Lou Grant: s04 e10 – Boomerang

After last week’s serious and concentrated effort, there was another fallback on Lou Grant, a neatly constructed but somehow blurred effort on a crusading subject that needed to spice itself up with an intertwined theme that stood out just a little bit too much as irrigation of a dry subject.

The episode’s title came over as misleading, given the subject matter, and it was explained only at the end. A more appropriate title would have been ‘dumping’, but whereas we in Britain regard this as a fairly innocuous word, I was surprised to learn, several years ago, that in America it was a direct and immediate connotation with shit.

Our topic for today was the concerning one of American companies producing such things as pesticides, medicines and birth control devices that fail to meet requisite standards, being banned in the USA but then being exported to Third World countries where the danger to people is of far less concern than the recovery of the profit.

Our lead-in was melodramatic, a middle-aged man being rushed into hospital in a Central American country with a close-up on a respirator. The man is the Trib’s veteran foreign affairs correspondent, Hedley Freeman and he dies of a heart attack because the respirator failed. It is a defective product made by an LA company, banned in America.

It was an important story on a socio-liberal scale, and even more so in an age that was only rapidly learning to be cynical, and it rapidly put out tendrils to demonstrate that such behaviour was pretty common, though not universal. There were interviews that showed the companies glossing over their actions by claiming they were serving the greater good, such as combatting overpopulation, some of it coming over as zealous, some of it as self-serving. The American Government was drawn into the cycle, ordering goods it wouldn’t allow to be used on its own people, to ‘assist’ other countries.

But this was a documentary subject that couldn’t afford a human element to exemplify the importance of the topic without either narrowing the focus or minimising the effect, so it was overlaid with an in-house human element in the form of Sydney Kovac, guest star Michael Constantine.

Kovac is a guest columnist, a veteran reporter, a successful book writer and a contemporary of Lou, who isn’t quite as pleased to see him as you might think, which is a sovereign clue that wearen’t meant to treat him as a goody. Kovac likes the dumping story. He practically takes it over, driving it forward, usurping Lou’s prerogative as City Editor and directing a hyper-enthused Rossi and Billie, together with other reporters, in hot pursuit.

Lou doesn’t like it. Some of it is personal: he, not Kovac is the editor, but a lot of it is not having all the tenable facts, and he winds up being sent to Coventry over his insistence his reporters do all their assignments, not just this fun one. Kovac keeps wanting to go with it, now, but Lou demands a proper job.

And a very proper job is done and ready to print. Except that Kovac isn’t just guest columning at the Trib, and he steals the story and gets it into print, with non-credit for Rossi and Billie, before the Trib can. That’s our human drama, confected to make the medicine go down, and it’s just not worthy of it. Kovac turns out to be a slimeball, all ends up, just as he was signalled to be.

As for ‘Boomerang’, it falls to Mrs Pynchon to coin it, unable to drink coffee whose beans, grown overseas, may carry the residue of the deadly pesticides banned in the USA. America dumps its poison on Third World countries and, just like the boomerang, it comes back to the hand, in the form of imports. A cycle, a self-destructive cycle.

With this episode, I’m exactly half way through season 4. It’s clearly a weak season as the past several episodes have shown. I’m way beyond any point I watched to first time round, and the big question is, slump or decline? Either way, I’ve come this far so I’ll continue to the end, which means another 34 weeks, but I suspect that the show has probably passed its peak. I’ll have a conclusion on this in another eight month’s time.

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