TV postsSaturday February 28, 2015
Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)
Airdate: Sept. 8, 1966: Our first shot of the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and Spock has the conn.
I met him once. From February 27 through March 3, 1979, “Vincent,” a one-man play he wrote, directed and starred in, in which he mostly played the brother, Theo Van Gogh, rather than the title character, debuted at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. For much of that spring, he toured the country with “Vincent”; then, as the program noted, “He will reprise the role of Spock in ‘Star Trek—The Motion Picture,’ scheduled for release in 1979.”
That’s why I was at the Guthrie, of course, solo like the man onstage. I was 16, and a Trekkie, or Trekker, and because of my father’s Star-Tribune connections I got to go backstage. There was a group there, all older and better-dressed than me—I think I had an ill-fitting brown suit on—and when Leonard Nimoy finally emerged everyone applauded and crowded around and asked questions about art and Van Gogh and not at all about Spock, who, reprised or not, was still the sore subject of Nimoy’s autobiography, “I Am Not Spock.” I was so quiet during all of this, so Minnesota Nice, that Nimoy signed everyone’s programs but mine. I had to be pointed out to him so he wouldn’t miss me. He didn’t. (See below.)
Most of what I know of TV shows, I know because of “Star Trek.” Once I became a fan, a true fan, I became aware of the following: 1) episodes had titles; 2) production dates didn’t necessarily correlate to air dates; 3) what a pilot was. Remember in “Pulp Fiction” when John Travolta’s Vincent Vega asks that question? “What’s a pilot?” Obviously not a “Star Trek” fan. Every Trekkie knew it was “The Cage,” about Capt. Christopher Pike, which was remade into the two-parter, “The Menagerie,” in the first season, since ... why not? They had the footage. At one point, probably around 1978, I had a chart up on the wall of my bedroom running down the episodes. I remember being monumentally disappointed with the production date/air date thing. “Wait, you mean they showed ‘Man Trap’ first? And ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before?’ later? Wouldn’t that seem odd to people watching?” I tried to memorize all the episode titles. The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. I learned Shakespeare because of “Star Trek.” I learned about Horatio Hornblower. In college, my humanities professor used “Star Trek” to exemplify the human dilemma between logic (Spock) and emotion (McCoy). I was always a McCoy; I aspired to Spock.
“Star Trek” also made me realize this: 4) network executives are idiots. Among their notes after seeing the pilot: “Get rid of the guy with the ears.” When they promoted the show in the fall of 1966, they barely showed Spock at all. They thought America would reject him, this elf creature, this Satanic figure. Instead, l’opposite. He became the breakout star. Spock was the outsider of the crew, cooler than cool. In an emotional time, he was all about that logic. He was also the only one with superpowers: mind-melds and neck pinches. Much has been written about “Star Trek”’s optimistic vision of the future—that eventually, after some messy eugenics wars, we would all be united together in space: black, white, yellow, brown, green. The show debuted only a year after Selma, while we were fighting hot in Vietnam and cold across the Iron Curtain, so this was a far-seeing vision. At the same time—and this has been written to death, too—the show simply transposed many our problems into the future. Humans may have been united, but aliens, even half-aliens like Spock, were the new minority: forever mistrusted, first scapegoated. You don’t think Muslim-Americans don’t identify with Spock in the first-season “Balance of Terror” episode? The Enterprise has been attacked by people who look like Spock; so crewmembers blame Spock. They assume he’ll betray them; they want to incarcerate him. Even Stiles stops short of waterboarding, though.
In “The Man Trap,” Spock is the man not trapped, despite the flirtations of Lt. Uhura.
I was three when “Star Trek” debuted on Sept. 8, 1966, so I caught the show in syndicated reruns in the ’70s, weeknights at 6 PM on Channel 11 (MetroMedia Television, Minneapolis). At the same time, I listened to Nimoy narrate “In Search of ...” on ... was it Saturdays? I saw him in the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It always seemed odd seeing him as not Spock, with his hair feathered and parted, with his ears rounded. Nimoy had his problems with the character, about being so identified with something he’d created, but what a world it opened for him. Before “Star Trek” he was the go-to ethnic guy on episodic TV; he never had an acting job that lasted longer than two weeks. Afterwards? From the “Vincent” program:
Without Spock, would anyone have given a shit about his love poetry? Or his rendition of “I Walk the Line”? What must that be like, really? To be as ignored and marginalized as any actor, struggling to break though; and then you do, you break through, and become beloved on the earth. That must mess with your head a little. That must make you believe you should not only sing “Proud Mary” but record it.
I always assumed he was a reluctant participant in anything “Star Trek,” but he kept showing up, didn’t he? When NASA rolled out the space shuttle Enterprise in 1976, he was there on the tarmac along with most of the original cast; it was Shatner who was absent. Nimoy showed up in the first movie (barely, it turns out), and when he died in the second we heard it was because he wanted out. Not really. He wanted to direct. And he did: “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”; then he directed something completely different, “Three Men and a Baby,” which became the most popular movie of l987. Here’s the odd thing: he wasn’t able to cash in on it. Did any director of the biggest movie of the year have a shorter shelf life afterwards? Nimoy only gave us three more: “The Good Mother” (1988) with Diane Keaton; “Funny About Love” with Gene Wilder (one of his last starring roles); and “Holy Matrimony,” in which, in a Hutterite community, a 13-year-old boy (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is forced to marry his late brother’s 26-year-old wife (played by Patricia Arquette). Oddly, the doesn’t seem happy about it. (My 13-year-old self would’ve passed out from happiness.) Then Nimoy directed one show in 1995 and no more.
But he kept acting. And he kept playing (or playing off) Spock. Despite “I Am Not Spock,” he was the last survivor of the original U.S.S. Enterprise crew—part of J.J. Abrams’ alternate universe, where, sadly, he became responsible for the destruction of the planet Vulcan. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to get rebooted.
The usually reticent New York Times has a lovely obit, in which Virginia Heffernan not only translates Spock’s signature phrase, “Live long and prosper,” into Vulcan, but writes that Nimoy brought to life “one of the most indelible characters of the last half century.” Indeed.
The autographed program: Click for a slightly bigger version.
Disliking the Latimers: A Few Thoughts on BBC's 'Broadchurch'
The father, Mark, a wanker.
I assume we’re supposed to dislike the Latimers.
In most detective procedurals, such a family would have nothing but our sympathy—they’ve lost a child, after all—but in “Broadchurch,” a BBC one-off which won the BAFTA for best dramatic series in 2013, they’re just awful. All of them. Not in grubby ways but petty ways. So the town of Broadchurch, too. Everyone has their secrets, and most have nothing to do with the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer, found strangled on the beach beneath the town’s picturesque cliffs in the first episode; but they all hide their secrets from the detectives, Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller (David Tenant and Olivia Colman), and thus impede the investigation. Everyone demands the detectives fix the problem but everyone gets in their way.
Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan) is the first and most unforgivable. He’s the father of Danny, who went missing one night/early morning. And where was Mark? With a um ... er... uh ... mate, he says. Story doesn’t check. The detectives come back to him and he obfuscates, schemes, lies. He’s so inept, he actually lets himself get arrested for the murder of his own son. And to protect what? An affair, of course. What a wanker.
The daughter, Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont), isn’t much better. She’s 15, has a boyfriend she’s kept secret from her parents (because he’s 17 or because he’s black?), and, with cops all around, she’s too stupid to throw away the cocaine in her room. Then she stupidly rallies the town against the second murder suspect, Jack Marshall (David Bradley of “Red Wedding” infamy), who runs a local newsstand, and is headmaster for a boy-scouts-on-the-water program, even though ... wait for it ... he has sex abuse charges against him in his past. But is it peodphilia? It was sex with a student, yes, but a 15-year-old girl when he was in his 30s, and the two eventually married. Marshall’s indescretion, adjusted for his age, is actually similar to Chloe’s boyfriend’s (also with a 15-year-old) not to mention Mark himself, who impregnated Beth (Jodie Whittaker), his future wife, and mother to Chloe and Danny, when she was 15.
Even the mother, Beth, semi-sympathetic in the first episode, is awful—but it’s less what she does than the way she does it. Her pain feels ... shallow. It’s not bone-deep. And here’s the thing: I can’t figure out if this was part of the show’s plan—to make Beth unlikeable—or if Jodie Whittaker just isn’t a very good actress. (Cf., Colman in the final episode, who won a BAFTA for her performance.)
Either way, there they are.
I like this aspect of the show—disliking the Latimers—and I like the problems that everyone in town has, and tries to hide, and how the two detectives, the cynical outsider (Hardy) and the empathetic insider (Miller), don’t mesh, initially, but as the show progresses become more like each other: she tougher, he nicer. Or at least less of an ass.
What I got tired of? How almost everyone in town wasn’t asleep the night Danny was killed. That got old. “I couldn’t sleep that night ... “ begins how many flashbacks? And everyone who can't sleep witnesses something.
“Broadchurch” isn’t bad. It’s a police procedural that is less interested in whodunnit than in what we do about it. It’s less about the murder than how the murder affects us. Do we band together? Does it make us stronger? No, generally.
'Fargo' + Anton Chigurh = TV's 'Fargo'
TV’s “Fargo” is basically the Coens’ “Fargo” with Anton Chigurh roaming through it. Same bad haircut, same slow, deliberate manner, same sense of death permeating him. He just has a better sense of humor.
In the pilot episode, this Chigurh, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), says the following to Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), the William H. Macyish schlemiel of the TV series:
Your problem is you've spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t. We used to be gorillas. All we had is what we could take and defend ... It’s a red tide, Lester, this life of ours. The shit they make us eat day after day—the boss, the wife, wearing us down. If you don't stand up to it, let ’em know you’re an ape, deep down where it counts, you're just going to get washed away.
So Malvo is not only Death but Truth. He’s what you get when you scrape away all the Minnesota Nice.
I watched it on a day I felt washed away.
“You've spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren't.”
"I’m going to miss the Colbert Report. Satire is the most potent of all political weapons, and Stephen was among the best. I always wondered whether conservatives understood what he was doing. Once, soon after appearing as a guest on his program, I was approached by someone in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport who said, 'Colbert really skewered you the other night.' I laughed. He didn’t. 'Serves you right,' he said, and walked off.
-- Robert Reich, last month, via Facebook.
That's All, Bitch
OK, that was a pretty good finale. If it has a fault, it lies in the old U2 lyric: I gave you everything you ever wanted/ Wasn't what you wanted.
“Felina,” meaning “finale,” and maybe the old Marty Robbins/New Mexico song “Faleena,” which we hear as Walt cuts out of New Hampshire, gave us everything we wanted. Was it what we wanted?
Here's what it gave us. It's ordered by how much I wanted it:
- Jesse choking Todd to death. Yeah, bitch! I think I might watch this scene a couple more times to get it out of my system. It fulfilled my hashtag request from yesterday: #FreeJessePinkman
- Walt laying waste to Uncle Jack and his crew. If there's anything more satisfying than watching Nazis die on screen, it's watching American Nazis die on screen. Seriously. It's 2013 and they're still bowing down to the swastika? Fuckers are useless.
- The big reveal with Gray Matter's founders Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz. This might have been the best part of the episode becuase it was both satisfying and smart. Did anyone see this coming? Yet once it came, it seemed so obvious, so perfect. Of course! Launder the drug money through them. Use them to channel it to his children once he's gone. Plus scare the shit out of them in the process. It's win-win-win. Plus—bonus!—the reappearance of Badger and Skinny Pete! Patricia called this last one. She figured it was them outside.
- The death of Lydia through ricin poisoning. Apparently we all know what ricin is now.
- The final conversation with Skyler and owning up to the fact that he'd done it all for himself.
Walt made everything work in this final episode. The problem is that Walt never makes everything work. Normally he stumbles his way ahead. Here he was the terminator. Maybe it helped that he was finally, irrevocably terminal. Maybe he was thinking clearly, rather than frantically, for the first time. (Emily Nussbaum has a good take on the New Yorker site: “The Closure-Happy 'Breaking Bad' Finale.”)
Question: Did he beat cancer the first time because he became Heisenberg? Because he found something to live for? Something he thrived at? It returned once he stopped. That's a little awkward.
And whither Jesse? He's last man standing. His digital confession is still in the Nazi hideout—although maybe it got riddled into oblivion by the MacGyver-esque machine-gun contraption Walt built. Even so: What becomes of him? Does he, as last man standing, go to jail, since they can't put anyone else there? Who knows? I like to think of him, eventually, as a drug counselor, doing carpentry on the side. If he sees the path. He'd be good at it.
But he's free. That's what matters. So is Walt: first free of his lies, then of his life. Most importantly, we're free now, too. Carry on.