Lou Grant: s04 e04- Sting

I’m at a loss to decide whether my general lack of interest in this week’s Lou Grant is down to me and feeling incredibly dull,or to the story being slight at the best, and uninvolving.

The plot attempts to be complex but is actually very simple.Fed-up of a two-hour freeway drive to work each day, Charlie Hume moves himself and his wife Marion into an apartment in town that’s 15 minutes away by bus and rents his house out to a ‘Mr and Mrs Thatcher’. The Thatchers make extensive changes, have visitors all of the time and generally act suspiciously.

Instead of being crooks, they turn out to be Law Enforcement. Charlie’s house has been fitted out with elaborate, concealed but comprehensive surveillance and is being used to offer bribes to City Councillors and Zoning Commissioners to vote a certain way over prestigious undeveloped land.

There’s a degree of confusion over the truth of this, necessary only to extending the story to last 46 minutes and doing little to puzzle the audience over what to actually believe (or, in at least one case, interest the audience enough to care all that much), but ‘Thatcher’ is not ‘Thatcher’, nor is he ‘Dylan’, as he claims to be when he shows the upset Charlie and Lou what they’ve done to keep Charlie from voiding the Lease, he’s actually Collins of the State’s Attorney-general’s Office, not LAPD as he let them assume.

Lou Grant being Lou Grant, it had to have it’s liberal viewpoint, here represented by Rossi, angry over the whole concept of Police entrapment. It’s a valid point: on the one hand, Law enforcement believes these people are dirty and willing to go on the take, and are setting out to get hard evidence of that, on the other these people have only committed bribes because Law enforcement has offered them the money. Would the crime exist if the ‘Police’ hadn’t sought it out?

You’re not going to get answers here, and it’s infuriating to have a question like that, which is a serious issue in a modern society, being raised in such a wishy-washy fashion, with one simplistic argument on each side and withdrawing with a determination to to reach a conclusion.

The show does try to hint at where its instincts lie but in an oblique manner that doesn’t begin to work. at the top of the episode, Rossi is sent out to Hollywood Boulevard after a sighting of a missing woman. Trying to get information, he speaks to a long-legged, blonde-haired, short-dressed woman who’s actually an undercover Policewoman. So he’s sensitive to the appearance of malfeasance that might not actually be malfeasance, but rather be unfortunate circummstances.

Which is then echoed, ineffectually, at the bottom of the episode when Rossi interviews the soon-to-be-indicted Councilman Garvey, who presents his intended defence as his having heard of corruption and been conducting his own investigation, taking the money to help iidentify who is behind this. It’s ineffectual because we see Rossi fall into the sting innocently, but Garvey only comes up with this excuse after he’s denied things utterly, and John Considine plays him as shifty.

Speaking of actors, Thatcher was played by Larry Linville. I very rarely recognise guest stars’ in the credits but Larry Linville played Major Frank Burns in the early series of M*A*S*H*, so it was nice to see him again.

So, no, not for me this time. And I think it was the episode that’s at fault, not the blogger.

Lou Grant: s03 e14 – Brushfire

The first Lou Grant episode of the Nineteen Eighties (broadcast on 7 January) was an unusual amalgam of elements, lacking the show’s usual ‘agenda’-based storytelling. It started at night, in the heat, the dry Southern California summer, the Santa Anna winds drying things out and a fire reported in a canyon that expands rapidly and almost uncontrollably until seven fires are burning, home are being evacuated and burned down, people are losing everything, 2,000 acres alight. In view of the current Australian fires, this became an oddly topical story.

Into this scenario, of panic and desperation, the show introduced several elements, the major aspects of which was the coverage of the ever-developing fires. Rossi and Animal on the scene, Billie doing re-writes at the paper despite her father Paul Newman being in Town to see her (cue for a few jokes there), Lou and Donovan managing calls and a substantial role for Mrs Pynchon for once, caught in the middle of things at her niece’s riding school, rescuing a forgotten horse and pitching in as a volunteer with that uncmplaining sense of duty that’s much derided but nonetheless heartfelt.

Also in the middle of this was Charlie Hume and his wife Marion. Their marriage is in difficulties, they’ve been growing apart since the kids moved out, Marion wants a job, to feel independent, Charlie’s crusty enough to resent that: they’re selling the house, they’re separating, they will end up getting a divorce.

But the house they’re selling is in a canyon, and the fire spreads. Charlie panics, grabs a bundle of stuff to take with them and flee. This includes one specific dress of Marion’s. They’re supposed to evacuate but Charlie’s gone nuts, refuses to give up the house, dowses the roof continually with water. Marion won’t leave without him.

It’s a sharp contrast to a guy named Bergman that Animal meets, who’s lost his home, though thankfully not his partner. Bergman’s sanguine about the house: it’s only a house after all. But like Animal he’s a photographer, and he has lost a lifetime’s negatives, irreplacable photos, irrecioverable memories. Yet he bounces back, borrowing a camera from Animal, gifted several rolls of film. Bergman can start again with just the clothes on his back.

Charlie can’t or won’t. Adam Wilson loses his house to the fires but Charlie fights to keep his and succeeds. He and Marion are full of adrenalin at the outcome, too many good things happened in that house, Charlie says, to not fight for it. The metaphor is obvious but not plastered in your face, and Marion is more impressed by the dress Charlie chose to save, because he always thought she looked great in it.

Yes, it’s a bit of a cliche, the stress that pushes a failing couple back into each other’s arms, the adrenalin solution. Forty years later, a series like Lou Grant would make that into an ongoing strand, explored over several weeks, to see if there’s a lasting effect. Forty years ago, a happy endng was taken for granted, and for once why not?

The episode was at its weakest in hinting at a firebug as the cause of the disaster, but redeemed itself with a neat twist. Animal has been quick on the scene to several fires recently and the Fire Department suspect him. They’ve been following him for the last sixty days. Animal knows – he may look and act goofy but young Mr Price is no fool – and has taken several shots of his shadow. Except that his Fire Department shadow is played by Tony Perez, who I remember for a substantial recurring role in Hill Street Blues, and this is a completely different guy: Animal has been snapping the firebug.

A good, professional, well-made episode that highlighted the paper’s working in a time of developing news, and which used its other themes wisely and not too obtrusively. This is why i like Lou Grant. Edward Asner’s a large part of it too.


Lou Grant: s02 e15 – Scam

White collar criminal

Maybe it was just the day on which I watched this, but for me this was one of those episodes of Lou Grant that has just not weathered the intervening years well. It was both earnest and dry, and its subject, which might have been expository in 1978, is too well worn now to be the kind of crusade the show was about. Though you can hardly say it’s not got a contemporary element to it.

The show’s initial hook was that Lou was being taken out for a meal by his son-in-law to whom, in the early years of marriage to his daughter Lou had helped out financially to the tune of over $5,000. The man had done good and, over Lou’s protestations, wanted to repay him, with interest, threefold: $15,000.

Lots of people had advice for Lou on what to do with this windfall, with Charlie insistent on introducing Lou to his financial adviser, a real wizard named David Milburn (guest star John Considine). Next up was Dr Jack Barnes, one of ultimately over 70 doctors accusing Milburn of being a crook and a scammer.

Finacial stuff is inherently dry, and Milburn was just that little bit too obvious a slimeball to be interesting. It was all one PONZI scheme, but the body of the show revolved around Charlie digging in his heels, refusing to accept Milburn could possibly be a crook, and only being convinced when the man did a runner.

Then it was self-recrimination time, which was the only part of the episode where the show escaped its didactic edge. Charlie’s lost practically everything he’s worked for over thirty years and is blaming himself left, right and centre. he’s feeling itall the more because his wife Marion (Pegy McCay playing her usual, sensible supporting role) won’t blame him. He wants to make himself feel better by having her call him all the names he’s calling himself, but she won’t give him the satisfaction, not out of some sadistic sense of game-playing and punishment, but becaus she is a wifewho loves her husband and is genuinely glad to still have him. It’s an altogether human moment in an episode that, try as it might, can’t escape from its theme.

Milburn’s smug self-satisfaction is hardly dented when the Judge goes against the prevailing trend of wrist-slapping and gives him ten years, nor when he tries to pull the smarm to Charlie over how this is all a horrible mistake and he will make restitution. The show is better when Charlie tell’s Milburn he doesn’t want to know what Charlie’s thinking than in Charlie’s overly quick recovery of his normal, easy-going temperament. What the episode needed was more sense of human drama than the adopting of convenient roles it offered.

As for Lou’s money, that was offered up in a quasi-comedic close, showing Lou had bought a baseball team – a Little League team and a pretty inept one, very Charlie Brown-ish – and gotten very worried about th cost of rreplacing lost balls at $2.50 a pop.

Like I say, on another day, I might have been more sympathetic overall. This just wasn’t the best episode to watch this week.

Lou Grant: s01 e18 – Sect

For once, this was a personal, character-driven episode of Lou Grant, albeit one centred on a difficult topic that the show handled fairly in its typical style.

The story started with a couple of disparate elements, though it showed its hand rather early as to which would be the main thread. There was Billie, forced to work with veteran, and stiff-necked writer Mel Cavanaugh on the Education beat, there was Mrs Pynchon demanding the paper appoint a new Religion editor without having to go the length of a Papal Conclave, and there was Charlie Hume, whose picture appears in Encyclopedia Brittanica against mild-mannered, kicking off in anger and frustration about practically everything. Even to Mrs Pynchon. Which of these is an episode long story?

The bug up Charlie’s butt is his son, Tommy, or rather Visnu Das (David Hunt Stafford). Tommy used to be your typical California kid, doing nothing, obsessed with his motorcycle, with the girl from Illinois. Now he’s joined the Hare Krushna sect. He’s shaved his head, adopted another name, wears saffron robes and chants in the street. He’s given up all his possessions and his fleshly urges. There is a difference of opinion over whether the Hare Krishnas accept donations, or just plain beg. And it’s doing Charlie’s head in.

What the programme is about is the question of whether Tommy genuinely believes in what, in 1978, was considered a fringe/outre ‘religion’, or whether he has been brainwashed by a cult, and is saying only what he is programmed to say. To Charlie, it’s obviously the latter. He just doesn’t understand what Tommy sees: all he can see are the robes, the ‘begging’, the filth, poverty and squalor (none of which the show depicts, suggesting that at least the last two of these are in Charlie’s head only).

Tommy, or Visnu Das, a name that represents Tommy’s love for Krishna and his desire to serve him, is calm, steady and happy. He tries to explain himself to his parents, or rather his mother since his father’s ears are closed tight, though all he can produce is happy-clappy platitudes, albeit sincere platitudes. The show would have been substantially stronger for having had the time to show Tommy as he used to be and what brught him to Krishna, but that’s being unreasonably demanding of impossibilities.

Charlie remained steamed up. Everyone around him was being fair to Tommy and to Hare Krishna (the one imdb review praises the show for the fairest depiction of the sect), which only fuels Charlie’s paranoia.

So he turns to de-programming. This was the moment I started to worry about where the show might go, though I should have known better. First we had a couple of parents who had had their daughter snatched from a cult (carefully distinguished to be not Hare Krishna), and who wanted to help others. This was cleverly handled: they did the talking, she sat between them, silent as they congratulated themselves on ‘saving’ her, or infantilising her which was what it looked to me. When the girl spoke up for herself, it was to echo Mummy and Daddy. She was happy to be doing something worthwhile now. She was studying Real Estate.

But this led to the seriously grubby part of the story, bringing in the actual deprogrammers. Tommy was to be lured to Lou’s apartment, alone, and there be brainwashed out of his beliefs. The elements of the deprogramming were elucidated by Lou, who didn’t like the deprogrammers from the start. As the details of restraint, imprisonment, intimidation etc., built up, Charlie began to get visibly nervous. The turning point, the moment the show opted for the mandatory happy ending, was when Tommy came alone. ‘He believed me,’ Charlie muttered, his conscience and his previously overridden love for his son kicking in, all at once. Whilst Lou got rid of the bad guys, Charlie walked in the rain, trying for the first time to understand his son, and accept that what felt like, what was a complete rejection of everything Charlie’s life represented might be a necessity for Visnu Das.

And the show neatly ended on Charlie’s use of the words Lou had intended but never got to use on his daughters, who never messed up and never got any ofthe Talks he’d planned: you’re still my son. Which is enough, and more than enough.

As for those other story strands, they were used as a lightweight counterpart to the main story, comic relief and something for Billie, Rossi and Donovan to do in small doses. And this was a win for Lou too: after Cavanaugh, a poor and hidebound writer too tied to his pals at the Education Board, played on Lou’s heart strings to avoid being fired, Lou came up with a brilliant idea to sink all ships: he made Cavanaugh the new Religion editor, and the guy promptly quit!

A deftly written story that was weakened by not having time to show Tommy’s back story rather that have us assume it, but strengthened by playing out with characters we knew and trusted. The danger of expanding the first part was of turning the story into a telemovie, so maybe we got the best of it afterall.