Thursday, September 17, 2009

In honor of Henry Gibson, and one whale of a good night of TV

You know, it's funny the things you learn about people only after they die. Take Henry Gibson, who just died at age 73 after a short battle with cancer.

In my case, it's not that we're both great actors (though I would certainly argue that he was.) It's that we're both proud graduates of the Catholic University of America. For a school with no particularly famous drama department, I'd say it's at least a bit of an accomplishment that it can count Gibson, Bob Newhart and Ed McMahon (and surely some other stars I'm forgetting) among its alumni (in fact, just a quick bit of research reveals we can also claim Susan Sarandon, Jon Voight and, perhaps best of all, John Slattery of "Mad Men" too.)

But back to Mr. Gibson. Since death comes in threes (with Patrick Swayze and Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary also dying this week), I suppose it had to happen, and of the three his death saddens me most of all. Though I suppose he's best known as a fixture on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh in," he went on to more than 100 TV and film roles, most notably in four of Robert Altman's '70s films, and "Nashville," easily one of my favorite flicks, in particular.

Gibson made a lot of his living playing for laughs (he was even half of a comedy duo called The Hillbillies while at CUA), and he easily could have done that again for the key role of Haven Hamilton in "Nashville." But though Hamilton gets plenty of laughs in the flick, it's the pride he brought to the role that made it ring true.

He was also, in one of the iconic roles in children's movies (at least to me) the voice of Wilbur in "Charlotte's Web" (the delightful cartoon, not the remake I still haven't bothered to see), and in one of his silliest but still memorable roles, he played the (as it's actually credited) "Head Nazi" in "The Blues Brothers." R.I.P. indeed, Mr. Gibson.

OK, enough of that. In much more happy news, it seems that the writing/directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have set their next project, and they're about to bring Zach Galifianakis along with them.

Boden and Fleck gained a bit of instant fame with their much-lauded first feature, "Half Nelson," but in my book they did much better with this year's "Sugar." The drama about a Dominican baseball player trying to make it to the Major League spent most of the first half of this year as my favorite flick of 2009, before being knocked from its perch first by "The Hurt Locker" and then by "Inglourious Basterds." A quick Amazon check reveals that it's available on video now, and I really can't recommend a rental any higher than I do this one.

But on to the new stuff. "It's Kind of a Funny Story" will be about a teenage boy who is sent to a mental institution after struggling with depression. There, he's put in the adult ward, where he meets all kinds of characters (Galifianakis included) and even girl to flirt with (Emma Roberts.) Sounds a little meh to me, but I have full faith in this duo, so I can definitely say bring it on.

Switching gears a bit, to TV, I was more than a little happy to see that Jay Leno managed to lose 36 percent of his audience in one night, but also not surprised to find out that NBC still tried to pitch this as "good" news, just proving that they will leave this hopefully quickly sinking vessel out at sea until the last deck chair has fallen overboard.

On a much more pleasant TV subject (though still largely NBC), this would have to be my favorite TV night of the fall season. On NBC, I don't think I'll bother to tune in for the "Saturday Night Live" clip show that will start the night at 8, but after that you can definitely count me in for the returns of "Parks and Recreation" and "The Office" (hearty huzzah!) and then the premiere of "Community" with Joel McHale and, somehow, Chevy Chase. As you can see from the clip below, word of Pam's pregnancy starts to flow around "The Office" tonight, along with a slew of other crazy rumors. In short order, Pam and Jim will apparently try to run off for a quiet wedding at Niagara Falls, but after Michael gives everyone a long weekend off, find they're nowhere near alone. Comedy bliss.

And best of all tonight will be the return of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," easily my favorite TV sitcom of the moment. In tonight's episode, "The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis," Frank, Mac and Dennis try their hand at real estate, while Dee arranges to be a surrogate mother for a wealthy couple. And Charlie? Who knows, but I can't wait to find out.

As promised, I'll close with this NBC preview of tonight's "The Office" season premiere. Peace out.

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