Saturday, September 22, 2018

Wait, What?

I was in a doctor's office and they had a sign in the waiting room.  I don't remember the exact wording, but it asked patients not to use their cell phones.

I honestly don't understand.  We're bored out of our minds waiting for the doctor (usually way behind schedule) to call us in.  And his magazine collection is nothing to write home about.

We're not at a movie theatre, or driving a car, or in line waiting to order.  We're just sitting there, doing nothing.  Why should we be prevented from using our phones?

If the doctor means we shouldn't make noise, fine. (Though even that would seem a little odd.) Just put up a sign asking people not to talk on their phones.  They should be allowed to text, or play games, or avail themselves of all the information in the universe.

Is the doctor just mad we might entertain ourselves, or even do something constructive, rather than sit there, wondering how the blood panel went?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Simonizing

When Neil Simon died earlier this year, I called him the best comedy writer of the 20th century.  I did note, however, that Lost In Yonkers (1991) was his last major play, and that his powers seemed diminished in his later work.

Still, trying to be a completist, I recently read Oscar And Felix: A New Look At The Odd Couple, Simon's update/rewrite of his most famous title.  And The Odd Couple had been central to his career, the work he kept returning to.

It was first presented on Broadway in 1965, and cemented his reputation as a hit-maker.  The play had serious third-act problems out of town, but Simon managed to solve them and, by all accounts, created (with the help of a great cast and director Mike Nichols) one of the funniest productions ever seen on Broadway.  And the story of finicky Felix Ungar moving in with sloppy Oscar Madison became iconic.

Simon then went on to write the screenplay for the 1968 movie version, which was a gigantic hit.  Next there was a TV series that ran for five years in the 1970s and forever in reruns--Simon had nothing to do with it, but it made the title even more firmly established in the public's mind.

In 1985, he wrote a new version of The Odd Couple with the sexes switched.  Starring Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers as Olive Madison and Florence Ungar, it ran the season on Broadway.  Still not done, in 1998 he wrote The Odd Couple II, a screenplay featuring the further adventures of Oscar and Felix.  So perhaps it's no surprise in the early 2000s, he updated his original.

Oscar And Felix was presented in Los Angeles in 2002, starring John Larroquette as the former and Joe Regalbutto as the latter.  The script was published in 2004.

It's not clear to me if Simon just intended to update the show so it was set in the present, or if he planned to do a major rewrite.  My guess is he thought he could just make a few changes, but once he got going, couldn't stop.  He was an inveterate rewriter. The new version, while it keeps the original story beat for beat, has, I'd estimate, 75% new dialogue.

I don't think any update was necessary.  The original was a contemporary piece that had turned into a period piece, but was still uproarious.  And cutting references to the Playboy Club and the automat, while adding cell phones and frequent flyer miles, doesn't do anything to make the piece funnier. (In the original, Felix sends a suicide telegram. In the update, it's a suicide email.)

There's also a structural change.  In the 1960s, Broadway plays generally had three acts, and now they usually have two.  Simon solves this by creating a first act out of what used to be the first act plus the first scene of the second act, and a second act out of what used to be the second scene of the second act plus the third act.  This is fine, though it does make the original change from act one to act two, where the set goes from slovenly to immaculate, harder to pull off without an intermission.

Much, much worse, though, is the original was hilarious, and in just about every instance, the replacement material is weaker.  Sometimes the new stuff is passable, but the 1965 version has some of the funniest dialogue ever written.  And it's kind of creepy when, in the middle of mediocre lines, you hear one of the original gags and remember how funny it was.

Actually, even the older lines don't work as well, since they're playing in a different context, with slightly different--duller--characters who have less connection.  I could pretty much take any page from the script to demonstrate how much weaker the new dialogue is.  But let's look at just a couple cases where the original classic material has been changed, to its detriment.

From the first act of the original, during the poker game:

Oscar:  Life goes on even for those of us who are divorced, broke and sloppy.  (Answers phone) Hello?  Divorced, Broke and Sloppy. Oh, hello sweetheart. (Becomes seductive. The others listen.)  I told you not to call me during the game. I can't talk to you now.  You know I do, darling.  All right, just a minute.  (He turns). Murray, it's your wife.

Murray:  I wish you were having an affair with her. Then she wouldn't bother me all the time.  (Into phone.)  Hello, Mimi, what's wrong?

Oscar: (Imitating Mimi) What time are you coming home?  (Imitating Murray) I don't know, about twelve, twelve-thirty.

Murray: (Into phone)  I don't know, about twelve, twelve-thirty.  Why, what do you want, Mimi?  "A corned beef sandwich and a strawberry malted."

Oscar:  Is she pregnant again?

Murray:  (Holds phone over chest) No, just fat.  (Into phone again)  What?  How could you hear that?  I had the phone over my chest.

This material, when done properly, gets explosive laughter (the dialogue above starts 38 seconds in):



Here's the updated version:

Oscar:  Oh, hello, sweetheart...I told you not to call me during the game...Yes, we're still on for tonight... about twelve thirty.

Vinnie:  Twelve.

Oscar: Wear the high school outfit...with the scotch plaid mini skirt....Alright...just a minute...Murray, it's your wife.

Murray:  (takes cell phone, holds hand over speaker)  You know how long I've been asking her to do that?  (Into phone)  Hi, Hon...How'd you hear that?  I had my hand over the phone...

Perhaps there's no reason to explain why the latter is weaker, but let me try.  The set up for "Murray, it's your wife" is made unnecessarily long so Simon can try two new jokes which aren't as good--a Vinnie callback, interrupting the flow, about how he has to leave early, and Murray talking about what he wants his wife to do.  Further, the new version has replaced Murray's better line about Oscar having an affair, and ends up making the gag about Mimi overhearing Murray much weaker.  Also, the imitation gag is gone.

Here's another example.  From the original second act, Oscar and Felix are waiting for their dates to arrive.  Felix is angry because Oscar is late and the London Broil he slaved over has dried out:

Felix:  What am I going to do?

Oscar:  I don't know. Keep pouring gravy on it.

Felix:  What gravy?

Oscar:  Don't you have any gravy? 

Felix:  Where the hell am I going to get gravy at eight o'clock?

Oscar: I thought it comes when you cook the meat.

Felix:  When you cook the meat?  You don't know the first think you're talking about.  You have to make gravy.  It doesn't come!

In the updated version, Felix has made Chicken Valencia for their dates, who are Spanish, as well as "alcachofa," which is Spanish for artichoke:

Felix:  Tell me what to do, Oscar.

Oscar:  Just keep pouring gravy on it.

Felix:  Gravy?  The gravy turned into ink at seven o'clock...Any more suggestions?

Oscar:  Can you make gravy out of alcachofa?

Felix:  I put the alcachofa in the freezer, I thought it was the humane thing to do.

Oscar:  Don't they sell gravy in one of those stores?

Felix:  What stores?

Oscar:  Gravy stores...What do I know?  I'm a sports writer.

Here, a very funny and character-based comic idea--Oscar figuring gravy just comes automatically, and Felix aghast at his ignorance--has been replaced by fairly ordinary gags about food problems.

On and on it goes, great material being replaced by lines without any zing. The only new stuff that sort of works is the scene where Oscar and Felix have their date with two Spanish sisters, instead of the English sisters in the original. (Actually, this scene isn't entirely new, since it's adapted from the same scene with two Spanish brothers in Simon's gender-switched 1980s version.)  And even though this new scene is amusing, it's still not as good as the original, not just comically, but also dramatically--most of the new jokes are about the language barrier, where the previous scene told us more about the character of Felix as well as the sisters.

Which is the problem with the whole evening.  Less laughs, but also new material not as dramatically satisfying.  Look at the original ending, after the dispute between Felix and Oscar has been resolved, and Felix, a changed man, has just left:

Oscar:  Are we just gonna sit around or are we gonna play poker.

Roy:  We're gonna play poker.

Oscar:  Then let's play poker.  And watch your cigarettes, will you?  This is my house, not a pig sty.

Not hilarious, but thematically a nice ending--we see that life goes on, but also that the interaction between Oscar and Felix has affected them both.

The new ending has a lengthy--two pages--and dramatically inert exchange between Oscar and Felix before Felix finally leaves.  Then:

Oscar:  Come on boys, let's play poker, I feel lucky tonight.

(The poker players reenter room)

Murray:  What's the game.

Oscar:  Five card stud.  All cards are wild.  Geez, I'm hungry.  Murray, go into the kitchen and see if there's any linguini left on the wall.

Instead of ending thematically, we finish on a not-great callback gag to a great bit (from the original) where Oscar threw out Felix's linguini.  (By the way, if Simon was updating the piece, they should be playing Texas hold 'em.)

Really there was no need to update the piece, and, in any case, it would appear Simon no longer had the chops to write material that would hold up as well. It's no wonder when Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick starred in a Broadway revival in 2005, they stuck to the original.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

White Power

I've gone over some of the Beatles' albums on this blog, listing their songs from top to bottom. I thought about doing it with The Beatles, better known as the "White Album." But after looking at it, I realized there was so much mediocre material I wasn't sure if it was worth it.

So, instead, I'm going to discuss the idea that many have mentioned--imagine how good it would have been if they'd released it as a single album.  But there are 30 songs on the White Album, which is actually enough for three albums.

So I'm going to put the songs into three separate albums, from strongest album to weakest. (The songs are listed within each album in the order they appear on the White Album.)

There were a few tricky choices on the edges, of course.  Judge for yourself how you'd respond to each album.


White Album

Back In The U.S.S.R.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Happiness Is A Warm Gun

Martha My Dear

Blackbird

I Will

Julia

Birthday

Helter Skelter

Honey Pie


Off-White Album

The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill

I'm So Tired

Rocky Raccoon

Mother Nature's Son

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey

Long, Long, Long

Revolution 1

Savoy Truffle

Cry Baby Cry

Good Night


Beige Album

Dear Prudence

Glass Onion

Wild Honey Pie

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Piggies

Don't Pass Me By

Why Don't We Do It In The Road?

Yer Blues

Sexy Sadie

Revolution 9

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

YK Problem

It's Yom Kippur, so pardon me if I don't blog today.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

No Kidding

I've watched the first two episodes of Kidding, the new Showtime comedy-drama that's Jim Carrey's return to TV.

He plays Jeff Piccirillo, better known as Mr. Pickles, star of a long-running kiddie show.  He's at the top of his profession when one of his twin sons dies in a car crash.  He has trouble adjusting, and he and his wife, Jill, split. (I think that's the order--it wasn't clear to me if they were already divorced when the accident happened.)

He wants to make death a subject in his show, and break other boundaries, though he's fought by the show's producer, Sebastian Piccirillo--also his father.  Meanwhile, one of the puppeteers on the show, Deirdre--also his sister--has problems with her own kid.

Kidding, created by Dave Holstein and directed by Michel Gondry (who directed Carrey in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), is an odd project.  I think the show is trying to be funny and unsettling at the same time, but only manages the latter.

The main problem, aside from the lack of laughs, is Carrey's character is not fun to be around.  He's a mixture of innocence and anger, which perhaps could work, but as written and played comes across as annoying.

The show has a stellar cast. In addition to Carrey, there's Judy Greer as Jill, Frank Langella as Sebastian and Catherine Keener as Deirdre.  But talent can't make up for a shaky premise and indifferent scripts.

Monday, September 17, 2018

If I Ran The Zoo

The Emmys are tonight.  I'm not going to try to guess who will win, but I'll tell you whom I'd vote for if anyone allowed me to.


Outstanding Comedy Series
 
Atlanta

Barry
Black-ish
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Glow
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Intriguing season of Atlanta, though the show isn't always a comedy.  Didn't see season of Mrs. Maisel.  Most of the others pretty good, but for laughs I guess I'd go with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which has no chance of winning).  I'd pick The Good Place if I were allowed a write-in.
 
Outstanding Drama Series

The Americans
The Crown
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid’s Tale
Stranger Things
This Is Us
Westworld
Three of these I haven't seen.  I love Game Of Thrones, though it was a weak season.  This Is Us was okay, but not as good as its first season.  Guess I'll go with Stranger Things, which was nice to have back.

Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Antonio Banderas, Genius: Picasso
Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Melrose
Jeff Daniels, The Looming Tower
John Legend, Jesus Christ Superstar
Jesse Plemons, Black Mirror: USS Callister
Easy choice--Plemons cracked me up doing his imitation of Shatner, yet was a truly creepy, even terrifying character.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Bill Hader, Barry
William H. Macy, Shameless
I love Danson (though is he a lead?).  Donald Glover did some amazing stuff.  But I might go with Hader, who was quite memorable playing a character who couldn't express himself well.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta
Henry Winkler, Barry
Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live
Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Excellent category.  It comes down to Henry Winkler, who shows he hasn't lost a step, and Brian Tyree Henry, who was the best thing (arguably the lead) in Atlanta.  Think I'll go with Tyree Henry.  (Have to include "Tyree" or you wouldn't be sure which one I'm referring to.)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Ms, Maisel

Allison Janney, Mom
Issa Rae, Insecure
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
Brosnahan, even though I've only seen stuff from season 1.  She's that good.

Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series

Zazie Beetz, Atlanta
Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne
Betty Gilpin, Glow
Aidy Bryant, Saturday Night Live
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
As much as McKinnon dominates SNL, I'd go with Betty Gilpin, who stands out in a solid ensemble.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Jason Bateman, Ozark
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Ed Harris, Westworld
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld
I guess Sterling K. Brown, who has created a truly memorable character.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Matt Smith, The Crown
Joseph Fiennes, The Handmaid’s Tale
Mandy Patinkin deserves it for years of fine work on Homeland.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Keri Russell, The Americans
Claire Foy, The Crown
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld

Actually, the only one I've seen this year is Wood.  She's good (on a ridiculous show) but can't choose without seeing at least most of them.
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series


Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Vanessa Kirby, The Crown
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale
Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Once again, haven't seen Handmaid or Crown so can't choose.  Headey is good, if not her best season. Brown is memorable, but not as exciting as first season.  Newton is solid but I thought her part was sort of silly.

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series

At Home with Amy Sedaris
Drunk History
I Love You America with Sarah Silverman
Portlandia
Saturday Night Live
Tracey Ullman’s Show
Guess I'll go with SNL, even if their batting average is low.

Outstanding Variety Talk Series

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
The Late Late Show with James Corden
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
How do you like your Trump attacks, relentless or even more relentless?  Guess I'll go with Corden simply because of Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney.

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