Monday, February 08, 2021

TV: Exclusion empowered by The Water Cooler Set

The Water Cooler Set birthed a lot of stupidity which does include ROTTEN TOMATOES.  

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We were reminded of that when we spoke to a friend who's a vice president at ABC.  That's how we learned that CALL YOUR MOTHER has a 0% rating on ROTTEN TOMATOES from the critics.  Grasp that's 5% higher than the score at RT for THE PAUL REISER SHOW -- easily the worst show in the last ten years and, in fact, the lowest rated NBC Thursday night sitcom in decades.  

But THE PAUL REISER SHOW has a higher score than CALL YOUR MOTHER.

It makes no sense until you realize what we've been telling your for years now, there is deep ingrained sexism in The Water Cooler Set and that is reflected at ROTTEN TOMATOES.  We've already praised CALL YOUR MOTHER.  It's a funny show and it's a show that gets stronger with each episode -- something we've also noted that happens with sitcoms.  Well, with sitcoms with a live audience.  The one-cam shows?  What you see on that first episode is all you're ever going to see.  The first year of a filmed-before-a-live-audience show will demonstrate improvement because they're tinkering with it throughout the week, yes, but also during filming based on audience reactions and, based on audience reactions, they're shaping things for future shows.

Kari Lizer created THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE and that was a funny show.  But after season one, it was a hilarious show.  CALL YOUR MOTHER is funny.  But it's apparently too upsetting for those with Mommy issues or hatred for women in general.  

FIREFLY LANE?  While the audience at ROTTEN TOMATOES rates the show at 74%, the critics rate it at 48%.  A failing grade -- something they give to most shows that have female leads.  But they'll never cop to sexism, will they?

If you've read the reviews, we had several forwarded to us from a friend at NETFLIX (he was afraid we'd miss the show and hoped the bad reviews would make us write about it), you know that they say Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke give strong performances (and they do) but, goodness, golly, that messy storyline, all those present day and then flashback and then present day and then flashback, it's just so confusing.


Strange, they never made that argument about ARROW, did they?  But then that show that did flashbacks all the time revolved around a male lead.  And, by the way, that whole thing, that back and forth, shifting a decade or more?  That was actually done on TV prior to ARROW.  It was a war show so The Water Cooler Set didn't get offended.  The show was . . . CHINA BEACH.  The final season of that show hopped around decades in each episode.  John Sacret Young was celebrated for that in the 90s.  (He wrote the script for episode six of FIREFLY LANE.)


NETFLIX's new series -- which is the number one streamed series for Friday and for Saturday -- revolves around two friends Kate (Chalke as an adult) and Tully (Heigl as an adult).  They meet when they're fourteen and live across the street from one another.  We see them bond at that age and, as adults, we seem them in the 80s and the present (2004).  They have arguments from time to time and it can get messy as most deep friendships can.

In fact, "messy" describes the show and we don't mean that as an insult.  The Water Cooler Set doesn't like messy.  It likes precision, it's like machinery.  It doesn't handle complications, it never has been able to handle those well.  But life is messy and life is complicated and, so sorry, it's not precise.

Viewers -- men and women -- streaming the show are responding to that lifelike characteristic that FIREFLY LANE captures so very well.

Johnny is Kate's husband and he's played by Ben Lawson.  Johnny has sold his soul -- or believes he has.  In Latin America, he saw a priest (who was a friend) killed by the death squad and he came back to his local Washington state TV station and they weren't interested and papers weren't interested and no one was interested so he went back to doing TV news which is a form of emotional manipulation.  He ends up married to Kate and they produce a daughter to be proud of, have a strong sex life and you'd think he'd be happy.  Work wise?  He's producing a huge TV talk show (hosted by Tully).  But the Iraq War started and he feels he has to do something with his life.

We can relate to that story -- so can The Water Cooler Set.  Because they've seen it over and over and that's what they talk about -- even the token women in The Water Cooler Set give it lip service.

But it's one truth.  It's not the only truth.

Another truth, also included in the series, is that Johnny is doing something, he's built a family and that's an accomplishment.  He doesn't have to go around the world to report in order to feel that his life has value.  Or he shouldn't have to feel that way.

Let's be honest, what Johnny values is the only value that The Water Cooler Set believes in -- and the only value they embrace.

It's not that simple.  It's not that simple for Kate or for the many people in this world who feel like she does, the many people that are ignored in the narratives of the 20th century where a selective experience was, time and again,  passed off as universal.

There are many storylines taking place in this series and many views and many experiences.  Possibly, if it were being done with British accents near the start of the last century, TV critics would be salivating?

They should be salivating.  This is a satisfying show and, if you're at all thrown by the order the scenes play out, that's only in the first episode as you're getting used to it.  

CALL YOUR MOTHER is not being judged on its merits nor is FIREFLY LANE.

And it's not just them.  We watched a real dumb and insulting documentary on Sammy Davis Jr.  It aired recently on PBS' AMERICAN MASTERS.

Sammy Davis Jr., for any who do not know, was an accomplished dancer, singer and actor.  

To PBS?  He was a racist sell out who endorsed Richard Nixon.

That's what they opened with.  Audiences booed him.  Because he endorsed Richard Nixon.

Tricky Dick is a vile person who should be inhabiting whatever one's idea of hell is -- and inhabiting it for eternity.  That has nothing to do with Sammy Davis Jr.


As for endorsing Nixon, we're having a hard time believing that they'd start an AMERICAN MASTERS look at Ginger Rogers, Connie Francis, Jackie Gleason, John Wayne or any of the other celebrities who endorsed Richard Nixon for his presidential runs with the fact that they had endorsed Nixon.


But they think they can shame -- even long after he's dead -- the African-American man.


And the story they told would lead you to believe that in all of Black America, only Sammy endorsed Nixon.  Pearl Bailey endorsed Nixon, Wilt Chamberlain endorsed Nixon, James Brown endorsed Nixon.  There are others.


But only Sammy's going to be singled out?


Sammy was booed.  He went into the 'enemy camp' in Chicago -- a PUSH convention.  Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. demanded $25,000 and, for that, he would help rescue Sammy.  So he was onstage praising Sammy for what he'd done -- something the 'documentary' doesn't show you -- and the boos were intense.  Sammy began singing "I've Got To Be Me" and the audience moved towards him during this.  


Why did Jess need to rescue Sammy in the first place?


It wasn't the Nixon endorsement.  If you're going to be honest, be honest.  It was the endorsement and all that came that year before it. That would include the trips to Vietnam which would be misconstrued as supporting the war, the ALL IN THE FAMILY appearance and, oh, yes, the endorsement.


He started that year on CBS' ALL IN THE FAMILY . . . kissing America's bigot Archie Bunker.  It was a famous image . . . until Sammy hugged Tricky Dick in the infamous AP photo.  


Those three things led up to the booing at the PUSH convention.  By the time the photo with Nixon took place, he was an easy target for many in Congress -- and many went after him -- including Julian Bond who was serving in the House of Representatives at the time.

It's amazing how this is ignored.  But it's amazingly appalling in other ways.  


Sammy didn't just decide to go to Vietnam.  He was asked to go.  And he was asked to go in 1966 by LBJ's Vice President Hubert Humphrey.  We know this because Alex Haley was present, interviewing Sammy for a PLAYBOY INTERVIEW, when the call came in.  How does that get left out, by the way?  Sammy Davis Jr. being interviewed by the future writer of ROOTS, Alex Haley, for a major piece -- a PLAYBOY INTERVIEW, and he gets a call from the sitting Vice President asking him to visit the troops in Vietnam?  

Thank heaven for the late Diahann Carroll.  She classes up the documentary and she's the only African-American actor featured on camera who knew and worked with Sammy.  We found that strange. Is Bianca Ferguson press shy?  She was Claudia on GENERAL HOSPITAL and Claudia was married to Bryan (played by the late Todd Davis).  And?  And Sammy Davis Jr. played Bryan's father Eddie in seven episodes that aired in October of 1982.  That also doesn't make it into the documentary.  Apparently, Leon Isaac Kennedy is also now afraid of the camera since he's not in the documentary either. Wendy Edmead doesn't appear.  Harry Belafonte is a voice heard but not a face seen.  Lola Falana?  She knew Sammy and worked with him several times.  But she's not present.  Minor actress Paula Wayne -- a White woman who barely knew Sammy -- is shown weighing in over and over and she's angry, really angry.  She seems less about remembering Sammy and more about trying to convince the world that she had righteous anger (had -- she's died in 2018).  


We'll say thank heaven for Billy Crystal as well since he's one of the few to note Sammy's dancing as an adult.  (Billy raves over the dancing, to be clear.)  There's a lot that the documentary notes that has nothing to do with Sammy's career or with his life, to be honest.  His wives, for example, are barely noted.  But anyone watching would have heard a lot of words like "perform" but had seen nothing regarding that.  They can't really show his film work but they can show clips (plural) from that crappy episode of ALL IN THE FAMILY?   

His recordings -- his singing -- really doesn't feature either.  "Hey There" and "Candy Man" get noted.  It's noted that he performed "I Gotta Be Me'' at the PUSH convention but it's not noted that the song, four years prior, had been a hit single for him -- number 11 on the pop charts in 1968 -- in 1968.  He had ten top forty US hits on the pop charts.  Beginning in the sixties, he started charting on the Adult Contemporary charts as well -- notching up 13 top forty hits there -- including 9 tracks that never made the top forty.  So between the two charts, he had 19 songs become top forty hits in the US.  You'd never know it from the 'documentary.'

Again, this isn't about reality, it's what makes The Water Cooler Set comfortable and they're not really interested in a documentary about an artist if the artist is Black.  They're only interested in a 'race relations' documentary that features one White face after another telling you what it was like back then to be Black -- or, more often, especially in the case of Paula Wayne, what it was like to be White around a Black performer. While coddling these White voices, the documentary repeatedly ignores monumental moments such as Sammy filming a TV pilot for ABC in 1953, THREE FOR THE ROAD, but, despite good word of mouth, ABC couldn't find a sponsor willing to back the show.  That's not addressed.  Nor is THE SAMMY DAVIS JR. SHOW of 1966 ever noted, a variety series he hosted but was not allowed to host some episodes for a brief time because ABC suddenly invoked their contract from a decade prior with Davis.  As a result, Sammy would only appear in seven of the fourteen episodes of a show named for him.  This was the first variety show of the sixties hosted by an African-American (others had hosted variety shows in the 50s including Nat King Cole).  "Race" is addressed with Paula Wayne raging against Frank Sinatra for not telling JFK that Sammy had to perform at the presidential inauguration.  She doesn't rage against JFK for nixing Sammy.  Time and again, the powerful (JFK, corporations like the makers of Geritol which didn't want to sponsor a show with an African-American lead) are let off and the minor are slammed.  Major events, like the MLK-led March on Washington in 1963, which Sammy was a part of, are reduced to less than 30 seconds or outright ignored.  

What the 'documentary' does do is tell the story of White America while pretending to tell Sammy Davis Jr.'s story.  It's exactly what The Water Cooler Set stands for and it is reductive and uninclusive and, hopefully, it will soon be a thing of the past.  It needs to be.




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