Another triple shot of Thurberesque humour on a grey Sunday morning when it’s actually been raining for the first time in ages.
I could certainly wish to have a more professional DVD boxset of this charming series, instread of one transferred from videotape of varying length and quality, but if the professionals won’t out one out, then this is the next best thing. Interestingly, there was an ironic reflection over the three episodes, which grew funnier in inverse proportion to print quality.
‘Nobody Ever Kills Dragons Anymore’ was short of its regular introduction, and short of some of the surreality the series so lovingly presents. This was ironic in itself as it involved our regular hero and James Thurber substitute, John Monroe (William Windom) fantasising himself into a Walter Mitty-style adventure of beautiful Russian spies (Svetlana Mischoff) and melodramatic espionage involving an anemy known only as the Dragon. This comes from John’s feelings of his life, their life, being in a rut, of lacking creative control at work, of just midlife crisis in general. They’ve had a bottle of champagne in the fridge for three years, saving it for a specisal occasion: three years!
What was so nice about the episode was its simplicity, both in the down-to-earth presentation of the situation and in its working-out. Ellen, the sensible wife (Joan Hotchkis), accepts their situation as normal, but a chance remark by John over the phone that he hasn’t thought of her all morning has her reflecting on how she’s still in dressing gown and hairnet and concerned only with the laundry. But Ellen, for all her exasperations at his cartoonist mind, still loves her husband very much, and wants both of them to still have moments of magic in their lives. So John comes home to a very seductive Ellen, hair-styled, new, long, sweeping dress and Lydia (their daughter) at a friend’s house for the night. And the champagne open…
It’s the kind of scene that, in an unsympathetic light, could look awfuly chauvinist (we are, remember, looking at a show from 1969/70), but for the fact that there’s an underlying sweetnes to it. Ellen isn’t just doing this for John, she’s doing it for herself. This is a couple that are still in love, and not merely in the parents-been-together-for-years fashion. Not too many laughs but still touching.
‘Seal in the Bedroom’ based itself around one of Thurber’s most famous cartoons, using that first as a template for the phiulodsophical heart of cartooning, namely what makes something funny. A husband and wife are in bed together, the caption is “All right, have it your way! You heard a seal bark.” There is, of course, a seal on the headboard behind them.
Now I was with John, I found it instantly hilarious. His editor, Hamilton Grealey (Harold J Stone) doesn’t, focussing entirely too much on the concrete idea of what the seal is doing in the bedroom in the first place. Ellen thinks it’s funny but she sees it as the wife humouring the husband. Lydia (Lisa Gerritsen) thinks it’s a dog, not a seal. John’s friend, humour writer Philip Jensen (Henry Morgan) sees it in psychological terms: the seal is John’s mother, coming between him and Ellen, gearing the episode up for a second half in whoich John’s mother is invited to visit, turning up as a monster disdaining her daughter-in-law and acting with a seal’s mannerisms, before the joke was completely concretised by Grealey turning up with an actual seal.
Funniest of the lot, but transferred from a wobbly tape that made your eyes feel sea-sick, compounded by off-register and unnatural colour, was ‘The Saga of Dimity Ann’, a wonderfully funny farce about Lydia’s cat, Dimity Ann, being hostile to John until he decides that one of them has got to go. There’s a brilliant mid-episode sequence with William Windom acting against the cat as he lays a complex and silent trap to capture it and release it miles away, followed by another lovely little performance from Gerritsen as a little girl concluding that the pet she lives has run away because it hates her. A true gem, with of course a ‘happy’ ending. For Lisa, if not John.
I really should watch this more frequently. I forget how appealing it is until I see it again.