Living Legends: A Salute to Norman Lear | Chaz’s Journal


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Cold Turkey“: Back in 1971, Roger awarded four stars to Lear’s scathing satire of the tobacco industry starring Dick Van Dyke and Bob Newhart.

What we need are mean comedies, filled with mean and petty people who hate and envy each other, and exhibit the basest of human motives. Comedies like that canonized W. C. Fields, and it was Groucho Marx’s fundamental hatefulness that made his stuff so much more than slapstick. Lately, though, the movie comedy has fallen on hard times in America. Until the last couple of weeks. Now there are two new comedies that I can recommend to cynics and malcontents with little fear they’ll be disappointed: ‘A New Leaf,’ reviewed last week, and Norman Lear’s ‘Cold Turkey.’ Both of them assume as a matter of course that the human being is powered with unworthy motives, especially greed. ‘A New Leaf’ gets a little sentimental at the end, but not too much, and ‘Cold Turkey’ ends with the scoundrels being shot by their own cigarette lighter. The movie, as everybody knows by now, concerns an attempt by a small town in Iowa to qualify for a $25 million award by signing all its citizens to a 30-day no smoking pledge. That somehow doesn’t sound like the world’s greatest idea for a comedy, but Lear makes it work by a brilliant masterstroke: He gets the comedy, not out of people trying to stop smoking, but out of the people themselves. So instead of lots of scenes of characters sneaking puffs, you have them preening their vanity as national television crews descend upon the town. For, of course, Eagle Rock, Iowa, has become famous overnight.

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‘One Day at a Time’ Moves to Pop“: This past March, Allison Shoemaker reviewed the fourth season of Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce’s acclaimed remake of Norman Lear’s classic sitcom (Lear serves as executive producer of the new show).

That’s the most wonderful thing about the Alvarez family. Watching them is a warm and wonderful experience, the epitome of comfort food TV, and yet the world they inhabit is recognizably our own. (Now operating on a network schedule, the show closed up production this month along with the rest of Hollywood; when it returns, it’s difficult to imagine Lydia won’t have some things to say about the Coronavirus from behind those curtains.) Neither they nor their writers ignore the darkness; it is always there in some form or other. The only thing about them that’s idealized is the sense at the end of each episode that everything will be okay, but it’s not because it’s overly sunny or blindly optimistic. It’s because what matters is what they have each other, and another day to look forward to—another breakfast Lydia makes while dancing, another group therapy session with a room full of smart and quick-witted women for Penelope, another e-sports tournament for Elena or sneaker run for Alex, and some more beautiful, affectionate pathos from Schneider and Dr. B. They muddle through, as the theme song once said, one day at a time—and, you can still hear the song on YouTube, so even that loss is survivable.

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Norman Lear: Even This I Get to Experience“: At Norman’s official site, you can order a copy of his beloved 2014 excerpted below. 

In my ninety-plus years I’ve lived a multitude of lives. In the course of all these lives, I had a front- row seat at the birth of television; wrote, produced, created or developed more than a hundred shows; had nine on the air at the same time; founded the 300,000-member liberal advocacy group People for the American Way; was labeled the ‘No. 1 enemy of the American family’ by Jerry Falwell; made it onto Richard Nixon’s ‘Enemies List’; was presented with the National Medal of the Arts by President Clinton; purchased an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and toured it for ten years in all fifty states; blew a fortune in a series of bad investments in failing businesses; and reached a point where I was informed we might even have to sell our home. Having heard that we’d fallen into such dire straits, my son-in-law phoned me and asked how I was feeling. My answer was, ‘Terrible, of course,’ but then I added, ‘but I must be crazy, because despite all that’s happened, I keep hearing this inner voice saying, ‘Even this I get to experience.’



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