Tuesday, May 2, 2017

LIZ SMITH: It’s a Reboot

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

The Return of "Roseanne?" ... The Johnny Carson Broadway Musical? ... And, What's Keeping Me Up At Night?

“IT’S not a ‘comeback!’ I hate that word. It’s a return.”

So declared “Sunset Boulevard’s” Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic movie.

I suppose if “SB” was updated to the 2000s, Norma would be using the word “reboot” somewhere in that sentence.
SPEAKING of things returning or rebooting or coming back, it is with great interest and a little trepidation, the news that TV’s classic “Roseanne” will be brought back for a limited eight-episode run, possibly for the ubiquitous Netflix. (The show originally aired for 9 seasons on ABC.)

If this happens, one wonders how they’ll explain the final seasons of the sitcom, which went totally off the rails. (In fairness to anybody who is younger and happens to be watching re-runs of “Roseanne” I won’t spoil exactly what happens, how star/producer Rosanne decided on the fate of her characters.) Suffice to say, most fans try to forget the last two seasons ever really happened.
One of the reasons I loved watching “Roseanne” was to see her transform, episode by episode in those early years from a slightly awkward stand-up comedienne, to an assured and powerful actress. (Her supporting cast, especially the great John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Sara Gilbert, really supported Roseanne that first year or so, as she found her footing.) 

Equally fascinating was to observe how Roseanne began to incorporate her own tumultuous off-screen life into the character of Roseanne Connor.  Not just the constant physical alterations, which she came to wittily comment upon in the later cast introduction montage at the start of each episode. But, also — her own aggressive stance toward men, authority, her parents, and her progressive political/cultural ideas. These issues had little to do with the original Mrs. Connor, hard-working blue-collar housewife and mother.  But Roseanne, onscreen and off, morphed and morphed. The show remained funny, but it also became something of a cinema verite  nervous breakdown.
She married one of her writers, Tom Arnold, who gave himself a role on the show, became a producer, and, of course they inevitably divorced. After that, the show seemed to take on a virulently anti-male stance. The sarcastic but basically loving and big-hearted Roseanne Conner became a gleefully castrating virago, a downscale Elizabeth Taylor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Still funny, but now, sometimes uncomfortably so.     
Toward the end of the run of “Roseanne” — or perhaps just after the show ended — I interviewed her at the Four Seasons Hotel.  Given the increased volatility of her reputation, I approached the star gingerly.  (Even though this column had long been admiring of her work; both on TV and in movies such as “She-Devil.” We actually met for the first time during the making of that movie.) 

I needn’t have worried. That day Roseanne was fascinating — complex, intelligent, vulnerable, uncertain, humorous. Different from her famous TV character and very different from the sometimes outrageous person who indulged in crazy public antics.

I not only liked her, I was profoundly moved by what appeared to be her struggles, things she seemed to be trying to work out even as we talked, quite candidly.

Roseanne’s career has been a patchwork thing since her series folded, but when she pops up, she is always provocative and typically unfettered.

I do hope the new “Roseanne” happens, and that it is as terrific as it was in those early years, when it broke ground and made her one of the most unlikely of superstars.
AT NEW York’s Primola eatery (2nd Avenue, between 64th and 65th Street) Henry Bushkin and Jackie Matteo celebrated the formation of something they call Salmira. They are planning “Good To Be King,” a a Broadway-bound musical based on the life of the late "Tonight Show" icon Johnny Carson.

Salman Al-Rashid, the principal in the production company, is the son of Saudi billionaire, Nasser Al-Rashid and one the world’s richest women, Mouna Ayoub. The musical is said to cover Carson’s life from 1963 to 1980. He retired with great fanfare in 1992, making only one or two appearances after. He died in 2005 at age 79. 

... CONGRATS to everybody involved the new surprise hit movie, “How to Be a Latin Lover.” This comedy stars Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell and Linda Lavin. I am particularly pleased that our friend, the eternally luscious Raquel Welch also appears in the film. Rocky is a stunning 77 years old, and in some ways, is more of a lustrous star/survivor than she was when she was making three feature films a year. But I am of the opinion that this smart and talented woman, much hampered by her looks, will have a significantly “significant” career moment, still to come.
... THINGS that are keeping me up in the night!  I do mean shows such as “Bosch,”“Fortitude” and “The Break” — all to be seen on Netflix or Amazon.  They are complicated, creepy, dark detective — or possibly supernatural — tales that usually happen in appropriately gloomy or smoggy places like Norway and Los Angeles. Or a deceptively decorative (during daylight!) Belgian village.

“Bosch” has just premiered its third season. I thought I’d never seen or heard of its star Titus Welliver before, but I am a big fan now. (Of course, I must have seen him — he’s been working steadily, mostly in TV, since 1990!) 
“Fortitude’s” first season, which had a lot of David Lynch vibes, was very much enhanced by the presence of sexy Stanley Tucci.  The second season, with sexy Dennis Quaid as the American star among the Norwegians, is not as compelling, so far, although everybody acts totally bonkers, as always on this series.
As for the “The Break” the first season was insanely complex and ultimately heartbreaking for its tormented hero, played by Yoann Blanc.  I think one season was enough.  I don’t want to see this guy suffer any more!  Although I’d like to see more of him, as an actor.
There is a hypnotic sameness to all these crime shows, but there is also, always, a significant difference that pulls you in, often kicking and screaming. (I’d still go for another season of the Brit show, “Paranoid,” despite a heroine, played by beautiful Indira Varma, who made “Homeland’s” Carrie Mathison seem a model of stability.)

And to think, only two years ago, this column was making fun of binge-watching.

Never say never!

Contact Liz here.