Lou Grant: s05 e14 – Hunger


Probably it’s a combination of things, including last week’s discovery with regard to ratings, but it’s been Person of Interest on Tuesday and Lou Grant on Thursday for two years now and there’s been a change in one and suddenly I’m finding it hard to summon up interest in Lou Grant. I want it over so I can go on to something else new, and fresh, on Thursday mornings as well, and I want that now and not in two and a half months time.

The feeling isn’t much helped by a poor episode. Though there’s a secondary story in the shape of Mrs Pynchon insisting on eliminating waste and the Trib staff reacting with the same calm, adult understanding you’d expect (ha!), that’s nowhere near enough to constitute a B-story, so this is basically a one story episode, with Joe Rossi, and it’s as didactic as the show gets at its weakest.

The set-up for the story is a bet between Rossi and Lou that anybody walking past them on the street is and can be a story. Lou takes the bet and selects a busy, brish middle-aged woman. This is Louise Frawley (Uta Hagen) and when Rossi follows her, he finds her climbing into a dumpster behind a restaurant and digging out unused food. You see, properly she’s Sister Louise Frawley, and she rescues unwanted food to serve to people at a soup kitchen.

As stories go it’s a story, but it’s been done before and Rossi can’t turn it into anything fresh. It gets in the paper so he wins his bet, but it’s three graphs nearer the back than the front so it’s not much of a win. But Sister Louise leads Rossi deeper in, with a photograph of an eight year old girl, a farmer’s daughter, who’s dying of pneumonia, her resistance crippled by malnutrition.

So Rossi winds up on the story, though it’s as a personal crusade. The paper doesn’t want it, indeed the Foreign and Financial Editors pour scorn on Rossi, a daily reporter, for even thinking he can understand the story. Lou takes him off the story, Sister Louise guilts/encourages him to continue, he’s doing it in his own time, working double shifts, getting crankier and crankier.

And the story tumbles out in a welter of facts about what and how and why, but it’s a liberal expose of things that have accumulated over the years: a foolish and misguided attempt to emulate America after the Second World War, Industry versus Agriculture, growing cities versus rural poverty, artificial depression of farm prices, emphasis moving from edible to non-edible products, vested interests, military governments, the whole nine yards.

Sister Louise goes back to Malagua, Joe’s story gets page 1 and he rushes after another guy-on-the-street story, this one with a more obvious eccentric angle. Basically, allowin for the factual importance of the story in front of an ignorant and uncaring American public, it’s the worst aspects of the series in one episode. No wonder ratings were plummeting.

I hope there’s something better left in the last ten episodes.

Lou Grant: s05 e13 – Immigrants


Looking up this episode on imdb after watching it, there was a very interesting paragraph about the show overall. This was Lou Grant‘s final season, and I had planned to talk about the reasons for its cancellations when I got to the final episode, but it appears that episode 13 is a pivotal point.

Lou Grant was cancelled in May 1982, this episode having been broadcast in mid-February. At the time, Edward Asner was President of the Actor’s Screen Guild. He had decidedly liberal opinions in Ronald Reagan’s America, especilly with regard to the USA’s dubious intervention in El Salvador. Officially, the show was cancelled for the only usual reason: low viewing figures. Asner believed that the cancellation was political, aimed at stifling dissent. Viewing figures at the time of cancellation were quoted which seemed to justify the decision, but these were compared to the viewing figures for Taxi, which had been cancelled for a lower audience but picked up by another network.

According to imdb, ratings were strong over the first half of the season, with the show usually in the weekly Top 20/25. With episode 13, the show plummeted into the bottom 20, and spent the rest of the season there, and much of it in the bottom 10, lending powerful support to the ratings argument.

On the other hand, the network opted to replace the show with Cagney and Lacey, which had performed disastrously in a three week run and which, whilst outperforming Lou Grant‘s most recent figures, would go on to deliver much power ratings than the show’s fourth season.

This was very interesting to me in the context of ‘Immigrants’ which was pretty much a complete bust, another episode without a resolution, and what’s more one that left every loose end dangling. The immigrants in question were the Vietnamese who fled to America after the fall of Saigon in 1975 – footage of which was shown in the intro – and how they and their culture were regarded in Amerixca. Except that after looking to lead with that depiction, the episode decided it had no confidence in itself and first mixed in then allowed a criminal enterprise to take over.

Two stories filtered into each other. The Trib needed a new photographer and everyone was massively impressed by the work of Lee Van Tam (Le Tuan, central to the story but shunted down to sixth in the guest credits I noticed). Tam was an old friend of Dennis ‘Animal’ Price from the latter’s service in the ‘Nam and a superior photographer. He put the wind up another Trib photographer, Cy Wood (Raleigh Bond) on clearly racist behaviour, nd Tan and his family rubbed up raw their vet neighbour Norman Diggs (J.D. Hall).

Things looked bad. Tan had no idea of procedires and schedules, he was great but unreliable, he wasn’t going to survive his probationary two weeks. Tan was also distracted by his unhappy involvement in the other story, a welfare scandal being pursued by Rossi.

The show backed into this one with a feature on one of the rare serious Welfare frauds that got inflated over its true prominence, but gave Rossi a lead into a highly organised black market in food stamps, under the control of Vietnamese politician Colonel Eyen Van Long. The audience could see long before Lou and Co that Tan was involved via the grocery store his family ‘rented’ from the Colonel. Trying to shut things down when the investigation started, Tan’s reward was to have his porch blown up by a grenade. The show’s only quotable line was bout the Colonel’s enforcer, who apparently knew more ways to kill you than you knew how to die (what a line, though).

Sticky situation. The Colonel was self-evidently utterly ruthless, Tan was about to be let go, and then suddenly Sooty tapped his magic wand, Harry Corbett said ‘Izzy Wizzy Let’s Get Busy’ and everything in the Herb Garden was wonderful (excuse the seriously mixed metaphor there).

Tan decided to spuill the beans about the Colonel in depth. His anonimity was so well preserved by the story that all his neighbours came out to help rebuild his porch without the show ever once considering that if they could work it out, a consummate smartarse like the Colonel might be able to, and he might be less neighbourly about the knowledge. Also, Tam gets a permanent job on Lou’s suddenly-not-at-all-frustrated call, and gets his pay offer jacked up because other papers are interested in him and he has a large family.

That isn’t an ending. It’s a total abdication of everything that has gone before. And this was the point at which ratings fell through the basement. Hmm, I say, and hmm again. I shall be very interested in the last eleven episodes.

Lou Grant: s05 e12 – Review


We’re now halfway through the final series of Lou Grant‘s final season and after last week’s stumer, we had a three-cornered story in which all three elements came together in a technically and logically satisfying completion.

We began with a confusing open, in which a photographer is allowed by the Sheriff’s office to enter a private residence and take copious photos. The place is a mess, a complete craphole. The photis show this clearly. This is og peripheral importance to the overall story but it makes a point that resonated strongly with me, with particular regard for the actions of the British mainstream press this last several decades.

I’ll beat that drum a bit later on. For now, let me establish the cornerstones of our plot. In order of appearance these consist of Charlie Hume being appointed to the Western States News Council, a journalism self-regulating body, Mrs Pynchon persuading Billie Newman to write her memoir for a book of profiles, and Joe Rossi and Ruben Delgado bringing to Lou Grant a copied tape of Councilman Garbers telling anti-Latino jokes.

The story spaces out its threads carefully. Charlie’s first experience of the Council is in considering the case from the opn. He’s met with barely-concealed hostility by Dean of Law Doctor Meredith Hall-Sutton (Karen Carlson) who, it rapidly transpires, has a grudge against the LA Tribune.

Billie’s only agreed to do Mrs Pynchon’s memoir if she has a free hand, if she can treat it as an unfettered story. Mrs Pynchon bombards her with facts, and talks with an affecting wistfulness of her life with Matthew Pynchon, when she was a socialite with no cares or responsibility. But when it comes to the transition, when Matthew, fifteen years older than her, died and she transitioned into the unexpected role of Publisher, naive, inexperienced, terrified, this is something Mrs Pynchon glosses over, brushes off, deflects.

And there’s Rossi and Ruben’s story. Garbers threatens to ue and is told the patrician equivalent of ‘do one sunbeam’. So he raises a complaint to the News Council.

There are mixed feelings about the News Council. Charlie believes in it as a good. Mrs Pynchon supports it financially. Lou and Rossi hate it, regarding it as a ridiculous intrusion upon their professional judgement, by misguided laymen who don’t understand Journalism.

Here is where I get to bang my drum. The Council debates the photos taken in the open. They are accurate, they are honest, and as such both the editor of the paper printing them, together with Lou, Rossi and Animal, regard them as unimpeachable. They show an old man who’s a dirty slob, a dirty house, uncooked food on his stove, unwashed dishes in his sink, piles of comic books around. This is called slant. It’s the lousy, miserable, dirty and vicious practice of only telling those parts of the story that support the biased point you’re trying to make.

The old man was a victim of an airplane crash. He was fying to Germany for the first time in forty years bcause he’d been notified his sister had had a heart attack, and didn’t have long left. He didn’t have time to finish cooking, or clean, or wash pots before heading to the airport.he bought comics for his grandchildren but read them himself first to make sure they weren’t too violent. Slob? Deranged? Feeble-minded? Not when you knew all the story, not when you knew the parts the newspaper didn’t print. And Lou and Rossi supported this? I don’t. I hate and loathe it. Tell the fucking truth, you bastards!

End of banged drum.

So the Trib attends the hearings. Doctor Hall-Sutton remains hostile. Charlie recuses himself. Billie digs deeper into the transition period. There’s an old clipping that refers to Matthew’s presumed successor, Managing Editor Jack Hall. So Billie goes to visit Lou’s nightmare, former City Editor Thea Taft (played by Margaret Hamilton, the Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, in the penultimate role of her life). Thea tells her that everyone expected Jack, a very popular, very knowledgeable, very sexy man, to take over, but one day, after a meeting in Mrs Pynchon’s office, he was gone, for good. Lost everything after twenty dedicated years. Never made it back. Left a daughter behind him, Merry. Not Mary, Merry. Short for Meredith.

And suddenly everything clicks into place as one whole story. Charlie persuades Dr Hall-Suton to abstain, though the vote goes overwhelmingly against the Trib anyway. And Billie pushes Mrs Pynchon into a moment of anger, a threat that Billie not merely resign from the memoir but from the Trib…

It’s a moment of shock, to none more so than Margaret Pynchon, taking her back to that day in her office with Jack Hall. She tries to explain how it was to Billie, how in those days things were limited for women. She was a socialite in her forties, with a husband fifteen years older. The ‘good times’ were supposed to be over for a woman her age. But here was Hall, attractive, sexy, growing closer. Nothing had happened but the signposts were there. And Hall was ambitious. He wanted to be Publisher, all or nothing. It isn’t quite said in so many words but he gave her the feeling that all his… attentiveness had had this as its purpose. She doubted. She fired him. On her first exercise of power she abused it. And she has rigidly refused to do that ever since.

So all things fall together. Billie needed to know to write the story but she didn’t need to write that part (I can’t help but reflect that we are once again back to the topic of slant). And the Trib won’t sit down under censure. but all of this aftermath is just that, aftermath without consequence, a way to ease out of the story and cue up the closing music.

An illuminating episode, though I doubt that the light I saw shining was meant to enter the corners where I saw it. Sometimes the important message is not the one you meant to send.

Lou Grant: s05 e11 – Cameras


In the centre, Robin Rose (see final paragraph)

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.

Lou Grant: s05 e09 – Jazz


I guess if you don’t like Jazz you might have a problem enjoying this next episode of Lou Grant‘s final series, especially as it was paired with a weak B story. i don’t like Jazz. I don’t like weak B stories. There was a bit of a detachment to this episode for me.

That’s not to say it was bad. The spinal story was a sentimental, ‘heart-warming’ affair: whilst looking for a phone to phone in a story, Joe Rossi discovers Cliff Richardson (Ray Brown, and someone’s having a laugh with that name), former bass-player with the legendary Sonny Goodwin Quartet of the Fifties.

Rossi’s a jazz fan (so are Charlie Hume and Art Donovan). He gets the idea for a story, finding the other members, where they are now, why they split up and, as we would all expect, getting the band back together for a one-off gig.

Drummer Johnny Albert’s a recording engineer (Louie Bellson). Piannist Sonny (Joe Williams) is doing well, a singer now. Alto sax player Ron Brickell (Med Flory), the one who struugled with drugs and arrests, has been clean since 1966, manages a convenience store and isn’t interested in a reunion, or music for that matter.

This is all much of a cliche from start to finish. Lou hates the idea, apparently just so he can be a contrarian, refuses to accept the story but somehow relents offscreen. The band reunite without any real reason for ‘Brick’ to overcome his opposition, the gig’s a smash success despite the last minute, predictable, band-argue-backstage-revealing-how-much-they-hate-each-other-but-still-go-on, and everybody’s happy.

Let’s leave them in their euphoria for a minute or two. The B story features reporter Jed Crossley (Tod Sussman). Jed’s been part of a two man team with veteran Gary Banks (Richard Erdman, three previous appearances as two other characters) but Gary’s retiring and Jed’s going solo on a story about Supervisors diverting county money to their personal benefit.

Only Jed’s nervous, indecisive, unable to even start writing the story. He’s out on his own, lacking the balance Gary used to give him. Assigning Billie to help him doesn’t work, he still won’t start the story, or share. Lou won’t take him off the story, not wanting to lose him.

And Jed comes good, pulling off an outrageous con and then becoming Mr Dynamo. Just as much a cliche in its own right.

Let’s go back to the Sonny Goodwin Quartet. Like I said, I don’t like Jazz. We have no natural affinity. But I loved the music so enthusiastically played in Treme, and I try to keep my ears open. The Sonny Goodwin Quartet were the same set-up as the Dave Brubeck Quartet and I like a bit of their stuff. And the guest stars were all genuine, accomplished musicians, the music was cool and easing, with detectable melodies close to the surface. Not for too long, but I can get along with this sort of Jazz. And, given that the two stories in this episode could have been turned out by a word-processor, the music ended up being the best thing about the episode.

Stay cool, cats.

Lou Grant: s05 e08 – Friends


The fair Noelle

This episode started very fuzzily, as if it didn’t really know what it was or how to introduce its story, but once it had started to roll, it became increasingly powerful and, for its two principal characters, painful.

The two principals were Joe Rossi and Art Donovan, each at the centre of a separate syory, with no overlap, each of which in their differing manners revolved upon the subject of friendship.

We were introduced first to Rossi, early morning jogging with his old cleege friend – practically his only friend – Burton Cary (Larry Breeding). Cary’s a former lawyer turned politician, runing for election as County Supervisor. Cary’s a good guy, caring, thoughtful, progressive, on the right side of all the issues. Joe respects Cary’s principles as well as liking him: his election will be A Good Thing especially as his opponent, Ralph Shillitoe (Paul Kent) is a right wing creep on everything.

As a friend, Joe disqualifies himself from reporting on Cary’s campaign. As a friend, he’s close to the campaign, meeting and asking out Cary’s junior aide, Noelle Kilmer (Jennifer Holmes). But the fair Noelle is already seeing someone from the Sheriff’s Depertment, though she hopes she and Joe can still be friends.

We can see what’s coming in this story, even if we don’t know what form it will take.

Meantime, Art is struggling with his twin roles of Assistant City Editor and Environmental Editor, especially as Charlie Hume is pressurising him to get a piece on Acid Rain ready for Sunday. At the same time, columnist Jerry Hollister (Logan Ramsey) is hunting round for a piece for his next column. Art gives him a theme that puts the two in opposition. When Art needs a clip when he’s on deadline, Hollister has it and won’t give it up so Art goes and gets it.

Next thing is, Hollister arrives with an arm in a sling, claiming Art hit him, shoved him, sprained his wrist and gave him a bad time, causing his blood pressure to shoot through the roof. He’s going to sue Art Donovan – and the Trib.

It’s a try-on, a nuisance suit. Mrs Pynchon won’t wear it for a moment, sue and be damned. But in the meantime, Art is to be removed – temporarily, of course – as Environmental Editor. A gesture, a sop, a bone. And a kick in the teeth for Art who has put so much into building up the Trib’s environmental coverage.

Art’s version of the story was that he grabbed Hollister by the collar, saw the clip he needed and let Hollister go. But no-one else was there, though Mrs Pynchon, passing by, heard raised voices and threats. Which one is telling the truth? No-one knows. No-one will know. But Art is punished. And what’s more he learns the object lesson that no-one, not one of his friends, believes his story. Everybody thinks he could have done it.

Friendship, eh?

But back at Joe’s story, Cary’s campaign hits a big stroke of luck as Shillitoe, an ex-Disc Jockey, is arrested for poseession of cocaine. And then the chargesare dropped on the tecnnicality of an illegal Search by the Sheriff’s Department.

Who hate Shillitoe because he wants to cut their budget. Who’ve recently seized a shipment of cocaine cut with baby laxative. To the exact formula as the 7 oz. found at Shillitoe’s home. Which is 7 oz. light. Which was found there by the officer going out with the fair Noelle. An officer under investigation. And he hasn’t got the brains and she’s too junior. And she’ll do anything to see Cary elected.

So Joe confronts Cary on their morning job, and he admits to knowing about it. It’s Politics. You’ve got to play hardball in the real world. After all, it won’t come out if Joe acts as a friend instead of a reporter. Cary’s his closest friend.

It’s an awful decision to have to take but Joe takes it, weighing up the good that Cary can and will do against the good he has to be if he’s to be granted the powers of a County Supervisor. He gives the story to Tyler to write up. And invites Art to jog with him the next morning…

Lou Grant: s05 e07 – Drifters


From the title, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this episode. What I got was unexpected but also astonishingly good. This was down to a willingness to forget practically all the structure of the series and its characters – Mrs Pynchon doesn’t appear, Billie only appears fifteen minutes in, Rossi has two very short cameos – in favour of letting an extraordinary guest star dominate the episode and run you through every emotion under the sun, including one very tough-minded and shocking incident just before the end.

That guest was W.K. Stratton, as Scott Hume, Charlie’s nephew. He was unknown to me but when I checked his record in imdb, it turns out he’s been in lots of series I’ve watched, including Hill Street Blues, Tales of the Gold Monkey and Quantum Leap. Stratton is tall and sort of shapeless with, in this episode, a nondescript pudding bowl haircut. Scott Hume is what we would once have called ‘a troubled young man’: Stratton told us that just by standing there in the City Room.

Scott’s thirty. He suffers from depression and anxiety. He’s seeing psychiatrists, intermittently, on mood-elevating medication that he rejects taking. From the first moment he appears, without any extravagance in action or words, he projects an absence, a separation from the world.

Scott has no job. He has no abilities. He is unable to focus on anything for long. He has unrealistic expectations, like being a writer, like the never-seen Chrissy loving him when she’s married with two children. Scott can’t cope with it, with anything.

Charlie knows of Scott’s background, up to and including the ‘nervous breakdown’ of two years previously. For much of the episode he internally blames his older brother Steve (James Callahan) for Scott’s state, even as he concedes his own issues with son Tommy, whose choice of a different life in season 1 is only alluded to. Charlie himself will learn, from the psychiatrist, Dr Sorensen (Tom Akins) that he cannot blame himself for Tommy any more than he can credit himself – not that he does – for Joannie being terrific, and that a parent’s self-blame can be a burden to the child as well.

This is to prepare us for the finale. But before we come to that astonishing moment, I’ll reference the completely opposite B story that, despite being comic and lightweight and altogether out of proportion, was strangely complementary. It kept the paper bubbling in the background as Billie is assigned the story of Ziggy the bear who escaped from a zoo and stayed on the loose for days until the Trib’s hired tracker brought him in. Yes, no comparison, but it allowed several very funny lines along the way, and acted as a counterpoint to the completely non-humourous story of Scott. Lou, of course, straddles both stories, encouraging Billie whilst getting steadily more peeved with Charlie for putting the running of the paper second to his nephew and his bother.

As led into the ending. Scott, panicked, deluded in his belief Chrissy would set it all right, unable to cope with stress, with pressure, with living, ends up on Chrissy’s porch in the middle of the night, shivering in a t-shirt, outwardly courteous in not wanting to disturb her at that hour, but nonetheless afraid of and unable to handle another failure.

Charlie and Steve arrive, and the latter goes to sit with his ruination of a son, and in aquiet, level voice he tells Scott that they have both been looking for a magic wand, one thing to fix it all, Scott with his imagined Chrissy, Steve some miracle cure for his son that will put everything right. It will not happen. and Steve tells Scott that there will always be a room for him at home, no conditions, but unless Scott is doing thebest he can to help himself, there will be nothing between father and son and they will be strangers. Steve has decided that he can do no more and that in order to save himself he must abandon Scott. Charlie will drive him to the airport now.

It’s hard, it could even be stigmatised as ‘tough love’, but it is honest and without the sentimentality that I would usually expect from Lou Grant. The oly note of hope the episode allows, and Stratton’s portrayal has killed even this but we need a glimmer of sunlight, is that Scott asks if he could be taken to Dr Sorenson on the way.

A most extraordinary episode, inexplicably rated below the average on imdb. Forty years later, I’m still arguing with the crowd. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lou Grant: s05 e06 – Double-Cross


For a show that can usually be summed up as a socially-aware drama, this latest episode was far from the usual fare. It was a detective story, not a murder mystery, but a convoluted affair full of contradictory stances and plot twists, and the heaping of layer upon layer until everything reached an emotionally satisfactory conclusion.

The episode began obliquely, with an extended entree of old photos of old California leading into Mrs Pynchon and the Historical Society and its in-house historian, Dr Michael Shepherd (Nigel Bullard). Millionaire Alex Matheson (Linwood McCarthy), a Board member, has just demolished a family-owned building against the Society’s opposition. Rather than kick him off the board, Mrs Pynchon persuades him to have opened the Time Capsule buried in the building’s cornerstone and donate its contents to the City. Lou assigns Billie to cover it.

At first bored, then enthused, Billie is the investigator, with Shepherd as her main source of background. It’s done unobtruively, but Shepherd is always there to provide new information when Billie hits a brick wall, which she does frequently: from the moment the Time Capsule, the Matheson family immediately have a concern that comes over as shady. What secret are they concealing?

The concern is the Pasteur Cross, a supposedly beautiful, indeed dazzling, gold cross encrusted with diamonds, belonging to the Pasteur family and donated by the Mathesons. Which comes out looking grey and green and unimpressive. Is it a fake? The bogus expert hired by Matheson says not, in a scientically intricate explanation that’s as much fictional as any of The Flash’s stunts cooked by by John broome and Julius Schwartz. But why?

We follow the steps as they fall into place. Shepherd helpfully illuminates California’s history, its succession of rulers and peoples. There was a feud between the two halves of the Matheson family a hundred years ago that, despite the public picture, is as real today as it ever was. The object is the Pasteur Cross, which is not only a fantastically valuable object but which is believed to have healing powers, which Matheson’s aged and ancient father needs.

The rich Matheson’s have the Cross. The unrich Mathesons want it and are searching for an opportunity to steal it. Both sides present their case for their ownership. The irony is that there is a true owner, and not a Matheson.

But first the levels multiply. Old Mr Matheson has a live in nurse, Mrs Barbara Dupree (Lynne Thigpen). Why, when the Doctor is called in, does she spirit the Cross into his medical bag, which is snatched from his car by a ski-masked kid presumably out for drugs?

The Cross is marked with the letter P for Pasteur. It’s the family brand, a stylised P with a tail to it, not the plain capital P of the fake. In fact it looks like the top of a shepherd’s crook. “I am so dumb!” Billie shouts. Shepherd’s crook. The Pasteurs were sheep farmers. What does Pasteur mean in English? Yes, right, it means Shepherd. Dr Michael Shepherd. Because the Pasteur Cross never belonged to the Mathesons in the first place. It was stolen and now it’s been taken back. With the help of Michael’s married sister, Barbara.

There’s still an ending. A new Time Capsule is being prepared, full of wonderfully witty things conttributed by the people. And a donation by Dr Michael Shepherd, after explaining the history of the Cross and the Matheson family’s olden days thievery, and paying tribute to his parents and sister, a donation of the Pasteur Cross.

No-one understands what Michael is doing, least of all Billie. He’s put the Cross back into the Matheson’s hands, in their building. Only to Margaret Pynchon does he complete the explanation, diverting her to a nearby Catholic Church. There is a gold cross around the neck of the statue of the Madonna and Child. This is the real Pasteur Cross: another fake is in the Time Capsule. Shepherd can’t keep it, that would be illegal. Instead, from his family, he has genuinely donated it to the City, to a place of public inspection.

And the closing image is of a little girl, maybe five or so, kneeling at the altar, looking at the Madonna, making the sign of the Cross and ending it by blowing a kiss, in sheer joy. I’m not religious, but moments like that make me wish…

One final point. I’ve commented very often over the last almost-two years I’ve been watching Lou Grant about storylines being merely McGuffins to showcase the personal conflicts of the cast. It’s a rare and welcome contrast to see the cast as merely McGuffins for the story…

Lou Grant: s05 e05 – Risk


Read on

It’s tempting to be cautious, given that we’re not yet quite a quarter of the way through the final season, but on the strength of four strong episodes out of five, I’m going to say that Lou Grant is back to form after a dismal Fourth season.

That’s not to say that everything about the latest episode was brilliant. There were three strands, all related to the notion in the episode title, though the third of these hardly qualified as a story, and was evidently something to keep Billie Newman from twiddling her hands throughout the episode.

The episode began with Mike Schrader (Kario Salem), a Trib photographer who isn’t Animal, balking at an assignment because it involved flying in a helicopter. This didn’t go down so well with Lou, and Art Donovan tries to advise him about how you can’t do that, can’t pick and choose assigments on whether you perceive risk of some kind.

Mike is not amenable to advice (he ain’t going nowhere) and challenges him on hypocrisy. Art, who has led a risk-averse life following a childhood under his reckless Navy father, is trying to get out from behind his desk more, and is doing a feature on California’s Mountain Search and Rescue volunteers, but has decided that his story doesn’t need him to rapelle out of a helicopter to be complete.

Art doesn’t see the contradiction then, but it gets beneath his smooth surface and, on the second assignment, he rapelles – and breaks his ankle. Unfortunately, that means he blows a major story for the Trib because he was the man near the scene and now can’t get to the scene. This does not go down well with Lou, who won’t let up when they discuss the need to test themselves.

We’ll sideslip to Billie’s meagre contribution this week, confined to the newsroom, covering for Donovan and the object of the eager, naive and bumbling attentions of junior reporter Lance Reineke (Lance Guest). Lance is training himself to become the first reporter in space, on the NASA shuttle. He bows out because of an inner ear condition. That’s the ‘C’ story, of interest only because of the puzzling moment when she tries to put him off by telling him she’s ‘seeing someone’ and not that she’s married…

But these are the back-up show. The lead story and rightly so involves Joe Rossi, but most of all it involves a return appearance from Sharon McNeill (Lynne Moody), she who was at the centre of the season 4 episode, ‘Rape’. Rossi is put on the track of a possible child pornography story by a school teacher. The source is the custodian, who wired a house for extra electric to accommodate¬† lights and cameras. He’s black, he demands a black reporter be involved, hence Sharon. He gets Confidentiality.

He will only take Sharon to the house. To get the story from a mother who’s an ex-porn star herself and talks bland and blase about the whole, chilling thing, Sharon promises her Confidentiality. The story is brilliant, it creates a massive stir, and a large part of that stir is the urgent desire to rescue a 9 year old girl from that life. Who wouldn’t want that to happen?

But Sharon promised Confidentiality. The Trib sides with her, though Lou, Charlie, even Mrs Pynchon question Sharon’s judgement in offering that at all. The Police lean on her, but Sharon will not concede. Some heavy stuff is laid on her, kept only from being self-righteous by the seriousness of the issue. Sharon cannot find the support she needs, not even from Rossi, who is backing her to the hilt but still not offering a total, blanket approbation.

In the end, details from Sharon’s story enable the teachers to identify little Connie. The Police raid, but the house is empty, everyone moved on, out of reach, out of rescue. A hard ending.

Though Sharon now receives more open support, she’s still in distress. Rossi offers dinner, a simple dinner. It might have been many things but Lynne Moody didn’t appear again, which was a shame because she would have been a good addition to the cast. And the two episodes she starred in were strong, thoughtful and powerful.

 

 

Lou Grant: s05 e04 – Hometown


Bright light in a dark town

Though there was a low-key polemic to this episode, what mattered in this story was the personal story that came out in almost a rush near the end, as Lou, back in his hometown of Goshen, Michigan, to administer the affairs of his late Aunt, admits a sordid, indeed nasty detail of his past to someone he once hurt very badly.

‘Land o’Goshen!’ used to be one of those phrases people would utter as a substitute for even the mildest of swear words. Blimey, blinking heck, Heavens to Betsy. You don’t hear it now because people just say fuck, heedlessly, wherever they are. I had to look up the phrase to discover that Goshen is the area of Egypt where the Israelites were confned before their flight. It’s an appropriate name for the small town where he grew up.

At first sight, Goshen looks ldyllic, mid-western America, the little towns of wide streets and elegant wooden houses looking like they grow out of the land rather than are built upon it. But this is 1981. Towns like Goshen are dying by inches. Empty storefronts, the tomato cannery closed four years ago and, on the day Lou visits, intent on being in and out as fast as possible, the glass-bottling plant closes.

That brought back a memory, a self-catering holiday in the Lakes in 1991, in the Wicham Valley, Friday night and going into Millom for fish’n’chips, walking deserted streets at 6.30pm in an air of puzzlement at the lifeless atmosphere, the complete absence of anybody but ourselves, except in the chipshop we found. We later found that that was the afternoon the ironworks, Millom’s sole industry, closed.

That story, the dying town, the LA based business that closed a town’s industry because it wasn’t making enough profit and ‘only’ 250 jobs would be lost, interests the Trib, and Charlie assigns Lou to report it since he’s on the spot. The Union chapter, led by Paul Policzinski (Robert Prosky, pre-dating his run on Hill Street Blues) decide to try to buy the plant and set up themselves and, in a slightly implausible happy ending, the tight-fisted Banker on the City Council is the one who argues for Goshen to put its money where it’s mouth is and back the men. Not many people in 1981 were going out on limbs like that.

But that’s not where the story is heading. As soon as one of the town’s sons is known to be back, the town knows. Lou’s not nostalgic, not in the least. Given his way he’d have done everything from Goshen and not gone at all. Small town boy looking to obliterate his past? Unhappy childhood? Why is he so resistant to meeting his old girlfriend, Carol Kuzik (Georgeann Johnson) and so eager to escape her when he does meet her?

It takes a trip to the cemetery to break things down. Lou lays a spray of red roses on his aunt’s grave, but he’s bought three: his parent’s graves are nearby. And just across the way is the walled-off section that is the Catholic side of the cemetery, complete with a statue of Madonna and child.

Carol comes eagerly when called. Though she and Lou were old sweethearts, she never went inside his house. Lou talks about old things that wake him at 4.00am. Like why he left town without saying goodbye to Carol.

There was a reason. The sound of Carol’s voice as she asks if she’s finally going to find out. Lou tells her she was the first girl he ever seriously thought of marrying, conjuring up naive, unrealistic images as he walked ver to her house, then arriving and knowing he never could.

Prejudice. Bigotry. Carol was a Catholic girl. And she was Polack. She wore a scapular, though she took it off when they were preparing to kiss so they wouldn’t be struck by lightning. Lou’s parents would never have stood it. Though he doesn’t quite admit it directly, Lou was also affected by that bigotry. Marrying Carol was never possible, as was telling her why. So he ran off.

It isn’t nice. It’s hateful. And of course the woman Lou eventually married was Catholic. And Ukrainian. But the honesty at last, and Lou’s obvious and unforced disgust at himself, is a catharsis that allows the pair to regard the issue as settled after all this time. They’ll never see each other again, but now they never need to. Lives have travelled too far down separate routes that there is no way back to the divergence to begin again.

That makes three strong episodes, two of them personal, in four already in this final season. A very good average. Let’s keep this up.