TV postsSunday September 24, 2017
I'd Like to Hear About Jerry After Seinfeld
I laughed hard at two jokes:
- cotton balls
Otherwise “Jerry Before Seinfeld,” currently streaming on Netflix, is a mixed experience. We get a sketchy documentary of Jerry's early years intermixed with mostly old routines (the ones he supposedly discarded in “I'm Telling You for the Last Time”) about childhood, sugar cereals, laundry, etc., done by the 60-something billionaire comedian on the stage of The Comic Strip, the small comedy club where he perfected his routine in the '70s.
Does he rush through the routines now? He doesn't seem as comfortable on stage as he used to. Stage actors need to own the stage, to pause as much as they want, to know the audience will wait for them. He doesn't have that anymore. Is he afraid that he's lost it? And by being afraid, has he lost it?
Really, the bigger problem for Seinfeld is that his was observational comedy, and observational comedy doesn't work too well if you're a billionaire. Sure, he tells the one joke about the first time he got a maid, and feeling bad about not picking up after himself (“I'm sorry, I...”), but that's about it. It has to be Jerry before “Seinfeld” because Jerry after “Seinfeld” is ... what? Just a rich asshole with too many cars? What can he tell us about how the .0001% lives? He would have to go beyond his polite observations and he can't even bring himself to rag on Trump. His bit about the insanity of anyone who wants to be president is good:
Who should be the most powerful person in America, the commander in chief of the Armed Forces, the leader of the free world? You know, actually, that sounds like me.
But it leaves open the question of why/how Trump is more insane than most. He's still tiptoeing around the controversial. I guess he always will.
Plus anything new in the culture? Twitter or binge-watching or what have you? He sounds like your grandpa talking about it. He sounds dismissive since he didn't grow up with it. Maybe there's comedy to mine there but right now he's using the wrong pick-axe. The diamond-encrusted kind.
How I'm Like Ricky Gervais
- I'm always early, hate late people
- Hate noisy chewers
- Don't get “Lord of the Rings”
- Don't get subscribing to any one religion
- We both have loud laughs
Watching, I kept going, “Yeah ... yeah ... yeah.”
Love this line: “But we're all sinners according to your lot.” Your lot. Also on the trinity: “Sounds a bit far-fetched to me.” And the Mr. Universe line is a throwaway killer.
Has anyone as funny as Gervais ever laughed as much as Gervais? Most really funny people seem take great humor with a kind of nod of appreciation, but that's it. Gervais still has his shotgun laugh. Both barrels.
The Boys of 'Girls': Why Feminist Filmmakers ♥ Men
Season 1, Jessa's wedding. The horror, the horror.
I've got a piece up on Salon about the male characters in women-helmed TV shows and movies, including “Girls,” “Enough Said,” “Laggies” and “Obvious Child,” and how the women in these stories are often awful, while the men are often supportive. I called the piece:
“You Like Us! You Really Like Us!”
The positive portrayal of men from Lena Dunham and female filmmakers
Someone at Salon called the piece:
“You Like Us! You Really Like Us!”: On “Girls” men get better treatment than they deserve
I guess they wanted to work “Girls” into the title.
At the end of the piece, I speculate that the titular characters of “Girls” might finally be maturing. Are they? The first episode premiered last night. Thoughts:
- Hannah is in a better spot. She published an article in The New York Times and received another goofy assignment, which she went after with her usual brand of laziness and quirkiness.
- Marnie backslid. With Desi. Eww. I imagine people around the country screaming “Noooooo!” at their TV sets.
- Why was Marnie so happy reading Hannah's piece, btw? In it, she calls Jessa her “best friend.” Would Marnie really let that go by?
- How do Adam and Jessa live? Is he still working? He's backsliding as well. He's much less interesting with Jessa than he was with Hannah. She's draining the artist out of him.
- I didn't buy Ray and Shosh's breakfast conversation about Paul Krugman. Put it this way: It was definitely a pre-Trump convo. And even then, it seemed cheaper/snarkier than Ray, and “Girls,” would normally allow.
Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017)
This is one of the most iconic shots of my childhood. I used to see it every Saturday night between “M*A*S*H” and “The Bob Newhart Show,” which were themselves bookended by “All in the Family” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” Lineups don't get any better than that.
“M*A*S*H,” I think, went onto other nights (Tuesday?), but “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I believe, stayed on Saturdays. Mary did move, though—from that beautiful apartment around Lake of the Isles to the ugly Cedar Square West by the university. I was bummed about that. I was a young, overly sensitive kid in a divorced household and I didn't like change. Plus the new place had no character. No sunken living room. I remember complaining about all this to my father—“Why would she move?”—who told me some part of how the world works. Mary moved, he said, because the real woman who owned that house around Lake of the Isles was tired of all the tourists snapping photos and refused to sign a deal with MTM Productions. Or maybe it was because she saboutaged things when they needed to film exterior shots. Right? Didn't she put up “Impeach Nixon” signs or something? Either way, it was sobering to me: how conflicts in the real world upset the fictional one. Were we safe nowhere? (Answer: no.)
Anyway, Lake of the Isles woman notwithstanding, we loved her. We took great pride in her and in the show. Most national storylines took place in other cities—New York, D.C., L.A., Mayberry—and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” tried its damnedest to get the whole Minneapolis vibe right: snow, Vikings, snow. I know the show was revolutionary in being about a single, 30s career woman at a time when feminism, or women's lib, was just beginning to rise, but it was also revolutionary in setting its story in a city in the heartland. And it was our city. That opening? When she's walking around the lakes, and on Nicollet Mall, and by Donaldson's (now defunct), and shopping at Lund's, and washing her car in the Fran Tarekenton jersey? God, that made me happy. Still does.
A lot of the show went over my head. The feminist angle, for example. I didn't get that this was a unique thing. I was born into the change, so I had to learn later what we'd changed from. I didn't get that Mary was supposed to be the attractive one and Rhoda the dumpy one, the yang to Mary's ying, since I always thought Valerie Harper was prettier. Rhoda had a line, looking at, I believe, a piece of candy, and saying, despondently, “I don't know why I'm putting this in my mouth. I should just apply it directly to my hips.” I didn't get the joke, or why that was a bad thing. Aren't curvey hips good? Some guys, led by Sir Mix-a-Lot, would still argue with Rhoda's thinking here, but the fact that it was voiced on a TV show was revolutionary.
I remember another line that confused me as a young Vikings fan. It was an episode in which Mary hires a female sportscaster, a former swimmer named B.J. (Caren Kaye), and Lou gives her the tip that the Vikings might be trading Fran Tarkenton. She acts all excited but when she and Mary are alone, she asks, “This Fran Tarkenton—who is she?” That's the joke. The part I didn't get was why Lou would be excited by the news. Trade Fran? Are you crazy?
Of course the “Chuckles the Clown” episode was the famous one. I still think about it now and again. A little song, a little dance. A little seltzer down the pants. The older I get, the truer that feels.
Was she the first “Where are the good men?” woman on TV? Not that Mary would say that. Too polite. Too Minnesota Nice. But that was the running gag: the ways in which this dysfunctional workplace somehow worked; the ways in which this super-functional, super-attractive woman could never hook up. There was always a problematic reveal. One guy was too short, another too whatever. I remember she dated this super-attractive guy, a skiier, and Mary had to come to terms with her own shallowness in being with him since they had nothing in common. One evening, she tried to find that common ground and asked about his favorite movie. He said, “The Man Who Skiied Down Everest,” she wistfully said hers was “Gone with the Wind,” and he responded, after a pause, “Don't believe I've heard of that one.” Even I got that joke.
Her real relationships were the work ones, particularly after Rhoda left for her own show. After that, the visitors to Mary's apartment were colleagues. Or this week's bad date.
That last episode. The group hug. Why were they disbanding? Oh, right. A new owner came in, saw the horrible ratings, felt the problem was either in front of or behind the camera, and against all logic, concluded that the worst anchorman in the world, Ted Baxter, was fine, and fired everyone else. That's more brilliant than I realized then. I probably thought it was an anomaly rather than the way of the world. Let's face it, we just elected a malicious Ted Baxter president of the United States. A little more seltzer down our pants.
The point of Mary was that she wasn't that. She kept trying, kept smiling. She made life worth the seltzer. With each glance and every little movement.
Bat-tastic Quiz: Who are Col. Gumm's Minions?
Notice anything about the screenshot below?
Yes, it's taken from the old 1960s “Batman” series. And yes, it's from the second-season episodes where the Green Hornet and Kato guest star. The episodes aren't great, to be honest. A tonal thing. Batman and Robin are obviously satirizing the superhero genre, but GH and Kato play it straight. Even odder is that Britt Reid (and Kato) shows up in Gotham City at the same time as The Green Hornet (and Kato), yet no one suspects Reid of being the Hornet; they suspect him of being Batman, and charge Bruce Wayne with being the Hornet. Even as a kid I thought that was stupid. You mean they switch cities every night? C'mon, people.
But none of that is why I'm asking about the screenshot. Think actors. For example:
- Though you can't see him (his face is covered by the “N” in “VAN”), the criminal ringleader in this episode, Col, Gumm, surely one of the lamest Batman villains, is played by Roger C. Carmel, who, around the same time, played Harcourt Fenton Mudd in two memorable episodes of “Star Trek.” Was there a lot of crossover between “Batman” and “Star Trek”? I'm sure someone's looked into it. Yes, someone has.
But again, not that. I'm really talking about the two guys on the right. Recognize them?
- The one closest to us, the blonde, is Seymour Cassel, who, a year later, would co-star in John Cassevettes' film “Faces,” and become an indie favorite forever after. He's been in everything from “Coogan's Bluff” to “The Last Tycoon” to “Tin Men” to “Honeymoon in Vegas” to “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic.” He's 81 and still making movies.
- And the other guy? That's Alex Rocco. In just five years, he'll have one of the more famous cinematic deaths as Moe Greene in “The Godfather.” Rocco will also have a long career. He died last year.
I like the moment before the moment. Of course the biggest such moment is the episode's ASSISTANT VISITING HERO. Very soon he'd been one of the biggest movie stars in the world, assistant to no one.