Friday, March 30 2018
“COMEDY is the only hope for humanity,” said Roseanne Barr.
WELL, going against 90% of the professional TV reviews, I’d say if humanity depended on the comedy exhibited in the hour-long season premiere of the “Roseanne” reboot, those who identify as humans are doomed. Or at least, End Times are closer than evangelicals hope.
I really liked, even loved the original show, especially the first five seasons. It was invigorating and quite different—if you don’t count the blue collar occupants of that awful apartment “The Honeymooners.” And it was kind of thrilling to watch Roseanne blossom from awkward stand-up comic to a real actress, bolstered by the great talents of John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf. Then Roseanne and her show went off the rails but there were still pleasures to be found. (It’s interesting to watch people go mad in public.)
So far, there’s no pleasure in the “Rosanne” reboot. Let me say right off—I don’t care much for reboots, although Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” is not entirely bad. In fact, it’s fun. (I ignore “Will and Grace” because the time for minstrel shows has passed; although the time for Botox clearly has not.)
And let me assure you I couldn’t care less if the character Roseanne Connor or the real woman Rosanne Barr voted for our current president. Having believed, fearfully, right from the start that Trump would win, I wouldn’t mind truly funny, supportive jokes about him, or some clever Hillary bashing. Why not? The president is excoriated every day and night in every medium. Tit for tat, fair is fair. (And I don’t care that 45 called to congratulate Rosanne. Of course he did—no surprise there.)
But…the political jokes on “Roseanne” weren’t funny. The family jokes weren’t funny. Everybody looked awkward, out-of-place, not engaged, even the brilliant Laurie Metcalf, mugging and over-the-top. Recreating the Connor’s iconic living room and kitchen is not enough. Nor is throwing in a child of color and also a child who is, shall we say, wardrobe fluid. I got one laugh—when Laurie Metcalf’s character admitted that in her distress she voted for Jill Stein. And Sara Gilbert had a touching scene with her flamboyant son. Otherwise wretched obvious writing abounded.
Just about the only clever aspect of the show is the casting of Emma Kenney as Sara Gilbert’s ornery daughter. Kenney is well known as the messed up Debbie Gallagher of “Shameless.” And as the original “Roseanne” was rather the “Shameless” of its time, I appreciated this nod.
Maybe it will improve. Maybe everybody will learn to act again. Maybe if politics is a continuing issue, somebody can write it funny.
As it stands right now, I will say only that seeing the iconic afghan on the Connor couch, is indeed amusing and cozy.
IF I was a woman (no smart wisecracks) I would have been somewhat appalled last week to click on Salon.com and find two particular stories, side-by-side, prominently featured. One was by Nicole Karlis who declared “Stormy Daniels is a Feminist Icon.” The other, by Mary Elizabeth Williams proclaimed “Cynthia Nixon for Governor—Just Say No.”
Now, the Stormy piece—I honestly believed this until I got to the last line—it had to be a joke, right? It was not. Ms. Daniels is many things, including a working mom, but she is no feminist icon. However accurate her tale might be she is simply looking for a bigger payday, as is her unpalatable lawyer Michael Avenatti, who is for some reason treated by CNN and MSNBC like Thurgood Marshall or Clarence Darrow—or Atticus Finch!
As for Cynthia Nixon, I know little about what she intends to do as governor—she just announced her candidacy. But she has been one of the least “actressy” actresses around and a passionate advocate, a serious woman. One needn’t fawn over her, just because she is a woman, but it’s way too early to just say no or not “be with her.” To see these two stories sharing space gave me icky pause.
And now that I am on the subject, two pieces of advice—as long as Democrats insist the president is “on the verge” of firing Robert Mueller, he never will. He tends to do the opposite of what he’s told he might do or should do. Start saying “he’ll never…” and you might get the results and “crisis” you want.
And I hang my head in embarrassment for Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon—everybody, top to bottom at CNN (in particular) for beating the Stormy Daniels story to death. Aside from the-nobody-cares aspect—and nobody does, who supports the president—there is a 12-year-old child involved, Barron Trump. (Well, no one cared about the feelings of 17-year-old Chelsea Clinton or Hillary, during Bill’s sleazy scandals, so I guess Democrats feel it’s an open, ugly field.)
Real news that affects real people is happening in the world, Jeff Zucker, Anderson, Don, Wolf, Erin. (The census story for example, the horrific mall fire in Moscow, or the ongoing threat to the Veterans Administration.) Leave Stormy and her lawyer to their potential coin-counting.
MAIL! Miss Olivia de Havilland, age 101, still has a legion of admirers out there. I received a boatload of emails most of which come down to the thoughts expressed in this one, from Blair: “I agree with you about Olivia De H and Ryan Murphy…He should at least apologize and wish her well! ?Attention must be paid!!” (The consensus is—Ryan, be a gent. If you can.)
Others expanded. From Karen: “I, too, admire Miss De Havilland’s gumption in suing Ryan Murphy but I don’t believe she really expected to win. She wanted to make a statement and she certainly did, sitting in her lovely Parisian townhouse on the Left Bank. May I recommend her slim but thoroughly entertaining memoir “Every Frenchman Has One” that she wrote in the late fifties? It is back in print and I took it out of our library. The legendary Jack Warner used to say Olivia was ‘as smart as a computer’ and reading this book certainly shows off her wit, knowledge and literary chops.”
From Sue: “Thanks for supporting Olivia de Havilland’s case against Ryan Murphy and the portrayal of her on ‘Feud.’ I think the court was misguided in supporting the 1st Amendment and creativity versus accuracy, failing to take into consideration the fact that despite creative license, there is a responsibility to provide truth and fact where a real person and real events are concerned.
“The court ignored the fact that the audience is interpreting the depiction as truth (due to its factual basis), which should be supported and valued. Creative license should not include fictionalized historical revisionism when the foundation of a depiction is factual and ostensibly presented primarily as such (albeit not a documentary). Creativity shouldn’t include misleading the audience about truth, in the name of entertainment.”
Over my musing about the ancient works of Homer, reader Omar sent info on the ancient Greek tendency toward repetition and also suggested movies based on the epic works: “My favorites are 1954’s with Kirk Douglas and gorgeous Silvana Mangano (in her double role of Circe/Penelope) and a wonderful Italian miniseries version for TV from the 1968, six episodes, with Irene Papas and beautiful Serbian actor Bekim Fehmiu. You can get it through Internet. This one is a masterpiece!” (I have seen the former, will seek out the latter.)
But this was my favorite correspondence. I told the other day how my interest in historical fiction was ignited as boy by reading a pulpy novelization on the lives the Byzantine rulers Theodora and Justinian. Marie, from San Diego went to Google or perhaps her local library and sent me a list of eight possible books. Most were too recent—I read the thing in the fifth grade. And there were works by the ancient Roman historian Procopius—however I recall it was not a straightforward history. (There was some bodice and/or tunic ripping involved.) But one title leapt out at me; “Theodora: Courtesan of Constantinople” by Clara Underhill, written in 1933. I can’t be certain, but it sure sounds like the kind of title that would have attracted me. Thank you, Marie from San Diego.
And thanks to all of you who take the time to write in! I love you guys.
“UNLESS we experience some kind of unprecedented sea change in the pathological tribalism that now defines our politics, impeachment is a dead letter.” The italics are mine; the words are those of Andrew Sullivan in the Sunday Times Book review.
Sullivan was writing about two new tomes—“Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in American” a collection of essays complied by Cass R. Sunstein and Mr. Sunstein’s own “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide.”
I italicized Sullivan’s words because I do not believe the 45th president of the United States will be impeached. Unless a video/audio tape can be found with 45 saying: “Yes, my Russian comrades, screw up the election and make me president, I will serve you faithfully!,” there seems no path to impeachment, no matter how much that gang of giggling embarrassments at MSNBC “connects the dots” and “follows the money.” (I wonder how Rachel Maddow envisions her life as a gay woman with Mike Pence as president—Mr. Gay Conversion Therapy himself?)
And even if such a tape did surface, the president would declare it a fake, a hologram, Alec Baldwin imitating him. And millions of his fans would believe this. They already believe nothing except what the president tweets, says, and what’s on Fox News. Period. Because of this mass act of gas lighting, his poll numbers are slowly climbing. Sure, he acts guilty, but to give him some benefit of the doubt, a lot of that is because he’s not terribly intelligent or secure or well-endowed. (I don’t know this for a fact, thank God, but come on, isn’t it obvious?)
As for his sex life—nobody cares. If the First Lady is willing to look away, who are we to judge? All that his reputed liaisons prove is that there is a cover for every garbage can. (Two of the women currently “speaking out” appear to be doing it to break their nondisclosure agreements of consensual sex, so as to make more money, now. That garbage can comment goes two ways.)
Also—Trump just brought a guy into his inner circle who wants to right off, bomb everything. Am I supposed to care about porn stars right now? (CNN slobbering all over these women is yet another reason to simply catch your news on PBS or the BBC.)
If you’re for Trump, things are actually looking pretty good—for now, anyway. The daily tantrums and fireworks impress his base. He never truly separates himself from the most extreme elements of the Right, so they remain faithful too. Those are the facts. Want the president gone? Then here is another quote, from David Remnick at The New Yorker:
“For Trump and Trumpism to be rendered an unnerving but short-lived episode, history will require more than cogent critique. It will require that millions of men and women who do not ordinarily exercise their franchise—some sixty percent in off-year elections—recognize the imperatives of citizenship.” My italics again.
It means—get out and vote when the time comes. All the liberal chortling, outrage, snickering, eye-rolling, finger-wagging, “exclusive to us” exclamations and deep exasperated sighs are useless unless you pull that lever later this year, and in 2020.
“Everybody’s private motto: It’s better to be popular than right” said Mark Twain.
IF YOU are the Academy of Arts Sciences, ABC-TV and Jimmy Kimmel these days, their motto might be, “How do we get it right, and become popular again?!”
I managed the Oscars by attempting to watch as if I were a kid, back in the day. That worked pretty well, but it was ominous indeed that I had to re-wire my head to watch the damn thing. Millions of others didn’t care to pretend.
The 90th annual Oscar ceremony—which has been telecast to TV viewers since 1953—was the lowest rated in history. I wasn’t surprised by this, despite enjoying the show reasonably well, in my little fantasy world, nursing my kidney stone attack.
Naturally, our Kidney-Stone-in-Chief in D.C. was delighted, which in itself should be enough for those who put the telecast together to think hard on how to make the show more exciting, amusing and glamorous.
I have some thoughts. First of all, and for the 100th time—get rid of the hosts! Certainly get rid of hosts who appear all week long on TV. Seeing Mr. Kimmel (or let’s say, Kelly Ripa, for diversity’s sake) change clothes and make topical witticisms for three plus hours is nobody’s idea of a good time. Bob Hope, who presided over the show 19 times—beginning in 1939, and moving on through 1977, was a big movie star. Although by the time he ended his reign, he wasn’t; his jokes and presence were less palatable. Still, he was a legend.
In recent years, hosting duties have often fallen to comics, who are then under an obligation to be amusing and do a monologue—one that invariably brings us down to earth because they will ruminate on the state of the world. I know about the state of the world—please let me forget it for one night!
Or, they will take potshots at the sacred monsters in the audience, trying to convince us that privileged movie stars can take a joke. Some can, some can’t, but I’m not interested in their sense of humor. I’m interested in their sense of glamour and what they are supposed to be representing on Oscar Night—excitement, excessive beading, too much Botox, giddy foolishness. And if you want to throw in the great art of cinema—and it is a great art—please do, but for heaven’s sake, do it with fabulous film clips. (For me, there can never be enough vintage clips.)
Think about celebrating all the great stars who never won an Oscar—Richard Burton, Garbo, Dietrich, Monroe, Edward G. Robinson, Peter Sellers. (More wonderful film clips!) I’m leaving out an array of stars who are still working, have been working for decades, but have escaped being honored. Their time may come. So I don’t want to put them out to pasture as a nostalgia act. And, of course, Doris Day has never won an Oscar!
It’s time to jettison the single host altogether. There were a few telecasts that employed a revolving number of hosts—for instance, in 1977, we had Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn and Richard Pryor. I can’t recall if they were any good—probably not, except for the brilliant Pryor—but at least there was some chance at an amusing hosty moment.
And by the way, nobody needs to be witty on Oscar night. Here’s your purpose, movie stars—look great! Announce the nominees and winners. Get off the stage. Next! (But linger long enough so we can properly critique clothes, hair, and whatever you did over the previous week to banish time and battle the cruelties of High Def.)
And who says everybody has to be a movie star? Mix it up. Reach out to Broadway, to the music industry. Sting, Tim McGraw, Nick Jonas (you knew I’d get him in!) Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton, Adele, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Beyonce, Lana Del Ray, Paul and Ringo! Throw in Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Alan Cumming, Charles Busch. (Charles could appear sporadically, channeling great ladies of the screen, upon whom he bases so many of his delicious plays.)
Mariah Carey—OMG, Mariah! The cleavage and shoes alone! (I might actually go for Mariah as the show’s solo host. I’d rather a train wreck than one stuck in the snow for three hours. Listen, “Glitter” has given many movie fans a great deal pleasure, especially with a few drinks.)
Round up Tom Cruise, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Craig, Ryan Gosling, Mila Kunis, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Chris, Luke and Liam Hemsworth, James and Dave Franco, Emma Watson, Jamie Dornan, Charlize Theron.
And, forgive me; maybe even throw in a Kardashian or two. (Not the mother, Kris Jenner. Hers is one rendition of “Rose’s Turn” I can’t get into at all.) I know, I know—but social media would love/hate it, and whether we want to accept our new cultural standards or not, stars are made, records become hits, and faster than you can say, “will ABC-TV abandon Oscar?” millions of people can be alerted to something amusing, amazing or offensive within seconds, and tune in.
Don’t write “funny” patter. It’s never is. On, off, in, out. Move it along. And at the end, put all the stars on stage together, the winners, those who didn’t win, all the presenters, and have them sing “That’s Entertainment!” Pan the camera slowly, so we can get another good look at so-and-so’s awful (or beautiful) dress, and nudge our friends about the star who is most definitely stoned.
Oh, and for the “boring” awards, which we can’t jettison, no matter how much we’d like to, use the most sexy, glamorous star. Distract! In fact, get Mariah Carey—if she opts out of hosting the entire show–to come out for every short subject, documentary, technical whatever—in a different modesty-challenged gown and increasingly high, treacherous heels. Or, Nick Jonas in tighty whities.
Now, I want to hear from you if you care enough to offer suggestions. All will be considered, because all of you are much smarter than I am.
MAIL: LOTS of outrage over the Oscar’s botched In Memoriam segment. Along with those I mentioned on Wednesday, Oscar slighted John Gavin, Dina Merrill and the wonderful Bill Paxton. (Gavin and Dina were wonderful too, but I interviewed Paxton on a number of occasions and he really was a living doll.) Anne Jeffreys and Lola Albright were also dismissed. What a disgrace.
As my friend Hal Wingo remarked: “I fear the pressure to include so many behind-the-camera types has twisted this whole thing away from remembering the faces we actually will miss on the screen.”
A fair number—including women–wrote in saying they didn’t watch the show because: “I support the efforts of MeToo and TimesUp, but I just didn’t feel like hearing about sexual harassment on Oscar night. It’s in the news every day now. We’re all ‘woke.’ I want an escape.”
And here’s this from somebody who must remain anonymous: “While I genuinely admire Frances McDormand, I think she’s suffering from the same syndrome that happens to all outrageous show biz personalities: she has to keep topping herself. The hair must be more unkempt, the dress dowdier, the persona more eccentric, frenetic and impassioned. She’s the A-list Indie Sofia Vergara.”
“Peanuts! Through every city, town, and country lane
You’ll hear him sing his plaintive little strain, And as he goes by to you he’ll say…sing ‘Melancholy Baby!”
Okay, every movie fan knows that moment from “A Star Is Born” (the Judy version, the “Born in a Trunk” number) when Vicki Lester is singing/telling of her long struggle to the top, and how at one point, a drunk will never let her get through “The Peanut Vendor” song. He wants “Melancholy Baby.”
Well, that movie moment has been on my mind a lot because I’ve found out I pretty much have to give up nuts and peanut butter. And make a couple of other dietary adjustments–the better not to have another kidney stone episode. I am a little bummed, but in all my online reading, nowhere did I find the words, “margaritas are out.” So, life is still worth living.
And I want to thank everyone who wrote in expressing concern, and passing on various solutions, including holistic remedies.
I love you guys.
WEDNESDAY, March 7th 2018
“I SHALL ride the parade in a platinum car,
My features will shine, my name will be Star,
Day-long and-long the bells I shall peal,
And down the long street I shall turn the cart-wheel.”
W.H. Auden, “Danse Macabre.”
ON SUNDAY night I was faced with a slight problem. I really didn’t want to watch the Academy Awards. I’d seen all the movies—including “The Shape of Water,” which I found far more palatable than I thought I would; lovely even.
But, and I’m sure this will shock most of you, I am fairly jaded. Not much surprises or thrills me the way movies and their accessories—stars, awards shows, inappropriate behavior on awards shows—once did.
I still love films, and in most ways, I do think “movies are better than ever”—a phrase I believe originated in the 1950’s as audiences stayed home watching TV and Hollywood attempted to lure them back with Cinemascope, 3-D, Stereophonic Sound, Technicolor, and bullet bras.
I’d dutifully watched the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, the Spirit Awards and…something else. Unless a rare and priceless “La La Land”/”Moonlight” moment happened again, or if Meryl Streep won, got up to the podium and yelled “suckers!” why bother?
Wasn’t passing a kidney stone bad enough? (No writerly excess here, I was, and still am, passing a stone.) And then there are the kidney stones that attack every day, via the inhabitants of Washington, D.C., Republican and Democrat. There is no escaping the pathetic performances of the people who govern us, and those who report nightly on that bunch of losers. No Oscars, only Razzies there!
I had other fish to fry Sunday night—watching all of “The Chi” and “Homeland” uninterrupted, and drinking a lot of water.
It didn’t seem possible to remove myself from myself. But shortly after I had to turn away from the ridiculous red-carpet arrivals, I thought, don’t watch the Oscars as you are now—a gossiped-out husk of a man with permanent mental jaundice–watch as you once were; a 10-year-old movie fan, who was dazzled by the stars of his own time, and even more by those of a time past. (As one of my uncles gravely told my mother, “No boy should know that much about Hedy Lamarr, maybe I should take him to a baseball game?’). A kid who wasn’t exactly naïve, but who was years away from having two expressions—eye-roll and side-eye.
So, as I gingery settled in on my couch, I decided I’d try to watch the 90th annual Academy Awards that way.
FIRST OFF, I’d wonder–as I really have since my earliest Oscar-watching days—why a host was needed. They were never funny. This one sure wasn’t. Although I’d have to admit the “you win a jet ski if you keep your acceptance speech short” bit was very funny, and Helen Mirren was a fabulous sport and looked smoking hot. (As a tween I probably wouldn’t describe Ms. Mirren that way, I’d simply think she was very glamorous!)
And, impressed by glamour as I was, I’d certainly have been blown away by the stage! In fact, I’d be almost more impressed by the efforts put into the glitz and glitter framing the actors than the actors themselves. Somebody else might have thought it was too much, gaudy, vulgar. All I can say is give me vulgarity! It’s the Oscars, after all, not a Nobel Prize ceremony.
As a kid I’d realize—because I read the newspapers and kept up, that Very Important Things were being said onstage, in between the orgy of self-congratulation, and my assessing what the ladies were wearing. (Maybe one of the adults would remark that possibly Emma Stone had lost track of the date, and thought she was attending a brassiere optional luncheon.) I’d realize that the Very Important Things were serious business, and a good deal of what was said was sincere and necessary. The self-serving hypocrisies would probably go over my head.
I’d be mighty excited by all the musical numbers, and understand somehow that they were conveying Very Important Things with more urgency and truth, than those who mouthed words they wouldn’t have dreamed of, a year ago. (I am sure I would have wondered why one of the musical numbers began with a guy who didn’t seem to know how to sing—or had a bad cold. But the number picked up after that.)
As a 10-year-old I wouldn’t have seen all of the movies, but I’d know all about them, and feel as if I had. So of course I’d have my own opinion about who should win. I’d have wanted that cute boy who looked all of 15 and was wearing white suit to win, even though I’d be informed he was too young and had plenty of time. The guy who didn’t look like Winston Churchill in real life—he deserved to win. And I sure wanted the short, intense lady to take home an Oscar. The one who always looked like she’d dressed and done her hair in a closet, but was invariably funny and intense. (When she talks Very Important Things she seems sincere.) I’d wonder–did people give her awards just to hear her carry on?
And, as somebody who wore glasses and hated them, I would have been thrilled when the African American actress with the name nobody seems able to pronounce properly, wore her glasses onstage!
As usual, I’d disturb people when the beautiful star who is three years older than Oscar, came out to give an award. I’d rattle off all her famous movies and even some of the naughty things she said to Cary Grant in the one where they spend all that time on the train and then go rock climbing. Troubled glances would be exchanged—why does he know this? How about taking him to a football game?
Finally, I’d be very, very impressed that the two iconic stars (I’d have only recently begun to use the word “iconic”) who were a part of last year’s “terrible mistake” giving out the Best Picture Oscar, were back, giving out the same award. They were charming, although I never understood why it was such a terrible mistake. I knew when I grew up and thought back on all the Oscars I’d seen, that moment would be indelible.
It ended, not too late, the Jet Ski was pulled onstage again, and Helen Mirren was on board the thing, with the winner. She really is glamorous.
I went to bed with a painkiller and the unhappy realization that I’d have to call my doctor in the morning; that damn stone wasn’t going anywhere on its own.
AND that, friends, is how I got through Oscar Night.
Speaking as an adult–or at least a recipient of Social Security—I didn’t think the show was bad at all. I honestly was blown away by the sets and the musical numbers. I thought most of the people who had something to say, said it reasonably well. I was not unhappy with any of the winners, and I was truly glad Timothee Chalamet escaped being over-honored too early. (I’ll bet he was, too.)
I’ll go to my grave wondering about competition and how one can compare “Dunkirk” to “Get Out” or Sally Hawkins to Frances McDormand or decide something or somebody is “the best.” In the end, it’s just a big public relations stunt. But competiveness is part of human DNA.
Nostalgia is a wonderful, blurry thing. Years ago I realized that the Oscar show was always a bit of a bore, overlong, etc. It’s just that I was more interested in the stars that appeared on the show in those days. In that spirit, for a movie-loving, diversity knowledgeable kid in 2018, the 90th Oscars were probably pretty fabulous.
Two outright gripes (what, you thought you’d escape?)
Jimmy Kimmel’s “visit” to unsuspecting moviegoers across the street is the sort of thing that should be saved for his TV show. That said, it happened, and I was a little surprised that more major stars didn’t get in and join in—even if they, too, think it’s tacky. Meryl Streep couldn’t get off her ass? Or Allison Janney, who had just won an Oscar, and should have been up for anything? And lots of others—you know who you are. So, kudos to Gal Gadot, Guillermo del Toro, Margot Robbie, Armie Hammer, Lupita Nyong’o, Ansel Elgort, Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Hamill.
Gripe two—really, really, really?? I know it’s difficult to get in every industry person who dies, for the In Memoriam segment, but this year’s omissions seemed particularly egregious. Among the missing: Dorothy Malone, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Dina Merrill, John Gavin, David Ogden Stiers, John Mahoney, Glenn Campbell, Della Reese, Adam West, Robert Guillaume. Oh, and don’t give me that stuff about how some of these stars were mostly associated with TV. We live in a “new time” now—as everybody at Oscar told us repeatedly. These days, TV is just as important as feature filmmaking, perhaps more so, and reruns of classic TV shows are everywhere, all hours of the day and night.
P.S. and BTW—where the hell was LIZ SMITH in the lineup of the departed? While I won’t say this column “made” any careers—although it probably did– it certainly enhanced, defended, glorified and was a relentless cheerleader for many stars and always to films. Liz was nice, too. She deserved to be a part of that list.
P.S.—I apologize for not doing the live watching with all of you. But, honestly, that fucking stone was hurting! Pardon my French. Love, XXXXX Mr. W.