Lou Grant: s05 e24 – Charlie


Parting is such sweet sorrow, but all endings are arrivals at places we want to reach.

Lou Grant‘s final episode was a low-key affair, of multiple stories, a warp and weft seeing the series into oblivion. If it centred upon anyone, it centred upon Charlie Hume, the LA Tribune’s Managing editor, as the episode title indicated, and it left behind a mystery never to be solved.

Oddly enough, Lou himself barely featured. He’s having physical therapy from last week’s shooting, but that’s practically all of his role this week, that and to refuse to let Billie Newman be considered for the Sacramento Bureau, now there’s a vacancy: Ted’s in with a good chance of a manager’s job there, and they have a shot at a life that’s spent mostly together. Billie thinks it’s Charlie who’s stymied her – their – ambition and gives him a hard time, threatening to leave the paper to follow this up.

Charlie’s getting it in the neck from all sides. Rossi and Abby are considering moving in together. Charlie allows them to partner on an assignment that proves they can maybe live together but not collaborate, and ends up having to effectively order Rossi to make things up between them.

Art Donovan’s been seeing an air stewardess for several months. They’re both happy with what they’ve got, but suddenly she’s ducking him, and Art is convinced she’s pregnant. he wants children, he wants marriage, but the actual truth is she was pregnant… and is no longer. The A-word is not to be mentioned, and her calmness, plus her refusal to let him have any say in the decision, almost certainly destroys the relationship.

Young Lance is going off half-cocked about a story concerning military weapons buried in the desert, seeing it as bigger than it is, until Animal gets him to see sense. Along the way, he blows a date with Charlie’s new secretary, who prefers to ask Lou out instead.

The biggest aspect of the story is the tale of Charlie firing two inadequate reporter, one for persistent alcoholism, the other for accepting payment from a subject to write a white-washed profile. Both go over his head to Mrs Pynchon who reinstates them, until Charlie loses his temper over the second-guessing of his role, and they’re finally out. Everything’s back to normal, everyone’s gone home,Charlie’s going home but Donovan needs to talk to him, so they go into Charlie’s office and whilst a slow, bluesy, downtempo version of the theme plays, the camera retreats along a night-time City Room, until they’re gone in the background, and it’s done. Not with a bang, nor yet an actual whimper, but the end of another day.

Originally, Lou Grant ran on Saturday nights on ITV, at 9.00pm, filling in the slot before Match of the Day quite seamlessly. I believe it was dropped after, probably, season 3 over here: it had not been on for some time when I read about its cancellation, on supposedly political grounds, in 1982. I have a very vivid memory that is nevertheless clearly a phony one, about some kind of feature on the end of the series, of a scene where Edward Asner and one other member of the cast were looking at an empty City Room, its people gne, its computers removed, the paper having gone bust. It would have made for a clear ending. So where does that memory come from? I’ll never know.

Instead, it’s the steady state ending. They all wake up tomorrow and come in to work. We just don’t join them any more. Given the nature of the series, it’s probably the most workable ending. Edward Asner is still with us, as are Robert Walden, Linda Kelsey and Daryl Anderson.

There’ll be something else in this slot next Thursday afternoon. I’m not likely to be watching anything quite this long again any time soon. Though the series lost itsway over the last two seasons, when it was good it was very very good, and it’s for that that the past two years plus have been worth it.

Lou Grant: s05 e23 – Victims


There’s a tired old cliche about life in the old dog yet, but tired as it is it was the first thing that came tomind about the penultimate episode of  Lou Grant. The show’s been on a deteriorating spiral for weeks on end, which shows in the standard of stories, with cancellation now 47 minutes away, but it raised its head this week, looked us defiantly in the way and said Remember Us This Way, which I’m very glad to do.

‘Victims’ started out in an unpromising manner, deadline approaching on the City Desk, Lou and Rossi arguing about whether a story’s ready yet, a party of journalim students being shown around and Charlie handing over his ticket for LA vs Boston to Lou. Then it jumped into deep water.

Lou is mugged in the parking lot, two guys in ski-masks, his watch and wallet stolen. Then he’s shot in the stomach. Paramedics called, two cops attend. Then they get a call to a nearby liquor store, robbery in progess, two guys in ski-masks. The patrolmen get over there. The robbers come out and the cops have the drop on them. They shout freeze, one guy ignores it, fires at the cops. Officer Vinny DeMayo fires back, twice. The guy looks surprised, a wonderful expression, as if it’s unbelievable that someone he shoots at might shoot at him, them falls on his face, dead.

There was very little crossoveer between the two stories, althiough they were clearly linked. Rossi tried to interview DeMayo (Steve Marachuk) but was rebuffed first only to be let in later, by which time DeMayo and his story had gone much further on, but that was it. The episode moved back and forth between Lou in hospital,  the shot requiring an operation which revealed more extensive damage than first believed, and through a long, slow, carefully observed recuperation, until he was ready to return.

Apart from the joke of everybody buying him the new Halberstam book (David Halberstam, a highly regarded writer of high journalism books, I once read his The Best and the Brightest, a study of how the finest minds in the Kennedy Administration nevertheless managed to get America involved in Vietnam), Lou’s recovery arc, and how much had been taken out of him, was taken seriously, and ended with him close enough to recovery to be ready to come back. It also showed how wall the Trib could manage without him, not that they wanted to, with Donovan as acting Editor and Billie as his Assistant.

But Lou’s story was the easy half of the episode, which was not to demean it. Vinny DeMayo’s story was something different. We saw the shooting, we knew his conduct was correct, that the shooting was wholly justified, indeed unimpeachable. And we saw the pressure that started to weigh on him from the moment he got back. The paperwork, the exhaustive questioning by Homicide,the attempts by his Sergeant, Stapler (Barry Primus) and Captain, Shackley (Bruce Kirby) to take a break, get his head together, understand his experience, and DeMayo’s automatic cop resistance to anything considered as weakness, he felt fine, he did nothing wrong, he can carry on.

Of course you can’t. DeMayo found out that, no matter how ‘right’ it was, killing someone sticks to you. you can’t just wash your hands of it and act like everything’ normal. And it’s not just the external pressure, the lawsuit by the dead robber’s widow for $2,000,000, the removal from patrol to administration (‘a new challenge’). It’s what’s inside your own head, it’s who’s inside your own head, it’s the way you get to feel that noboy around you, no matter how much they love you or you love them, understands what it’s like. And they can’t understand what it’s like: nobody can,unless they’ve killed someone.

Marachuk was immense, a brilliant performance as DeMayo deteriorated, mentally. In the end, finally talking about it, finally explaining himself – as much to himself as to Rossi – started to lance the poison of keeping it all in, being the strong, tough, brave, righteous cop. DeMayo sought help from Stapler, admitted he was thinking aout eating his gun. It was a start.

Whether he’d make it, you didn’t know. The episode was tough-minded eough to leave it at that. You knew Lou’s arc would end in recovery (though I do wonder if this episode might have fed into a non-existant Sixth Season), but you didn’t know about DeMayo. It was much better that way.

And then there was one left.

Lou Grant: s05 22 – Beachhead


The enthusiasm is all but gone and shapeless episodes like this, with very little sense of conviction to them, don’t help:  this is dead man walking stuff.

There’s three stories going on here, two of which in different ways exemplifying the episode title, the third next to invisible. Going for his early morning jog down near the beach, Lou sees a surfer nearly mow down a swimming kid. The surfers are a bunch of fanatics decorated over with SS signs that stand for ‘Surf Soldiers’. They have nothing to do with Nazis, the gang are too empty-headed for that. They’re just very possessive of ‘their’ beach space, with which I was mildly sympathetic: there’s a case for arguing that when an environment is particularly suited to a specific activity that it should be reserved for that and not disrupted by general stuff that can be done anywhere.

That’s not an argument that gets a hearing here. Lou’s not convinced it’s worth that much space but Charlie wants to jump all over it, the result being chaos and a riot as the story provokes tensions, rivalries with another gang, extreme hassle for Lou and tension between him and Charlie.

The other beachhead involves Billie and Ted, Cliff Potts making his last appearance in the series. They’ve just bought a house in a nice suburban environment and on their first night they’re interrupted by a small-minded neighbour wanting them to sign a petition against the house two doors down that’s introducing lunatics and dangerous madmen into the neighbourhood. In reality, it’s a halfway house for young men from emotionally disturbed backgrounds, discharged from mental hospitals, being gradually reintroduced into the community and into looking after themselves.

Billie’s sympathetic – she’s a cast member on Lou Grant isn’t she? – but Ted, who’s protective of his wife and unable to escape feeling guilty about being on the road so often, is more hostile until he visits the place to see for himself and is completely converted, mainly because they love his baseball stories.

The third story may have a foreshadowing element to it, I’ll know in two weeks time. The Denver Record has folded, dropping a lot of good reporters on the market. Lou’s enthusiastic, and so’s Charlie, offstage, until Mrs Pynchon hits him over increasing overheads: no new hires. Lou spends the episode fielding calls from reporters that he can’t take on until the end when Mrs Pynchon interrupts his argument with Charlie to tell them they were right and she was wrong: she’d tried to sign a very highly-regarded columnist only to be too late, she’d already been picked up. She wanted to tell Lou and Charlie how much she relies upon them and their instincts, and what a good team they make.

So. Not much in any of it, and certainly no conviction in either programme makers or this corner of the audience. Dead men walking.

Lou Grant: s05 e21 – Suspect


When you discover something you don’t want to

Not quite halfway through this episode, I had a flash of insight into how the two stories in this weak and shapeless episode were going to be connected. On the one hand we had the death of Harlan Boyt, a good guy, an environmentalist, killed in a hit and run accident when he was out cycling, but maybe not quite so accidentally. And on the other we had Lou’s relationship with office designer Jessica (Dixie Carter) suddenly going sour when he discovers she’s been ‘involved with’ this big, wealthy, married property developer for the ast seven years and all the time she’s been ‘involved with’ Lou. There wasn’t the least thing to connect these two stories but after nearly five full seasons of Lou Grant, not to mentions hundreds, even thousands of episodes of American network TV, I know how scriptwriters’ minds work. Our environmentalist hero would have been putting obstacles in the way our our developer villain’s latest plans and been killed to remove such an obstacle.

And, ladies, gentlemen and readers, I was talking total bollocks. Though I do think my idea, cliched as it was, would have made for a stronger story.

For the last dozen episodes or so, there’s been a tall, skinny, curly-haired and fresh-faced young reporter hanging around everything, Lance Reineke (Lance Guest). I haven’t mentioned him before because he’s just been part of the newsroom, much as I don’t mention Allen Williams as Adam Wilson: neither are central to any stories. This time, however, Lance takes front and centre stage and uis the principal Guest Star.

Chance brings him to Boyt’s death and he pursues the story, always seeing more to it than does Lou. He’s weirded out by having to break the news to Boyt’s live-in fiancee, who provides the first serious clue. Boyt was an experienced cyclist, with strict self-set rules about safety: he never went out without his cycling helmet. But he died of head injuries and the helmet was nowhere to be seen…

This was where my suspicions were aroused but no. Instead, that side of the story slid into a massive disaster of an idea, namely that fine, upstanding, forever helpful Harlan Boyt, whom everybody loved and respected, environmentalist and all-round good guy… was secretly a well-organised and intelligent pimp. with schedules on a computer.

Not only was that crash and burn time, all hands lost at sea, it also had a painfully nasty racist basis. The hookers were black, their bog standard pimps were black, stuff-strutters and violent with it: it took a white guy, professional and intellient, to run the business on sensible and time- and profit-maximising lines, pimping the little black girls to his white friends and circle.

The story on that side was of Lance’s confusing his job as reporter with that of detective, ordered off the story multiple times, feeding what he finds to the Police but stillsticking his oar in when it looks like they’re not taking the case seriously enough. which leads to him staring down the business end of a switchblade knife before the Cops intervene because, no, they haven’t been as dull and ignorant as he thinks they were.

As for Lou’s side of things, first he dumps Jessica, then Charlie prods him into fighting for her, then the show intimates that she’ll choose him exclusively, but it’s far too much time for a B-story that’s about two molecules deep, if that. Or maybe that’s just me: if I found out someone I was seeing was sleeping with someone else all the time, I wouldn’t take her back, no matter how much I cared about her.

Then there was three.

Lou Grant: s05 e20 – Unthinkable


The girl on the right has a significant part to play in this episode, but this is the last shot we see of her

I’m in a bit of two minds about this episode. On the one hand, it’s a reversion to the more solid stories of the past, a themed episode that, in its time, may well have been something of a revelation for its audience. On the other hand, and by the same token, it’s one of the most badly-dated episodes the series contains, locked into a history that is now dead, or at least mutated out of all recognition.

The open is misleading. A High School Choir, returning from a singing competition, all fresh faces, clear voices (singing ‘Up, Up and Away’), is in a terrible crash as their School Bus swerves to avoid a collision. One girl, Sarah Baldwin, suffers 70 % burns over all her body, and spents the rest of the episode in head-to-toe bandages. This is Billie’s story, with guest star Lane Smith as burns specialist Dr Lawrence. Sarah is our microcosmic example, the only victim of the episode, standing in for what we are asked to imagine in the macrocosm of the A story.

Which is the prospect of nuclear war.

There’s a revolution in the Middle Eastern country of Kular, prominent supplier of oil to America. This is 1982: Kular immediately becomes another proxy war between the USA and the USSR. And like all such proxy wars, the possibility of escalation into a thermonuclear exchange is right on its heels.

What the episode did, in pretty one-sided terms, was spell out, from multiple sources, what the effect of nuclear bombs would be, and it wasn’t pretty. Heavy-handed and didactic though it was in places, making clear that the most optimistic estimation of a nuclear attack on America would be 20% of the population: that’s 20 million people, Joe Rossi pointed out.

We had all sorts of sources: Charlie Hume’s sister, Clair (Bonnie Bartlet), LA’s Civil Defence chief, a retired US General (Warren Kemmerling). And we had Sarah and a lecture on the effects of burning, the long term treatment of even the most successful case, and the girl’s own desire to stop the non-stop pain by being given a shot that would just cause her to die. This from, as you can see in the image above, a pretty sixteen year old, with friends constantly wanting to know how she was, her best friend a Japanese girl, Judy (Lily Mariye), who taught their friends origami, folding a thousand paper cranes to make her wish come true. And Sarah contracting a pneumosis (spelling?) that is the classic way that burns victims die.

So it rocked out, over six days, evoking the Cuban Missile Crisis, ratchetting up the tension, then running out on one of those endless endings. The ray of light, which was meant to imply the inevitable resolution the episode couldn’t show, was a message from Dr Lawrence, taken down by Lou because Billie had gone home, about the thousand cranes, and the pneumosis brought under control. The guy reviewing this episode at imdb seemed to think this was a subtle tip that Sarah had died or would die, but to me it was the opposite, microcosm to macrocosm. Kular would not turn into World War 3 (not that it ever would anyway).

Good then, on an impersonal level, diminished by its refusal to supply a resolution, next week it will be as if nothing happened at all. That, as much as the notion of Nuclear war over a Marxist revolution in a Middle Eastern country that hasn’t even hard the word jihadist, ties it to its time, less than a decade before the Wall came down and the world became different.

Lou Grant: s05 e19 – Fireworks


There’s only five more episodes of Lou Grant remaining and I’ll be glad to see it done. Sometimes it isn’t difficult to tell when a show has lost its belief in itself, when it knows it is dying and is only going through the motions until the contract is up and it can let go. ‘Fireworks’ was a perfect example of this. It combined two not very related stories but let both of these drift towards an even more equivocal outcome than usual.

Both sprang from a common start. The Trib has run a very strong ten part series on health care that’s received high praise across the country and Mrs Pynchon is pitching for a nomination for a prestigious Greenwood Foundation Award. Not only is the Trib nominated, it stands a very good chance of winning. Everyone involved – Mrs Pynchon, Charlie, Lou, Rossi, Animal, Lance and Delgado – is up for it, on a high. Until Lou, for no apparent reason, starts looking deeper into Greenwood Universal, the fertiliser manufacturers who sponsor the Foundation, and starts getting cold feet. The Foundation’s a wipe-the-dirt-off-your-face endeavour, making Greenwoods look clean when they’re still openly selling highly toxic products, banned in the USA, in foreign countries.

The feelgood is undermined. Lou effectively undermines it, not wanting to enter (Mrs Pynchon drops out of sight before this happens, her opinion as Proprietor carefully stuck in a cupboard somewhere). Lou eventually leaves it up to the crew: let one of them anonymously stick the envelope in the out-tray and it’ll go. Of course, no-one does. Feelgood transforms into Feelflat.

The reporting team included Billie but she’s not here to play. Billie’s gone to Sacramento, the State Capital, partly to look at Lobbying as an industry, partly to look at Proposition 1452, for the deregulation of fireworks and partly to get within 30 miles of Ted so that they can at least get to eat dinner together (it may be taken that dinner has a euphemistic aspect).

She has the open support of retiring assembleyman Ray Elders (Parley Baers), an old charmer willing to be quoted, and who introduces her to one of Sacramento’s top lobbyists, Greg Serantino (Vincent Bagetta). Billie knows him only too well already: he’s her ex-husband. And he’s a sleazeball.

What else can you say? There are no shades of grey with Greg. He tries to avoid her. He blows her chance of meeting Ted by setting up a dinner-date-interview then stands her up, he tries to pretend it’s not him, personally, on behalf of the Fireworks Industry – who’d happily see a kid’s hand blown off by an unsafe firework, or set off hundreds of miles of fire, that lose money only selling safe fireworks: hey, this is America, land of the free (to be shat on) – and he persists right till the end in intimating Billie’s reporting to be ill-informed and biassed because she’s out for revenge on her ex-, rather than the truth.

Weak as gruel, full of cliches and not deserving of Billie’s last ditch attempt to get the pair to treat each other as human beings, when Greg’s clearly gone beyond all humanity. Elders points out that the Proposition might be dead this year, but it’ll come back next year, in some vampiric form, and Greg will have been there all years. Elders opposed it this year but, if he were running for re-election next year, he’d be talking to Greg, meeting the Fireworks people…

So, there you have it, Lobbying is inherently bad because it’s propaganda for the evil self-centred swine, but hey, if it gets you elected… Not much of a message. We’re fading all down the line. I’ll have something new to watch in mid-February: can I jump there now?

Lou Grant: s05 e18 – Law


The moment the episode started with a slow shot of a dripping tap, I had the feeling I was looking at an unwelcome symbol.

In that, I wasn’t completely wrong but the episode was a bit mono-direction, being about law and lawyers and lawsuits and anything else beginning with the letters l-a-w that the writers could think of.

Thankfully, the episode took three-cornered approach – actually a four-cornered approach – so that there was enough going on to ring the changes but the heavy bearing placed on one single thing that rarely comes up as even a part of other episodes was a bit too much.

The dripping tap belonged to Lou: his water’s off. Lou call’s in Chuck’s Plumbers, Chuck himself. Estimates the job is $300 for a proper job, $100 if you want a temporary bodge whilst you sell the house to some poor unsuspecting schnook. Lou goes for the proper job but when he get’s home, Chuck’s gone, not to be contacted, having smashed up the kitchen, cracked the sink, wrecked the pipes and broken a gas pipe. A real, professional plumber estimates $1,200 to fix it.

Partway through, Chuck returns, claiming to have had a mystery, protesting at others stepping on ‘his’ job, and gets thrown out by Lou. Lou’s furious. He hires The Animal’s brother, Kenneth Price (James Canning) to sue (cue a surprised ‘you have a brother?’ from Donovan that evoked a warm memory of a private joke between me and a once-loved one).

But Chuck counter-sues for £15,000, headaches and nausea from Lou’s unsafe home with its gas-leak, superior court stuff, five year delay for a hearing, legal fees kill. Chuck’s got sixteen similar lawsuits already. So Lou has to drop his suit, due to malicious manipulation of an inefficient legal system…

So that’s one corner. Of larger moment, and altogether more serious, was the story involving Billie. Though Rossi’s spent so much time investigating (offscreen) the clearly venal Councilman Garbers (Charles Cioffi), Billie gets sent to cover his Press Conference. Garners’ is being investigated by the Grand Jury and attacked by the local Citizens Action Committee, a group of amateurs who’ve started a Recall Petition. Billie and Animal get a photo of three people signing the Petition, two women organisers and the inoffensie, unconcerned delicatessen owner Mr Gruber (Harold J Stone).

But when the Grand Jury exonerates Garbers, the slimeball turns vicious. He claims the Petition was raised with Malicious Intent to Defame his Reputation and his Standing in the Community, and sues for $7,000,000, picking out just seven of over 15,000 signatories to make examples of. His chosen defendants include the two organisers and the apolitical Gruber.

It’s pretty clear intimidation, stifling of dissent and basic being a shitty bastard – Reagan was President, so the attack on Democracy should come as no surprise. The trio’s high-flying lawyer, who has much more in common with Garbers and his attorney than he does his clients, and about the same amount of sympathy, cuts a deal. The suit is dropped, in return for the withdrawal of the petition (even though it’s dead in the water by now) and the disbandment of the Citizens Action Committee. Cheer up people, the lawyer says, you won. but that’s just as much a lie as everything else a lawyer says and does.

But it spurs Mr Gruber into creating the 14th Street Committee, Headquarters his store, membership, him, because someone has to stand up.

Corner number three involves Charlie, Mrs Pynchon and the Trib’s Attorney Ryan Lindstrom (Richard Sarradet). Lindstrom’s a good, clever lawyer wjo’s immersed himself in the Trib’s business these past two years, and done very good work. But he’s only an Associate with Bauman & bauman, the firm on retainer. And he and some like-minded colleagues are considerung setting up themselves and Lindstrom is not very subtly touting to take the Trib with him. Charlie’s coldly disgusted at the open lack of loyalty towards Jacon Bauman, who’s given Lindstrom his opportunity, though Mrs Pynchon unwillingly concedes that Lindstrom has a point in saying the Trib is not Bauman’s biggest client, but would be in his firm.

The whole thing’s settled over lunch with Bauman himself (Barlett Robinson), admitting that a lot of his clients have gone with Lindstrom’s team, so much so it sounds like his very successful practice is being cut in something like half. And Mrs Pynchon is contemplating… But Bauman is an old friend, and besides he’s offering his personal attention and, if after a year she’s not satisfied, a return of half his retainer. Deal done.

Lawyers, what can you say, eh?

But I said there was a fourth corner. Rossi’s only got a minimal part in this episode, assigned a human interest story about a dying boy given his heart’s desire, to visit Disneyland. And the follow up about heartwarming donations. And the second follow up, about the dicovery that he’s not dying after all, it was a misdirection.

Then the third follow up: about the parents suing the Hospital for $6,000,000…

Lawyers, what can you say, eh? The dripping tap was apt.

Lou Grant: s05 e17 – Blacklist


Blacklisted

There was the core of a decent, and quite possibly very good episode in this week’s story, but in typical Lou Grant fashion it all went for nothing for the series’ refusal to give their set-up an ending. Then again, give that the title indicates quite clearly that we’re going to be dealing with the infamous Fifties, Joe McCarthy, HUAC and the Red Scare, and this was being broadcast in Ronald Reagan’s America, anything remotely pro-Communist was off the table. And how do you treat with the blacklist without condemning it for the sick, ugly thing it was?

For the episode, two new Trib reporters were introduced. Freddye Chapman guests as Abby McCann, introduced out of nowhere as not only working alongside Joe Rossi but also going ut with him. The exact extent of the relationship is blurred, mainly because rossi is white but Abby is black. It doesn’t bother them, but it might bother the audience (according to the imdb review, they share a ‘chaste kiss’: not in the syndicated version I’ve just watched they do). The other can wait his turn in the story.

Rossi and Abby are just two of many frustrated by late responses to requests under the Freedom of Information legislation. They are investigating why a certain physicist was refused a project headship for which he was eminently qualified, on security grounds, but the bulky file is ninety percent redacted. One thing that is left in is a name: F. J. Obler, interviewed in 1952, interview itself redacted. Could that possibly be Frank J. Obler, Trib reporter (William Schallert)? Would I be mentioning him if it wasn’t?

But first we have to go to the source. Abby’s father, Price McCann (Graham Brown) is in LA, to play at a folk concert. Mr McCann is a practical man (is this just a bizarre coincidence or did someone on the writing stuff really want to tip their hat to The Move’s ‘Curly’), a house painter. Thirty years ago he was a folk singer, of growing reputation. Until he was dragged before HUAC as a Commie, refused to name names, and was blacklisted.

The same thing happened to his friend Larry Hill, once an actor, who played Macbeth, and then a teacher of photography. With a certain amount of deliberate poignancy, Larry was played by Jeff Corey, an actor who was blacklisted.

Abby’s sensitive to what happened to her Dad – she was seven at the time, which would make her 37 now, and Freddye Chapman didn’t look 37: it seems impossible to find her age online – and it makes her sensitive to job situations. she’s the only reporter on the Trib who hasn’t applied for the investigative Reporter role that’s come vacant. She’s loathe to approach Obler over her and Joe’s story. When they do, however, Obler denies absolutely knowing the man or ever hearing of his name, but you know he’s lying from his thoughtful air of puzzlement.

Meanwhile, Price and Larry discuss everything and finger Franklin J Obler as a Fink, who hung out with everyone only to give secret testimony to the FBI. To use the terminology of the times, Obler was a Creep, and Abby refuses to work with him when they are abruptly paired in connection with the B story I’ll mention shortly.

Everything’s set up. The Pinko hatred is alive today. Price McCann has had a two page letter this week, in vile terms (not too vile to be read out on Prime Time TV, mind you). It’s a living problem.

And the show lets it all fall apart. The blacklisted, who were denied the careers their talent led to, are full of wise and moderate understanding towards those who ratted (I wonder if Jeff Corey really felt that way). After all, they didn’t starve, and painting houses is a perfectly adequate substitute career for a talented singer who’s still got it even now. As for the Fink, Obler starts off by defending himself: he’d gotten interested in some of the Communists’ social ideas but grew disillusioned, left the party, hated Reds, and gave evidence becauise he didn’t want to lose his job, but then is allowed to admit that he hates the choice he made, he could have fed his family some other way…

And there is no ending. Lou has admitted he doesn’t want to work with the creep but there’s nothing on what happens to Obler. Oh, we won’t see him again, but that’s because he’s a one-off guest star: we’ve never seen him before either, but there’s no outcome.

And there’s no that much of one for Price McCann. He performs at his concert, reminds his audience that America is great, America is a land to love, it wasn’t America that persecuted him (I’m calling it persecution but the episode won’t) and he launches into ‘This Land is My Land’ because ‘God Bless America’ won’t entirely fit, and everyone sings together and no doubt in the unexpurgated version this is where Joe and Abby share their intuh-racial kiss.

As for the B story, it involves Dr Valentine’s column, discussing sexual issues in direct and honest terms for teenagers. It’s controversial: concerned mothers castigate it as filth and campaign to have it removed, the Trib’s Advertising Manager wants it dropped, the paper defends it, one silly mother yelling utside blames the Trib for making her sixteen year old daughter pregnant, never knew the old dog still had it in him. It also goes nowhere, as much because it can’t be afforded a decent amount of space to enable it to breathe and develop whilst attention is being devoted to the Blacklist story that winds up being rather more Greylist, or even Beigelist, because no-one was going to offend anyone on an offensive topic.

If you want a rather more accurate picturee of the times, treat yourself to the film The Front starring Woody Allen, featuring one of the world’s most brilliant and deserved ‘Go fuck yourselves.’ File this Lou Grant under A, for Anodyne.

Lou Grant: s05 e16 – Obituary


For a while there, I thought this was going to be a well-constructed episode that bucked the show’s trend towards oblivion, but I turned out to be wrong.

The show’s first act was a model of careful, precise, professional building towards a catalystic moment. Billie’s in early: she has an angle on a soon-to-break story about a spy. But another story breaks, a prison riot in Modesto. the story goes to the experienced Ben Pomeroy. Billie explodes at Lou: she wants to go for bigger, wider stories, expand her range. Lou decides to pair her with Pomeroy. The problem is getting there. the only possible timely flight is a private flight already commissioned by nationally known feature reporter Helen Patterson. Lou talks her into letting his two reporters tag along.

As a sidebar, an allergy-afflicted Rossi gets assigned to a story about a rare, recently discovered species of moth, with The Animal, who has failed to get photographs on his last two assignments.

Art the airport, a third reporter, Bob O’Brien arrives, hoping to get on the plane with Billie et al, but it’s only a four seater so he misses out. Then, back at the office, the spy story breaks, and Billie has to be called back O’Brien makes the plane after all. Billie’s furious about being yanked off this story. Then Charlie breaks the news: the plane crashed in the mountains. There were no survivors.

Billie almost collapses. We’ve never seen her so shaken before, but then we’ve never seen her brush so closely with death and its inevitable concomitant: why me? Why did I survive and they all died? Why was I chosen to live?

There’s a story there, one that, if told with rigour and determination, would make a magnificent episode. I don’t know if it would be possible to do something like that in a weekly, prime-time series where the world more or less resets every seven days, but Lou Grant didn’t do it. Yes, it threw in some brief flashbacks, interrelations between Billie and each of the three reporters in the plane, superimposed on Linda Kelsey’s emotive face, but that’s not where the story goes.

Instead, Billie works her guilt out by researching the lives of Pomeroy and O’Brien, whilst Lou researches Helen Patterson, and then she writes a joint obituary. The episode disintegrated from then on. Meanwhile, the moth story grew in prominence, even as the allergy-afflicted Rossi dropped out (was Robert Walden genuinely ill during filming? It was an odd circumstance though ultimately necessary to the relation between the B story and the A story.

So we get a lot of wandering around and talking about the three dead reporters. We never really learn about them however. Pomeroy seemed to hang around young reporters all the time, being the mentor. Patterson had nop life but reporting, and neglected her son. O’Brien had a drinking problem and a confidence problem, and was rebuilding his life along strict disciplined lines. The eventually obituary, of which we only heard the end, turned this into a tribute to journalists professionally determined to get the story, no matter the personal risk, with not enough to suggest that they might be less than ideal human beings.

For me, though, this part of the story only came to life in one numinous moment, one real display of humanity. Lou meets Helen Patterson’s son at her home in LA. He’s open about her near-complete absence from his life, the difficulties in relating to her on the three to four times a year they’d have dinner and the fact that when she called to cancel because she was on the Modesto story, he felt relief more than anything. Then he shows Lou a room he has only just discovered for himself, that she never let him into when she was alive. There is a wall in this room that has nothing but photos overing every inch of space. Photographs of her son.

Meanwhile, the moth story starts to take up more and more of the running time. Yes, there’s the ecological aspect,covered in traditional didactic style, but its turning into a game. Dr Wilpert wants to show Animal the breeding ground, but they’re dogged by Colonel Taylor, a butterfly collector intent on getting and killing the rare species for personal gain. Ultimately, Animal chooses not to get the shots (an option only available with Rossi not there to drive things) because he chose not to let an endangered species be wiped out.

Lou’s furious with him. It’s a direct breach of the journalistic ethics that have just been extolled and it’s the episode’s only nod to the possibility that there may be things more important than those, so for no consistent reason Lou decides not to suspend him for a week without pay. End of story.

No further comment.

Lou Grant: s05 e15 – Recovery


Even at this late stage in the game, gathering speed towards cancellation on the back of collapsed ratings, Lou Grant can still give you a slap across the face to demand your concentration. In the whole of the two years or so I’ve been watching these re-runs, I don’t think I’ve seen an episode that so powerfully dragged itself out of being bitty and disjointed to become something that demanded your attention to every second of screentime, and that being almost entirely due to an astonishing performance by the late Nancy Marchand as Publisher, Margaret Pynchon.

Mrs Pynchon’s role has been a mostly minor one down the years. The show has a regular cast of seven, though there’s a clear demarcation between the principal trio of Lou, Joe Rossi and Billie Newman, and the more background players like Charlie Hume, Art Donovan, Dennis ‘Animal’ Price and the patrician Mrs P. These latter get stories focussing on them from time to time, but their main role is support. Mrs Pynchon has always been the one at the top, the eighth floor. She is the patrician element, American royalty, the former brainless socialite turned serious newspaperwoman, whose major defining position is her determination to do the right thing in newspaper terms. She’s the straight arrow.

Late last season, Mrs Pynchon succumbed to a stroke, throwing the future of the LA Tribune into doubt, it being well known that only she of her family is dedicated to running the Trib as a newspaper. It’s not been played much on. She walks using a stick, sometimes but not always she wears her metal leg-brace. Charlie Hume has been taking as much weight off her as he can, running the paper, seekking to husband her strength. That he is concerned about a possible relapse is one of the three dangly threads that start this somewhat spatchcock story.

Another thread is a bit of go nowhere nothingness. Japanese-American reporter Ken Watanabe (Clyde Kusatsu) is competing with Billie on parallel stories about a husband and wife pair: she – Irene Rooney – is Billie’s beat, a decent, honest, upright woman running for the Police Revew Board, he – a plastic surgeon – is under investigation, gets raided, flees to Surinam, cue debate about how this will affect Irene’s career, she being innocent and all that. Until she gets caught, fleeing to Surinam with the krugerrands.

Nothing, except in that it introduces Ken. Rossi’s got the meat, covering a campaign for restitution to Japanese-American families for their internment forty years earlier, after Pearl Harbour: their treatment, their being pressed into what amounted to concentration camps, the loss of all their assets in being forced to sell land, farms, businesses for a fraction of their true value. Ken doesn’t want to know for himself: he doesn’t want to be seen as a victim, as helpless, lacking control. But the most important aspect of this story is that Rossi identifies a local company, Transpacifica Land Company, that made out like a bandit, pressing for cheap sales, building up at massive profit. The story lands where it has to for this to be a story: Transpacifica was owned by Matthew Pynchon, Mrs Pynchon’s late husband.

Up to this point the episode is unexceptional. Charlie orders Lou to kill the story because he won’t have that weighing on their Publisher when she’s vulnerable. Rossi’s outraged. He thinks Mrs Pynchon’s dne it. When, by chance, he leaves the building alongside her, she bright and chipper, asking what he’s working on, he brings it up to her. The shock is palpable. Mrs Pynchon visibly hates him, calls the story grave-robbing,  orders him to get away from her. You fear another stroke.

And from here to the end of an episode that visibly grows in stature and effect by the second, Nancy Marchand, aided by some wonderfully concentrated writing from regular scripter Michelle Gallery, and with the sudden, solid and equally emotional support from Clyde Kusatsu, blows everyone of the screen. Mrs Pynchon challenges Charlie over the load he’s taking, accepts he’s being protective, not trying to take over,  but establishes she is getting better, that there will be no second stroke. she authorises Rossi’s story, insisting only that he portray her fairly, and that, with incredble tough-mindedness, is that she been shown as ignorant but not innocent: she knew Matthew Pynchon, she loved him for the things that led him to drive these deals, she knew he saw deals as having winners and losers, with him as the winner every time. She sets up a Foundation to help the Japanese-American community. She will have the story told but she will not havevherself white-washed.

And Ken, who doesn’t want to see himself as a victim, who sees this as forty years in the past, goes ion the Employee Day to the races and recognises the track as where he and his family were temporarily interned when he was three. All sorts of things he thought he’d buried broke through. Mrs Pynchon has worn a ring given her by Matthew, forty years ago, with a Japanese inscription she’s never bothered to have translated. Ken can identify it as a family ring, inscribed with a family name, a very personal piece of jewellery that would only be sold in greatest need. He finds the daughter of the family, finds they too were at the same internment camp, will deliver the ring. Mrs Pynchon knows her duty, to rthe family and to herself, and goes with him.

I couldn’t believe the transformation, the sudden power, the way the subject came not so much to light as on fire from within. I have never watched The Sopranos, Nancy Marchand’s last role as Lydia. Everybody says how brilliant she was in that series. Well, for ten or fifteen minutes in Lou Grant she showed just what she could do, and that spell was worth all the five seasons put together for me. Astonishing.