TV postsTuesday January 26, 2016
Abe Vigoda (1921-2016)
Fish sleeps with the fishes.
Let me tell you a story I've told probably a dozen times. It was Dec. 1990, I believe, and I was in a car with my sister and our friend Josh Karp, driving from Minneapolis to Chicago for New Year's Eve. Josh was from that area. Suburbs, I believe. It was the first house I'd ever been in that had heated floors.
Anyway, on the way down, we played many a game of “20 Questions.” Josh and I are adept at pop cultural crap so we were doing well, and my sister was struggling to keep up. But then she figured out someone that we couldn't figure out: an actor ... white, male, no longer alive ... who had been on a TV show in the 1970s. He'd had his own TV show but he was better known for a different TV show. His show had even been a spinoff of the first one, but his wasn't that successful. We're racking our brains. We're asking other questions. Movies? Other occupations? Sports? Politics? Karen is giddy with triumph. Finally, as we pull into the driveway of the house with the heated floors, we give up and Karen announces the answer with pride: Abe Vigoda.
Josh and I simultaneously: “Abe Vigoda's not dead!”
We hit her with it every once in a while, even though a lot of others have made the same mistake; even though People magazine was the first to do so.
Today, on Facebook, she posted the Times' obit (probably in the can since Dec. 1990), and wrote: “Erik, Josh: See, I was right.”
I first knew Abe Vigoda as Fish, of course, on “Barney Miller,” an underrated sitcom of the 1970s that I absolutely loved. For years, I remember, it was voted by cops as the most realistic portrayal of police work on TV (until “Hill Street Blues” came along). Back then, Vigoda looked impossibly old, but when the show began in 1974, he was actually my age now: 53. I'm the age of Fish.
He was also two years removed from the role that turned around his (up to that point, mostly stage) career: Sal Tessio, the Corleone insider that betrays them and pays for it. I still see him with that tight smile, trying one last time to wriggle free. “Tell Mike, it was only business. I always liked him.”
Does anyone know how he landed that role? Who cast him and why? Shortly thereafter he played Don Talusso in “The Don is Dead,” and John Dellanzia in an episode of “Newman's Law.” But despite how large “The Godfather” looms, I'll always think of him as Det. Fish of the 12th precinct. That episode where Wojo brought in the brownies laced with hashish? “The old guy--bang zoom!” And then Fish's later sad realization: “The first time in years I felt good ... and it has to be illegal.”
I finally just read the Times' obit and I'm getting a little teary-eyed now, more than I should be. An amazing life that had no business connecting with so many others, but did. If I had all the time in the world, I would check out his entire ouevre. But we don't have all the time in the world. Not even Abe Vigoda.
The Problems with 'Jessica Jones'
It's a not-bad superhero show. Krysten Ritter is good in it, while both Mike Colter (Luke Cage) and David Tenant (Kilgrave) are superb. I liked the first episode with the shock ending. I also like the villain's superpower. Mind-control is a nice change of pace. It seems truly evil, more evil than brute strength. Even when it's used for good in that one episode, there's something horrifying in it that you don't feel when someone is merely being punched in the face. “It's clobberin' time!” seems sweet in comparison.
But I kept shaking my head. I kept pausing to complain to Patricia. (Yeah, I'm that guy.) I kept going, “Really? That's your plan, Jessica Jones? To beat the shit out of Kilgrave on camera so he'll use his mind-control powers on you? And this will somehow be admissible evidence in the ultimate exoneration of Hope Shlottman? ” Even better was was when she put Kilgrave's parents into an isolation chamber with him and watched all hell break loose. No one saw that one coming. No one except everyone except Jessica Jones.
These are my main problems with the show:
- If someone has Kilgrave's powers, and you're out to stop him, you don't have subplots. It's all you'd do.
- Because what if he wakes up to the true nature of his power? What if he decides to walk into the White House? That's some scary shit. Instead, he's content to shut up a noisy crowd at a cafe. (Great scene, btw.)
In other words, she's not bright and he's unimaginative. Not a good combo.
In tonight's episode: Jessica tries to get herself incarcerated for life in a supermax prison!
TV: What the Hell Happened Between 1974 and 1977?
TV in 1974: Showing us to us.
While doing a little research on another project, I came across some Nielsen figures that were a little surprising to me.
Here are the top 5 TV shows for the 1974-75 season:
- All in the Family
- Sanford and Son
- Chico and the Man
- The Jeffersons
I knew “All in the Family” was popular but I had no idea about “Sanford and Son,” “Chico and the Man,” and “The Jeffersons.” Two of the five shows have black casts; three of the five focus on the working class. There's a sense that TV is trying to show us to us.
Now here are the top 5 shows three years later: 1977-78:
- Laverne & Shirley
- Happy Days
- Three’s Company
- 60 Minutes
- Charlie's Angels
The working class is either slapsticky and nostalgic (“Laverne and Shirley”) or sunny and jiggly (“Three's Company”). There's less dysfunction, more fantasy. It's also much younger and much, much whiter.
And three years after that? It gets a little yee-ha:
- The Dukes of Hazard
- 60 Minutes
- The Love Boat
That was the turn—where we went wrong. It happened right in there. Why?
TV in 1977: Younger, more jiggly, and very, very white.
Colbert's Guest List is So Personal It Makes Us Wonder Who We Would Choose
A few weeks ago, the day after Jon Stewart's last “Daily Show,” Patricia and I got rid of our cable box. These days that means TV, which means I won't be able to watch “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” when it debuts next week. Except, as he says in his last pre-show web video, “on the internet.” Even so, I'm afeared of missing it in real time. Have you seen his guest list? Persons of interest (for me) include:
- Sen. Bernie Sanders
- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
- Carol Burnett
His guest list is so eclectic, and seemingly so personal, it made me wonder who *I* would book if I had a choice. And a show. And talent.
- Louis CK
- Marion Cotillard
- Joe Henry
Others to book before I get the hook:
- Ricky Gervais
- Jon Stewart
- Stephen Colbert
- Jim Jeffries
- Chris Rock
- Tina Fey
- Philip Roth
- John Irving
- Tobias Wolff
- Milan Kundera
- Toni Morrison
- Bill Bryson
- Jill Lepore
- Martin Scorsese
- Michael Mann
- Terrence Malick
- Jacques Audiard
- The Coen Bros.
- Craig Wright
- Jim Walsh
- David Simon
- Joe Posnanski
- Jane Leavy
- Paul Krugman
- Jelani Cobb
- Jackie Chan
- Penelope Cruz
- Salma Hayek
- Berenice Bejo
- Carey Mulligan
- Steve Earle
- The National
- Iron & Wine
- Paul Simon
- The Decemberists
- John Lewis
- David Boies
- Ron Safer
- ANY U.S. Supreme Court justice, but generally in this order: Stevens (ret.), Ginsburg, Scalia, Sotomayor, Kennedy, Breyer, Roberts, Kagan, Thomas, Alito.
It's endless, really.
What about you? First show.
I'm going to miss this.
The day after Jon Stewart's final show on “The Daily Show,” we got rid of our Comcast cable box. We probably would've done that anyway, and sooner, but we held onto it for an extra two weeks or so just to watch Stewart's last shows.
I was late to that party, by the way. Not sure when I began to watch him regularly. For certain periods in the 2000s I didn't have cable, certainly 2005 to 2007, so maybe I caught up with him via the Web? I mean, I know I knew him in 2005 when Stephen Colbert broke off for his own show, because I—like the great prognosticator that I am—thought that wasn't such a good idea, that a half-hour-long spoof of Bill O'Reilly just couldn't last. (You're welcome.) I certainly knew Stewart by the time he hosted the disastrous “Crash” Oscar ceremony in March 2006 and by the time that Colbert took it to Pres. Bush and the D.C. establishment in the greatest White House correspondents dinner roast ever.
But I know I began to watch him regularly in the fall of 2007 when Patricia and I moved in together. He and Colbert were my guys in the last sad days of the Bush II administration and the awful leadup to the 2008 presidential election, followed by the even worse right-wing reaction to that election: the rise of the Tea Party and Glenn Beck and all that nastiness and stupidity. The bullshit, the bullshit.
Did you see the segment from Wednesday, “The Daily Show: Destroyer of Worlds,” where Stewart pretends to revel in in all of the hyperbolic headlines about how he and the show eviscerated or crushed or annhilated this or that enemy of the show (racism, Wall Street accountability, FOX News), only to discover, oops, that the enemy was stronger than ever? It leads Stewart to wonder what it was all about. “The world is demonstrably worse than when I started!” he cries. “Have I caused this?”
I actually think that this is what finally got to him and why he decided to leave. Not that he made things worse; but that he was purposeful and funny and true and on target ... and the bullshit didn't go away. In some cases, it got stronger.
Did you see the final episode? All the talent he helped create? The heartfelt praise he was forced to accept from Stephen Colbert? That's truly one of the loveliest, most heartfelt and educational moments I've seen on TV in recent years. And then his final words to us? Warning us about the bullshit, as he has all these years, with a take on the “If you see something, say something” civic vigilance campaign:
Bullshit is everywhere. ... Comes in three basic flavors.
One: Making bad things sound like good things. “Organic All Natural Cupcakes” because “Factory-made Sugar Oatmeal Balls” doesn't sell. “Patriot Act” because, “Are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records Act” doesn't sell. So whenever something's been titled, Freedom, Family, Fairness, Health, America, take a good long sniff ...
Here's another one: simply put, banks shouldn't be able to bet your pension money on red. Bullshitly put it's, hey, this. Dodd-Frank. Hey, a handful of billionaires can't buy our elections, right? Of course not, they can only pour unlimited anonymous cash into a 501c4 if 50 percent is devoted to issue education, otherwise they'd have to 501c6 it or funnel it openly through a non-campaign coordinating Super Pac with a quarter... “I think they're asleep now, we can sneak out.”
And finally, it's the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. “We can't do anything because we don't yet know everything. We cannot take action on climate change until everyone in the world agrees gay marriage vaccines won't cause our children to marry goats who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say teach the controversy.”
Now, the good news is this: bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy and their work is easily detected. Looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time. Like an “I Spy ...” of bullshit. So I say to you tonight, friends, the best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.
He's asking us to pick up the slack. I don't know if we're worthy.
It's only been a few days but it's still chaos on bullshit mountain. We got all the blah-blah of the GOP debates, and Trump's umbrage at Megyn Kelly, and then his Twitter and verbal attacks on Megyn Kelly, not to mention the idiots at #BlackLivesMatter, or some subset, disrupting a Bernie Sanders rally in downtown Seattle, and dooming, to my mind, his already quixotic campaign. (Future attack ad: “If he can't stand up to two girls in the middle of downtown Seattle, how can he stand up to ISIS in the middle of a war?”)
As I heard about all this stuff, I kept wondering what Stewart was thinking about it. Was he going, “Damn, I left too early” or “Phew, glad I'm outta there”? Either way, today, for the first time in 16 years, I won't be able to find out.