Lucy Liu as Joan not John Watson doing what she does too often on CBS’ updating of Sherlock Holmes, Elementary, fade in the background while Holmes gets down to work.
Following up on my post from last week, Elementary! He’s elementarily not my ideal Sherlock Holmes: From time to time, in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, after Holmes has asked (ordered) Watson to join him in an investigation, Watson will make polite noises turning him down, saying he doesn’t want to get in Holmes’ way. Watson is a modest man and well aware that Holmes doesn’t need to have him along. In fact, very often, Holmes doesn’t let him come along or even tell him he’s about to go out on a case without him.
But Holmes is certain to reply something along the lines of Stuff and nonsense! Actually, his most famous reply to one of Watson’s polite refusals is “I am lost without my Boswell.”
This is Holmes’ way of telling Watson that he does need him and, more importantly, wants him along. It’s a statement of affection. He needs and wants Watson along because he’s a good friend.
He needs and wants Watson’s company.
But, as a purely practical matter, let’s ask. Where would Holmes be without his Boswell?
Pretty much in the same fix as Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes in Elementary. A little lonely, a little less confident, but basically functioning as well as ever as a detective. Mainly, though, not lost but incomplete.
Miller’s Holmes doesn’t need his Boswell but he’d be better off with him…I mean, her.
Sorry. From what I’ve seen, Lucy Liu is not Watson. I don’t know who she is. Apparently, neither do the show’s writers, which means Liu doesn’t know who she is either. She’s trying to figure it out without the writers’ help but she’s struggling. Whoever she is, though, it’s not Watson.
It’s not because they’ve made Watson a woman. That’s not even new. Two TV movies in the 1980s had female Watsons. So does one of my favorite movies from when I was kid, They Might Be Giants. And plenty of TV Holmes avatars and manqués have had female Watsons. Monk and Sharona and then Nathalie. Castle and whoever he’s paired with. The best played Watson to the best Holmes avatar, Vincent D’Onforio’s Bobby Goren of Law and Order: Criminal Intent was Kathryn Erbe as Detective Alex Eames, who is a number of things Doyle’s Watson is and Lucy Liu’s isn’t, among them, independent, capable, and confident enough in her own skills and intelligence that it’s truly persuasive that she’s impressed by Goren and impressed enough to ignore his weirdness and that he’s far from her idea of an ideal partner. She makes us think that if Eames can put up with and even like this guy, then he must be worth putting up with and even liking, a very Watson-esque thing for her to do. All Watsons have the job of helping us appreciate the great gifts and see the humanity of their Holmeses.
So, it’s not the gender change. It’s the career change.
Doyle’s Watson and just about every Watson who’s followed is a former Army surgeon. Liu’s character is a former surgeon.
She’s quit medicine out of guilt at having lost a patient on the operating table.
Her confidence shot, her career over, she’s more or less adrift. But she’s on the lookout for something to do that will give meaning back to her life, and in this her situation is somewhat similar to that of Doyle’s Watson when we first meet him.
At the opening of A Study in Scarlet, Watson has come home from Afghanistan traumatized by his wounds and his experiences in the war there and still suffering the effects of a tropical fever that nearly killed him. His military career’s over but he’s having trouble getting a civilian one going.
I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air–or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. There I stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand, leading a comfortless, meaningless existence, and spending such money as I had, considerably more freely than I ought.
Then he meets Holmes.
Soon he has moved into 221B Baker Street and is helping Holmes---or at least accompanying Holmes---on an investigation that exhilarates him and brings him back to life. By the end of the novel he’s not practicing medicine again---that doesn’t happen until after the next book, The Sign of Four, and it’s due to his having met, fallen in love with, and married Mary Morston---but he’s snapped out of his depression and ready to begin work on his second career, the one that will make him and, more importantly, Sherlock Holmes famous.
“I have all the facts in my journal, and the public shall know them.”
Effectively, then, the first person Sherlock Holmes saves with his detective work is Watson, something the BBC’s Sherlock brings to the foreground in its first episode. In Elementary, this appears to be working itself out more slowly and subtly and with an ironic twist. Holmes is saving Watson by drawing her into his work as a detective but she thinks she’s saving him.
But this is where and why the career change works against her achieving real Watson-osity.
Before he returns to medicine, Doyle’s Watson is paying his bills with his army pension. Elementary’s Watson is paying hers by taking work as a “sober companion.”
The central conceit of Elementary is that exactly what Doyle’s Watson worried would happen happened. Holmes’ habit of alleviating his boredom between cases with seven percent solutions of cocaine became a habit. This Holmes is a recovering addict. His move to New York is part of his recovery. He’s left behind bad company and old haunts, presumably like the opium den in The Man With the Twisted Lip, to start his life and his career over, clean and sober. His father---not his brother Mycroft---paid for the move and his rehab, which, as I mentioned in my previous post, I don’t like, because it defines Holmes as a son, a child. But now Daddy Holmes is paying Watson to keep an eye on his kid, see he doesn’t fall into old ways and take up with the wrong friends, drag him to his support group, and nag and scold and lecture and plead with and badger and boss and bully and emotionally blackmail Holmes to keep him from backsliding.
This makes Watson two things, besides annoying, no other Watson is or has been.
A glorified babysitter.
And an employee.
This is a significant and as far as I’m concerned damaging change.
The popular conception has Holmes and Watson joined at the hip, with Watson playing a definite secondary and supporting role. But that notion is Watson’s own doing and a sign of his innate modesty. It’s how he presents himself in the stories. In fact, he has an independent and successful life of his own. And this is key to our appreciating Holmes.
Time to back up a bit and ask the question, Why does Holmes need Watson?
At the most practical level it’s simply that Watson has useful knowledge and experience Holmes lacks. His medical skills and training come in handy particularly at a time when forensic medicine was still a developing field. Doyle’s Holmes and Watson frequently arrive at a crime scene where no competent pathologist is at work. If there’s a local coroner around, it’s usually the case that he’s never seen anything like this before. A 21st Century Holmes, though, shouldn’t face that problem. If the local forensics unit can’t answer a question, there’s always the internet. On the BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes needs his Doctor Watson because, unlike Jonny Lee Miller on Elementary, he’s not a quasi-official member of the police department and has no authority with the technicians on the scene who therefore aren’t obliged to answer his questions or show him any evidence they’ve collected. On top of that, he’s alienated practically the entire department. He doesn’t like them and he doesn’t respect them, especially not their supervisor Anderson. They don’t work fast enough and they have a bad habit of interrupting Holmes’ thinking by offering their own (wrong) interpretations of the evidence, when they actually find evidence or evidence Holmes recognizes as having real importance.
Liu’s Watson’s medical training occasionally makes her useful at a crime scene, but so far it’s usually been a matter of her saving Holmes the trouble of asking one of the police medical officers at the scene or taking out his cell and googling for a fact. And they’ve made him such a walking encyclopedia that often he tells her what she out to be telling him, leaving her nothing to do but confirm he’s correct. At least, though, they haven’t had her sputter a 21st Century American version of “By Jove, Holmes! How the deuce did you know that?”
And it’s damning that Holmes never introduces her as Doctor Watson. It’s always “Joan Watson” or “Miss Watson.” Also, he never calls her his “colleague and associate.” She’s just his associate and he says it in a way that makes it sound like a synonym for assistant. In other incarnations, Doctor Watson’s title opens doors and loosens tongues for Holmes. Being able to introduce his friend and colleague Doctor Watson---or as often happens being introduced himself by Doctor Watson---confers an authority and respectability and an air of professionalism people might not be inclined to grant an amateur private consulting detective, if they can even conceive what such a creature might be. But they’re used to talking freely to doctors and answering their most probing and intimate questions. Elementary’s Holmes doesn’t need help in that way. After all, he’s basically a cop. In real life, he’d be flashing a badge. Watson needs his stamp of legitimacy. She’s allowed on the scene and tolerated because she’s with him.
There’s more to it.
As a doctor and former soldier, Watson has a breadth of experience and acquaintance that’s different from Holmes’. Holmes, who, nevermind the popular conception, has friends besides Watson and his own extensive social circle, but most of those friends and acquaintances belong to London’s underworld, the part of the city he most often visits when he leaves Baker Street. He doesn’t know people who aren’t connected with the criminal side of life. When he meets so-called respectable people of his own class and station it’s usually because somehow or another they’ve been drawn into that world.
But Watson, the doctor, is used to dealing with people in distress not of their own making, and he has learned to treat most everybody the way he treats his patients, with…patience, a virtue Holmes does not practice regularly, and with kindness, tact, and sympathy. He know when and how to employ diplomacy, to show respect towards people Holmes is disinclined to respect, and in short to be polite and charming. Which frees Holmes to be rude and obnoxious or at least less than ordinarily civil. More to the point, it frees Holmes to concentrate on a problem while ignoring the distractions presented by the person with the problem. This, of course, comes most into play when that person with a problem is a woman.
And Watson’s bedside manner, so to speak, is not incidentally a form of information gathering, something else Holmes relies on Watson for. Watson is an extra pair of eyes and ears, and by temperament and training, he’s able to pick up on things Holmes might miss.
After all, he is a trained observer and collector of evidence. Doyle didn’t make Watson a doctor just because he was a doctor himself. Doyle saw his medical schooling as an education in scientific thinking. Watson is every bit the scientist Holmes is. Watson may not be brilliant but he is intelligent and his intelligence is educated and developed by training, experience, and continual practice. This makes him useful to Holmes in another and maybe the most important way.
Watson is someone Holmes can talk to, because Watson can keep up.
Never forget that the reason we can follow Holmes’ line of deduction (if only after the fact) and grasp how he’s solved a case is that Watson has followed it and grasped it and explained it to us.
Holmes can think out loud in front of Watson, try out theories on him, ask him questions he’s asking himself, because, knowing that Watson’s following right along and expecting him to ask intelligent questions back and taking in Watson’s own observations helps him focus and work his way through a problem. Holmes isn’t always polite about acknowledging this. In fact, he can be downright insulting---
“Really, Watson, you excel yourself,” said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. “I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.”
He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure, for I had often been piqued by his indifference to my admiration and to the attempts which I had made to give publicity to his methods. I was proud, too, to think that I had so far mastered his system as to apply it in a way which earned his approval. He now took the stick from my hands and examined it for a few minutes with his naked eyes. Then with an expression of interest he laid down his cigarette, and, carrying the cane to the window, he looked over it again with a convex lens.
“Interesting, though elementary,” said he as he returned to his favourite corner of the settee. “There are certainly one or two indications upon the stick. It gives us the basis for several deductions.”
“Has anything escaped me?” I asked with some self-importance. “I trust that there is nothing of consequence which I have overlooked?”
“I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth.
---but he does acknowledge it and he counts on it.
If Watson sometimes seems not to have much to say in reply to Holmes’ monologing, it’s because he’s also smart enough to know his own limits and when to keep his mouth shut so as not to interrupt Holmes when he’s on a tear.
Liu’s Watson is not smart in that way.
She’s not particularly smart in any way Doyle’s Watson and other Watsons are.
I blame this on the writing, not on Liu’s acting. She’s just not given any smartness to play. Going by the stuff the writers have her saying, it’s easy to forget she is---was---a doctor, and a gifted one, according to a former colleague who can’t understand any better than we can why she’s given up her career to play nurse to a rich man’s spoiled brat of son. As far as we can tell, when she practiced she paid less attention to her patients as individuals with feelings than Holmes, any and every Holmes, does to clients. All her knowledge and experience of human nature seems to have been acquired during her time spent in the field of self-help. Her language is the language of self-help and recovery. She says things like:
“That relationship stabilizes him…”
“I just need to re-open those lines of communication…”
“If I feel you’ve compromised his sobriety…”
No wonder Holmes doesn’t talk to her. He talks at her. She’s an excuse for him to soliloquize. Often he seems to be talking to keep her from talking. And why wouldn’t he, if what he’s going to hear out of her is stuff as banal and devoid of independent thought as that?
On top of this, she’s intrusive.
Years go by before Watson learns Holmes has a brother. That’s because he’s too much of an Englishman to pry into a friend’s personal life. Liu’s Watson won’t stop prying. She’s convinced that he needs to dredge up his past in order to achieve the kind of emotional self-awareness necessary to recovery. Other Watsons admonish their Holmes to show some feeling or at least remember that other people have feelings. This Watson is constantly encouraging her Holmes to get in touch with his own.
To be fair, the writers know this is part of her problem. They know they’ve made her a pill. In a clever bit from this past Thursday night’s episode, we see Holmes at his support group relating to his fellow addicts not the latest news from his road to recovery or details from his past struggles with his addictions but the facts of a case he solved back in London, when he was, as it happened, coked out of his skull. Sherlock Holmes fans would recognize the case as an only slightly updated retelling of The Crooked Man. Watson finds this an appalling breach of group etiquette and at the end of the episode, dragging him back to another meeting, she says, scoldingly, “You’re not going to talk about some old case. You’re going to share something real…” depriving us of the real pleasure of hearing him re-tell, as he’s threatening to do, the adventure of The Blue Carbuncle.
Now, here’s where Watson’s not being a doctor and working at a dead-end job that reduces her pretty much to a stand-in for Holmes’ father, whom for the moment the show’s producers are keeping off screen---presumably until they can persuade Christopher Plummer to guest star---makes her less than useful not just to Holmes but to us the audience.
Considered purely as a literary device, Doyle’s Watson does several things for us readers. First, he keeps us out of Holmes’ head. We never get to read Holmes’ thoughts directly, which means we never see him working at being brilliant, we only get the results of his brilliance and thus the mystery and surprise of that brilliance is maintained. Next, Watson as the teller of tales provides us with a point of view that is warm, humane, sympathetic, insightful emotionally as well as intellectually, colorful, and literary. We know what the stories would be like if they were told from Holmes point of view---not stories. They’d be dryly scientific case studies, of interest only to other professionals, like his monographs on tobacco ash, tattoos, 160 separate ciphers, and---Holmes being a world-class violinist as well as a great detective---the polyphonic motets of Lassus. Although Holmes routinely criticizes Watson’s prose style and his taste for the sensational, the romantic, and the dramatic in his accounts of their adventures at the expense, Holmes feels, of the scientific, we sense that Holmes is secretly glad that it’s Watson doing the writing and not himself, recognizing that Watson’s “sensational” stories are better for business and Holmes’ reputation than his own accounts would be and, perhaps, enjoying the way they humanize himself to himself. But, finally and most importantly, seeing that this smart, decent, independent, highly competent and successful doctor is impressed by Sherlock Holmes tells us that it’s right for us to be impressed by him too and, at the same time, seeing that this smart, decent, independent, highly competent and successful doctor is often baffled by what does not baffle Holmes allows us to not to feel bad about being baffled ourselves---in fact, we can enjoy our bafflement just as much as Watson does his.
But Liu’s Watson does not have an independent, self-contained, successful life of her own. In what we see of her life apart from Holmes’, she’s not capable. She’s barely a grown-up.
…a self-doubting daughter convinced she’s disappointed her mother.
…a lonely single woman looking for love and failing at the dating game.
…a sulking professional failure, a former doctor who can’t get over her one mistake that proved she’s not perfect.
…a put-upon renter about to be evicted from her rent-controlled apartment until Holmes comes to her rescue.
We’re not impressed that this screw-up is impressed by Sherlock Holmes. We’re astonished that she can stand to be alone in her own company. It’s no wonder that as her term of employment is nearing its end she’s scheming to stay on his sober companion. She’s even lying to him and his father about the progress of his recovery.
This may be part of the producers’ plans for the development of her character. Watson needs to reclaim a life of her own and she may be on track to do it through her admiration and affection for Holmes. He’s inspiring her. But it’s not promising that she doesn’t seem inspired to get back into medicine. She’s not contemplating opening her own clinic somewhere. What she seems attracted to is the idea of working with Holmes as a partner in crime-solving. I suppose the producers think that in this way she’ll become his equal. But she can’t be his equal unless he’s not really Sherlock Holmes. By definition, Holmes has no equal as a detective. But even if she does learn his methods and how to apply them, she will still have no real life of her own apart from his. At best all she’ll be is a junior detective.
Doyle’s Watson and every real Watson who’s followed is not Holmes’ equal as a detective, but he’s his equal in other ways and even his superior in some. He’s not Holmes’ partner in crime-solving because the world’s greatest detective does not need a partner, not even a junior partner. Watson is Holmes’ partner in adventuring.
This brings me back to my point in my previous Holmes post. The reason Jonny Lee Miller hasn’t convinced me his Sherlock Holmes is the Sherlock Holmes is that so far he hasn’t shown enough of that side of Holmes, the adventurous, swashbuckling, freebooting, violent and dangerous side. Almost all original stories centered around wild and violent and romantic adventures that had swept up Holmes’ clients and other characters and there was always the chance that if they weren’t careful or if their investigation went awry Holmes and Watson would be caught up in the wildness and the violence themselves. This happens in a number of the stories and, Watson tells us, has happened on cases he hasn’t written up yet and, apparently even more frequently, on cases Holmes tackles alone.
Where would Holmes be without his Boswell? From what we can tell, working more often in secret as a late Victorian combination of James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Batman.
So Holmes has to be prepared to turn into an action-adventure hero at any moment, and part of his preparation is to call on Watson. This is the real way Holmes needs Watson. He depends on him to have his back in a fight.
Don’t forget, throughout most of the stories both Watson and Holmes are still young men.
Watson is brave, dogged, quick-witted, keen-eyed---he may not observe according to Holmes’ lights, but he can see what’s coming at them---and unflinching. When Holmes suggests he bring his trusty service revolver along on a case, it’s not because Watson owns a gun. It’s because he’s good with one.
Like Holmes, Watson, the war hero, is a dangerous and potentially violent man.
This is one of the reasons I get such a kick out of Jude Law’s Watson in the Guy Ritchie-Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes movies. Downey’s Holmes is an exaggeration of Doyle’s Holmes. But Law’s Watson could be dropped as is into a more traditional adaptation---say one starring Jonny Lee Miller---and Law wouldn’t have to hardly change anything except to shave closer.
The last three episodes of Elementary---The Red Team, The Deductionist, and A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs---have allowed Miller to show a more dangerous side to his Holmes. He’s not as much of swashbuckler as he is a thug, more Daniel Craig as opposed to Pierce Brosnan in his inner Bondness. But he’s capable of inflicting pain and damage on the bad guys and willing to put himself in danger, not for danger’s sake but out of sheer ruthlessness and a desire to punish the villain.
Liu’s Watson, however, has not shown any sign she’d be useful in a fight, not even to call 911. She’d drop her cell or discover she’s forgotten to charge it. In A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs she does manage to help out by knocking out the bad guy while his back is turned by smashing a plaster bust of Napoleon over his head, reaching for the nearest literary allusion because no flower vase is handy. And this takes so much out of her that right after she collapses into bed and sleeps for six hours. So she’s not exactly the kind of partner in adventure Holmes can depend on to have his back.
She’s not dependable in any way, in fact, except in the way she keeps offering to be and urging him to take advantage of, as a friend Holmes can open up to, and we can only hope he never takes her up on the offer.
Ok. It’s network television. The target audience isn’t obsessive Holmes fans like me. It’s fans of TV detective shows looking for something fun to cap off their Thursday nights. If you miss Monk, miss House, and can’t get enough of Castle and The Mentalist, Elementary will fit the bill. And things might change. In fact, as I’ve said, there are signs they are changing. We don’t need to find out that Liu’s Watson has her own Army issued .45 in her sock drawer or that she has hidden martial arts skills that like Kane she’s Zen enough to keep in check until pushed too far. I really hope she doesn’t. I would love it if the writers could find ways to show that she is brave, stalwart, capable, and in her own way dangerous than just by having her turn out to have been one of Charlie’s Angels.
Nicol Williamson was the first Sherlock Holmes who looked and acted like my ideal Sherlock Holmes, and his Watson, Robert Duvall, was the first Watson who was at all close to my ideal Watson. David Burke and Edward Hardwicke were both excellent Watsons but they were something of a step back in being more decidedly middle-aged. An unsung but fine and youthful Watson was Ian Hart who played Watson to two different fine and youthful Sherlock Holmeses, Robert Foxburgh and Rupert Everett. But I was thrilled when I saw Jude Law in the part. That, I said, is my Watson, well, except for the homo-erotic sexual panic. And he’d still be my all time favorite Watson, but now Martin Freeman has come along.
Freeman’s Watson, who besides having the advantage of working with what may be the best Sherlock Holmes ever, is Watson through and through, dependable in every way every Holmes needs his Watson to be, including having his back in fight. Despite looking like a hobbit, Freeman’s Watson is every bit as dangerous as Law’s. This has been dealt with comically---
But it’s demonstrated to ruthless effect in the very first episode when Watson takes aim and shoots a murder in the back and then coolly shrugs it off without remorse or regret.
The first person Cumberbatch’s Holmes saves is Watson. But ever since they’ve pretty much kept it even.
Previous post, essentially Part One of this post: Elementary! He’s elementarily not my ideal Sherlock Holmes.
Mostly it’s the forehead, but Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Sherlock Holmes in the CBS television series Elementary, looks more like Sherlock Holmes than any Sherlock Holmes I can name.
More than Benedict Cumberbatch. More than Jeremy Brett. Certainly more than Robert Downey Jr.
I know. That last one, blasphemy.
Also, I know. I’m leaving out somebody important. I’ll get to him later.
When I say Miller looks like Sherlock Holmes, I mean he looks like how I pictured my ideal Sherlock Holmes whose image my imagination pieced together out of Sidney Paget’s illustrations for Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, what I gleaned from the stories themselves, and my own wishful thinking about what I’d look like when I grew up: very tall, very lean, with a very high forehead, a very sharp nose, blue-eyed, fair-haired, and…young.
The last was important to my conception of Holmes and not just in helping me identify with him. Every Holmes I’d seen on TV when I was a kid---that would have included Rathbone, Cushing, and Stewart Granger, an undeservedly forgotten Holmes but to my mind then disqualifyingly white-haired---looked to me like an old man and I knew from the stories, where I encountered Holmes first, that he was in his twenties when he began his career as the world’s first and only private consulting detective and still only thirty-seven when he apparently went over Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarity.
But as much as he looks like Sherlock Holmes as I’ve always imagined him, he hasn’t convinced me he is Sherlock Holmes.
In fact, of all the Holmeses I’ve mentioned and the one I haven’t yet, he’s the least convincing Holmes. Downey is more like Holmes, even though his Holmes is something of a joke, the joke, being, however, the answer to the questions, What if Holmes and Watson were more like the sides of themselves that only occasionally show in Conan Doyle’s stories, usually in references to cases Watson hasn’t chronicled yet but from what little Watson tells us we can guess are much more adventurous, dangerous, violent, and outlandish than any of the stories on hand? What if instead of being the staid and proper Victorian gentlemen they’re usually portrayed as we get to see them as a pair of swashbuckling soldiers of fortune, not just the prototypes for a long line of movie and TV and mystery novel detectives but the precursors of James Bond?
That side of them is in the stories. Holmes can wield a sword, he’s a crack shot with a pistol, and he’s a master of martial arts. He has actually been a spy on Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Even the part of the first Downey Holmes movie you might have thought was an outrageous invention by director Guy Ritchie, Holmes “relaxing” by taking part in a bare-knuckle prizefight, is inspired by a moment in The Sign of Four. Holmes, we find out, has been an amateur boxer and good enough that one of his old opponents, a professional named McMurdo still thinks Holmes missed his true calling when he left the ring to take up detective work.
“Very sorry, Mr. Thaddeus,” said the porter inexorably. “Folk may be friends o’ yours, and yet no friend o’ the master’s. He pays me well to do my duty, and my duty I’ll do. I don’t know none o’ your friends.”
“Oh, yes you do, McMurdo,” cried Sherlock Holmes genially. “I don’t think you can have forgotten me. Don’t you remember that amateur who fought three rounds with you at Alison’s rooms on the night of your benefit four years back?”
“Not Mr. Sherlock Holmes!” roared the prize-fighter. “God’s truth! how could I have mistook you? If instead o’ standin’ there so quiet you had just stepped up and given me that cross-hit of yours under the jaw, I’d ha’ known you without a question. Ah, you’re one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might have aimed high, if you had joined the fancy.”
“You see, Watson, if all else fails me, I have still one of the scientific professions open to me,” said Holmes, laughing. “Our friend won’t keep us out in the cold now, I am sure.”
I don’t think his name gets said in the movie, but according to IMDB, the boxer Downey’s Holmes defeats with a trick of a handkerchief is McMurdo.
Physical strength, athleticism, a capacity for violence even a relish for it, and a love of adventure and danger for their own sakes are intrinsic to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Holmes. Holmes’ brother Mycroft spells it out for Watson and us in this exchange from A Scandal in Belgravia.
Jeremy Brett’s Holmes may not ever have aspired to be a pirate, but there’s a roguishness to him that suggests he’d be sympathetic to the pirate’s point of view and would have made a good one if he’d wanted. Brett was fifty-one when he took on the part---Cumberbatch was thirty-four when he started---and he knew better than to try to play Holmes young. But his Holmes is a man in his prime, still vigorous, and full of pent-up physical energy, which often shows most when he’s at his most still. It’s the stillness of a big cat, relaxed for the moment but always prepared to pounce. So it isn’t surprising that his Holmes can straighten out a bent fireplace iron, knock down a local bully in a bar, scale walls and climb drainpipes, and, as he does at the beginning of The Final Problem, take on and fight off three of Moriarty’s hired thugs in a scene that, with a little strategic slow-motion, could have come right out of Guy Ritchie’s movies, and it’s a scene that’s not entirely made up for television. At the beginning of the Doyle story, Holmes shows Watson the knuckles he bloodied punching a club-swinging goon in the mouth in the course of escaping a string of Moriarty-plotted attempts on his life that afternoon.
While we’re on the subject, Basil Rathbone---who made The Hound of the Baskervilles when he was forty-seven---couldn’t help inspiring images of swashbucklers and pirates, swordplay and feats of derring-do in his audience, since it was movies like The Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood that made him a star. Of course, he played villains in both and in more than his fair share of other movies, but that was also an attractive feature of his Holmes. It added a sinister cast to his character. Which fits. As Doyle’s Holmes himself likes to point out, he’d have rivaled Moriarty as a master criminal if he’d turned his talents to crime, an idea Holmes seems to think is a recommendation.
But I’ve seen no pirate in Miller’s Holmes. No swashbuckler. I get no sense of any pent-up physicality. His Holmes vibrates but with a nervous energy that seems fueled more by caffeine and sugar than a sign of eager muscles demanding to be put to use. A 21st Century Londoner living in contemporary New York City, Miller’s Holmes is something of a hipster, which is fine. Doyle’s Holmes is a “bohemian,” and bohemians were sort of the hipsters of their day. But Miller’s Holmes looks to be in about the same physical shape and about as likely to spring into violent action as any average frequenter of Brooklyn coffee houses on a Sunday morning engrossed in the Times Style section and still a chai latte and a third biscotti shy of operating at peak performance.
Miller gives his Holmes a number of very Holmesian qualities and puts his own, attractive spin on them. He’s persuasively brilliant. We can see he’s keenly observant, clearly taking in everything Holmes would take in, including all that he’ll decide can be disregarded. He wouldn’t, as Downey’s Holmes does, claim to see “everything.” That would be a waste of effort. But he is seeing.
He’s witty. Every good Holmes has a wicked sense of humor. He’s a quick and crafty liar. He knows when and how to play games with witnesses, suspects, the police, and anyone blundering into his way or tries to interrupt his thinking while he’s pursuing a clue. He’s brusque past the point of rudeness, but he’s not wholly insensitive. It’s just that when he’s focused and at work, his thoughts run away with him and his mouth. He enjoys being a difficult character and even seems to think it’s one of his charms. He talks a lot for someone who’s said to often go days without speaking. In fact, he’s something of a motormouth. But that’s in keeping with Doyle’s Holmes, who, for all he pretends otherwise, enjoys explaining himself and discoursing on his methods and past cases.
But he just doesn’t strike me as sufficiently dangerous.
He’s not inactive. In fact, he can hardly sit still. And he’s not physically timid. He hasn’t done anything like it in the episodes I’ve watched, but I can imagine him climbing out a window and out onto the ledge of a high-rise apartment to test a theory, just as Cumberbatch’s Holmes does in The Blind Banker. But I see him doing it because he has to and not for the thrill of it as well, as Cumberbatch’s Holmes also does. Miller’s Holmes has strength he can muster when needed and he can be violent and to effect. We see him swing a police baton the way Doyle’s Holmes sometimes does his walking stick, with the confidence that comes from lots of practice and the determination that comes from an intent to cause real damage.
Depressingly, in this case he’s not motivated by practical necessity. He does it for that most clichéd and disingenuous TV detective show tropes---revenge for a crime committed against someone he loves---which writers employ to permit their heroes anything while still making a claim on our sympathy.
He could do more of this. It’s just that he’s not been required to. And that’s what I’m getting at. For all his lapses into lethargies and long periods of silent meditation, Doyle’s Holmes is a man of action, a swashbuckler with a touch of pirate, because his stories require him to be.
Doyle’s Holmes and Watson travel in a fictional world where the violent, the macabre, the bizarre, and the borderline supernatural are routine. While many of the stories are, on the surface, realistic in a 21st Century literary sense and some are even humorous, and the mysteries and crimes in them are somewhat tame---A Scandal in Bohemia, The Blue Carbuncle, The Red-Headed League---most of them at least hint at much darker and dangerous realities. They might start out in a puzzler as seemingly comic and inconsequential as in A Case of Identity but any one of them might turn into The Sign of Four and send Holmes and Watson out into the night and the fog to dodge poison-tipped blow darts and shoot it out with the villains boat to boat during a chase down the river. In short, a lot of what happens in the Guy Ritchie-Robert Downey movies are only exaggerations of what happens in the stories. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are adventures, romantic action-adventures, and Holmes and Watson are action-adventure heroes.
Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t set out to invent the modern detective story and, apparently, quickly lost interest in Holmes, even as Holmes grew in popularity. He even grew to resent him, which is why he killed him off in The Final Problem. The Holmes stories were getting in the way of his writing the kind of adventure tales he preferred to tell and on which he thought his reputation as a writer would be made. Consequently, he routinely used Holmes as an excuse to tell one of those sorts of stories.
So Doyle wasn’t writing about puzzling out mysteries and solving crimes. At the center of most of the Holmes stories is a romantic adventure tale that may include a crime but is more likely building towards one and Holmes and Watson have to work fast to prevent it. They are often coming to the rescue and to do this Holmes usually, but not always, has to puzzle out a mystery. It’s interesting and amusing that Holmes figures out that Doctor Roylott is using a trained swamp adder as a murder weapon, but it’s important that Holmes is there in the nick of time to beat back the snake and save the girl.
For this to matter, we have to care about Helen Stoner as an intended victim and about Roylott as a villain. (By the way, there’s never a doubt that he is a villain. Few of Holmes’ cases are whodunits. Most are howdidtheydoits or howdotheyplantodoits or willtheygetawaywithits.) This means she and he have to matter as characters in a story that matters. It's the same for the heroes, heroines, victims, and villains in the other adventures. They matter because the story matters. The story matters because they matter. You can look at it either way. What it amounts to is that Holmes and Watson are characters in their adventures, quite often supporting characters, arriving like the cavalry as those adventures are reaching their climaxes.
If we weren’t afraid for Helen Stoner, if we weren’t afraid of Doctor Roylott, it wouldn’t strike us as such an impressive feat on Holmes’ part when he figures out what the speckled band is. If we didn’t come quickly to like and admire Irene Adler and develop a rooting interest in her outwitting Holmes, his tricking her into revealing where she hid the photograph would be just that, a neat trick. If we weren’t made to fall half in love with Lady Brackenstall ourselves, it wouldn’t worry us that every bit of evidence Holmes turns up points towards her lying about the circumstances of her husband’s murder.
The stories matter. The characters matter. The mysteries are secondary. And many of the stories are sensationalistic. Doyle's influences include more than Poe’s Dupin and his influence extends beyond Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. Doyle crosses over into high Kipling---The Sign of Four, The Crooked Man---or gives in enthusiastically to the influences of Wilke Collins and his fellow Scot Robert Louis Stevenson---The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Resident Patient, The Creeping Man, The Sussex Vampire. Sometimes---The Dancing Men, The Gloria Scott, Wisteria Lodge, and The Greek Interpreter---he’s paving the way for Jack London and Joseph Conrad.
Of the eight episodes I’ve seen, only two have had plots like those kind of stories. In an episode titled Dirty Laundry, Holmes investigates the murder of a woman who turns out to have been a member of a sleeper cell of Russian spies living as an average American family in the suburbs. I know. Shades of The Americans, right? But Elementary got there first and, besides it’s based on a real and recent news story. And Doyle would have approved of the plot. Holmes finds himself drawn into the world of spies and international intrigue in a number of stories, including The Second Stain, The Red Circle, and The Bruce Partington Plans. But in those adventures, the real stories belong to the people caught up in the intrigue. In Dirty Laundry, what the spies were up to barely matters. Holmes is never in danger of being drawn in to their adventure because there isn’t any adventure. Their story is just the background for the puzzle the writers have given Holmes to solve.
Thursday night’s episode, The Red Team, was about a conspiracy to kill off all the members of a federal counter-terrorist study group that had devised an unstoppable plan for devastating New York. (It’s telling, though, that the title isn’t an allusion to The Red-Headed League.) It came closer to providing Holmes with an actual adventure. The characters almost came to life in their own rights and their story was almost a story. But in the end it was about solving another puzzle and what story it had was a continuation of the revenge trope that excuses the hero for everything.
The show’s writers seem to think we’re interested in Holmes only because we enjoy his being brilliant, But in their struggles to contrive problems for him to solve that require him to be brilliant, they over-complicate the plots, pile on the red herrings, play games with suspects and motives, and, when all else fails, kill off another character in order to give Holmes more clues to chase, making Holmes less of brilliant deductionist than an indefatigable multi-tasker, the opposite of Holmes’ approach in the story which is always to narrow his focus. By the end they’ve tied their stories into so many knots that there is no way for Holmes to be brilliant enough to figure it all out because it can’t be figured out, it can only be described. It’s left to Holmes to explain it to us in a way that makes it seem that he solved the case by the simple trick of reading ahead in the script.
What the writers forget---or failed to observe in their reading of the stories---is that Holmes’ brilliant deductions are often a matter of a single, but simple close observation. He’s noticed something that’s easily overlooked by others---the dirt on a shop assistant’s knees, the dog that did nothing in the night time. And when Holmes explains it, Watson or someone is bound to respond something like, “But that’s so obvious. Why didn’t I think of that?” The suspense isn’t in our wondering if Holmes will solve the problem or how he we will solve it---we know he will and we know when he does our own response will be the same as Watson’s. Part of the fun is chuckling over our own obliviousness.---the suspense is in our worrying that he might not solve it in time.
And the tension comes from the problem’s having been set by a particular person.
Even in the stories where Holmes’ detective work is more central, it’s not a one-man show. Holmes is matching wits with someone at least smart enough to challenge Holmes’ intelligence for a time. There’s a war of wills going on between Holmes and whoever it is, and although sometimes we can’t see his adversaries right away, because they’re as yet unknown or they are offstage and have to be chased down or, at least in one case, dead and, in another case, apparently dead. The point is that an adversary is an active and intelligent character worth Holmes’ time and energy. They don’t need to be and rarely are up to Moriarty’s level, but they have enough in them to present Holmes with a challenge that’s more than solving a puzzle.
Again, this makes them interesting characters in their own rights and gives them stories of their own. In Elementary this has been the case in one case. In the other episodes I’ve seen, the adversary has been only an explanation for the puzzle he or she has supposedly presented Holmes with, as if the writers are always working backwards, starting by saying, “This is a neat mystery we’ve concocted. Now what kind of person would do this?”
So the bad guys don’t matter because they’re just devices to explain the plots, and it’s the same with the victims, who are usually dead from the beginning anyway. And Holmes’ clients don’t matter because…he doesn’t have any clients.
Correction. He has one client. The police.
This Holmes is not a private consulting detective. He’s a full-time consultant for the NYPD and his cases are brought to him by the police, which is a significant change from the usual convention of Doyle’s stories. Many of Holmes’ most intriguing cases are brought to him straight by the victims or intended victims and this means they get to speak for themselves and immediately involve us in their distress.
On Elementary, however, we hear about them second-hand, from the mouths of cops in the voices of and words of cops delivering a report. It’s distancing and it has the effect of reducing them to plot devices in stories that are all about Holmes being brilliant, which, as I’ve pointed out, turns out to be trouble for the writers.
I don’t know why the show’s creators felt they had to give their Holmes this quasi-official position. It’s not true to the stories and it’s not original. Instead of connecting him with Doyle’s Holmes, it makes him just another in a line of TV detectives. Monk, Psych’s Shawn Spencer, Castle are “consultants” to the police too. In fact, Doyle’s Holmes would find this idea offensive. Holmes is routinely insistent that he did not work for the police. He’s a freelancer’s freelancer, a freebooter even, a soldier of fortune (I’m back to the swashbuckling.) and he demands a privateer’s freedom to conduct his business as he sees fit and not as the Law requires. And if that means doing things that are extra-legal or illegal---breaking and entering being one of his favorite tactics---that’s all to the best. More than that, he wants the freedom to choose his own cases. Most of all, though, he wants the freedom to decide for himself whether or not to hand someone over to the Law for punishment.
“…My sister thinks that I am going mad. Sometimes I think that I am myself. And now–and now I am myself a branded thief, without ever having touched the wealth for which I sold my character. God help me! God help me!” He burst into convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands.
There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing, and by the measured tapping of Sherlock Holmes’s finger-tips upon the edge of the table. Then my friend rose and threw open the door.
“Get out!” said he.
“What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!”
“No more words. Get out!”
And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter upon the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running footfalls from the street.
“After all, Watson,” said Holmes, reaching up his hand for his clay pipe, “I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies. If Horner were in danger it would be another thing; but this fellow will not appear against him, and the case must collapse. I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to jail now, and you make him a jail-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief feature.”
So…no adventures or potential adventures, no stories only plots, no real deductions only obviously scripted exposition, no clients, no worthy villains, no real characters besides Holmes and Watson and the police, not even any sense of time and place. Too much can be made of the theatrical trappings of Doyle’s Holmes’ Victorian London, the fog, the gas lamps, the top hats and hansom cabs and cockney voices calling out in the dark. But Holmes lives in a particular place and he knows it inside and out, because he has to in order to do his job, and he knows it in more ways than geographically. He knows its characters and its character. New York City as a particular place doesn’t figure in Elementary hardly at all. It’s a generic city and its crime scenes are generic, a hotel laundry, a bank, a beach, a hospital, a corporate boardroom, an airport hangar, all of which for all we see and hear and for all it matters could be and might as well be in Boston, or Chicago, or Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, or Honolulu, anywhere that’s Big City, USA.
It all adds up to this. Jonny Lee Miller hasn’t convinced me that his Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes because so far he hasn’t appeared in anything like a real Sherlock Holmes story.
That could change, quickly and easily enough. I hope it does. As I’ve said, Miller’s Holmes has many Holmesian qualities and the swashbuckling side of him might show itself if he’s ever given a real adventure. And he has other traits that weren’t part of Doyle’s Holmes but which has become standard, thanks to that one Sherlock Holmes I didn’t name up top. Nicol Willaimson.
In The Seven Percent Solution (written and directed by Nicholas Meyer in 1976), Williamson made Holmes manic, neurotic, and more than a touch paranoid. He also made him dashing, overtly swashbuckling---the movie’s climax is a swordfight between Holmes and the villain on top of a moving train---and, if not young, youthful.
The Seven Percent Solution has finally been re-released on DVD and New York Times has a good article about how Williamson is The Holmes Behind the Modern Sherlock.
Of course, Williamson was playing Holmes as a drug addict, so some of these qualities are signs of his being coked out of his head. Brett’s and Cumberbatch’s are recreational users. Miller’s Holmes isn’t using. He’s in recovery. Which brings me to a couple other things that keep me from accepting Miller as the Sherlock Holmes.
He’s young, yes. The youngest Holmes yet, even though Miller is several years older than Cumberbatch. But he’s not young in the sense of being a young man. He’s young in the sense of being boyish. And not just any sort of boy. A little boy lost.
Doyle’s Holmes appears to have no parents. His only family is his brother Mycroft. We don’t know if Miller’s Holmes has a brother but he most definitely has a father. A very stern and demanding one. We haven’t met him yet but his presence is felt in that Holmes’ recovery is being paid for and overseen by his father. So instead of Holmes being in the position of an independent grown-up, he’s essentially a teenager who’s been grounded and who’s always looking for opportunities to sneak out of the house and have some fun.
He even has a babysitter to outwit and avoid.
You’ve probably noticed I haven’t mentioned someone very important to every Holmes. I’ll get to him…I mean her…no, both, him and her in a follow-up post. But for now it’s enough to know that Miller’s Holmes’ Watson is a stand-in for Daddy Holmes.
And if that’s not enough, Holmes’ addiction isn’t due to a habit of self-medication that got out of control.
He was driven to it by heartbreak and grief. Someone near and dear to him was murdered and he can’t forgive himself because he failed to save her.
It’s not much of stretch to play Holmes as psychologically damaged in some way. But I cannot accept as Sherlock Holmes a Sherlock Holmes we’re meant to feel sorry for.
CBS is showing a new episode tonight after the Super Bowl. I’ll be tuning in. There’s still a chance the show will grow on me and that Miller’s Holmes will grow up. I hope so, because, again, he still looks the most like my Sherlock Holmes.
Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, and Jon Michael Hill, airs on CBS, Thursday nights at 10 PM Eastern time, 9 Central. A new episode will air tonight after the Super Bowl.
Ok, the Firing Big Bird jokes stopped being funny sometime Saturday afternoon, hours before SNL bombed with their Big Bird sketch. The Obama ad's amusing, mildly, once, but I wish they hadn’t bothered. It’s kind of silly, really, and I’d rather see the Democrats running ads about Mitt’s more serious gaffe in the debate---and, yes, he did make a few, which Democrats and liberals should have pointed out right away, instead of collapsing into despair. Mitt admitted he plans to voucherize Medicare, for crying out loud! That should be an ad, if it’s not already. And a more straight-forward ad defending Sesame Street and with it PBS might have been all right. But I have to confess something.
I don’t like Big Bird.
I was fine with Ernie, fine with Bert, fine with Grover, fine with Cookie Monster. Oscar still cracks me up, and I love the Count and love doing the Batty Bat. And I was more than fine with Kermit. I was down with Kermit. He was and still is the Frog!
But I’ve never been fine with Big Bird.
He’s annoying because he’s cloying.
I don’t much care for Elmo either. He’s even more annoying. And cloying.
Not that I want to see either Elmo or Big Bird fired. For the record, Mitt doesn't really want to fire them either. He wants to put them to work in the private sector making money for millionaires, which Mitt believes in the whole purpose of life for people and muppets.
I'm just saying that I'm not the target for those ads. watching them i feel a liitle---just a little---like Scrooge perusing the Toys R Us catalog.
But then I didn't grow up with Sesame Street. I'm a Captain Kangaroo kid. By the time Sesame Street premiered I was off to school. Oh, I saw it enough times. On days off and when I was home sick I'd watch with my little brothers and sisters. But I was a Muppet fan and I watched for the Muppets and I didn't consider Big Bird and Elmo true Muppets.
So of course the ads don't touch any deep chords in me. The nostalgia that I do feel isn't for my own kidhood but for my kids' kidhoods. They did grow up with Big Bird.
But here's the thing.
They did not grow up with Sesame Street.
Not in the usual way, that is.
They knew about Sesame Street. They knew all the characters. Young Ken doesn't remember how he felt about Big Bird or Elmo except that they didn't annoy him. His favorites were Bert and Ernie and Cookie Monster. Oliver was a fan of both. He loved Elmo. (To his parents' great relief, he outgrew this before any Tickle Me Elmos cloyed their way into our house.) But they knew the Sesame Street Muppets as the stars of videos and the travelling live shows that came to town every year. They didn’t watch Sesame Street itself regularly. Hardly ever in fact. There are reasons for this that were mainly accidental. One was that without thinking about it the blonde and I discouraged them from building their days around watching TV. Another, related to the first, is that thanks to our schedules when they were very little both the blonde and I were home during the mornings. When Sesame Street was on, they were often doing things with one or the other or both of us.
Not always fun stuff. We dragged them about on errands. But mostly we were able to spend what was known then as quality time. (Has that cliche died the death it deserved?) We had a nice backyard with a swingset and a sandbox where they could play on sunny days, chasing the clouds away. There was a branch library within easy strollering distance. Our house was full of books and they did not lack for toys.
But it's not as if they never watched TV.
What they mostly watched, however, was videos, and the Sesame Street videos were not among their very favorites. They preferred videos with big trucks and toy trains and, oh , how I still miss Thomas and his friends. The sight of that little blue tank engine can make me tear up way faster and easier than yellow feathers or red fur.
(Warning to young parents. There are things you'll be happy to see your kids outgrow. But there are other things that will break your heart all the rest of your life.)
Then something happened. First to Ken, then to Oliver.
They turned three.
And they started pre-school.
You see where I'm going here, right?
No, not into my rendition of Sunrise, Sunset.
This: They were very lucky little boys.
How many kids don't grow up with the company of both parents for large portions of their days or even with one around? How many don't have nice backyards to play in? How many don't live in neighborhoods where it's a pleasant walk to the library? How many don't get to attend schools with good early education programs and all-day kindergartens? How many kids grow up with Big Bird whose parents can't afford to take them to Sesame Street Live or can't get a weeknight off to take them?
I'm not surprised that Right Wingers sneer and snark at the Firing Big Bird thing. But it bothers me that many liberals are so dismissive too.
It doesn't surprise me, though, that by far the majority of liberals I've seen being dismissive are men.
Sesame Street is the first introduction to learning English for many immigrant families. For many inner city families it is one of the few shows on television that reflect their lives and neighborhoods and cultures and heritage and selves in a positive light.
And let’s not forget that along with everything else they want to take away from working families, the Republicans have it in for Head Start and before and after school programs too.
What's more, people of all sorts and conditions grew up with Sesame Street, loving Big Bird and Elmo and the rest. Their kids are growing up with it now. It means something to them, and not just in a trivial or sentimental way. It is an important part of childhood because it helps teach children not just to read and to count but to be as decent and kind and loving as Big Bird and Elmo.
For countless families, Sesame Street plays a key part in raising children.
And, guys? Guess who do the lioness' share of that job?
Like I said, when I was growing up I watched Sesame Street mostly in passing. It was a show for little kids. But I’ll tell you what I did watch attentively, even though I might have been embarrassed to let my friends know, if I didn’t know some of them were watching it too.
Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
It was on late in the afternoons so I could catch it after school. I never turned it on for myself, of course. But I would remind my brothers and sisters that it was time. Then I’d sit down and watch with them, just to be a good and obliging big brother.
It wasn’t that Mr Rogers was a hero to me, but he was something…special. A saint, maybe? I could write a whole post trying to explain it, I suppose, but it wouldn’t be as good as this essay by Tom Junod, to whom Fred Rogers was a hero.
It’s long. You might want to book mark and save it for when you can give it your full attention. It’s that good.
In the meantime:
And, of course:
Breaks your heart, right? Just be glad I didn’t post It’s Not Easy Being Green too.
Top photo courtesy of NBC.
Finally, for Family Movie Night, we’re beginning to sing a song of fire and ice…
Haven’t seen any episodes of Boss yet. DVDs are working their way up my Netflix queue. Seems like my kind of show. And I’m sure Kelsey Grammer’s great in the title role. He’s a brilliant comic actor and Tom Kane sounds like one of those comic monsters that ought to be funny but isn’t because of his real power to hurt people. Comedy and tragedy are reflections of life viewed from different sides of the mirror and the fact you can imagine Kane pretty much unchanged as a character in a comedy and even as the good guy makes him all the more terrifying. So I expect I’ll be wowed by Grammer’s performance. But, like I said, I haven’t seen it yet so I don’t know.
Kelsey Grammer knows.
He knows he’s doing a great job.
He knows he deserved an Emmy nomination for it.
He didn’t get one.
But he knows why he didn’t get one.
Because he’s a Republican.
Out in Hollywood they discriminate against Republicans.
Ask Clint Eastwood.
Man gets no respect.
I guess this means Grammer wasn’t a Republican when he won his other five Emmys.
Ok, looking over the list of nominees for Best Actor in a Drama Series, I can see room for Grammer. I can see room for Timothy Olyphant too. Doesn’t really matter who’s nominated besides Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston. Cranston should win it going away. But I wouldn’t scratch Steve Buscemi from the list. Michael C. Hall? He’s not been phoning it in but it’s been several seasons since he did his best work as Dexter. Similar point with Jon Hamm. It’s not that Hall and Hamm shouldn’t have been nominated. It’s that they didn’t have to be nominated for what they did in their respective just completed seasons. The Downton Abbey guy, though, I can’t help suspecting he’s there as a sop to the Brits or PBS. And I haven’t heard anybody talking about Damian Lewis or Homeland. You can’t go by me, though. Still, I understand why Grammer might have had his hopes up and why he’d look at the list and think “I should be there!”
I think he should have been gracious about it and kept his mouth shut. I think he should have looked at the list and thought, “Hey, can’t nominate everybody and those other guys are really good actors too.”
I think---or I would have thought---he’s smart enough to realize there might be a dozen reasons he was “snubbed” and none of them was his political affiliation. Liberal Hollywood has a long history of not just tolerating but celebrating Republicans and conservatives in its midst. Besides Eastwood, John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Ginger Rogers, and Bob Hope didn’t suffer much as martyrs to their cause. I haven’t noticed that Robert Duvall, Robert Downey Jr, or Jon Voight have gone without work or recognition. Grammer hasn’t either. His being a Republican isn’t why he wasn’t nominated this year for an Emmy. (Wonder what he’ll say if he’s nominated next year.) But I’m thinking his being a Republican explains why he thinks he was discriminated against because he’s a Republican.
The Republican Party has become the party of white guys the world doesn’t love enough.
That’s one of the factors uniting Tea Party types with Wall Street corporatist types, the sense that they’re owed something THEY are taking from them. THEY being everybody who isn’t themselves.
Republicanism feeds into these feelings of entitlement and grievance. The GOP really has become Richard Nixon’s Party.
But that’s just it. It’s Nixonian in its encouragement of self-pity, sure. But it’s also Nixonian in its providing excuses for personal failings.
As a Republican, the greedy man can congratulate himself on being a generous benefactor of society. As a Republican, the dependent man can pride himself on being a self-reliant hero. The weak man can feel strong and tough. The coward can bravely advocate for war. The racist can complain of being the victim of discrimination. The morally slothful man can boast he’s a paragon of virtue and the sinner can proclaim himself a saint.
Grammer is a terrific actor, but he’s a vain, self-important, self-infatuated human being. Which is to say, he’s an actor. Yuk yuk. He’s something else though. Self-destructive. He’s constantly making a mess of his personal life. From time to time he’s been able to pull himself together, but he just can’t hold it together. It’s not surprising, then, that he’s adopted a particular brand of politics that encourages him to believe he’s things he’s clearly not---strong, reliable, responsible, disciplined, sound of judgment and an exemplar of traditional values and domestic virtues. (Let me stress I’m talking about his personal life. The irony here is that professionally he is, at least as far as I know, reliable, responsible, disciplined, and sound of judgment. If and when Hollywood starts discriminating against him, it’ll be because he’s begun conducting his professional life like his personal life. You can vote any way you want as long as you show up to work on time, know your lines, hit your mark, and make an effort when the camera’s rolling.) For Grammer, being Republican substitutes for being successfully grown-up. It is the Daddy Party, after all, isn’t it?
And that’s the thing, generally. Republicanism has become a substitute virtue, a way to feel successful even when you’re not. And then, when it turns out that at the end of the day, you aren’t a success, when you’re not rich or strong or brave or a hero in the eyes of others and, more importantly, in your own eyes, you’re given the excuse. It’s THEIR fault. THEY resent you. THEY envy you. THEY want to take away all the things you deserve because you are you.
There’s no way Kelsey Grammer wasn’t nominated for an Emmy because those other actors are doing better jobs than he is. It must be because THEY are spitefully refusing to give him what THEY know he deserves. THEY resent him. THEY envy him. THEY are taking it away from him because THEY’RE a bunch of liberal meanies who discriminate against nice Republicans.
Couple of asides before I wrap it up here.
There was a period when Hollywood actively and devastatingly discriminated against people because of their politics, from the late 1940s into the early 1960s.
Those people were not conservatives.
And, speaking of Richard Nixon, take a look at that picture of Grammer up top again.
Somebody’s got to cast him as Nixon and soon!
Updated as part of back-room deal: Steven Hart, who knows a thing or two about corrupt political bosses, has written a post that makes me think I won’t like Boss as much as I’m hoping to and Kelsey Grammer isn’t as good in it as I’m expecting him to be. Read Cry Me a Chicago River.
Family Movie Night tonight is more accurately Family Catch Up on Season 4 of One of Our Favorite TV Shows on DVD Night.
Parker behind the wheel of a car. Always good times.
Season 4 along with the first three seasons and the first couple episodes of this season are available to watch instantly at Amazon.
Liberal evangelist St Sam Seaborn, now the patron saint of conservative bloggers and pundits for whom the greatest sin is hurting the feelings of very rich people.
Republican bloggers and pundits are having fun passing around this quote from an episode of The West Wing. They think Aaron Sorkin speaking in 2001 through President Bartlett’s speechwriter, Sam Seaborn, was presciently criticizing what they regard as President Obama's You Didn't Build That blasphemy.
Henry, last fall, every time your boss got on the stump and said, "It's time for the rich to pay their fair share," I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left Gage Whitney making $400,000 a year, which means I paid twenty-seven times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share, and the fair share of twenty-six other people. And I'm happy to 'cause that's the only way it's gonna work, and it's in my best interest that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads, but I don't get twenty-seven votes on Election Day. The fire department doesn't come to my house twenty-seven times faster and the water doesn't come out of my faucet twenty-seven times hotter. The top one percent of wage earners in this country pay for twenty-two percent of this country. Let's not call them names while they're doing it, is all I'm saying.
Josh Barro, writing more in the mode of Paddy Chayefsky than Aaron Sorkin and echoing Ned Beatty's wrathful sinners in the hands of an angry corporatist god speech in Network---“You have meddled…Mr Beale!”---white knuckles the lectern and gasps from his pulpit at Bloomberg, "When Barack Obama has made an argument for progressive taxation that even Aaron Sorkin finds distasteful, he has erred."
Three things wrong with this.
First is, that's not what the President meant and Barro and the members of his choir and the elders in the front pews know it. So unless you actually built the bridges and the roads that carry your customers to and from your business' front door, stop whining and shut up.
Second, nobody cares that some rich people got their feelings hurt.
Third, thanks to The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin's reputation is not at its highest these days. In fact, he's regarded as something of a pompous, self-infatuated windbag who although he can write some snappy dialog knows next to nothing about politics, economics, baseball, social networking, journalism, or comedy, but particularly politics and economics. Everything he's done since West Wing has made even fans wonder if we were wrong about West Wing.
Other than that...
Barro and others seem to think we’re damned out of our own mouths and we ought to feel ashamed of the President as if he’s our pastor caught preaching a heresy. Seriously? They expect us to feel chastened, to tsk tsk at the President, because a fictional character was inordinately pleased with himself because of all the money he made as a lawyer? Oh well. Serves us right. It was liberals who evangelized that The West Wing, a usually cleverly written, always incredibly well-acted fantasy about how wonderful it would be if the country was run by a handful of smartypantsed white yuppies, was liberal gospel. Every now and then I'll come across a liberal blogger who seems to think Aaron Sorkin wrote a how-to manual for effective and moral liberal governance and then, like Sam Seaborn, I want to hide under the couch and change my name.
But here's the thing. Most of the time Sorkin didn't care what his characters were saying. He cared about how clever what they were saying sounded and how it played off what some other character had just said and then how clever what the next character to speak would sound playing off of that. The West Wing was often a comic symphony for voices speaking gibberish.
Seaborn's speech is a good example. It's not thought. It's sound. Which is fine. It's pleasant sound. As thought it's mostly BS. If you're rich the fire department does get to your house faster. The police not only arrive sooner, they ask permission first and then they wipe their feet when they show up and apologize for taking so long and being out of breath.
If the water coming out of your tap isn't hot enough, the mayor will drive over with his tool kit and replace your hot water heater himself and fix the drip from the kitchen faucet while he's at it.
It's a good life, being rich. Things are so much easier and pleasant. Also safer. It's not always a picnic, but when it is there are way fewer ants. That's why we all want to be rich. It's why we Democrats like to spread the wealth, so more people can live lives that are easier and more pleasant and safer and with fewer ants. It's why it's a bad thing that the One Percent have stopped spreading it and set themselves to hogging more of it.
It's also the case that Sorkin wrote that speech when Bill Clinton had just left office with stratospherically high approval ratings after having balanced the budget and built a surplus partly by raising taxes.
Besides the fact that it's out of date, and was out of date when it was written, what's wrong about the speech (or right if you think of Sam's character as somewhat callow and naive) is that Sam assumes everyone making upwards of 400 grand is like him, happy to pay their fair share so all of us can have good schools and safe streets.
Conservatives don't read our scripture any more closely than they read their own. Sam isn't arguing against taxes. He's not necessarily arguing against raising them. He's certainly not arguing for cutting taxes on the rich as Mitt Romney is promising to do. He's objecting to the rhetoric Henry’s boss---whoever Henry is---uses when he agitates for raising taxes and I guess cons who got that are assuming Henry's boss sounds like they think President Obama sounds, needlessly disrespectful of his betters. Their noses get out of joint if everything you say isn’t a hymn to the greater glory of our Galtian Overlords or doesn’t include a Wayne and Garth-level of apology for how unworthy we rabble are to live in the light of their gloriosity. But they miss or expect us to miss that Sam thinks taxes on the well to do are necessary to pay for infrastructure for the common good. This is an idea the Republican Party has lately rejected.
To the shock and dismay of even some Republicans, like retiring (in disgust) Ohio Congressman Steve LaTourette.
Long an advocate of increased infrastructure spending, LaTourette said he was ”horribly disappointed” in the debate over the transportation funding bill, calling it an “embarrassment” to the institution that a bipartisan bill approved by the Senate was not handily approved in the House.
A long-term funding bill ultimately passed, but only after months of internal Republican strife.
“We’re talking about about building roads and bridges for Chrissakes,” he said, adding that he had come to believe his Congressional colleagues have become “more interested in fighting with each other than getting the no-brainers done and governing.”
Hat tip to ClaireHelene7.
Second reading: As long as they’re quoting the Gospel According to Saint Sam Seaborn, chapter and verse, they should think about this one:
Mallory, education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.
You know who wouldn’t agree with this? The guy the Republicans are about to nominate for President. The guy who thinks we don’t need any more teachers.
ALBANY — Long before she married Ernest Hemingway or was portrayed by Nicole Kidman in the film "Hemingway & Gellhorn" airing Monday on HBO, Martha Gellhorn was a cub reporter at the Times Union who turned heads and raised eyebrows.
Well-educated, outspoken and a leggy beauty, Gellhorn was nicknamed "the blonde peril" by veteran cop reporter Joe O'Heaney.
She was 21 years old in 1929 when she joined the staff of the paper on Beaver Street, along Newspaper Row downtown, shortly after dropping out of Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia in her junior year to pursue a career in journalism.
As the lone female reporter on the Times Union staff, she repeatedly had to fend off unwanted advances by the city editor, who had a propensity to drink too much, according to Caroline Moorehead's biography, Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life …
But Gellhorn, peppered with whistles and catcalls as she made her rounds of the city, longed for more ambitious assignments and began to chafe at her cub reporter role…
Read all of Paul Grondahl’s story, Albany was her starting point, in the Times Union.
Hemingway & Gellhorn premieres tonight on HBO.
Photo courtesy Nicole Kidman.
Hat tip to Mrs M, known to regular readers as the blonde but never, ever, EVER referred to as “the blonde peril.”
May not seem the best way to begin a book review, making comparisons between two TV shows. But here goes.
The book in question is Raylan, Elmore Leonard’s latest novel. Makes sense, then, that one of the TV shows I’m going to look into here is Justified. Justified is based on a character Leonard introduced in two novels, Pronto and Riding the Rap, and a short story, "Fire in the Hole"---Deputy United States Marshal Raylan Givens, a slow-talking, quick-shooting, white cowboy hat-wearing lawman helping to bring law and order to the coal mining region of 21st Century Kentucky, which is for all intents and purposes Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone circa 1880 with reliable cell phone coverage.
Towns---whole counties---are wide-open. Crime is a bulwark of the economy, particularly the dealing of meth and oxycontin and the growing and selling of marijuana. Armed robbery is a daily hazard. Buses get held up like stage coaches. Banks get held up like...well...banks. People cross back and forth across the line between outlaw and honest citizen, sometimes in the course of an afternoon. Guns are everywhere and it seems more people die by bullet in car accidents or from old age. And many of these casualties met their justified demises after making the mistake of drawing on Raylan Givens.
I’ve lost count, and I suspect Justified’s producers have too, but over the course of three seasons Raylan may have carved more notches in his gun than Marshall Matt Dillon carved in twenty. It’s getting embarrassing to the point that the show has become conscious of itself on that point. Cracks appear in the fourth wall whenever characters discuss Raylan’s latest showdown. In some episodes now, you can feel the writers scrambling to contrive ways for Raylan not to shoot anyone.
Raylan, the novel, chronicles some of Raylan’s adventures outside what we’ve seen so far in episodes of the TV show and recapitulates a few things we’ve seen in episodes of Season Two. So I can hardly write about the book without writing about the TV show.
But the other TV show I’ll be writing about?
Different types of shows. Different settings. Different genres. Different styles. Different aesthetics. Different ambitions. Different almost everything.
But their leading men have more in common than just both being tall, dark, and handsome. Don Draper and Raylan Givens are both men with burdensome pasts. Both have mean streaks that get them into trouble and get them out of it. Both have self-destructive impulses. Both can’t walk away from situations they know they’ll regret not having walked away from later. Raylan is not as self-indulgent as Don but he is not a paragon of self-denial. Put something in front of him he wants bad enough and he’ll reach for it.
Fortunately, Raylan is a man of few needs and ordinary desires, mainly love and sex.
Which is how he’s wound up sleeping with a witness in one of his cases and having an affair with his ex-wife while she’s married to the man she left him for.
Don can’t be happy because everything he has is stolen, in a way. I should say he can’t be allowed to be happy because he is a fictional construct in a moralist’s universe. Matthew Weiner is making an example of him to make a point.
Don is what is wrong with America. He can’t be content or enjoy himself because that takes discipline and focus. He is living a life that many people would consider ideal. On other TV shows and in movies it is ideal. But he’s not living his life. His mind is too much in the past and in the future.
On Mad Men, all the characters are being contradictorily punished. They're being punished for the sin of being themselves and punished for the sin of wanting to be somebody other than who they are. Don is only the chief sinner. The character all the others double. Roger, Peggy, Pete, Joan, Betty, and Lane are just as divided between who they are and what they want to be as Don. Damned if they do and damned if they don't because they are just damned. Their lives are little, private hells of their own making.
Leonard is not a moralist. In his fictional universe, life is what it is. People are happy or they're not. It depends on their circumstances, but more on their temperaments. In Leonard’s world, there are cheerful villains, grumpy ones, soft-hearted ones, tortured ones made miserable by doubt, conscience, personal sorrows, worries, ulcers, headaches, bad backs, bad marriages, leaky faucets, insomnia, or congenital irritability. And it’s the same for the good guys. Sins aren’t punished here. Mistakes can cost you, but not always and when they do not as much as you’d expect or far more than they should. There is no purpose or meaning to life except what we bring to it. It's full of pleasure and pain, sorrow and bliss, but it's all mixed up and spread unevenly, not available to everyone equally. Up to us to make the best of it as we can.
One of the great favors we do for each other is treat each other as if our existence matters and our lives have meaning. The threat from the sociopaths, people for whom order and meaning have no meaning and not the least bit interested in helping you maintain the illusion that you matter, isn't only physical, it's metaphysical.
Like Don, Raylan gets himself in trouble over women. Unlike Don, however, he is loyal and chivalrous and always ready to help a lady in distress. Don requires rescuing. Raylan, in riding to the rescue, has done things for Ava and Winona that he knows could cost him his career, his freedom, and his life.
Both men are heroes in the eyes of others, but far from heroic in their own minds. They are conflicted, tormented, guilt-ridden, and tempted towards self- destruction. Raylan’s life is as full of turmoil and worry as Don Draper's and, although not as much or as constantly, still requires some lying, deception, and double-dealing to keep it together. The differences are that Raylan, although by necessity, is a liar he is not a fraud so he can take some pride in himself for doing his job well . Work for Don is at best an escape from himself. He can lose himself in the act of creation, which is to say, by creating new fictions or, if you’re a cynic about advertisting, new lies to sell to the public. Raylan can be himself at his best while at work. And he's basically a cheerful man.
Not a happy one.
Just a cheerful one. And that makes him capable of the kind of small moments of pleasure and joy Draper is denied.
He's also a friendly man. He likes people. He enjoys their company. He gets a kick out of their quirks and idiosyncrasies. He's tolerant of their flaws and foibles, forgiving of their mistakes, and sympathetic in their moments of vanity and weakness. He is glad to see things from other's points of view. To a degree, and, again to a degree, this includes criminals he's come to arrest.
The point isn't that Raylan is a better person than Don Draper. That’s irrelevant to a discussion of fictional characters. But the point isn't that Raylan is a superior creative achievement either. He's a more easily likable character and that makes it more fun in the usual sense to watch Justified than Mad Man. The point is---because remember this is still a book review---that none of that cheerfulness, good nature, or friendliness is in the Raylan we meet in Leonard's novel.
The Raylan of Justified is full of displaced and barely sublimated angers and resentments. The Raylan of Raylan is more ornery than angry. The Raylan of Justified is mostly in control of his wants and desires. Mostly. Raylan’s Raylan is not self-indulgent but he's not self-denying either. The TV Raylan is a social drinker. The novel's Raylan likes a drink and has one when he wants one. He has more self-regard. He is full of self regard, in fact. But he is less self-regarding. He takes himself for granted. It's enough for him that he's one of the good guys and nothing that happens in the book makes him doubt that even in the way the TV Raylan doubts it about himself, by recognizing that he's tempted by the same things as people he knows are bad guys or sinners. The book's Raylan isnt tolerant or forgiving or the least bit sympathetic. He's just indifferent.
People's motives or characters make him no never mind. He doesn't like or dislike anybody. He gets along with them or he doesn't. If it happens that he has to put someone he gets along with in jail, that's how it breaks. Doesn’t mean though they can't go right along getting along until he has to out the cuffs on them...or shoot them. Which is how he nearly winds up in bed with each of the book's two femme fatales, even though he knows both are murdering sociopaths who intend to kill him.
That’s not something it’s easy to imagine happening to Raylan on Justified. His weakness lies in the opposite direction. Justified turns the film noir convention around. It’s not the femme fatales who undo the hero. It’s the good women.
The two Raylans are that much different that as I was reading I wondered what Leonard was up to. I’d expected that the novel would be a companion to the TV show but as it went along it seemed more like a critique and a correction. I suspected Leonard of trying to steal his character back from himself and bring him back in line with Raylan as he was in Pronto and Riding the Rap.
Then I got to thinking that what I see in the character of Raylan on Justified has been put there by Timothy Olyphant who plays him as an affable, easy-going, self-effacing, hopeful and, let me repeat, cheerful man. On the surface, at any rate. He’s turned his lawman from Deadwood, Seth Bullock, inside out. Bullock wore his anger and self-doubt along with his righteousness, his resolve, his grit, and his potential for violence on the outside, symbolized by his black hat, black frock coat, and black mustache. Olyphant plays Raylan as more Jimmy Stewart as Tom Destry by way of Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp than himself as Seth Bullock.
But it’s not just Olyphant. The show’s writers and producers, who include Leonard, although Graham Yost is the creative guiding hand, routinely put Raylan in the company of or up against characters he can interact with with kindness and warmth or at least react to with kindly and warm amusement.
He has his friends among the other marshals and lawmen and women. He has, on and off, Winona and Ava. He had someone I won’t mention by name in case any of you who watch the show haven’t made it through Season Two yet. He has bonds of sympathy and history with any number of villains he’s crossed paths with. Most dramatically intriguing he has his complicated relationship with his sometime friend, sometime enemy Boyd Crowder. And then there are the victims of the bad guys’ crimes and depredations towards whom Raylan is usually, although not always, comforting, protective, more than necessarily and professionally helpful, and deeply sympathetic.
In the novel, the other marshals are on hand only to provide exposition. Ava is offstage entirely. Winona only enters to be quizzed about Raylan by the femme fatale but never gets near Raylan himself. Boyd figures prominently in the story but he and Raylan barely come into contact. The villains are all either lowlife scum with no redeeming characteristics even as comic relief---except for Dewey Crowe who appears pretty much as he does in the TV show, being so stupid you can’t help but feel sorry for him and rooting for him to survive even though he’s put himself in a position where his continued survival isn’t just in doubt it would be a gigantic mistake on the part of fate---or they are grinning and leering sociopaths, including the femme fatales. And the only victim Raylan has any fellow feeling for is himself.
But the even bigger disappointment waiting for fans of Justified is the immediate recognition of having been there and done that.
The central storyline of Raylan is taken pretty much straight from three episodes of Season 2 of Justified in which Boyd is hired as a “security expert” and bodyguard by a scheming mining company executive who intends to manipulate him into committing murder. And if the Raylan as written in the novel makes you appreciate what Timothy Olyphant has brought to the role, then Boyd’s appearance in the novel will have you in awe of what Walton Goggins has been doing with the character on Justified.
Meanwhile, the chief villain of the subplot, Dewey Crowe’s uncle Pervis Crowe will seem awfully familiar and sadly imitative. He’s a male Mags Bennett. Almost. He runs a criminal fiefdom similar to Mags, being, like her, the chieftain of all the marijuana growing and the attendant criminality in Harlan County. He runs the same legitimate business as a front, a general store. He has two equally dimwitted sons with the same first names as Mags’, Dickie and Coover. He even repeats many of Mags’ lines of dialog, word for word.
But since he’s not played by Margo Martindale or written to be played by Margo Martindale, he has none of Mags’ superior intelligence, none of her deceptively cuddly parental warmth, none of her wit, none of her manipulative charm, and none of her capacity for real hate and violence because he doesn’t have a heart, even a black and twisted one like Mags’. He’s just a mean and greedy old coot who doesn’t care who gets hurt as he pushes people out of his way as he schemes for what he wants. We believe it breaks Mags’ heart to have to smash her own son’s fingers to bloody pulps with a hammer, because for her it’s the case that a mother has to do what a mother has to do. And we believe that Pervis could shrug off without a tear or a pang anything that might befall his boys as long as it also doesn’t befall him. But who’s the more interesting and fun to believe in, the dirty old man with a hole where his soul ought to be or the devoted mother whose love is perverted to the point that she can think of torture as just her version of a grounding and who assures a man she’s just poisoned that she will look after his about to be orphaned teenage daughter as if she’s confident he will appreciate and be grateful for this kindness as he writhes in agony?
Which brings me back to the question of just what Leonard is up to with the novel? Who did he write it for? For fans of the show looking for something to enjoy while waiting for Season 3 to come out on DVD or Season 4 to roll around, it fails for the obvious reason---if you want repeats you can watch Season 2 on DVD. As an introduction to the TV show for fans of Leonard’s writing who may not have watched any of Justified yet, it has the problem of leaving out just about everything that is likeable, enjoyable, and intriguing about the show. And for fans of Leonard’s writing who don’t care that there’s a TV show with the same characters, I think it’ll be a disappointment. There’s a slapdash quality to Raylan, as if it was put together in a hurry out of spare parts with the intention of just putting something on the road until something better rolls out the shop doors. And I think I know why.
Raylan is a cut and paste job.
I think what we have here is a hastily stitched together collection of adaptations of scripts and treatments Leonard wrote for Justified that Graham Yost and his writers re-wrote and made better.
In the last fourteen or so months I’ve written around twenty-five book reviews and only two have been negative. This one makes three and wouldn’t you know, it’s of a book by one of my favorite writers.
But there are reasons Leonard’s one of my favorite writers and those reasons are on display in the book, so reading it wouldn’t be a total waste of time.
I just think that if you haven’t seen Justified yet, you’ll have more fun introducing yourself to that.
At the Hillman Prizes. Tuesday evening. May 1, 2012. Actor Danny Glover presented the prize for Web Journalism to Seth Freed-Wessler for the story he reported for Colorlines, Thousands of Kids Lost From Parents in U.S. Deportation System.
The headline says it all. When undocumented immigrants are swept up and sent “home,” any members of their families who are U.S. citizens stay here, because the know-nothings haven’t yet been able to write a law that makes it illegal to be related to anyone they hate. They’re working on it. They’re targeting “anchor babies.” The point here is, though, that anchor babies can’t be deported along with their parents because they’re citizens from the moment they’re born.
Their parents are allowed to take them with them when they leave (or more usually sent after them after they’ve been deported), provided a court approves. But people aren’t just swept up and sent home. They are “detained” while their cases are evaluated. That can take months. In some instances, years. So what happens to their children while they’re waiting?
Many of them disappear into a foster care system that’s not at all equipped, funded, or motivated to do the job of reunifying families it’s supposed to do.
As Freed-Wessler reported:
…at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States. That number represents a conservative estimate of the total, based on extensive surveys of child welfare case workers and attorneys and analysis of national immigration and child welfare trends. Many of the kids may never see their parents again.
These children, many of whom should never have been separated from their parents in the first place, face often insurmountable obstacles to reunifying with their mothers and fathers. Though child welfare departments are required by federal law to reunify children with any parents who are able to provide for the basic safety of their children, detention makes this all but impossible. Then, once parents are deported, families are often separated for long periods. Ultimately, child welfare departments and juvenile courts too often move to terminate the parental rights of deportees and put children up for adoption, rather than attempt to unify the family as they would in other circumstances.
It’s a heartbreaking story. And it infuriates Danny Glover. That’s why it meant so much for him to be here tonight, he said as he introduced Freed-Wessler, that he rushed over to the Times Center from the set of the movie he’s filming here in New York still in his make-up.
Naturally, my first thought on hearing this was, What movie is that?
A quick visit to his entry at imdb.com showed listed as currently filming a film called Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight. But you never know how up to date the entries are. So I confirmed it with him at the reception after the ceremonies.
Yes, the whole point of this post is to tell you how I met Danny Glover.
He’s a very pleasant and mild-mannered guy and he seemed glad I asked him about the movie because he’s having a good time making it. He really likes working with the director, Stephen Frears.
I asked him who was playing Ali.
Ali doesn’t appear as a character.
His greatest fight, according to the movie, which is being made for HBO, was before the United States Supreme Court and in that ring he slugged it out by proxy, through his lawyers.
Facing the draft during the Vietnam War, Ali applied for conscientious objector status on religious grounds, although he sounded as if his reasons were as much political as moral. Didn’t matter. The federal government was having none of it. They arrested him for evading the draft instead. His case worked its way up to the Supreme Court where it was decided in his favor when conservative Justice John Harlan changed his vote, deadlocking the court, four to four. (The Court was down a justice at the time of the decision.) Harlan was set to write the majority opinion and I’m guessing the focus of the movie is on Harlan’s struggles with his conscience as he argues himself into changing his decision.
Harlan is being played by Christopher Plummer.
Frank Langella’s playing Warren Burger.
Glover is playing Thurgood Marshall.
Photo by yours truly.
“This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” ---from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Charles Dickens was the greatest writer of fairy tales. His novels might as well begin, “Once upon a time.” (One famously does.) His characters aren’t caricatures and grotesques. They are elves and demons and trolls crawling out from under bridges to cause mischief and heroic dwarfs protecting children lost in the woods. Enchanted princesses and exiled princes. Wizards, witches, ogres and dragons. Young men named Simple and brave little tailors (and one brave little seamstress) and pure-hearted and sharp-witted young women who in other versions of their stories are named Snow White and Rose Red.
Of course Dickens is doing a lot more than working his way towards “and they all lived happily ever after.” And it’s important to note that the happily ever aftering is mostly reserved for the young lovers and a couple of the eccentrics who treated them kindly as they followed the bread crumbs to their cheerful little bowers of bliss where they can live safely and happily apart from the world. A few other good characters share partially in the happiness, but others are excluded entirely and still others die before the happy ending, in a few cases in order to bring about the happy ending.
Oscar Wilde observed that “One must have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell.” But no one laugh’s when Smike dies or Little Paul Dombey or Dora Copperfield or Steerforth or Ham or Jo the Sweep or Richard Carstone or Sidney Carton or Betty Widgen or…
You see what I’m getting at?
Dickens was a teller of fairy tales and fables, but he was also a great comic writer and a satirist and a social commentator and a realist and he mixed it all up, the comedy and the satire and the realistic social commentary and the fairy tales, and sometimes it’s hard to see the magic forest for the talking trees.
But if you read his stories as fairy tales then his melodramatic plots aren’t so melodramatic because you know to read them symbolically---or you know not to try to take them as realistic and your subconscious does the rest of the work. It’s the same with his characters. His heroes and heroines become more complex, his grotesques less grotesque, their complicated natures more profoundly human. Dickens psychological insights have to be understood symbolically. Like fairy tales, his novels are peopled out of dreams.
And it’s the case that the novel many people regard as his best, Great Expectations, is the one that’s most nakedly a fairy tale. In fact, although I don’t know if Dickens consciously intended it, Great Expectations is a re-telling of a particular fairy tale.
The Snow Queen.
Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen, the second greatest writer of fairy tales, knew each other and admired each other’s work---Andersen, the elder by a few years, hero-worshipped Dickens. Dickens’ feelings about Andersen were a little more mixed, as you can tell if you accept that Uriah Heep is meant to be a caricature of Andersen---and Dickens must have read The Snow Queen.
In his re-telling, he’s reversed the genders, so that it’s the girl, Estella, whose heart has been pierced and eyes blurred by splinters from the troll mirror and who has been carried away to the frozen palace of the Snow Queen and it’s the boy who comes to the rescue. Dickens complicates things by having Miss Havisham place splinters of the mirror in Pip’s eyes and heart and he has to shake himself free of their influence first. (Like so many heroes and heroines of fairy tales and myths he has to die and be reborn to free himself from an evil influence.) And one of the few things I like about the BBC’s new adaptation of Great Expectations---Part One ran last Sunday on PBS Masterpiece, Part Two airs tonight---is that the director and the cinematographer and designers have made it clear, visually, at any rate, the Miss Havisham is the Snow Queen and Satis House is an ice palace.
When Pip meets her for the first time he notices she’s barefoot---Dickens has her wandering around Satis House one shoe off and one shoe on---and he worries that her feet look cold. She barely seems to comprehend his concern. She replies, “All of me is cold,” as if pointing out a fact that should be so obvious it’s strange that Pip bothered to bring it up.
I also like that Miss Havisham is played by Gillian Anderson as still somewhat young and beautiful. In most adaptations Miss Havisham is portrayed as already old when Pip comes to Satis House. Dickens doesn’t specify her age but he does say she was a young woman on her wedding day and we learn later that was only about four years before Pip was born. That makes her probably around fifty by the end of the book but she could be as young as 45. This matters because it means that when we meet her she could still have her whole life ahead of her, if she could be rescued from her own magic spell.
Dickens draws her as withered, dried up and desiccated like the flowers for her wedding she’s had left as they were arranged at the moment she received word that her fiance was jilting her. But in this production she’s still in her bloom, as far as we can see, and we can’t see clearly because she appears (an illusion created by diffused lighting, ghastly makeup, and gauzy costuming) to be coated with a thin layer of frost and carrying about with her a fog of ice crystals. But to Pip she’s weirdly beautiful and he is fascinated. Which gives him another reason, a noble one, to keep coming back to see her.
Pip goes to Satis House because his sister makes him. He goes back because he’s fallen in love with Estella. He continues to go to promote his own fortunes. But he also goes because he grows to like Miss Havisham and feel sorry for her. But in the book and in productions featuring an elderly Miss Havisham, that’s where his feelings end, in pity. Pip is not repelled by the strange old lady for the same reason that, after he gets over his initial terror, he’s not repelled by Magwitch. He’s an essentially kind and generous little boy.
But here it’s not just that he isn’t repelled, he’s attracted. Weird and scary as she is, he can see her as being as much a damsel in distress as sees Estella and he wants to come to her rescue. He’s too young to have any idea how to go about. But for a time there can be the question, Will he warm her heart before she freezes his? By making her only old enough to be his mother (and remember, Pip is an orphan who never knew his mother) instead old enough to be his grandmother, the show opens up the possibility that Pip falls in love with her, the way boys often fall in love with mother-figures in their lives, like teachers. To him, she can be Estella grown-up (and of course later it will turn out that Pip finds Estella on the brink of becoming another Miss Havisham) and rescuing Miss Havisham would be a way of rescuing Estella in the future.
Looking at it like this helped me tolerate what was actually pretty annoying, Anderson’s exaggerated girlishness.
A friend noted that with her glassy-eyed, dreamy-voiced vagueness and moonbeam coloring Anderson seemed to be channeling Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter movies. Luna is aptly named as she is not of this world because she is too good for it. She looks down on it with a loving and forgiving detachment, tied to the earth---well, specifically, to one of its heroes---but in an orbit of her own. She is a true-innocent, pure of heart and utterly without guile or craft. Which gives her the ability to see into hearts and touch and bring out the best qualities inside. And as it happens there is a Luna Lovegood character in Dickens’ novel. That is, a character who fills the same fairy tale role of the sister-friend who reminds the hero of his goodness and helps keep him on the right path or at least points out which is the right path. That’s Biddy, the young woman who comes to the forge to take care of Pip’s sister after Orlick bashes her head in and stays on to marry Joe after Mrs Joe dies. She’s been eliminated from this production, a mistake I’ll get to in a bit.
Miss Havisham isn’t innocent or pure of heart. But it makes sense that she would pretend to be and try too hard when she does.
Because she’s nuts.
The other older Miss Havishams are cold in the manners and cruel in their intentions, although they are not heartless. They are also sane. They know that they haven’t stopped time just by stopping the clocks in the house. They know that wandering around in their wedding dress is silly, that leaving the table set for the wedding banquet and the cake out and ready for cutting is ridiculous, some of them know it is wrong. They know what they plan for Estella is wrong. But they are determined to continue, not only in seeking revenge on men through Estella---that could be done without the stopped clocks and the cobwebs and the mice-infested wedding cake---these Miss Havishams are determined to punish themselves for having allowed themselves to be made fools of by their jilting fiance and his partner in stealing her fortune, her conniving step-brother, by devoting every minute of every day to reliving the moment of their humiliation.
This Miss Havisham presents one of the worst cases of denial in the annals. She has frozen herself at that moment in order not to have to face the next moment, when her heart breaks and her pride is shattered. The others know they are aging. But Anderson’s Miss Havesham can’t let herself know. She must stay as she was on that day, at that moment, the moment before, a young woman, even a girl.
The trouble is that after all this time she has forgotten what that young woman was like. Possibly, she doesn’t want to remember. Dickens lets us know that that young woman wasn’t very nice and that she wasn’t so much an innocent victim as a fool and a dupe who set herself up to be conned through her stubbornness, vanity, and pride. (It’s an irony that in training Estella as her weapon of vengeance she is teaching her how to be the same sort of person she was with the same weaknesses that brought her to grief.) Whichever it is, whether she’s forgotten or adding to her denial, she’s pretending to be someone she’s not. She’s acting a part that’s been badly written for her by herself and the act is strained and convincing only to herself and to Pip.
All of this takes up no more than fifteen minutes of the first episode’s fifty minutes. The rest of the time is devoted to showing that Pip’s life is grim.
I’ll follow up on this after I watch Episode Two.
Episode One is available to watch online. Episode Two airs tonight, Sunday, April 8, at 9 PM Eastern on PBS.
She was dressed in rich materials - satins, and lace, and silks - all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on - the other was on the table near her hand - her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a prayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.
It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed. But, I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.
---from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
Following up on my post from this morning: for PZ Myers, Janelle D., and other fans of Rowdy Yates…
The first is a narrative history about the assassination of President James Garfield. The second is a personal account of a recent expedition into the deepest recesses of the Brazilian jungle to look for without actually finding a tribe that has never had direct contact with the modern world. I’m enjoying both but early on in both I hit upon what I regard as major errors of fact and it’s made me dubious about the veracity of both authors.
Ok, you might think these are trivial errors, but they happen to involve two areas in which I flatter myself I’m an expert. Dickens and TV sitcoms.
In Destiny of the Republic, Millard writes that Garfield, who loved to read, nicknamed one of his daughters Trot after “Elizabeth Trotwell,” a character in David Copperfield, his favorite novel by Charles Dickens,
There is no character named Elizabeth Trotwell in David Copperfield.
There is a character named Betsy Trotwood. David’s Aunt Betsy who is kind of a major character. She is never called Trot. When she adopts her orphaned nephew she renames him Trotwood Copperfield and starts calling him Trot. I guess you could make the case that since she renamed him after herself, calling him Trot was calling him by her own name, so in calling his daughter Trot Garfield had nicknamed her after Aunt Betsy by one degree of separation. But it’s more of an homage and still, Trotwell is not Trotwood.
What did you say? You think that’s inconsequential? You think I’m being picky and pedantic? All right, then, wiseguy. How about this? It’s even more flagrant and inexcusable.
At one point in The Unconquered Wallace describes the headgear of the leader of the expedition:
The front visor of his jungle hat was folded back on his forehead, like the bugler on F Troop…
Everybody knows that Dobbs---and you all remember F Troop’s musically-challenged bugler’s name was Dobbs, right?---Dobbs wore his hat in the standard TV Western style of the 1950s and 60s. Sergeant O’Rourke and Corporal Agarn wore theirs with the brims folded up in front as signals to the audience that they were not to be taken for regulation Army types and marched to their own, probably stolen or otherwise illegally obtained, drums.
You doubt me?
Ha, I say again. And double ha!
All right. You’re onto me. This whole post was an excuse to post the video.
But I’m really enjoying the books and I’ll be posting reviews when I’m done with them.Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard and Scott Wallace's The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes are available from Amazon in hardback and kindle editions.
They aren’t allowed to get old! They aren’t allowed to die!
Dear CBS, it’s been done. And by your network too.
Further proof that CBS’ in-the-works Sherlock Holmes reboot will take the iconic franchise in a radical new direction: The network has cast Lucy Liu as Watson!
Nothing radical about it. In a not as awful as I feared TV movie in the late 1980s, Margaret Colin played Watson to Michael Pennington’s Holmes.
Ok, she was Jane Watson, Doctor Watson’s great-grand-daughter. Holmes was Holmes, waking up after an 80 year nap---he’d had himself frozen. I forget exactly why. Something ridiculous involving Moriarty. But the effect was the same after you got used to the gimmick and his calling her Watson.
Watson became a woman, and what did it add to the story? Some mild sexual tension. How radical.
Also, there was a movie I loved when I was a kid but I’ve never seen again since, They Might Be Giants, with George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward. They weren’t really Holmes and Watson. He was a madman who thought he was Sherlock Holmes and she was his psychiatrist. But over the course of the movie the line between delusion and reality blurred and by the end they’d become pretty much who he thought they were.
TV Line also reports, breathlessly, as if amazed by the producers’ audacity:
Another key change: Sherlock and Watson now live in New York City.
Guess where the TV movie was set.
But it’s not that the idea of a female Watson is not new now, it’s that even back then, when the TV movie aired, it was second-hand. The Return of Sherlock Holmes was itself a knock-off of 1979s Time After Time with Pennington as Holmes replacing Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells and Margaret Colin standing in for Mary Steenburgen and a cryogenic sleep chamber doing the work of a time machine. And it was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series and Remington Steele and Moonlighting.
And not only is a female Watson not a new idea. These days it’s practically retrograde. The pairing of an eccentric, unorthodox, or at least unconventional genius male detective (or detective manque) with a tough, no-nonsense, more by the book female detective is a TV staple. Castle. The Mentalist. Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Monk. Chuck. Warehouse 13. They all work this conceit. Bones flips it and puts the woman in the role of Holmesian eccentric and genius, which is at least a little more unexpected. This “new” Holmes series will be able to call itself a radical departure if it resists having its Holmes and Watson become romantically involved and who wants to bet that will happen?
One of the beauties of Sherlock, the BBC series CBS’ Elementary is trying to cash in on, is that in moving the setting to 21st Century London nothing essential is changed. Holmes and Watson are still Holmes and Watson. The inside joke turns out to be that there’s no need to modernize them, they always were modern. They didn’t know they were living in the past. They thought of themselves (that is, Conan Doyle presented them) as living on the cutting edge of the future. If anything, they were ahead of their time, in their attitudes as well as in their reliance on the latest in science and technology. What makes the stories what they are is the relationship between Holmes and Watson and that has not changed. That’s what sells the series. It’s also what sells the Robert Downey-Jude Law movies. Both are doing variations on the theme, but it’s still the same song.
It also helps that the casting is superb. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are each excellent on their own, but together they are the best Holmes and Watson team ever, and I’m still a big fan of Brett and Edward Hardwicke and Brett and David Burke.
Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox of Young Sherlock Holmes have a special place in my heart too.
Many writers have proven that Holmes can be Holmes on his own. It doesn’t belittle Watson’s importance to say that he can be left out of an adventure, because it turns out he often is. But if you put Watson in it, then he should be Watson or else the fundamental relationship changes and you don’t have Holmes and Watson. You have Holmes and some other sidekick and that’s not new either.
It’s not a bad thing. It can be a very good thing. But it’s not a new thing.
Of course, if your Watson isn’t Watson, your Holmes might as well not be Holmes. You can call him any other name you want. And then you can begin to do some truly new things with that character.
You can call him Adrian Monk or Bobby Goren or you can make a pun and call him House.
Ed Harris as John McCain and Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin in HBO’s Game Change, which premieres March 10.
Over at ThinkProgress, Alsyssa Rosenberg is speculating about why HBO’s adaptation of Game Change, John Heilmann and Mark Halperin’s book about the 2008 Presidential campaign, focuses on John McCain and Sarah Palin, a story she says:
…that’s both been done to death and is essentially irrelevant: Palin is a PR phenomenon and McCain will never be president. They’ve both returned from whence they came.
By contrast, the story of how President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarded each other in the buildup to and during the 2008 campaign, and how they came to be partners rather than enemies, is both directly relevant to ongoing events and a much richer story than that of John McCain’s taking a flyer on his VP selection.
Rosenberg thinks it might have been due to how hard it would have been to cast a compelling and convincing Barack Obama. Could be. Although, off hand, I think if they’d asked Denzel he’d have been glad to give it a shot.
My guess why Palin and McCain rather than Clinton and Obama? Ratings. Soap opera outdraws a civics lesson.
Also, Julianne Moore in a short skirt and boots vs Meredith Baxter in a pants suit.
Let’s leave aside the fact that by the time Sarah Palin prompted her first, “Sarah Who?” Hillary had been long out of the picture. It would have been hard to do the whole book and it makes sense that the producers would have chosen to focus on the most crucial part of the election campaign---the election.
As a pure story, what went on in the McCain campaign is just far more dramatic and filmable.
It’s stunning on the face of it that Palin could have been placed that close to becoming President. (Which, by the way, wasn’t really that close. McCain picked her because he was desperate and he was desperate because he knew he was going to lose.) It’s horrifying to realize just how unsuited she was for any public office, never mind the highest in the land.
But here’s the thing. Last year, when the project was greenlighted, Sarah Palin wasn’t irrelevant. Far from it. There was still the real possibility that she would not only run for the Republican nomination but win it. Game Change could have been airing at about the time Palin was wrapping up the nomination. All those supposed Not-Romneys who have come and gone, were really We Want Sarahs. The Radical Right is deciding the nomination and she is still their darling or she would be if she hadn’t jilted them. It’s astounding how quickly she made herself irrelevant to this election season.
And that fall from grace is part of a fascinating story.
It’s a story that might be better told in a novel, and it’s too bad Sinclair Lewis isn’t around to write it.
But here’s the other thing. Sarah Palin will never be President, now. But she is still relevant and will be relevant for a while longer (a short while, I hope), not in herself, but because of what she represents.
Liberals and the very few sane conservatives who are left can’t believe anyone could think Sarah Palin was fit to be President. But no one was going to vote for her to be President. They were going to vote for her to be their hero-queen.
She was their anger embodied. Their bitterness, their hatreds, their resentments revenged. She was to be their righteous rage let loose upon all those Others who made them feel afraid, insecure, cast aside, and irrelevant.
They weren’t going to vote for her to govern the country. They were going to vote for her to get even on their behalf.
They being mostly middle-aged white men and youngish white men feeling themselves slipping into premature obsolescence and impotence.
And they haven’t gone away.
And they’re not going to go away, not before November at any rate. They’re in the process of deciding the Republican nomination and with it the Presidential election---even if Romney runs off Santorum, they’ve so crippled Mittens by making him pander to them, at the cost of his losing the independents and even more women, that they’ve effectively ensured the re-election of the Other they most fear, loathe, and despise. But that’s the only good news. They are still going to decide the make-up of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and a whole bunch of state houses and the insanity is going to continue and get worse wherever they win.
Sarah Palin is terribly, terrifyingly relevant to their story.
To tell the truth, I don’t think I’d be interested in a TV movie about the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Two hours of scenes of Barack Obama strategizing with David Axelrod and David Plouffe alternating with scenes of Hillary Clinton strategizing with Mark Penn? No, thanks. I’m just relieved there isn’t one about John Edwards’.
As far as casting goes, I don’t know who’d have made as good an Obama as Moore is said to be a Palin and Harris a McCain. But I get a real kick out of the fact that they cast Austin Pendleton as Joe Lieberman.
Morning update: Robert Reich doesn’t mention Palin in this post, As Santorum and Romney Battle for the Looney Right, the Rest of Us Should Not Gloat, but he’s making a similar point. Palin herself may not be relevant to this election, but what she stands for most definitely is and that’s scary. (via Brad DeLong.)
Paradise, Massachusetts Chief of Police Jesse Stone in what passes for one of his lighter moments on what passes for one of his better days in the CBS television movies based on Robert B. Parker’s novels. Series star Tom Selleck with Kohl Sudduth as Officer “Suitcase” Simpson.
Watched Innocents Lost, the most recent of Tom Selleck’s series of Jesse Stone made for TV movie mysteries, last night. The series is based on the novels by Robert B. Parker, but Selleck made Stone his own even before Parker died. He’s not the first actor to steal a character away from the writer who created him.
Parker created Stone in order to have a leading man who could do things Spenser couldn’t do, have sex with different women, screw up, and…die. Not that it definitely would have happened, but who knows. Agatha Christie killed Poirot. Conan Doyle killed Holmes and would have preferred to leave him dead. If Parker had lived long enough, he might have seen he was working his way to an inevitable of his own devising. Jesse Stone is mortal in a way Spenser isn’t. Besides existing in the third person, which means that there’s a narrator who can witness Stone’s death and survive to tell us about it, Jesse is prone to mistakes and bad judgment. He’s tough but he’s not strong the way Spenser is strong. Jesse’s strength is decidedly not as the strength of ten because his heart is far from pure.
But there’s one more thing. Spenser is a happy man. He likes his life and he enjoys being alive. He is content within himself. Jesse wants out of his life and out of his self. He doesn’t have an explicit death wish but the only reason he has to live is the possibility that things will get better, and he’s not at all sure that that possibility is real.
This doesn’t make Jesse careless or reckless. It just means he has less reason to think his way out of a dire situation. And it makes him more likely to be fatalistic and give in to his fatalism at what would then become a literally fatal moment. I don’t recall Parker ever putting Stone in that sort of danger, where the threat comes as much from within as from without. But the option was always open for him if he decided it was time to end the series in a dramatic and tragic way. Stone would get himself into a situation from which he sees no way out because he wasn’t watching where he was going when he was on his way in. Spenser always watches out for himself. Plus, he has Hawk.
And Susan. And Quirk. And Belson, and Lee Farrell, Chollo, Teddy Sapp, and Vinnie Morris. Spenser would see the point of sacrificing himself, he just wouldn’t ever have to. The angels, and not a few devils, are on his side to pull him back from the edge.
Stone is mostly alone except for his personal demons who would gleefully give him a push.
That’s the fundamental difference between Jesse and Spenser. Spenser is essentially a comic character. Stone a potentially tragic one.
In his novels, Spenser puts things back together. Jesse is what most needs putting back together. His heart and his spirit are broken. His psyche is fractured.
Basically, he’s a mess.
The reason he hasn’t come completely apart or, to put it another way, what holds him together is his sense of responsibility to the people he has sworn to serve and protect.
Jesse is the chief of police in Paradise, Massachusetts, a tourist and fishing village just north of Boston. He’s lucky to have the job. Stone’s an alcoholic. He drank himself out of a marriage and out of his job as a cop with the Los Angeles Police Department, having drunk himself into a demotion from detective. He’s taken the job in Paradise out of desperation, convinced that he doesn’t deserve it or any position of responsibility. It doesn’t help that he’s aware he was only offered it because the town’s corrupt board of selectmen who hired him want a screw-up as chief, because, they expect, he’ll be easy to control.
Of course, they’re wrong. The point is, though, that Jesse is worried they’re right, at least in believing he’s a screw-up.
Spenser has nothing to prove. Jesse has everything to prove, to others but especially to himself.
So with Jesse Stone Parker had a hero who could brood, and sulk, and give in to self-pity and despair. Which meant he could tell grittier, darker, and more “realistic” but also more Romantic stories.
Noticed I capitalized Romantic?
Spenser is a figure out of Arthurian romances. Jesse is a Romantic hero, arriving in Paradise, by way of Wuthering Heights.
But here’s where I’ve always thought Parker goofed. He made Jesse too young and too romantic.
Small r this time.
Stone is in his thirties. Which means that he has a great deal of life ahead of him. His future is full of bright possibilities…if… If Jesse can prove himself---and in every novel he does---and get clean and sober---a trickier proposition---he can leave Paradise for a better job. He might meet someone he’s worthy of loving, marry, and start a family. He might survive, thrive, and prosper. He might be…
Now, no matter how realistic or Romantic Parker intended him, Jesse is trapped in a genre the conventions of which are such that he must triumph at the end of every novel. He always solves the mystery. Things get messy along the way, there are costs he regrets, he hasn’t put any of his demons to rest, just kept them at bay, but he succeeds. Professionally, at any rate.
So it just makes sense that it’s only a matter of time before Stone can leave Paradise and move on to bigger and better things. We see, again and again, that the demons, the self-doubt, the personal foibles and failings, the drinking, the brooding, the angst and the moments of existential despair aren’t getting in his way, and since they aren’t preventing him from doing his job and doing it well, very well, they begin to feel like gimmicks for Parker to use to keep Jesse stuck in Paradise.
He can’t leave until he’s sure he’s clean and sober. He can’t leave until he works things out with his ex-wife. He can’t leave until he stops regretting he his past and learns to focus on his future. He can’t leave until…
I think Parker began to sense this was getting annoying---that Jesse was getting annoying and readers were thinking, Get over it already!---and he began to work out another reason for keeping Jesse where he was. He was liking it there.
He liked being chief. He liked the cops who worked for him. Well, he liked Molly and Suit, at least. He liked the town. He felt at home. He was even beginning to like being himself, something that made at least one reader, me, ask, And why wouldn’t you? You’re young, strong, handsome, you’ve got a good job and you’re good at it, you live in one of the most beautiful places on the Eastern Seaboard, and very hot women, like the fiery redheaded lawyer crossing over from the Spenser novels Rita Fiore, throw themselves at you! What’s not to like?
Stone was beginning to become a younger Spenser, only without the wisecracks, Hawk, and the local color provided by the Boston background, which is to say, without the fun.
When Sunny Randle waltzed into Jesse’s life from Parker’s other detective series, her too obviously symbolic first name blazing, I gave up on the Jesse Stone series.
Parker’s novels, I mean. I’m in no hurry at all to give up watching Selleck’s series and I’m happy to note that Innocents Lost is not going to be the last one. There’s another movie coming in May. Benefit of the Doubt.
At sixty-seven---Sixty-seven? Magnum is pushing seventy? How is that possible?---Selleck is at least thirty years too old for the part. You would think. If you didn’t, like me, think Parker had made Stone too young. Although Selleck’s thickened up quite a bit since his Magnum days, he can still pull off playing, well, not young. He doesn’t play Stone as young, which is the point. Younger. Fifty-something, and that’s about right. At say fifty-five, Jesse can still handle the job, physically. What he can’t do is expect very much to come from it, no matter how well he handles it.
For a still young man in his mid-thirties, the job of chief of police of Paradise is a second chance. And he can hope for third and fourth chances if he screws up again. But for a man on the brink of old age, the job is a last chance.
That goes for him personally as well as professionally.
In Innocents Lost, Jesse begins an affair with a beautiful and sexy younger woman. But she’s no kid. She’s around forty, she knows the score, and she’s married. She has no plans to end the marriage, but even if she did, Jesse isn’t a guy she’d end it for. In fact, she makes it clear to him she’s with him because she knows there’s no possibility of their having a future together, mainly because she’s pretty sure Jesse himself hasn’t much of a future.
Parker’s younger Jesse has good reason to believe that if cleans up his act and shakes himself loose from his demons he can have a relatively happy future that might include true and lasting love and a family. He just has to make himself believe it.
But Selleck’s Jesse knows that while there might be hope the odds are against a man of his age---who, thanks to his drinking, is aging faster than other fiftysomethings---finding that kind of happiness. Even if there’s a possibility, he still has to make himself believe he deserves it. And here’s the thing. Selleck’s Jesse is old enough that he might have already found it but he threw it away. We’ve not seen hsi ex-wife Jen yet, she’s been just a voice on the phone in calls made mostly in the dead of night, which means she’s essentially a ghost. We don’t know how old she is. We don’t know how long she and Jesse were married. We suspect she is younger. Which opens up the possibility---the probability---that she was his second chance. There might be another ex-wife out there and children we haven’t heard about. If not, then very likely there’s someone with whom Jesse could have had a family, with whom he should by now sharing grandchildren, but he blew that too, and given that he’s a drunk, it’s likely that he hurt her in blowing it and if that missing family is there he hurt them too.
Selleck’s Stone has never said anything about it, but he sure seems to be carrying around an awful big load of guilt.
Then there’s the drinking. Both Jesses would like to give it up or at least get better control of it. But the older Jesse has to wonder if he has time and even if there’s really a point. Sobriety would be good for him all around, except that why bother if all’s he’s doing is exchanging the debilitations of drink for the debilitations of old age? Why would he want to be able to look at his life with clear eyes if all he’s going to see is his life coming to its end?
Neither Jesse has a death wish, but the TV Jesse doesn’t have any good reason to go on living. In the novels Jesse drinks---or drank---to forget his problems. In the TV series, he might be drinking to end them.
At the opening of Innocents Lost, we learn that Jesse has taken up jogging---he hates jogging. He’s on a diet too. “I’m working on the new me,” he tells people, but Selleck deadpans it and he lets his eyes sneak away to their corners. The idea of a new Jesse is a joke only he finds funny.
What this amounts to is that Parker’s Jesse is a man trying to climb out of hole he’s dug for himself while Selleck’s is a man at the end of his rope.
Selleck doesn’t overplay it but he’s clearly carrying the weight. And there’s another thing. He carries Magnum around with him too. He doesn’t have to do anything to evoke him. We just can’t help remembering. (Parker named the town Paradise ironically, of course, although the irony isn’t that it’s really a hell but that it’s Jesse’s Purgatory, the place where his past sins must be burnt and purged away. But Magnum fans will remember that Magnum, who narrated the shows, often opened episodes by referring to Hawaii as Paradise.) Selleck couldn’t have played Stone when he was in his thirties, and not just because Parker hadn’t written Jesse into existence yet. He was too golden and glowing. And he was too clearly happy and at ease within himself. (He would have made a pretty good Spenser, if Robert Urich wasn’t around making a very good one.) You look at Selleck and you can’t help seeing those roguishly bouncing eyebrows.
Then you look at not Selleck but Selleck's Jesse and start thinking that Stone may once have been like Magnum and you instinctively want to reject the thought. This can’t be where a Magnum ends up!
But of course it can be. It often is. A golden youth doesn’t guarantee a happy old age. What happens in between decides it, and somewhere in between Jesse Stone ruined himself and now he can’t forgive himself for that.
There’s not a lot of self-pity in Selleck’s Jesse but not a lot of self-loathing either. What there is is a cold, hard, unceasing and unforgiving self-judgment. We see him hauling himself before the court of his own conscience to be tried and tried again with the verdict always coming back Guilty as charged!
I’m probably making the series sound like much more of downer than it is. Actually, there’s a lot of fun it and a good deal of humor. And the episodes are smartly directed and beautifully photographed. The writing’s good and the supporting cast is excellent, although I miss Viola Davis as Officer Molly Crane. I don’t know why she left the series, but I hear she’s found other work.
Still, there’s a sadness at the heart of the series. Which I happen to think is what makes the shows compelling.
Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost and all but one of the other Jesse Stone mystery movies are available to watch instantly at Amazon. The missing one is Stone Cold. Note that it’s the only one without “Jesse Stone” in its title. It was the first one made but it falls second in the series’ ongoing storyline. All the movies including Stone Cold are on DVD.
And of course you can find Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone novels at Amazon too.
Spenser is waiting for you at my aStore.
Joe Mannix was the coolest…until Harry Orwell and Jim Rockford came along, of course.
The band at the club, The Buffalo Springfield, reminds me a lot of Buffalo Springfield. The actor playing the hippie newspaper editor you probably know.
“IT IS with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished.---from The Final Problem by Arthur Conan Doyle.”
My review of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows posts tomorrow. The movie is really an amusing fantasia on The Final Problem, so if you don’t know the story and are planning to see the movie maybe you shouldn’t watch this. Otherwise, enjoy one of the best of the Jeremy Brett’s outings as Sherlock Holmes.
Wasting time bouncing around the web when I should be putting the finishing touches on my third rewrite of my review of The Cherry Orchard, I learned that word around the net is that the next Star Trek movie is going to feature as its villain, Khan Noonien Singh.
If you don’t know who that is, you shouldn’t bother reading this post because if I have to tell you who Khan is that probably means I have to tell you what Star Trek is as well.
Now, here’s my question.
The Khan story is probably as close to perfect a story arc as could have been devised for Star Trek. Space Seed is one of the best episodes not just of the original series but of all of them and The Wrath of Khan is the best movie. Why, when he’s just getting started with the re-boots, would director J.J. Abrams want to screw with that? Why would he want to spend time, money, and effort on a two-hour retelling of Space Seed or an untelling? The messing around with the time line and continuity he did in his first Trek would allow him to play with the story but the real point of messing with the timeline was to allow him to tell new stories without having to answer to Trekkers objecting that this or that couldn’t happen because of what happened in Space Seed or The Trouble With Tribbles or what we know from about Kirk’s time at the Academy from Shore Leave or Vulcan marriage customs from Amok Time.
Besides, even if the timeline hasn’t been altered that much, the Enterprise’s encounter with the Botany Bay is at least five years in the new Kirk’s future and The Wrath of Khan takes place twenty years after that!
Wanting to see Khan already or even at all strikes me as fan-fic territory.
This is internet rumor, and Abrams is naturally being cagy about what he has planned, so there’s probably nothing to it. It appears to be based on the news, though, that Benicio del Toro was set to play the villain in the next film. Del Toro has since backed out (or perhaps had never actually signed on) and the new scuttlebutt is that two other Hispanic actors are in the running to replace him.
So, why does this mean the villain is Khan?
Because the original Khan was played by a Hispanic actor?
Khan, for those of you who don’t know and for some reason are still reading this post, isn’t Hispanic. He’s a Sikh. He just happened to have been played by a Hispanic actor.
But not just any Hispanic actor.
Everything there is to love about Khan as a character and a villain is due to Montalban’s awesomeness in the role.
As far as I'm concerned, if you don't have Ricardo Montalban, you don't have Khan. I know, there are those who feel the same about William Shatner and Kirk.
At any rate, before I’m interested in seeing the return of Khan, there are other villains that should be brought back first.
The origin of Kirk and the Klingons’ mutual hatred needs to be told.
Sure, Klingons hate humans and the Federation. But they really, really, really hate Kirk.
I’ll bet even Lt Worf’s blood pressure spikes when he hears his name.
I want to see how Kirk managed to piss off the entire Klingon Empire by himself.
Ok, I’d better get back to work before I start ranting about the plans for a movie version of The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington.
Ahem. Denzel? Didn’t anybody involved actually watch the show? Michael Caine.
Oh. There’s one more thing.
Khan’s the perfect adversary for Kirk but his importance to Star Trek lore is due to his having caused this:
“He listened.” The Siren says good-bye to Harry Morgan.
Since I was a little kid, I was a Harry Morgan fan, mainly, I think, because he resembled my Grandfather Mannion. And I’m very proud of this: way back when, I somehow knew, well before it was announced, that the new commander of the 4077th was going to be Harry Morgan. In fact, I predicted it as soon as I heard McLean Stevenson was leaving the show. I was going by Morgan’s guest appearance on M*A*S*H as the lunatic General Bartford Hamilton Steele in the episode “The General Flipped at Dawn.” Even though he was playing crazy, Morgan seemed to fit right in with the rest of the cast. Impressed the horse hockey out my friends and relations when it turned out I was right.
Abyssinia, Colonel Potter.
Bored to Death’s novelist and unlicensed detective hero Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) on a case that’s more Harold Lloyd than Raymond Chandler.
HBO’s Bored to Death isn’t everyone’s bowl of tea. (That’s a pot joke, folks. Pot figures prominently in the lives of the characters and regularly in the plots on Bored to Death.) It puts the blonde on the floor. One of the most discerning, creative, and intelligent people I know feels that the characters are her friends. But I know a man of refinement, wit, sophistication and taste the show leaves as cold as mackerel. (Hello, Jim!) I get a kick out of it, mainly for Ted Danson. It’s his best work since Cheers. I also enjoy the way it makes use of New York City. Not as a backdrop. As a character, which is what it was on Law and Order.
The show’s producers know their way around town and expect us to as well. When Jason Schwartzman’s character makes an escape from an S & M club in the Village and appears to run from there up to and through Times Square it isn’t a case of the director sending viewers post cards: “See, folks at home, our show is set in New York City! Enjoy these lovely, random shots of familiar sites you’ll recognize from movies and other TV shows set here!” It’s a joke. We’re meant to get that Jonathan has run a specific route and that that’s a very long way to run, especially encased head to toe in black leather.
But what I really like about Bored to Death is that it’s one of the last great detective shows on TV.
Schwartzman’s character, Jonathan Ames, is a novelist who has set himself up as private detective. He’s not a cop. He’s a real P.I. “Unlicensed,” as he’s always scrupulous to point out, but still, as an impressed character in this season’s finale calls him, a shamus. Jonathan is a modern knight-errant. Like Marlowe. Like Spenser. Like Travis Magee and Don Quixote.
Although only the TV show’s Jonathan sallies forth into the world to tilt at windmills, Ames says that they both suffer from the same delusive daydreams and the cause of the daydreams is the same as Quixote’s. The old don’s brain melted from incessant and obsessive reading of medieval romances. He was, as Ames puts it, “driven mad by literature.”
Ames and Jonathan were also driven mad by literature. Incessant and obsessive reading of detective novels melted their brains.
Tuesday night at the Paley Center for Media, Ames sat down to talk about wrapping up Season Three of Bored to Death with Dick Cavett, in a nod to Cavett’s cameo as himself in a recent episode. (Ames asked Cavett if he’d had any trouble playing Dick Cavett. Cavett said no, he had lots of prior experience playing the Dick Cavett roles nobody else wants on a number of sitcoms.) In that episode, Cavett has Jonathan on his show and the interview is interrupted by Jonathan’s nemesis, the sneering, effete, literary poseur Louis Greene, played by the incomparable John Hodgman, crashing onto the set while hanging upside down on a rope.
Sad to report, Hodgman was not to be found at the Paley Tuesday, upside down or right-side up. But Ames and Cavett carried on, getting their laughs right-side up and without acrobatics, through wit, charm, bad jokes, and demonstrations of amazing and useless verbal talents---Cavett has a gift for creating anagrams, Ames can repeat any word he hears immediately backwards.
By the way, although much of the material for Bored to Death takes off from incidents and characters from Ames’ real life, he doesn’t have a nemesis like Greene. Greene is the incarnation of voices inside Ames’ own head when he gets down on himself, which he does regularly. The sort of spiteful and insulting things Greene says to Jonathan, unprovoked and apropos of nothing, whenever they meet---“Your most recent publication was unwarranted and undeserved. Did you know that?”---are the sort of things Ames will say to himself of himself.
“I’m my own nemesis.”
Bored to Death started as short story for Esquire Magazine, Ames told Cavett. He was spending the night at the apartment of a “very nice young lady” and, unable to sleep, sketched out the whole story in his head.
I had always wanted to be a private detective and had thought of putting an ad on Craigslist but didn’t because I knew there would be legal ramifications and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I just wanted to follow people and get into fights and do heroic things. So I didn’t put the ad up. but then I got the idea that a character with my name could do that and then I could live it out in the story.
Cavett asked if Ames saw himself as a sort of Raymond Chandler figure like Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep? Not exactly, Ames replied. More like that gaunt and ramshackle figure in rusty armor out of Miguel Cervantes’ great novel.
I was intrigued after reading Don Quixote by the notion of being driven mad by literature. And so the same way Don Quixote came to think he should be a knight by reading all these books about chivalry and basically lost his mind…my idea was that I had read so much detective literature that I thought I should be a knight. So I wouldn’t actually be cool like Bogie. I’d be more deluded, like Don Quixote. So that’s what Jonathan is. He’s also a Don Quixote.
Responding to a question from the audience, Ames cheerfully admitted to being a fan of Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm. But although there are resemblances---one being the presence of Ted Danson---the two shows have different tones and sensibilities due in part to the way they’re put together.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is entirely improvised. The actors are given nothing more than an index card with a short summary of the character they’re playing, the set-up of the scene and where it’s supposed to head, and that’s it. Ames made a guest appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He was playing an accountant. Somehow, whoever was supposed to give him his index card forgot to give him his index card.
Bored to Death is tightly scripted. Danson and Schwartzman often make suggestions in rehearsals about how to make this or that line sound more natural. Zach Gallifianakis will actually be encouraged to ad lib when it’s felt his character needs to do or say something really crazy. Hodgman will sometimes add a flourish or two at the end of a line to make the line more “Louis Greene.” But for the most part what’s said on screen is what was written in the script.
Wrapping things up, Cavett told Ames that working on Bored to Death was one of the most fun things he’d done on TV in a while. Ames said that Cavett was a delight to work with and invited him back on the show, which prompted Cavett to ask if they’d had any guest stars they didn’t want back, any prima donnas throwing their egos around?
Ames said no, the only trouble he could think of having with a guest star was with an actor who wasn’t a star and didn’t get to be a guest. Ames had cast him, thinking he’d be hilarious in a part, but when they had the first table reading of that week’s script, the actor was terrible.
Afterwards, Ames conferred with the director, the writers, and the stars. Everybody agreed. The actor was terrible.
Even Ted Danson, who is apparently one of the kindest, least critical people in show biz, said, mildly, “I don’t think he’s going to work out.”
The decision was made. Fire the guy. Decisively, Ames took action and pleaded with the director to do the firing.
Some time afterward, Ames was on the Brooklyn ferry and realized that that actor was sitting right in front of him.
The final two episodes of Season 3 air on HBO Monday, November 21 and Monday, November 28 at 9 PM Eastern. Before Ames and Cavett got to talking, Ames screened those two episodes for us. Not going to tell you much about them, but I can’t resist a couple of spoilers. I’ll try to be cryptic, but you might want to stop reading here.
First, it turns out there’s a reason Jonathan is able to turn into a real detective in a pinch, sometimes even displaying a Mike Hammer-esque talent for fisticuffs and gunplay.
Second, fans of Super Ray will be glad to hear there’s a Raymobile!
Special thanks to M.A. Peel.
Related Mannion flashbacks:
Up late at night, holding the talk show host’s hand, my review of Dick Cavett’s book Talk Show.
Not really. And I won’t be tonight, although being bored to death, sad and lonely will be on my mind all evening.
I’ve mentioned that there were some trips to New York City coming up. Tonight’s one of them. I’m going to be at the Paley Center for Media, covering a panel discussion, Wrapping Up the Third Season of Bored to Death.
The third season of the sweetly surreal Bored to Death has brought more troubles to its quirky band of brothers: Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) is framed for murder; George (Ted Danson) opens a restaurant; and Ray (Zach Galifianakis) discovers fatherhood. The Paley Center will preview the two-part finale, followed by a discussion with creator Jonathan Ames. Ames will discuss how he crafts tribulations for his characters with talk icon Dick Cavett, who also played himself in this season of Bored, welcoming the TV Jonathan as a guest. The duo will also discuss how New York City has become a major character throughout the run of Bored.
Fundraising appeal: As I’ve said, the plan is to make more of these trips. I’m going to be reviewing another play in a couple of weeks. More on that later. It would be a big help, though, if you could manage a donation to the traveling fund. I’d be much obliged.
Thanks to everyone who’s contributed to the drive so far. And thanks to all of you for reading the blog!
He wishes John Belushi had given him a scar.
Once, when Buck Henry was hosting Saturday Night Live and, as was traditional when he hosted, he and Belushi were doing a samurai skit, this one “another episode” of Samurai Stockbroker, Belushi accidentally whacked Henry on the head with his kataba. They finished the skit before Henry got bandaged up.
[He takes off his baseball cap.] There isn't a scar. I was begging for one. I wasted all that energy and blood. The stage was covered with blood -- I also tore my leg on the way out the window, so it was bleeding too. Fortunately it was followed by a commercial, so it gave us three or four minutes. John Belushi's doctor just happened to be sitting in the audience. I said, "Can you give me a good scar?" He said, "Not without sewing it up, and I can't do that here. I'll just put a clamp on." Ten days later it was almost gone. A month later -- nothing. I consider it a disastrous failing.
Read the whole interview with Patt Morrison at the Los Angeles Times. It’s about much more than that skit and scars that might have been---writing autobiographies, Moliere, Stanley Kubrick, illiterate online film critics, the pleasures of Shakespeare in German, The Third Man and why there’s been no sequel to The Graduate.
Couldn’t find that Samurai Stockbroker skit but here’s another episode of Samurai Delicatessen---
Updated to save face: Thanks to Cleveland Bob, here's the Samurai Stockbroker sketch.