Lou Grant: s03 e13 – Kids

Lou and Mark

We’re into the back half of season 3 of Lou Grant, with a low key episode poised equally between parallel and contrasting stories sufficiently well-balanced that they couldn’t be defined as A and B.

The official peg for the episode is that the Trib is preparing a series on child labour, for which Rossi is interviewing child star actor Carly Mitchell (Elizabeth Bliss), and Billie is shunted off into a minor role tackling more obviously serious aspects of the problem, down at the courts, to which the episode pays little more than lip-service.

The other story is Lou himself, in his role as Coach to a junior league baseball team, getting involved in the life of basically good kid Mark Donner (Matthew Labyorteux) after discovering that he appears to be being neglected by his divorced mother Meg (Jenny Sullivan), who seems more interested in dating men in the evening than staying in with her son.

Both kids are 12. Carly is leading what anyone who assume is an idyllic life. She’s a star on a soap opera, totally professional, immensely popular, been offered a spin-off show of her own and, yes, you guessed it, very unhappy.

Yes of course, this is venturing into cliche drawer territory, but Bliss’s playing made young Carly a welcomingly calm presence, aware of her responsibilities to everyone, not least the father who gave up his job to manage her career, whilst growing increasingly upset at how her father, who regarded it as his job to worry for her, failed to listen to her wishes: for some normality, like regular schools, friends, Jacques Cousteau movies at the marina, and her prized seashell connection, which he threw out because it smelled, and it nearly made a Network Vice-President faint (can’t say vomit in 1979).

This was the catalyst for Carly to run away, maintaining contact only through Rossi, who was pretty paternalistic about her but respected her need to not be given back to her parents. She’s on the point of agreeing to be taken back when she collapses with some unknown complaint she’s been keeping quiet (from the stomach-grabbing, I suspect it was appendicitis). Once everyone’s reunited, Rossi manages to get the parents to listen to Carly, who wants to give up acting entirely, but who still won’t let Rossi put this off-the-record story in the paper!

Lou’s story was of an entirely different tenor though ultimately it boiled down to the ame thing, a kid not getting enough attention. Carly had love and attention but it was all being paid to an image of her she wasn’t inside. Mark just isn’t getting attention. He lives with a divorced mother who has had to look after him alone since he was two, who has to work to support them, who married young, didn’t go out one night from when he was two to seven and now wants a bit of a life for herself (you can’t say she wants to get in some vigorous sgagging in 1979).

The problem is that when Meg is there, she’s no good at boundaries, seting limits and discipline, the kind of attention a 12 year old needs when their testing boundaries. Mark is trying to make Lou into a father figure, his own living out of town and being too busy to even come see him, even to the extent of trying to set him up to date Meg (who thought that was what Lou was interested in). But he was in danger of losing himself: ranting at an umpire who called him Out, fuming at Lou that it was his fault he didn’t swing, stealing an expensive baseball bat from the store where his Mom works, breaking Lou’s window with a baseball when Lou tried to stop him blaming everybody else and making excuses and understand his responsibility.

In the end, Mark wound up starting down the path towards rehabilitation. His was a mental, not a situational change, so you had to take it a bit on trust, but the show’s general prime time penchant for happy endings told you that that was what it would be.

Two minor points about the episode: the imdb cast list for this week revealed that the only other kid on Lou’s team that was given a name was being played by a young Michael J Fox, whilst Jenny Sullivan, a nicely attractive actress of a certain age, seemed very familiar to be, both in her face and especially her throaty voice without me being to place just who I was recalling.

(Don’t watch)The Watch

Back in the early Nineties, the BBC did a five-part adaptation of Alan Plater’s fifth and final novel, Oliver’s Travels. I have long since regarded it as the most perfectly miscast series in broadcasting history. Absolutely everybody, down to the least walk-on part, was wrong. It was sort of a miracle in that respect.

Today, I’ve seen the first photos and information released about the forthcoming BBC America eight-part series, The Watch, ‘inspired’ by Terry Pratchett’s City Watch books.

Oliver’s Travels no longer stands alone.

Another Irreplaceable Terry

I never got to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus until it was too late: my parents’ dislike of it and their control of the television kept me from the show until the last, Cleese-less series. Friday mornings used to be hell as I would have to negotiate all the catch-phrases that everybody else in my year picked up the previous night, and which I just didn’t understand: lumberjacks, spam, I was totally isolated among my peers.

In the end, I got the films and the Hollywood Bowl album. I remember people trying to persuade me not to go into the cinema when I wanted to watch Life of Brian and being wiling to argue if they challenged my directly, which never happened.

Partly because of this, but more because I was already committed to The Goon Show, I was never the Monty Python fan everybody else of my generation seemed to be. I wouldn’t ever call them derivative of Spike Milligan, but if it hadn’t been for the Goons, I think it would have been another twenty years before people like the Pythons could have broken through.

But whatever you say, they were six bloody funny men, and by being television instead of radio, they changed the world more thoroughly and more wide-rangingly that Milligan, Secombe and Sellars. Now there are just four of them left because Terry Jones has been released from the prison of dementia, and I am glad to think that his mind has now been unshackled, and sad to think that all his work is now only of the past.

Thank you for everything, Terry.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Dotty

Physically, Dotty is a companion to The Elliptical Grave, as was East of Laughter to Serpent’s Egg. It is a United Mythologies Press chapbook novel, slightly shorter, printed on white rather than sepia paper, and similarly limited in number, this time 330. My copy should be numbered somewhere between 1 – 250, but is sadly unnumbered. Like all the few remaining books in this series, Dotty appears in the Archipelago checklist and, although it is not part of The Devil is Dead trilogy, it is a part of Lafferty’s Argo Mythos.
But only as a sidebar. Dotty is Dotty O’Toole Peisson, friend to Finnegan (who is mentioned two, maybe three times in her book), World’s Greatest Galveston-Style Piano Player, and this is her story, up to the age of twenty-one or thereabouts, and for once with Lafferty, we are given an almost clear time-frame, beginning with her birth on 15 October 1933, in dust-bowl Oklahoma, though Dotty’s natural home is indeed Galveston.
This is as clear and open a book as Lafferty ever wrote, and whilst he never descends to any crudity, it is also as carnal a story as he ever told. Dotty, the youngest child and daughter of Sheriff Slywood O’Toole and Mary Theresa O’Toole is pretty blatantly indicated to be the product of marital rape, during the War. Slywood pretty blatantly pimps his wife out to his superior officer, Colonel Kean, and Dotty herself, under the influence of Pan, throws away her virginity, and with it for a long time her Faith, becoming next to a prostitute before she is partially saved.
Dotty is about faith, or rather Faith, since what is under consideration is Roman Catholic belief, and an old-fashioned version of it that Lafferty himself considered essential to the health of the world. Dotty herself is a preternaturally intelligent and determined child, for whom precocious is a word that doesn’t go half far enough, but she lives in a real world of Lafferty’s experience and the country’s experience. This is not a fantastic book in the way that we have become used to in Laff’s body of writing, and the closest to it in its rootedness is Archipelago. Indeed, from comments Andrew Ferguson has made elsewhere on this blog, I believe it to be Lafferty’s second novel, chronologically.
Dotty begins as an adherent to the true Faith. She is rigid and doctrinal, though those are words that ill-fit her turn of mind and belief. Rather, she is Absolutist, rejecting the world of the body, of matter and dirt, characterising those who lapse into that form as pig people, in favour of the world of spirit. She’s incredibly advanced for her age, in knowledge, perception and adventuring, but in a world that is relentlessly solid.
And she is full or argument and debate, as is the book. Lafferty rejects liberalism and humanism as tools of the Devil, rejects everything that he sees as compromise from the old, original Faith. He is more direct in his philosophy than at any time since, yes, Archipelago again. But this is a section of the Argo Mythos: one day, some enterprising publisher will, we hope, create an omnibus containing all the elements of this Mythos, to be stored under one roof.
But Dotty is about both Faith and Doubt. Dotty herself Falls, under the influence of Pan, Pan who is both nature and rutting, and her surrender to physicality, outside the licit state of marriage, breaks her for a time. Absolute Faith admits no equivocation, no least failing. What rescues her, in a remainder of the story that see-saws between her attempts and failings to recover Grace, is the sailor, Charles Piesson, with whom she finds love, and marriage, and a wholeness within that is only temporary, for he must return to sea, and there he is lost and so too is Dotty again.
Here, Lafferty hints at things beyond the solidity of life. Charles has foreseen his death, has written fifty-two letters to Dotty, to be sent to her weekly so that for a year further he can speak to her. Dotty will not open them, because to do so is to acknowledge that Charles is dead, but she knows their contents. Others read them, Soft-Talk Suzie Kutz – a barmaid and, it is faintly hinted, perhaps an Angel – takes and keeps them, to give to Dotty in their proper order, weekly, once she has admitted her loss, and Soft-Talk Suzie says that some of the contents of these letters were written after Charles died.
There is the typical Lafferty non-ending. We are only seeing part of the story, just as all his novels are part of the unfinished ‘A Ghost Story’ of his entire work. We have seen Dotty to a certain point and what else lies ahead is not to be told us. Just because there is no climax does not mean we cannot have an ending. Every story goes on for longer than we are allowed to participate by its writer.
This is a book that requires an open mind, even as you will no doubt decide that R.A. Lafferty’s was closed. It is an argument and a doctrine, and I am not equipped to judge it in theological terms, only to learn how a certain viewpoint differs from my own.

Person of Interest: s03 e14 – Provenance

Implausible but watchable

Watching and blogging a television series from beginning to end, the same day each week, is a vulnerable process, since you cannot bring the exact same set of sensibilities to bear every single Tuesday. Though it’s not happened so far with Person of Interest, it’s too much to expect for the entire run to go unaffected, and this has been the case today. Feeling at a low ebb, mentally as well as physically, due to various things going on, and watching one of those almost-never standalone episodes, ‘Provenance’ wasn’t going to lift me out of my prevailing mood. Perhaps I should have taken a week off?

The episode was a genuine standalone, its only connections to the ongoing story being at top and bottom. Reese returns from Italy, with a new suit, ready to resume his job, with a Number already on hand. At the end, the crew gathers to celebrate their success with drinks, and Reese places a glass at an empty place round the table, for the one who isn’t there.

After so many intense, serialised weeks, a one-off with no ulterior significance would have to be pretty damned strong to make it and this wasn’t. The Number was Kelli Lin, real name Jai Lin (Elaine Tan), a high-flying events planner who, it quickly turned out, was an international, world class art thief specialising in cultural artefacts of tremendous value. She was also, under her real name, a Chinese former Olympic Silver Medallist being chased by her own Jean Valjean, Interpol Agent Alain Bouchard (Henri Bulatti).

Jao basically had two skills in life: gymnastics and very high power stealing. She had a little daughter being held hostage by a Czech gang requiring her to repay her debt to them, as represented in New York by Cyril (Gene Farber) who was obviously never going to let her go.

It was this conception, gymnast and thief, that bent the plausibility curve out of shape for me and left me unable to get into the episode in the way I usually do. It was the usual, well-constructed thriller: the team start off aiming to frustrate the theft by Jao, in whose wake bodies drop like flies (Cyril was doing it behind Jao’s back) and then had to switch to carrying out the theft itself to protect Jao’s daughter and bring the Czechs down.

Even then, to achieve the required happy ending, logic had to be bent to get Bouchard, who’d pursued Jao across Europe for years, to slip her a key so that she could escape.

No, on another day, of fairer frame of mind, I could buy this and enjoy it for what it was, but not today. Today, I was not receptive to what I could only see as a weak episode by PoI standards. Next week will be better.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Wisting parts 7 & 8

I wouldn’t expect too much from me on this pair of episodes because, though the second half of the series is turning out to be more interesting and less conventional than the first with its serial killer, I happen to be watching it with a head full of cold that is not doing anything for my mental acuity. It’s an effort to go beyond Good Procedural, Keep It Up.

For instance, I remember a scene in which a young blonde reported a feeling of being followed to Bejaminm, the youngest member of Wisting’s team. Since she had no evidence whatsoever beyond ‘feeling’, he couldn’t do anything about it. Now the girl, Linnea Kaupang, has gone missing, didn’t come home last night, reported it to the Police, now headed by the efficient-but-distracted-trying-fior-a-baby Torunn. I remember the scene but I can’t remember if that was last week or in a previous one.

Linnea’s case is meant to parallel the Cecilia case over which Wisting has been suspended. Not directly: one involves the faking of evidence to convict a probably innocent man, the other the police not taking a matter sufficiently seriously (with no reason to do so until hindsight intervenes. Benjamin, who conducted the intial interview is getting steadily further involved, especially after Linnea commits suicide.

Or leaves a suicide blog note. The Police have to investigate all options, they can’t just take on trust the word of a mother who wasn’t that close to her daughter but who treats the merest suggestion of conflicts as a direct accusation of being a bad mother.

Meanwhile, Wisting is investigating the Cecilia case from his own records. Someone did plant faked evidence. Nils was all over the case like a cheap suit, and he was relocated from Oslo for taking shortcuts. nd Frank, still obsessed with his niece’s death, convinced Haglund did it and not respecting any niceties about the caswe, is so blatant a suspect that it can’t be him unless the show is pulling an unusually subtle double-bluff.

He end up with Torunn on sick leave, no-one in charge, Linnea’s parents bad-mouthing the Police across all the press, Line getting involved again (as in fucking naked on her Dad’s couch) with ex-boyfriend bad-boy Tommy (why is this relevant?) and a resigned Haglund giving Wisting the clue to identify who fitted him up.

It all made a lot more sense watching this but as i say, my head’s away with the fairies right now. I am going to make myself a coffee and give it the rest of the day off. I’d better be better for the finale, next weekend.

Film 2020: Volver

Once, a long time ago, I watch a Pedro Almodovar firm on television, Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown I think it was. I remember Barry Norman enthusing over that on his BBC Film show, the one I’ve stolen the title from. Since thern, I’ve seen nothing by him.

With the exception of one Mexican film, the superb Y Tu Mama, Tambien, the only foreign films I have in my collection are French. But something about the cover of this DVD, Penelope Cruz’s face, Almodovar’s reputation and the high regard in which Volver is held, came together to inspire me to take a punt on a cheap copy, and it’s been a good guess once more.

Though I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen, I’m not really sure what I’ve seen this morning. Volver (To Go Back, or Coming Back) is no one thing, nor is its story clearly-defined at any one moment. Usually, films that don’t settle on one strong theme tend to meander (which is not always a bad thing), and have trouble ending. This film however avoids settling upon any single element to emphasise, and gives weight to each one, taking themes such as sexual abuse, insanity, murder, ghosts and adultery and stuffing them into a wellspring of life. It’s a film with six stars, all of them women, of three different generations, coming out with a buoyancy that contradicts the seemingly negative atmosphere you would otherwise expect.

The film begins with a classically Spanish scene: woman, mostly widows, are sweeping, polishing, cleaning, tending to headstones in a graveyard in the village of Alcanfor de les Infantas, a village in the La Mancha region of Spain. Here are Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), her fourteen year old daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) and her sister Sole (Soledad, Lola Duenas), tending the grave of Raimunda and Sole’s mother Irene (Carmen Maura), killed along with their father in a fire three years ago. They go on to the women’s Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave), elderly, near-blind, senile, who is being looked after by her neighbour opposite, Augustina (Blanca Portillo), who believes Aunt Paula is visited by the ghost of her sister, Irene.

That’s a complicated set-up to begin with, but it’s soon to get more involved. Raimunda is married to Paco, a mainly good-for-nothing slob, perennially unemployed, semi-drunk. Home from Alcanfor, concerned about her Aunt (to whom she has always been closer than to her late mother), Raimunda refuses Paco’s advances in bed. Horny, he glances up Paula’s skirt, spies on her in the bathroom, topless, and then tries to rape her in the kitchen, claiming he’s not her father so it’s ok. Raimunda comes home from work to find Paco dead, stabbed.

Raimunda takes responsibility. She cleans the kitchen, hides the body in a freezer in the nearby restaurant when she’s left the keys by its absentee owner, indeed opens the restaurant ad hoc to feed a film crew, improvising madly with the aid of her neighbours (both female, one a prostitute). Whilst this is developing wildly, Aunt Paula dies. Sole has to go to the Funeral alone – despite being terrified of the dead – although everything is organised beautifully by Augustina.

in Aunt Paula’s house, Sole sees her mother. When she returns to Madrid, her mother is in the trunk of her car. Influenced by village superstitions, Sole believes her mother has returned, to fill one last, undone thing from life, and is ready to do this for her. However, Irene can only do herself what she needs to know, which is to speak to Raimunda and put right the reason he daughter hates her

Irene moves in to Sole’s apartment. She assists her in her illegal hairdressing business, pretending to be a Russian who speaks no Spanish.

Augustina contracts cancer, a virulent form, terminal. She has one wish left, to know whether her mother is alive or dead. Her mother disappeared years ago, the same day Raimunda and Sole’s parents were killed. Augustina believes in Irene’s ghost and, if she should appear to Rimunda, she wants her to ask that question. Raimunda, who is full of an unexpressed anger that Cruz incarnates in her every look, dismisses this as ridiculous only to learn, long after her daughter, that her mother is still there.

Irene’s not a ghost. Raimunda’s earthiness won’t allow a ghost to exist. in fact, the truth was that Augustina’s mother had been having an affair with Raimunda’s father, and it was Augusta’s mother who died in the fire, set by Irene.

And there is more. Paco wasn’t lying when he claimed Paula wasn’t his daughter. Raimunda was abused by her father: Paula is not merely her daughter but also her sister.

Slowly, everything comes out. The picture is painted. Raimunda and Sole bring Irene back to Alfancor. Augustina is on medication to keep her free from pain as she dies. Irene moves into her house, as a ghost, to care for her until the end.

All of this seems morbid, and yet the film’s gift, in Almodovar’s writing and directing, and in everybody’s acting, with no distinction to be drawn between any of the players (though Cruz is as good as anyone ever has been, not to mention looking fabulous throughout in a very non-film star fashion: I also loved Duenas, who I’d never seen her before, and she possesses a very attractive bottom) is to fill you with great enjoyment.

The film’s lack of a clear definition makes it difficult for me to respond to it with any clarity of my own. It’s a wide window into a culture with which I have only the most minimal insight but to which I have always responded positively and with great enjoyment and comfort. Two hours in such a place is worth the experience itself, and I will be watching this several times more.