After a generally strong run in the first half of its final season (though we’re not halfway until next week), Lou Grant slipped back quite a way with this something-or-nothing episode that, frankly, had no idea of what it really wanted to be about, and threw in a bunch of ideas that never completely gelled.
The show opened dramatically, but entirely misleadingly, with a robbery-at-gunpoint raid on a Mr Gintys (a fast food restaurant chain) turned hostage situation. The two schlubs react to the arrival of the Police by taking a birthday party of eighter-year-olds hostage. The Police agree a getaway car, the nobodies take two kids with them, including Ricky Hamlin, but the car’s booby-trapped to blow a tires and they’re easily captured.
All very exciting, in a dull, low-key way, for this kind of up and in your face action is not the Lou Grant way. What is to be the show’s only attempt at a theme is introduced during this set-up, being Television’s advantage over Newspapers in bringing immediate, instantly updateable news to the public.
Billie is the reporter assigned to cover the story and the case. There are lashings of free trips and outings for the kids, mostly organised by Mr Gintys. Here, we insert the first, albeit quickly abandoned note of cynicism, as Lou considers the publicity these generous acts are garnering for the chain. but its quickly superseded by Billie’s lack of warmth towards Vivian Hamlin (Marcia Rodd), Ricky’s mom. Billie thinks Vivian is manipulating Rickie to act more disturbed than he is, to get compensation.
Lou likes the angle but, providing another angle that the story never quite integrates properly, intervenes to rewrite Billie’s story, punching it up. where Billie bent over backwards to conceal her dislike for Vivian hamlin, Lou punches it up good and strong. The word ‘coaching’ is introduced.
Lou’s rewrite leads to Billie being sub poenaed as a witness for the defence, not to mention blowing her top at Lou for damaging her integrity as a writer but being bought off by being asked to rewrite a piece another reporter has filed, which is supposed to act as a comic coda but which instead suggests Billie has no principles either.
No, the story is about Judge Strohmeyer’s decision to let television cameras into his courtroom to record the trial. Cameras in Court: good or bad? This is the subject for philosophical discussion throughout the remainder of the episode, with the kidnapping case and the harm it has done to the children affected, the evidence.
However, here we have a programme which cannot side against television because it is television nor can it side against newspapers because it is about a newspaper and which is not noted for coming out with decisive opinions at the best of times so the whole thing is an exercise in wasted time because whilst it can show the judge hamming it up in a re-election campaign (to his detriment), it can’t show anyone else under the influence. By definition, the entire episode is pointless because all it can do is say, ‘On the other hand…’
So, how does it end up? The nobodies are convicted and put away. The hamlins get their compensation as Vivian wanted it, in therapy for Ricky. And yes, she’s open about it, she did coach Ricky. For her son she’d have done anything, however ‘dirty’, to get him the help he needed. So there. So what?
As an aside, the TV reporter, Peggy Daye, was played by Robin Rose, a nice looking lady who has only four credits on imdb, this being her third, after a four year hiatus: her only other credit came 28 years later. On the other hand, she may – or may not – also be known as Robin Peerson Rose, a consistent performer including multiple appearances in Grey’s Anatomy: I just found that a bit more interesting that the episode.