Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Series of Bad Choices

To continue my meditation on the influence of “Shall We Dance” on your humble correspondent:

My approximate expression when I see "Shall We Dance" is on.

There are three scenes for which I have particular affection. The first is very early in the picture. It’s our first introduction to Edward Everett Horton. A delivery boy comes in, sees a painted portrait of Horton, and draws a mustache on it. Horton enters, sees what the boy has done and shouts (phonetically) “Wa-see?! Wa-see?!” (I’ve asked my wife, who has a bit more knowledge of French than I what it would be in actual French, and she tells me it’s not real Français that Horton is parleying, so it’s anyone’s guess.) Regardless, "wa-see" has become shorthand in our house for "What's that?," even though it really doesn't save time or comprehension of what we're asking.

 As close as I could find to the portrait in the movie.

Anyway, the kid explains his actions in a long French sentence which baffles Horton. The latter asks his assistant “what does that mean in English?” The assistant gives a Gallic shrug and replies “The same as it does in French.”

Fortunately, there’s no rim shot, though it deserves one.

And here it is, even if it's Armisen and Kattan doing it.

Later in the picture, Horton and Jerome Cowan get roaring drunk together and the next morning, Horton is suffering from a hangover of epic proportions while Cowan is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. “Why are you hung over?” he asks Horton. “You only had one glass!” Horton shoots him a nauseous look: “Yes, but you kept filling it.” I actually used this line in “The Speakeasy” the other night. No one got it.

Jerome Cowan: another actor I'm 
going to guess you don't know.

But the line that inspired this whole diversion is Eric Blore’s. You’ll recall I mentioned the convoluted plotting in this picture. At this point in the movie, Astaire has told a ballerina-on-the-make that he’s married to Rogers in order to stop her overtures (the ballerina, that is). Blore, as the floor manager, has arranged for Rogers and Astaire to have adjoining suites in his hotel. When he finds out they’re not married, he immediately locks the door between the suites.

Still later in the picture, Astaire and Rogers do indeed get married so that they can get a divorce and end all the trouble. (As they’re getting their marriage license, Rogers asks the clerk, “What are grounds for divorce in this state?” He shoots her a conspiratorial look over his pince nez: “Marriage.”) Following the wedding, Rogers sees Blore and asks him why he looks so miserable. He tells her he's been worried over their being unmarried, but still in close quarters: “Oh, Miss Keane,” he answers, “I’ve been tossing and turning all night. First I go to and fro, and then I go fro and to.” (Trust me; it’s funny in context.)

 Pince nez. Chekhov wore them, and I expect the New York Times 
will soon do a story on hipsters wearing them, too.

So, after 1600 words of prologue, I finally get to my point.

I had my callbacks for “The Farnsworth Invention” Sunday, and since then, I’ve been "tossing and turning to and fro, and then fro and to." Did I see enough from the actors? Have I made good choices for the roles I’ve filled? Will those actors accept? Have I broken down the roles effectively or will I have to shuffle them up once we start rehearsals? There are just myriad choices that I have to make, and I have to wonder if I’ve made the right ones or if not, if I’ll be able to correct them.

Last night, when the initial choices were fresh, I was anxious about them and found myself getting stressed out, but as today went on, I found myself more and more comfortable with them – and the ones to come (which are significant; more I cannot say at this point).

But speaking of bad choices, let’s not go without mentioning the finale of “How I Met Your Mother.” This is a show that had long since passed its sell-by date, so no matter how they ended it, it was going to be both awful and a relief. The former in that it was inevitable that, given the course the show had taken, that the execution would be both labored and lame; the latter in that it’s finally over. 

 Even they're happy it's over.

I find it interesting to read the online comments about it. It’s like SNL for me. Every week, the show is lame and not very good; every week I watch anyway; and every week, the comment boards and reviews are chock-a-block with comments kvelling over what a landmark in television that particular episode was; on a par with the best of Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, and the legendary stable of writers Sid Caesar assembled, when anyone with any critical judgment could virtually see the stink lines coming off the television set.

 In 1976, Paddy Chayefsky predicted the future of 
television in "Network." He did not include HIMYM.

This episode was no exception. While the immediate takeaway among critics and (former?) fans alike was that it stunk – and it did – there was also a significant presence of people who were moved or found it an appropriate ending. I was not among that number, given the way the episode trod a fine line of seeming to adhere to long-established character traits while simultaneously betraying them.

This has been a season – if not nine seasons (nine!) – about callbacks and resolving long-running (or obscure) gags, and it seemed like the writers were far more concerned about indulging in nostalgia about those gags at the expense of character development. Although, in fairness to them, the characters stopped developing about two years ago, and they’ve all been treading water since then. Given that the creative staff has always had this ending in mind – at least from the evidence presented here: Almost every episode started with the same two-shot of the main character’s kids. In nine years (nine!), that shot hasn’t varied, but the actors never spoke. Finally tonight, they did, but they looked exactly the same as they always have, leading me to believe that this “ending” was filmed years ago in order to plug it in at the end. (Update: Cobie Smulders just confirmed this on the Letterman show.)

They needn’t have bothered. It’s the kind of show that, like so many others, mistakes absurdities for profundities and familiarity for affection.

Year after year, I find myself following fewer and fewer television shows. I’m relieved when certain shows go off or even I no longer feel a need to follow them (something like “The Simpsons” hasn’t been worth even hate-watching for a decade). And I’m not saying that every show I follow is a good one (I mean, “Ghost Adventures?” “Comic Book Men?” Really?) And “The Big Bang Theory?” Don’t even get me started on its nerd blackface (I wish I could remember whose description that was so I could credit it properly).

Even Zac of "Ghost Adventures" can't 
believe how bad "Comic Book Men" is.

So many choices, and so many bad ones.

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