Thursday, March 13, 2003

Allow me now to return to an item I discarded over a month ago, dust it off, smooth it out, and knock a few new nails in it as I set the metaphor mixer to puree:

Lately, I've been fascinated (which is merely the kind code word for "obsessed" - judicious vocabulary choices tend to cut down on the restraining orders) by the work of a Canadian gentleman by the name of Ken Finkleman. If that's a name that means nothing to you, you're either not Canadian nor a PBS addict nor somebody who paid undue attention to the credit lists for the bad movies that played on cable incessantly during the 1980s (guess which one I am). Finkleman's an interesting case - a Canadian comedy writer who parlayed whatever success he attained north of the border into a lucrative gig writing (and sometimes directing) some of the most horrific pictures Hollywood churned out during the Max Headroom Decade. Don't believe me? Check out his CV. Airplane II: The Sequel, Grease 2, Who's That Girl? (I won't throw Head Office into the same hopper with those three, because, although it's still as messy and semi-incoherent as it played back in '85, it has a few crackerjack gags [as, to be fair, does Airplane II - remember Shatner's first scene in that one?] and a nice, meaty role for one of my personal heroes, Michael O'Donoghue)... less encouraging beginnings for a creative artist are hard to imagine.

He apparently recognized it too, seeing as he fled (or was chased out of) Tinseltown after Who's That Girl? , laid low for a spell, then quietly re-emerged as the conquering hero of Canadian television satire in the 1990s. In other words, the exact opposite of the usual Canadian success story, Lorne Michaels in reverse; from a profiteer without honor (add the 'u' at your discretion) in his adopted homeland to auteur of the small screen in the smallest big country on the planet from whence he came, and thence to cult figuredom when his works started trickling southward. Married Life (1995), his first series, which mockumented the intrusion of a film crew into the lives of a newlywed couple (admittedly heavily influenced, right down to the title, by Albert Brooks' brilliant debut feature, Real Life - as you will see, Finkleman steals and steals brazenly, but always from the best), made it into rotation at Comedy Central in mid-decade and caused as much of a stir as most of CC's imports tend to make, i.e., not a whole hell of a lot of one. But Finkleman was canny: he recognized that there was gold to be mined from the works of his fellow curly-haired, comic-neurotic Semites, he just chose the wrong one the first time. The Newsroom (1996-98) borrowed blatantly from Garry Shandling's celebrated backstage TV satire, The Larry Sanders Show, in its single-camera format, caustic showbiz-workplace comedy, and even its spare, white-on-black opening credits, but where it lifted the form more-or-less wholesale (albeit a form generic enough to avoid litigation), the twisting and darkening of the function was unique.

(more to come...)

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