Monday, April 26, 2010
My current addiction
When Fringe premiered on Fox in 2008, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. For one thing, it was from J.J. Abrams, who gave us Lost, a show I watched for the first season but gave up on almost halfway into the second when I got the sense that I was being led through a treacherous wilderness by Helen Keller, and I grew tired of feeling jerked around with more questions than answers. For another, Fringe looked like an attempt to capture the success enjoyed by The X Files from 1993 to 2002.
I was a faithful and enthusiastic viewer of The X Files ... from 1993 to 2002. But I’ve found that I can’t watch the reruns. I’m not sure why. I’ve tried many times, even with my favorite episodes. I sit down, actually looking forward to seeing my old friends Mulder and Scully again. But before long, I feel restless. I can’t concentrate on the show. I hesitate to say this because this is something I almost never, ever feel, but ... I become bored. The reason for this remains a mystery – where are Mulder and Scully when you need them? – but it happens every single time I try to watch an episode. Even worse, it leaves me feeling unsettled and a little sad. I once loved the show so much! How did all the geeky joy get sucked out of it? Is it one of those shows that somehow taps into the zeitgeist of its time and later loses its spark when the times move on to other zeitgeists? I don’t know.
I watched the premiere of Fringe and frankly, I wasn’t impressed. I was amused by one character – Dr. Walter Bishop, played by John Noble – but I didn’t think he’d be enough to hold my interest. I tuned in again the following week, though, deciding to give it another chance. And then I tuned in again the week after that. And the week after that. It sneaked up on me. Before I knew it, I was hooked. Addicted. Strung out on Fringe. And now I find myself thinking that the hour passes much too quickly.
It’s a quiet, intelligent show with great writing that focuses on intimate relationships while telling big stories that are wonderfully weird. The cast is outstanding – Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham, Joshua Jackson as Peter Bishop, and best of all, Noble as the delightfully loopy, off-center Dr. Bishop. There are monsters, mutations, bizarre internal organs, disgusting parasites, a parallel universe, creepy bald guys in suits, an adorable lab assistant, and occasional appearances by Leonard Nimoy. And there’s Anna Torv’s husky, alluring voice. The first time I saw her out of character, I didn’t recognize her at first. It was on some award show – the Emmys? The Golden Globes? Who can tell? During award season, they blur together like a crowd of oompa-loompas gathered at a fizzy lifting bar. On the show, Torv is a bit of a plain Jane, with straight, flat hair, no makeup, modest clothes with little color. But she glams up quite nicely. And the first time I saw her interviewed, I was surprised to find that she’s Australian, with a heavy accent. She covers it very well.
Fringe is a geek’s paradise. I just hope it holds up later, after it’s been canceled and is in syndication. I will be so disappointed – and once again mystified – if, like The X Files, I find it boring.
The new Kate Gosselin
I don’t watch “reality” TV shows, so in a perfect world, I would not know who the hell Kate Gosselin is – in fact, in a perfect world, nobody would know who Kate Gosselin is except her family and friends. But she’s everywhere. She’s an inescapable as death and taxes – and about as pleasant. Gosselin, of course, is one of two media darlings who has mistaken her uterus for a clown car. She starred with her douchebag husband and eight rugrats in Jon and Kate Plus 8, one of those “reality” shows I avoid like bill collectors and Mormon missionaries. She’s actually something that passes for news these days! For a long time, she went around in a weird helmet of hair looking like she’d been abducted by aliens who forgot to remove the anal probe, bitching about all the media attention she so actively pursued. Now she’s got a softer, more feminine hairdo, smiles more, cries a lot, and still bitches about all the media attention she so actively pursues. I’m not interested in this woman. I don’t want to see her, hear about her, know what she’s done with her hair or hear her whine. And yet every fucking time I turn on my television, this obnoxious bitch is in my face. Doesn’t she have anything better to do than bother me? Shouldn’t she be home taking care of that small crowd of small people she shot out of her crotch like photon torpedos out of the Enterprise? For crying out loud, when are we going to stop showering money, attention and media coverage on people we wouldn’t put up with in a doctor’s office waiting room?
Am I the only person left on this planet who still hasn’t seen Avatar? I asked this question on Twitter and was surprised by the wave of responses from others who haven’t seen it, either, a number of whom don’t want to see it. It made me feel a little better. I tend to shy away from movies that everyone absolutely MUST SEE. The louder a movie shouts at me to see it, the longer I avoid it. Avatar is one of those movies. It created a kind of pod-people response, with everyone marching in lockstep to the theater to stand in long lines and pay extra money for the glasses. People don’t ask me if I’ve seen it, they ask me if I liked it, as if the possibility that I haven’t seen is unthinkable. When I reveal that I haven’t seen it, their mouths drop open and their eyes widen and they gasp, “You haven’t seen it? How could you not see it? You have to see it!” Well ... no. I don’t. The whole thing reminds me of that creepy table scene in Freaks. “Gooble gobble, gooble gobble! One of us! One of us!”
My favorite Saturday Night Live quote in a while ...
"This week the papacy of Pope Benedict turned five years old, at which point a priest hit on it."
– Seth Meyers, Weekend Update
One of the highlights of the TVLand Awards was the salute to the short-lived but memorable early-80s sitcom Bosom Buddies, starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. I was looking forward to seeing the cast together again, including Holland Taylor (now costarring in Two and A Half Men), Telma Hopkins (formerly of Tony Orlando and Dawn), Donna Dixon and Wendy Jo Sperber. I was disappointed when Sperber was not among the reunited cast members on the stage and my disappointment turned to dread when Hopkins said, “Wendy, we miss you.” I went to my computer and learned from IMDb that Sperber died in 2005 of breast cancer. How did that slip by me? Sperber was adorable, hilarious, and threw herself passionately into every role. She was always a joy to watch. Learning she was gone put a damper on my day.
The best thing about the TVLand Awards – in fact, the reason I watched – was the appearance of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner to accept their Legend Award. My affection for these men is immeasurable. Together, they created the 2,000 Year Old Man, and individually their accomplishments are nothing short of legendary. Brooks was the writer on Your Show of Shows who Sid Ceasar reportedly dangled out of a window by his feet because Ceasar didn’t think his script was funny enough. Reiner was the man who gave us the groundbreaking sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, which is still one of the funniest TV shows ever. Brooks made a string of hilarious movies that have become beloved – The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles and History of the World Part 1 – and turned both The Producers and Young Frankenstein into gigantically successful Broadway musicals. Reiner has a number of great movies to his credit, among them three of Steve Martin’s best works, The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Man with Two Brains. I just love those guys, dammit!
And speaking of Steve Martin ...
What’s the deal with Steve Martin?
Dawn and I watched L.A. Story recently. For my money, it’s one of the all-time greatest romantic comedies ever made. Everything about that movie shines. It’s brainy without being pretentious or snobby, sweet without being cloying or saccharine, broad while maintaining a coherent reality. It’s magical, pointed, observant, and damned funny. It either makes you wish you were in love or glad that you are. It is a treasure chest filled with priceless gems – delightful references, eminently quotable lines, smile-inducing cameos, and plenty of visual jokes tossed here and there and hidden in the background (the Fourth Reich Bank of Hamburg, a Santa Barbara hotel called El Pollo del Mar ... which means “chicken of the sea”). I spot something new almost every time I watch it. It even makes Sarah Jessica Parker come off as somewhat appealing, which – for me, anyway – is an astonishing accomplishment.
As I watched it again for the – well, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen it (and I never tire of it) – I was reminded of the great movies Martin wrote and starred in through the 1980s: The Jerk (actually released in 1979, so it’s not really an ‘80s movie), Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man with Two Brains, Three Amigos!, and Roxanne. During that decade, he also starred in a number of great movies he didn’t write. The brilliant and relentlessly dark Pennies from Heaven; The Lonely Guy, which wasn’t a hit with critics or audiences but still makes me laugh; he gave what may be his best performance in All of Me; he was hilarious in Little Shop of Horrors, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; and Parenthood was a warm and funny movie that avoided sentimentality while still being touching – and in my opinion, it's the best work of director Ron Howard.
The 1990s began with L.A. Story, but he wrote only two other movies that decade – A Simple Twist of Fate and the very funny Bowfinger -- which, by the way, is the last good movie in which Eddie Murphy was involved. In 2005, he adapted his novel Shopgirl for the screen. But then ... something happened. He seemed to become fixated on Inspector Jacques Clouseau.
I hesitate to criticize Martin. Frankly, I’m in awe of the guy. He’s one of the most talented people in show business. When stand-up comedy was made up of one-liners, impressionists, mother-in-law jokes and observational humor, Martin put an arrow through his head, spoke with a funny accent and became the superstar of silliness with the unlikely catchphrase, “Well, excuuuuse meeee!” He became a staple on Saturday Night Live, a big success at the movie box office, has written fiction, plays, poetry, and is an accomplished musician – and I might be missing a talent or two. He’s amazing. And it is that fact that makes his two performances as Clouseau so baffling.
James Bond is a character so big and iconic that the movie franchise has featured six actors in the role and has remained as successful as ever. Inspector Clouseau is not James Bond. The role is inextricably linked to Peter Sellers, who, with writer-director Blake Edwards, brought him to life in several movies, the first few of which were brilliant. Sellers was Inspector Clouseau. Even after he died, Edwards tried to keep the franchise alive, but he didn’t make the mistake of casting someone else in the role. What he did – slapping together outtakes and trying to make movies about Clouseau in which Clouseau did not appear – was also a mistake, a huge and painful mistake, but at least he knew better than to hand the role to someone else. In 1968, an attempt was made to do Clouseau without Sellers, but it didn’t work. Alan Arkin – a wonderful actor who’s given some gut-bustingly funny performances (if you haven’t seen The In-Laws with Arkin and Peter Falk, or their other movie together, Big Trouble, you should) – falls flat in the role in director Bud Yorkin’s Inspector Clouseau.
Martin did some work on The Pink Panther’s screenplay, but it’s not his script, or his movie. The insurmountable problem with Martin doing Clouseau is that Clouseau is Peter Sellers and Steve Martin is Steve Martin. For every frame of the 2006 movie The Pink Panther, it’s Steve Martin on the screen – and it’s impossible to get Peter Sellers out of one’s mind while watching. It just. Doesn’t. Work. And to prove that it didn’t work in 2006, they did it again in 2009 with Pink Panther 2, a rather unimaginative title in a long series of films that has never had a numbered title. But by all accounts, Martin loved doing the broad Clouseau slapstick so much that he jumped at the chance to do a sequel. I just can’t understand how he thinks this is working.
I don’t know what kind of money The Pink Panther 2 earned and haven’t bothered to check, but I’m hoping it’s the last in this discomfiting series. In 2009, Martin costarred in It’s Complicated, which I haven’t seen yet, and he has a few movies in the works – The Big Year, One Big Happy and a remake of Topper, none of which he’s written, as far as I can tell. Maybe the Steve Martin Movie, written by and starring Martin, is a thing of the past. I hope not. I do hope, however, that all this Clouseau unpleasantness is behind us.