Monday, December 4, 2006

A little awkward comedy

TV Times, 25 February-3 March 1979


A sex comedy, it is not. At least, not yet. The other week, there were hardly any laughs, hardly any sex. And why did we find ourselves squirming inside, more out of pity than hilarity?

The truth is that Sandy's Cousin is a local show like many local shows--ambivalent, uncertain, and a little awkward. Its humor springs more from sad promise than happy feat. As such, it is slightly sly and definitely dry.

Even the characters give less than lusty performances, quite unorthodox in a sex comedy such as it is understood in the industry. Ronald Bregendahl may try to look like somebody straight from the province, but his characterization suffers precisely because of that. He comes across, in an unfortunate sense, as a more or less inadequate bystander. In the other week's episode where, as Jimmy, he figured in a final scene with Max the homosexual, Bregendahl was tepid, unassertive. It is true that in classical Greek and Roman comedies, heroes and heroines were rarely very interesting people: their potential as truly interesting characters were supposed to be born at the end of the plays. But whether this form should apply to a television comedy is open to question.

The Sandy of the title--technically the heroine--is Sandy Andolong, a new face in local television. Again, as in the classical sense, the role is played down, self-deprecatingly. Normally, this would be a wise move for a newcomer to the screen, small or big. Unfortunately, Sandy Andolong hardly projects as potentially sympathetic, much less potentially interesting. In many of the scenes in the other week's episode that we watched, she was sullen, unenthusiastic, clench-lipped, deadpan. Now, others may say she is actually shy, uninitiated, quiet. Whatever she should really be in the show, we leave to the director and the writer to thresh out. But the character should certainly not be rather wan and above it all.

The same, we cannot write about Max Batungbacal, very ably played by Manny Castañeda. His portrayal of a homosexual, a pebble of truth crushed by the inexorable wheels of fate and society, is both absurd and touching. Integrity, the realization and acceptance of what he really is, a faithfulness to his own identity, provide Castañeda's performance with substance and strength. Of all the performers in Sandy's Cousin, he alone offers the genuine sincerity that is the basic touchstone of true comedy, classical or contemporary.

Still, for all his prodigious energies, Manny Castañeda cannot make a hit all by himself. He keeps the show amusing, but the plot ho-hums along, hardly funny, even infuriating. Sandy, being supposedly committed to honesty, may be the heroine, but it does not take too much sensitivity to realize that all the others seem much more forthright: she goes out on a date with a man she does not like, lets him into her place, suffers his initial advances. All very well, if we consider that the arbitrary twist of plot is an important ingredient in classical comedy.

But in that case, where is my happy ending? Sandy hardly looks happy, Max surely feels used and abused, Michael is despicable, Jimmy is pensive, and I am nauseated. Individual illusions remain, as do obsession, hypocrisy, disguise, everything that's fake. The society they all want continues to be smothered by the society it should dislodge.

And if we are not supposed to look at Sandy's Cousin in terms of classical comedy, how then is the dialogue, that touchstone of comedy in the contemporary farcical sense? Well, it seems especially written to indicate that [words like] "acheng" and "tiyopeng-tiyope" are supposed to be hilarious, a belief I do not share. There is also solemn talk at the end about the sterility of illusions, but the real issue appears to be a comedy's failure to make its verbal fireworks amount to a lot of laughs and even just a little bit of satire.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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