Maybe it was just the day on which I watched this, but for me this was one of those episodes of Lou Grant that has just not weathered the intervening years well. It was both earnest and dry, and its subject, which might have been expository in 1978, is too well worn now to be the kind of crusade the show was about. Though you can hardly say it’s not got a contemporary element to it.
The show’s initial hook was that Lou was being taken out for a meal by his son-in-law to whom, in the early years of marriage to his daughter Lou had helped out financially to the tune of over $5,000. The man had done good and, over Lou’s protestations, wanted to repay him, with interest, threefold: $15,000.
Lots of people had advice for Lou on what to do with this windfall, with Charlie insistent on introducing Lou to his financial adviser, a real wizard named David Milburn (guest star John Considine). Next up was Dr Jack Barnes, one of ultimately over 70 doctors accusing Milburn of being a crook and a scammer.
Finacial stuff is inherently dry, and Milburn was just that little bit too obvious a slimeball to be interesting. It was all one PONZI scheme, but the body of the show revolved around Charlie digging in his heels, refusing to accept Milburn could possibly be a crook, and only being convinced when the man did a runner.
Then it was self-recrimination time, which was the only part of the episode where the show escaped its didactic edge. Charlie’s lost practically everything he’s worked for over thirty years and is blaming himself left, right and centre. he’s feeling itall the more because his wife Marion (Pegy McCay playing her usual, sensible supporting role) won’t blame him. He wants to make himself feel better by having her call him all the names he’s calling himself, but she won’t give him the satisfaction, not out of some sadistic sense of game-playing and punishment, but becaus she is a wifewho loves her husband and is genuinely glad to still have him. It’s an altogether human moment in an episode that, try as it might, can’t escape from its theme.
Milburn’s smug self-satisfaction is hardly dented when the Judge goes against the prevailing trend of wrist-slapping and gives him ten years, nor when he tries to pull the smarm to Charlie over how this is all a horrible mistake and he will make restitution. The show is better when Charlie tell’s Milburn he doesn’t want to know what Charlie’s thinking than in Charlie’s overly quick recovery of his normal, easy-going temperament. What the episode needed was more sense of human drama than the adopting of convenient roles it offered.
As for Lou’s money, that was offered up in a quasi-comedic close, showing Lou had bought a baseball team – a Little League team and a pretty inept one, very Charlie Brown-ish – and gotten very worried about th cost of rreplacing lost balls at $2.50 a pop.
Like I say, on another day, I might have been more sympathetic overall. This just wasn’t the best episode to watch this week.