Thursday, November 23, 2017
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.
And if you happen run into an Indians today, let them know,
... we could have done better.
Should it occur to you that I am showing inadequate respect towards our indigenous peoples, check out the number of Indian art and artifacts are gracing our mantel and just one wall. (The painting is entitled, "The Hitchhiker.") The other walls are similarly adorned. In Cat Ballou, it was asserted that the American Indians were, in fact, the lost Tribes of Israel. That may or may not be correct, but in my books, I would be truly honored if that were true. Hoka Hay, you guys. ("It is a good day to die.") Though I would be equally fine with tomorrow.
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
The good news is older actors are working all over the place, if by “all over the place” you mean CBS.
The bad news...
Let’s start with the good news. Because in this context, there are only three choices – working, not working and dead. And the other two are depressing.
I shall stick to comedies, which I dipped my toe into recently as I occasionally do to see what is happening without me. I will not be doing that again soon. Because my personal “Laugh Meter” watching those shows recorded, “I think my personal ‘Laugh Meter’ is broken.”
(On the one-hour drama side, there is Tom Selleck (72), who is beginning to resemble Mount Rushmore. Not literally, but they are approaching the same weight. I do not know whether Tom Selleck has had Botox treatments, but I dare him to wiggle his eyebrows Magnum P.I.-style to prove he hasn’t. And that’s it - two gratuitous insults, and “out.” Serves him right; the man kicked his once competitor Best of the West into oblivion. End of retributive diatribe.)
And now back to the subject at hand.
Judd Hirsch – 82 – Attaboy, Judd! – co-stars in Superior Donuts, respectably holding his own against a formidable comedy foil, Jermaine Fowler.
Elliot Gould – 79 – add (at least) five years for being married to Barbra Streisand – appears in 9JKL. As does
Linda Lavin – Holy Cow! – 80?
George Segal – 83 – appears on The Goldbergs.
James Brolin – 77 – add (at least) five years for being married to Barbra Streisand – although not at the same time as Elliot Gould – appears in Life in Pieces.
Selecting just five venerable actors, still trodding the televisional boards.
(Note: Not all of these shows are on CBS, most likely because there was not sufficient room on their schedule, and the actuarial tables called for a sensible “amortizing the risk.”)
I have seen all of the above-mentioned actors do better work – except for Judd Hirsch, who remains startlingly consistent, having, improbably, not lost a discernible “step”, either in timing or in “attack.” (Edging out Linda Lavin by a nose, which she may possibly have had worked on and now regrets it, if just in this narrow competitive context. Boy, I’m just a regular “Mr. Snarky Pants” today.)
Still, all of those Senior thespians – and I dare you to say that three times fast – provide professional performances, nobody “phoning it in”, everyone commendably giving their all, although the material they have been provided to work with is unilaterally beneath the capacities they have previously exhibited. (Except for, perhaps, Brolin, who, save for his excellent “cameo” in Pee Wee’s Great Adventure, reached the top of his abilities co-starring in Marcus Welby M.D., where his most demanding ”stretch” as an actor was riding a motorcycle. I’ve got to stay out of these brackets. I am losing my reputation as “a real ‘Sweetie Pie.’”)
Employing older actors in TV series – great!
I just sighed. Because it is simply “the way it is”. And I don’t like “the way it is.”
Fictional portrayals, in every aspect of actual life…
As my old grandpa might say:
As an analyst, Dr. M cannot bear watching a show where psychotherapy is depicted – with the exception of The Sopranos; there are exceptions to everything – because, as she inevitably explains –
“It’s not like that.”
Police officers, watching televised “procedurals” –
“Yeah, like you could get a subpoena in an hour, and an autopsy in a day.”
You get what I’m drivin’ at, right?
Dentists: “Nobody gets numb that fast. If I ‘went in’ that quickly there’d be screaming, and suing.”
Plumbers: “Where do they get ‘butt cracks’?”
Member of Any Ethnicity You Can Imagine: “I don’t know one person who talks like that.”
Real old is not close to how they portray it on television.
Claims a, now, certified expert on “old.”
Old people are working. But they are playing buffoons.
(What a fascinating word – “buffoon.”)
With TV-“old” you get “types.”
You get “warm.” You get “distant.” You get “gruff.” You get “cuddly.” You get “regularity” jokes. You get, “We’re still doin’ it” jokes. You get “dithery.” (“Where’s my glasses?” – “They’re on the top of your head.”) You get “philosophical”, but it’s annoyingly shallow. (Of the less than Platonic “You gotta role with the punches” variety.) You get manipulatively passive-aggressive. (Often emanating from Jewish mothers. Which, by the way, my “people” are hardly immune to the “Cliché Epidemic.” And with so many Jewish comedy writers…
JEWISH COMEDY WRITER: “We’re kind of actually more assimilated.’”
No. Or maybe. But what they are really doing is going for “easy laughs.” Earning, from me, none, with this dubious strategy. Maybe they need old writers, to deliver “the genuine article.” Or maybe they don’t. Because there are too many “What’s that’s”, as in “What’s that bump on my nose?” – featuring precautionary visits to specialists.
Bottom Line: But whoever writes it needs to internalize this:
From a personality standpoint, old people – like all people – are everything. Sitcoms lazily “scratch the surface” of that “everything.” Leaving wincing stereotypes in their wake, explaining, if younger audiences buy into those stereotypes, the painful paucity of visits.
Reliable “Rule of Thumb”: Whatever people were like when they were younger is essentially what those people are like when they are older. Only heavier, and with less hair.
Old people are people. Not single-attribute caricatures.
Sure, it’s great to see these talented actors still working. It would be spectacular, however, if they portrayed “old”, and not “TV old.”
But to get “funny” from that, the writers would have to assiduously “go deeper.”
No need to do research.
Just ask the performers on the show.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
I thought it was just me.
But once in a while, I discover a revitalizing “kindred spirit.”
The distinguishing symptoms originally presented themselves at the Toronto Hebrew Day School, more specifically in, as we Canadians, in accordance with the English education system call it, Grade Four.
AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY: “Fie on ‘Grade Four’! We shall call it… “Fourth Grade.” And dare King George and his vaunted army to compel us the change it back.”
We were studying the Torah. You do not see that sentence that often, unless you are reading a Chabad blog. In Grade Three, every student received a six-inch replica of the full-sized, see-it-in-synagogue Torah. We did not study that one; its print was illegible even to people without bifocals. We studied a book containing the same words, printed more readably. (If you could read Hebrew. If you couldn’t, the increased print size was not going to help you.) (Similar to talking loudly to a person who doesn’t speak English.)
We worked our way through the Pentateuch, starting with B’raysheet, “In the beginning…”, finishing up with “Book Five”, which was a long way from naked people eating an apple. (An insidious “bait and switch”, I believed, from “… a book you kids are really going to enjoy.” Though those words were delivered in Hebrew, in which I was barely conversant, so the translation may have actually been, “… a book you better study hard, or you will struck down by God’s terrible swift sword.” It was one of those. I am not exactly sure which. (Though I can hazard a guess.)
Anyway, by Grade Four we had slogged ahead to “Book Two”, the ever-popular Exodus. We were studying the miraculous climax of the “get-out-of-Egypt” story – which, if you missed it the first time you can catch on the Universal Studios tour – in which the Red Sea parted, the Israelites passed safely through, and then, when the Egyptian cavalry pursued them, the sea immediately closed up…
And here’s where I got in trouble.
I was with them to that point. Through an unusual behavior of water, my team was getting away. Which was fair and just, as they had been mercilessly enslaved, building the pyramids and were past due for a break.
(Although even before that, they’d play insidious tricks on their oppressors: SLAVE JEW PYRAMID LABORER: “You know the Sphinx? I rigged it so, by and by, his nose falls off. Nyeh nyeh n’ n’yeah nyeh.”)
Anyway, back to the miracle.
When we left off, the Bible says, about the pursuing Egyptians, trapped in the rejoining waters, and I quote,
Wait, I’ll do it in English. (After some transliterational grandstanding.)
“Horse and rider drowned in the water.”
I sat there, in my uncomfortable, bolted-to-my-desk wooden seat, genuinely perplexed. Then I raised my age-appropriate, nine year-old hand. “Mar” (Hebrew for “Mister”) whatever-his-name-was recognized me.
“What did the horses do?” I inquired, my voice, half way between righteous indignation and “Don’t hit me with that ruler.”
“Mar” Grade Four Hebrew school teacher did not understand my question. So I explained.
“It says, “Horse and rider drowned in the water.” I understand about the riders. They probably deserved it. But the horses never hurt anybody. Why did they have to drown too?”
The teacher’s reaction, though thankfully tempered, was instantly dismissive, and we went on with our lesson. Or recess. I no longer recall which. There was no mention of my equinal concern in the schoolyard.
The foregoing anecdote? That’s me – or a composite element of me – in a nutshell. Take a poll. How many people’s response to that famous Bible tale would be, “Hurray! We are free of our oppressors!” and how many would home in on, “Why are they punishing the horses?”
Compassion for animals, or inexplicably missing the “Big Picture”?
My vote? It is just the way my mind works.
It’s a minority perspective, I will grant you that. That’s why I always perk up when I spot this atypical behavior in others. It’s uncommon, but it happens. Which is reassuring.
Otherwise, I’m just crazy.
Three recent examples of this aberrant phenomenon: (You may not agree with all of these. But stay with me.)
First, the easy one. (Although in his state, an unpopular one):
The GOP Senator from Arizona, saying (essentially):
“I know he’s a Republican. But he’s nuts!”
(An outspokenness, giving him no chance whatsoever of re-election.)
The Robert E. Lee defender who said,
“He was a man who gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than his country.”
(Say what you will about Lee, but that’s true.)
The female journalist, encouraging calibrated distinctions between “… abuse, minor bad behavior and innocent miscommunication” in workplace interactions.
(“Innocent till proven guilty” – hardly an outlandish proposal. But check out the female journalist’s subsequent e-mails.)
The message is this:
Minority opinions are people’s opinions.
(Including this one, and my concern about the horses.)
Something valuable is lost when they are pressured to disappear.
Monday, November 20, 2017
Sometimes, when I can’t get a handle on something, I look for a clarifying analogy, to set me on a successful narrative track. Then I can write the thing. Otherwise, I can’t. Well, I can. But I will not know exactly where I’m going. And when that happens, none of us will be having much fun.
So we… oh, no – I just started a sentence with “So…”! I am as doomed as doomed can be, you know.
Okay, start again.
We went to a classical music concert, to hear the visiting Chicago Symphony play Brahms. (I was hoping they’d play “Go, Cubs, Go!” as an encore, but they played Schubert instead. Oh well. I guess that was too much to ask.)
I know nothing about classical music. (I originally spelled Schubert wrong.) I often to listen to it on my cable TV station’s “Classical Masterpieces” channel while I’m working , and when I hear a piece I like, I turn and check out who the listed composer is – or, occasionally, who the Liszted composer is – my first and hopefully last classical music joke – and then immediately forget who it was.
Some things I remember; some things I don’t. I an remember the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814, but I do not recall who composed… anything. Okay, “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” and “Brahms’ Lullaby”, but their names are in there. “Brandenburg Concerto” – not a clue. Although I’m almost certain it was not Brandenburg. Was it? No, I am pretty sure that’s a place.
I love music. I’ve been studying piano – although you’d never know it from my playing – for more than ten years. I’ve learned songs. but I’ve also learned musical sequences, like the “Circle of Fifths”, an identifiable chord pattern, found in countless popular songs. I am aware of the “2-5-1” and 4-5-1” song endings. I know some ropes in rudimentary music theory. Okay, maybe not ropes exactly, but definitely threads.
I know nothing of that nature in classical music. I mean, I know the basics –fast and slow, loud and quiet – but structural nuances and subtleties? I am entirely in the dark. To me, it is music, played in a foreign language. I get “melodic” – or otherwise. But that’s it.
I wanted to write about attending the symphony. But I was stuck about “how”.
When I find myself creatively unfocused, I am reminded of a wise man’s valuable advice: “Everything is like something else”, he explained. “What is this like?”
I could not think of what an ignoramus’s experience at a classical musical concert was like. And then it came to me. Not from inside my head. It was magically delivered to me from without.
I come home from the concert, I turn on the TV for the local sports report, and there it is. The “Ideal Analogy” I had been searching for:
The L.A. Rams had just played an American football game in England.
I heard that report and I immediately said,
Me, attending a classical music concert was an English sports fan, attending an American football game.
We get the essentials. But otherwise, it’s like,
“What are they doing?”
They know, you run the ball, you throw the ball, you get four chances to go ten yards, a touchdown is six points, a field goal is three. But what’s a “Fly Pattern”? What’s a “Sweep’?” What’s a ‘Bootleg’?” What’s “Calling an ‘Audible’?”
They know, like, six things. But by and large, English people watching an American football game are as clueless as I am, watching the Chicago Symphony play Brahms.
I believe they played skillfully. They finished the “movements” together; nobody kept going and went, “Oh.” I heard no sour notes. No woodwind “squeaks.” They probably did a really good job. The audience around me thought so. The guy beside me nearly “Bravoed” himself hoarse. (Could he have possibly had “family” in the orchestra?)
I applauded too, of course; I mean, they all worked real hard. But what was in all about? Who did Brahms come after and what musical innovations, if any, did he contribute? What story was the music trying to tell? Or is that the wrong way of thinking about things? Why are there four movements? How do they relate to each other? Or is that, again, the wrong way of thinking about things.
Listening to the music, my mind inevitably wandered. I found myself pondering meaningless extraneities, English fans in Twickenham Stadium, wondering why the American football is pointy. (You see how a good analogy helps me?)
What occupied my mind for two-and-a-half hours, minus intermission? (Where I wondered whether the second half would by shorter than the first.)
We were seated in the second row – which I am not sure makes any difference for hearing – so while I was listening, I got a chance to do a lot of close looking around.
I wondered if the conductor was wearing a toupee.
I wondered why the female Second Violinist was wearing four-inch stiletto heels.
I wondered if, the violinist sitting in the sixth row of twenty orchestra violinists believed he should justifiably be seated in a closer row, and if he was concerned that there was no seventh row.
I worried about another, somewhat older, violinist, whose face was beet red, apparently from exertion, hoping that the Asian female violinist beside him was also a doctor. (Is it racism is you think another culture is more accomplished than yours is?)
I wondered how much the bass fiddles cost, and if the really expensive ones made you play better, or if the musicians who played them just thought they did.)
I wondered if members of the Los Angeles symphony were lurking in the shadows, going, “‘Chicago Symphony.’ La-dee-dah.”
I wondered when the concert would be over.
“English football ends a lot sooner. These ‘Offsides’ penalties are bloody irritating.”
“It’s ‘Offside’, actually.”
We have tickets to three more concerts. Maybe I could educate myself further by then. If not, the magnificent Disney Hall has an adorning cluster of what look like vertical “French Fries”, mounted behind the orchestra.
Maybe I can count them.