Before the Sky Falls In

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(Pictured: last day of school hell yeah.)

Here’s more Life on Lockdown, in which we ramble around to whatever seems ramble-worthy.

If my local districts have stuck to their pre-plague calendars, school is getting out right about now. There is no feeling in adult life that’s analogous to the last-day-of-school feeling, except maybe for voluntarily quitting a job in favor of a better one. You walk out with mingled senses of relief, accomplishment, freedom, and expectation—especially the last two, when you’re a kid out of school. Three months stretch out in front of you rich with possibility. You realize that yes, you’ll probably have to work, either chores at home or hours for The Man in exchange for a paycheck, and that it won’t all be golden time. But some of it will be.

What kids are thinking this year, I don’t know. Their world has been gravely circumscribed by the plague. Some continue to work as usual—my nephew, for example, finishing his junior year in high school, has been working the grill at Culvers all through the pandemic and will continue to do so this summer. Others will find their summer plans scrubbed: no hangouts with friends, no music or Scout camp, no family vacation.

I see kids in my neighborhood, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs or trios, on skateboards or scooters or just walking along, and I wonder what they’re saying to themselves and to one another. Do they understand just how deep is the trouble we’re in?

I am torn about whether I want them to understand it. I have written previously about 1975, when between inflation and international tension and the energy crisis and the culture wars, it must have seemed to many adults that the nation was falling apart—but also how our parents did the worrying for us, and how my brothers and me, aged 15, 13, and 9, barely knew how bad it was. I don’t think it harmed us to be protected from the worst of it. And as it turned out, we survived it as a family, and as a nation. This crisis is vastly worse, however, and all of the potential outcomes seem terrible. Some kids know the score—the number of young people who have been involved in the recent protests against brutal policing is inspiring to geezers such as I. For the youngest kids, there will be a time when they’ll have to understand, but not yet. For now, let them have a little bit of carefree summer before the sky falls in.

On another subject:

We are, like most people, passing time by binging TV. We have been rewatching Antenna TV’s reruns of Murphy Brown and another old CBS show from the 90s, Cybill. It might be indicative of the person I am today versus who I was in the 90s, but I like Murphy Brown a lot less than I used to. It’s strident and self-righteous in ways I didn’t notice back then, and Murphy’s self-centeredness eventually turns tiresome. Cybill has worn better than I expected. Cybill Shepherd plays Cybill Sheridan, an actress in her mid 40s struggling to hang on in Hollywood, with two daughters, two ex-husbands, and a sardonic/alcoholic best friend. Its strongly feminist point of view still holds up, as does its portrayal of how vapid Hollywood can be (shown via TV-Cybill’s walk-on parts in sitcoms and soap operas, her appearances in commercials, and with cameos by well-known TV actors). It’s also remarkably raunchy—a few of the jokes would make the CBS censor spit coffee even today. Cybill is on Amazon Prime.

Also on Prime is the movie The Vast of Night, set in small-town New Mexico during the late 50s, in which a telephone operator and a radio DJ lock in on some kind of communication from the beyond. It pays its debt to Twilight Zone directly, and is a compelling and spooky 90 minutes.

I have also been watching Bosch, the Prime series based on the detective novels by Michael Connelly and starring Titus Welliver. It doesn’t break any new storytelling ground, but the stories are involving. Bosch has a high school/college-age daughter who eventually becomes a big part of his story, but the family drama feels like an organic part of the whole. Welliver and Madison Lintz have genuine chemistry; her character is the most authentic teenager I’ve seen on TV in a while.

I wonder what she would say about this cursed summer of 2020.

9 thoughts on “Before the Sky Falls In

  1. mackdaddyg

    I loved Murphy Brown back in the day. A lot of shows from that era have not aged well for me, and after reading your post, I’m afraid Murphy will fall into that category, so I may hold off trying to rewatch it again for a while longer (although I still have fond memories of her handyman Eldin).

    I tried watching the new Murphy show whenever it came out, which feels like 20 years ago the way time moves these days. I barely made it through that first episode. I had low expectations and was still disappointed. It felt like the writers were trying to pick up where the old show left off when it comes to what they wanted to get across, but the times changed too much. It felt very much like preaching to the choir.

  2. The new Murphy was a disappointment from the jump. The producers probably should have done fan service for people who watched it in the 90s, but they had the idea that they could attract the 18-35 crowd that every TV network wants to capture, and it just didn’t work. The flop sweat was visible only a couple of episodes in, like the cast knew it wasn’t working. Also, Trump’s reality is a lot harder to parody than that of Bush I and Bill Clinton.

  3. We killed “Bosch” off in about four weeks and loved it. We gave “The Vast Of Night” fifteen minutes, but we might try it again. Right now, we’re working on Netflix’ “Rectify,” which is pretty intense – local boy comes off death row where he’d been for twenty years for the rape/murder of his high school sweetheart – but it’s very good. Into season two of four, but can’t do more than two episodes at a time.

  4. Paul S. Harner

    The original Murphy Brown was fairly solid until Grant Schaud/Miles left the series. Even in the 1990’s it hung on a bit too long. The newer version was a steaming pile of awful.

    As for the first topic–last night my girlfriend and I went to a restaurant in an historic shopping district (St. Charles, MO). We saw several high school students in formal wear. When I asked about the occasion, I was told they were dressed for a prom that was actually canceled, and instead, this was their night out. They added their outdoor graduation was, instead, virtual. While understandable, it is a terrible consolation prize, and a disservice to these people.

    I hope these people vote, and pick off every boomer and first wave X-er who hold elected office. I was born in 1964, and the leadership of people born post-war to 1970 would best be described as “epic fail.” Real life versions of Murphy Brown never own or accept a millimeter of criticism, or shoot back with insults and put-downs when confronted. That inflexibility is what is killing us now.

    1. As a boomer myself, I don’t believe *every* member of my generation is inflexible and won’t accept criticism or own error. I do agree, however, that inflexibility and failure to accept criticism or own error is largely what’s put us in the fix we’re in. A large part of our political class has equated “having principles” with “never backing down from anything we’ve ever believed or said,” as if it is undesirable or even impossible for a person to learn and change. And that’s essentially declaring that human progress is at an end. Which, with that attitude, it is.

  5. mikehagerty

    Totally agree with JB above on Boomers. I don’t consider myself inflexible, either. But, and you can start with music, a chunk of our generation was.

    As an aircheck collector, one of the first realizations to hit me was that, for the most part, our parents’ radio stations (the MOR giants like KMPC and KSFO) weren’t on nostalgia trips. There was one—maybe two—non-current record(s) an hour. And those records were rarely more than ten years old.

    But damned if the Boomers didn’t get mired in the tar pit of oldies and classic rock. But then, our generation pretty much turned hypocrisy into an art form. We ridiculed our parents’ gas-guzzling Country Squires and then bought Suburbans and Escalades as soon as we had wives and kids. We marched against Nixon, but largely are responsible as a demographic for electing Trump.

    TV? Since I was a nighttime disc jockey in the 70s and a TV newsguy working through prime time to be on the air with the late news in the 80s and 90s, there’s a lot I missed—and my wife (it’s both our second marriages) has a blind spot in the 90s and aughts during her child-raising years.

    So, in the nearly seven years we’ve been together, we’ve worked out a mix of what we watch: Something new, a classic comedy and a classic drama.

    My wife and I thought the Murphy Brown reboot would have plenty to work with in terms of material—we couldn’t even get through the first episode. Turned it off at the second commercial break.

    But then, traditional network (ABC/CBS/FOX/NBC) prime-time shows strike me as pretty lame overall. We got through three or four seasons of The Blacklist because I thought the premise and James Spader gave them the opportunity to do something interesting. They didn’t. Hawaii Five-O is really just CSI: Honolulu. NCIS is just sooooo predictable. Watch five and then write your own using Mad Libs.

    When it comes to the old stuff, I’m surprised at what holds up. We went for That Girl (ABC, 1965, with Marlo Thomas), expecting to watch one and maybe get a little nostalgia boost out of it. We’re not bingeing it, but we’ve seen the first four or five. It’s actually way ahead of its time in terms of women’s issues. The Bob Newhart Show, Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, 30 Rock—all great stuff.

    The Office (U.S. version—I saw the UK one first) is like a bell curve—excruciating first few episodes, strong middle, weak final couple of seasons. We’re watching Parks and Recreation now—same problem in the beginning—and midway through season four, Amy Poehler is really starting to annoy me.

    But—if you haven’t seen it, or if you’ve only seen a couple—absolutely watch The Good Place (which just had its final season on NBC). Watch in order (that matters). Great writing, acting, and a subversive sense of humor.

    Cable and streaming are better, but by no means perfect. The Walking Dead, House of Cards and Sneaky Pete all started out great and fell apart in the final seasons (actually, I guess The Walking Dead is still on, but we bailed about three or four years ago).

    As an L.A. kid, Bosch is absolutely on the list, but we just haven’t gotten there yet.

    Loved HBO’s The Newsroom, but I’m a recovering journalist and totally a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing, so, yeah.

    And that led to watching The West Wing, which we’d both missed (oddball sidebar to this: The Morning Show on Apple+ with Jennifer Anniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell starts out feeling like someone without the talent wants to be Aaron Sorkin, but finds its legs about halfway through and ends strong).

    VEEP (HBO) with Julia Louis-Dreyfus is hysterical and filthy. I’m 64 and had to look up some of the swear words and insults.

    We’re two episodes into Space Force with Steve Carrell on Netflix. I want to love this show. So far, I’m not even sure I like it.

    Big Little Lies (HBO) pissed me off until the next-to-last episode of the first season, at which point I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen (it’s a murder mystery, but you not only don’t know who did it, you don’t know who’s dead). Being a sucker for Monterey and Carmel, California scenery kept me going until the pieces all fell into place.

    Dead to Me (Netflix) is kind of the perfect companion piece….Southern California murder mystery but very darkly hilarious.

    And Barry on HBO—Bill Hader as a hit man who wants to be an actor—is maybe my favorite of all. Along with Better Call Saul, which, if you haven’t yet, do. Even if you didn’t watch Breaking Bad. In fact, the best move might be to watch “Saul” first (the final season is next year or maybe the year after, depending on Coronavirus production delays), then start Breaking Bad.

    (Bonus question: How many episodes of a given show could you have watched in the time it took to read this? Sorry, JB. Got rolling.)

  6. Paul S. Harner

    Jim and MIke, while you both do not consider yourselves inflexible, at least you see what I’ve seen, and acknowledge it. Many don’t, and refuse to even recognize the hypocrisy Helen Keller could see (citing Mike’s comment on driving gas guzzlers).

    Mike, I’m with you on “The Good Place.” It is one well-written show. Same with “Barry,” and “Better Call Saul.” Vince Gilligan created one incredible universe of characters. I’m also an aircheck person too. It is strange to think that it is easier to access radio stations from the past today, than it may have been when they were originally broadcast (thanks to all of those who rolled tape). There is so much KHJ, WLS, CKLW, WABC, and Radio Caroline floating around now, it’s difficult to consider them as ‘gone.’

    1. mikehagerty


      Glad to find another The Good Place fan. I have a helluva time getting people to try it, because they see the promos and graphics and think it’ll be too slick and cute. And you can’t really explain the premise without ruining it.

      As for airchecks, I was one of the original contributors to REELRADIO in 1996. If you had asked me then, I’d have guessed there were maybe 400 unscoped airchecks in the whole world and maybe another 1,000 scoped. REELRADIO alone has 3,500+ (scoped and unscoped). I’m stunned at what was saved and what still continues to surface.

      I decided some time ago to limit my collection to unscoped California radio. And while there’s absolutely more KHJ out there than anything else, there’s some of darn near everything. The Holy Grails are few in number.

      And one place where I will admit I’m an old guy is that there isn’t much on the radio anymore that I enjoy. Only some of it is music—I’m pretty eclectic—most of it is just the lack of imagination. So I carry my airchecks on my phone via Apple Music playlists and when I’m through with whatever’s on the air in real time on a long drive, I’ll switch over and just play the airchecks like I’m playing the radio.

      There are drawbacks, sure. I am pretty well over having call letters sung to me, the stiff-to-hit ratio was a lot higher than we like to remember and the consultants were right—a spot break every two songs is a downer. But the best of them are pretty great.

  7. mikehagerty

    All that writing and I forgot two: Silicon Valley and Avenue 5 (both HBO). Silicon is gold, start to finish. Avenue 5 is a rough ride the first two episodes, then gets very good.

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