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The 8 Best '90s Sitcom-Character Reunions on TV

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Justin Lubin/NBC

By Lauren Hansen

Man, do we love our '90s sitcoms. Boy Meets World gets the green light for a spin-off/sequel hybrid show on the Disney Channel and fans go into an internet frenzy. While such reunion spin-offs are the exception, TV producers have taken notice of our torch-carrying for the old Must See TV and TGIF lineups and characters. Putting that nostalgia to good financial use, networks have made it a more regular practice to inject their struggling sitcoms with cameos that reunite beloved '90s characters.

Take Matthew Perry's new show Go On, for example. Despite high hopes and a fall premiere, the show's ratings are at an all-time low. Enter special guest star Courtney Cox. After months of hype, Cox will finally make her appearance Tuesday, portraying a manic widow set up on a blind date with Perry's character, widower Ryan King. See the teaser clip:

The likely ill-fated match is a play on their Friends' characters, Chandler Bing and Monica Geller, who went from best friends to secret lovers to a happily married couple on the long-running show. The pairing is a nostalgic cameo set-up done right. The rekindled on-screen romance between Cox and Perry is a "wink, wink" to devoted Friends fans who followed Monica and Chandler's love story and who might find themselves feeling an instant affection for these new characters. Meanwhile the network gets an episode-boost and may come away with a few more viewers who now care enough to check in on Perry's show.

What other former TV favorites are popping up in current sitcoms? Scroll down for more.

1. The Cosby Show sisters on Guys with Kids

The former characters: On the beloved sitcom The Cosby Show, Tempestt Bledsoe and Keshia Knight Pulliam played sisters Vanessa and Rudy Huxtable. Vanessa was Cliff and Clair Huxtable's studious fourth child who often fought with Rudy, the baby of the family, over childhood problems like their shared bedroom and telephone time.

The reunion set up: Nearly two decades later, the actresses are reunited as on-screen sisters in the NBC comedy Guys with Kids. Bledsoe is a starring character on the sitcom, playing Marnie, a hard-working mother of four and wife to her stay-at-home husband Gary (Anthony Anderson). In the season 1 finale Knight Pulliam appeared as Marnie's endearingly delusional kid sister Bridget, who ends up helping Gary with his start-up business.

Why it works: The pairing plays right into the hearts of viewers who might have liked to see where younger sister Rudy and older sister Vanessa ended up. Yes, they play different characters, but is it so much of a stretch to think that Rudy would be wildly optimistic about her minimal success? Her star within the Cosby family did always seem to shine the brightest, warranted or not.

2. Friends friends on Cougar Town

The former characters: On Friends, Jennifer Aniston played Rachel Green — a converted spoiled Daddy's girl and fashion enthusiast — the best friend and roommate to Courtney Cox's Monica Geller, the group's type-A mother hen who worked as a professional chef.

The reunion set up: On Cougar Town, Courtney Cox plays Jules, a divorced 40-something who dives back into the dating pool, and gets into wine-fueled hijinks with friends and an adult-age son. In the second season, Aniston guest starred as Glenn, Jules' new age-y therapist who confuses her clients' stories, basks in incense, and believes a purple crystal will prevent her from getting cancer.

Why it works: They may not play friends, but a therapist-client set up is second best. When Glenn relates a story about being an overprotective mom, Jules responds: "Soul mates!" Indeed, if you forget the names and (ahem, Courtney) the Botox, it's like Rachel and Monica are just catching up at a Florida Central Perk. The fact that the two actors are buddies in real life only adds to their easy going rapport. And the short guest stint allows Aniston to remind us that she's actually quite funny.

3. Home Improvement's father and son on Last Man Standing

The former characters: Tim Allen starred as Tim "The Tool-man" Taylor, an accident-prone know-it-all husband, father to three sons, and host of a home improvement show called Tool Time. Jonathan Taylor Thomas played Tim's wise-cracking middle son, Randy.

The reunion set up: In Last Man Standing, Tim Allen returns as a typical male, but this time instead of obsessing over power tools, his character, Mike Baxter, has a penchant for outdoor sports. And unlike Tim the Tool Man's fake family, which was dominated by boys, Mike's is overrun with women, four to be exact: His wife (Nancy Travis) and his three daughters. In the season 2 finale, Thomas plays Jon, a "hip" restaurant owner who hires Mike's daughter Kristin and then offers to drive her to work on her first day, which is how he comes to meet Mike.

Why it works: This time, the reunion's success isn't thanks to the characters' on-screen relationship, which is nothing like the one they shared on Home Improvement. Where Last Man Standing shines is in Mike and Jon's short interaction. Jon extends his hand to Mike who says, "Man, you look familiar." Jon says, "Well, you know, I used to work with Kristin." Mike, looking skeptical, says, "That's not it." A silly but appreciated inside joke. 

4. Dawson's Creek friends on Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23

The former characters: When Dawson's Creek went on for two seasons too long, Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) and Co. found themselves magically attending the same fictional, Boston-based college called Worthington. Busy Philipps played Audrey, a Los Angeles transplant who rooms with Joey, Dawson's best friend and one-time love. Audrey and Dawson have little shared camera time, save for one summer spent in Hollywood and the time Dawson visited her in rehab.

The reunion set-up: On Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23, James Van Der Beek plays an exaggerated version of himself who is best friends with Chloe (Krysten Ritter), said "B---- in Apartment 23." In the second season, James tries to orchestrate a Dawson's Creek reunion and so invites Busy Philipps playing Busy Philipps to a diner to talk about the possibility. But Busy, who arrives incognito, reveals she'd be shunned if any of the Creek actors knew they were meeting.(Click here to watch the clip.)

Why it works: Van Der Beek already impresses by freely mocking his stagnant career, so having the real-life Busy pile on only increases the laugh factor while acknowledging Creek fans' secret hope that one day cast members from the fast-talking teen show will in fact reunite. 

5. Roseanne's teenage loves on The Big Bang Theory

The former characters: Sara Gilbert played tomboy teen and middle daughter Darlene Conner in the hit comedy Roseanne. Half way through the series, Darlene meets David Healy (Johnny Galecki) a fellow high-schooler. The two embark on a long relationship through high school and college, including a few break ups, until they eventually get married and have a baby.

The reunion set-up: On the popular CBS show The Big Bang Theory, Johnny Galecki stars as Leonard, a physicist with an I.Q. of 173. Sara Gilbert has a recurring role as Leslie Winkle, a physicist who works in Leonard's lab. Leslie initially rebukes Leonard's romantic advances, but then comes on to him after they play in a string quartet together. Their relationship ends after Leslie has sex with Leonard's friend Howard. (Click here to watch a clip.)

Why it works: At first, I didn't actually think the guest star arc worked because I got Johnny Galecki confused with the kid who played D.J., the little brother to Gilbert's Roseanne character. In which case, watching Galecki and Gilbert's Big Bang Theory reunion was just plain disgusting. (This also, conveniently, serves as a cautionary tale to producers: Don't ever, ever reunite former siblings as contemporary love interests.) Upon learning that Gilbert and Galecki were not in fact fake-related to each other on Roseanne, this televised rekindling lived up to nostalgia's strengths. As an added bonus, Galecki and Gilbert have just as little sexual chemistry now as they did when they played awkward teens

6. Seinfeld friends on Curb Your Enthusiasm

The former characters: On the sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine, are the most idiosyncratic group of New York weirdos/friends you will ever love.

The reunion set up: In his HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David plays a curmudgeonly version of himself, which means he is also the creator of the insanely popular sitcom Seinfeld. Throughout the seventh season of Curb, Larry brings the Seinfeld cast together for a reunion season that plays out in bits — scenes of writing with Seinfeld, read-throughs and rehearsals with the cast, and actual "aired" shows. 

Why it works: If you can wrap your head around it, David's meta experiment far exceeds your average reunion spin-off show. Seinfeld fans get to see their favorite neurotic characters in the same familiar, cereal-laden apartment, acting out their lives after an 11-year hiatus. And the events that took place for the characters over that decade are well thought out. George, for example, made millions off of an app that directed the user to the nearest public toilet only to be duped by Bernie Madoff. It's like the Modern Seinfeld Twitter feed played out on TV: Genius. 

7. Blossom friends on 'Til Death

The former characters: Mayim Bialik starred as Blossom on the eponymous show. She's a teenage girl living with her father and two brothers who adjust to life without their mother, who left the family behind. Her best friend, Six (Jenna von Oy), was a fast-talking boy-crazy girl who thinks of Blossom's family as her own.

The reunion set-up: In the final season of the Fox comedy 'Til Death, which ended in 2010, Bialik played a therapist who tries to help one of the main characters Doug (Timm Sharp) overcome the belief that his life is a sitcom. To do so, Bialik invites her former fake-family, including von Oy and Blossom's oldest brother, actor Michael Stoyanov, to join the session. Bialik tries to show Doug the distinction between people who were actually on a sitcom "versus the fantasy of believing you're currently in one."

Why it works: It's not perfect — all of the Blossom actors, including Bialik, are guest stars, making the reunion a little forced. However, it succeeds in its mocking of the "where are they now" question that plagues stars of long-gone shows. Von Oy and Stoyanov take turns poking fun at the other's lowly career since Blossom ended. 'Til Death also creates its own meta moment: The other purpose of the therapy session is for Bialik's character to film and star in a reality show about actors who used to be on sitcoms, which is often how former stars attempt to regain their lost fame.

8. Married with Children father and son on Modern Family

The former characters: On the long-running Fox sitcom Married… with Children, Ed O'Neill played Al Bundy, the once heralded high school football star turned women's shoe salesman. David Faustino played his girl-crazy son, Bud, who is lauded as the only Bundy to attend college.

The reunion set up: Ed O'Neil plays Jay Prichett, the patriarch of the so-called Modern Family that includes his daughter Claire, son Mitchell, and their respective families. Claire goes to her college reunion where she runs into her old buddy Drew/"Tater" (David Faustino). Claire's husband Phil mistakenly assumes Tater was Claire's last ex-boyfriend and tries to intimidate him. Jay, meanwhile, saves the rest of the family from the wrath of his wife Gloria after a wig is accidentally glued onto their newborn son, Joe. (Click here to watch the full episode.)

Why it works — a little: So perhaps this particular example is more of an honorable mention than a "best." Of all the reunions it's the least successful. While it's funny to imagine Faustino's character as a threat to Claire and Phil's marriage, the former Bundys don't even share any screen time. As The Huffington Post puts it, "Jay was too busy being a better parent to Manny than [Al Bundy] had ever been to Kelly and Bud on Married." Burn.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Stephen Missal
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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