May 22, 2020

Douglas Barr: The Gay Casting Couch

During the heyday of the Village People, they even found their way onto prime time: When the Whistle Blows was a sitcom about three hunky construction workers, Buzz (Douglas Barr, left), Randy (future soap hunk Phillip Brown), and Hunk (former pro-football star Tim Rossovich), plus their female coworker.  Like the Village People, they were all gay-coded but "really" heterosexual, spending their time off disco dancing and solving people's personal problems (one of the episodes was even entitled "Macho Man").

Though it was heavily promoted by the network, it aired on Friday nights, when the intended audience was out disco-dancing, so  only nine episodes aired in the spring and summer of 1980.

This was 31-year old former model Douglas Barr's first acting credit -- male models were always assume gay in the 1970s, so he had been the recipient of many casting-couch invitations by gay producers, directors, and casting agents, but he states that he always said "no" (he said "no" to female invitations, too).

He relied only on his talent, charm, handsome face, and obvious beneath-the-belt advantage to land his next role: disingenuous Howie Munson, sidekick to trucker-stuntman-bounty hunter Colt (Lane Majors) on Fall Guy (1981-86).  I've never seen it, but I understand that there was some buddy-bonding, and some shirtless and swimsuit-clad shots.

Along the way, Doug played a trapeze artist in a revealing leotard on Fantasy Island, and was displayed in a speedo on Battle of Network Stars.  Mostly he played men who fall for women, but in the "Rallying Cry" episode of Hotel (1985) he played half of a gay couple involved in a custody battle.

Next came more buddy-bonding: The Wizard (1986-87), about a little-person genius inventor (David Rappaport) who has globe-trotting adventures along with his sidekick-bodyguard-best buddy (Doug).

I met Douglas Barr at a party in 1987, but at the time I hadn't seen him in anything, so I didn't know he was a celebrity.  I knew that he was very nice and had a great physique.

Later he starred in Designing Women (1987-91) as Bill Stillfield, boyfriend and eventual husband of Charlene (Jean Smart), naive receptionist of the interior design company.

Since Designing Women, Doug has been involved with directing, especially tv movies with titles like Perfect Body, Sex, Lies, and Obsession, and Beautiful Girl.  He's written a few such movies himself, including The Cover Girl Murders and Taking a Chance on Love.  Not a lot of gay subtexts.  But he had more than enough early in his career.

Designing Women: A Half-Hour Spent Dishing with Friends

My parents liked Designing Women (1986-93)  so much that they bought a paintingof the house used for exterior shots,  It hung in the foyer of their house in Rock Island, so it was the first thing I saw when I flew home for a visit, and the last thing I saw on the way back to West Hollywood.

We also liked it in West Hollywood -- maybe not that much -- but I remember watching after Murphy Brown on Monday nights.

It was about four women who work as interior decorators in  Atlanta, but actually spent most of their time dishing.  Sort of like The View, or The Golden Girls without the cheesecake.

1 Wealthy Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter), who owns the company, is Dorothy, the sane, stable center of the storm. She champions an endless array of liberal causes. Dixie Carter was actually conservative, so she made a deal with the producers: for each liberal tirade, she got to do something conservative, like sing "Amazing Grace."  Julia eventually marries an eccentric millionaire (Hal Holbrook).

2. Her sister Suzanne (Delta Burke), a former Miss Georgia,is man-hungry (so Blanche), elitist, and bigoted. She gets all the snarky lines, and so was a favorite of drag queens.  Her ex-husband (Gerald McRaney) appears a few times.

3. Charlene (Jean Smart), their secretary, sits at her desk reading magazines and making Rose-like non sequiters.  She eventually marries (Douglas Barr, top photo).

4. Mary Jo (Annie Potts) must be Sofia. She's a no-nonsense single mother, with two sons (Brian Lando, George Newburn), an ex-husband (Scott Bakula), and eventually a boyfriend (Richard Gilliland).

5. Anthony (Meshach Taylor), an ex-convict, does deliveries and manual labor.  He feels emasculated from spending all day in a feminine environment.

When I read through the plot synopses, I wonder if I actually watched this show, or just heard about it.  Nothing seems familiar:

Mary Jo's father visits and hits it off with Charlene.
Mary Jo goes on a date with a much younger man.
They all go on a wilderness survival weekend.
They take a self-defense class.

The only episode I actually remember is "Killing All the Right People," which aired during the second season, on October 5th, 1987.

 Their friend Kendall Dobbs (Tony Goldwin) has AIDS, and faces prejudice and paranoia.  Suzanne is bigoted, but Mary Jo gets all fired up with protective maternal ferocity (I don't remember how Julia and Charlene reacted). He asks them to design the room for his funeral, which struck me as strange -- his friends and family would only be there for a couple of hours. Why not donate the money to a hospice or something? But it was one of the first times that AIDS appeared on network televsion.

I think that was the only time gay people were mentioned on Designing Women.

It was just a fun half-hour spent dishing with friends,

And about the only thing I could talk about in both West Hollywood and rock Island.

May 21, 2020

"Kopitiam": A Coffee Shop in Homophobic Malaysia Serves Up a Gay Character

Since Malaysia is next door to Thailand, I always thought it was a primarily Buddhist, gay-friendly or at least gay-ok country.  No, it's only 20% Buddhist, and extremely homophobic.

Only 9% of the population surveyed stated that "homosexuality should be accepted" (in the U.S., it's slightly over 50%).  The sodomy law still exists, and is enforced; Parliament considered but abandoned a bill to push up the penalty from 20 years to death.  The Prime Minister has warned gay diplomats to stay out of the country.  An attempt to hold a gay rights march was suppressed.

So it came as a surprise to find a Malaysian sitcom with a gay character on Netflix.

Kopitiam, which ran in Malaysia from 1998 to 2003, starred Joanna Bessey as Marie Tan, who runs a coffee shop (kopitiam) full of wacky coworkers and customers:

1.-2. Uncle Chan and Uncle Kong  (Manu Maniam, Tan Jin Chor), who have been bickering best friends for 40 years and act like a gay couple, except for their frequent references to women.

3.Susan (Lynn Teoh), a lawyer from Singapore (the Singaporeans are stereotyped as uptight, humoroless, and mercenary).

4. Joe (Rashid Salieh), an aspiring actor who takes a lot of colorful part-time jobs while waiting to be discovered.  Also the only cast member I found a beefcake photo for.

5. Steven (Douglas Lim), an aspiring hairdresser

I watched three episodes. Two from the first season:

1.  Steven loses his job at the hair salon after accidentally setting a customer's hair on fire.Marie giveshim a job at the coffee shop,but he mucks that up. She lets Steven style her hair, but hates the results.But her new boyfriend loves it, and hires Steven to do the hair for the performers in his new music video.

2. Marie never drinks coffee.Steven this that this is odd for the owner of a coffee shop, so he sneaks some into her lunch. The caffeine makes her super-horny.  She throws herself at the visiting health inspector, then Joe, Steven, Susan,and even Uncle Chan.They have to  lock her  up until the caffeine wears off.

3.  In Season 5, Steven has his own  hair salon. He won't let the staff use the computer (it's for customers only), so they try to get him addicted to the internet  so he will relent."See -- you can send emails! You can download music!  You can look at pictures...."

Steven scoffs.  "Those women are naked! Who'se going to be paying attention to their hair?"

Steven's sexual identiy is not openly addressed (it is illegal in Malaysia to have gay characters in tv or movies unless they "repent or die.")  But everyone seems to know about it: he doesn't participate in the others' conversations about girls, and when Marie throws herself at him, she says "I love a man who's in touch with his feminine side."

I went through the first four years of plot synopses, and no girlfriend is mentioned, but he probably gets one at some point -- can't be too, obvious, or you'll be censored.

I haven't found any verification online that the character was written or acted as gay.  Apparently the show was infamous for its diversity. Malay has some strong religious and ethnic divisions,and it showed that Chinese, Malay, and Indian, Muslim, Buddhist,and Christian could co-exist without confrontations, and even be friends.

In 2019,Douglas Lim returned to Kopitiam:Double Shot, a sequel featuring a new generation of Kopitiam regulars.  It's not on Netflix, so I can't say if it was more or less open.

Adventures of Pete and Pete

Juvenile tv programs of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, and Andy's Gang,  were dedicated to socializing kids into the norms of adult society.  The rules may seem odd, the hosts seemed to say, but they were established by wise, sensible adults, and if you conform, this will be the best of all possible worlds.

Then came the 1980s and 1990s, and tv juvenile tv programs like You Can't Do That on Television, Animaniacs, and Eerie Indiana, said something quite different.  Adults are crazy. Their rules make no sense.  Don't even try to conform society: rebel, resist, be yourself.

The benchmark of this new anarchic juvenile tv was Nickelodeon's The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1993-96), about two brothers, teenage Pete (Mike Maronna) and preteen Pete (Danny Tamberelli) living with their parents in the town of Wellsville, New York.

If the two brothers with the same name don't clue in that something is askew in Wellsville, what about the opening song:

Hey, Smilin' Strange, you're looking happily deranged
I could've settled if you shoot me, or have you picked your target yet?

Or the characters:
Mom, who has a steel plate in her head that can pick up radio.
Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, who can move a house a whole inch!
Mr. Slurm, the high school shop teacher with a claw for a hand.
Pit Stain Jones, a super-villain whose powers are obvious

Big Pete is drawing close to adulthood, so he is the most conformist, with part-time jobs and career plans and crushes on girls.

But Little Pete resists the International Adult Conspiracy on bedtimes and dodgeball, and investigates such mysteries as the "Inspector" tag in clothing, the "time warp" of Daylight Savings Time, and a telephone that has been ringing for 27 years.

Heterosexual romance is a constant among the adult and teen characters, but Little Pete resists the International Adult Conspiracy on hetero-romance, too.  He is mostly successful, reserving his affection for Big Pete and for his "hero," Artie the Strongest Man in the World.

The bizarre adult world provides some gay symbolism, and Little Pete's resistance to hetero-romance marks him as gay-vague.  But there is even more of gay interest.  Although Big Pete has an ongoing hetero-romance and occasional side crushes, boys often fall in love with him: not only his friends Bill (Rick Barbarette) and Teddy (Dave Martell), but even his friendly enemy, Endless Mike (Rick Gomez, top photo and left).  I always wondered why he was called "Endless."

After Pete and Pete, Michael C. Maronna starred in some young-adult-slacker comedies before moving behind the scenes as a studio electrician.  Danny Tamberelli starred in Igby Goes Down (2002), with Kieran Culkin.

May 20, 2020

"Sweet Magnolias": No Backstabbing, No Blackmail, No Brawls, No Beefcake, No Thanks

The reviewer on Decider said that Sweet Magnolias on Netflix was a big ole Southern soap opera sitcom, like Designing Women meets Harper Valley PTA.  I liked those shows.  And the South gave us Tennesee Williams, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, and Leslie Jordan, so there must be some gay characters.

Scene 1: In the quaint, aggressively "see how non-racist we are?" small town of Serenity, South Carolina, redhead white lady (Maddie) is getting a divorce, with black lady lawyer (Helen).  Hubbie (Chris Klein) wants the house, so Maddie runs out in anger, and gets comforted by Helen. They'll get through this together, yada yada yada.

Scene 2: Two high school boys and a girl heading to school  The young one has been cast as Puck in the school play -- quite an androgynous, queer role.  Maybe he's gay?  Nope -- as the girl heads toward class, he stares at her, longing to move out of the friend zone.

Scene 3: Helen and Maddie meet their third, a plus-sized bartender at a restaurant (Dana Sue).  The three drink. Dana Sue and Helen bought a big ole house that they're gonna turn into a big ole fluffy, indulgent day spa.  They want Maddie to be the manager.

Heck, a job falling into my lap.  I'd take it.  But Maddie is upset by the gracious job offer, and storms out.

Scene 4: Dr. Hunk tells Dr. Bill (Maddie's ex) that he's losing a lot of patients due to the divorce (wow, that town is conservative!). Meanwhile, Maddie goes home and tears up the place in  a rage.

Scene 5:  Coach Maddox (Justin Bruening, top photo)tells Maddie that Ty (her oldest of the trieo in Scene 2) got into a fight with Jackson Lewis at practice.  They've been sparring since the sandbox, Maddie says with consternation.

As she leaves, Coach stares, longing to get out of the friend zone.

Scene 6: Dana Sue argues with her daughter (the girl of the Scene 2 trio). Then she confronts the staff about bottles of booze missing from the restaurant.

Scene 7:  Maddie feeds and hip-mothers Ty and Puck Boy from Scene 2 (Carson Rowland, left, Logan Allen).  There's another kid upstairs.

Scene 8:  Night. Dana Sue is closing up the bar/restaurant. She notices that the head chef, Brad, has been drinking very old, expensive whiskey.  He's the thief!  She fires him.

Scene 9: Morning.  Noreen, The Other Woman that Bill dumped Maddie for, arrives to take the kids for the day  Ty refuses to go with her.  She stares, longing to get out of the friend zone (that's your stepson, girl!).

But Puck Boy goes and tries to impress her with his role in A Midsummer Night's Dream.  She's only seen one play in her life - Cats. Puck Boy disses it (not the way to get on Stepmom's good side!).

Scene 10: Helen and Dana Sue chat, Grandma arrives to pick up Maddie's daughter and chat, Helen counsels the owners of Wharton's Pizza and Ice Cream about not selling their store to the evil corporation Pickle Jar.  They've discussed it before; I didn't mention it because it didn't seem important, but I love the name  Pickle Jar -- Cracker Barrel, but worse?

Scene 11: Ty, Puck Boy, and the Girl from Scene 2 are playing video games.  Girl stares at Ty, longing to get out of the friend zone..  Meanwhile, the three ladies are drinking (they're like the Golden Girls with cheesecake).

Scene 12: Church.  Black female minister, wearing heavy robes, -- Episcopalian, I think.  Everybody we've met so far is there. A children's group called Joyful Noise sings.

Afterwards, congregants chat outside.  Maddie thinks they are all staring at her.  Bill (the Ex) tries to bond with his surly son Ty over sports talk. Noreen talks to her friend Peggy about how hard it is to try to fit in with this congregation where Bill and Maddie attended for years (so, maybe find another church?).

Meanwhile, Puck Boy flirts with Noreen (hey, that's your stepmother!). And lots more conversations.

Scene 13:  Finally, church is over!  With a sigh of relief, we cut to Dora Sue's restaurant.  She needs a new sous chef.  She snubs Erik because he is fresh out of culinary school.

Scene 14: Bill drops by Maddie's house.  They have a lengthy conversation, which I fast forward through.  I also skip Maddie telling Helen about it.

Scene 15:  At the restaurant.  Helen drops in.  Erik (Dion Johnstone, left) demonstrates that he do the job of a sous chef by making a pot pie (with sugar in it?). Erik stares at Helen, longing to get out of the friend zone.

Scene 16: Night.  Dora Sue finds that her car has been keyed!

Is that all the evil you get? I expected Brad, the guy she fired, to end up dead, with Dora Sue the prime suspect, so she has to try to find the real murderer, and uncovers a vast conspiracy of corruption that goes all the way to the governor's office..

Keying a car is the epitome of malice?

Scene 17: Meeting about the Pickle Jar. Could someone from the Pickle Jar staff get murdered, and Helen is the prime suspect? Or something?  Anything?

Scene 18: Baseball practice.  Remember that Ty has been sparring with Jackson Lewis since they were little? Are we going to see a locker room brawl?

No, but Jackson Lewis (Sam Ashby) appears in seven episodes, so there's still hope.

Here, we just get Coach Maddox from Scene 5 wondering what's wrong with Ty.  He gets the dirt about the Maddie-Bill breakup, which has crushed the poor boy.

Ty goes home, and is surly to his Mom.  He doesn't like what "everybody thinks about him."  What, they blame him for the divorce?

Scene 19: Helen is playing tennis with Dr. Hunk, Bill's coworker from Scene 4.  They discuss fertility options -- apparently Helen wants a baby, but she's not dating anyone.  He stares, longing to get out of the friend zone.

Scene 20: Grandma, Maddie's mother, is painting in her studio.   Maddie stops by to chat about child rearing.

Scene 21: A girl looks at the photographs she took at church earlier (I didn't mention it because I thought it wasn't important.  She crops in on the trio, Maddie, Helen, and Dora Sue.

Wait -- isn't she going to uncover some mystery?  A scandal?  A symbol of the Illuminati?  Something?  Why did I just watch this?

Scene 22:  Night.  Dora Sue and Helen chat. And with 2 minutes left, we have just enough time for the big reveal -- shocker -- cliffhanger.  Is Ty really Dora Sue's son? Is Bill having an affair with Helen?  Does Helen have an evil twin sister?

Nope.  Maddie approaches the girls to give them her decision on coming to work at the day spa.  Fade out!

The cliffhanger is about whether or not Maddie will take a job.

Beefcake: None.

Gay characters:  None that I can tell.

Heterosexism: None.  No sex, not even a kiss. A lot of longing looks. No one even seems to be dating except for Bill and Noreen

Will I continue to watch:  On the one hand, it's nice to watch a program where you don't have to worry about male-female humping or blood spurting out of chest cavities, where the belly of the beast is keying a car and the biggest scandal is a d-i-v-o-r-c-e.

On the other hand, everybody is so dag-gummed nice, low-key, and...well, boring.  Where's the greed, corruption, blackmail, incest, serial killers.  Where's the hair-pulling, name-calling cat-fight?  Where are the teenage boys played by 30 year old fitness models schtuping their home room teachers and brawling in the locker room?

For heaven sake, Maddie and Noreen have tea!

Could they at least compete over who will win the prize for the best pie at the county fair?

May 19, 2020

"Ivan the Terrible": Breaking the Rules on a Warm August Night

In 1976, during the heart of the Cold War, when "communist" was an all-purpose term for "evil" and anything Russian was suspect, even Russian dressing, a tv series appeared about life in the Soviet Union.

How was it possible?  Who in America would be brave enough to produce it?  Who would be brave enough to watch?

It appeared in August just before my junior year in high school, on Saturday nights, in block with reruns of The Jeffersons, Mary Tyler Moore, and Bob Newhart.

Five episodes aired.  I watched one.

All of the action took place in a small one-room apartment, which Ivan (Lou Jacobi) shared with his wife, mother-in-law, three children, and a foreign-exchange student from Cuba. I don't remember who played who, but the Cuban may have been the Manuel Martinez of the top photo, and the son may have been Alan Caldwell (left).

Other cast members soon to achieve tv stardom:
1. Christopher Hewitt of Mr. Belvedere.
2. Nana Visitor of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Ivan the Terrible was embedded in a series of hip sitcoms with realistic portrayals of real places, like Minneapolis and Chicago, so I expected a realistic portrayal of Russians.  Instead, I saw broad caricatures and annoying stereotypes., Al Capp's Upper Slobbovia:  it's always snowing in Moscow.  Everyone eats potatoes at every meal. The KGB is watching you.

I don't remember any gay subtexts.  No beefcake (too cold in Moscow to take off your shirt!).

But still, I liked the show (I watched only one episode because I was busy on the other nights it aired).  Not for the characters or the plotlines, certainly not for the local color, but because I wasn't supposed to be watching.  I wasn't supposed to think of Soviets at all, except as raving monsters who wanted to eat us.  The thrill of breaking the rules, going against social expectations, made that one Saturday night in August special.

Maybe that's why I still remember the theme song after more than 40 years.

"Bored to Death": Three Guys, One Bed, and a Lot of Dropped Pronouns

Bored to Death on Amazon Prime is advertises as a sitcom about three friends who start a private-detective business -- and, like everything on Amazon Prime, the best tv show ever produced, a masterpiece.  How can so many shos that I never heard of be the best tv show ever produced?

Tne Promo:  I watch with the mute on because Bob is asleep in the next room. In 43 seconds, Jason Schwartzmann (the gay best friend in the Scott Pilgrim movies) kisses girls three times  --a gigantic red flag.  But he is also interacts with two guys:
1. Ted Danson (the elderly demon on the gay-positive Good Place )
2. Zach Galifianiakis (who I mistake for Jason Mantsoukas, Janet's crazy boyfriend on The Good Place).
The three are shown in bed together (wearing pajamas, no beefcake), It's obvious that Ted and Zach play the gay couple-best buddies, giving him a place to stay after a girl kicked him out.

That's good enough for me..

So, as Kenan and Kel used to say,"Here it goes..."

Opening Credits:  Jason wanders through the pages of a mystery novel, chasing the Girl of His Dreams.  Zach appears as Superman, but gets a gut.  Ted appears as a suave,sophisicated, fey gay guy.  He tries to pick Jason up, but is unsuccessful and runs off.

Scene 1: Aspiring writer Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) is moving out of his New York apartment.   He complains that the movers shouldn't be Jewish, because, you know, it requires muscles, and all Jews are weaklings.  Antisemitic joke?  Not a good start!

Meanwhile girlfriend (I guess) Suzanne is packing,too.   They kiss a wet, sloppy, tongue-swallowing kiss.

Gross!  Fast-forward!

I fast-forward two minutes. The wet, sloppy kiss is over.  Now they're arguing about pot. Jonathan likes it, Suzanne doesn't. Is she dumping him?  Then what's with the 2-minute long tongue-swallowing?

Scene 2: Downstairs neighbor advises Jonathan to rebound fast, but he doesn't want to. Instead, he goes back to the apartment and reads a Raymond Chandler novel.

Raymond Chandler was a hard-boiled detective writer of the 1930s and 1940s (The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye).  Horribly homophobic.  Besides, mystery fiction has evolved a great deal since the 1940s.  I can't believe that any contemporary aspiring writer would read his junk.

Next Jonathan poss an ad on craigslist offering his services as a non-licensed private detective.

Scene 3: Jonathan meets with his buddy Ray (Zach), an aspiring comic book artist.

Ray discusses the last time his heart was broken, dropping the gender of the heart-breaker.

 The best way to tell if a guy  is gay --  he drops the gender when discussing dates and romantic partners.  Gay people do it so often to avoid homophobic confrontations with bosses, next-door neighbors, and strangers on the bus, that it becomes instinctive, and they do it even when talking to friends.

Wait -- five lines later, he mentions a girlfriend, Leah. Straight!  The gender-dropping was a tease!

Then what was he doing in bed with Ted Danson in the promo.  Ted must be the gay friend that put them both up for the night during a caper.

Scene 4:  Jonathan gets a private detective job: A woman asks  him to track down her missing college-student sister, who isn't in her dorm room (so?  when I was in college, I was in my dorm room maybe 20 minutes a day).

 She suspects the boyfriend, Vincent (Richard Short, left), of foul play, because he has a tattoo, he's English, and he's way old - 30!   Jonathan, who has been hitting on her, is nonplussed by the "way old" comment, because he's 30, too.   But he promises to help out.

Scene 5: Jonathan  goes to a ritzy art gallery,where he has a job doing something unspecified.  Coworker Sandrine warns him that George is angry with him for being late.  Then they discuss breakups.  Sandrine drops her romantic partner's gender, but you can't fool me again.  I'm sure it's just a gay tease, the partner was a guy, and Sandrine will be kissing Jonathan by Episode #3.

 Scene 6:  George (Ted Danson) appears, a lavender-scented, candy-colored, limp=wristed poof of the Tennessee Williams-Cole Porter school,  Instead of being angry,he pulls Jonathan into a toilet stall in the restroom.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

But he doesn't want a blow job-- he wants pot, which Jonathan supplies from a Viagra prescription bottle.

Why does Jonathan have Viagra?  George gave it to him,thinking that he needed help in the sexual arousal department.

Why does George care whether Jonathan gets aroused?  Nudge,, nudge, wink, wink.

George notes that he is taking Viagra because with his heart trouble, heavy drinking, and work pressure, he's having trouble performing in bed.

Anyway, George is "bored to death" with art, life, booze, and ___.  He used to stay in a relationship with a ___ for two or three years, but now it only takes about a week before he's too bored with the ___ to get aroused.

Fill in the blank:
a. Gender-dropping "Person"
b. Man
c. Woman

Answer: "person" twice, then "woman"  George finally outs himself as a  lavender-scented, candy-colored, limp-wristed heterosexual horndog!

The remaining scenes:  Sister and her boyfriend are immersed in a consensual S&M scene.  Jonathan bursts in to "rescue" her, and they have him arrested as a crazy intruder. At the police station, the cop tells him to stop pretending to be a private detective, or he'll end up in prison, and "You don't look lke you would thrive in that environment."

At least he doesn't mention droppng the soap.

May 18, 2020

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Early 1960s Beatniks and Breasts

Amazon Prime keeps telling me that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is wonderful, fabulous, a joyous masterpiece!  Plus there are gay characters. So I'll give it a shot.

Scene 1: A few years after "what the Jews went through" (late 1940s?)  Mrs. Maisel (Emily Price) at her wedding.  She is giving a speech about how marvelous she is, interspliced with flashbacks about her days at Bryn Mawr.
Con: Bryn Mawr is a ladies' college.  Ladies in skimpy bikinis
Pro: Her dad is Tony Shalhoub of Wings and Monk.
Pro; Her husband Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen) is attractive.
Con: He takes her to a burlesque show.  A lady dancing with her boobs hanging out.

Quick!  Fast forward!

Scene 2?: Mrs. Maisel goes to the butcher shop, cuts to the front of the line, and announces that she got the rabbi to come over for Yom Kippur.  She goes back to her ritzy Upper East Side apartment, distributes black-and-white cookies to the staff (haven't seen those since Seinfeld), and cooks a brisket (she's Jewish,I get it).  Joel calls; they discuss his attempts to break into stand-up comedy..

Late 1940s: Era of the Borscht Belt?  Henny Youngman?  "Take my wife, please?"

Scene 3: Joel tries out his routine on a client, then quickly changes clothes (no beefcake). He talks to his coworker Archie (Joel Joestone) about his gig in the Village tonight.

Scene 4:  On the way to Greenwich Village, Mrs. Maisel sees colorful charactes, including, I think, a gay couple.   The Gaslight Cafe is a huge, smoky Beatnik place where the Sixteen Tons Trio is singing (folk singers?)..  

Mrs.Maisel gives the brisket to the elderly, bearded Baz to bribe him into giving Joel a better time slot.  His act is a rip-off of one of Bob Newhart's telephone sketches (the ones that ended with Bob saying "The same to you, fella!" and hanging up).

So it's actually the early 1960s.

Meanwhile Alex (Susie Myerson)< the butch lady bartender, reads a gigantic book.  She must be the gay character.

Scene 5: On the way home, Mrs. Maisel suggests that Joel change from telling jokes to the more confessional comedy popular in the early 1960s.  Henny Youngman is over-the-hill; Lenny Bruce is where it's at.   

Scene 6: They go to bed (in pajamas...grrr.)  Sloppy kiss, no sex.Mrs.  Maisel gets up, puts on face cream, and goes back to bed, then wakes up early and washes it off (what for?  who cares?).

Scene 7: Mrs.Maisel goes to another apartmentt and talks to Rose, who has a husband, a child , and a baby.  Whoops, Rose is her mother!  And she has a baby, at her age?  Whoops, the child and baby are Mrs. Maisel's.  Where have they been all day?

Scene 8: That night, Mrs. Maisel and her friend are watching an old-fashioned late-1940s tv set and exercising.  Mrs. Maisel's legs in close-up, going up and down,up and down....

Fast foward again!

Scene 9?:  Joel is doing his revised act. Mrs. Maisel, Archie, and Archie's girl are watching.  He bombs.  

Scene 10: On the way home.  Joel is angry wth Mrs.Maisel for giving him bad advice.  

Back home:  Joel is packing to leave.  He's dumping Mrs. Maisel.  After one bad set?  Or were there other problems that I fast forwarded through while trying to avoid Mrs. Maisel's legs? 

Well, he hates his day job and he's having an affair.

Scene 11: Dad Tony Shalhoub is watching tv.  Mrs. Maisel comes in to announce that Joel left.  They are judgmental: "What did you do to drive him away?"  

Scene 12: Mrs. Maisel wanders through the empty apartment, then out into the rain (umm...where are the kids?).  She goes to the Gaslight.and starts doing confessional comedy, and is a hit.  She shows her breasts.  

Fast forward again!

Scene 13: Butch lady bartender invites Mrs. Maisel out for a drink (isn't it a little soon for her to start dating again?).  Offers to help her start her standup career. Mrs. Maisel thinks the idea is ridiculous, and leaves.  But then she remembers the notebook where she recorded ideas about Joel's act, and returns to the Gaslight

Scene 14:  A lot of people smokng, drinking, and arguing in an apartment.  Mrs. Maisel is reading.  Susie the Butch Lady Bartender is eating beans.

Scene 15: Mrs. Maisel goes to the police station and bails out Lenny Bruce (Jack Kirby!) to discuss comedy.  He says that standup comedy is terrible "It should not exist, like cancer and God."  But he loves it.  The end.

Beefcake:  Not a smidge.

Cheesecake:  Endless.  I have seen more body parts of Mrs. Maisel than of any other woman in my life.  And that is not a good thing.  If I watch this show, I'll have to fast-forward through half the scenes.

Heterosexism:  Not really.  This looks like it will be more of a Mary Tyler Moore "How can you make it on your own?" series.

Gay Characters:  Butch lady bartender, probably.

The Premise: the early 1960s comedy scene sounds interesting.

Will I continue to watch:  There will have to be a lot more hot guys and a lot fewer lady parts.  I understand that Joel remains in the cast, and there are several more male recurring characters, including Archie, Lenny Bruce, Benjamin (Zachary Levi), and Noah (Will Brill). 

May 17, 2020

The Phantom and Son

When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, all of the good comic strips appeared in the Times-Democrat, across the river in Davenport, Iowa.   Our Rock Island Argus featured a few lousy bargain-basement knockoffs -- Freckles instead of Archie, Winthrop instead of Peanuts -- and a lot of weird, incomprehensible dinosaur comics that were last popular when Mom and Dad were kids -- Prince Valiant, Out Our Way, Alley Oop.  
The weirdest, most incomprehensible of the lot was The Phantom, a muscular Tarzan who roams the jungle in a purple jumpsuit. wearing a ring, and has a wife and kids at home.

I found this ridiculous.

1. Hetero domesticity kills adventure.  That's why superheros are typically not interested.  Edgar Rice Burroughs had Tarzan marry Jane Porter because he didn't plan on any further adventures for the Lord of the Jungle; as a long-running series began, he had to think of more and more reasons to get Jane out of the picture.

2. A purple jumpsuit.  Lords of the Jungle always wear loincloths!  The only reason to put them in the jungle, where it's hot and humid,  is so you can draw hard muscles for your readers to ogle.

3.  Did I mention the effeminate ring?  Was the Phantom a drag queen?

The Phantom was created by Lee Falk in 1936, two years before Superman. and continues to run today.  At its peak it appeared in over 500 newspapers worldwide.

Today's Phantom, Kit Walker, is the 21st in a line that extends back to Christopher Walker, a British soldier who was shipwrecked in the jungles of Bengal, India, in 1536.  He became a masked vigilante, complete with jumpsuit and ring, and when he was ready to retire, bequeathed them to his son, the new Phantom, and so on, and so on  (I'm surprised they always fit).  The superstitious natives thought he was the same person, an immortal god, and dubbed him "The Ghost Who Walks."

Today's Phantom lives with his wife (Helen), kids (Kit and Heloise), and various sidekicks in a skull-shaped cave, where he sits on a skull-shaped throne.  He fights poachers, pirates, insurgents, smugglers, evil witch doctors, cannibals, and various baddies in what is no longer Bengal, but Bengalla Island, off the coast of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Phantom also appeared in comic book form, under various imprints: Ace, Harvey, Charleton, and finally Gold Key, where his title ran for 72 issues.

I occasionally leafed through them at Schneider's Drug Store, but quickly go bored.  No same-sex rescues, no beefcake.  Geez, at least show us a bicep now and then!

The Phantom appeared in a serial in 1943, when the studios were running out of properties, starring Western star Tom Tyler (left), but otherwise his screen appearances have been few.

A big screen version in 1996 starring Billy Zane (top photo) had the superhero fighting big business in modern-day America.  It tanked, along with the sci-fi cartoon, Phantom 2040, with Scott Valentine.

I guess the Phantom is no Tarzan.  Purple jumpsuits don't sell.

I'm holding out for the modern strips, written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty.  They often send in the Phantom's kids to do the adventuring.

Lee Falk imagined the Son of the Phantom as a cherubic preteen, but the modern Kit is drawn as a muscular blond teenager who has no qualms about appearing in a loincloth.

 And none of the comics I've checked show him expressing heterosexual interest (the girl he's wrestling with is his sister).

Maybe we'll finally get some gay subtexts.

See also: Alley Oop; Prince Valiant.
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