Lou Grant: s03 e06 – Hype

For once, here was an episode of Lou Grant that simply did not work for me on any level.

Oh, the good intentions were there, but they failed to make theemselves clear enough for the story to have a focus, and in picking Harold Gould to play the chief guest star role, that of Dr George Duncan, head of securing funding at LAU (the University), the show boobed and boobed badly. Gould was good in the part, commanding of appearance, immaculately turned out, full of energy and commitment, but both then and now, and especially then, he was identified with the part of Martin Morgenstern, father of Rhoda in the massively successful sitcom of the same name which was the first spin-off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Gould was indelibly identified with the good guys, but the role needed a more equivocal figure, especially as Dr Duncan was supposed to represent the issue the show was tackling. Which was University funding.

The rather shapeless and decidedly underwhelming story was about LAU research scientist Dr Dan Todson (an altogether too vague and formless performance by David Huffman). Todson was involved in arthritis reasearch, which mainly seemed to consist of picking up a bunch of identikit white rabbits by the scruff of the neck and putting them down again. Dan was convinced he was on the edge of a breakthrough if only he was given time, but so far he’d been unable to duplicate his successful experiment. Under pressure from Duncan to produce, overtired and stressed, Dan switched tags on two rabbits to ‘prove’ his theory.

It was a dumb move, unethical, illegal and devastating to the reputations of both Dan and LAU, not to mention Dr Duncan, but most of all it was dumb because it was so easy to uncover. And when it came out it was disastrous, not least for Dan, who was genuinely intelligent, and dedicated,  and who had not only killed his own career, but who had seen to it that his research would never be taken up again, potentially costing millions freedom from arthritic pain.

The point of the story was to expose how the pure, independent research of Universities, Halls of Knowledge, seekers of truth, had been perverted by funding, from businesses, that produced outcomes supporting the interests of the funders and, more insidiously, restricting research only to those ‘commercial’ ideas. This latter point was brought out by Joe Rossi near the end in a story about Copernicus, which fell flat because at no point could the episode engage you in the people and the effects, nor could it even make clear what it was all about in the first place.

A rare complete failure, made emphatic by the flimsy B story, a feather-light portrayal of Mike, volunteer test subject at $3 an hour, wasting his life away much to the chagrin of Lou. Mike was a lazy drone and Craig Wasson portrayed him as happy-go-lucky, unconcerned and, well, happy. He neither toiled nor did he spin, in fact he offended the entire Protestant Work Ethic, but you would have waited a long time before you  found him anything more than just dull.

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