I have just now whistled through (™ Simon Willison) the book Kissing Bill O’Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love and Hate About TV by Ken Tucker. He’s an old-fart critic who’s been watching TV for decades, and he gives us 50 love/hate pairs, not always symmetrically matched.

Perhaps because it’s published by St. Martin’s, the book is strewn from start to finish with what a man of Tucker’s generation would call “typos” – everything from misspelled proper names to the following claimed chemical formula: C12, H22 0-11. I’m pushing three decades of word-processing use, and I can spot from a mile away a writer who’s typing as fast as the machine will let him. This, ostensibly, is why we have copy-editors. (They’ll also stop you from using “huggermugger” repeatedly – more occurrences in this book than anywhere else in the language.) And he hates music videos, possibly because all he ever watched was “Thriller.” But that’s a function of age; men of our generation are meant to leave them behind, like an ex-wife.

And for the love of God, knock this Adobe Garamond shit off already.


  • He pushes Robert Christgau a couple of times, which pretty much means he cannot be my friend, but puts a lot of time into savaging Chuck “Fraud of His Generation” Klosterman, which I suppose cancels it out.

  • In NYPD [pronounced “nipped”] Blue, “Caruso suddenly commanded the camera. He used an old [and] cheap actor’s trick, declining to make eye contact with anyone…, to steal a lotta [sic] scenes.”

  • “I know that, had there not been Cops camera crews around, the police officers shown… would probably not be quite so civil and by-the-books…. At the same time, Cops is a tremendously valuable social document. Its roving documentary vignettes have created one of the few sites at which America can view the lives or poor people… whose dire circumstances compel them to commit those crimes. Cops dwells most often on the fringes of society and yet reminds us that the fringe is part of the fabric of our country and that [that] fringe takes in a lot of territory, comprising a lot of lives.” (Then he finishes with something sanctimonious he couldn’t possibly believe.)

    The low-rent Prairie analogue of Cops, To Serve and Protect, is much more unsettling in its full-on class war against aboriginals. At least some of the alleged criminals on Cops are white. Incidentally, the role of Cops in revealing the underworld has been supplanted to some extent by Cheaters and UFC, though the blacks on Cheaters tend to at least have jobs.

  • Tucker actually made me remember Laugh-In, from an era when I was maybe five or six. In retrospect, it sounds like torture: “[T]he duo would do an opening comedy bit and then enter the show’s ‘party scene,’ where cast regulars like Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi [!], and Jo Anne Worley would booglaoo [sic] for a bit, then everyone would freeze, and the camera would zoom in on a comic who’d utter a one-liner.” (Surely the only show worse is in fact the worst show on television, the criminally mistitled Just for Laughs Gags.)

    But, by contrast, Tucker loved Hee Haw, a much clearer unpleasant memory for me. You don’t know what boredom is until you’ve grown up before cable TV in a place where nothing decent is ever on (and that place is the Mississippi of Canada).

  • He’s just phoning it in about Homicide. Andre Braugher never delivered his lines “granite” or “ossified,” Clark Johnson (a favourite of mine in general) was only OK, and of course Luther Mahoney (“Your moms is next”) was the bestest criminal on TV. But I’ve tried to rewatch that show and it doesn’t work. You had to be there at the moment, stuck at home on a Friday night because NBC hated it. (And later stuck writing Homicide captioning atrocity updates.) Like music videos, we have to let Homicide go.

  • MASH: “Astonishingly overrated.” Well, yes, another scarring memory from childhood. WGBH had to caption 300 episodes all at once when it went into syndication. All three offices had to work on it, and there was a legend, since denied by a knowledgeable source, that the evening shift got so goddamned sick of doing MASH every night they insisted day shift take over.

    MASH: le film, writes Tucker, was “a silly, dishevelled comedy”; the TV show trafficked “in constant piously poignant punchlines.” (Futurama iHawk in irreverent/maudlin mode. Or, I suppose, Krusty in good/evil.)

    “After the series won a slew of Emmys and transformed Alda from ski-nosed wisecracker… into a feminist talk-show bore, [Larry] Gelbart was granted his laugh-track-free wish when he created another show, United States, in 1980… whose dialogue its author thought was so freighted with Meaning Beyond Humour that it should not be smeared with studio-larded laughter.” It was also one of the earliest captioned shows. Somebody find me a tape.

  • The book presages LOLCATS in a chapter title (rewritten): “O RLY? Bill O’Reilly and The O’Reilly Factor.” Unexpectedly, he makes a convincing case for “imperial and insecure.” The matching hate entry, Geraldo Rivera, was also phoned in (possibly while seated on the can, that’s how lazy).

  • Now, Miami Vice. My esteemed colleague and I got several DVDs from Zip and explored the question: Is it possible to watch Miami Vice unironically? Beyond the first hour or so, yes, very much so, particularly after the youth of Don Johnson impresses itself upon you. He was just becoming a man; the DVD extras have him essentially admit that he coevolved with the wardrobe – which, incidentally, is much less consistent than the mythology might suggest. While the theme song is great (and accompanying opening credits subtly changed over time – I checked), the extradiegetic musical interludes are way too fucking obtrusive in the cold light of Aughties.

    But based on Tucker’s descriptions, I just do not want to watch the other Michael Mann TV shows, namely Crime Story with some wizened old geezer and another show with a clumsy name. We stopped watching Miami Vice at episode five.

  • I wish Tucker would make up his mind about made-for-TV movies: All shite but one, or are there a couple of others that are half-decent?

  • “There are scads of shows you only need to watch once,” like the first episode of MacGyver (MacGyverMacGyver).

  • Who the fuck cares about best and worst mothers and fathers “in TV history”? (And I wish Ken Tucker would admit he’s talking about American TV history.) He hated Ken Olin in Thirtysomething, incidentally, about which series I handwrote a 300-page episode guide.

  • David Duchovny “once described his job to me as ‘pretty workaday… You get up, you take a shower, you read the paper, you play Mulder.’ ” “In the first season, you could see that… the less-experienced Gillian Anderson was unsure of how to play Dana Scully from scene to scene.” They also couldn’t get her hair and makeup right. It’s terrible. But Tucker nails it: Fox Mulder (no relation) emerged fully formed from the first instant.

  • Finally, somebody daring to say that Six Feet Under was full of shit. And he’s got a perfect analysis of the way late-night talk shows pick away at the soul of their hosts, very much including the overrated Johnny Carson.

  • “The Cult of Edward R. Murrow,” who “supposedly exposed the sweaty Red-baiter [McCarthy] for the craven jackel [sic] he was. What Murrow really did was make his point about McCarthy’s unworthiness not via closely-reasoned argument, but by exposing McCarthy as a singularly untelegenic human… capping it with a pious speech that now sounds startlingly wishy-washy, including the sentence ‘This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent – or for those who approve.’ In other words… ‘you may like this sullen bully who’s destroying people’s lives.’ […] McCarthy had already wrecked a lot of lives by the time Murrow… got around to him in 1954.”

  • VDO, your time is up. “D’Onofrio reveals the workings of his character’s mind by physicalizing everything…. [H]e bends his long, wide Gumby body around a suspect, who becomes unnerved when D’Onofrio waggles a frankfurter-long finger in his face and asks cutting yet smiley-faced questions.”

    The one time I walked past VDO on a sidestreet in New York, he looked as insecure as any other actor I’ve seen, though on that score, prettyboy David Cubitt takes the cake for sheer visible panic.

    (And if you’re going on about the women of Law & Order, Tucker, look up the old article in Frank that pretty much made the case that Jill Hennessy’s identical twin secretly stood in for her on one episode.)

  • Have you ever heard of a live-action kids’ show shot here and entitled Ramona? A lot of smart people were in on it.

  • Tucker simply does not make a case that A Charlie Brown Christmas “was a dreadful piece of work, mawkish…, poorly animated and marred by a dreadful ‘jazz’ score.” I admit I am something of a fanboy, as I am spending the next five years reading the entire Peanuts compilations as they are biannually issued.

  • Did you know that Johnny Rotten refused to lip-synch on Amerikanski Bandstand and argued with Wayland Flowers & Madame favourite Tom Snyder?

  • Howard Stern. OK, fine. I can’t think of him without (a) flashing on a credible and only slightly unsettling interview with transsexualist “adult”-film actor Buck Angel and (b) remembering thick-lipped Michael Wolff’s meeting with some rubes from Long Island who appeared to have read exactly one book, Howard Stern’s. (“ ‘Where will people buy it?’ ‘In bookstores,’ I said, unclear what they were getting at. ‘So… like… Howard Stern’s book?’ […] I suddenly had the feeling that they could not have readily named another book.”)

  • Wow, does he ever exaggerate the drunkenness of Homer Simpson – consistently misrepresented and underplayed on the show, and nullified completely by an episode in which Homer pretends to kick Duff in the can, whereupon he and Marge ride off into the sunset on a girl’s bicycle. It’s dishonest. So is The Simpsons.

  • “Bully for [George Clooney] for being loyal to the flaky vision of his pal Steven Soderberg [sic] and trudging through Solaris like a trouper. But I can’t subscribe to his overseeing a cultural revisionism regarding Chuck Barris, the purveyor of game-show shit, enshrined as a misunderstood genius in Clooney’s film adaptation of… Confessions of a Dangerous Mind…. Barris is a pernicious fraud and a cynical putz-up of the culture who’s not going to get his wish to have it both ways: Wealth and respect, fame and mysterioso obscurity…. Barris’s contemptible smarm – his bottomless nihilism, judging everything from romance to marriage to talent as being void, a pathetic joke, a useless aspiration – is what makes the elevation of this smart, devious hack elevated [sic] to innovator status so meretricious.”

    Chuck Barris invented The Gong Show. I miss Rip Taylor.

At the end of all this, Tucker undercuts his own career by saying yes, it’s great TV, but it’s hardly Jane Austen.

Wrong, wrong, wrong

Retyping conventional wisdom under the guise of bolstering a hit job against Steven Bochco and “the ‘arc,’ ” Tucker gets it completely wrong in praising to the hilt the hysterical, effeminate, mannered, drug-abusing, incestuous megalomaniac portrayed, in a tremendous stretch, by Kevin fucking Spacey on Wiseguy. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and I’m going to show you why soon enough.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.08.25 13:56. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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