TV posts

Saturday May 27, 2023

S4.E10: 'With Open Eyes'

I wrote about John Berryman's Dream Song #29 a year and a half ago, because “All the Bells Say” was the title of the Season 3 finale of “Succession.” What I didn't know until this year? All the season finales were from Dream Song #29:

There sat down, once, a thing on Henry's heart
so heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
Henry could not make good.
Starts again always in Henry's ears
the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.

And there is another thing he has in mind
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of. Ghastly,
with open eyes, he attends, blind.
All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears;

But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
end anyone and hacks her body up
and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody's missing.
Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
Nobody is ever missing.

The creators have actually gone backwards in the poem. Season 1 (“Nobody is Ever Missing”) is Kendall's Chappaquiddick moment, when his car crash causes the death of a young man during a wedding but he gets away with it because of who he is. Season 2 (“This is Not for Tears”) ends with Kendall taking on his father, despite his father blackmailing him about the Chappaquiddick moment; and season 3 (“All the Bells Say”) is the kids banding together to prevent Dad selling the company but arriving, as all the bells say, too late. BTW, that's a great fucking line in a great fucking poem: too late, too late, ding dong, too late. Brilliant. I've loved this poem since college. I think it's true for all of us, particularly that first stanza. We all have our moment when the world parts from us. The third stanza is about guilt, seemingly unjustified, but maybe not? Maybe just nobody is paying attention? That feels real, too, even if, at age 60, it feels like too many people are missing. Not because I hacks them up but because I lets them go. I stopped paying attention. 

So what will the series finale (“With Open Eyes”) be? Who succeeds Lear/Logan? What makes sense for our world? What resonates? I hope they find it. Roman is out of it. Roman rose and fell. It's just Kendall and Shiv now, and maybe none of them? Maybe it winds up with the conglomerate? The line to the top is frayed, and indistinct, and no one is accountable.

“Ghastly/With open eyes, he attends, blind.” He is blind despite the open eyes. Who is he? Kendall? Shiv? Both? No matter what, it's a bad world and it's a reflection of our world. Either the Elon Musk figure takes over Fox News (Shiv triumphant) or the Donald Trump figure blocks it (Kendall triumphant). Ghastly.

Berryman, in our backyard, with open eyes. Photo by Bob Lundegaard.

Posted at 01:22 PM on Saturday May 27, 2023 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Thursday May 25, 2023

Ray Stevenson (1964-2023)

Stevenson, left, and McKidd, as Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of HBO's “Rome.” 

Wasn't HBO's “Rome” built just yesterday? It feels like we were just watching new episodes. Nope, Erik, that was 20 years ago, and as of yesterday, the real yesterday, HBO is now called “Max,” just a few days after the man who played Titus Pullo, Ray Stevenson, died at the age 58.

Patricia and I had recently seen Stevenson in India's Academy Award-winning “RRR,” white-haired and white-bearded, and playing British imperial villain rather than Roman working class lovable lout, so it took me a minute. “Wait, isn't that the dude from 'Rome'?” That was a great show that never got its due; Stevenson and co-star Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus had such great chemistry as two mismatched Roman soldiers wandering through history. They were basically the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the rise and fall of the Roman empire—if HBO had let it fall. Instead they dropped it after two seasons. Too expensive. But it had a nice run. I should rewatch it.

Titus Pollo was not a nice man—rapey, not bright—but somehow Stevenson made him lovable. He seemed the big man who would protect you—unless you were on the wrong side, then he'd crushed your skull like a grape. Stevenson had charisma and a strong physical presence, and he went on to bigger roles, like Marvel's “The Punisher,” which seemed right but not quite. That character is humorless and that wasn't Stevenson. Humor shone in his eyes. After Titus, I don't think the entertainment industry quite found the right role for him. He was better than the roles he got.

Posted at 12:37 AM on Thursday May 25, 2023 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Saturday April 01, 2023

Lance Reddick (1962-2023)

The first time I watched all five seasons of “The Wire,” I tended to root for the rebellious cops like Jimmy McNulty and Lester Freamon. Particularly Lester: the intellectual as natural police. I liked the guys taking on the system even though they'd get punished for it. I was young. Well, 46.

The second time I watched all five seasons of “The Wire,” I had, in the interim, become a manager, and man did I identify with Lt. Cedric Daniels, played by Lance Reddick, the officer trapped between those fomenting for change from below and the powerful, calcified (and often corrupt) entities above. The first time through, to be honest, I was a little annoyed with Daniels. Did he care enough? Why wasn't he doing more? Didn't he know who the heroes were? Second time through, I immediately recognized what an awful position he was put in—constantly. How the demands for change made sense but why they were ignored. The people below were interested in quality and the people above were interested in quantify—the numbers game. How you tried to protect your little corner of the world; how you tried to protect your people and yourself. How it usually didn't work out and you wound up in the pawn shop unit. 

This is from Jonathan Abrams' oral history of “The Wire.” It's Reddick on an early meeting with creator David Simon:

I remember him saying organizations can't be reformed, but people can. I remember being struck by it when he said it, because I knew that I had never thought of it that way, and I knew that there was something profound in the insight. Then, over time, particularly when I watched the show, I realized how we see both on the criminal side and on the police side, you see people struggling to live up to the codes of the institutions that they're a part of and seeing how it chips away at their humanity.

Reddick initially read for Bunk Moreland (three times) and then for Bubbles (he'd recently played addicts on other shows). Once he got the Lt. Daniels role, he spent a day with a cop, a narcotics lieutenant who was getting his MBA at night school at Johns Hopkins, and who told a story about busting a dirty cop that stayed with Reddick. The dirty cop lunged for a drawer, possibly a gun, and Reddick's cop thought: Please go for it. Because I'd love to blow your head away. The story made Reddick realize “that level of savagery and ferocity that you have to be able to call up in an instant and be able to tame and put away in an instant.” You'd see that ferocity flash in Daniels' eyes from time to time. But more, there was just a burden on him, a silent burden. A fan has collected scenes of Daniels' “catchphrase,” where he's asked stupid or obvious questions, or questions he can't answer, and just walks away. It's fucking great.

I also remember that episode—I think it's third season—when we finally see Daniels out of uniform. I think he gets a late call some evening, and he's standing on the landing in just pajama bottoms, and ... holy crap he's cut. He looks like a prize fighter. Not an ounce of fat on him.

That's part of what makes Reddick's recent death, “from natural causes,” so bewildering. That guy died of natural causes? At 60? My age? It's almost an argument against being in shape. If it can happen to Lance Reddick... 

I've written about how great “The Wire” is, and how during its run it was only nominated for two Emmys, both writing, never for show, and it never won anything. What I like? That never bothered Simon. If the Emmys were the calcified entity above him, he was the Daniels figure. And the McNulty figure fomenting from below? That was Reddick. “I'll always be angry about [the lack of Emmy recognition],” he said. “I'll be pissed off about it until the day I die.”

Posted at 09:33 AM on Saturday April 01, 2023 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 28, 2023

Lance Kerwin (1960-2023)

Oh, man. Too soon.

He was once my jokey answer whenever I had that stupid conversation about who you’d want to play you in a movie. This was in the ’80s or ’90s, long after his Tiger Beat heyday. Friends would be picking the big movie stars of the day while I went with a semi-forgotten TV actor.

When I was just becoming a teenager, though, Lance Kerwin was one of the main teenage stars of sensitive “issue of the day” TV drama. He was on five ABC Afterschool Specials, where the plots related to school bullies, step moms, and shortness. Over the years, he played a blind kid (“Shazam!”), the younger brother of a kid who ODs (“The Death of Richie”), and the child of divorced parents (“Children of Divorce”). He kept running into Kristy McNichol and Melissa Sue Anderson, and got to hang with Lynda Carter on “Wonder Woman” (where he played a rancher’s son) and Lindsay Wagner on “Bionic Woman” (where he played, cough, an Arabian prince). And in the pilot episode of “James at 15/16,” the show that made him famous, he runs away from home and winds up hitch-hiking with and learning life lessons from a Charlie’s Angel, Kate Jackson, who got Emmy-nominated for the part.

I don’t think I really watched “James at 15/16.” Right, it was opposite “Barney Miller” in pre-VCR days, so no. But it was critically acclaimed, and, I believe, quotidian. Some issue of the day stuff—a deaf kid, teen pregnancy, teen alcoholism—but mostly just, you know, crushes and friends and trying to fit in. The episode where he turns 16 and loses his virginity was controversial, and not because his uncle tried to buy him a prostitute, or because two episodes later he worried he contracted VD, but because, per The New York Times, “the network objected to the script’s use of the word ‘responsible’ as a euphemism for birth control.” Who was the lucky girl? A Swedish cultural exchange student. Quotidian. 

But the performance of his that hit home for me was the 1976 TV movie “The Loneliest Runner,” a Michael Landon production about a teen who wets the bed, as I did. IMDb’s little descriptor is actually incorrect—or misses the point: 

A young boy who still wets the bed finds escapism from his abusive mother and his own embarrassment by going running after school.

Not quite. His mother was abusive because she assumed his bed-wetting was laziness, and she hoped to cure him of it by hanging the wet, stained sheet out his bedroom window to dry—and where all the neighbors could see it. That’s why, every day, after school, he’d run home to pull it up. This went on for months. We got a montage of him running and running and running. And then in gym class one day, when everyone has to run 600 yards, or a half mile, or whatever it was, he pulls away from the other students. Eventually he becomes an Olympic runner, played by Michael Landon, but that’s just at the end. The brunt of the movie is him dealing with his awful mother, hoping to grow out of his bed-wetting ways, hoping to get the girl (Melissa Sue Anderson).

He continued to act into the 1980s—he, Eric Stoltz and James Spader play brothers who break their father, Robert Mitchum, out of prison in the 1983 TV movie “A Killer in the Family”—but he struggled with sobriety and left the profession in the 1990s. Per the Times obit, he was busted for theft and falsifying documents to get food stamps in 2010, which makes it sound like he was on his last legs; but in the AP story on the incident, the apparent problem was omitting the three properties he owned on the mainland, so hardly last legs. It also seems he was already running a rehab program and being a youth pastor, so not sure of his trajectory. Plus he was returning to acting? IMDb has him fourth-billed in a 2022 movie, “The Wind & the Reckoning,” about leprosy in 19th-century Hawaii.

The cause of death isn’t mentioned. He was just 62.

Posted at 01:40 PM on Saturday January 28, 2023 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Sunday January 08, 2023

Another IMDb 'Known For' Quiz

I'll show you the actual IMDb “Known For” image in a second, but it's tougher these days to cut out the character names that might give it away. So for now I'll just list off the productions this actor, per IMDb's algorithm, is KNOWN FOR.

In this order:

  1. The Waterboy
  2. Night Shift
  3. Click
  4. Arrested Development

I knew he was in 2). I also knew he was in 4) but he's not the first name I associate with that great show. I did not know he was in 1) and 3), but then I'm not a huge Adam Sandler guy. Maybe that puts me at odds with the culture and IMDb's algorithm. If the algorithm truly taps into the culture. Which I doubt.

The point is, there's a massive #1 that IMDb's algorithm is somehow missing. It's older than these others but it was seismic. And it's still part of the culture—particularly as a recent catch-phrase. And if you're like “Forget it, old is old,” and you want a recency bias, there's a current, critically acclaimed show for which this actor has won Emmys. The algorithm supposedly cares about that.

More clues? He was one of the most famous faces of the 1970s for playing this character on this TV show. He wound up starring in movies as a result. But he's mostly known for TV. For this missing TV show.

Hell, when he's introduced, people often place this character's name between the actor's first and last name: X “Y” Z. He's referenced in “Pulp Fiction.” There's a statue of him, as this character, in Milwaukee.

Want more? Ayyyyyy.

Exactamundo. It's Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, who, per IMDb, is somehow not known for playing the Fonz on “Happy Days.”

I think IMDb's jumped the shark.

Posted at 12:08 PM on Sunday January 08, 2023 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 07, 2023

The Stars (Trek/Wars) Align

I've seen a few articles or posts about “Andor,” the prequel “Star Wars” TV series starring Diego Luna, which seems to appeal to people who don't like “Star Wars,” like my wife, but I haven't seen anyone mention the following.

Whenever Bix (Adria Arjona) needs to send a message to Stellan Skarsgard's Luthen Real, one of the leaders of the rebellion, she climbs a tower to do so—I guess for the privacy or protection, or because the signal goes further. This is how it looks. 

I immediately flashed on the Jefferies Tube from “Star Trek”:

So is this a “Trek” homage from “Wars”? The “Star”s aligning? I thought the usual nerds would be all over this, but if they are it's elsewhere, out of my range.

Posted at 09:43 AM on Saturday January 07, 2023 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Friday December 23, 2022

M*A*S*H Note, Klinger Rules

Klinger and Frank pass each other in the entrance to the Swamp. Frank gives a disgusted look.

Klinger [grandly]: I wore this with just you in mind.
Frank: You make me want to throw up!
Klinger [happily, to everyone else]: See, it pays to dress.

Season 5, Episode 4, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” the one where Hawkeye is temporarily blinded. Halfway through season 4 it began to feel a lot less funny to me, but Jamie Farr still makes me laugh.

Posted at 07:55 AM on Friday December 23, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Tuesday December 13, 2022

M*A*S*H Note: Avengers #60

What, you think people are going to notice what comic book this is? On their little black-and-white TVs? And even if they have a big color job, it just goes by in a flash. Plus it's *a comic book*. Who cares? Nobody. I'm not wasting any sleep over it.

The screenshot is from “Der Tag,” M*A*S*H, S4, Ep17, aired January 1976. It's the one where Hot Lips is away, Frank bothers everybody, so Col. Potter asks Hawkeye and B.J. to be nice to him. Frank winds up: cleaning up in poker, getting drunk, professing a romantic interest in Nurse Kellye. He also stumbles into an ambulance (with a jokey toe tag on his foot) and winds up at the front. Joe Morton guest stars.

The comic book Radar is holding is Avengers #60 from December 1968. Avengers #1 was published in Sept. 1963, or about 10 years after the end of the Korean War. But yeah, I'm sure they thought, “Close enough. Who's going to notice? And who's going to know?” Turns out, nerds. Lots and lots of nerds.

Posted at 11:45 AM on Tuesday December 13, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Friday November 18, 2022

M*A*S*H Note: Seinfeld Before Seinfeld


There was this thing that “Seinfeld” did pretty much throughout its run where characters would talk over each other. It wasn't in that Woody Allenish simulacrum of everyday conversation, where dialogue was a series of fender benders. No, in this, each character was involved with their own concerns, their own minidramas, and would voice them, and the other side would voice their own, and it seemed like they were having a conversation but they were actually having two separate conversations. Each was talking and neither was listening. It felt a bit like the way the solipsistic world ran. I'd never seen a TV show, or a movie for that matter, do something similar. 

Turns out, “M*A*SH” did it two decades earlier. 

Last night I watched the episode “Life With Father” (Season 3, Episode 8), and that's pretty much what happens throughout. There's a mail call and Father Mulcahy learns his sister, the sister, wants to leave the nunnery to have children. This upsets him. Henry's wife sends him a letter giving him permission to have an affair, and, initially buoyant, he slowly realizes, and then conclusively finds out, it's because of a guilty conscience. “An orthodontist, Lorraine?” There's a subplot about a half-Korean, half-Jewish baby needing a bris, and how Frank and Hot Lips object and try to document it. Meanwhile, our heroes Hawkeye and Trapper walk through the episode trying to find 10 presidential faces in a barnyard scene in order to win a pony. They become like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of their own show.

I'd already noticed this solipsistic tendecy developing in the mess tent but it really plays out when Henry visits Father Mulcahey, each airs their own concerns, neither listens to the other, and in fact Henry thinks the Father gave him great advice he never gave him. It's totally “Seinfeld” two decades before “Seinfeld.” 

The writers of the episode were Everett Greenbaum and James Fritzell, who worked together in television for 30 years, writing episodes of “Mister Peepers,” “The Real McCoys,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and 24 episodes of “M*A*S*H,” including “The General Flipped at Dawn,” “Abyssinia, Henry,” a lot of the transitional ones (Col. Potter's arrival, Margaret's marriage), as well as several other mail call episodes. In case this is ever helpful to anyone doing a history of sitcoms.

Don't know if I've mentioned this here, on my own blog, but in my run through the first few seasons of “M*A*S*H,” the actors who have consistently made me laugh out loud are: 1) McLean Stevenson and 2) Jamie Farr. Oh, and Loretta Swit does the best drunk on the show. Hands down. Overall, the show is shockingly undated for something 50 years old.

Posted at 08:35 AM on Friday November 18, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Tuesday November 15, 2022

M*A*S*H Note: Allen Jenkins and Pat O'Brien, Together Again

Delivering the POB line before they duck back inside—a la “Laugh-In.” 

The other night I watched the Season 3, Episode 2 episode of “M*A*S*H” called “Rainbow Bridge,” original air date Sept. 17, 1974—or nine days after Pres. Ford pardoned former Pres. Nixon. It's the one where the Chinese let the MASH 4077th unit know they have nine wounded Americans they can't care for and could someone please pick them up at the titular Rainbow Bridge, which, our heroes find out, is 30 miles within enemy territory and only 20 miles from the Chinese border. Inevitably, Frank and Hot Lips are against going, Hawkeye and Trapper think (as doctors) they should go, and Henry has trouble making a command decision but finally comes down on the Hawkeye/Trapper side. It's still a tense mid-bridge meeting, made more so because Hot Lips convinces Frank to go along, then convinces him to bring her little pistol for protection, even though “no guns” was one of the stipulations, and even though the Chinese have plenty of them. Plus the pistol is little. It's hardly protection at all. But that turns out to be its saving grace, since, once it's discovered, once Frank in a sense unholsters it, it's good for a laugh and breaks the ice and allows the wounded to be transfered.

Throughout the episode, a lot is made of the racism of the “bad doctors” so it's a little disappointing that the Chinese man in charge on the bridge, Dr. Lin Tam, is played by Mako, who is, of course, Japanese. Nothing against Mako, he does a fine-enough job. I don't even believe you should make actors stay behind geographic lines, as some do today, particularly when racial matters are involved. But Hollywood almost never seems to land on the proper country when Asian actors are involved.

Anyway, that's not why I'm writing about the episode. I'm writing about the episode because of three jokes. 

This is the first one. Frank is doing triage but, being Frank, keeps messing it up. Or he's doing it according to U.S. Army regulations rather than Hippocratic ones: U.S. first, Allies second, enemy last. On the bus, Hawkeye countermands him—putting a Chinese POW with a chest wound at the front of the pack. And we get this exchange:

  • Frank: What you're doing is mutiny! I'm in command of this bus!
  • Hawkeye (to Father Mulcahey as they exit): “Mutiny on the Bus.” It was a B movie. They couldn't afford a bounty. Allen Jenkins played the bus driver. 

Five years ago, I wouldn't have gotten that final joke, but Allen Jenkins was a perennial Warner Bros. supporting player of the 1930s. You could see him in comedies and gangster movies, and in gangster comedies, but he was always supporting. A movie with Allen Jenkins in the lead would indeed be “B.” Mostly I was tickled to hear his name.

Later, Hawkeye says this, referencing another 1930s Warner Bros. regular:

  • I think Ralph Bellamy said it best when he said, “If I can't get the girl, at least give me more money.” 

Finally, before they leave for Rainbow Bridge, Father Mulcahey offers a fine benediction. Which leads to this exchange:

  • Hawkeye: He's really very good, isn't he?
  • Trapper: Tops.
  • Hawkeye: I feel guilty. We tried to get Pat O'Brien.

The writer of the episode is Laurence Marks, who is mostly known for writing “M*A*S*H” episodes. He wrote 21 of them between 1972 and 1978. He was aided and abetted by Larry Gelbart. Not sure who decided to make the episode a Warner Bros. homage but I'm glad they did. After the last several years of movie-watching, it feels like something gift-wrapped especially for me.

Posted at 02:20 PM on Tuesday November 15, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Monday November 07, 2022

M*A*S*H Note

“Now just a minute, this is a press conference! The last thing I want to do is answer a lot of questions!”

— Season 2, Episode 12, “The Incubator,” written by Laurence Marks, original air date Dec. 1, 1973

Posted at 01:46 PM on Monday November 07, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Tuesday September 27, 2022

Dreaming of Conan O'Brien

I was laying on my stomach on a lounge chair in an area outside of a building where there was a long row of chairs and lounge chairs. A group of us were there, and Conan O'Brien came over, and I sensed this was his territory and I was in his spot. But I didn't budge. Eventually, and not rudely, he told me to get out of his chair. “Really?” I said. “You think this is yours?” I was kind of joking and kind of not—it seemed a dick move on his part but I didn't really care about the chair. The group of us were watching TV, most of us sitting, Conan standing, and as he did so he blocked the sun. “That's why we need a tall person standing there,” I said. “So the sun isn't shining on the TV and we can see it better.” It was supposed to be a joke but Conan got huffy and began to go inside. “Conan...” I began. “Conan...” And just as I was telling him I was joking and he could have his seat, he turned on me angrily and said I was no longer invited to this place. Then he left. That was it, I was banned. The others sort of awkwardly moved away from me, and some part of me shrugged, oh well, but another part thought, well, that's a shame.

This was amid several dreams about the logistics of moving from different rooms/apartments in the last few days of a long trip, with the suitcase nearly empty of clean clothes. One of the rooms was in an old girlfriend's basement, and one of our group, an adult who seemed to know more about the world, was leaving her a tip ($50 or $100, I couldn't tell) paperclipped to a postcard on a small table. “Are we supposed to do that?” I asked. “Of course,” he said. I felt guilty over my breach of etiquette. How did I not know this?

Posted at 07:33 AM on Tuesday September 27, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Tuesday September 13, 2022

Emmys Need an Enema

I watched most of the Emmys last night and tweeted some of my disappointment with the show. Not with the winners—although my vote goes to “Barry” for comedy, and my vote (and my heart) goes to Rhea Seehorn for “Better Call Saul”—but more with the show's presentation. Didn't get much engagement from those tweets, but today I read Michael Schulman's piece in The New Yorker, “Cringe-Watching the 2022 Emmys” and felt seen. Example:

Despite celebrating the craft of television, the ceremony was ineptly written and paced. Thompson's comedy interludes had a wocka-wocka desperation about them, and the formerly low-key job of announcer went to the comedian Sam Jay, who stole focus with contrived introductions of the presenters. (“You've seen them on 'Black Bird,' but they've never been mentioned on Black Twitter. . . .”) For whatever reason, not all the presenters could be trusted to read off the nominees, which were sometimes announced before the presenters walked onstage, and the “In Memoriam” sequence was shot from angles that made it difficult to see the names of some of the departed. In the d.j. booth—because somehow having a celebrity d.j. has become mandatory at awards shows—was a fellow called Zedd, whose idea of wit was bringing up “Succession” 's Jesse Armstrong to “Shake Your Booty.” The play-off music, just as subtly, included “Time to Say Goodbye,” and kept things moving at a brutal clip. Instead of letting the winners build up to real emotion, the broadcast shooed them off to make time for the stars of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (tastelessly introduced as “two cops no one wants to see defunded”) to go on a chase for a stolen Emmy.

Agree on all of it. I don't need the house-party vibe. I don't need extra bits. I like comedy, I like songs, but mostly just celebrate the craft. Celebrate the people. That's why we're there. We like you, we really like you. So get on with it.

And next year, give a fucking statuetee to Rhea Seehorn. For God's sake.

Posted at 03:51 PM on Tuesday September 13, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Saturday August 06, 2022

Nichelle Nichols (1932-2022)

Here’s a story about the influence of Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Uhura character.

After the first season of “Star Trek,” she was thinking of quitting because there often wasn’t much to the role beyond “Hailing frequencies open, Captain.” Apparently she’d already submitted her resignation to creator Gene Roddenberry, who told her to think it over. During that thinking-it-over period, she attended a NAACP fundraiser, where she was told someone wanted to meet her:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Turns out he was a fan. “Star Trek” was one of the few shows he and Coretta let the kids watch. Per Nichols’ New York Times obit

“He said, ‘We admire you greatly, you know,’” Ms. Nichols said, and she thanked him and told him that she was about to leave the show. “He said, ‘You cannot. You cannot.’”

Dr. King told her that her role as a dignified, authoritative figure in a popular show was too important to the cause of civil rights for her to forgo. As Ms. Nichols recalled it, he said, “For the first time, we will be seen on television the way we should be seen every day.”

 On Monday morning, she returned to Roddenberry’s office and told him what had happened.

 “And I said, ‘If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.’”

Such was her influence that when Roddenberry rebooted the series two decades later with Picard, Riker, et al., a major movie star said she wanted in. That’s why Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan began showing up in the second season. “Nichelle was the first Black person I’d ever seen who made it to the future … the one beacon that said, ‘Yes, we’ll be there,’” Goldberg said this week, in tribute.

Lt. Uhura was the main woman on the show, wasn’t she? I’d never really thought about that before. Roddenberry’s original conception was even more progressive, with a female second-in-command (Majel Barrett) in the pilot episode “The Cage,” but of course the network had notes. Basically: lose the woman and the guy with the ears. Roddenberry had to pick his battles and went with Spock. Of the other recurring female characters, Yeoman Rand was just first season, Nurse Chapel (Barrett again) only began with the second season, and both were kind of lovelorn—the former making eyes at Kirk, the latter making plomeek soup for Spock. Lt. Uhura had a job.

What else did we know about Uhura? She liked to sing. She could speak Swahili. She liked small furry things. Sometimes she was frightened. I remember reading, decades ago, fan supposition that she had a thing for Kirk, or Kirk for her, since in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” the Platonians chose Chapel for Spock, knowing their history, but why Uhura for Kirk unless something was there? Sure. Or maybe because there was nothing there? “Trek” fans have long claimed this was the first interracial kiss on television, though there’s plenty of evidence of predecessors, but I’m pretty sure it was the first interracial kiss between TV series regulars. Anyway there’s a better argument that it was Sulu, rather than Kirk, who had a thing for Uhura. Cf., “Fair maiden” in “Naked Time” and rapacious ways in “Mirror Mirror.”

An even better argument: We all had a thing for her. I sure did. I had a poster of Lt. Uhura on my wall as a kid. This was in the mid-1970s when I watched “Star Trek” on reruns at 6 PM on Channel 11 (MetroMedia Television), at first haphazardly, then regularly, and then I fell hard: memorizing titles, their production order, their air dates. And up Uhura went, next to Cheryl Ladd. Even with that, it wasn’t until I was an adult and saw some TOS episodes again that I realized how absolutely freaking gorgeous she was. Just stunning. I look at photos today and I’m still stunned.

Shame I didn’t see her in more stuff, but onscreen roles were skimpy back then even for stunning Black women. She was hired by Duke Ellington as a dancer for his orchestra in the 1950s, and per IMDb, she was an uncredited dancer in the 1958 Otto Preminger “Porgy and Bess” movie. Pre-“Trek,” she played a mother preparing to send her kids to a newly integrated school in a 1964 TV movie, and was a guest star on an episode of Gene Roddenberry’s “The Lieutenant” TV series that went unaired because it was too controversial (read: mildly progressive). Mostly she was in the background: uncredited as a nurse on “Peyton Place,” uncredited in a 1966 Ann-Margret movie, a dice player in a 1966 James Garner movie. She also played “Ruana” in two episodes of the 1966 “Tarzan” TV series. Dare we? Probably not. Then she was in space. Then she was in the future.

After “Trek” there’s not much, either. She kept returning to Uhura: in the animated series, in the movies. She has 69 credits on IMDb and 16 of them are for Uhura, who finally got a first name, Nyota, in, I guess, “Star Trek VI”? Tim would know. Uhura also led to Nichols’ work with NASA, beginning in 1977, to help recruit women and people of color. The role she was ready to shed was the one she never did, and it made all the difference. 

Posted at 09:36 AM on Saturday August 06, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Wednesday May 18, 2022

The Book on The Book of Boba Fett

I was never a huge Boba Fett fan. I was there at the beginning, original “Star Wars” with lines around the block and are you a Luke or Han guy; and then “Empire” dropped and suddenly dudes were talking Boba Fett. Boba who? You mean the guy that turned in Han? You're not supposed to like him! But many of my contemporaries did. They thought he was cool. And even though he went into the mouth of the desert-monster thingy in “Return of the Jedi,” the legend grew. And eventually we learned—I guess in the prequels or one of the cartoon shows I never watched—that Boba was the model for the stormtroopers. They're all clones of him. Or his father? Or something? And he's a clone of his father, too? Another example of how, in trying to connect his universe, George Lucas destroys it.

Long way of saying I didn't jump right on Disney's latest “Star Wars” series, “The Book of Boba Fett,” even though I liked “The Mandalorian” enough. But this spring I finally got around to it. I'd heard it had Luke in it. The return of Luke! Looking like 1983 Mark Hamill! With scenes and everything! I was always a Luke guy. How could I miss that?


And I liked the Boba Fett stuff.

I liked that they didn't explain it. They just take us to Tatooine, and the now darkened, empty halls of Jaba the Hutt's lair, and then outside into the desert, and eventually down into the mouth of that desert-monster thingy, the sarlacc, with Boba Fett in its maw, or stomach, or wherever he is. And how he blasts his way out. And how the Jawas arrive and strip the Mandalorian armor from the unconscious Boba Fett. Then a Tusken tribe takes his body. I liked seeing all these creatures again. I assumed Boba would eventually turn the tables on the Tuskens, the Sand People, who make him a kind of slave. Instead, he proves his worth, adapts, and is welcomed into the tribe. He likes the Tuskens. He basically becomes the T.E. Lawrence of Tatooine.

All of this is intercut with later scenes where Boba is the crime lord of Mos Espa, with Fennec Shand (Wen Ming-Na) by his side. (Aside: Wen is nearly 60 years old and hot as all get-out.)

So I liked how it opened. But when it shifts to pick up on the Mandalorian's story in episode 5, and when in ep. 6 we get my man Luke and baby Yoda, now named Grogu, I was hugely disappointed. I'd somehow forgotten that, yes, during the prequels they'd made the Jedi boring. They made them assholes. They created a kind of Buddhist ascetism, which the Jedi-in-training has to follow whether he's a twentysomething Luke or a baby Yoda. We see Luke training baby Yoda and it's kind of painful to watch. The Mandalorian shows up, essentially Grogu's dad, with a present for him, chain mail, and isn't even allowed to see him. And Luke presents Grogu with a choice: the chain mail and life with Mando, or Yoda's lightsabre and life as a Jedi. “But you may choose only one,” he says. For life. He says this to a baby.

So stupid. Luke's path to the Jedi-hood was way more haphazard: Yeah, there's this thing called the Force, here's how you try to access it, not bad, hey, the Force is strong with this one, OK, why don't you go to Dagobah and learn from this dude Yoda? And by the time he chose the path he had nothing to lose: no parents, no aunt/uncle, no Ben. He had nothing to give up. And now he's asking Grogu—a baby—to give up his dad.

Anyway, Grogu chooses Mando, and good for him. Maybe that'll begin to set this galaxy on the right path. Lord knows the Jedi haven't helped much. One wonders, in fact, if the problem with this galaxy isn't just the bad guys, the Empire, but the good guys, too, and their ascetic rites. Both sides are just different kinds of assholes: one takes, one denies. Two sides of the same fucking coin.

My other takeaway from “The Book of Boba Fett” was what a potpourri of film history it was. “Lawrence of Arabia” was just the start. We also got the kids from “Quadrophenia,” an alien cowboy looking like Lee Van Cleef from the Leone-Eastwood movies, and King Kong. I liked the alien cowboy. I thought the “Quadrophenia” stuff a bit silly. 

But I think it went from homage to derivative in the final episode when it lifted lines directly from the early “Godfather” movies. As the other crime families align with the Pyke Syndicate, betraying Boba Fett, Mando says, “It was the smart move,” echoing Michael's line about Tessio's betrayal. Then, trapped, Boba sends Mok Shaiz's Majordomo (an excellent David Pasquesi) to negotiate the terms of his surrender, which turn out to be “Nothing,” echoing Michael's line from “II” about what he's willing to offer the scumbag U.S. Senator. I doubt the makers of “Boba Fett” thought they were scamming anyone—that we wouldn't notice. I'm sure they thought it was homage. But it still felt wrong. The way to create cool lines is not to lift the cool lines of better films. You gotta write them.

Posted at 10:47 AM on Wednesday May 18, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  
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