Sunday, May 07, 2006

TV: The Urine Stains of David Mamet

The Unit. CBS' Wednesdays. David Mamet's back to fondly stroking his favorite part of the (male) body. Hence the title, "The Unit."

Well what else will a dick write about?

Truly, Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues needed no male counterpoint because the world's been full of talking talking dicks and one of the loudest has been the 'creativity' of David Mamet -- a body of work which indicates some form of artistic hypospadia.

Call it The Unit, The Dick or The Tool. Just don't call it art. While Jackson Pollock splattered, Mamet just pisses and some mistake it for art. A clue for those still confused, real stage artists don't usually end up producing crap for TV.

But that's where Mamet's 'talent' has taken him. And like all 'noted' playwrights, his source material is a really lousy book by a nonwriter (Inside Delta Force by Eric Haney). (That was sarcasm.) Haney, if his claims are true (and some dispute them), often "fought for trouble wherever there's freedom" (to subvert the annoying tune to the G.I. Joe cartoon). More recently, Haney (who is also a producer of The Unit) has been critical of the illegal war. He's even come out against torture. So why he's a part of this show is anyone's guess?

Yes, it makes for a tortured viewing; however, that's not what we mean.

We mean the simple fact that the show endorses torture. Repeatedly. So is Haney full of hot air or did Mamet overrule him? If so, how did that happen?

We imagine they had a sword fight and Haney came up short.

The obsession with the penis is in full flight in the cock and bull that is The Unit.

Men stroke their missile launchers (a rotund movie critic might find that pleasing since he once lamented that Bridget Fonda didn't do just that in Point of No Return -- little did she realize that the chief goal of her performance was to provide fat critics with the means to get off). Men have cock fights, verbal when there's no real reason to go to physical, though, actually, this isn't a very physical show to begin with -- all bluster.

Scott Foley, who was utterly unconvicing in the role of Mr. Jennifer Garner, continues to provide bad performances. Possibly after being paid to do nothing week after week on Felicity he considers it a step up that he mainly walks around in silence while aiming a gun?

In fairness to Foley, there's no character on the show, not one. That's to be expected when one of the producers (Mamet) doesn't know the first thing about acting and, like far too many playwrights, is so married to the text that he fails to grasp that recitation doesn't make for riveting.

You've got a busy cast of nothings. Chief among them, serving in the WAC division, is Kathleen Noonan who's doing what she's been doing for over three decades (though it was freshest when she was Devon's mother Ellen on All My Children). Here, she's just stale, married to a general and called Katherine. (The female characters have names and use them -- must be a sign of 'softness.') Katherine comes off like a robot and then, for no reason in the text and no reason in the performance, warms up in her final scene on Wednesday's episode.

Arc of performance isn't really something a scribbler/dribbler like Mamet worries about. His entire body of work is nothing but a con game of twists and turns meant to leave the audience unbalanced and distract from how little actually goes on and how little sense any of it makes.

The male characters say things like "Damn good to see you" and "What you can't buy, you gotta' take." (We think the latter is what happened to Mamet's soul.) They're fond of the gay jokes (male flight attendents -- oh the dicks crack themselves up!). But most of all, they're fond of free balling.

We think it all plays like someone's suffering from undescended testicles, but whatever.

Used to the dinner tables scenes, are you? Not in world of Mamet where women say nothing (but may smile and gigle amused) while the men folk swing their dicks. We'd worry they might poke someone's eye out but we were told that size issues make that impossible.

So the stumpies swing what little they were given. For instance, a man tells Hector, his daughter's suiter, about when a boy showed up to take his then 16 year-old daughter out to the movies in a "Stamp Out Virginity" t-shirt.

Hector: Big decision [. . .] kill or just maim?
Man: I beat that boy all the way down the street, past the church and the police station. Beat him 'til he was in his momma's kitchen. Let him live so he could remember that beating.

Mother and daughter remain silent, but amused. (And turned on? It was the strangest look they exchanged.) We're a long way from Cliff and Clair Huxtable.

At the end of the episode, we'll go back to Hector and the man. Earlier, he said, "Hector, you look healthy enough. You got all ten fingers. You know how to squeeze a trigger? [. . .] Tell me how a young, healthy male like you can look himself in the mirror working in an office with a bunch of skirts?" Now he's found out that Hector is an elite fighter. Suddenly, the man thinks his daughter finally has some "sense." He calls Hector (who is not engaged to his daughter) "son," tells him a joke and offers to take him to a football game. (In the World of Mamet, that is third base.) During all of this the women are, again, mute as though they're Stepford Wives with a mute option their owners have elected to excercise.

Finally, the young woman, Lorrinda, actually rises and walks out. (In silence.) In the backyard, she'll confront Hector, who follows her, asking what is going on that suddenly her father is buddy-buddy with him? She'll find out that he's a "killer" (her term, send the hate mail to David Mamet) and is offended that Hector has lied to her. Her father will hover and she'll have to insist he leaves. (He's not supposed to want to bed Hector, is he?) Since the father's always close by, in her non-dramatic moment, she'll tell her father to show Hector out.

Apparently the mind, like the dick, is soft which is why we then go to a scene of Hector and his fellow "killers" drinking beer and shooting the breeze. Foley, who's earlier failed at an Irish accent, suddenly decides to channel Dr. Phil and address the issues of Hector's relationship.

"What's her concern?" Foley will ask in the midst of his own Platonic debate. "Her concern is children."

Of course it is. She's a woman in a Mamet play. A "good" woman. (The bad women just want money.) We're not doubting Dr. Foley's diagnosis. We're just noting that this has nothing to do with anything the character he can't quite fill in has done in the rest of the episode. Possibly his consolation prize for this comes in getting the money line next week: "Tell the truth or I will kill you." "I will." Not "I'll." Manly Mamet doesn't traffic much in contractions. Second only to his other hallmark, a disregard for nouns.

Nothing on the show ever makes sense. That's not because the (male) characters are busy rushing around from action scene to action scene. As his screenplay for The Untouchables demonstrated, Mamet can't do action. So there's a lot of statue moments -- where the tough guys are frozen (or just stiff armed) while nothing happens. There's a Mexican standoff at one point that plays like the scene in Reservoir Dogs minus the dazzling dialogue and the breath of life Quentin Tarantino breathed into that film.

After awhile, you start to grasp that The Unit never quite gets it up.

What it does do is endorse torture.

There's a weapons dealer that the boys go after. He's sold six stingers to "the Islamic brigade of Basra." (We'll sidestep the fact that the stingers, naturally, were made in America, ditto, because the show does as well.) It's not enough for Jonas Blane (played by Dennis Haysbert in some sort of homage to the original cast of West Side Story) to slice the dealer's face. Before he can leave, Jonas shows the dealer a photo of two children, the dealer's two children, who go to boarding school in England. Jonas informs the dealer that if he ever hears that the dealer is dealing, he will return to bring the dealer the severed heads of the two children.

Now, when the US military threatens and uses family members (women as well as men) to attempt to get information, our mainstream press (Good Morning, Dexy!) looks the other way. They avoid the topic. They do so because that's so far from what our stated beliefs are that even The Last of the Kool Aid Drinkers might blanch. Fortunately for the Bully Boy, he's got Mamet to soften up American audiences and make it seem palitable to talk of severing the heads of young children. Exactly who are the "insurgents" on this show?

Jonas has a curious fascination with children and pain. It's why, early on, when a mother and a child are threatened at gun point, he will tell his partner to leave it alone. "Sweet Jesus, not our business," he will say as a woman is shot and her body drug across the ground. Moments later, he will tell a child, "That's the last lie I want to hear from you. I'm going to mess you up real bad" and threaten to take the kid's money. The kid in question?

They'll need him to stop the "Islamic brigade of Basra." The kid will ask for only one thing (the kid's under twelve, with a dead mother and no family around) -- that if he helps them, they will take him to America. Jonas doesn't bat an eye as he promises they will. The kid asks him to swear it. Jonas will swear it.

Of course the kid's not taken to America. Jonas lied to him. ("Twists and turns!" screams the playwright who never learned about characterization.) The kid's left in the town where he's not only an orphan struggling to feed himself but, probably, a marked 'man' since it's going to be obvious who ratted out the location of the helicopter that the boys shot down. But that's our amoral world of Mamet.

Machismo means never having to work up a tear for an orphaned child. Jonas Blane probably watches Jerry Lewis telethons to laugh at the children.

If it seems as though Jonas, like every other male on the show, is working overtime to prove his manhood, blame it on the 'genius' at the wheel. It's tough growing up in the soft-pats world of Flossmoor, Illinois. Imagine if the creative 'genius' behind this trash had grown up in Hell's Kitchen? Then he might actually have something to write about. Instead, he gives us stagey talking heads who can't stop obsessing over their "unit." When you grew up middle class, in a suburb, living the soft-pats life, it must be real hard to wanna be a gangsta' so much. If you wanted to title his body of work, the perfect title would be Looking For Mr. Goodbar because Mament's in search of his fantasy male, a dream date, a wet dream, that never really existed. Like many a bored and spoiled kid of the suburbs, he wasn't impressed with his own family. (For the record, unlike many mothers in Mamet's work, his own mother had held a job.) So he took to the 'tough guys' on black & white TV and thought it would be all so much cooler if they just stood around talking. (He was a very verbal child.)

It's not reality and it's not art. It's a writer with a bad case of hypospadia. We suggest toilet training, if not surgery.
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