Lou Grant: s02 e01 – Pills

Getting down with the kids

We’re here at season 2, with a new credits sequence and a new (and unnecessarily fussy with unwelcome guitar twiddles) arrangement of the title music. Gone the amusing sequence of how a newspaper is produced – from birdsong in the forest as the trees are cut down to make the paper, via the casual hurling of it into mud puddles and onto roofs when it’s delivered, to the birdsong of the canary whose cage it lines the bottom of – in favour of newsroom scenes depicting the cast. Not as good, and definitely not as memorable.

The show itself hasn’t changed, however. The opening episode was a little shapeless to begin with, playing mix’n’match with a couple of seemingly unrelatable stories. On the one hand, we have Pete, a college student, trying to lose weight, and using the services of a pill-pushing doctor, with tragic outcomes when his girlfriend? sister? Maureen takes an overdoose and dies. On the other, we have Charlie Hume making a fool of himself in front of a class of journalism students and compensating by offering a bunch of them an autonomous page and a free hand. Lou is not amused, especially as it comes out of his budget.

The kids’ element was played for laughs: six youngsters, three of whom are their ‘investigative team’, getting frustrated that their article on bathroom wall graffitti getting spiked because it’s no morethan a list of obscenities. This was very much in contrast to the story about Dr Bonham, which was Rossi’s beat and his personal obsession. He gets nowhere going undercover as a 22 year old (!) student out for diet pills himself, but then the distraught Pete breaks into Bonham’s office and steals his private records.

It’s dynamite, and it’s dodgy. The papers have been stolen. Rossi and Lou don’t know that. They deliberately don’t know that, in order to make the evidence usable, to avoid they or the Trib being accessories, though it’s 99% certain that’s howPte’s gotten hold of them. It’s playing the thin edge of the wedge of journalistic ethics and the Law (and Lou Grant plays big on the ethics and ideals of what they’re doing, in a way that we cynically can never believe again, but which, in the post-Watergate, post-All The President’s Men era in which this was made was a rational aspiration).

The implications of the story take the episode into places we didn’t necessarily expect. The Police obtain a warrant to search Rossi’s desk for evidence linking him to the break-in (they force open his locked drawer and find his stash of Snickers bars – a sign of times passing, these were still Marathons in Britain) and ultimately they jail him for contempt. Indefinitely.

It’s an impasse dependent upon how long Rossi can stay determined to protect his source, like a good reporter. How long this might be is never tested, nor does the episode establish how long it’s actually been, the one serious flaw in the affair, because Pete turns himself in. And, to complete the circle, the kids’ investigative team have been secretly using their advantage in manpower to track all the patients leaving Bonham’s practice, and uncoveringthe network of non-reporting pharmacies they go to. This, more than Rossi’s dodgy dossier, blows the case wide open, and gives us a neat wrap-up.

So: we’re back where we belong and season 2’s off to a good start. We’ll be spending Thursday mornings in Los Angeles for a while longer.

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