Rerun Junkie–Books: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted by Jennifer Keishin ArmstrongMy chronic rerun habit paid off in a big way when I won a Me-TV contest. The prize was Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s book, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic. I didn’t check the winner’s list so I was completely unaware that I’d won until a package from the publisher showed up. My confusion (“I didn’t order a book from these people”) gave way to pure joy as soon as I saw what book was in the package (“HOLY CROW I WON I WON I WON!”)

And indeed, I was the winner.

I’m one of those people that’s fascinated with behind-the-scenes stuff about TV shows, any sorts of TV trivia, even if I don’t watch or like the show (I’m the same way with movie trivia, which is more absurd given that I don’t really watch many movies). It’s not necessarily the dirt I’m into. Who’s sleeping with who, who’s fighting with who doesn’t intrigue me quite as much as how something was made.

This book is that and more.

Not only does it give you insight into the show itself, but it goes above and beyond in recognizing that the show didn’t occur in a vacuum and the people involved didn’t pop into existence just for the purpose of the show. While the show is the main focus, of course, it also talks about the TV landscape at the time, some of the other shows on the air, the spin-offs, and a bit about the state of the country in relation to the show, how the show impacted the country and the country impacted the show.

It also goes beyond just the actors, those lovely faces we see and associate more readily with the show. It profiles the creators and their mission to make a realistic sitcom featuring a working, single woman and their dedication to their vision. It also shows how they broke the rules by looking for and hiring women writers in a time when women weren’t thought of as funny. And, naturally, talks about the women who wrote for the show.  There’s even a bit about one of the show’s most dedicated fans.

The show broke more ground than a lot of people might realize.

It was actually a really inspiring read, in a way. The idea of working in this environment of a people that were dedicated to making this the best show that they could, who wouldn’t compromise or settle for less. It wasn’t all hearts and flowers, but it was special and it makes me wish I could be apart of something just like that.

This is also the kind of book I wish I could write about my TV show loves. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s narrative isn’t some dry account, by the numbers and letters of what happened. She allows the people she’s writing about to be the real people they are and brings out the emotions of the time. I cringed while reading about the first rehearsal that went so badly and I teared up during the recounting of the final episode. Every bit of it is readable, approachable, and educational without feeling like you’re being lectured to or otherwise schooled.

Now it’s time for my disclosure. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is one of those shows that half-ass watch, which means most of the time I’m not paying a whole lot of attention to it unless Rhoda or Murray are talking (they are my favorites and I have no shame about this). However, I KNOW it’s a good show and I’ve caught myself, over time, watching more of the episodes rather than just putting them on for background noise.

But this book has made me appreciate the show on a whole new level.

I’m going to be paying more attention now.

Rerun Junkie–Characters: Big Chicken

Big ChickenThere are two guest characters from the TV shows I’ve blogged about that end up in searches that lead to my blog and one of them is Big Chicken.

It’s understandable, really. First of all, the old Hawaii Five-O series ran for twelve years and it was pretty popular. Second of all, Big Chicken, even though he was only in two episodes, was pretty damn memorable.

His first appearance, in a first season episode called “…And They Painted Daisies on His Coffin”, introduces us to the Big Chicken smarm. In the episode, off-duty Danny chases and ends up shooting an armed “kid” (they called him a kid; I called him twenty-five). Only, surprise! The victim’s girlfriend takes her now-dead boyfriend’s gun and runs off so it looks like Danny killed an unarmed “kid”. An investigation ensues and wouldn’t you know that dope pusher Big Chicken is involved? He thinks the law is cool. You can tell by the way he breaks it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t feel the law is so cool by the end of the episode.

Big Chicken in prisonLike I said, you get a hint of his smarm the first go-round. But it really comes on full-force and pretty much evolves into shudder-inducing creep later in the first season in an episode called “The Box”. The first time you see him, he’s in the prison shower (which is apparently some sort of broken pipe trickle), singing while some of his cohorts jump and beat a man. It’s unnerving and creepy and smarmy and just plain wrong.

The episode involves McGarrett entering the prison after the scuffle in the prison shower turns into a sort-of riot, but mostly hostage situation. It’s then that Big Chicken really turns it on. He weasels better than any weasel, ingratiating himself to the guy that his boys (one of whom is Al Harrington, who went on to play good guy Ben later) were whipping only a little while before in an attempt to get McGarrett killed. It’s a total slime act and the tension between Big Chicken and McGarrett has a real uncomfortable passion to it. His skeev level is off the charts.

I want to take a shower after I watch that episode (but not in a prison because no).

To me, the greatest part of this character is that it’s Gavin MacLeod playing him. When you think Gavin MacLeod, you think Captain Stubing, happy Loveboat guy, making dreams come true for his passengers and being an adorable father to his adorable daughter. Or maybe you think Murray Slaughter, TV writer and desk neighbor of Mary Richards, a good guy with excellent timing when it comes to insulting Ted Baxter.

You don’t think of him as a creeper’s creep.

I’ve seen him play a jerk before. He was a pretty big one an episode of The Big Valley. But to see him play the lowest of scum in such a slimy, skeevy way sticks with me. Kudos to him for that.

And kudos to Big Chicken.

Ya creep.