Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Put “Man Up” Down

man-up-abc-tv-show(Author’s Note: I started writing this review of Man Up a week ago when the show debuted. However there were some things from the pilot that I was unable to remember. And believe me when I say that this in itself is an indictment of the show since I normally remember just about all the details from a TV show that I watch. As I’ve said, I didn’t remember details of the episode and so was forced to try to locate and watch the show online. I eventually found it on the CTV Two section of the CTV website. However I kept finding reasons not to watch it and relive the agony I felt when watching the show the first time. I eventually watched it and that is what I am reviewing. I am not going to willingly watch this show again.)

I have, for the most part, attempted to avoid reviewing the pilot episodes of series this year. I am breaking this self-imposed restriction in order to review Man Up, the new ABC Tuesday night comedy, and I am doing this for one reason: I would do anything short of ripping my own testicles off with my bare hands in order not to have to watch a second episode of this abomination. And under the right – err, wrong – circumstances I’d think about the testicle thing.

Man Up is a comedy (allegedly) that centers around three friends, Will Keen (Mather Zickel), Kenny Hayden (Dan Fogler) and Craig Griffith (Christopher Moynihan). Will is married to Kenny’s sister Theresa (Terri Polo) while Kenny was married to Theresa’s friend Brenda (Amanda Detmer). Rounding out the adult cast is Bridgette’s new boyfriend Grant (Henry Simmons).

The pilot opens with Will, Kenny and Craig playing Call Of Duty online together while talking in their headsets (sorry I don’t own a game console so I have know idea of the exact terminology). Will was able to get permission to play by suggesting to Theresa that they have sex while she was folding laundry, a suggestion that provoked an eye roll from Theresa. The game chat isn’t entirely game related. Will’s son Nathan’s thirteenth birthday is later that week and Will doesn’t know what to get his son that says “I’m a man.” Craig (who has never been married) is obsesses with  Lisa, a former girlfriend who he had lunch with earlier in the day. She’s getting married on the same day as Nathan’s birthday party but from their conversation and she talked about a song he used to play for her on his guitar. This he took as “a cry for help.” Kenny says that this woman is crazy and he should know because he used to be married to a crazy woman. Will then has to tell Kenny that Brenda will be at the party. Kenny calls Theresa on her cell phone to tell her to uninvite Brenda, while Craig calls Lisa, which breaks up the game because the only one playing is Will.

The next day Will and Theresa are in their kitchen. Theresa gets a package which she has Will open. He uses his pocket knife. It turns out to be a video game which Will initially thinks is for him because it is violent and scary and rated for 17 year-old and older. In fact it’s her gift for Nathan. He himself is searching for the right gift for his son to usher him into manhood and he thinks that this would have been a perfect gift to usher him into manhood. His point is undercut somewhat by his use of Hazelnut coffee creamer. Theresa further undercuts him by telling him that his grandfather fought in World War II and his father fought in Vietnam but he plays video games and uses pomegranate body wash. He’s “man…ish.” Just then Kenny arrives to tell his sister that Brenda has to be uninvited, that she can’t come to the “fluffin’” party (the kids are present and he has to use a substitute word). Just then Brenda arrives with some party hats and tells Kenny that there is no way that she isn’t going to be at the party They argue about her coming to the party. Eventually Will pulls Kenny out of the argument and tells Kenny that he has to deal with it and he should try to act like the “coolest guy he can think of .” For Kenny that’s Toby McGuire (?!). Kenny tries to act cool like Toby McGuire but then Brenda informs him that she’s bringing a date to the party, and Kenny loses it.

Will’s at work but still looking for a “manly” gift for Nathan’s birthday.when Kenny comes in. He’s a pharmaceutical salesman with a product that has side effects worse than what it treats. Will lists some of the options that Will has found for Nathan’s gift when Craig, who works at the same insurance company, comes in to tell him that not only aren’t they paying a particular claim but that not claims would be paid that day; it’s in a memo. Kenny notices that Craig is growing a beard to which Kenny objects, because a beard is “my thing.” Will remembers that Lisa liked him with a beard and this is how it’s revealed that Craig called Lisa six times the previous night. Kenny and Craig still want to go out for lunch in spite of the fact that it’s only 10:15 but Will does go out because all the talk of beards gives him a great idea for a gift for Nathan.

At the party, Craig is telling Brenda and Theresa about Lisa, and while everybody is telling Craig that Lisa is just feeling a bit nostalgic for what they had, Brenda totally agrees with him that it is a call for help and that he needs to make some sort of a gesture, that when you realise that someone is your soul mate it is forever. Kenny says that Brenda used to say that he was her soul mate she tells him that her soul mate is coming soon and he is bringing lemon bars. There’s a first meeting between Kenny and Grant that really shows a certain amount of perfect pomposity on Grants part, and which is hard to explain in words. Later, when Grant is shooting hoops with some of the kids, Kenny decides to challenge him to a game of one on one. It does not go well for Kenny. every time he tries to make a shot Grant blocks him (not surprisingly since Grant is tall and perfectly muscled, while Kenny is short and not muscled at all.

The crisis suddenly erupts when Nathan unwraps Grant’s gift. It’s a shaving kit. Will’s gift for his son, something that only a father would get his son (he thought) was a shaving kit. So he has to make a mad dash to the mall to get a replacement gift, and he takes Craig and Kenny with him, with Craig driving. Suddenly Craig announces that he needs closure with Lisa. Coincidentally (not really) they’re right in front of the church where Lisa is getting married. Will needs to be back for the cutting of the cake so he gives in and let’s Craig go in the church. Lisa is in the middle of her vows when Craig bursts in singing “Brown Eyed Girl”. Soon after he, Will and Kenny are rushing for the car, with an angry mob of groomsmen following them, yelling “You’re dead.”

Back at the house Will gets everybody in the house just as the angry wedding party shows up and demolishes his mail box. They want “the brown-eyed girl,” meaning Craig. Kenny wants him to give himself up while Craig is about to call the police. Then Nathan says “Dad” and Will decides that the three of them will go out to confront them, because that’s what their fathers would have done, because “they were real men, not the over evolved generation of pantywaists we’ve become.” Craig will stay on the porch while Kenny will go through the garage and get Nathan’s hockey stick to cover Will’s flank. Then Grant wants a job. Kenny doesn’t want him involved but Will tells him to stay on the porch with Craig. Grant says he’ll do something cool. Kenny can’t find the hockey stick; the best he can come up with is a pink pogo stick. The two groups stare each other down when suddenly Grant charges off the porch and tackles the groom and two of the other men. Later as Craig, Kenny and Will are congratulating themselves, we find out that he’s the only one who actually got into a fight, which was why he was the only one actually arrested. Brenda then tells Kenny that they are leaving; they have to go bail out Grant…and Kenny had better have his ATM card because they’re going to need bail money. Finally, after everyone leaves, Will has some time with Nathan. Turns out that between the party and the fight (and kissing a girl named Samantha in the “bounce house”) it has been the best day of his life. Will is about to apologise for not getting Nathan a gift when the boy reveals that Theresa said that the game was from Will. He can’t get it unwrapped so Will takes out his pocket knife and suddenly he realises what the perfect gift would be. He passes down “the old Mohaska” to his son just as his father passed it down to him.

I can’t fault the cast of Man Up. This is a Grade A cast in a Grade F series. Dan Fogler is a Tony Award winning Broadway actor, while both Mather Zickel and Christopher Moynihan have extensive experience both in series and in film roles, as has Amanda Detmer. And I’ve always been impressed by Terri Polo in just about anything that she’s done, either comedies like Sports Night and dramas, including the last season and a half of of The West Wing where she played Helen Santos. She has a nearly chameleon-like quality that allows her believably take on a variety of roles an not only be believable in them but to sometimes make me fail to recognise her in a role until I look at the credits. And while Henry Simmons will always be Detective Baldwin Jones (from NYPD Blue) to me he was almost ideally suited to play the all too perfect (if not necessarily too bright) Grant. Part of the problem is that he has to play that role, just as all of the other actors have to play their characters they way they do.

A big problem that the pilot had was that it was simply not funny. In fact there were places where it was catastrophically unfunny. The scene where Craig went into the church was cringe worthy, as was the scene where Grant charges into the weeding party. The scene where Kenny “played” basketball with Grant didn’t make me feel any sympathy for Kenny at the same time that it didn’t make me feel anything at all about Grant. I don’t really know how to feel about that scene. It’s sort of like watching someone goading a peaceful animal into charging and then feeling ill-served that it attacked. And yet, in watching that scene play out the way that it did, I don’t feel any sympathy for Grant because of the way that he was introduced.

But the biggest problem in the writing is with the characters. I don’t feel any emotional attachment to any of them. There's nothing about any of them that I fell that I can relate to, and they are too self-centered and self-aware. In their own ways, Will, Kenny and Craig are all doofuses. No sane man would take a lunch with a former girlfriend who is about to get married as a “cry for help” or an effort to rekindle an old relationship the way that Craig does. And Kenny, who plays the angry divorced guy, is still so “whipped” by his ex-wife that despite seemingly trying to “lay down the law” he ends up paying the bail for her new boyfriend. Grant is basically “The Old Spice Guy” brought into the everyday world, and even then it is a caricature rather than a character with any real dimension. And while Henry Simmons has the ideal look to portray him, and he did a good job with it, it’s not exactly a character that you can deal with in large doses.

And the two female characters don’t come off very well either. Brenda is a bitch, and not in the pro-feminist badge of pride sense that the word can have if said in the right way. She delights in treating Kenny like dirt and humiliating him at every opportunity. In fact that’s the reason – maybe the only reason – why she’s dating Grant. She treats Craig just as badly by encouraging his delusion that Lisa wants to reconcile with him. The only reason I can see for her taking that action is to see the “fun” when Craig takes the advice of the only person who agreed with him. And Theresa is only slightly better. Her best friend is Brenda, someone who takes pleasure in messing with Theresa’s brother. She’s the one who undercuts Will when she says that his grandfather fought in World War II and his father fought in Vietnam but he just plays video games on a console and uses pomegranate body wash. Theresa calls Will and his friends “man…ish” And the thing is that the qualities that she presumably finds unmanly are undoubtedly the qualities that she found attractive in the first place.

It is the concept that is probably the worst part of Man Up. The basic notion, that modern man are “an over-evolved generation of pantywaists,” is a running theme through a number of series. It was the basis of the late and unlamented How To Be A Gentleman, and of the ABC series which precedes Man Up, Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing. I think that the idea that men in general are becoming less masculine, or “man…ish” as Theresa puts it, is a fallacy. Maybe it’s a by-product of the feminist movement and the or maybe it’s just a result of a misguided view of what being a man entails. When Will tells his friends that their Vietnam War vintage fathers (and presumably their grandfathers, the World War II fighters) wouldn’t have called the police when there was a mob of angry groomsmen on their lawn threatening to beat Craig to a pulp, he was wrong. They would absolutely call the police. (Of course if they had met Craig, they might well have thrown him out to the mob, but that’s a different story.)

Man Up fails in some of the most important ways. The characters are poorly drawn and in several cases are unlikable. At best they are only mildly engaging, and the leading male characters were people that you didn’t really want to know (and hope that other people don’t thing you’re like). The humour was at best weak and at worst depressingly unfunny, and median edged closer to the latter than to the former. In a year which has produced a number of good comedies (several of which have featured strong female characters) this is particularly bad show. If you’ve watched the first episode – or worse the first two episodes – do yourself a favour and don’t watch any more. If enough people do that maybe this abomination will go away.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Falling Angels

CharliesAngels2011castI wasn’t sure if I should start writing a review of ABC’s revival of Charlie’s Angels. There is a definite sense that the show is not long for this world. I certainly wouldn’t bet on it getting a full season order. Based on what I’ve seen it doesn’t deserve one. It is one bad piece of television.

The original Charlie’s Angels ran from 1976 to 1981 and featured Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett-Majors (as she was then known) and Jacklyn Smith as three young women who had gone through the police academy but found the reality of their lives as cops less than fulfilling – writing parking tickets, acting as crossing guards and doing office work – until the mysterious Charlie Townsend took them away from all that. The show used the same plot all the time; the women go undercover to solve the crime of the week along with their “handler” (for lack of a better term) Bosley. Somehow the cases all took place in locales where the women had to be skimpily dressed and with minimum of “support”. Farrah Fawcett-Mjaors once said, “When the show was number three, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.” It was the epitome of T&A TV from Fred Silverman. In fact when Shelley Hack replaced Kate Jackson on the show and ratings started to fall, Hack was fired; it was rumoured at the time that super-model Hack was fired because she didn’t have enough to jiggle. She was replaced by Tanya Roberts (who did have a lot to jiggle) and ratings continued to fall. ABC insisted that the show was empowering to women by showing them as being capable and in non-traditional roles. The series was later rebooted as a pair of theatrical movies starring Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz as women who, although not trained as police officers, had various skills that the never seen Charlie (played in the original series and the movies by John Forsythe) felt would be more useful as private detectives than in their traditional fields. While the original series played it fairly straight – well as straight as any show featuring three women solving crimes wearing as little in the way of clothing as the broadcast censors of the time (who were apparently more liberal than they are today if Farrah Fawcett’s comments about bras is accurate) – the movies are described as “action comedies.”

The new Charlie’s Angels has ex-criminals as it’s lead characters instead of former cops or experts in various fields. Abby Simpson (Rachel Taylor) is a former cat burglar, Eve French (Minka Kelly) is a former street racer, and Kate Prince (Annie Ilonzeh) is a former Miami detective who was caught taking bribes. Even Bosley (Ramon Rodrigues) – now given the first name of John, and not looking at all like David Doyle or even Tom Bosley – has a past. He’s a hacker who now uses his talents for good. He still acts as the Angel’s handler but in this version of the show he goes out on cases and even goes undercover. Canadian actor Victor Garber supplies the voice of Charlie (replacing Robert Wagner) and is not seen at all; in the original you nearly always saw Charlie, or at least his hand or the back of his head or the women who surrounded him.

In the most recent episode of the show, Charlie has an assignment for the Angels. They have to find a missing investigative journalist, who just happens to be the woman who broke the story of police corruption that resulted in Kate being caught. The woman, Amanda Kane (Tahnya Tozzi) was last seen aboard a cruise ship. So naturally the Angels go undercover on the ship. Kate becomes a cruise director on the ship while Abby temporarily takes on the role of a IT tech on the ship. This allows her to break into the ship’s security office and hack into the video records, which she downloads to Bosley. Eve takes on the role of a passenger. Abby gets her upgraded to the suite that Amanda had previously occupied. This not only gives them a base to operate from but also gives them the chance to search the room at their leisure. In the room they find a mysterious plastic cylinder. On the security files they find Amanda on the ship and discover her being manhandled by a man who they identify as the croupier in the ship’s casino. Eve goes to the casino and wins a lot of money playing Blackjack – card counting of course – which attracts the croupier’s attention. they head back to his suite, which gives Eve the chance to search it. She finds a cylinder like the one they found in Amanda’s room, this one containing an unusual flower. She takes a photo of the flower with her cell phone.

Bosley and the Angels somehow link the croupier with four major crime figures who are also aboard the ship. They decide to have Bosley replace the one man that the croupier hasn’t met by having Eve “incapacitate” during a massage. Bosley is given one of the flowers by the croupier which gives him entry into the suite. They’re there to bid on a mysterious product but to ensure security, not only are they stripped of their weapons but any electronic device they may have and then are drugged. They disappear from the ship only to wake up on an island.

Needless to say, the Angels and Charlie are anxious when Bosley doesn’t check in. Conveniently there are only three islands near where the ship was when Bosley disappeared. They’re privately owned but while two are owned by Hollywood celebrities, one is owned by the mysterious Morgan Finch. Moreover they are able to determine from satellite imaging that one of the buildings on the island is radiating a great deal of heat. Somehow Charlie arranges to get the Angels off the cruise ship and onto a boat which allows them to infiltrate the island to find Bosley and hopefully Amanda.

The big building that is radiating so much heat is a huge greenhouse and refining operation. The mystery flower – still unnamed – produces a drug that Morgan Finch (D.B. Woodside) calls Island Ice, something that he describes as being like Heroin on steroids. Finch is auctioning off exclusive distribution rights for the whole country to one of the four criminal cartels represented by the people brought to the island by the croupier. Everyone but Bosley seems eager to bid without even knowing that the drug was legitimate. He was the only person to ask for evidence that the drug was as potent as Finch said it was. Finch provides proof in the form of the only person currently addicted to the drug: Amanda Kane. Unfortunately when the auction restarts it halts again when the croupier brings in a cell phone with the picture of the man that Bosley is supposed to be replacing, who of course looks nothing like, him.

On the island, armed with high powered weapons the Angels infiltrate into the combination greenhouse and processing lab. They proceed to split up with each taking on a different job. Abby will look for Amanda, Kate will search for Bosley, and Eve will try to destroy all of the plants by connecting the irrigation system into a barrel conveniently labelled “Poison.” In short order all three of them get captured before they even have a chance to use the fancy weapons that they brought with them. And in equally short order they are able to administer a major ass-kicking to the people who captured them. I think the most laughable example of ass-kicking comes when Eve and the guard fight in the greenhouse as the irrigation system – you know, the one now pumping poison to the plants – is drenching them, and incidentally getting into Eve’s mouth. In short order the bad guys are all subdued, Amanda and the captive labour is freed and the Island Ice is destroyed. All by four people. In the coda, Charlie calls to tell the Angels – minus Kate – that the Bahamian government has agreed to extradite Finch to the United States (for reasons I’m not entirely clear on; he operated his growing and processing operation on an island presumably in Bahamian jurisdiction, and the ship that he abducted Amanda from was registered in the Bahamas so that crime was “legally” committed in that country. Frankly I’m not sure what crimes he had committed in the United States. Meanwhile Eve was meeting with Amanda, now going through rehab, although they’re apparently not meeting at the rehab facility. Eve wants to tell her that she’s really happy that she was caught as a dirty cop because it was a wake-up call about what she was becoming. The end.

There are any number of things about this episode and the show in general that I find to be just wrong. In a lot of cases things happen with little or no explanation, as if someone had waved the magic TV wand and no explanation was needed. Except I needed a little bit of explanation. Just as an example, how did the croupier, apparently working alone, manage to get four people from his suite (and incidentally I believe that cruise line employees are required to live in staff cabins on board ship, but that’s minor) to whatever boat took them from the cruise ship to Finch’s island without someone from the ship – passengers, hotel staff or crew – noticing that he was moving four unconscious people around the ship. The magic wand reappeared when Charlie – or someone was not only able to get the Angels off the cruise ship in mid-ocean but also got them a boat and some hi-tech appearing weapons. And of course Charlie apparently has access to real-time infra-red satellite imaging for the island which allows them to find the heat signature of the greenhouse facility. That goes a bit beyond willing suspension of disbelief.

It goes beyond that of course. I’ve watched two episodes of this and quite frankly I don’t really understand the characters because there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of character development. In the second episode (the first that I saw) we met Eve’s former fiancĂ© Detective Ray Goodson, played by Isaiah Mustapha (who should hang on to the Old Spice gig) who may be a recurring character if the show lasts long enough – which I doubt, and in this third episode we met the woman reporter who turned her in. I still don’t feel like I have any grasp of their characters. Of course that may be because the character development of these people are thinner than the actresses who portray them. That’s a real problem. I don’t know if Taylor, Kelly and Ilonzeh are doing a good acting job because I don’t know what the characters are supposed to be.

The writing is bad, as we’ve established, but the concept is also badly realized. The two Charlie’s Angels movies were billed as “action comedies.” The modern TV version of Charlie’s Angels isn’t an action comedy. I was going to say that it would be more accurate to say that it isn’t deliberately trying to be an action comedy, but I can’t because that would create the impression that the show was so bad that it was funny. It doesn’t even qualify as funny by accident. Show producer Alfred Gough, who with his partner Miles Miller created Smallville, has said that he wanted to avoid doing anything “retro” or “campy.” In other words they’re playing it relatively straight. This is a problem because for all that Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg who produced the original series paid lip service to the idea that their show had some sort of feminist quality back in 1976, it was never meant to be taken seriously. I don’t think you can get away from that in a revival – particularly thirty-five years later – unless you do some serious re-imagining of the concept. That’s what Miller and Gough did with the Superman mythos by approaching it as the story of Clark Kent’s development into a superhero. I think a different sort of approach could have worked here as well.

In the past thirty-five years a lot of things have changed. Women’s roles have evolved far beyond what they were when the original Charlie’s Angels debuted, and television’s portrayal of women has evolved as well. In fact television has evolved in a lot of ways. I have to believe that this show would not have been made if it weren’t called Charlie’s Angels. I’m not sure that we needed Charlie’s Angels back at all, but I am absolutely sure that we didn’t deserve to have this version of Charlie’s Angels. Between underdeveloped plotlines with holes that you could march Godzilla through, gossamer thin characterizations, and a determination to make the show much the same as it was thirty-five years ago, the result is indescribably bad. I am literally unable to express just how bad I think this show is forcefully. The good news is that I don’t think it will be around much longer. The bad news is that it took the place of a show that could have been better. The really bad news would be if ABC didn’t have anything better available to them.

Update: As a lot of people expected, Charlie's Angels has been cancelled after airing its fourth episode. ABC will air the remaining four episodes that have been shot. There's no word about what will replace it once the remaining four episodes have aired. At least we found out something about the "new" Bosley and his link to Charlie before it was cancelled.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Polls Closed - NBC Cancels Free Agents

Free_Agents_NBCThe second – or maybe the third – series cancelled this year and the first comedy is…

Free Agents

NBC has cancelled Free Agents after four episodes. The American remake of the frankly profane (not to mention nudity filled) series from Britain’s Channel Four lasted four episodes in the United States despite the presence of Anthony Stewart Head who appeared in the original. Just as a matter of interest, the American series lasted 2/3s as long as the British version. For the foreseeable future, Free Agents will be replaced by reruns of NBC`s new comedy Whitney.

Also cancelled today (and the reason why I can’t really decide whether Free Agents was the second or third new series cancelled this year) was The CW`s reality series H8R created and hosted by Mario Lopez. Apparently The CW`s viewer (and given the ratings the network as a whole has been pulling this year the lack of an ‘s’ there is only barely an exaggeration) didn’t care to see “celebrities” confront the people who claim to hate them and convert them into fans.

I didn’t poll on reality shows, but the voting on the comedies was quite lively, with 25 votes being cast. All but two of the shows got votes. FOX`s New Girl and ABC`s Last Man Standing (which debuts next week) had no votes. Suburgatory from ABC, Up All Night from NBC and FOX animated comedy Allen Gregory (which has not yet debuted) had one vote each. CBS`s How To Be A Gentleman had two votes while the network’s 2 Broke Girls and Free Agents both had three votes. FOX live action sitcom I Hate My Teenaged Daughter got four votes and NBC’s Whitney and ABC’s Man Up had five votes each. Last Man Standing, Allen Gregory, I Hate My Teenaged Daughter and Man Up are all yet to debut. Additionally Up All Night and Whitney have been given full season orders from NBC, 2 Broke Girls has received a full season order from CBS, and New Girl has a full season order from FOX.

Update: CBS has announced that production on How To Be A Gentleman will be moving to Saturday nights effective immediately while Rules Of Engagement, which had been scheduled to air on Saturdays will be moving back to the time slot following The Big Bang Theory on October 20th. Production on How To Be A Gentleman will halt after the completion of the show`s ninth episode. According to Deadline Hollywood, "That is effectively a cancellation for the sitcom with the Saturday run qualifying as a burn-off, though CBS never officially cancels a series before the upfronts." For our purposes, while the series has aired only two episodes, the fact that the remaining seven episodes will in fact air, even if it is in the Saturday "death slot," still qualifies as airing more than the four episodes that Free Agents got.

Second Update: CBS has pulled the episodes of How To Be A Gentleman from Saturday nights after a single episode. While the network still has six episodes in the can and won't announce the final fate of any of its shows until the May upfronts this amounts to the cancellation of How To Be A Gentleman with three episodes having been aired, one fewer than Free Agents.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

And We Have Winner….Er Loser


The first show and the first drama to be cancelled this season is…

The Playboy Club

The show was cancelled after three episodes, so it is possible that  another show from this fall season will be cancelled in two. Nothing currently airing really screams out for a two episode cancellation however. In terms of the poll, four of you got it right, saying that The Playboy Club would be the show cancelled earliest. However it was tied with Charlie’s Angels (and anecdotally, it seems to me that most of the votes for Charlie’s Angels came after the show started airing), a show which could tie with The Playboy Club. Five other shows each got one vote: Revenge, Unforgettable, Prime Suspect, Grimm, and Hart Of Dixie.

The Playboy Club, which was the first series picked up by NBC Entertainment President Bob Greenblatt for the 2011-12 season will be replaced temporarily by reruns of NBC’s Thursday series Prime Suspect (which is also not setting the ratings on fire) until October 31st when NBC new newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian Williams on October 31st. Since the original plan was to replace The Playboy Club with the new musical based series Smash in the winter, it is likely that Rock Center’s time in the Monday third hour time slot will itself be temporary.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Dick Van Dyke Show Blogathon: In Praise Of Laura Petrie’s Ass

Mary Tyler Moore16I have a confession to make. I am in love with Laura Petrie. And her ass. So maybe not love, maybe just lust.

Now there are a few reasons why this couldn’t possibly work out. For one thing, Laura Petrie is a fictional character. For another thing while I am in love (or lust) with Laura Petrie, I have no particular feelings of either love or lust for the actress who portrayed her, Mary Tyler Moore. I never had a “reaction” to Mary Richards or almost any other character that Mary Tyler Moore has played in her long career. Well maybe the woman she played opposite Robert Wagner in a little known farce called Don’t Just Stand There. But Change of Habit did nothing for me, and she played a hot nun in that, which usually tickles a certain pervy side of me. Certainly I never wanted to sleep with Mary Richards. Finally, even if she were real, Laura Petrie is old enough to be my mother. I know that because her son Little Richie is a year older than I am; well at least Larry Matthews, the actor who played Richie Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show is one year older than me, to the day (August 15th; Rose Marie, who also starred on the show was also born on August 15th, but over thirty years before Larry and I). Never the less, had the term MILF existed in 1961 when the Dick Van Dyke Show began airing, Laura Petrie would have been one.

I pretty much discovered The Dick Van Dyke Show while I was an adolescent. Oh sure, I was around when the show was in its first run. In fact it was even shown on the one TV station that we had in Saskatoon in the 1960s. But I didn’t see it at that time. It was on relatively late in the evening, and my family had a rather absurd idea of when a five year old should go to bed. So I saw the show as an adolescent and we all know how adolescent boys are. It might have made a difference if I had seen the show as a child…but probably not.

modNow lest you think that I was (and remain) a horndog with the mind of a sex obsessed fifteen year old, I would like to inform you of two things. The first is that I was and remain fully cognizant of the brilliance of this series. While many shows fixate on either the work environment or the home as the center of the action, with the other locale relegated to a secondary position if it’s shown at all (that’s one of my huge complaints about most modern procedurals – the protagonists seem to live entirely at and for work). The Dick Van Dyke Show mixed domestic stories in which the work cast would barely appear, and work based stories in which Laura and maybe (but not always) Richie would show up but you’d never see Jerry and Millie. And then of course there were the “neither fish nor fowl” flashback episodes most of which took place during Rob and Laura’s courtship and first year or so of marriage at Camp Crowder.

The second is that it took me a while to fully realize just how hot Laura Petrie (and Mary Tyler Moore) was. It is a testament to how brilliantly cast this show was that Moore was placed amongst a brilliant and experienced comedy and entertainment ensemble cast and she keeps up with the others as a comedic actor in spite of her age and her lack of experience in doing comedy. In fact she really hadn’t done much acting at all – one movie (X-15), Sam on Richard Diamond, Private Detective, a “role” that was almost entirely dependent on pure sex appeal – we usually only saw her legs and heard her voice. She’d also done a variety of guest appearances on dramatic shows of the period. The Dick Van Dyke Show was her apprenticeship as a comedic actress and she took to it like a duck to water. It is a testament to her abilities that I at least really noticed her as a comedic actress, with a comedic cry second only to Lucille Ball’s (“O-o-o-oh Ro-o-o-ob!” versus “Bwaaaa!”) before I really became aware of how sexy she was.
walnuts2I think I have to date my realization of how damned sexy Laura Petrie was to the episode “It May Look Like A Walnut” and in particular the scene in which Laura slides – nay surfs – prone on the tidal wave of walnuts that issues from the Petrie closet, not unlike Fibber McGee’s closet…if Fibber had filled his closet with walnuts. I have to confess however that having managed to find the scene on YouTube, it isn’t quite what I remember thanks to the way that they shot the seen. In my memory I was convinced that they shot the scene with the camera facing the door, so that Laura would be seen emerging in profile. Instead they shot it with the camera facing the junction of the interior wall and the exterior wall, so that we saw her emerge in a three quarter view. It’s not quite as sexy – I was sure that we saw her ass in that scene more than we did – but it does get the job done, particularly when she props her head up and starts talking to Rob. The sight of her there is something to behold.

There are a lot of things at the root of Laura Petrie’s sexual attractiveness. At the time she started the show Mary Tyler Moore was 23 though she lied about her age to get the part. She’s playing a slightly older woman of about 27 or 28 when she started in the role. (In preparing for this I tried to figure out Laura’s age using Larry Matthew's’s actual birth year of 1955 as the year of Richie’s birth; by my calculations 17 year-old Laura – claiming to be 19 – met and married Rob in 1952 or ‘53 making her about 27 in 1961 though claiming to be 29. It’s not really exact though.) She was a professional dancer as was Laura. Here I have to admit my fondness for dancers; my two big Star Trek crushes are Gates McFadden and Nana Visitor, both dancers who became actresses. Dancers generally have lithe taut bodies. Much of Laura’s wardrobe accentuates these features. The famous Capri Pants, which were supposedly used because Mary Tyler Moore insisted that the women that she knew didn’t wear dresses or skirts around the house, accentuated her body shape, particularly her butt. No wonder an adolescent Rob Reiner found it impossible to resist the desire to grab her ass (a deplorable act of course, but at least a little bit understandable). Laura’s wardrobe has a certain elegance to it. The Capri Pants were usually matched to a plain white blouse or a pull-over sweater. When she was out of the house and wearing a skirt or a dress it was usually simple and unadorned; the simple black dress or something not particularly flashy. (Mary Richards didn’t have that but then she was a creature of the 1970s when no one could manage elegance; Mary was a victim or fashion, fashion and polyester.) And then there are those rare occasions when she wears a dancers tights. Wow! As for her hair, there is something irresistible about that short but feminine cut that Laura has. It’s eminently practical for a young housewife of course, but it works with her face in a way that Mary Richards’s “big hair” really doesn’t.

gathersOf course once you start thinking of Laura Petrie as sexy, you can’t help but see it everywhere, and a lot of questions emerge. Why the twin beds? If I were married to a woman like Laura there is no way that I’d want to sleep separated by a nightstand. In fact I’m pretty sure that I’d be like Reverend Brooks in Dick Van Dyke’s 1971 film Cold Turkey (and if you’ve seen that movie you know exactly what I mean!). And then of course there’s the question of why Richie was an only child, given the nature of 1961 birth control technology.

Well, I think we all know the answers to these questions. The TV industry was busy pretending the sex didn’t exist in 1961. The only onscreen married couple with a double bed were Ozzie and Harriet and that’s because they were married in real life too. It wasn’t until Dick York bedded down with Elizabeth Montgomery in the same double bed on Bewitched that an actor and an actress who weren’t married to each other were seen in a double bed. That was the 1965-66 season, the year after The Dick Van Dyke Show ended. And adding a baby to the cast – the natural consequence of married life and double beds, was pretty much unthinkable too. I’m pretty much convinced that shows in this period only added babies when forced to by the actress getting pregnant. After all, Tabitha and Adam Stevens coincided with Elizabeth Montgomery’s two real life pregnancies. Of course, given the lack of continuity on the show – and indeed most shows of period – had Laura gotten pregnant the baby would most likely have been born and then all evidence of his or her existence would have vanished from the show like Rob’s political career (he beat Wally Cox in an election for city council in New Rochelle), Richie’s dog, the family goldfish (who actually had a speaking part in one episode) the rock in the basement that kept Rob from having a pool table until they needed a basement pool table for an episode, or Jerry and Millie’s kid… or was it kids.

cardinI think that it may be in the first season of Mad Men that one of the characters says that women are either Marilyn or Jackie, referring to Marilyn Monroe or Jacqueline Kennedy. Set in 1960, the first season of Mad Men is almost contemporary with The Dick Van Dyke Show in terms of period although of course Mad Men is a modern recreation and the attitudes expressed may be a reflection of modern attitudes with modern knowledge of John F. Kennedy’s relationships. Nevertheless there’s a nugget of truth there. Laura Petrie is clearly modelled on Jackie Kennedy in terms of her hair and clothing sense (but done on a comedy writer’s budget). I think that there’s an extra element to Laura Petrie that I can’t really put my finger on that appeals to me.

And in truth it isn’t just her ass.