Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"What's The Deal With That?"

A Confession:  I do not know everything. 

Sometimes, a thing’s simply a “head scratcher” to me.  And on those occasions, I like to put the thing out there, in the hopes that, in the vast, cumulatively omniscient blogosphere, a fragment of which floats by this venue, somebody will have the answer and they’ll tell me and then I’ll know and I’ll be able to say,

“I do not know everything, but I know one more thing than I used to know.”
And thereby feel somewhat better about myself, which, if not the whole, is a substantial purpose of this exercise.  Not “feeling better about myself”, knowing more than I currently do.  Okay, the other thing well.  Let’s be honest about it.

So here’s the question.  With an obligatory preamble, so you will feel like you are getting your money’s worth.

An article in the paper recently reported that comedian/actor Paul Reubens, best known for his self-created character, the inimitable Man-Child “Pee Wee Herman”, was releasing – or re-releasing, probably – DVD’s of his Saturday morning kid’s show (but adults like it too) Pee Wee’s Playhouse, after doing some “technical enhancing” to make them better, though I can no longer recall what that involved.  (Probably because the “technical enhancing” of a television show is meaningless to me.  I do not ever once recall myself saying – or thinking – “If only that show looked better.”)     

I loved watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse (1986-1991) and my daughter Anna (1983 – and still going strong) did too.  We also loved Pee Wee’s first movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), in which Pee Wee’s bicycle is stolen and he gets a tip that it’s in the basement of the Alamo, so he treks down to Texas where he disappointedly discovers that the Alamo doesn’t have a basement.  It was a wonderful experience.  We laughed, and we learned.  

Okay, I’m rambling.  The point – and the one I have the question about – is that, for me, at least, and possibly others as well (including, it would appear, Reubens himself, who keeps going back to “Pee Wee” more than thirty years after he created him) – it is my herein stated opinion that the performer, Mr. Reubens, does not come anywhere near as alive portraying other characters as he does when he plays “Pee Wee.” 

In fact, when he does other stuff, he kind of fades into the woodwork.  I mean, he’s capable enough, but when he’s “Pee Wee”,

He’s electrifying. 

The question is:

Why is that?

You play other parts, and you’re fine.

But in one particular role,

You’re a skyrocket. 

And it’s not just Reubens.  I have noticed this phenomenon with other actors as well, two immediately jumping to mind:

Henry Winkler and Jason Alexander.

Here are two trained and talented performers.

But if they’re not “George” or they’re not “The Fonz”…

I’m not really that interested.

What is this mysterious phenomenon – which, for all I know, they have an actual name for – about?  I mean, it’s the same guys.  But when they are playing “those parts”, the comparison, I mean, it’s a not a gradual gradation.  It’s like,

Off the charts!

I mean, it’s almost like they’re possessed.

Where does that “thing” go, I wonder, where, when they play the roles they are most popularly identified with, you cannot take your eyes off of them, but when they play other parts… you can?

I am sure I am not the only one asking this question.  I imagine, occasionally at least,  the actors in question wonder the same thing.

“I don’t get it.  When I’m “George”, I’m a home run.  But when I’m Dunston Checks In, I’m a dribbler to the shortstop.”

I once saw Henry Winkler onstage at a school variety show fundraiser.  He played a father in a sketch and he was perfectly acceptable.  But then suddenly, he let loose this ferocious “Fonzie”-like growl, and the audience (including myself) just froze. 

The abrupt contrast was discombobulating.  It was like an enormous pterodactyl from a summer blockbuster had suddenly materialized, its overpowering presence holding a mesmerized gathering helplessly in its thrall.

You meet the guy later, and it’s “Hello, how are you?  How’s the family?”  And sure, he’s not acting now, but when he’s playing those other roles, his “magnetic aura” is a lot closer to the “How’s the family?” guy’s than to the “The Fonz.”

Illuminate me.

What exactly is that about?
Happy New Year, Everybody!  And drive safety.  My readership is limited.  I need all of you to survive.  Of course, I am concerned for your sake as well.  Just 'cause I mention that second doesn't mean it's not important to me.  Really.

Celebrate.  Be careful.  And come back.

I'll see you in 2015.


Alan said...

I always felt that anytime I saw a television star on TV…be it Jason Alexander, Joel Higgins or Tom Wopat, I felt very comfortable watching him in his familiar surroundings.
But when I saw those guys on stage, admittedly in musical comedies, my first thought was always, on TV you get to use about 5% of your talent.
Jason won a Tony for being ALL of the star parts in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. Tom Wopat killed in City of Angels. And I forget what I saw Mr. Higgins in, but he was, I recall, excellent.
There you go.
I have never seen Sarah Jessica Parker look as good on film or elsewhere on television as she did in her Sex and the City series. They just knew how to light her (I was going to say “shoot”..and…hmm…I guess I did). How come the camera guys could shoot her so well in that show and not in anything else?
I hope that answers your question.
Happy New Year.

Clayton Moore said...

Maybe, for someone such as Jason Alexander, his appearance on Seinfeld was his first as a regular cast member. I don't know if that's true, but I don't recall seeing him in any other TV shows. Seinfeld ran for what, 10 years? And it's in syndication forever, which means 2 episodes/day, 6 days/week (where I live). To me, he is George. He's not Jason. When I do see him in other roles which is seldom, he is good, but as George, he is superb.

And there's many others.

But one who goes the other way is Ted Danson. I did not know of Ted prior to Cheers. Then he became Sam Malone and I thought, that's who he would always be. But I was wrong. As Becker, I thought he was excellent. I don't watch CSI but I have no doubt, he's excellent in that too. In the movies, he was terrific in "Cousins" and co-starring w/Jack Lemon in "Dad," well that was one of my all-time favorites and Ted was great.

Anyway, Happy New Year to one and all.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

And then there's Diana Rigg, who is electrifying in everything she does.

I wonder if, like winning a major tennis championship (which inevitably comes with the expectation that you will win more), the surprise isn't that a particular actor doesn't achieve lift-off in more than one character but that they achieve it at all. Many, many companies struggle to create a second successful product, too - it's HARD the first time, HARDER the second (which I believe is also said about earning your first/second million dollars). Most people never get any hits. So many things have to go right just to get *one*.