As one series enters its fifth and final season, so does another. The circumstances are very different: Lou Grant was renewed for a full season of 24 episodes with the same prospect as always of renewal the following summer as it had always had: as long as it remained sufficiently commercial. When cancellation came, it would be argued by some that that was the only reason the show didn’t get a season 6. It would be argued by others, including Edward Asner, that this was far from the cause.
But we’ll look at that in a bit more detail at the other end of the season. For today, we’ll celebrate a strong opening episode that concerned itself with personal stories to which the underlying newspaper business was once again suitable McGuffins, and the show benefitted from that.
Remember Ted McCovey (Cliff Potts)? He was Billie’s boyfriend, Baseball catcher turned scout in season 4. We haven’t seem him since because he’s always on the road, but he and Billie have been having a whale of a time when their schedules coincided. Ted’s back in town now and wants to see Billie, he has something to say to her. Unfortunately, her new story, about the Smog Board and how it is conducting the business of protecting Los Angeles from its perma-smog, gets in the way and she can only stay about five minutes. Ted would rather wait for a more propitious moment but Billie insists he says what he has to say. Which is, Will You Marry Me?
Billie’s in shock. Of course she’s in shock, we wouldn’t have a story without it. Much of the episode is taken up with her working out how much sense marriage works. She’s been married before, and not just to her job, she hadn’t really bargained on marriage at his point in her life (that’s the job coming in again) she’s immediately uncomfortable around Ted and especially his baseball pals who are crude and rough and very masculine in their frame of mind.
Of course we know she’s going to end up acepting him, it’s right there in the episode title, not to mention inherent in the show’s ethos. In the meantime, the show has an underplayed B story that really deserved a little more air-time, along a parallel line.
This is Lou’s youngest daughter, Janie (Barbara Dirickson), in town on business, setting up a meal with her Dad but real nervous and awkward with it, as is Lou. It comes out at dinner, Janie determined to be honest with her Dad. It comes down to the job – as Janie knows, she being an editor and writer herself, albeit on a trade paper – and how it constantly pulled Lou away from family events. And Janie is more estranged from her father thaan her other sisters because she was affected most, as Lou’s professional life got more intense.
Lou’s both accepting of his failure and defensive about it. It’s a conditon of the job, nothing more, nothing less, and whether it ought to be is not going to be discussed, especially when it’s playing into Billie’s fears about a permanent set up with Ted, and doubly especially when you know it’s going to bugger things up for an ending.
So it goes. The Smog Board story, which is actually a substantial issue in its own right, treated seriously and given multiple angles is finished two hours ahead of deadline on the day before Billie and Ted’s wedding, only for the computer system to crash and dump everything. Billie has to rewrite until 3.00am, Lou has to reorganise the paper and let Janie down by cancelling his flight to Chicago where all three daughters are meeting up.
But there are happy endings. Billie and Ted marry. Mrs Pynchon makes a late appearance, acknowledging her stroke by limping, slowly, on a cane. And when Rossi drivesLou home, there are three gorgeous young women waiting on his step for him, Janie and her sisters, switching to LA for a soppy, sentimental ending.
I liked it. It was as light as a well-cooked Victoria Sponge Cake, but life is entitled to variety and light is sometimes good. The final season starts. We’ll be here until February with it.