Thursday, November 30, 2006

Loving Lou to the last laugh

"Impressions," TV Times, 5-11 November 1978


On Monday nights, we doff our critical hat and prepare ourselves for a few hours of gleeful entertainment. After all, what else can beat that 8.30 P.M. slot for true escapist fare: Bionic Woman on 2, Future Cop on 7, Wonder Woman on 9? The sked sounds like the best of the Sunday comics.

But after 8:30 P.M., what else is there to see that extends your genial mood through the night? Well, there's Lou Grant in the city room of the Los Angeles Tribune.

We like Ed Asner. He looks, to us, a very sensible actor. Perhaps it's because of age. Age works like a very good, very effective put-down. When you're as old as Ed Asner and you still haven't made it as the new Olivier or the second Newman, then you know you never will. When you're as old as Asner and you find yourself still working the weekly grind on the small screen--like Telly Savalas, Jack Klugman, or Lorne Greene--then you learn to take yourself and your role with less seriousness and more camp. And camp, we find quite delightful.

Besides, who can hate somebody who looks like Asner? With that heavy paunch, a balding forehead, a face that looks like somebody's favorite mongrel's, and that bruising aggressiveness, he comes closest to our idea of a favorite uncle. Not the smooth, cultivated uncles with the no-touch air. Just the everyday loudmouth with the worldly-wise ways. Beats the first one, anytime.

Of course, it means we like Lou Grant, too. The other week's episode, "Hen House," pitted the city editor against the Sunday supplement editor in a classic bout between male chauvinist and dedicated feminist. A male chauvinist is a male chauvinist and a feminist is a feminist and rarely the twain do meet. But Ed Asner makes the attempt seem screamingly funny. She tried to change his position; he lost his.

We have no doubt that many men will agree with us--and many women will not--when we say that, at least in that episode, Ed Asner really put one over every other actor in the cast. His was a gem of a performance, a fountainhead of wild sarcasm, like a two-fisted brawler whose pursuit of journalism looked rather like prizefighting. In the role of prejudiced city editor loudly protecting his own kingdom against the cackling hens in what he called the Women's Section--already dignified to the status of Sunday supplement with the title "Today"--he rounds out the comic portrait of the male editor as an old tough.

It is, of course, Asner's achievement that while in principle, we must side with the woman editor of the Sunday magazine, our sympathy reached out to this misdirected man with the swift cutting tongue. Agitated, confused, later contrite, he comes out the best of the cast. Beside him, the woman editor appeared colorless, forgettable, uncharismatic, heavily playing a role, not living it.

And so what if the ending was contrived, dogmatic? Sure, we felt a little uncomfortable, watching that surrender scene in a kitchen. We know it did not do justice either to the woman's cause or the man's principles. But that is easily forgivable. After all, the whole episode is one cut-rate lark, a cross between The Andros Targets and The Goodbye Girl, with none of the sociological and emotional bite of either.

But the humor! We have not laughed as heartily in the past week as we did over that restaurant sequence, when Asner tried to finally meet the woman editor. Nor as loudly as when he scathingly remarked that perhaps the Sports Section had already been retitled "Tomorrow," or "Yesterday." We found ourselves giggling before the punchline and laughing after it.

So that stuff is all lightweight. But it is neither dull nor stupid. And Asner is an infectiously beamish performer. Which should make Lou Grant a show we can get accustomed to in the future, perhaps even anticipate with real fondness.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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