What it’s like to be a Red – 30 January 2020

A week is a long time in Politics, as Harold Wilson is always quoted as saying, with a frequency that if you weren’t my age would make you think he never said anything else. Have we already forgotten the white-hot heat of technology?

But a week can be a long time in practically anything if conditions changed rapidly in a short space of time. This week, it’s a long time in football.

Wednesday last week, I got home from work in time to see most of the Premier League game at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Burnley. Three points would have put United right on the tail of Chelsea in fourth place. Instead, we played with abysmal cluelessness and lost 2-0. To Burnley. At home. For the first time in 58 years.

Let me put off reliving that experience for a few moments longer. Since then, United have played away at Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup Fourth Round and won 6-0, the biggest FA Cup win since the same round in 1972 when George Best scored six on returning from suspension to lead United to an 8-2 win at Northampton Town (who, incidentally, we may play in the Fifth Round). And this Wednesday, despite being knocked out of the League Cup Semi-Final on aggregate, we beat the Bitters on their own ground for the second time this season.

Two good, encouraging wins in the space of four days. None of which serves to change in any respect the feelings I underwent last Wednesday, watching United bow down to Burnley.

It’s not just that we lost. They scored two good goals, the second one an absolute cracker. Things like that can happen. I’ve seen united beaten by teams they’ve outplayed before now, and I’ve seen us beat teams who have played us off the par before now. The relative strength and form of the two teams playing is only usually a guide to the result.

What hurt last week was the way United played. Since Fergie retired, I’ve seen some horrendous performances, whether it be under Moyes, van Gaal or Mourinho. I’ve watched a team that used o be supercharged in its speed of thought and movement lose all of that ability, I’ve seen regimented passing, sideways and back, I have seen games dominated by pointless passing, which comes when a pass is made to a teamm-mate who immediately delivers the ball back to exactly where the first player was standing.

I have seen United stumble against organised defences, where van Gaal’s strict instructions have relieved them from the ability to improvise, or Mourinho’s crabbed style placing them in a state of fear where they simply cannot risk shifting their shackles.

And I have seen them, more than once, play as if they are completely clueless, as if they have no idea what to do in a match, and that is how they were against Burnley. But this was one match too many. As individuals, as a collective, they simply did not have one idea of how to get themselves back in the match. Against Burnley. Burnley, at Old Trafford.

I wanted to switch off. I didn’t want to watch this any more. And I began to think what is the biggest heresy any fan can ever think about his team. I started to wonder if there is a point, really a point, at which you are allowed to stop caring about your team. A point at which you are permitted to turn your back and say, ‘I don’t care’. Can you stop supporting your team?

It’s supposed to be for life. It’s supposed to be an even bigger betrayal than cheating on your wife, walking out on your team. But last Wednesday, against Burnley, I started questioning whether you can do that.

That was a week ago There have been two wins since then, two good wins. The question no longer applies. But will that moment come again?


Lou Grant: s03 e14 – Brushfire

The first Lou Grant episode of the Nineteen Eighties (broadcast on 7 January) was an unusual amalgam of elements, lacking the show’s usual ‘agenda’-based storytelling. It started at night, in the heat, the dry Southern California summer, the Santa Anna winds drying things out and a fire reported in a canyon that expands rapidly and almost uncontrollably until seven fires are burning, home are being evacuated and burned down, people are losing everything, 2,000 acres alight. In view of the current Australian fires, this became an oddly topical story.

Into this scenario, of panic and desperation, the show introduced several elements, the major aspects of which was the coverage of the ever-developing fires. Rossi and Animal on the scene, Billie doing re-writes at the paper despite her father Paul Newman being in Town to see her (cue for a few jokes there), Lou and Donovan managing calls and a substantial role for Mrs Pynchon for once, caught in the middle of things at her niece’s riding school, rescuing a forgotten horse and pitching in as a volunteer with that uncmplaining sense of duty that’s much derided but nonetheless heartfelt.

Also in the middle of this was Charlie Hume and his wife Marion. Their marriage is in difficulties, they’ve been growing apart since the kids moved out, Marion wants a job, to feel independent, Charlie’s crusty enough to resent that: they’re selling the house, they’re separating, they will end up getting a divorce.

But the house they’re selling is in a canyon, and the fire spreads. Charlie panics, grabs a bundle of stuff to take with them and flee. This includes one specific dress of Marion’s. They’re supposed to evacuate but Charlie’s gone nuts, refuses to give up the house, dowses the roof continually with water. Marion won’t leave without him.

It’s a sharp contrast to a guy named Bergman that Animal meets, who’s lost his home, though thankfully not his partner. Bergman’s sanguine about the house: it’s only a house after all. But like Animal he’s a photographer, and he has lost a lifetime’s negatives, irreplacable photos, irrecioverable memories. Yet he bounces back, borrowing a camera from Animal, gifted several rolls of film. Bergman can start again with just the clothes on his back.

Charlie can’t or won’t. Adam Wilson loses his house to the fires but Charlie fights to keep his and succeeds. He and Marion are full of adrenalin at the outcome, too many good things happened in that house, Charlie says, to not fight for it. The metaphor is obvious but not plastered in your face, and Marion is more impressed by the dress Charlie chose to save, because he always thought she looked great in it.

Yes, it’s a bit of a cliche, the stress that pushes a failing couple back into each other’s arms, the adrenalin solution. Forty years later, a series like Lou Grant would make that into an ongoing strand, explored over several weeks, to see if there’s a lasting effect. Forty years ago, a happy endng was taken for granted, and for once why not?

The episode was at its weakest in hinting at a firebug as the cause of the disaster, but redeemed itself with a neat twist. Animal has been quick on the scene to several fires recently and the Fire Department suspect him. They’ve been following him for the last sixty days. Animal knows – he may look and act goofy but young Mr Price is no fool – and has taken several shots of his shadow. Except that his Fire Department shadow is played by Tony Perez, who I remember for a substantial recurring role in Hill Street Blues, and this is a completely different guy: Animal has been snapping the firebug.

A good, professional, well-made episode that highlighted the paper’s working in a time of developing news, and which used its other themes wisely and not too obtrusively. This is why i like Lou Grant. Edward Asner’s a large part of it too.


The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: My Heart Leaps Up

My Heart Leaps Up is one of the oddest of Lafferty’s books. It is a strongly autobiographical book, part of a greater whole of which only one other, partial element has ever been released. It is referred to as being part of a tetraology, the overall title of which was “In a Green Tree”, but that tetraology was intended to be a quintology, of which the fifth book was almost certainly never written, nor even named.
The details appear, where else?, in the Archipelago check-list. “In a Green Tree” was to consist of My Heart Leaps Up 1920-1928, Grasshoppers and Wild Honey 1928-1942, Deep Scars of the Thunder 1942-1960 and Incidents of Travel in Flatland 1960-1978. There was a note to add that, ‘For technical reasons, the unnamed fifth novel of this series, running from 1978-1990, cannot be written yet.’
My Heart Leaps Up was never published as a book but rather as a series of five chapbooks, each containing two chapters, appearing from 1986-90. Later, a larger size chapbook appeared of Grasshoppers and Wild Honey chapters 1 and 2, but nothing else.
Without the remainder of the tetraology, My Heart Leaps Up is forever only a partial story, and that is perhaps the biggest tragedy of all of Raphael Aloysius Lafferty’s career. He described “In a Green Tree” as ‘…not my own autobiography; it is more a biography of a group (my contemporaries, of course) and a neighbourhood I have lived in since 1920, which is the framework I chose to hang an epic-length historical-recent novel on.’
My Heart Leaps Up covers some of the school years of Lafferty’s panoply of children a class of 54 boys and girls, from beginning at Crucifixion School in the first grade, to graduation from the eighth grade. These precocious children go from age five to thirteen, a confident, energetic generation. Lafferty is often, and rightly, accused of not creating characters but rather viewpoints or standpoints, yet here it is clear that each of these children and complete and real and different.
Many times the story, if story there be, stops for roll calls, as Sister Mary Catherine calls the names and the children answer with sayings and verses, many of them deeply religious, more so than you might imagine from such a group, yet these moments neither weary nor repeat. Nor do the names flash by you as sometimes they do. This time, the names are real and not Lafferty’s exaggerated nomenclature, and behind each name you sense the beating of a real breath. Lafferty knows each and everyone of these and without hinting at those who have not survived alongside him, plainly misses each one who is not there.
There isn’t a story any more than any class of children growing up in those years of their lives form a story. There are geniuses in different ways, and there is much love and kissing between the children, and deep belief. And an equal amount of tall-tale-telling, of things that couldn’t have been in any strictly ordered world but which Lafferty, with loving skill, decorates his friends lives, and who’s to say that things were not that way back then?
One chapter is of a reverse honeymoon, where the happy couple remain at home but send the children and friends to Europe, to Ireland and England and France and more places, and much of that chapter is a travelogue, but a happy, expansive travelogue, of places and people, that makes you wish you could have been there, then and among them.
My Heart Leaps Up is naturally Lafferty’s most personal and affecting book. More even than the remaining two books of the Coscuin Chronicles, should the unpublished Lafferty ever be published and I be around to welcome it, I would more wish to read what else there is of “In a Green Tree”, and the later lives of these children.
And though it isn’t part of this book, for my re-read here I finished on Grasshoppers and Wild Honey Chapters 1 and 2, and these are also wonderfully full and improbable, and likely to be the last I will read of these characters whose lives I want to know and share. Being a fan of R.A. Lafferty has been a wonderful thing and a privilege, and if there are, as one other once said, maybe only three hundred or so of us, and many of them writers themselves, then we have been the fortunate ones but when it means that ‘In a Green Tree’ will not be read by the millions it deserves to reach and not even the three hundred of us it can be a peculiarly unhappy fortune.

Incidentally, the title would appear to come from the ‘blessed sheep of the Lake District, William Wordsworth, a short poem of the same name:

My heart leaps up when I behold 
   A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began; 
So is it now I am a man; 
So be it when I shall grow old, 
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

It all fits. And the child is father to the man. Maybe we can discover the men (and women) these children were father and mother to.
And then there was one.

The Infinite Jukebox: Neil Young’s ‘My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue)’ and ‘Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)’

This time we’ll have a double-header of the same song, by the same artist, only the two songs couldn’t be more different, nor one of them more brilliant.
In 1979, Neil Young was in danger of disappearing. Since the commercial success and reception of Harvest, and hitting the British Top 10 with ‘Heart of Gold’, his albums had grown dark and dense, sales failures with only the odd highlight here and there. Punk and New Wave had threatened the status quo of the ProgRock Gods era, with its short, sharp bursts of intensity and drive and, fairly or not, Young was among those titanic icons we were looking to sweep away.
But Young still had the intensity as well, and the integrity to see Punk as a challenge, a demand to be different, be raw, and personal. He came back with the lengthy ‘Live Rust’ tour, out of which came the mostly live Rust Never Sleeps album, a set split into an acoustic side of Young, a guitar and a harmonica, up there, up front, alone, and an electric side, joined by Crazy Horse.
Young chose one song to start and end the album, to bookend it and to mark the distance travelled between the opening and the closing of the set, with words and small differences to the lyrics to mark how great a gulf lies between the two performances.
In the beginning, it is ‘My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue)’. It’s clean, it’s bright. Young picks out the notes with brio, an elemental melody alternating between notes and chords. His voice, that enigmatic cracked falsetto, rises about the music. He sings about the simple power of rock’n’roll. Because the meaningless words of the title are arranged this way, he can sing/repeat that the music is here to stay, drawing into line the essential unity of the music since the beginning.
And that gives him the famous line: it’s better to burn out than to fade away, the one everyone heeds, the one that Kurt Cobain wrote in his suicide note, so understandable yet so unfitting, from a song whose ethos is life. Young’s out to tie music into everything.
Out of the Blue, though. Not the suddenness of an unexpected change, but rather the leaving of a state of sky-high magnificence. But where does anyone go who has come out of the Blue. Young has a simple answer. They go Into the Black. And they never return.
Young asks if what he sings is the story of a Johnny Rotten, comparing the already crashed-and-burned Sex Pistols with the once equally dangerous Elvis Presley, who became an icon as bloated as everything his youthful energy threatened.
Is this the story of a Johnny Rotten? Young answers himself with a harmonica solo before returning to his theme, only this time it has been reversed. Hey Hey, My My. Rock’n’Roll will never die. But already we’re seeing it in another light, the light of Death.
Seven songs intervene, at least two of them astonishingly brilliant, before Young returns to his leading song. Hey Hey, My My. The simple, acoustic music, with its brightness, its clarity, is insufficient to handle the other side of the coin, to go. Young needs the force of the band, he needs to bury the song in a crushing mountain of sonic fury, in the dirtiest, loudest, deepest and most grungy sound he and they can develop, the blueprint, a decade later, for grunge, for Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, who will not fade away.
We’ve passed into some kind of inferno. Young repeats the words that ended the first version, telling us now that there’s more to the picture than meets the eye. He repeats what happens when you go from Blue to Black. A guitar solo replaces the harmonica. Johnny Rotten is introduced but now he is ‘the’ Johnny Rotten, not ‘a’. And that line we remember is itself changed. It’s better to burn out because Rust Never Sleeps. Decay, deterioration, diminution awaits all of us unless we fight it.
For now this is a war, a war for Young to stay what we must all be, difficult, demanding, tearing down what restricts us, what makes us comfortable, self-satisfied. And Crazy Horse surround him like the band for Hell: how can only four men sound so big as this?
Of the two, my heart lies in ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’, for its sheer power, for its determination to look entropy in the eye and spit in it. For all that it is the sound of darkness, and flame everlasting, it is the sound of Life, more so even that its little brother with its openness. Neil Young met the challenge of irrelevance and threw it down.
Would that we all could do that so well.

Person of Interest: s03 e15 – Last Call

Yes, again it’s a procedural, a one-off, but this time with a far better, much more involving story, and another opponent who offers recurring possibilities but who, in the end, will return only once.

We start in media res, with Finch in the field as a Trainee operator in an NYPD 911 call centre, where he’s got his eye on the Number, Sandra Nicholson, an experienced, wise, calm-under-pressure supervisor (Melissa Sagemiller). Reese and Shaw are on standby outside, amused at Finch’s lowly role.

Meanwhile, at the Precinct, Fusco is enjoying popularity after his takedown of Simmonds, in demand from his colleagues, especially rookie Detective Jake Harrison (Gavin Stenhouse) seeking guidance on working the  murder of Tara Cooke, which is not the street mugging it initially seems to be.

The threat to Sandra comes out of left field: she takes a 911 call from Aaron, a ten year old boy kidnapped from out of his apartment by professionals associated with a Mexican Drugs Cartel: off go Reese and Shaw. But Aaron is merely a lever to use against Sandra. unless she does exactly as she is told by a mysterious voice on her mobile phone, Aaron will be killed.

The vooice is clever. He’s  hacked into the system to divert this call to Sandra, he knows who she is, he knows what’s in her sealed Juvenile Court records (whilst babysitting and bathing a three year old boy, she left him to get a toy from downstairs, during which short period he drowned) and what makes her completely vulnerable, he’s even gotten a webcam attached to her headset so he can see everything she sees. All Sandra has to do is wipe 30,000+ 911calls from two days ago, calls that are part of evidence in innumerable cases.

One of these turns out to be the death of Tara Cooke. Fusco and Harrison’s case dovetails with the Number. Cooke was having an affair with her CEO and wanted to go public. He and his wife wanted her out of the way. In  order to save Aaron’s life, she agrees to do it.

The arrest and confessions of the married pair terminates the contract and spares Sandra the final decision, but both she and Aaron are to be killed anyway, to clear up loose ends. Reese and Shaw save Aaron from a bomb, Finch threatens to electrocute the hitman sent after Sandra, and she gets to relieve a certain amount of tension by belting him across the back of the skull with his pistol.

And Finch arranges a final meeting with Sandra, enabling her to see the boy she fought for and helped save before she returns to work. Shaw produces the only lead they have as to the voice, paired burner phones taped together. One rings: the voice speaks to Finch, assures him Sandra and Aaron are no longer under threat. But Finch… that’s a different matter.

The voice does return, a long way from here, whilst the show has much weightier matters on its mind, close to the end. Were it not for such matters, I don’t doubt this invisible mastermind would have proved to be more of a recurring threat. Indeed, as we will see, there’s a moment when this figure could have been introduced for a half-season arc, but the show chose a different threat.

As for now, though ‘Last Call’ effectively repeats the same trigger – a child under threat – as ‘Provenance’, it’s a far better story, in ppart because it’s not clogged up by implausibility. Sandra’s emotional commitment to saving Aaron comes over as deeper and more effective despite his being a complete stranger, and that’s down to Sagemiller’s performance. She stays graceful, and doesn’t let the emotions overplay, and it doesn’t hurt that whilst she’s a very attractive woman, that’s downplayed: short hair, full police uniform, no obvious make-up. There’s no glamourisation and that keeps her and Sandra grounded to great effect.

All told, a very solid episode that shows that Person of Interest can still succeed admirably even when it detaches itself completely from its overall flow. But with only eight episodes left, and a lot of ground to cover, it’s time that tide rolls over us.

A Contextual History of Wonder Woman (2001)

Nearly twenty years ago, for no better reason than it amused me, and without thought of publication for there was nowhere to publish it then, I wrote the following piece about Wonder Woman, as she was in 2001. It’s sat on my laptop(s) ever since, taking up pixels. In the week when Wonder Woman 750 has appeared, I rediscovered it, and, realising I’d never posted it here, decided to repair that omission. I have neither updated, revised nor ‘improved’ it in any way, the last of which may be fairly easy to tell.

Wonder Woman

If I were to say that the current Wonder Woman is simultaneously the first, third and second to bear that name, and that her mother is, at one and the same time, the third, fifth and first, taking her name and identity directly from the character she inspired fifty years later, who preceded her by several years, you would be lost beyond all hope of comprehension.
Yet such a statement is meat and drink to a comic book fan, who regularly is expected to unravel such complex relationships with ease.
To the layperson, a considerably lengthy explanation is necessary to enable you to understand how such a situation could arise.
The first Wonder Woman (that is, the first first Wonder Woman: don’t worry, all will become clear) dates from 1941, making her debut in an unrelated back-up story in All-Star 8 and proceeding immediately to headline the new Sensation Comic: she gained her own title in a shorter period of time than anyone before her and continued to appear in both Sensation and Wonder Woman until the former’s cancellation in the late 40’s.
Wonder Woman guested with the Justice Society of America in All-Star 11, appeared again in 12, when she was invited to become team secretary, and stayed with the JSA until their final adventure in All-Star 57 (although she played a purely passive and cameo role until issue 38 and was arguably demeaned when Black Canary became the JSA’s first official female member whilst Wonder Woman was never officially upgraded from secretary).
Wonder Woman’s title enjoyed continuous publication throughout the 50’s making her, along with Superman, Batman & Robin and back-up features Green Arrow and Aquaman, one of the few characters to have been continuously published since the Golden Age.
Wonder Woman was the daughter of Hyppolita, Queen of the Amazons. After their escape from bondage at the hands of Hercules, the Amazons withdrew from Man’s World, to Paradise Island. Hyppolita longed for a daughter and petitioned the Goddesses, who instructed her to form a baby girl from the clays of the riverbank. They then invested the model with life, the baby being named Diana and growing to become the best and strongest of the Amazons.
The Amazons learned of war in Man’s World when a USAF craft piloted by Major Steve Trevor accidentally penetrated the protective clouds that shielded Paradise Island from the world. Diana rescued the pilot, the first man she had ever seen, and immediately fell in love with him.
The Amazons resolved to send a representative to Man’s World, to help bring peace. Hyppolita forbade Diana to compete but her daughter entered the competition masked, and duly won out. To go into Man’s World, she was given a special costume, consisting of a red bathing suit top decorated by a golden eagle, blue culottes (later cycle shorts and even later orthodox trunks) spangled with silver stars and red boots (later laced Grecian sandals).
In Man’s World, Diana was given the name Wonder Woman thanks to a chance remark by Steve Trevor. She took over the identity of Army Nurse Diana Prince, who wanted to follow her boyfriend to California (and who, presumably, never came back). Later, Diana Prince entered the military, rising to the rank of Lieutenant.
Wonder Woman had super-strength, speed and agility. She could not fly, but could glide upon wind currents. She was not invulnerable, but was supremely skilled at deflecting bullets with her Amazonian bracelets. She possessed a magic lasso which, once looped around someone, forced them to obey her. She had an invisible robot plane which she controlled with her thoughts.
If Wonder Woman’s bracelets were bound together by a man, she lost all her powers. If she removed them, she lost all self-control and became a raging madwoman.
Wonder Woman was created by psychologist Wiliam Moulton Marston, with the assistance of artist Harry G Peters. Marston had complained about the lack of female role models in comics and was, in effect, challenged to come up with one.

Wonder Woman

The first inarguable appearance of the second Wonder Woman was in Brave & Bold 27, in 1960. B&B had started out as an adventure series, but was phasing into a try-out title, alongside the purpose created Showcase, which had very successfully introduced new (Silver Age) versions of Golden Age heroes such as Flash and Green Lantern. Now the new versions joined with the Big Three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and a couple of other characters to form the Justice League of America, a revival of the JSA-style hero team.
Which led to certain problems with internal consistency.
Wonder Woman (along with Superman and Batman) had been a member of the Justice Society where she had served alongside the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern. She (like they) was now a member of the Justice League, serving alongside the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern. But the Silver Age Flash’s origin had made it plain that, to him as much as us, the Golden Age Flash was nothing but a comic book character. How, then, could Wonder Woman serve with both?
This essential contradiction went unexplored (officially: no doubt it exercised the minds of fans) for a year, until the seminal “Flash of Two Worlds” in Flash 123. This established the fact that there were two Earths, each occupying the same physical space but, due to their fractionally different vibration rates, forever invisible and intangible to one another – that is, until the Silver Age Flash accidentally tuned into the vibration rate of the other world and discovered that on this world the Golden Age Flash was more than just a comic book character.
This story would go on to be the foundation stone of DC’s Multiversal continuity for a quarter century. The Golden Age characters had lived, still lived, somewhat older, greyer, still with their powers but a bit rusty and with less stamina, on what would, in 1963, be termed Earth 2, whilst their newer counterparts lived on Earth 1.
No doubt the terminology was chronologically inverted, but to make that complaint ignores the reality of comic book publishing: Earth 1 was the current Earth, the mainstream, supposedly our own reality but with added superheroes, whereas Earth 2 was just that, a second Earth, a different Earth, where things were parallel but not the same.
There were two Flashes and two Green Lanterns and, within a year or so there would also be two Hawkmans and Atoms. It was less apparent that there also had to be two Supermans, two Batmans (and Robins) and, of course, two Wonder Womans.

Wonder Woman

These, however, were the Big Three, comics’ primal trinity. That there were now two of each was a logical necessity: that these alternates were virtually identical a logical requirement of their status. All three had experienced no break in their publishing history where it could be said that one had been replaced by another, and it was left to the obsessive fan to debate at which exact point DC had begun publishing the adventures of one in succession to the history of the other.
Thus the second Wonder Woman could only clearly be said to have first appeared when the first JLA adventure was published but, though her first unequivocal appearance was written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs, her creator was still Marston.
Though the Earth 1 Big Three were initially avatars of their originals – who would dare tamper with the Holy Trinity? – DC eventually cottoned on to the cute notion that where the early history of each character differed from the final and accepted form of the legend, those early and discarded characteristics now had a home.
Superman’s early days were littered with rejected elements – working for the Daily Star, not Planet, only developing powers as an adult, Luthor with a shock of red hair – which found their home in the Earth 2 version. Rather fewer distinctions could be drawn in the other two. The yellow oval that, in imitation of the Bat-signal, was placed around Batman’s symbol in 1964 was held to belong to the Earth 1 Batman only. And when the Earth 2 Wonder Woman finally made her bow, in 1967, she was found to have retained the original red boots, instead of adopting Grecian sandals.
As DC grew more confident in their parallel world system, moving it from gimmick to a fecund source of stories (sadly, the fecundity was in quantity, not quality), more differences appeared between the two Wonder Womans.
At first, it was the Earth 1 Wonder Woman, losing her powers and adopting a kind of Diana Rigg- Avengers existence, albeit only for a few years whilst her Earth 2 counterpart remained a fully-fledged Amazon. By the late Seventies, however, DC was fully alive to the possibilities of having a second version of a long-established character: things could happen to the Earth 2 Diana that could not be permitted to her more ubiquitous Earth 1 counterpart, because they would represent permanent change.
Thus the Earth 2 Wonder Woman could marry her Steve Trevor (instead of him dying in a hail of bullets, as happened to the Earth 1 version when DC simply ran out of ideas), and become the proud mother of a teenage superheroine: Hyppolita (Lyta) Trevor, aka The Fury, who had half her mother’s Amazonian strengths.
In the late Seventies/early Eighties, Wonder Woman transferred to TV in the bodice busting form of Lynda Carter. At first, her adventures were set in World War 2, with the comic immediately switching over to tales of the Earth 2 Wonder Woman to match: when a later series brought everything up to date, the Earth 1 model resumed control.

Wonder Woman

And a further change occurred in the early Eighties when Wonder Woman adopted a new costume: to tie in with a charitable Wonder Woman Foundation sponsored by DC, issue 300 saw the Amazon swap her golden eagle for a stylised WW logo across her capacious bosom. Naturally, her earlier counterpart retained her eagle.
But despite all this activity, despite her undoubted longevity, Wonder Woman had not, for many many years, been a big seller. With DC gearing up for massive continuity changes in 1985 with Crisis on Infinite Earths, the fate of the Amazing Amazon was just one of the issues under consideration.
Crisis would bring to an end the Multiverse: a battle royal at the beginning of time would shatter the Multiverse from its inception, destroying all of reality for the briefest of spans before Time began anew, as a single Universe. The heroes of many parallel worlds, the Earth 2 Superman and Wonder Woman amongst them, as well as their modern counterparts, bounced back to the present day, in the new Universe, with full memories of the parallel worlds that had existed until just instants before.
The Universe had room in it for one Superman, one Batman and one Wonder Woman: the original, Golden Age versions were displaced, and had to be disposed of.
Superman, the progenitor, the first of the first, had the honour of striking the final victory blow, after which he was spirited away to some unidentified, unreachable paradisial retirement dimension, never to be seen again1. After that, he not only no longer existed, but never had. With the exception of Lois Lane, his wife, rescued from the reality storm as a final gift to go with him into Never-Never Land, his continuity disappeared with the Multiverse. His cousin Kara, aka Power Girl, was carried over into the Universe: in due course her ‘phoney’ memories of a Kryptonian background were replaced by ‘true’ memories of deriving her powers from the long dead Atlantean mage, Arion, her much-removed grandfather.
Batman had already had the decency to be killed off on Earth 2, dying with his boots on, saving Gotham City one last time, from an inadequate and totally inappropriate adversary. However, he left not merely his now-adult Robin, but also a daughter, by his late wife, the Earth 2 Catwoman. This daughter had become a heroine as the Huntress. Robin, of course, had to go, there being room only for one, but most people would have kept the Huntress if they could. However, when not only the character’s parents but her entire raison d’être have suddenly ceased to ever exist, it became entirely too difficult to proceed. Thus Robin and The Huntress were trapped beneath a crumbling building whilst saving lives but, when the rubble had been cleared away, there were no bodies to be seen – as if they had never existed. A new Huntress was created, and is still around to this date, but no-one pretends she has anything like the appeal of the daughter of Batman and Catwoman.
As for the original Wonder Woman, she survived the battle and, like her male equivalent, retired with honours, being translated to Mount Olympus and joining the pantheon of Greek Gods, with her Steve Trevor at her side. After which she ceased to have ever existed2. Her daughter, the Fury, carried on: she was now the daughter of a retrospectively-created Forties Greek Superheroine also called The Fury, and had been raised by an adoptive American family called Trevor.
But, unlike the formerly Earth 1 Superman and Batman, the second Wonder Woman also did not survive Crisis: during the final battle, she was hit by a bolt of Chronal energy flung out by the villainous Anti-Monitor, which reverted her to the clay she had once been. It did more than that: in a manner entirely different to the Crisis itself, it ensured that not only did the second Wonder Woman no longer exist she, like her predecessor, never had existed.

Wonder Woman

The scene was therefore set for a third Wonder Woman to appear, who would not only be the third Wonder Woman but also, naturally, the first. After all, there hadn’t been any before her. Let us think of her as the second first Wonder Woman.
The third Wonder Woman made her debut in Legends, a six issue crossover series drawn by John Byrne, but her true debut was reserved for the first issue of her new series, Wonder Woman 1. She remains created by William Moulton Marston, but this new version was the work of artist George Perez, abetted as scripter (over Perez’s plots) by Greg Potter – replaced after two issues by Len Wein.
Perez’s Wonder Woman resembled the original – shorts became standard female briefs, she wore boots and bore the now official WW symbol – and her origin was clearly based upon Marston’s original. The Amazon race were now the embodiment of the spirits of all women who had died of violence at the hands of men, Hyppolita’s being the only one to have been pregnant at the time, and Diana’s, after her ‘birth’ from the clays of the riverbank, being that of the unborn child.
Once more Steve Trevor’s plane accidentally penetrates the wards separating Paradise Island from Man’s World, but this is now a ploy by Aries, God of War, who is seeking to foment nuclear destruction. Trevor is a much older man now, clearly in his 50’s: an uncle to Diana rather than a would-be lover (his romantic interest will come in the form of an up-dated Etta Candy, once a cartoon fat girl comic relief side-kick, now a capable if overweight Air Force Lieutenant).
And in Man’s World, Diana is given the name Wonder Woman by a publicist wanting to cash in on her symbolic value, and assumed to be a superheroine by virtue of her costume – which is rather the abbreviated battle armour given her by her Amazon sisters.
The third Wonder Woman was briefly a member of Justice League Europe, very briefly that is, and in later years has come aboard the latest JLA, but that was many developments down the line. She was the one and only Wonder Woman: the role of secretary to the JSA – now the hero team of another generation instead of the hero team of another world – was retrospectively vested in 40’s strongwoman Miss America. Until…
But that is to get ahead of our account.

Wonder Woman

For now, the third Wonder Woman stood alone. Her series, directed by Perez, who eventually grew confident enough to script as well as plot/draw, and then to cede the art to Jill Thompson whilst he wrote, proved to be the success Wonder Woman should always have been, justifying DC’s drastic efforts to sweep the decks clear.
Perez moved on after five years, leaving his charge in the hands of writer Bill Loebs. After a couple of years, Loebs introduced the fourth Wonder Woman.
She appeared in ‘The Contest’, along with hot new artist Mike Deodato (one of a number of hot artists whose facility with the human body and the art of story-telling took second place to his ability to generate violent pictures filled with extraneous detail), which ran in Wonder Woman 0, 90-93. Hyppolita, unhappy at the general lack of success of Diana’s mission to Man’s World, called her home and required her to re-submit to the original selection process, to prove herself still the best Amazon: Diana was – you couldn’t see this one coming? – beaten.
The victor in this new contest, and the fourth Wonder Woman, Artemis – a redhead bearing an unfeasibly long and horrendously complex pony-tail – was an Amazon from Bana-Migdoll, being a separated strain of the Amazon race introduced under Perez, who had followed Hyppolita’s more aggressive and vengeful sister, and who had not taken all that well to absorption into the main Amazon race on Paradise Island.
Artemis had a far more aggressive nature, not being content to subdue and overcome evil but being far more inclined to slaughter it outright, in as visually explicit a manner as was compatible with the Comics Code.
The fourth Wonder Woman was a nod to the more violent times, the last thrashings of the grim’n’gritty movement, a warrior (with all that implies).
Fortunately, the perceptive among you will have taken regard of the issue number in which she was introduced. With Wonder Woman (second series) just over half a year from its centenary, a landmark usually marked by an over-sized issue and a life-changing moment, it was fairly clear that Diana’s resumption of her traditional role would be the feature event.
In the meantime, Diana refused to confine herself to Paradise Island, and returned to Man’s World to continue her career, in a fetchingly tight dark blue bra-top and cycle shorts. The two characters ran parallel until the climactic issue 100 when, in battle royal, Artemis paid the ultimate price in defeating a ravening monster, recognising with her dying breath Diana’s greater right to the Wonder Woman name and cossy.
Artemis would return from the dead in a later mini-series, but not as Wonder Woman, and hence has no further role to play in this account.
Diana resumed her role as Wonder Woman, until 1998. With issue 107, her series had been taken over by writer-artist John Byrne who, some eighteen months later, chose to play another game with the character, leading to the fifth Wonder Woman and the onset of total textual complexity.

Wonder Woman

To clear the way for another successor, Diana this time was to die. Like the first Wonder Woman (the first first Wonder Woman, that is) she was translated to Mount Olympus, to become one with the pantheon of Greek Gods, although the second first Wonder Woman would prove to be far less amenable to giving up her humanity for divinity than the first first Wonder Woman had (presumably) been and, after an appropriate length of time, returned to life and her given role.
In the meantime, the fifth Wonder Woman was Hyppolita: Diana’s mother assumed her role in Man’s World, in penance for the part she had to play in her daughter’s death. Hyppolita was the fifth Wonder Woman, but we must remember that she was also the third Wonder Woman, after Diana and Artemis.
Her costume was identical to that worn by Diana and Artemis, except that she wore a skirt of sorts, its length varying with the artist in question (one particularly juvenile minded artist not only drew it as a mini-skirt but planned his shots to give as many glimpses of Amazonian white panties as he could get away with).
Whether this change of apparel was intended to reflect Hyppolita’s greater dignity as an older (albeit still immortal) woman, or as a Queen, remained unspecified.
But Byrne had great ideas in mind. No sooner had Hyppolita appeared on TV for the first time as Wonder Woman than she sparked a memory of recognition in the mind of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. Almost fifty years earlier (in a short story published in 1997) Flash had been captured by an old foe: he had escaped thanks to the advice of a mysterious elderly stranger who resembled his father (and whose identity was obvious to anyone who had ever read more than three comics). Whilst this stranger had been spouting Get-out-of-Jail-free advice, Flash had glimpsed a woman in an overcoat and a strange costume in the background. Meanwhile, in 1998, Jay Garrick was convinced that he had now recognised the mysterious woman.
Hyppolita had no recollection of the incident, but was willing to accompany Jay back in time (courtesy of the invisible robot plane and Paradise Island’s somewhat nebulous situation in the time stream) to 1941 to check out the details.
Needless to say, and without any time-consuming speeches about how at-last-I-realise, the elder Garrick gave the requisite information to his younger self, wrapping up that short-lived mystery with the perfunctoriness it deserved.
But Jay persuaded Wonder Woman to let him visit the old JSA headquarters at the Smithsonian before returning to the present, not thinking that some of his old comrades – not to mention his younger self – might be about. This led to an adventure with Nazi’s that Jay only seemed to remember as it went along.
At the end, Jay returned to the future alone: Wonder Woman had decided (with no apparent explanation) to remain in the Forties, which she did for half an hour, present day time, returning to 1998 having stayed in the Forties until 1950. If you know what I mean.
The moment she returned, Jay remembered all those JSA adventures that had included Wonder Woman. What’s more, now everyone remembered the Forties Wonder Woman, they could all remember how Diana (the second first Wonder Woman) had been given the name of Wonder Woman because of the recollection of the first Wonder Woman (Hyppolita, the third Wonder Woman).
So, just to get this straight, the first Wonder Woman was now Hyppolita, who was actually the third Wonder Woman in current continuity, and the fifth one overall. She was active between 1941 and 1950, as an interlude from being active in 1998-9, in succession to Diana, the first Wonder Woman (the second first Wonder Woman, that is), but the third Wonder Woman overall, who was given the name Wonder Woman in tribute to Hyppolita, who was the second Wonder Woman to succeed her but had appeared forty plus years before her, both taking her name from and bequeathing it to her daughter. Meanwhile, the Earth 2 Diana was actually the first Wonder Woman (the first first Wonder Woman), but she never existed anyway, and the second Wonder Woman was originally the same as the first Wonder Woman, and she never existed anyway either, but not for the same reason. And, so as not to leave her out, the odd one out in all this is Artemis, who was the second, fourth and third Wonder Woman, according to which angle you look at her.
All of which is clear as mud to you, and daylight to the comic book fan, who may not be regarded as quite as big an idiot as you thought. And if you think that’s complicated, let me tell you about the pre-Crisis history of the Spectre.

And here’s one we hadn’t had by then

Saturday SkandiKrime: Wisting – episodes 9 & 10


Normally, I split last week blogs into two parts but after episode 9 I couldn’t think of enough things to say to warrant it. The trouble is, I’m in pretty much the same boat after episode 10.

The problem was that two names became pretty important in the funneling of efforts towards the end. One was Jonas Ravnberg, Line’s murder victim from episode 6, who who turned out to have a red Saab that may have been checked out in connection with the abduction of Cecilia, she of the case where there was the evidence tampering that has seen Wisting cut loose on suspension. The connection was not seen before because Ravnberg’s name was misspelled in the Cecilia case (I’m not even sure I’ve spelt it right here).

It took me a long time to work out what significance Ravnberg had to the story so far. The other name was Daniel Flom, a photographer who seemed to be involved somewhere in the Cecilia case (was he Cecilia’s ex-boyfriend or something like that?) Anyway, he came on the scene because the fit hot 16 year old blonde Linnea (who we discovered to be alive and imprisoned in a near-replica of Sisse’s basement in the recent Darkness: Those Who Kill: is there no originality, even among serial killers?) turned out to have had saucy pictures taken to further a would-be skin-showing modelling career, and he was the photographer.

But I couldn’t really place either in the drama so I was lost a bit through episode 9 and, to be honest, not really caring. Anyway, Wisting went too far in trying to solve the case himself. Having finally persauaded Line to team up with him, they discovered that Ravnberg’s friend, the one who took his dog in, was wearing an axe in his back but that the Police were far keener on arresting Wisting for Obstruction of Justice.

Things got better in part 10. Haglund’s lawyer got Wisting out on bail. Ravnburg’s old girlfriend, Marelen Torunn, came up with a parcel, addressed to Wisting, containing an old video tape showing the genuinely disturbing sight of a clearly petrified Cecilia, blood-smeared and in a tight-fitting dress, nervously dancing for whoever was taking the film. And Marebel provided an address.

Meanwhile, young Benjamin was following Daniel Flom, with Hammer and one of the other members of Wisting’s team, whose name I never got over five weeks, in hot pursuit. Converging pursuers, but not so. They were the red herring: Flom had retreated somewhere isolated to hang himself, but Benjamin saved his life. There was a moment that rose above the general fare as Flom admitted that, yes, he had a thing for scantily clad sixteen year old blondes, but that he only took photos. he had sublimated his kink into photographs, but he never touched them.

Wisting and Line are on their way to the right place, though somehow the pathetic Frank, plus rifle, had gotten there before them, not that there seemed to be an explanation why. More time was given to Line’s renewed relationship with Tommy, the man who ‘ruined her life’, being caught with her with speed and cocaine, and crashing Line out of Police College. Except that they were her drugs and he took the blame and he ruined his life for her sake. If the whole Tommy thing had been of any significance instead of just passing interest, this would have mattered. As it was, Wooden Wisting didn’t react to this revelation at all.

So the Wistings and Frank found poor Linnea, alive, and poor Frank cracked, putting down his rifle where any self-respecting serial killer arriving whilst all the rescuers are bunched in the dungeon could just pick it up. Frank lost it, thought the girl was Ellen, his niece, whose name was scratched into the wall above the one we saw Linnea scratch earlier. Frank thought he’d saved her, and Frank died in that blissful moment, shot with his own rifle by the true killer, the one it had been all along, the supposedly innocent man, Vidor Haglund, the only one left it could plausibly be.

Wisting brought him in, beaten, bloody and soaked. His innocence was proved and he was reinstated. But just who had tampered with the evidence? Someone entered his cottage, looking for the tell-tale evidence against her. Her, it was a her, the arm, the leather glove, a dead giveaway. and by then there was only one plausible culprit, Chief of Police Anne Vetti. Who fixed the evidence to get the killer, and to boost the Police’s morale over the case, for exactly the reasons everyone was convinced Wisting did it. And was stupid enough to admit it without once suspecting Wisting was taping her. Silly woman: if he was expecting you to show up and steal the evidence, why on earth would you not expect him to have a mobile phone taping the conversation from behind the curtain?

Next week, it’s a new series of Inspector Montalbano, which I believe to be very good but which, like Spiral and for the same reasons, I’ve never watched because I didn’t get in at the beginning. So, a few weeks off for me. Wisting was distinctly average, unlike Iceland’s contribution to the Saturday night Scandies. I’d watch another series if they make one, and there are plenty of other books to adapt, even two at a time, but the truth is it’s not good enough to be good and not bad enough to be fun snarking.


Film 2020: A Fistful of Dollars

There are no partitions between single movies and boxsets in Film 2020, with a couple of trilogies to fit in as the season progresses. The first of these is the ‘Man with No Name’ trilogy that established Clint Eastwood as one of the most successful actors of the past half century, courtesy of a four DVD set acquired from eBay for 99p plus postage. Can you deny that is a real bargain?

A Fistful of Dollars, appearing in its own credits without the indefinite article, has a more complicated background that I was aware of. Some aspects of it are world-famous: Eastwood’s first starring role, Director Sergio Leone’s first star movie, the founding of the spaghetti-western genre at a time when Hollywood was abandoning the traditionlly American form of the Western.

But I wasn’t previously aware that the film was made in 1964, and was Italy’s top-grossing film despite critical panning, but did not appear world-wide – i.e., in America – for another three years, when it was critically panned in many places. Nor was I aware that the film had an international cast, few of whom spoke each other’s languages, and whose dialogue, in accordance with Leone’s practice, was overdubbed, the film being shot silent. It shows too, in places, with imperfect matching of voice to lip: indeed, the main female role, of Marisol (Marianne Koch) is voiced by a different actress altogether.

And the anglocentric names under which the cast appear in the credits are all pseudonyms, as was the original Director credit to ‘Bob Robertson’. When the film was digitally restored in 2006, Leone was credited under his own name but all the other psueudonyms were retained, including ‘Dan Savio’ for the creator of the soundtrack,  Ennio Morricone.

And lastly, a large part of the reason for the film’s delayed release in America was the fear of legal action from the Japanese Director, Akira Kurosawa, the film bearing, shall we say, a more than passing resemblance to his 1961 film, Yojimbo.

I doubt you need anything like a synopsis for a film of this stature and endurance but here’s a brief one anyway. A stranger, obviously a gunfighter, arrives in the small Mexican town of San Miguel, discovering from the old tavern keeper, Silvanito (Jose Calva) that the town is split between two gangs, the Baxters under Sheriff Baxter (Wolfgang Lukshy) and the Rojo brothers, Benito, Esteban and Ramon (Gian Maria Volente, credited as Johnny Wels). The stranger decides to rid San Miguel of both gangs, by plotting with and double-crossing both. He provokes the Rojos into slaughtering the weaker Baxters but is captured and heavily beaten himself. After escaping and recovering, he engineers a shoot-out on the main street, killing all the Rojos, confronting and killing Ramon, though Silvanito saves him from being ambushed by Esteban. He then rides out of town, never to be seen again.

Put so very bluntly, the film can be seen to be composed of characteristic Western tropes of a kind all but played out, and as I’ve already said, Hollywood was already riding the genre out of town. But Leone, who  loved Westerns but was angry at how they’d been allowed to stagnate in the Fifties, brought a new perspective to the film, a directorial style that emphasised the emptiness and cruelty of the near-abandoned town, accompanied by the innovative use of close-ups as beats in the story, drawing the audience’s attention, rather than the reaction shots American film usually confined them to.

And in Eastwood we have a very different version of the Western hero. On the surface, he’s the same, the soft-spoken stranger who drifts in out of nowhere, cleans up the town, and drifts on again. In that aspect, he’s Shane, come to right what’s not his mess but which his nature compels him to resolve. Indeed, at one point, Eastwood’s stranger mentions a friend who needed help but didn’t get it, implying that he’s repaying a psychic debt or, as we would now put it, ‘paying it forward’.

But the Stranger is no parfit, gentil knight, no man who is not himself mean walking down mean streets. He’s a killer, a fast gun, fastest gun in the West, but he’s not a good guy, which is what attracted Eastwood to the part after years of being a good guy on Rawhide (I remember him as Rowdy Yates, or at least I remember watching him). The Stranger sees the opportunity to play both sides off against the middle, he being the middle, looking to profit from both sides.

No, the Stranger is taking money from both sides for information setting up the other, and when he’s caught by the Rojos, it’s when he’s searching for the chest of gold they have stolen by massacring two platoons of Mexican Cavalry expecting to buy arms and ammunition from the US Cavalry.

But in its final third, it’s as if the film starts to lose the courage of its convictions. I’ve mentioned Marianne Koch as Marisol, the film’s main female role and its third credited star. Koch, a German actress already experienced in Italian spaghetti-westerns, only has a minor, and entirely passive role (this is not a female friendly film) as the beautiful wife and mother, stolen from her family to feed Ramon Rojo’s lust, who cannot even see her little son.

When the Stranger frees her, killing five of Rojo’s men and smashing up the place, it’s to provoke the Mexicans into thinking the Baxters are behind it. But then he sends the re-united family off with a wad of cash that looks to be at least a substantial proportion of the money he’s already collected from both sides. And later, when he learns Silvanito has been captured by the Rojos and is being tortured for the Stranger’s whereabouts, he immediately appears to take them down.

Yes, he has more or less recovered, and he was going to do it anyway, but placing it in the context of Silvanito’s plight borrows back a large part of the classic Western hero’s altruism. If the Stranger is an anti-hero, as Eastwood relished being, the end of A Fistful of Dollars goes some way to re-wrapping him in the trappings of Shane and his kind.

Especially as his departure is empty-handed, the gold forgotten.

It doesn’t stop the film from being a taut thriller, if a frequently slow-moving one. But it’s slowness is a burning one, and Eastwood draws and holds the eye at every moment. Yes, it’s only a waymarker for the more bloody and more realistic westerns to come – over fifty men, and one woman are shot in this film and the only one who bleeds is Esteban Rojo, shot in the head: the only other blood spilled comes from the Stranger and Silvanito, and that’s from being beaten up – and yes, it blurs its severe tone by the end, and yes, it’s made on the cheap and you can tell, but it’s nevertheless a classic, and a game-changer. And, like the prospect of Casablanca with Ronnie Reagan as Rick, the film is unthinkable with Henry Fonda or Charles Bronson in the lead role, both of whom turned it down, as did James Coburn, who would have been good.

According to Wikipedia, Eastwood was tenth choice for the part, and benefitted from a recommendation by ninth choice Richard Harrison, who claims his turning the role down was his greatest contribution to Cinema by passing it on to Eastwood. You look at Eastwood and his career, and the sheer longevity of his time in the spotlight and you imagine that if it hadn’t been this, something else would have happened to break him world-wide, but that isn’t always the case. Some things can only happen under a precise and unforeseeable set of circumstances: Harrison takes the part, or Fonda, Bronson, Coburn or any of the others  and one day there’s a three line obituary mentioning the death of an actor who once played Rowdy Yates, second star in a long-running TV western.

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.