Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Geezer Niche

I'm sure the marketing guys are all over this one but I've just noticing a to-me-surprising phenom in TVland: call it "the geezer niche."  In short, old guys.  Not exactly wise and loveable old guys like Life with Father, and not really figures of quaintly comic charm like Scrooge or Santa Claus although there may be some comedy involved.  I'm noticing a more nuanced and modern variety.

I suppose you could start with Coach Ernie Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto)  on Cheers and  Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) on Hill Street Blues, although in both cases, the ticket of admittance may be that they were graceless enough to die in mid-narrative.  Aside from that I don't remember anything precisely geezerish about Coach.  Rather, I'd mark him down as a good, dependable funny man whose most memorable contribution may be that his passing opened the door to the young Woody Harrelson (currently verging towards geezerhood himself in True Detective).  Esterhaus is perhaps a better candidate, as one recalls the mix of hilarity and horror he generated by his lust after benign affection for a high school cheerleader.  

You get a bit more benign horror in Holling Vincouer (John Cullum) on Northern Exposure--Vincouer who wouldn't marry his pubescent sweetheart because she was too old for him: the Vincouers are long-lived and monogamous and Holling fears he would outlive her.  We also know that Vincouer's grandfather ate Ruthanne's grandfather in a snowstorm, so just edgy enough to be funny without upsetting matters.

I suppose others have noticed but I'm just now picking up on the idea that there is a streak of comedy in another and more genuine geezer--Corrado Soprano, "Uncle Junior," (Dominic Chianese) in The Sopranos, perhaps the only one of the despicable lot who could get his hand caught in a piece of heavy machinery without coming to a horrific end.  But there seem to  me to be a subtle shift here; whereas Esterhaus and Vincouer were charmers with just a bit of edge for entertainment, you get the impression that Corrado is a genuinely rotten human being who somehow achieves his moments of charm almost in spite of himself.

Which brings me to the one who I'd place one who stands alone--Roman Grant, the polygamous patriarch in Big Love.  As a wise man once asked--has Harry Dean Stanton ever made a bad  movie?  The answer is yes but it's a detail: his rendition Roman might get a few black chuckles but he is overall one of the most compulsively watchable villains in TV history.

]And finally--I still don't quite what to do with the one who started me down this rathole: Louis Kaester, "The Commodore" in Boardwalk Empire.  I'm still in Season 2 but so far I'd say he is as resoundingly awful a human being as Roman Grant.  Yet you can't help noticing how much fun Dabney Coleman seems to be having with the part.  He comes across as nothing so much as an old stage hoofer who figured he'd never get a job again, and can't fathom his own good fortune--I bet he blew off the invitation was a prank.  A genuinely awful human but still, as a certified geezer myself, I'd say being shot with an arrow by a naked Diana is a pretty cool way to go.

[Yes, he ain't dead yet.  But considering what comes after, I'm fancying that he might wish he was.]

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