Thursday, October 24, 2013

TV's Recent Gems and Near-Gems

you lose some, you win some.  for a few weeks, my sunday evenings were two hours of pure television bliss. from 8 to 9 there was PBS's exquisite mini-series, Last Tango in Halifax Lord, what a refreshing show! the plot sounds pure Hallmark: 2 elederly widowed people who were in school together 50  years earlier meet again when alan's young grandchild persuades him to look for celia on facebook.  they meet again, each admits that they were in love with the other back then, and have remained so ever since, and decide, after an hour of wonderful conversation, to get married.  their middle aged children are appalled, then supportive.

but this was far indeed from a hallmark movie. the two, played magnificently by derek jacoby and ann reid haven't a trace of adorable codger about them.  they are adults who are in their  late 70s, and have grown and lived over the years.  their daughters too are complex adults, both with troubled lives that their parents can't change. at first hostile to each other, they become fast, supportive friends.  Alan's daughter Gillian is a widow with a strong libido; celia's daughter caroline is recently divorced fro her philandering husband and is having an affair with a female colleague in the university where both work. neither is at all discomfited with her new friend's sex life, nor is alan.  celia, in other ways a strong liberal, is rigidly opposed to her daughter's relationship with a woman, nor can she handle the idea that caroline had enjoyed her marital sex life before she kicked her husband out for his infidelity. needless to say, the series treats both the daughters' sexual lives without a hint of exploitation.  nor are we expected to react with distaste to the openly sexual nature of the elderly couple's relationship.  sex, like all the realities of life, lives gently in this homey, comfortable world.

all of this  makes celia's obstinate fury to caroline's lover startling, as it is to alan, and in fact nearly destroys his love for her.  his liberalism, even more than hers, is core deep, and probably a lot closer to left than liberal.  it's also matter of fact, a core-deep humanity that opposes people hurting each other.   for celia, the realization that she has injured not only her beloved daughter but also the man she is in love with, shakes her enough to make her confront her own bigotry and approach caroline's lover with a heartfelt apology.   yep, a happy ending, with not a smidgen of saccharine. for the fans of the show, there's an equally happy ending: a second season of the series will be shown next summer.

TV is rarely this good with elderly characters, and in america, at least, on the rare occasions when it is, the show seldom succeeds. {I  don't know how this plays out in England, except that the BBC also had a hit that pbs aired in the early 1990s--a broad, hilarious sitcom called Waiting for God, which was set in a retirement home run by a money hungry jerk named harvey baines [or, as residents Diana and Tom refer to him ''the idiot baines'']. Diana fights baines and all he stands for with militant wit and anger; she had s pent her life as a photojournalist, covering wars and politics.  Tom is a gentle soul, given to playing with people's perception of him as demented.  he lives a rich fantasy life, closing his eyes and becoming a john wayne character, or james bond, or whatever hero of whatever fantasy he has crafted. when pulled away from his escape world, he cheerfully apologizes for being preoccupied and explains that he has been busy making passionalte love with veronica lake.  these two characters are opposite versions of resistance, and their attacks on the idiot baines and all he stands for are marvelous funny, in the face of a literally morbid world, in which people are sent to age into death. like alan and celia, they become lovers, and they don't marry only because diana is opposed to the institution of marriage. so they live in sin happily as long the gods allow.

the US has had its elderly heroes, though the one that always gets touted, Murder She Wrote, is really about a middle-aged character.  Judging Amy [about which i'll write another time] was one of those grandly progressive tv shows that flourished for some reason in the early 21st century, and though Amy was as youthfully beautiful as you could hope for,  one of the two crucial barely secondary characters was her mother, played by tyne daly, one of our truly fine actors.  maxine, in her 60s, is bolder and less rule-bound than her daughter, a social worker fighting passionately for the rights of the throwaway children her jobs connects her to. widowed, she falls in love with a man her age, played by richard crenna.  there are a couple of fairly explicit bedroom scenes with the two,  in one of which maxine leans over him, pulling the pins out of her bunned hair, so that it falls sensually over his face.  again, no cute codger there.  [more about amy and the brief golden age of the early 2000's on a later post.]

recently we did less well with nbc's  harry's law,' with Kathy Bates, in which an aging female lawyer named Henrietta fights the good fight--interestingly, from a conservative perspective.  the show lasted barely two seasons.

this post started out with the topic of my sunday night tv shows, but it's already too long. so another time for drop dead diva, which ends its current season in two weeks, leaving me not totally bereft since a small cable station, wbin, is airing reruns of the too-soon-canceled leverage.  that too will appear with DDD and probably the puffy spy show covert affairs, which has oddly become my favorite just-for-entertainment show in recent months. stay tuned....

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