Listening to the BBC this evening, and they report that 87 year old actor Dick Van Dyke survived a very dangerous situation in Los Angeles, when he was found slumped over in his burning car on an LA freeway. After delivering the basics of the news story, the British newsreader and his sidekick then bring up what every Brit feels a cultural need to talk about when the subject of Mr. Van Dyke comes up.
His horrible accent in the movie Mary Poppins.
That’s right. The man starred in what was probably the perfect sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show, created by the great Carl Reiner, and starring a 20 year old Mary Tyler Moore alongside Mr. Van Dyke, but 50 years later, all the Brits can remember about him, is that his accent in Mary Poppins sucked. The Dick Van Dyke Show was awesome and ahead of its time. The storytelling was great, and though to watch it today, you’d see it as a good, sharp, well-written sitcom, except that in my mind, The Dick Van Dyke Show was the Lord of the Rings of television situation comedies.
Let me explain.
A lot of people read the Tolkien trilogy and say “Oh, OK. Traditional sword and sorcery, heroic fantasy stuff,” except that mostly all of the books in those genres are derivative of LOTR. Gray bearded wizards, elves with long pale hair who are good with the bow and arrow, dwarves who like to mine, and somewhat human like creatures who serve evil, dark lords, all of those archetype characters made their debut in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. So, when a fan of the genre comes to LOTR late, they think “seen it.”
The Dick Van Dyke Show is a lot like that. It was the first show to use a technique that’s quite common in everything from comedies to dramas to horror (I even used the device in my first novel, Time Flying), the flash forward. Most currently, Vince Gilligan, creator and show runner of AMC’s Breaking Bad uses it extensively. If you’re not familiar, the flash-forward is a storytelling technique where an episode, movie or novel starts with a scene from sometime else in the narrative, usually the end, and the bulk of the story is told leading up to the plot-point depicted in flash-forward.
The first example of this technique in The Dick Van Dyke Show, was Rob’s (Van Dyke’s character) wife Laura, played by Moore, picking her husband up from jail. While they are talking, trampy exotic dancers (or at least what passed for TV versions of same) were getting bailed out, making a fuss over Rob as they exited the cell. Laura is amazed, because in addition to getting arrested at an illegal card game, Rob was charged with firing a cannon at a police officer. All of this is shown in the first five minutes of the episode, the remaining 17 minutes devoted to explaining how this completely crazy situation is, in the end, understandable.
But, do the British news readers talk about any of this? Do they mention that Carl Reiner and Van Dyke had a five-year plan for the series, and that they ceased making the show at the end of those five years, even though it was at the top of the ratings?
No, some 50 years later, all they want to talk about is how horrible Van Dyke’s accent is in Mary Poppins.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s bad. Not as bad as Kevin Costner’s faux-british in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but at least halfway through the movie, Costner, apparently realizing he sounds nothing like Robin of Loxley probably sounded, he just kind of gave up and did the rest of the movie as an American. I always imagined Morgan Freeman, who played one of Robin’s men, a Saracen, saying “Dude, I started this movie as a Muslim, and stayed a Muslim, the least you can do, is keep trying the friggin’ accent.”
Yea, I admit it. British actors do much better American accents than Americans do British. The cream of our crop, Gwyneth Paltrow, is passable, but to my ear (I have a thing for accents), it moves around the southern part of the island a little. There are a lot of British actors that American audiences love, but have no idea they’re not from somewhere in the midwest, until they see them on Conan or Letterman. A great example of this is Hugh Laurie, who despite having a totally British name, plays Dr. House so American, I’m sure there are Yanks out there pretending to have gone to high school with him. Heck, even the creator of House upon seeing Laurie’s videotaped audition (he was filming a movie in Africa at the time) said “This guy’s great, and I’m so glad he’s American, because there will be a lot of medical lingo in the scripts.”
Another great example is the star of (among other things) Homeland, Damian Lewis. Lewis even played the lead in Band of Brothers, the excellent HBO series based on the book about Easy Company, of the American 101st Airborne, in World War 2. In fact, because most of the filming for Band of Brothers was done in England, a large number of the American soldiers were played by Brits. Heavy irony, that too, because studies have shown that 86% of British citizens agree that two of the top three facts they all agree on is that the United States did not save their asses in World War 2, they were “Giving Jerry a proper gubbing,” and secondly, Dick Van Dyke’s accent in Mary Poppins was “bollocks.” It’s true that it’s accepted British slang to call an American’s failed attempt to sound Brit a “Dick Van Dyke accent.”
Okay, I made up the 86% thing, but the slang fact is true.
But not all Brit actors do accents well. Consider one of my favorites, Ray Winstone. In American movies, he’s almost always a heavy, a tough. His East Ender, “Cockney” accent is distinctive, and present in any role he plays. While in Britain once, I watched a two-part movie in which Winstone played King Henry VIII. As a working class Cockney. Yea, right.
Sean Connery is another one. A Scot who adopted the Irish “Sean” (his real name is Tom), Connery doesn’t really care about the cultural background of any character he plays. The Russian submarine captain Connery plays in The Hunt for Red October has a distinctly Edinburgh accent. The Irish Chicago cop in The Untouchables? Scottish accent. How about King Richard the Lionheart in the aforementioned Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? Hell, Richard Coeur de Lion probably didn’t even speak English. He was French, for God’s sake, but sounds quite Scottish in the film. Let’s not even talk about Sean’s portrayal of an aging Robin Hood, opposite Audrey Hepburn in Robin and Marian.
But, the most delightfully ironic twist in lingual Hollywood is Mr. Connery’s role in Highlander, in which he plays, with his signature, unaltered Scots accent, a Spaniard!
Yes, Scotsman Sean Connery portrays “Ramierez” a Spanish swordsman opposite American-born French actor Christopher Lambert, who plays the immortal Scottish Highlander, Connor MacLeod. In the film, Lambert occasionally uses a Scottish word or two, but doesn’t even try the accent. It boggles the mind.
I’d like to go on the record, saying it again: British actors do better American accents than Americans do…Well, any accents. Can we move on now?
And because I know you’re all concerned, Mr. Van Dyke is fine.
The long-awaited second half of the last season of AMC‘s superior Breaking Bad is so over-delivering on the 10 months of expectation and the 3 months of hype, it’s not even funny. The first two episodes of the last act represent some of the best television I’ve ever seen. I believe BrBa will ultimately render The Sopranos quaint and…well…really good for its time.
Damning with faint praise, indeed.
S5 Ep 10 continued the steady and almost breathless march to the finale in a way that shocked me when the credits rolled. I was watching the episode partly from DVR, partly live, fast-forwarding through the commercial breaks and finally caught up to the show as it was being broadcast, when Hank entered the cop shop interrogation room. Honestly, I thought we were half an hour into the broadcast. Tonight’s 60 minutes flew by faster than one of the show’s gorgeous time-lapse cut scenes.
At the end of that hour, an almost comatose Jesse sits before a presumably still running video camera (any bets as to whether Hank has the presence of mind to shut it off, or whether the two ABQ detectives the team of Pinkman and Goodman has so successfully bitch-slapped in the past accidently get the whole story from Hank’s mouth?) ready to unburden his soul with the whole story. There is a precedence for Jesse giving that story to Hank, the one person he hates more than Walt. Remember the partnership of Walt and Tio? The mute, nursing home resident didn’t bother trying to hide his hatred for Walt, but there was one man who he burned for even more than “Heisenberg,” and that was Gustavo Fring, which motivated the old guy to work with Walt in order to be a wheelchair-bound suicide bomber for the cause.
Don’t be surprised if history repeats itself.
Watching the final act of this masterpiece unfold, I find myself constantly in awe of Vince Gilligan and his writing crew. Making it clear that Hank had figured the whole thing out after 10 months on the crapper was a bold move. Most TV shows would have used their entire inventory of creativity convincing us that Hank’s discovery of Gale’s inscription in Walt’s copy of Leaves of Grass didn’t convince DEA agent Schrader that “Heisenberg” was none other than his own dying-of-cancer brother-in-law.
No, the look on Hank’s face as the lynchpin fell into place was for real, and Gilligan’s team took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.
Yes, I know I mixed my authors, and I do know the difference between Frost and Whitman.
The pitch for Breaking Bad was “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface,” but it was an interesting twist tonight, to see Walt lying on the floor of his bathroom, being tended by Skylar, and begging her to keep the money, never speak of it, and pass all of it along to his children. He pleads with his former domestic adversary, now turned ally “Please don’t let me have done all of this for nothing.” Now, we are faced with “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface, and near the end, when all seems lost, including his soul, tries to demonstrate he’s carrying a battered leather briefcase, rather than an M16. At the same time, I do need to remind you that in the flash-forward scenes, a heavily bearded and shaggily coiffed Walt has purchased an M60 machine gun, considerably heftier hardware than Tony Montana’s “little friend.”
And as a side note here, am I the only one who think’s it’s important that the actor who played Pacino’s character’s best friend in Scarface, Steven Bauer, also played the doomed Mexican cartel Godfather, Don Eladio, in BrBa? I love stuff like that, and just know it’s not coincidence.
Hank knows the truth, as does Marie, who by the way, did in tonight’s episode what so many of us would have paid big money over the past couple years to do ourselves, slap Skylar upside the head, and Jesse is in an interrogation room after playing paperboy with millions of meth-money, knowing Walt capped Mike and probably strongly suspicious that the bald one poisoned Brock after all. Just when you thought you knew which way the wind was blowing, that the endgame is near, if not happening, everyone committed to their course, Gilligan and Co. throw a big old spinning, spit-laden fork-sliding-curve ball at us.
Now, it looks like, with Skylar having second thoughts about Walt’s evilness, the money moved to a safe place in the New Mexico desert (and nice tip about how to hide a series of important numbers in plain sight – use a lottery ticket that you magnet to the fridge – I’m going to use that one), and Heisenberg about to board the room-temperature RV to the superlab in the sky (or somewhere further south with a much hotter climate), the pressure is on Hank. He’s damned if he does, damned if he don’t, his 3XL ‘nads completely in the vise. If the head of the ABQ DEA takes what he knows to the office, he’s laughed out of his job, because everyone will know his Public Enemy #1 is related to him by marriage and in Schrader’s words, “10 minutes later, I’m a civilian.” If he keeps it to himself and the info gets out anyway, he winds up in prison, assumed to be an important member of “Team Heisenberg”. Tonight, Walter White gave up his seat on the stove to his brother-in-law. Walt’s worst case now takes a backseat to Hank’s, and that ain’t good for Hank, who, when he closes his eyes to sleep, now dreams of getting out of this with his ass intact, rather than that “tuggy” from Shania Twain.
Either way, though, it’s a good bet Steve Gomez has heard his last “beaner” joke from the bottler of Schraderbrau.
A couple Mad Men notes this morning.
While reviewing the past couple episodes in preparation for tonight’s first-viewing of the new ep, a couple interesting lines of thought came through.
First off, I’ve noticed in the past couple years, that Mad Men has been leading the charge against DVRing and fast-forwarding through the commercials. While some are going for the “we’ll make them stop and watch the commercials” by turning off the ability in some devices/cable systems, AMC is accepting the practice will continue, and programs to take advantage of it, or at least mitigate the damage.
When you fast-forward through video content, you are watching with the maximum amount of attention you have, because you’re trying to determine exactly when to hit “play” and resume watching the show. AMC is inserting quick Mad Men promos in the commercial blocks in order to trigger that “STOP” reflex. They get promo views, and hopefully, the fast-forwarding viewer will assume the show will be right back, and lays off the accelerate button. I would imagine the advertiser whose spot follows the FF-break pays a higher rate.
Last season, an advertiser created a campaign that looked and felt like Mad Men, and would always cause me to stop the advance, but I can’t remember the client, so I guess that explains it’s absence. Here’s an NPR story on the campaign.
There’s also an ongoing rush of Mad Men stars starring in ads that play during the show. Christine Hendricks (“Joan” on the show) does a whiskey spot, and John Slattery (Roger) voices and appears sometimes in commercials for Lincoln-Mercury, but the best is Jon Hamm as the voice of American Airlines, the big fish his firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce needs, but never gets. Ironically, Hamm’s character, Don Draper, has always been against going for AA, since they have an airline client in the small, regional (and fictional) Mohawk Airlines.
In the episode “The Better Half” recently, Megan was seen on the balcony of the Drapers’ Central Park high-rise apartment in her underwear. Some viewers, understandably, didn’t notice the emblem on her t-shirt, a large red star. No, Megan isn’t displaying her support for AMC’s newest show, The Amerikans, but she is wearing a shirt identical to the one actress Sharon Tate wore in an Esquire Magazine photo shoot. Sharon Tate, you may remember, was murdered in the Hollywood Hills by Charles Manson and his band of merry crazies.
Internet blogs and discussion boards are buzzing with the theory that Megan will be killed, citing Don and Betty’s daughter, Sally, was reading Rosemary’s Baby (the movie Sharon Tate was starring in when she was killed, by the way) and the season’s poster, which features a number of police officers. Here’s a good roundup of the rumors.