So Long, Dear Friend

The death of Valerie Harper this week got me to thinking about TV characters and the people who love them.

This is Us.

You see what I did there.  Even in writing about television a TV reference sneaks in.

For those too young to remember, Valerie Harper played Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary Richards’s talky, funny, Jewish best friend forever neighbor on the famed Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s.  She was so popular she was later spun off as the star of her own show, Rhoda, where she was given a fuller life, less catastrophic dates and, finally, a hunky man who became her husband in one of the highest rated episodes on TV at the time.

Picture Perfect

Of course, television being what it was/is, she eventually had to get divorced (Note: for no good reason, in my opinion) so the whole cycle of jovial unhappiness could begin again.

I grew up with Rhoda and she meant a lot to me, mostly because I knew her.  In the seventies there were 0.0 young Jewish New Yorkers on hit television shows and certainly none as instantly recognizable and human as Rhoda.  We all not only knew her, we were her on any given day.

And who wouldn’t want to be?

The head scarves alone!

Rhoda joked about her life being a mess but she wore vibrant colors, had perfect one-liners for every occasion and was smart.  Moreover, she was a survivor.  You always knew Rhoda would be okay and even if you couldn’t literally be her or have her physically in your life you wanted her to at least be in your living room or bedroom or wherever you watched television, with you, whenever possible.

Much of this was due to Valerie Harper’s ability to embody a well-written sitcom role, take her beyond the laughs and make her feel real.  It was just impossible to believe that in real-life she wasn’t Jewish, didn’t speak with a trace of a New York accent and had never appeared in a TV comedy before she became Rhoda.  But she wasn’t, she didn’t and she never had.

Yes way! #acting

Certainly, you don’t have to be a Jewish New Yorker to play one but back in the 1970s, and even now, many performers become so obsessed with playing us that they get the accent and the mannerisms exactly right to the point where they are not playing anything else.   They (nee we) become wawking, tawking hand-waving neurotics ready to mow down anything and anyone that gets in our way.

Okay, sure, we are all of that.  (Note: See Larry David on any given day, even though he long ago transplanted to L.A.).  But there are times when we also do color outside our given lines.  Rhoda always did that and without a very special episode where a beloved relative gets hit by a car and she has to deal with it seriously.  Or one where she’s chastised by everyone around her for making a bad joke about the accident. (Note: See Larry David again).

See? Relatable.

Of course, this phenomenon stretches across all ethnic, sexual and religious lines.  As a gay man I’ve cringed, ranted and left the room numerous times over the years as some straight actor badly pretended he was a certain type of homosexual male and then went on to win an award for said performance.

What? Who? #shade

Name your minority group and I bet you could, too.

Meaning, we all need our Rhodas.

Luckily times have changed and, with it, the level of writing, especially on what is now broadly considered to be contemporary television.   Given where cable and streaming series have taken us, it is not unusual in these times for many actors to transcend their actual selves and portray believable niche characters that bear little relation to whom they truly are in real life.

But they exist in a 2019 world where the roles are a lot deeper and niche is the new…Black? Asian? Jewish? Gay? Hispanic?

…or if you’re Andre Braugher: Black, Gay, and a Police Captain for the NYPD

It is also a world where, ironically, the brilliant work Valerie Harper did might today almost be required to be done by a New York, Jewish actress.  See if that gets you to thinking a whole host of non-PC as well as PC thoughts.

This is exactly the point where, for me, television comes in handy.  Every time things get too heavy or confusing in my life I know l can feel comfort in being able to wander onto the couch – or if it’s really bad, a bed – and spend minutes or hours with a whole host of non-existent people who, in those moments, are as real to me as anyone I’ve ever met.  By my count over the years:

Lucy Ricardo’s determination made show business not seem all that bad.

 Murphy Brown allowed me to hold out hope that in the end journalism would get the last  laugh, and word.

Let’s just not talk about the reboot, OK?

 Olivia Benson on the street reinforced to me that on balance there is someone to protect those of us who somehow managed to survive against all odds.

 Don Draper shamed me back to the gym for fear we (or the actor playing him) happen to meet on a busy NYC street (or preferably empty stuck elevator) during one of my yearly trips.

working on my time machine right now

Walter White scared me into always protecting myself by reminding me there can still be great danger around the corner because anyone could break bad.  

Liz Lemon made me feel sane and well adjusted, by comparison.

Jack Pearson helped me imagine a world where I really did want to spend time with every member of my extended family, and

Midge Maisel made me laugh, cringe and sometimes cry at seeing all of my dead relatives and their friends on the small screen in ways that I could never have imagined in the days when I first met Rhoda.

What is it about funny ladies in good headwear?

RIP good friend.

I will still miss you even though I can see you tomorrow and every day of the week for the rest of my life.

Rhoda Opening / Closing Credits Season 1 

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Give it the Boot

I like nostalgia as much as anyone but do we really need a new Magnum P.I. and another Cagney & Lacey? CBS thinks so. They just greenlit them as pilots.

And why not?   They thought the same thing some years ago when they decided to bring back that brilliant series of my youth…wait for it…. Hawaii Five-O – which is now entering it’s…wait for it….EIGHTH season. Never mind CBS’s refusal last year to bring the salaries of its two Asian actors, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, in parity with its other White stars after all that time (Note: No, they didn’t take to heart the snarky hint to change the series title to Hawaii White-O), thus casing them to leave.

ugh.. whatever CBS

And why should they care? As the vaudeville comedian once quipped after an endless string of bad jokes – I (they) got a million of ‘em!!

Case in point. CBS also greenlit reboots of the cutting edge series of my teens and twenties…MacGyver and S.W.A.T!   Yes. Who knew??? Well, somebody did even if we didn’t. Because they’re both in their…wait for it…second year!

Which is to say nothing of their straight to series deal for a reboot of the Emmy Award-winning comedy about a sober female TV journalist — Murphy Brown — but this time with its original creator and star.

Well.. this could be interesting

That’s right. No re-imagining or recasting here. Candice Bergen is returning as the fictional, crusading, single Mom journalist who – to clarify for my current students – once came under attack from the real Vice President of the U.S. in a nationwide speech as a real, culpable threat to the nuclear family for daring to bring a child into the world without a husband or father in her house. Um, fictional house.

UGH. Everything old IS new again. #helpus

Yes, truly, this happened! His name was Dan Quayle (Note: The veepee, not the kid) and no doubt you haven’t heard of either him or Murphy Brown but just wait till the fall. You will. If it gets an airdate. And heck, even if you don’t watch your parents will no doubt tell you about it in one of those torturous, endless conversations where you’re only half-listening, surfing the web in boredom.

Way to compete for that key ad demographic, CBS!!!!

OK, no fair to pick on the Eye network (though they make it so easy to do so). This season NBC brought back Will and Grace with its original writers and cast to great success and somehow managed to embrace their ages AND make the gay-straight thing seem as relevant as it did when it first aired 20 years ago.

and the pop culture train keeps on coming!

So let’s see what Murphy Brown can do 30 years later. As well as Hawaii Five-O did 40 years later, albeit with a different cast (Note: Alas, its stars and creator are deceased)? Well, perhaps.

But no, wait – we see you hiding there in the corner, ABC. Don’t think we forgot YOU.

they’re back on the couch… and so are we

Late last year you had promised to give us a new version of….can’t wait for it….Roseanne!! And now it’s what, less than two months away until its March 2018 announced airdate?? Kewl. Plus, the real Roseanne recently announced to TV critics that her fictional TV doppelganger and husband will be…TRUMP SUPPORTERS!!… …And that she, herself likes the way he’s shaken things up.

omg.. someone get me a bag.

Though seriously, before anyone goes all ballistic on real Ro just know canny comic TV stars say all sorts of provocative stuff when promoting a new show – and even when they’re not. Again, you have to do something to compete with Netflix and everyone knows the real Ro is about as dumb as a fox.

And while we’re speaking of Netflix (not Fox, we’ll get to them), one does wonder: Just how in the hell did CBS let the reboot of its 1970s hit Norman Lear series, One Day At A Time, go to the most successful streaming service around, where it has emerged as a major critical, and from what we hear, though who ever really knows with Netflix, let’s be honest, commercial hit?

Ohhhh.. is that right? #youtellemRita

Was having one of the few living EGOT recipients, Rita Moreno, as a co-star, too much for them? Or was the issue an actual half-Latinx writing staff? Couldn’t they have tempted Mr. Lear to return to the Eye with a new hands-off approach after decades of earning them billions of dollars, literally? Or did it not fit into their…um…business plan?

Well, perhaps they’re just discounting everything other than the three major networks that created new shows during the time ODAAT first aired. Not likely. Very soon after it was cancelled, Fox emerged as the fourth major, then there was pay cable, then basic cable, then streaming and now, well, there’s just too many to count. Or, well, to take seriously as creative, and especially ratings, competition.

There is just too much TV to watch. #help

Which begs this question:

Is it too soon for Fox to bring back Glee with the adults at night school playing the kids’ roles? I, for one, don’t think so. But if we know Ryan Murphy (and we don’t) he might do it better and make it a limited or horror miniseries where the marginalized high-schoolers REALLY get revenge and become…Oh, never mind. That’s the type of reboot that’s probably already been done to film, live, on-tape or/and virtual death. And beyond. Which is not to say that it couldn’t work…in the right hands.

Of course, there is no point in leaving a real-life decision at Fox out of the loop, particularly since that was its choosing to NOT actually reboot American Idol after a long 2 years and instead allow ABC to have the honors. Way to go, Fox! (Note: We Think). And way NOT to go, ABC! (Note: We Think). Since at the end of the day, well, who really knows? There could be a way by, say, 2030, to reboot a series that is currently on the air with a concurrent alternative version and new location. Or perhaps the same general location and even the same stars but in a different reality.

… but just, like, enough with this show already. #isthetruthstilloutthere

Don’t you dare say no and give us the stink eye before you look in the national mirror towards our nation’s capital…and report to us exactly what is real…and what is fake.

Which could actually be a political remake of 1998’s Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow, but set in D.C.. Anybody see it? No.   Well, apparently she’s one of Ryan Murphy’s best friends. Want to be a TV producer? Well then, you can have the idea (Note: I got a million of ‘em!) but only if you start there. I’m dying to see what they say about it and what happens when it goes to the networks.

Peter Allen – “Everything Old is New Again”