Friday, May 11, 2007
Cleaning out my garage the other day I came across a series of pieces about television I did for the then Providence Newpaper in 1990. Somehow I musta cajoled editor/whiz Lou Papineau into letting me take the occasional stab at the small screen in between my fevered rave-ups and put-downs of movies and rock and roll. I picked some decent subjects---Michael Mann’s Crime Story, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Married With Children, the miniseries Elvis, and a look back at Perry Mason, but what struck me as I reread these blasts from my own past was a neat device I hung onto each column—a fake quote from a fake book examing television in equally fake academic terms. (I don’t actually remember the pieces all that well, but I do remember the great satisfaction I had coming up with the pusedo-intellectual quotes and the false book titles and the obviously TV-derived author’s names.) Yup, what follows is blatant and unabashed recycling, although I’ve tried to keep it to a minimum. In retrospect, it was yet another of my very obvious thefts from my popcult writing hero, R. Meltzer, although I can and will argue, done purty deftly. Whatdathink?
“Raymond Burr stood squat and solid as Perry Mason, one of the most effective versions of Raymond Chandler’s cherished notion of an updated White Knight. Meting out steely-eyed justice with the wisdom of Solomon and the insight of a psychic, he would turn the scary, blank gaze of his piercing eyes into the trembling psyches of his Los Angeles collection of, snakes, scum and slicksters. Burr’s Mason never altered his monotone, and nothing on his body seemed to move, with the exception of his fat torpid head, a head that rendered fear into the liars and the falsifiers, a Medusa-like fear.” From TV OR NOT TV by Dr. Edward Norton (Medium Cool Press)
“Slob TV, i.e. proletelvision, has long been a staple of American pop life. Before Carroll O’Connor’s archetypal Archie Bunker began braying at the living room ceiling, there was Jackie Gleason’s primordial everyman, that rockin’, sockin’, everyslob, Ralph Kramden; before him there was William Bendix’s Chester Riley (a role originally filled by Gleason), the tongue-tied, hard-hated nice guy slob. Slob TV reached its zenith during the Norman Lear-dominated 1970’s, until the producer-mensch’s own relentless self-imitating drowned the genre in a cascade of samey tameness. That was, until the coming of Married with Children and Al Bundy, the ultimate Slob King.” From Transcendental TV by Prof. C Huxtable (Medium Cool Press)
“Sure, sure, television ain’t chopped liver, but it’s the corner store, the barber shop, the perfect place for the shmuck with bare feet and a t-shirt. The movies are dinner and drinks, a taxi ride, and a nice comfortable overcoat. The guys who make movies live in fear of doing the same thing in television; they don’t give a hoot for boxer shorts and frozen food. Just the fact that they make movies, not television, cuts down the sweat factor, and, even better, they don’t have to worry so much about pleasing your Uncle Louie and Aunt Fannie.” Producer/performer Alan Brady from In Their Own Words (and Gestures)(Medium Cool Press)
“It’s never been exactly clear what makes crime and punishment such a nightly television staple. Secret cops, blind cops, girl cops, kiddie cops, animal cops, beat cops, car cops, helicopter cops, city cops, country cops, nice guy cops, slick cops and sweaty cops have populated television seen the medium first plugged in. Yet Michael Mann gave the genre two of its biggest kicks in the ass. His highly popular Miami Vice came from a simple catch phrase, the now infamous “MTV cops,” and it lent the extremely tired genre a cool boost of electrifying neon, Vietnam-era cops awash in an amoral society. Mann’s other show—the sorely under watched Crime Story---poked at a thoroughly underdone side of cops, shoving a battered flashlight in the vengeful eyes of cops who were as much cowboys as the robbers, making it clear that the good and bad where hatched from the same environs, making Lieutenant Mike Turello (Dennis Farina) and gangster Ray Luca (Anthony Dennison)two sides of the same soiled coin, variations on moral law and disorder.”
Dr. Richard Kimble, Case Studies: Crime on the Box (Medium Cool Press)