Sunday, December 26, 2010


Thinking about series and continuation

So what is it that hooks people into a series of  tv programs? Is it the same sort of thing that used to keep us faithful to radio programs years ago? Bob and Ray? Hop Harrigan and the Pirates? The Shadow Knows? Those were about the voice and continuation of character, as are the visual series: I remember preferring not to venture out on nights of The Jewel and the Crown, or then Upstairs Downstairs… I saw only one session of The Sopranos, not liking any of the faces or bodies in it. That is it for me: getting attached to a face or/and a voice and a character. Mad Men was so widely watched that many discussions of various subjects relied upon the latest episodes to focus attention. I detested it upon first sight, the slickness of Don Draper, not just his falseness; the massive vulgarity of the secretary, the boring and simpering Peggy. But I liked the grey hair of whatever his name was, and in fact my husband and myself found ourselves watching many, in fact, all the episodes we had been sent. In one wild burst of afternoon madness, I rented the last episodes, and marveled – as did everyone else I discussed it with – at the rapid conclusion of our Don with a French-speaking secretary (ah, a Canadian!) who could entertain his children and appeal sufficiently for him to propose to her – whom he had known 28 minutes in viewing time.
I guess that really surprise ending rivals the end of The Sopranos when it all blacks out – the viewers take it from there.

With all this in mind, I recently rented 12 episodes of the British Lytton’s Diary, in total ignorance of what it was about. That it concerned a gossip columnist for a Daily News periodical seemed interesting enough, when I thought back to Pat and Mike, the Front Desk, Broadcast News, and all the wonderful newspaper films. The moral issue in Broadcast News, when Holly Hunter, with that wonderful unmistakable voice, breaks off with the gorgeous William Hurt because he has cheated on his newscast by shooting a scene twice to show his emotion, was brought back to me when we re-watched The Way We Were, and the so moral and political Barbra Streisand irritating the very cool Robert Redford. Of course those two couples weren’t going to make it, and of course, the cool looks of the guys were the exact opposite of the very short Holly Hunter and the very frizzed Barbra, when she stopped ironing her hair.

But alas, having seen four episodes of Lytton, I still don’t take to his face – too smooth – or his eyes,  not with a twinkle at all, although he can look sideways, or his moustache, or his height. He wears a handkerchief in his pocket and always a tie and the very blankness of his face undoes whatever interest the various plots have. And they do: The women with the mask, the tell it all memoirist whose affair with the aging famous movie star’s husband provokes the star’s violence, the attempted smear of our hero’s reputation – none of these have that grabbing quality that I long for in my movies and soaps and series. I love the office scenes, of course, and they have the same appeal of continuing characters whose quirks and voices and clothes we know as The Office, and of the very wonderful and  much-regretted West Wing.
With its rapid pace, its witty and underplayed dialogue and its lovable President (who should have been ours, we kept thinking), that series could go on ad infinitum and we would still be watching it, even as it changed somewhat as it aged. I suppose we all do, but it was, like the undying film A Song to Remember and anything else with Cary Grant, totally worth living in when it was on the screen.

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