not mistaken, again we have to suffer through Brent Musburger doing the play-by-play.  Keith Jackson, please come back!!!

Highlight of the Rose Bowl festivities is the Lawry’s Beef Bowl. Lawry’s is the greatest prime rib restaurant in the world (a more popular attraction to Japanese tourists than Disneyland). Every year they invite each team and feed them as much prime rib as they can eat. Usually the winning team tops out at around 630 pounds of beef. During the Rose Bowl, you’ll notice half the players sleeping the bench. That’s why.  They've served over 20,000 players since 1956.  Not one salad.

This will be the fifth Rocking New Years Eve without Dick Clark (although his name is still in the title).  Which means another three minutes of air time for Ryan Seacrest -- who really needs it. 

The Rose Parade is Monday morning.  Idiots have been staking out spots along the parade route since Thanksgiving. Every local channel will broadcast the parade. KTLA had been getting like a 50 share.  But that was when Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards co-hosted.  They both made horrible career moves by getting older so despite their popularity they're gone.  The new hosts are Leeza Gibbons and Mark Steines.  I know Mark and wish him well.   But I'll miss Bob & Stephanie.  Well... I'll miss Stephanie. 

Be safe and sane tonight.  Happy New Year everybody.

And for my fellow Angelinos thinking of freezing out on Colorado Boulevard – you realize the parade is on television, right!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday Questions

Last Friday Questions of the year.

David leads off:

The Simpsons has just hit 600 episodes, has been renewed through season 30, and the 13 day fxx marathon is ongoing. So what is your current opinion of The Simpsons? It's endurance? The popular opinion of its drop in quality? The movie? And any other thoughts you may have on the unstoppable juggernaut you once worked on? Given the opportunity would you ever go back and write another episode?

I’ll be honest, I rarely watch it these days. It’s not on a season pass and Sunday nights I’m usually away from the TV so months can go by between catching new episodes. When I do watch I still enjoy it. The show is certainly not as “fresh” as it was 550 episodes ago, but the writers are all very funny (I still know a few) and I get the sense that they’re still trying, unlike FAMILY GUY, which to me is just on fumes.

Under the right circumstances, sure, I’d be happy to write another SIMPSONS episode. But I’m very proud that the episodes David Isaacs and I did were from the early Sam Simon days when the show was new and firing on all cylinders.

cd1515 is next.

Just saw a few minutes of Joel McHale's new sitcom, which has him in an office with a bunch of millennials and there's a TON of facebook/instagram humor (or attempts at humor).

Just as Murphy Brown got dated with the Dan Quayle references, are shows like this dumb to go down that road, or smart to tailor it to today's young viewers? (if there are any)

Networks are flailing, desperately trying to attract Millennials. At this point they don’t give a shit whether the show has a shelf-life of eleven minutes if it’ll draw the right demographic for its first run.

But they sign a Faustian contract, because yes, all of those topical pop culture references date the show instantly, and its chances for a long run syndication deal are slim to none.

From ChipO:

Inspired by the brilliance of Bill King, thank you for bringing him to our attention:

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, and all the facts are in ... are you noticing a plethora of clichés in lieu of valid commentary?

The way you phrased your question made me laugh. Yes, clichés substitute for insight, but that’s the way it’s always been. There are just more games and more mediocre talent. And that extends to the play-by-play ranks as well. Watching all the bowl games over the last week it’s shocking how plastic and interchangeable these play-by-play guys are, and how inarticulate most of these “analysts” are. At least the clichés we can understand.

Barry Traylor asks:

I have noticed that during football season the shows that have the misfortune of being on Sunday evening have their shows pushed back much later. What does that do to the ratings of those shows?

In many cases, it elevates their ratings. Football is a great lead-in, especially following an exciting finish, and the primetime lineup benefits.

The only time it doesn’t is when a game goes so long that a show is pre-empted. This happened to us with BECKER. It was the 100th episode, a special occasion, David Isaacs and I wrote it and I directed it, and the show put on a big celebratory party. A room was reserved at a nice hotel, monitors were set up, champagne flowed, the whole staff was there – and the show was pre-empted at the last moment. We ended up having to watch a tape of it. And then it quietly aired the next week with zero fanfare or promotion. But that was pretty much how CBS treated BECKER its entire run.

What’s your 2017 Friday Question?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

LA LA LAND -- My review

Readers have been wondering why I haven’t been reviewing movies. Simple. I haven’t seen any.  I was too involved with my play and Tetris Classic.  Well, now I’m catching up. So here’s another one:

LA LA LAND is a bright Technicolor homage of the great movie musicals of the past while still maintaining the sensibility and vibe of the present. Not easy to do.
Visually, the film is gorgeous. If you like colors – wow. It’s like being inside Jimi Hendrix head. The opening production number on the crowded freeway was spectacular. Best opening since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN although the subject matter was, y’know, a little different.

Writer/Director Damien Chazelle (who gave us the fabulous WHIPLASH) has created a love letter to my favorite city the way Woody Allen has so often done with New York. (Thank you for not showing City of Industry.) It’s always sunny. It’s always bright and vivid. There’s always a big orchestra when you want to break out into song.

This is a film you will want to see on a big screen with THX sound. Your phone and ear buds won’t do it justice. If you’re lucky, the shit head next to you won’t be texting through the musical numbers.

The story takes a while to get going but ultimately it sucks you in. And the film is just brimming with interesting ideas.

The music was catchy and the lyrics were clever. Too bad the composers didn’t write HAMILTON. They might have won an Oscar for LA LA LAND.

Stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone could not be more charming or adorable.

So all this is leading up to me saying this is a super great movie and should win every award there is, right? Wrong. Because for all of its many attributes there is one small problem.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone can’t sing.  They can't sing a lick.

And that’s kind of important since this is a… well, MUSICAL.

They dance well, their acting is always top notch, they have chemistry, Gosling’s piano playing looks very credible (I don’t play the piano so I’m no expert. For all I know he was really just playing “Turkey in the Straw” and they dubbed in the real music.) But their voices are thin, they’re often off-key, and I believe the film really suffers from it.  I'd give anything for Simon Cowell to review this movie. 

You'd think Hollywood would have learned its lesson with Russell Crowe in LES MISERABLES.

Hey, singing is important in musicals. If you want to be an NFL quarterback you have to be able to throw a football. If you want to be “Miss America” you need to be a woman (although maybe not). There are certain requirements that must be met and for a musical, singing is one of them. Actually, singing is all of them. In the critics’ reviews I’m surprised so few of them noted that. To me it was sorta MAJOR. Superb singers are not hard to find.  THE VOICE finds twenty every year.

Great singing can lift a very good entertaining musical to a thrilling event. LA LA LAND was a well-crafted confection but never really transported me. 

I just kept thinking – same movie with a young Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway and the film would soar through the ionosphere.

My other thought: I imagine Natalie Wood watching LA LA LAND from the great beyond (they get Academy screeners up there but you go to Hell if you’re caught copying them) and saying, “Fuck! They overdubbed me in WEST SIDE STORY and I sang way better than that bitch!”

No movie this Oscar season has been as highly anticipated. And lots of people (and reviewers) love it. But I was surprised how many people were disappointed. The question is: Do you give it thumbs up because it’s very good or thumbs down because it falls short of greatness? I’m going with thumbs up. Natalie would go thumbs down.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

JACKIE -- My review

As readers of this blog know, I was really looking forward to JACKIE. She’s a fascinating public figure, I love anything ‘60s, and I once brushed against her knees. The reviews have been glowing and Natalie Portman (as Jackie Kennedy) is considered the frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar. What more did I need?

Ultimately, a can of Red Bull.

JACKIE is a meticulous film. And that’s a compliment the same way “he has good posture” is. But let me back up.

First off, you can skip the first five minutes. It’s just vanity production logos. There must be eight of them.

Once the film actually starts, Natalie Portman is amazing. You find yourself totally focused on her performance. The voice, the mannerisms – you’re in Meryl Streep country here. And that holds your interest for three or four minutes. But then you start settling into the narrative and in another three or four minutes you realize “this is slow.” Not just “slow” but “slowwwwwwwwwwwwwww.” The most entertaining part of the movie so far has been the vanity cards.

Not since 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY has there been so many lonnnnnng tracking shots of a character walking through large rooms; the camera on her back as furniture goes by. Director Pablo Larrain must’ve studied Kubrick but copied his worst traits. At times it felt like “Let’s do THE SHINING but with the White House.”

Larrain does pay attention to detail. We see almost moment by moment how Mrs. Kennedy copes with that excruciating weekend when JFK was shot in 1963. But never did I feel really engrossed. Every beat was so mannered, so… meticulous.

I realize part of the problem was the movie just did not meet my expectations. I was anticipating a film about her life, and instead it was primarily centered on the events of that horrific weekend. Having lived through it at the time I didn’t relish revisiting the nightmare… in slow motion. Meanwhile, I wonder if young people who were not alive at the time were able to get the full impact of how unbearable that weekend was from this film. Maybe they did. I don’t know how many of them were even curious enough to see it.

And the music didn’t help. The score consisted essentially of two parts: A four or five note dirge played over and over again, or a three or four note creepy-scary stanza that played over and over when the dirge wasn’t blaring.

The overall package was a cold, distant, “art film.” But many critics were effusive. So it could be that it’s a great movie that I just didn't get. I hated CAROL last year for the same reason.

If I had one takeaway from JACKIE it was how different the country was back then. An entire nation mourned a beloved president, regardless of politics, religions, states, or economic status. At the time we mourned for him. Now I mourn for us.

Tomorrow: My review of LA LA LAND.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

RIP Carrie Fisher

2016 continues to be the worst year ever.  Carrie Fisher died this morning.  She was only 60.  Carrie was a wonderfully funny person who led a rollercoaster of a life.

For awhile we were email buddies.  Her missives were always wickedly funny.  She had the world's greatest bullshit detector.  And God was she smart.  

At some point she stopped answering my emails.   Eventually I just stopped corresponding.

A few years ago she wrote an autobiography and mentioned how the shock treatments she had received to combat depression were a God send.   But there were side effects.  One she mentioned was that the treatments erased some memory of people in her life.  It's like part of her mental address book was deleted.   Anyway, in the book she apologizes to those she no longer remembers.  I was in that group I guess.  But losing the relationship was a happy tradeoff for her improving the quality of her life.

Last time I saw her was a few years ago when she was performing a one-woman show.   It was pure Carrie -- honest, insightful, poignant, harrowing, and hilarious.  Oh, and she sang!

Carrie will of course always be remembered for STAR WARS, but for years she was an A-list screenplay doctor.  You've doubtless loved her work without even knowing it.

Damn!  60 is way too fucking young.  

My heart goes out to her mother, daughter, and brother.  And to all of us who were lucky enough to know her.  She may have forgotten me but I will always remember her.

Is Jerry Lewis a dick?

There has been a lot of internet discussion about this recent interview of Jerry Lewis:

A guy who used to fill 21 hours of live television can’t give more than one word answers?

Jerry has his defenders who point to his body of work, which is indeed extensive and (in many cases) impressive. He has also raised a lot of money for Muscular Dystrophy. I will happily give him all that.

But he is also an insufferable crank. For God sakes, he’s done enough interviews to know what he did was asinine. For a brief time he HOSTED a talk show (very brief -- he was epicly bad). And it’s not his first rodeo. Having been interviewed before THOUSANDS of times I would submit he knows better.

He simply chose to be a prick.

That’s a lot different from someone who is just painfully shy in front of a microphone. I had one of those when I was broadcasting for the Baltimore Orioles.

Remember Harold Baines? Great hitter, outstanding ballplayer. Played mostly for the White Sox and A’s (but also Texas, Cleveland, and ironically, Baltimore). He was a six-time All-Star.

Anyway, he was playing for the A's when I was with the O's and when Oakland came to town I thought he’d be a terrific pre-game show guest. After all, he was from Maryland.

I approached him, he was very gracious, agreed to do the interview (although I could sense he was not wild about the idea). We sat down in the dugout, I turned on the recorder, began the interview, and every answer was one or two words. I usually prepared six or seven questions (for a four minute interview) and rarely got to them all. In this case I went through them in one minute. Oy. It was painful. But it was very clear to me that he was just ill at ease. He wasn’t just fucking with me (as some ballplayers will cheerfully do). I ultimately didn’t use the interview and knew better for the future. But my point is, I never held it against him. Facing a hundred mile an hour fastball wasn’t nearly as intimidating as a gawky nerd announcer with a microphone.

But that’s not Jerry. That’s not “Mr. Showbiz.” He obviously knew better. And for my money, I don’t care who you are, or how famous or important you are, there’s such a thing as simple human kindness and common courtesy. So I don’t care if he’s beloved by the French, or was a comedy God, or at one time was America’s most popular entertainer – when people ask me about Jerry Lewis:


(Hey, I was able to answer in one word.)  

Monday, December 26, 2016

ROGUE ONE and ARRIVAL -- my review

I saw ARRIVAL one night and then ROGUE ONE the next so I thought I would review them both together because, well… they’re the exact same movie.

Both are about space and co-star Forest Whitaker.

Yes, there are subtle differences. I’ll try to delineate them without getting confused. One is a slow schmaltzy cerebral film trying only semi-successfully to convey complex concepts and esoteric ideas while the other is a combination war movie/video game. I think ARRIVAL was the former.

Both were at times confusing. And people wore orange space suits.

One starred Jeremy Renner, who had absolutely nothing to do in the film. The other starred Riz Ahmed, who was the kid in THE NIGHT OF, and found himself in prison again. Oh no. Now I’m REALLY confused.

One starred Amy Adams and the other toplined Felicity Jones. One was badass and the other was shot in profile a lot. Both saved the world, but only one will get Oscar consideration. It pays to have a nice nose.

Both films were prequels – one to the original 1977 STAR WARS movie and the other to THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT (which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1962).

Both movies were somewhat derivative. One had elements of CONTACT and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, the other was a highlight reel of all the previous STAR WARS action scenes, three STAR TREK space dogfights, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, THE LONGEST DAY, KELLY’S HEROES, and THE IRON GIANT.

One difference I was able to detect: ROGUE ONE was the film with a great last hour battle sequence. I know that for sure because of the two, that was the film I was able to stay awake for.

Beyond that, the two films were just a jumble of gobbledygook technical terms, soldiers running with machine guns, mythology, evil emperors, space aliens that looked like Donald Trump, daughters in trouble, CGI effects, scope, and of course, Forest Whitaker.

One aspires to lift the human spirit; the other hopes to knock off MOANA.

STAR WARS movies are always a little problematic for me because of the confusion factor. Another example: One of the STARS WARS chapters featured Natalie Portman. And this year she shows up in JACKIE (which is the exact same movie as the STAR WARS chapter).   Pictured left: Here she is in (I believe) JACKIE, but it might be STAR WARS.  It's just too close to call.

What’s a filmgoer to do?

But in all seriousness, ROGUE ONE was a fun ride and ARRIVAL was an ambitious Oscar-bait film that didn’t really fulfill its promise. And JACKIE I review Wednesday.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

My Christmas gift to you

It's the greatest Christmas song performance ever. Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" originally recorded on the Phil Spector Christmas album and performed every year on the David Letterman Show. Here is a cool video of the "behind-the-scenes" making of the performance along with a compilation of performances down through the years. If this doesn't bring you joy this day I don't know what will. Happy holidays everybody.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What to get a TV writer this Christmas

Here’s a holdover question that is apropos for the holiday season. From Susan:

I have a good friend who writes for a tv show. What's a good gift to get for a tv writer, especially one who's out of work right now (between seasons, hoping to get picked up for next season) and is working on her own projects for a while? I got her a book on writing once that I love ("Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott) but it didn't go over well - she said she doesn't really like to read writing books, since she already has her own process that works well for her. Any hints or help?

Yeah, writers generally don’t take well to writing/motivation books. PAY THEM! That’s all the damn motivation they need.

You can’t get them clothes because most of their wardrobe comes from show jackets and shirts. I still get compliments on my IT’S ALL RELATIVE fleece.

I polled a number of writers and this seemed to be the general consensus.

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, 20 years old bourbon.


If you want to really do something for writers, the WGA Library, which is an amazing resource of scripts and Hollywood literary history could use your help in expanding.  Your tax deductible donation will go a long way to preserving our television and film history.   You can even find scripts David Isaacs and I wrote.  Here's where you can go to help.   Thanks much.  

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday Questions

Friday questions just in time for the holidays. 

Michael has two:

1) Any writing jobs do you regret not accepting?

There was one I regretted until about a year ago.   You'll see why soon enough.

We were offered the job to write the COSBY pilot but had to turn it down because AfterMASH had gotten picked up for a second season and we were still locked in.  It would have been a great credit THEN, but now I'm not at all upset that my name is not associated with Mr. Cosby. 

Otherwise, there were some new shows that offered us a guarantee of 13 episodes and were canceled after 3,  meaning they had to just pay us off for the remaining ten.   We missed some golden opportunities there.

And then of course, walking away from comedy goddess Traci Lords

2) When you wrote for The Simpsons, did you approach it like a live-action show or did you try to include things that only could be done in animation?

We did treat it as live-action because the characters had to have real emotions. The animation part allowed us tremendous freedom and we tried to take advantage of that – doing scenes you couldn’t do (or afford) otherwise, but in our heads we were writing live-action.
If you overheard any of our internal discussions about the characters you would think we were talking about real people -- damaged real people but real just the same.

But that’s just us. I can’t speak for any other SIMPSONS writers (who are all welcome to chime in).  

sophomorecritic wonders:

How do you ensure writers aren't slacking off on weeks where they're not writing the episode? What specifically are they doing on weeks when the show isn't written by them?

We put ankle bracelets on them and monitor their whereabouts at all times.  Those bitches work for us!

Seriously, when you’re on staff of a show your day is spent in the writers room with everybody else – coming up with notions, breaking stories, rewriting this week’s show, re-writing next week’s. Depending on the show and time of the season, sometime if you’ve got a script assignment they let you skip your room responsibilities and just go off and write the draft. But more often than not you have to write the script on your own time.  So the 80 hour week becomes a 100 hour week.  And that's fine if the show goes into syndication and you get residuals forever.  If you killed yourself to write that MAN WITH A PLAN episode I'm sorry. 

Here’s one from Jose:

Do tv writers typically get paid weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly?

They get paid LATE most of the time. That’s the real answer. If you’re on staff you’re generally paid so much per episode. That’s totaled and rationed out every two weeks. But I’m sure different studios have different pay schedules.

The only thing they all do is pay you late. Or not at all.

In going back through contracts my agent recently discovered that David and I were still owed money from a pilot we sold four years ago. “Oops”, the studio said.

And finally, from Anonymous: (please leave a name when asking a question. It won’t go on your police record.)

What I'm curious about now is whether you have had to wade through eccentricity more often than not. In interacting with the actors and directors and producers - and hey maybe writers too - would you say that there are more eccentrics working in the biz or that they are the exception?

Eccentricities are certainly tolerated more in this industry than others. The creative process is nebulous at best. But for the most part everyone is just normally neurotic and crazy.

As for eccentricities: There was a writer who could only work in the valley. He couldn’t go into Los Angeles. So he could never work at 20th or Sony or Paramount or pitch HBO or SHOWTIME or FOX.  Needless to say, his agent was thrilled.

I know actors who don’t like to make eye contact with anyone. Others who have to be the last one to enter the stage before a runthrough (but that’s just diva shit).

My favorite was a certain TV director. She directed multi-camera shows. Directors have a podium to set down their scripts. The podium is always on wheels so you can roll it from scene to scene.

This director had her own. She had a hobby horse built with a music stand for the script. All day long she sat on this hobby horse and rolled around the set.  It's like Annie Oakley rides in to save your show.

What’s your Friday Question and have a fabulous Christmas weekend?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

You've got to see it...

Welcome to picture day -- the gorgeous and goofy.  Maui, December 2016.  To go along with yesterday's travelogue.
Security at the Grand Wailea breaking into my room when my key didn't work.  At least I think they were security.
Sunset at the Grand Wailea.
Not IN the mall, ON the mall.  Chickens apparently can't read because...
This was at Coconuts.  They were all over the strip mall -- answering the question:  "Why did the chicken cross the road?"  Because he was suicidal.
You gotta take a helicopter ride.
Our pilot.  Would you get in a flying thing with him?  He was actually great.
A couple of beauty shots from the chopper.
Can you see any sharks?
I'll spare you the seventy-five others.
Our waiter at Nick's Fish Market just before he set his sleeve on fire.  What a show!
Yes, it rained, but I was prepared.
Everybody takes pictures of their food.  Why not me?
This was after the waiter created this masterpiece and before he set himself on fire.
Feeding Rebecca.  With me and Rebecca's dad.
The highest rating a restaurant can have.  We do live in the age of "It's good enough" don't we?
I did a little writing while in Maui.
The sun setting on the over-privileged.
A Jewish cosabella.
People enjoying breakfast next to a construction site.
Annie & Jon stealing Christmas presents from the Kea Lani lobby.
A yoga class.  What position is "check for messages?"
A beauty shot.
Another beauty shot.
The Sashimi Napoleon is AWESOME.   The Soup of Yesterday is okay.
Doesn't this look like a warning that there is bacon in the ocean?
Always great to watch a football game in the snow when it's 85 and sunny.
Had to end with another sunset.  Aloha!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mele Kalikimaka -- a travelogue

We just love Maui! It’s hard to spoil our enjoyment, even when American Airlines sent our luggage to Seattle, it rained upon our arrival, and we were locked out of our room at the Grand Wailea. But hey, that’s any Levine vacation.

We always go the beginning of December because no one’s there. Once the hordes start arriving for Christmas we’re gone. The last two weeks are nuts. Every lounge chair is like a Snickers bar in a fat farm.

Making decisions based on Hawaiian weather forecasts is like buying stocks based on Tarot cards. They have no idea. In their hourly report I’m surprised they get “night” right. Suggestion Accu-Weather people: Open a window.

Don’t tell anyone but “cloudy” in Hawaii is almost as nice as “sunny.” Sure you can get the same crippling sunburn where you’re begging for death, but it’s cooler, you’re not fighting Jeffrey Katzenberg for shade, and the sunsets are more striking (if that’s even possible).

Tourism in Maui is at a record-breaking high. But fewer Canadians are aloha’ing this year. Their dollar is in sad shape. But all that will change come January when half of America relocates there.

Favorite thing to do: Ask Siri directions. “Left on Ki’i’oni’oni Place, then right on Lumi’au’au Street” becomes “Left on Keeohoheeohnoloni Place and right on Loomanoomaloon… aw fuck it. Ask someone who gives a shit!”

There was a Maui women’s NCAA basketball tournament and several of the teams stayed at the Grand Wailea. You’d think Oregon State could find a different name to call their women’s basketball team other than the Beavers.

Friday night: Flash flood warning.

The first Saturday we splurged and rented a cosabella, which is really two attached lounge chairs with a hood. Shade costs more than Maui Wowie. So we’re relaxing, it’s serene, we’re reading our books when suddenly BAM! Loud Country music begins blaring from speakers now set up just behind us. It was the second annual Maui Singer-Songwriter festival – a passing parade of musicians serenading the pool area – all twanging the exact same damn song. She done him wrong, so he cheated on her, now there’s a custody battle for the kids and Chevy Tahoe. Meanwhile, no one at the pool was paying the slightest attention. Wrong crowd. You don’t schedule a Trump rally at Barbra Streisand’s house.

They sell fine (read: expensive) jewelry at the kiddie pool at the Grand Wailea, and believe it or not, idiot women buy it. Even rappers know better. 14 K Diamond rings are sold right next to the Shave Ice machine. Recently a woman lost a $100,000 ring in the water and thirty-five hotel employees ran to look for it. (Talk about service!) Shockingly, no one “found” it.

Saturday night: Flash flood warning.

After a couple of nights at the Grand Wailea, Debby and I moved to a nearby villa and awaited the arrival of our son Matt, his wife Kim, and our first grandchild, Rebecca (is six months too early for surfing lessons?). Our daughter Annie and her husband Jonathan would join us a few days later. I would tell you how many days we were there but you’d hate us. The villa was lovely. We promptly locked ourselves out on the lanai and had to call security. “The Beverly Hillbillies go to Hawaii.”

Then it took us four days to figure out how to turn off the ceiling fans ignoring the remotes that were only in the rooms with ceiling fans.

Monday night: Flash flood warning.

The Kihei police station in the Kihei Town Center is now an Indian restaurant. Let the crime spree begin!

My son knows how to party. His flip-flips had a bottle opener in them.

“Panties in Paradise” in the Gateway Center had a sale. That’s the only reason I was in there. Hey, I’ve got to bring back gifts for my fellow UCLA faculty members, don’t I?

Wednesday night: Flash flood warning.

While taking our morning walk along the beach one day we bumped into my accountant (who was staying at a more expensive place). He said, “Have a great trip, and you might want to get used to the taste of Spam.” I wonder what he meant by that?

We always hit Matteo’s Osteria. The only reason to go to Hawaii is for the pasta. Our friend Michael was named the Maui Server of the Year – an award that still ranks higher than a Golden Globe. Not sure what exactly Michael received, but I’m guessing it’s either a handsome plaque or a twenty-dollar tip.

Thursday: No flash flood warning. Just a tsunami alert.

So taking stock: A possible tsunami and both Matt & Kim were sick. But again, that’s any Levine vacation.

Our unit was considered a “penthouse,” which should have brought us some comfort during the tsunami alert except our “penthouse” was on the first floor. What exactly does “penthouse” mean in Hawaii?

Very relieved the tsunami didn’t materialize. I saw the movie. Other than Naomi Watts whooshing by there would be no upside to it.

Annie & Jon finally arrived, having been routed through Seattle. The airline must’ve thought they were our luggage.

Every girl on the beach now has a tattoo. Imagine a remake of those Beach Party movies but with biker chicks.

Friday night: Flash flood warning.

The health department is not as stringent as they are in Los Angeles. Instead of restaurants being rated A, B, or C, the highest grade you get in Maui is PASS. That’s reassuring. The grades are PASS, CONDITIONAL PASS, and ANY PLACE SELLING POI.

Annie posted this on Facebook: “Matt Levine and Kim Shultz left Jon and I alone with their baby for a day. Big mistake. Huge.”

Perfect for the series I always proposed. Just as there were “Muppet Babies,” I always thought a great series would be “Cheers Babies.” She could even keep her real name.

Sunday: Flash flood. One to two inches of torrential rain an hour. The Honoapiiani Highway (try saying that, Siri) was closed. Cabana prices were reduced. It was the worst night of rain they had on Maui in over three years. (ANY Levine vacation.)

I took the brunt of the storm. Watching the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW in color on CBS several lines of dialogue were obscured during a flash flood warning. And an annoying scroll appeared at the top of the screen telling people to evacuate. Otherwise, there were no injuries or cosabellas washed out to sea.

Waiters are so programmed these days in waiter-speak that they even ask sharks, “So how were the first few bites?”

Certainly a trip highlight was a one-hour helicopter ride over the island. Despite our pilot being Otto, the bus driver from THE SIMPSONS, the ride was spectacular. Volcanoes, waterfalls, lush forests, a valley only accessible by air, the polar bear from LOST; every ten seconds another startling view. They don’t let you take selfie-sticks on board so that cut the number of passengers way down. It’s a phenomenal experience and now I never have to drive to Hana.

We wanted to see snow but there was none at the top of Haleakala and we didn’t fly over the Queen Ka’ahumanu Shopping Center.

Nick’s Fishmarket in the Kea Lani Hotel features the dessert of death --Strawberries Panzini. It’s a plate of strawberries engulfed in blue flames. Have ordered it twice and both times the waiter has set his sleeve on fire. The trouble is it’s hard to get coffee refills when your server has been rushed to Urgent Care.

“Goggles” is not a good look for me. Even fish were laughing.

Speaking of which: Coconuts fish tacos are a must. Note: They do not serve chickens – either as an entrée or customer. There are live chickens walking around their outdoor patio. This is not uncommon in Kihei strip malls. Suddenly, grading a restaurant PASS starts to make sense.

And then there’s Sansei for the best sushi you’ve ever had. The keys are: make reservations early and never ask what exactly you’re eating.

The old Puunene Sugar Mill closed. I will miss those smokestacks always spewing out God knows what. It’s a little bit of Pittsburgh in paradise. They say the mill opened in 1870 and now it’s kaput. Goddamn Splenda!

Matt, Kim, and the baby headed home last Thursday. Their non-stop Alaska flight from Maui to San Francisco turned into a direct flight to Honolulu, where it was then cancelled. They had to scramble and get on a United redeye and kill six hours in the airport. Great fun with a six-month-old. (I’m telling you – ANY…)

Annie & Jon didn’t want to leave. They were considering barricading the door and becoming squatters. Jon: “Special instructions for Amazon deliveries: Go to the front balcony, throw it over.”

All in all, a wonderful trip. No one lost a diamond ring in the ocean, our rental car had brakes, and for the first time in years no one had to see a local doctor! Hopefully you too can soon go to Hawaii. Or a Cineplex showing MOANA. When I saw that movie and all the trials Moana went through, I thought, “Yep, any Levine vacation.”

Aloha and Mele Kalikimaka

(More photos tomorrow!)