TV postsFriday June 24, 2011
Peter Falk (1927-2011)
I reference him every now and again. I'll be in email correspondence with a subject I'm writing about, asking maybe a follow-up question, and then I'll realize there's another. So I'll write back, and apologize by way of a 1970s TV reference: “Not to sound like Lt. Columbo here, but I have one more question...”
Do people under 30 get that? Under 40? It was an indelible character, one of the most indelible characters of the '70s, but I don't think it'll live on much longer. Do new fans go for it? Or are the production values of the show not high enough?
What of Peter Falk's long career will survive? According to IMDb.com he was in 127 movies and TV shows. After “Columbo” I immediately thought of “Wings of Desire” and then “The In-Laws.” There's the Cassavettes stuff, most of which, I'm ashamed to say, I haven't seen. I liked him in “Murder by Death.” But it was my colleague Evan who mentioned the obvious. “I loved him in 'Princess Bride,'” he said. “He made a great grandpa.”
The New York Times fills in the details I didn't know or forgot:
His death was announced in a statement from Larry Larson, a longtime friend and the lawyer for Mr. Falk’s wife, Shera. He had been treated for Alzheimer’s disease in recent years.
Mr. Falk had a wide-ranging career in comedy and drama, in the movies and onstage, before and during the three and a half decades in which he portrayed the unkempt but canny lead on “Columbo.” He was nominated for two Oscars; appeared in original stage productions of works by Paddy Chayefsky, Neil Simon and Arthur Miller; worked with the directors Frank Capra, John Cassavetes, Blake Edwards and Mike Nichols; and co-starred with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis and Jason Robards.
And now that I've looked at IMDb's list, maybe I was wrong about Columbo not lasting. Rarely watching TV anymore, particularly network TV, I didn't realize Falk kept playing the part: 24 times since the show was originally canceled in 1978; into the 21st century. It kept going and going. Just when you thought that was the end of it he'd turn around and tell the audience, “Just one more thing...”
Not a bad line to carry with you. Rest in peace, Lt.
Which Star Trek Series Would You Like to Guest On?
In one of those increasingly popular polls on Facebook, my friend Tim, of StarshipTim, who was also Captain of the U.S.S. Brock during that big Romulan-Borg hullabaloo, answered the question “What [Star Trek] series would you like to guest on?” with “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” No surprise. He's been big on that series for a while.
I answered the original series, the one with Kirk, Spock and McCoy, TOS to fans, and relayed my reasoning to Tim in a series of posts:
- The miniskirts alone answer that question for me.
- Plus I want the pointy sideburns, the boots, and my shirt torn and the trickle of blood during a fight. Hopefully with Finnegan.
- Plus I want to ignore the Prime Directive at my discretion.
- But it's mostly the miniskirts.
I'm not saying it wouldn't be dangerous...
“Klingons? Attacking? What?”
'Make It Go'
The Pakleds, for the non-geeks in the audience, are a race of low-browed humanoids from a fourth season episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” entitled “Samaritan Snare,” who manage to travel through space. They do this by kidnapping members of more advanced species—such as Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton)—and utilizing his advanced technology. They gather around him and say things like “We look for things” and “Make it go.”
Here's the question of the day: Are the Pakleds a metaphor for all the non-techies in the world, such as myself, who gather around the techies of the world with our broken smartphones and TV remotes and laptops and say, “Make it go”? Was that the intention of Robert L. McCullough, the writer of the episode?
I have no idea. I just know this: teeth are for chewing.
Make us strong.
What's Good in “The Pacific”
I've been watching “The Pacific” without being a fan of “The Pacific.” We don't know these guys well enough, and we get the feeling that they don't know each other well enough. In “Band of Brothers,” to which “The Pacific” will forever be compared and forever found wanting, the characters had already gotten past the get-to-know-you stage and engaged on a deeper level. Here, they're always introducing themselves. Guys come, guys go. We watch guys cry for guys we don't know, so we don't know why they're crying. We're not always following the same platoon, either, so cohesion is an issue. The stories are as spread out as the Pacific islands they're invading.
Worse, the series feels slightly off, slightly false. In the midst of unspeakable horrors—which the series handles well—we'll get a speech that feels like a speech; like it was drafted by Henry Luce.
The one bright spot for me is a dark spot: Rami Malek as Merriell Shelton. When we first see him, part of the same platooon as Eugene “Sledgehammer” Sledge, our innocent Southern boy, he's an annoyance. He's got a faraway look and a sing-songy voice that implies the world isn't as neat as Eugene thinks it is. One gets the feeling the war didn't do this to him, either; he showed up this way. But the war ain't helping.
With every episode he's grown on me. He's the one guy who feels real. Last Sunday we watched him toss pebbles into the open skulls of half-decapitated Japanse soldiers. At one point our boys ran into a non-combat soldier who asked them, these exhausted Marines, if anyone had a souvenir, a Jap sword or flag, he could bring home with him, and while the others were silent or combative, Shelton was matter of fact. “Nobody's going home” he said almost joyfully.
I doubt it's a star-making turn but I hope it's a character-actor-making turn. “The Pacific” is slightly off, but Malik's Shelton is gloriously off.
Why We Watch “Mad Men”
Adam Cohen has a peculiarly limp piece on “Mad Men” in The New York Times today. Or yesterday. Who the hell knows anymore?
Cohen argues that the AMC show is popular in our troubled times because it offers a view of earlier troubled times—times we don't even think of as troubled. It's Sept. 1963 and things are bad all around: Don Drapper is getting pissier, Betty Draper is getting colder, Salvatore Romano has been fired because a client made a pass at him, and little girls are getting blown up in Birmingham churches. Cohen writes:
To a generation beaten down by skyrocketing unemployment, plunging retirement savings and mounting home foreclosures, “Mad Men” offers the schadenfreude-filled message that their predecessors were equally unhappy — and that the bleakness meter in American life has always been set on high.
First, I'm not sure which generation is receiving “Mad Men”'s message, since it's not a particularly watched program. Has any episode garnered a rating above 3 million? Does it do better than “Monk” or “Army Wives” or “The O'Reilly Factor”? Doesn't look like it.
Second, Cohen ignores the genius of “Mad Men.” It markets itself as nostalgia—remember those finger-snappin', Kennedyesque times when drinks were drinks, dames were dames, and fun was fun?—but presents a reality that can horrify. The women are generally so mistreated, and in such an obtuse, smug way, you can't wait for the Betty Friedans and Gloria Steinems of the world to come along and right things.
Third, do we watch this thing from schadenfreude? To be honest, the show probably hooked me with good reviews, good looks, and the promise of easy sex, and now hooks me for the following reason: I know what's going to happen (in the world) and they don't. And I don't know what's going to happen (to them) and want to find out.
It's Sept. 1963. I know in two months John F. Kennedy will be assassinated. I know in five months the Beatles will arrive. I know the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will all pass, and I know “We Shall Overcome” will become “Hey ho, Whitey's gotta go!,” and I know SNCC will give way to SDS which will gave way to the Weather Underground, and I know short hair will gave way to Beatles hair which will gave way to long hair, and I know pot will give way to LSD, and free love will gave way to assassination. I know we'll land on the moon in 1969.
The ad business is a young man's game and I know it will become a younger man's game, and eventually a younger person's game, and I wonder how Don Draper, so cool and comfortable in 1960, will handle that. How old will he be in 1970? What will he look like? Balding? With muttonchop sideburns and big flowery collars? Trying desperately to fit in? Say it ain't so!
He's already missing the boat. His daughter's teacher wants to hear a replay of MLK's “I have a dream” speech, which surprises him. The big moments are happening and he doesn't see them. Those pot-smoking kids who drugged him, beat him, and took his money are like a visit from later in the decade. The times they are a changin'.
Where will Salvatore be in 1969? How will Joan and her curves handle the Twiggy era? Will Peggy become Don's boss? How will he handle that? How will she?
That's the continued appeal of “Mad Men” to me, and I wouldn't exactly call it schadenfreude. We live in uncertain times (particularly economically) and I don't know what's coming. They're about to live through uncertain times (particularly socially) and I know what's coming. There's a sense of superiority in that knowledge but also a sense of solicitude. You want to warn them because you can't warn yourself.