The watchword for this blog is ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’, which means that an episode-by-episode blog of a tv series has to go on, even if I’m not really enjoying it as much as I would like. Only extreme cases (remember Fortitude? I wish I didn’t) justify dropping it.
I used to love Lou Grant. It was a staple of the week’s viewing forty years ago, and my memories of it are all fond. I still like the cast and their interplay, their intensity and integrity sitting alongside their plain human sensibilities. And the show’s virtues and passions aligned with mine, and I’ve not changed that much in the decades that have passed.
Perhaps its because of my age, ironically, that episodes like this one leave me cold ad, worst of all, bored. This is another of the crusading episodes, the exposure of a disturbing situation, alerting its audience to the injustices in society, whilst contriving a happy ending: two of them, in fact.
The theme was the aged in Society, care of the elderly. I’m not disparaging that, it’s clearly an important topic, in fact it’s Worthy within the show’s parameters. Unfortunately, this is another case where the approach is overly didactic. You could have replaced every member of the cast with someone else and the episode would have been the same, and that’s a problem.
The episode started melodramatically as a man wheels an elderly lady in a wheelchair, who’s obviously confused and frightened, into an office. He, John Bertram, owns a Home, she’s one of his patients, the Government hasn’t paid for her for six months and she’s now their problem.
That’s the cue for the Trib’s investigation of Homes in general and Bertram’s in particular. Billie goes undercover as an aide to see how horrific and uncaring the standard of care is. Bertram’s clearly only in it for the money, and out to maximise profits by minimising standards, though the show undermines itself by establishing twice that Bertram could get his money for Mrs Ford if he filled in certain forms: it was a major, logical inconsistency that was yet more lazy scripting, wanting the shock effect of the stark opening that should never have been happening.
At the same time, Lou’s morning jog in the park sees him palling up with Fred Horton (Jack Gilford), an active retiree, humourous, lively, optimistic, whose continually looking for a job in the face of society that’s pushed him out. Fred’s a product of an age when the good guys worked and the ones that didn’t were bums: pychologically, he cannot shift his thoughts away from thinking he’s become a bum.
The problem with this episode, like others, is that the story can’t develop organically from the people: they are cyphers in the face of a series of moments that drop seamlessly into place, not with the remorseless inevitability of human existence but with the remorseless inevitability of a cheap script, hitting its numbers. Of course Mrs Ford dies from the shock of being used. Of course the Doctor doesn’t give a damn about Mrs Keaton’s serious pain at night.
And, of course, Lou finds a job for Fred as a surrogate grandad supervising kids in a playground, and of course Billie finds away for Mrs Keaton’s hassled daughter to give her mother a better standard of life, between Daycare in the day and Home care in the evenings. And equally of course, Bertram gets hit with multiple charges from the D.A.
All’s well that ends well.
I still like the series, but my enthusiasm is being severely drained by episodes like this. There are five episodes left in season 2 and I’m currently contemplating taking a break, if I can find something suitable to do on Thursday mornings. Just for a change of pace. We’ll see.