Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mainly, TV Sucks

I grew up on television like almost everyone else has. My parents may have been unusual in many ways, but we always had a TV in the house and I always had access to it. Since my parents both preferred to read rather than watch TV I found that I could generally watch what I wanted to watch. So, like most Americans I watched way the hell too much TV.

As I got older I became less and less interested in the old boob tube. It was rare that I liked anything enough to anticipate it and work my schedule around it. I pretty much stopped paying attention to television when I was in my mid 20s. It just wasn't my bag.

However, over the years, I would occasionally stumble upon something that I liked that was made for television audiences. And sometimes those shows would surprise me with particularly good writing and singular performances and productions.

Here are two such productions that did so:

The first one I want to mention was a two-part episode done for a TV show that I seem to have watched alone, in all of the USA. It was called FRANK'S PLACE and starred Tim and Daphne Reid (real-life husband and wife) who own a restaurant in downtown New Orleans. When I mention this series to anyone they don't know what the hell I'm talking about. I never encounter anyone who has heard of it, much less watched it.

By Jove, I watched it. There were only 22 episodes and I don't think I missed but one or two of them. And, yes, I was bummed out when it was canceled.

The most powerful episode was actually a two-parter. It was called "Cool and the Gang Part 1" and "Cool and the Gang Part 2". The thrust of the story dealt with the experience of one of the
Frank's Place employees, the youthful Cool Charles portrayed brilliantly by William Thomas, Jr. In this two-parter the kid becomes involved in drug dealing and soon finds himself with lots of money. But things do not go well. He descends quickly into a hellish life but realizes before it's too late that he has a good way out--toward his friends who love him. The acting is spectacular. Some might call it hokey and false, but they'd be wrong. I found it to be the best of what drama can offer.

Not from that episode, but a brief clip from FRANK'S PLACE.

The other TV production that stunned me was an episode of THE X-FILES. I will assume that most of the readers here are familiar with the alien-chasing FBI agents of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. So I will dispense with explaining such familiarities.

There had been a number of really well-written episodes of the show. I should know, because I watched most of them, since it was one of the few horror/fantasy oriented TV shows on prime-time television in those days.

The episode that amazed me and showed me how good TV could actually be was written by Darin Morgan, directed by David Nutter. That episode was "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" and co-starred Peter Boyle as a life insurance salesman who can sometimes see the future deaths of people he encounters.

Although dealing with the darkest of dramatic elements (murder, suicide, loneliness, despair),
the telepaly is punctuated by wry humor and is wonderfully played by all of the actors, most notably Peter Boyle who portrays the most unfortunate Clyde Bruckman of the show's title. As I watched that story unfold I knew that I was seeing something special and brilliant and that I would not likely see this kind of thing again. And I was right. Since that show I don't think I've seen anything that has come anywhere close to the quality of that episode of that particular TV series.

The late Peter Boyle.

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