Thursday, May 20, 2004

TV: Showbiz Moms & Dads

A funny yet deeply disturbing Bravo series that tracks five families with children hoping to make it as entertainers. But the title gives the game away. It’s all about the parents, specifically the question of whether they’re living out their own dreams through their children. The answer is so obviously yes that at times the show became uncomfortable to watch. I don’t care what their parents say, 4-year-olds are incapable of deciding to compete in beauty pageants.

The breakout clan of the series, if you can call them that, is the Nutters. (It’s explained that the name means ‘one who gathers nuts.’) Dad Duncan uprooted his wife and seven children from Vermont to NYC so he could turn the whole family into actors, even though none of them know how to act and few of them have any interest in learning. He’s so oblivious to their feelings that he becomes the show’s passive-aggressive villain, complete with comeuppance: in the finale, we see him torn to shreds by a child psychiatrist on OPRAH.

A range of vaguely sleazy industry types who earn a living feeding these parents’ fantasies – pageant coordinators, acting coaches – pop up during the show. My favorite was a low-rent producer boasting that his newest production would star “Ernie Borgnine” and the Purina National Trick Dog champion.

Book: The Road to Ruin, by Donald E. Westlake (2004)

A Dortmunder novel hard on the heels of THIEVES’ DOZEN, a collection of short stories about the character. Even in long form the poor bastard doesn’t have much luck. Here, Dortmunder sets out to steal several priceless antique cars from an Enron-style corporate bandit. To get to close to the loot, Dortmunder will have to stoop to a new low: he’ll have to get a job. And not just any job. He has to become a butler, a position he trains for by watching RUGGLES OF RED GAP and THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. As usual, things don’t turn out as planned. ROAD may not reach the hysterical heights of the series’ previous outing, BAD NEWS, but there are laughs to spare.

I try to stay away from casting games but so many actors have played Dortmunder that I can’t help myself. The best known incarnation is Robert Redford in 1972’s THE HOT ROCK. He was funny, but he was also at the apex of his handsomeness then, making him all wrong. George C. Scott, Paul Le Mat, Christopher Lambert and Martin Lawrence have since taken a crack at the character. Westlake himself favors Harry Dean Stanton, but that’s a little too hangdog for me. Right now I’d go with Paul Giamatti in the down-and-dirty version, or Bill Pullman if we’re throwing money around.

As for sidekick Andy Kelp, he will always and forever be George Segal.