TV postsMonday December 12, 2011
Quote of the Day
“There was an unabashed movie-ness to the sequence — an exuberant yet controlled showmanship — that the drama has never before attempted. There wasn’t a trace of Coppola-style solemnity; the sequence just flew by, and the camera seemed to be tap-dancing around the actors. Jimmy’s last moments were nearly as old-movie cinematic. Having a psychologically damaged vet buy it in the shadow of a war memorial was already verging on too much; and yet somehow having the shocking double-cross and execution happen on a melodramatically dark-and-stormy night put the whole sequence over the top in a good way. 'To the Lost' director Tim van Patten, who helmed some of the best 'Sopranos' and 'Boardwalk [Empire]' episodes, is the kind of filmmaker who would have anonymously directed five B-pictures a year under the old studio system, then been discovered in the 1960s by the French.“
--Matt Zoller Seitz, ”'Boardwalk Empire' does not want your forgiveness," on Salon.com
R*I*P: Harry Morgan (1915-2011)
I assume I first saw him as Officer Bill Gannon in a late '60s reboot of the “Dragnet” series, “Dragnet 1967,” clean-cut and serious and busting hippies. Then I might have seen him in a “Partridge Family” episode, faking a neck injury to bilk the Partridges of imagined dough but still stooping to pick up a handkerchief dropped by a pre-“Charlie's Angels” Farrah Fawcett. Did I see him as the nutso general, Bartford Hamilton Steele, in a great, early episode of “M*A*S*H,” or did I come across that gem only in re-runs, only after actor Harry Morgan took on the role of Col. Sherman T. Potter, the gruff, lovable, former cavalry officer, doctor and commander of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit? It was part of the show's seamless transition after its third season. Actors McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers wanted out, so their characters were replaced by new characters, with new personalities, that still allowed the dynamic of the show to remain the same.
“M*A*S*H” was central to my life for a while, particularly from 1975 to 1977, with both Morgan and Mike Farrell on board, but before the departure of Larry Linville's Frank Burns, and, more importantly, before the departure of producer Gene Reynolds. In retrospect, I see the show as brilliant during its first three seasons (under the guidance of both Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds), good during its next two years, (under the guidance of Gene Reynolds), and then increasingly preachy and anachronistic (proto-feminist) for the last seven. Its final episode drew record ratings but by that time, in 1983, its anti-war message was lost in the chest-thumping, gung-ho era of Ronald Reagan, which, in a certain sense, we haven't left.
I haven't thought of those “M*A*S*H” episodes in years, although, for a time, being a short man, I often quoted one of Col Potter's lines: “When I was younger I was short,” and then with a twinkle, an upright carriage, and a jaunty bounce, “not like I am now.” Col. Potter also introduced me to his favorite western, “My Darling Clementine,” now one of mine, which the 4077th watched one evening. Then there was the episode Radar O'Reilly adopted a horse, against regulations, and, as a way to keep it, and keep it safe, he gave it to Col. Potter, who, tearing up while walking around it, suddenly slides on a mess the horse made on the floor. “That's disgusting!” Frank Burns says. “Son,” Col. Potter responds with a smile, “to me, that's a tip-toe through the tulips!”
In 1996, Morgan said of Sherman Potter:
He was firm. He was a good officer and he had a good sense of humor. I think it’s the best part I ever had.
Morgan was a character actor who often played the sidekick, as in “Dragnet,” or in his sixth film, which turned out to be one of the great films, “The Ox-Bow Incident,” in which he plays Art Croft, the partner of Henry Fonda's Gil Carter, two drifters who get caught up in a town posse and witness the lynching of three men for murder. In the final reel, it's discovered that the men are innocent. Too late. Fonda plays the conscience of the story; Morgan, as he often did, as he did with both “Dragnet” and “M*A*S*H,” plays the man who stands with the conscience of the story.
The obit from The New York Times can be found here.
R*I*P., Colonel. May we all live such long, fruitful, creative lives.
Looking at a painting of a woman “who could do better,” and about to order a whisky, which is all they had, at the beginning of “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1942).
No No Nanette; Yes Yes Ken Burns
Did anyone watch Ken Burns' “Prohibiton” doc on PBS last week? It's good stuff. I like the overview of the types of movements we had, and have, in this country: what inspires them, what drives them, what ultimately causes them to succeed. You could argue that Prohibition succeeded, or at least was passed into law, for three reasons: 1) the creation of the U.S. income tax in the 1910s (meaning the U.S. government no longer needed to rely on taxes on the sale of liquor); 2) anti-German sentiment during and after WWI (since the big breweries were all German-American); and 3) the usual feelings about human perfectability. Plus misconceptions about what the Volstead Act entailed. Many didn't think prohibition would apply to beer, for example.
There's a good section on Seattle, too, which I never knew was a bootlegging hub. But it makes sense. There's proximity to Canada, with all its booze, and the islands and coves of Puget Sound, with all its places to hide.
There's good stuff on Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the most famous woman outside of Hollywood in the 1920s, and the rise and fall of George Remus, perhaps the biggest bootlegger in the country, who was done in by, of all things, a dame. Plus Al Capone.
But I was most amused by this shot. You could argue it's merely a generic shot of New York City in the 1920s. But there's no way that Ken Burns, official documentarian of Major League Baseball, doesn't know the true meaning of “No No Nanette.”
Entourage's “The End”: Good Riddance
Was any final episode worse than “Entourage”'s final episode, which aired Sunday night, Sept. 11th, but which Patricia and I didn't watch until last night? I barely made it through the final 30 minutes. You saw where it was going, even if where it was going seemed impossibly stupid, which it was.
So Eric gets back together with Whatsherface, who is pregnant with his child, but who left him because her father hated him. Vince decides to marry the uptight British Vanity Fair writer, but why, and why does she choose him, and did we even see them dating? Ari gives it all up for his awful, awful wife wearing her awful, awful dress. It ends with the breakup of the entourage and multiple marriages. Cute. It thinks it's Shakespeare but it's closer to Conrad. The horror, the horror.
“Entourage” started out as a charming, boys-will-be-boys show about the Hollywood minutia between the moviemaking—the premieres, the talk-show appearances, the reviews, the girls—with everyone focused on the just-taking-off career of Vinny Chase. Ari, the agent, pushed for the big-budget blockbuster; Eric, the friend and manager, pushed for good scripts; he pushed for indie and respectable. That was the dynamic. What became the dynamic? There wasn't any. Instead of revolving around Vince, everyone twisted in an orbit of themselves and the show couldn't keep it all together. It became charmless and the boys became assholes. Eric started an agency, Turtle started a company, then another, then another. He became svelte, dated impossibly good-looking women, talked to lifelong friends as if they were clients. Everything sounded like a business deal except the business deals. It all felt false.
It began with four guys from Queens stumbling their way toward Hollywood stardom and ended with charmless, successful men giving it all up for charmless, shrewish women. It steals its big scene from “Shawshank”: the aria, swelling through Ari's offices, and setting him free from work. Everyone quits their job. In the middle of a recession. For women. Is that the Hollywood line? You can't have a J-O-B if you want to be with me?
This is Ari, to his wife, way back in season 2:
You can have it if you want to live in Agoura fucking Hills and go to group therapy, but if you want a Beverly Hills mansion, a country club membership, and nine weeks a year in a Tuscan villa, then I'm gonna need to take a call when it comes in at noon on a motherfucking Wednesday!
In the end, she wins. She gets it all. They move to Italy. Lord. Or maybe I should say they're about to move to Italy. Apparently there was a coda after the credits in which Ari is finally given the chance to run a studio, which he's always wanted to do, and the camera closes in on his face. In that second, I imagine, he becomes Ari again: calculating, ready to convince his awful, awful wife to give up her dream of doing nothing for his dream of doing something. That's key, actually. He becomes Ari again. Because in these final episodes he stopped being Ari, just as Vince stopped being Vince. So does Vince become Vince again in another coda? Does Turtle gain 50 pounds?
Hollywood changed our boys. Only Drama stayed true to character. Only Kevin Dillon continued to charm by bumbling.
The show closed with Led Zeppelin, “Going to California,” but it should've closed with The Doors:
This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
The boys-will-be-boys beginning.
The end: So very tired.
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.
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