Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

Paul Fusco never wanted a TV show. He wanted a franchise.

I can’t say for certain, but I think I’d be more than satisfied if somebody took note of a character I created and asked me to produce a show based on it. Fusco, however, seems to have had his sights set quite a bit higher. Or, at least, broader.

ALF was a merchandising juggernaut. He was sold as a stuffed animal, a Halloween costume, a set of toys, various terrifying robots that tried to talk to you, and a lot more. He had his own cereal, ice cream pops, video games, and trading cards. He had storybooks and flimsy plastic records and was a hand puppet included with Burger King kids meals.

But that’s not all; characters that appeal to kids are understandably going to be milked for all they’re worth, and ALF was no exception. ALF was an exception in terms of how he attempted to take over not only store shelves, but the airwaves.

Most people know ALF from ALF. But that’s only part of the story. In addition to this live action sitcom, he also appeared in a cartoon spinoff called ALF: The Animated Series, and a spinoff of that called ALF Tales. (Woo-oo.) We’d also eventually get a movie. It was made for TV, but Fusco, to this day, expresses interest in a proper theatrical feature.

Evidence that ALF is meant to be less of a character than he is a brand goes all the way back to the first episode of this show. It was then that we met the other characters who populate this “universe.” Now, cruising through season three, we know almost nothing more about them than we did then.

Paul Fusco wasn’t interested in building that universe, let alone fleshing it out, because it was disposable. It wasn’t where ALF belonged; it was one place where ALF happened to be. One place, if Fusco got his way, among so many. Why don’t we know anything about Willie? Well, why would we? He’s just some guy ALF met, and ALF is going to be meeting so many people in so many other contexts that this one isn’t worth thinking much about.

More specific evidence of Fusco’s multi-format aspirations can be found here, in this very episode. In it, ALF — some fucking how — is hosting The Tonight Show. Why? Who cares? Going from hiding from the Alien Task Force one week to hosting the most popular show on national television the next? Surely that’s nothing worth addressing.

You may remember that this isn’t the first time we see ALF acting as talk show host. “We Are Family” included a pointless (but, in retrospect, mercifully short) fantasy sequence of My Favorite Melmackian hosting Late Night. And, in real life, ALF would eventually host a talk show on TV Land called (optimistically) ALF’s Hit Talk Show. It ran for seven episodes and was then executed by firing squad.

ALF, as a brand, reeks of cold calculation. He isn’t being offered spinoffs; he’s being thrust into them. The more Fusco focuses on grooming the character for broader success, the less marketable he actually becomes. ALF ends up with a shelf life much shorter than he would have had, simply because there’s less in the way of development for anyone to remember him by.

I’m pretty confident in this. I’d wager that even though ALF had impressive viewing figures, relatively few people who watched it would remember today where the show was set. They wouldn’t remember the neighbors. They couldn’t name the Tanners. ALF is from Melmac and he eats cats. That’s all, and that’s all because his creator didn’t want to chain him down to one show.

We’ll talk more about this shortly, but, for now, just understand what you’re watching. It isn’t just a clip show (though it is, for fuck’s fucking fuck, a clip show)…it’s a pitch reel. Even as ALF is at the peak of its success, Fusco is looking to leave the rest of these losers behind.

Supporting characters? Not worth it. They’ll only slow you down.

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

We get a Tonight Show intro that consists of a pretty straight narration from Ed McMahon, even introducing the band and Johnny Carson (who does not — SPOILER — appear in this heap of cat shit) before identifying ALF as the guest host. McMahon says all of this while some of ALF’s greatest moments glide by in the background, such as that time he wore a funny hat, and that other time he wore a funny hat. Then poor Ed McMahon has to reduce himself to saying “Heeeeeee-eeere’s ALF-ie!” and it can’t just be me who sees a little hope for death in his eyes.

McMahon would actually work again with ALF…on ALF’s Hit Talk Show. The more you dig into it, the more “Tonight, Tonight” feels like a back-door pilot.

Ask yourself this: Does “Tonight, Tonight” exist because it would make for a great episode of television? No. I mean…here it is and it fucking sucks. But even in terms of its intentions, what kid at the time was familiar with Johnny Carson? I certainly couldn’t stay up that late. Sure, I knew who he was, but that was about it. The specific routines and structure of his show were unknown to me, and I’d wager that that was the case for a large portion of ALF‘s viewing audience.

No, I think it’s far more likely that this episode exists because Fusco wanted to rub elbows with as many people as he could to make his dream of a cross-format ALF come true. It’s not a TV show; it’s a networking luncheon.

ALF comes out to a brassy, swing version of his own theme song which, I admit, is a pretty nice blend of both shows’ themes. It sounds fairly true to each of them, which is a nice surprise. He nods a bit to the audience…and then we get a full body shot! Yes!!

That means…

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

Wait. What the fuck is this? That’s not the midget. Where the shit is my midget?

Instead it’s just this…creepy ALF puppet on really thick legs. And Jesus Christ are those some beefy feet.

He looks terrible. Not that the midget’s costume ever looked good — it certainly didn’t, and that’s why I loved it — but whereas that looked silly, this looks horrifying. It looks like ALF ate some expired cheese and hasn’t gotten over the bloating.

It also moves in this really unnerving way, where only the upper half of his body does anything, so you see his mouth and head and arms working as normal, while his legs stay stock still. It’s like somebody nailed his feet to the stage.

ALF warms up the crowd with a killer opener: a joke about Michael Landon’s hair. That’s two Michael Landon jokes in three episodes. What can I say? These were…simpler times.

Then we see the studio audience pissing itself over the way this character hilariously said the name of a celebrity that they recognize.

And, well, if you ever wondered what the kinds of people who adored ALF looked like…here you go.

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

ALF quells the laughter of this riotous crowd of widows and pedophiles so that he can joke about what a shithole Burbank is. Ed McMahon laughs politely, secure in the knowledge that this does indeed qualify as overtime.

I wonder if much of this episode was actually filmed in front of the audience. It’s possible. As the boring as shit screengrabs this week betray, nothing happens in this episode. ALF sits behind a desk, which hides Fusco perfectly, and that’s about it. ALF’s Hit Talk Show was indeed filmed with a studio audience, and featured an almost identical setup to what we see here. It’s almost as though Paul Fusco was proving it could be done. Hmmmmm…

ALF then engages in some awkward banter with Tommy Newsom, Carson’s actual band leader. It’s brilliant material. Really top notch stuff. See, ALF jokes about Tommy wearing beige, exactly the kind of razor sharp material he’d be able to provide on a regular basis if he had his own talk show, hint hint.

Tommy has a rejoinder that hangs oddly in the air for much too long. It’s…weird. The audience laughs and so does ALF, who also compliments him on his return jab, so there isn’t supposed to be an awkward silence. And yet the editing is so loose and poor in this episode that it strands Newsom staring stage left, blinking, until they finally decide to cut away. It’s really strange, like some film student used this for their Intro to Editing project and NBC just slapped it on the air.

Anyway, ALF mimics Carson’s famous golf-swing gesture and we cut to commercial.

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

…wait. No we don’t. We cut to…

The hell? Another title sequence?

Come. The fuck. On.

I take back my earlier compliment about the Tonight Show / ALF theme song mashup. It’s only a good idea if you’re using it in place of the show’s usual intro. Using both that intro and the regular one is just a waste of the audience’s time.

What ridiculous padding…especially since both intros are just different ways of framing short clips of ALF reaction shots. Did we really need two vats of ALF clips dumped over our heads before THE EPISODE FULL OF ALF CLIPS even starts? I swear, “ALF’s Special Christmas” was fuck-awful, but “Tonight, Tonight” seems like it’s actually been bred in a lab to maximize audience disrespect.

Then we cut to commercial, and…

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

Oh sweet fuck my christ what is this.

That looks…god damn. I’m sorry. Just…god. Damn.

It would be okay — I guess — if this really was an ALF version of The Tonight Show. You know, an actual parody or something, or an April Fool’s episode of the late night talk show. Then these little touches would seem more appropriate and less embarrassingly self-indulgent. Instead, it’s the creator of ALF having ALF celebrate ALF on ALF while we watch ALF in clips from ALF.

It’s downright masturbatory, but at least this clip show is more forgivable than the one we had in the middle of season one (for fuck’s sake…). After all, again, at the time of “Tonight, Tonight” ALF was at the peak of its popularity. More people were tuning in, he was becoming more recognizable, and, in the pre-DVD age, these newcomers wouldn’t have had another way to experience any of the adventures that they’d missed.

But it’s not like ALF is so heavily serialized that new viewers would need to catch up on the story. Do we really need this? Granted, I’m railing more against clip shows in general here, but they’ve always bothered me. Wouldn’t new viewers rather see a half hour of new comedy than a shitty framing device and some out-of-context fragments from scenes that mean nothing to them?

Even when I was younger — well before DVDs — if I stumbled upon a show I wanted to watch and then saw that it was a clip show, I changed the channel. I just didn’t care. Far from serving as a comfortable point of entry — which I think was at least somewhat their intention — the clip show blocked me out. If I didn’t know who these people were, or why they were doing what they were doing, it was meaningless to me. Maybe some of the jokes would be funny…but then again, shouldn’t that be said of every episode?

I wonder how many current shows do them anymore. I do remember being very surprised when The Office (the American one, of course…) did one late in its life. What was the point? The show was successful because people could so easily view it. Netflix, iTunes, DVDs…all of these things spurred interest in a show that, at first, nobody seemed to be watching. Viewing figures increased in measurable waves because people were hearing good things, starting from the beginning, and catching up quickly. What, really, was the point of an Office clip show? To punish people looking for new content when they finally got around to watching it on the night it aired?

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

There is a fairly good joke that ALF gets here, greeting Ed by saying he hasn’t seen him since he opened his mail this morning. Again, not hilarious, but it’s the kind of thing that deserves a smile.

This of course being ALF and not something good like…um…Carson-era Tonight Show, the joke is belabored and over-explained until we drift out of the conversation and start daydreaming about murder.

Then there’s this exchange, which I’d comment upon, but I honestly think it’s far more illustrative to simply transcribe it. Ready? I’m not embellishing, editing, or altering in any way. This is exactly what gets said:

ED: Well, your show is certainly a hit, ALF.
ALF: What show is that, Ed?
ED: Well, ALF. Right here on NBC. 8 o’clock on Monday nights.
ALF: Oh, that show! Thanks!
ED: I understand you brought some clips. Would you like to set them up?

There’s no laughter during the exchange. There’s a little bit at the beginning, for reasons I can’t fathom at all, but the bulk of it is literally just these two promoting the very show we’re already watching. It’s really odd. Did this air on a special day and time or something? Why tell the audience that the show is on Mondays at 8 if they already tuned in on Monday at 8 to hear that announcement? And even if it did air on a special day and time, did they have to be so artless about reminding the audience when they could watch? Especially since this episode just began and is nothing like the main show anyway?

I can imagine this kind of thing working well enough as a sort of wink to the audience at home, some gentle fun poked at the idea of self-promotion, but in order for this to be considered meta comedy, or a joke at the expense of shitty talk show interviews, they’d either have to acknowledge it openly, or already have earned a reputation for doing these kinds of jokes.

ALF doesn’t and hasn’t. He literally just sits there letting his guest star tell him how popular his show is. Oh, and then we get to watch some pieces of it. Such as a string of out-of-context bullshit like ALF making dog noises, and performing his classic “filling Willie’s tub with liquidy feces” routine. Classic television all around.

Then he tells Ed to get him some fucking water, giving us all a nice display of what it must have been like to work with Paul Fusco.

Before Ed returns, let me ask this: do you expect ALF to perform Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” character?

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

OF FUCKING COURSE WE ALL DID.

He’s Melmac the Magnificent, which doesn’t even qualify as a pun. That certainly bodes well for this famously pun-heavy routine.

Keeping up with the sharp satire that has defined the episode so far, we get a joke about Gorbachev’s head, and then an observation of that some James Bond movies aren’t very good. Whose toes will he step on next?! There’s also some incomprehensible joke whose punchline is palomino. (“What did Trigger sue Roy Rogers for?”) If anyone can explain that one to me I’ll either be forever grateful or sorry I asked.

My favorite part of this sequence is the fact that ALF has so much trouble opening the envelopes. No, that’s not part of the joke…just a logistical bind Fusco & Co. fenced themselves into by deciding to steal this bit.

See, as Carnac, Carson would hold an envelope up to his head and “divine” its contents. Basically this meant he’d think for a second before saying a word or phrase that was meaningless on its own. Then he’d open the envelope and read what was printed inside…revealing whatever he “divined” a moment ago to be a punchline to that joke.

Because it’s such an immediately recognizable piece of Carson’s late-night persona, and because it consists of just a handful of silly jokes spread out over a long period of time, it makes sense that ALF would want to tap into it.

However ALF is operated by two people, with Paul Fusco controlling the mouth and the left hand, and somebody else controlling the right. That’s nothing too strange; almost any of Jim Henson’s creations with two functioning arms were controlled the same way. It doesn’t require much in the way of coordination between the two puppeteers because only one arm tends to have anything important to do; the other is just given “life” by the secondary puppeteer so that it doesn’t hang dead and ruin the illusion.

Additionally, ALF (like, again, most Muppets) is controlled by people who can’t “see” what ALF sees. This means that complex interaction with objects needs to be limited, because, if it’s not, you can very easily end up with the puppet “looking” in the wrong direction because the object isn’t exactly where it needed to be, or seeming to focus on one thing while his hands do another.

So with all of that being said, you can imagine how complicated it might be for ALF to find an envelope, pick it up, hold it, rip it open, pull out a card, and hold that card up to his face before reading it.

The editing makes this difficulty obvious, as each time ALF reaches into the envelope, we cut to a slightly different angle to hide however much time it took Fusco and his unfortunate assistant to perform this unforgiving task. Sometimes before the cuts, though, we see ALF’s hand gripping helplessly at the card it can’t find. What a tremendously shitty show this is.

There’s also the lovely fact that Ed McMahon can’t muster up even polite laughter at this shitty routine, whereas Carson’s performance of it had him bellowing. That must just be coincidental, though, I’m sure, and can’t be worth reading into…

Then we get another one of those title cards. In this one ALF is climbing a factory that makes novelty heroin needles.

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

ALF brings out some guests that are probably familiar to the Tonight Show audience, and then shows clips of his own show because fuck you. Each guest leaves early, which is very rude because they didn’t take me with them.

One of them is Dr. Joyce Brothers, very well known for her talk show appearances and one of the first “celebrity psychologists,” if not the first. She paved the way for folks like Dr. Phil, but we can’t really hold that against her. She knew not what she did.

The second guest is Joan Embery from the San Diego Zoo. And man, she’s fucking terrible. I feel bad saying that, but it’s true.

I actually had to look her up to make sure this was actually her and not some shitty actress playing her, because I remember her pretty well from old clips, and she was always a delight.

Embery made a habit of bringing animals onto The Tonight Show, sometimes for novelty purposes (a talking bird, for instance, for Carson so spar with), but usually to just talk about it, introduce it to Carson (and the audience), and to let Johnny humorously engage with it.

She was great.

Really, she was. In looking her up I found myself watching video after video of her appearances. She was an incredibly charming and fun personality.

It’s no wonder that she caught on with The Tonight Show; she was a woman who had a true passion for and deep knowledge of animals, and who also happened to be very well-spoken, very warm, and quite attractive. She was made for exactly this kind of borderline-celebrity status. She was an easy pick for a recurring guest, and indeed some of Carson’s most memorable moments involve animals…thanks to Embery.

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

Here, though, she’s awful. She’s such a terrible actress in her scene that I honestly thought they paid somebody’s niece to come in rather than hire the woman herself.

But I can’t really blame her. Embery wasn’t an actress…ever. She was herself.

She didn’t play a part for Carson; she was a pleasant human being with knowledge to share and unfamiliar animals to introduce to the crowd. We liked her because she was who she was.

It’s not surprising at all that having her recite stilted dialogue to a puppet while an ordinary housecat sits sedate in her lap would be a disappointment. They bothered to bring Embrey on, but only so she could do the kinds of things she wasn’t comfortable with or good at doing. Great job, ALF.

This is actually the problem that “Tonight, Tonight” and its sister sequence in “We Are Family” inadvertently spotlight; ALF doesn’t improvise.

There’s a reason Johnny Carson is legendary. It’s the same reason Stephen Colbert is now, too. And David Letterman. And Conan O’Brien. As much as all of these men benefited from a stock of great writers, scripted quips can only get you so far. Once you get a guest — or an animal — on stage with you, something unexpected is going to happen. That’s when the talent of the host — specifically, the talent for quick thinking that doesn’t sacrifice wit — is really tested.

Embery doesn’t get to be herself or bring an actual animal because that can’t happen with ALF. As much as Paul Fusco is inviting us to view this proof of concept for Up All Night! With Gordon Shumway, he’s showing us exactly why it won’t, and can’t, be very good.

Because ALF isn’t real, ALF can’t react. Because Fusco doesn’t improvise, ALF has to stick to a script. Because ALF is chained to a desk, nothing can happen that isn’t rigorously planned in advance.

People don’t tune into late night television to watch pre-written banter. They tune into sitcoms for that. When they tuned into Carson, or into Letterman, O’Brien, Feguson, or Snyder, it’s because they were tuning in for the host. Sometimes something magical would happen…other times we just wanted to spend an hour or so with them.

ALF, by virtue of the fact that he’s a puppet being operated by an egomaniac, cannot generate magic. And “Tonight, Tonight” proves that nobody in their right mind would want to spend an hour with him.

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

ALF then goes out of his way to smash “Johnny’s cup,” and Fred De Cordova (Carson’s real-life producer) comes out to beat ALF to death with a red phone.

Actually, it’s Johnny on the other end of the line. We don’t hear him, but it’s a brief phone call anyway. Which is probably good, since he’s apparently chewing ALF out for his misbehavior during the broadcast, which means Johnny’s making a very expensive call from a parallel universe in which The Tonight Show airs live.

Johnny tells him to fuck fucking up, and there’s a freeze frame of ALF in a panic with a TO BE CONTINUED title.

We’re also treated to some narration in which ALF says to tune in next week to see how he gets out of this jam, presumably for the sake of all the illiterate people who are not doubt watching ALF.

So, hey, for some reason this unedited set of DVDs has “Tonight, Tonight” in its two-part version rather than as it originally aired. I don’t think anything’s missing — correct me if I’m wrong — but it means I get a whole week before I need to watch the rest of this shit, so I’ll take it.

That’s right, motherfuckers. There’s…

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

But before I leave you…what is a clip show without clips? Clips are grand!

Actually, a clips show without clips is an episode consisting of all new content, which is without exception the superior offering.

BUT ANYWAY HERE ARE SOME CLIPS OF MY FAVORITE EPISODES.

ALF, "Border Song"
ALF secretly breeds Mexicans in the shed so that they will do his chores for him. (From the episode “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”)

ALF, "Somewhere Over the Rerun"
Willie slowly dies after tumbling into the radiation pool ALF has installed in the back yard. (From the episode “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black.”)

ALF, "Prime Time"
It’s a harrowing half hour when a black man is accidentally admitted to the Tanner house. (From the episode “Mississippi Goddam.”)

ALF, "Hail to the Chief"
ALF drugs Kate in the hopes that he can trick her into sucking him off. (From the episode “I Put a Spell On You.”)

ALF, "Somewhere Over the Rerun"
ALF systematically stalks and murders beloved TV icons, and won’t stop until Paul Fusco is given a talk show. (From the episode “Star Star.”)

ALF, "Prime Time"
After stumbling upon Willie masturbating in the shed to a copy of Leisure Suit Larry, ALF becomes addicted to computer pornography. (From the episode “Thank the Lord for the Night Time.”)

ALF, "ALF's Special Christmas"
ALF escapes his court-mandated castration. (From the episode “Fix You.”)

ALF, "Stairway to Heaven"
ALF has a long and meaningless conversation with a character we will never see again while the production crew chokes painfully and coughs up blood in this sealed room full of dry ice. (From the episode “Try Not to Breathe.”)

ALF, "Lookin' Through the Windows"
Having been rendered redundant by Jake’s arrival, Brian is wrapped in a pool tarp and buried in Mr. Ochmonek’s yard, never to be referred to again. (From the episode “Bye, Bye, Baby.”)

ALF, "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert"
Uncle Albert accidentally finds Willie and ALF engaged in a game of Mr. Meatloaf. (From the episode “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”)

That’s all for now! See you after the break!

ALF, "Tonight, Tonight (Part 1)"

Better Call Saul, "Mijo"
Is it too early for Better Call Saul to produce a masterpiece? Maybe. But I’m calling this one anyway.

“Mijo” is an incredible piece of television. A tragic comedy in four distinct acts, each showing us another side of James M. McGill, amounting to what is essentially a portrait of the man we will be spending the rest of our episodes with.

I’ll start by saying that I cheerfully retract my concern that McGill was already Goodman. While there’s an awful lot of overlap, there’s a crucial difference; McGill has a conscience, and a reluctance to stay at the table after being dealt a lucky hand. It provides us, at least potentially, with an idea of the psychological territory Better Call Saul might chart. What will it take for him to willingly silence his conscience? How much must he stand to gain before he stops saying, “Absolutely not” and starts saying, “Yes, please”?

“Mijo” illustrates that very clearly in my favorite scene of the night, but we’ll come to that in due time.

“Uno” left us with a pretty intense cliffhanger; maniacal drug baron Tuco visited from Breaking Bad to jam a gun in our new protagonist’s face. This, I concede, is a thrilling taste of the great things Better Call Saul can do by keeping its action in the same town that Heisenberg eventually destroyed.

After all, in Breaking Bad, Tuco was fucking terrifying, yes. And yet he was also neutralized as a threat fairly quickly. I could go on to list all of the other threats that came and went over the course of that great show, but your mind is spinning through them already. A resurrection of a character like this is by no means a cheat, and gives us a chance to either further flesh out what made them tick (which is what happens here), or simply unleash them once again to do more damage (as I expect we’ll eventually get with Mike).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Tuco’s appearance is the fact that, relatively speaking, the guy’s at a pretty even keel. Of course he beats two teenagers half to death and nearly cuts off McGill’s thumb, but it’s that “half” and “nearly” that signify the difference. As with McGill, there’s a push that hasn’t happened yet…a tipping point that’s not quite been reached. Tuco is still on this side of his own personal event horizon; he’s a maniac, but not yet beyond reason.

It’s different from the Tuco we knew, and yet perfectly in line with what we know to be his destiny. There’s even a physical manifestation of this relative calm: his third hanger-on, Nacho.

When Gonzo and No-Doz show up, it’s for the purposes of cameo. Right? Well…no. They don’t have much to do, but their presence is required, simply because they enable us to feel that something is off. We remember the Tuco / Gonzo / No-Doz dynamic. We remember, especially, how it ended. Now, here, there’s what feels like an interloper.

He’s an artifact of calmer times for Tuco. Times we never knew, but which are immediately understandable. Nacho has a much bigger role than either of the two henchmen we’ve known longer. He takes control. He lets Tuco feel like he’s the king, but it’s Nacho pulling the strings. He regulates his boss’s heat. He’s cruel (or at least criminal), but he uses his mind. He’s clearly the brains of the group. The fact that he doesn’t make it to Breaking Bad in itself explains the entirely unbridled Tuco we encountered there.

McGill’s dealings with Tuco make up the first act of “Mijo,” and they reinforce an observation I made in the previous review: if you want to win against the man who would be Saul, you can’t engage with him. Tuco is in total control in the living room, when he lets Jimmy spill a stream of desperation to willfully deaf ears, and our hero is helpless. In the desert he allows himself to drift into a discussion, and everything tips immediately (and hilariously) in McGill’s favor.

We saw a bit of actual lawyering in the first episode, but here we get a sense of why Jimmy is good at what he does. The incompetence isn’t genuine; we knew that from Breaking Bad, and we see that it’s no less true here. McGill never positions himself as more intelligent than who he’s talking to, but we know he is. He’s a student of human nature, throwing out as much as he can in the hopes that something sticks, and always willing to look foolish. If he looks like he’s not a threat, after all, people will let their guard down. Tuco lets his guard down, and gets to feel like he’s being “tough but fair” by giving McGill what he wants. He gets to be the judge. The fact that this lawyer is deciding every move for him — and reigning him back whenever he starts to stray from McGill’s intentions — doesn’t register. Tuco feels like he’s in control because that’s what proto-Saul wants him to feel. And Odenkirk plays it masterfully.

Of course, Jimmy McGill knows when he’s won (an important difference between he and Saul Goodman), and so ends the negotiations with a couple of broken legs for his accomplices. He knows he can only push so far.

Which leads us into the second act, in which we see Jimmy at ease. “Mijo” opens with the man in a corner, doing his best to worm his way back out of danger. There’s an element of almost invisible panic driving everything he says. But when he’s free? He gets to be himself.

And that’s my favorite scene in the episode. Jimmy flirting with a woman he meets at the bar is the adorable kind of sleazy, an accomplishment that was only possible because we don’t hear a damned thing he’s saying, I’m sure. In fact, until its final moments, we don’t hear a word that anybody is saying in this sequence. Body language, gestures, implications, gazes. Those are what tell this amusing short story that we’re treated to after the first act’s Waste Land.

In the background, however, a man is snapping breadsticks, and it rattles McGill in a way that we know it won’t rattle Goodman. It’s his conscience that drills in on this image — and its accompanying sound effect — and won’t look away. He’s aware of the fact that people are hurt because of him. He’s correct earlier when he reminds one of the boys that he talked them out of a death sentence, which for Goodman would be enough. For McGill, however, it makes him physically sick.

Its effects linger on into the next day, when he wakes up on Chuck’s couch and every viewer in the world is reminded that only Bob Odenkirk could make a line like “Take off the space blanket” sound like the funniest thing in history.

The third act is a long, gorgeous, artful, clever, soaring montage of McGill doing the closest thing to public good he’ll ever do: acting as a public defender to whomever needs him. Everything about this sequence is perfect. The framing of every shot, the overlapping crowds in time-lapse, the continuous plunk of disposable coffee cups, the way he squeezes aside to let a criminal — and then the police chasing him — down a stairwell, the gleefully repeating punctuation of his arguments with Mike.

It’s this sequence that elevates “Mijo” for me from something quite good to something excellent. A reminder that Better Call Saul knows its purpose, even if we maybe don’t. It’s a confident, elaborate, brave setpiece in an episode that already had one. That’s how strong Vince Gilligan is at what he does; he can afford to double down. He knows just how to play with a tipping point, and we get one here, in act three, with what could almost qualify as an alternate future for James McGill.

Sure, he wouldn’t amount to much, and he’d never bring home more than $700 per defense. He’d argue with parking lot attendants until the day he dies, and be cheated out of every thirtieth cup of coffee.

And yet, he just might be happy. And safe. And doing a world of good for the rare defendant that really needs him, and who deserves a showboat lawyer who can turn a jury against their preconceived notions.

But we don’t end there. We have a fourth act.

We’ve seen Jimmy in danger, Jimmy at ease, and Jimmy at his best. Now we see him alone. Unsatisfied in a dingy office, nestled deep in the back of a nail salon. A door that won’t open all the way. A telephone that never rings. However full his weeks as a public defender may be, he wants something different. Maybe not even something more…but something different.

Nacho returns. Without saying it in so many words, he’s looking to partner up with Jimmy. At least once.

It’s unquestionably a bad idea. But…it’s still something different.

When he’s at his lowest, when he’s vulnerable, when he has nothing to distract him from the fact that he’s nobody, that’s when an opportunity like this can really sweep him away.

There’s a clear — ethically, legally, rationally — correct response to this offer. But, well…we already know the ending.

Better Call Saul, "Uno"
Let me get the elephant out of the way first; I don’t have cable. That means I’ll be a day behind on my Better Call Saul reviews. I don’t think that will matter in the long run, but in this particular case it means I’m writing about episode one while you’re all watching episode two. Do me a favor and try to avoid episode two spoilers in the comments, but otherwise feel free to pick apart the fact that everything I say here has already been disproven by the second installment. (Oh, and, needless to say, these reviews may well contain their own spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the first episode yet, go do that. It’s good.)

So, here we are. Breaking Bad is over, but we have another opportunity to dip back into its universe. It’s a spinoff. And a prequel. And…a sequel. But we’ll come to that in a moment.

If any character from Breaking Bad seemed like he could carry a show on his own, it would indeed have been Saul Goodman. Saul always did seem to me like an intrusion from another world. A welcome intrusion, I hasten to add, but when Walter described him as coming off like a circus clown, he was echoing my thoughts as well. Saul was the jester in a tragedy.

His introduction on Breaking Bad was given an entire episode; one full of complicated two-handed scheming to get ahead, and a strong prioritization of money over justice. That episode was also called “Better Call Saul,” and that short summary could apply to this introductory episode as well.

Saul Goodman has always been in danger of becoming a cartoon character. Yet, I’d argue he was kept just in check by Vince Gilligan and co. While his dialogue was too clever by half, it always seemed rehearsed. It’s not that Saul was witty…it’s that Saul was prepared. When we see him delaying a court case so that he can practice his precise words — not only what he will say, but what he will say in return — it bears that suspicion out. And I think it says a lot that the prosecutor in this very court case, which goes deservedly south for our hero, says absolutely nothing. He simply gets up and shows the jury the evidence. The prosecutor knows, or senses, that you won’t win a verbal sparring match with Goodman. Refuse to engage him, though, and you’ve got him on the ropes.

Better Call Saul, already, is filled with these little details that manage to define an outsized character without necessarily humanizing him. Perhaps down the line we’ll get our tear-jerking moments, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for them. Goodman is a strange creature, given to flights of theatrics and rushes of inventive panic. Sitting him beside more “traditional” television lawyers (such as the aforementioned prosecutor, or Mr. Hamlin in a later scene) reveals that Saul’s world wasn’t crazier than Walter’s; Saul was the comic outlier there, too. He’s the comic outlier everywhere.

One of the reasons, I believe, that people surrendered themselves so willingly to Breaking Bad was its promise of a built-in termination point. Whereas so many shows start off promisingly and then spin their wheels until the money stops coming in, Breaking Bad told us in the first episode that Walter White was going to die, and it was going to happen sooner rather than later. Vince Gilligan could have reversed that decision in any number of ways at any point, but, ultimately, he didn’t. Even when Walter “beat” cancer, it was already replaced by a much more frightening danger. Tension cannot be ratcheted up indiscriminately; at some point, it needs to go somewhere. Otherwise your audience realizes that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Better Call Saul, surprising me, opens with the promise of a termination point as well. Granted, we knew eventually that our favorite criminal lawyer would meet Walter White, and we know his story from there. But so what? Couldn’t Better Call Saul trot out silly court cases and situations indefinitely? Does he actually have to get anywhere?

The opening of “Uno” says, yes, he does. In fact, it picks up where Breaking Bad left off for him. He’s managing a Cinnabon in Omaha. He has a new name, a mustache, and impaired vision. And sometimes, when the nights are particularly lonesome, he’ll pop in a VHS of his old commercials, and remember what life was like when it had some color.

This means, again, that Vince Gilligan is taking us somewhere. As easy (and fun) as it would have been to give us The Continuing Adventures of Young Saul, we enter this story knowing that it’s not going to have a happy ending. And that’s tantalizing.

“Uno” does a lot of scene setting, which is understandable. The fact that in many cases it only sets the scene and leaves the rest for now to our imagination (such as the possible ousting of Chuck McGill from his partnership, and our hero’s romantic flounderings) is positively laudable. We trust the show to explain these things in due time, and the show trusts us to respect it and have patience.

However, there’s a problem. At least potentially. And here it is: James McGill is already Saul Goodman.

He has a different name, far less money, and a dearth of clients. He drives a Suzuki Esteem with one red door. He has more hair and has not yet discovered Bluetooth.

But he’s still Saul.

If you take the Walter White of Breaking Bad‘s first season and compared him to the Walter White of Breaking Bad‘s final season, the difference would be astonishing. The show very deliberately plotted his dark descent, but remove all of that knowledge from your mind and simply compare both versions of the same man. It’s striking.

Now take the Jimmy McGill of “Uno” and compare him to Saul Goodman. Superficial changes aside, I don’t think you’d see a different person. At all.

I don’t see this as a problem that can’t be surmounted, but I am interested to see what they do with it. If Breaking Bad was about a man changed by his circumstances, Better Call Saul looks like it’s about a man changing his circumstances.

We know he gets more successful, and we know that if he does experience a serious change of personality, it can’t be permanent. So what is the journey of Jimmy McGill? I don’t know, and considering the fact that I know both how his story begins and how it ends, that’s an unexpected admission.

Ultimately, Better Call Saul deserves to be thought of on its own merits, but the fact that it features more than one familiar Breaking Bad face — and is undoubtedly to feature more (hurry up, Kuby!) — means that we’re going to hold it to a higher standard than we would some unrelated Bob Odenkirk law comedy. Then again, we probably wouldn’t be watching that unrelated Bob Odenkirk law comedy.

As of the end of “Uno,” my concerns are more like questions. While some of the comedy went a bit broad (a phony severed head rings particularly false after the exquisite pain of Breaking Bad‘s more brutal moments), there are enough quiet passages of McGill facing something inside, something we can’t see yet. Something, maybe, we will never see. And at the very least, I’m looking forward to exploring that…however indirectly.

If it’s fun to spend time with Saul Goodman, then that’s all we really need. In a show that opens with its own inevitable, sad coda, though, I hope that’s not all we get.

Valentine

One of my most appreciated (and appreciative) friends, Emily Suess asked me to share a request. And…yeah. The moment I read the post, I knew I’d be more than willing to help.

Emily’s post about it is here, but I’m going to paste the content below. It’s short, and I don’t want an extra click to stand between anyone and participation.

At Christmas, Cheryl Gregory had a stroke.

She is unable to see her two sons.

Her siblings have been doing their best to visit her and keep her spirits high, but recently she was transferred to a new facility. She wasn’t recovering as well as the doctors like, so they transferred her to a new location in a different county. While the distance makes visiting her more difficult, it also doesn’t help that her brothers and sister are only allowed to see her for two hours a day.

Recovering from a stroke is hard enough, but fighting depression and loneliness makes getting better even more challenging, no matter how good the doctors and nurses may be.

Cheryl is only 63, but if her recovery doesn’t progress, she may have to stay in a nursing home for the rest of her life.

So I’m reaching out to my own family, friends, and complete strangers to show Cheryl some support. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m asking everyone I can to mail her a postcard, a get well card, a Valentine, or submit an online patient card to lift her spirits. Have your kids draw her a picture. Fold and mail an origami crane. Anything you can think of that might bring her a little extra joy.

Send a Valentine or get well wish by snail mail.
Cheryl Gregory
C/O Serenity – St. Mary’s
1116 Millis Ave
Boonville, IN 47601

Send an online greeting to be printed & delivered by hospital volunteers
St. Mary’s – Send a Patient Card to Cheryl Gregory

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If you’ve only got five seconds or you already have plans for Random Act of Kindness Week, consider passing this post along with a simple like, share, forward, or retweet. Don’t forget to use hashtag #RAKweek2015.

I don’t know Cheryl. But I know depression. I know loneliness. I know distance.

I’ll be participating, and I’m asking you personally, if you have it in your heart, to send something as well. I know I have a lot of talented, artistic, and good-hearted people who visit this blog regularly. If even one of you took the time to mail a valentine to someone who’d appreciate it as much as Cheryl, you’d make my day, too.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

You know, drilling down into this movie and really picking it apart several minutes at a time reveals to me just how magical it is. Sometimes the closer you examine something you love, the easier it is to spot its flaws. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, though, is a little different. It wears its flaws on its sleeve. You don’t have to dig to find them; they’re all in plain view. (And we’ll be discussing one of them today.)

The deeper I dig, I feel as though I’m only uncovering layers of beauty. As though its cracked, weathered exterior — like everything in Team Zissou’s arsenal, right down to the rickety foosball table we open on Pele and Ogata playing this week — is a design decision, hiding some deeper purpose. Or, at least, some deeper intention.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

The care Anderson put into assembling this world is without equal, something easily measured in terms of the toll it took on the cast. Bill Murray at one point even said that if he didn’t get an Oscar for going through this, he’d kill the director. I’m paraphrasing because it’s been a while since I’ve read the exact quote, but I assure you it’s not off by much. And this comes from Bill Murray, who has likely been Anderson’s longest-standing, highest-profile champion.

For a director who so often flits into comic fantasy, Anderson has an odd (though not unwelcome) obsession with things actually happening. That is to say that he may (in fact, does) employ Hollywood magic to create or enhance certain visuals, but in the larger scheme of things, he wants what he’s filming to be actually happening.

I’ll explain this by using a few examples. In The Darjeeling Limited, he actually rented out a rail line. Every scene in that film that takes place on the train — whether stationary or moving — was indeed shot on an actual train. The purpose? It’s hard to say, because whatever it was, it was in Anderson’s mind, and only he can tell us how successful he was in achieving it. But as easy as it is (and has been for around a century) to fake the motion of a train and to rear-project scenery, Anderson did it the hard way. Or…well…the real way.

There’s even a short scene late in that film that includes passing glimpses of characters in their isolated compartments. It would have been quite easy to stitch it all together in the editing booth, as none of these characters interact. And yet Anderson flew each of the actors, some of whom only appeared in one other scene in the movie, out to India to film them on the actual train. The purpose? Again, only he knows. But the appreciation it stirs in me is one I could not even begin to express.

“Does this look fake?” he seems to ask. And sometimes, even when it does, it isn’t.

Another, much smaller-scale, example came in Moonrise Kingdom. From the dotted-line progression of the main characters over a map to a child being struck by lightning to a climax involving a collapsing church, Anderson played with reality in that film…overtly, unmissably so. And yet when it came time for some Khaki Scout badges to fall into the water, Anderson insisted that they be dropped over and over again until they fell just right. He was informed — and knew — that whatever fall he was looking for could be accomplished easily in the edit suite. But he wanted them to actually drop.

Anderson’s connection to reality, as a director, is one of the most fascinating aspects of his films. And it’s one that I’m not quite sure I fully understand. It’s a richer discussion more than it is a solid conclusion, I think.

Which, let’s be honest, more or less sums up his oeuvre. And I’m very grateful for that.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

We pan over to another part of the room where much of the rest of Team Zissou is watching an old documentary of Steve’s. It’s not easy to figure out how long ago this was meant to be, but the hairstyles — and, in Steve’s case, the hair color — are clue enough that we’re supposed to see this as a different era…whatever an actual calendar would have to say about that.

Ned is still bundled up from his dip in the water (sipping a hot beverage in contrast to Klaus’s beer) and there’s something unspeakably sad about these people watching themselves on television in complete silence. Klaus’s “That’s what it used to be like” is heartbreaking when you take into account that, in all aspects other than mood, that’s how it still is.

Steve’s production values haven’t increased at all. His most recent film, as of this scene, is the Jaguar Shark expedition that opened The Life Aquatic. This obviously older film suggests that neither Steve nor his crew have learned anything about how to make a movie. The staged chumminess, the scene of Steve recognizing a “distress bark” that was clearly filmed later, the high-school filmstrip soundtrack…Steve’s gotten older, but he hasn’t gotten any more competent.

What’s even sadder is that there’s no way to know whether Klaus (or anybody else) is remembering this accurately. On the screen, everyone’s laughing and having fun, unwinding and then working together to coordinate a rescue of a wild snow mongoose and her pups. But that’s clearly not how it actually happened. In fact, it’s doubtful that much of this footage is genuine; it’s all marred by the too-deliberate line deliveries and too-perfect framing that scream “reenactment.”

Klaus and the others are reflecting back on happier times. That’s sad enough. But the fact that those happier times may only have existed on film, after significant editing, is sadder still.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Of course, I keep saying “film.” The SEASON 3 caption suggests that this might have been from an otherwise unmentioned Steve Zissou television program. Again, it’s impossible to know for sure. We’re not told, and it’s not completely unlikely that Steve’s films are collected into larger “seasons” based on their subject matter.

It’s also possible that these aren’t actual seasons / episodes in the standard television sense; they could have been shot or edited in this way to serve as educational materials in public schools. (I recall a similar program, The Voyage of the Mimi, from my own grade school days.)

Of course, the real reason I wanted to take a screen grab is to show off these incredible Team Zissou action figures.

I’ve actually discussed this with a friend of mine. Anderson’s characters would make perfect action figures. They each favor a uniform of some kind, they each have their own sets of accoutrements and talismans (talismen?), and even when they’re played by the same actors we’ve seen in other roles, they’re each visually distinct. I’m picturing a line of very lifelike (as Ned might say) McFarlane Toys, but as we see here, these cheap little GI Joe-style figures would be just fine. So fine that I’m getting angry that I don’t already have them…

The arrangement of the figures — as with the arrangement of everything else in the film — is quite deliberate. On the left we have Esteban, Steve, and Klaus. We’ll officially learn the significance of that in the middle of a lightning strike rescue op., but we already know how Klaus views his relationship with Steve, and it’s not much of a logical leap to assume that he feels (felt…) something similar toward Steve’s closest confidant.

On the right we have a grouping of less significance, I think. It’s what Gilligan’s Island might refer to as “the rest.” From left to right, that group contains Ogata, Vikram, Pietro, Pele, and Wolodarsky. Based on this and on what we see in “Trapped in the Ice!”, the makeup of Team Zissou hasn’t changed in some time. (Again, at least an “era” in Zissou time.) Perhaps equivalents of Anne-Marie and the interns came and went, but the core team remained unchanged.

Until Esteban’s death, of course. Thanks for bringing that up.

zissou10e

After the film, we see that Ogata and Pele have joined the rest of the group in watching their old adventure. They, too, are still and silent. Seeing these happier times — however real or false they may have been — has a sobering effect on the group. Especially when you consider that Klaus must be saying “That’s what it used to be like” for Ned’s benefit. It has to be Ned — with whom he otherwise clashes — because everyone else in that room was there.

The past is comforting to them. It’s where they were happy. Or, at least, they’re willing to believe that. Team Zissou doesn’t sail bravely into new sunsets; it bobs in place, remembering all the films that made it seem like they were going somewhere.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

That moment ends with a nice reprise of what happened in the Explorers Club when people were gossiping about Steve: the camera pans to find him standing there. The blocking is even better this time around, with the Zissou pinball machine right next to him. It’s a relic of his past success, a faint (and fading) glow in a dark room, a reminder of a time before companies started terminating his licensing contracts. An idealized cartoon on its faceplate…a representation of the real thing, frozen in time, not subject to downfall, but also going nowhere.

Seeing Steve standing next to it is a very funny image, though one I can’t say I’ve ever laughed at. It’s a clear reminder of how far he’s fallen. Look at him as he stands in that doorway. Would anybody make a pinball machine to celebrate that man today?

In his action figures and sneakers and pinball machines and goodness knows what else, Steve was pretending to be somebody…but he was only given the opportunity to pretend to be somebody because he was somebody. He did earn his legacy; the problem is that at some undefined point in the past, he became complacent. The legend was built…so what was left to aspire to?

Any number of answers could be valid. But Steve had, and has, none.

Cue a haunting, acoustic, Portuguese version of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

It’s a great performance on its own, but as a cover version of Bowie’s original, I’m not totally convinced. It never “sounded” the same, for lack of a better way to phrase that. It felt much more like a song inspired by “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” than a performance of it. I may be in the minority, however; I once watched the film with a good friend of mine and she recognized the song right away.

Steve says nothing to his teammates (so much for teamsmanship), and walks into the room he shares with Eleanor. He’s beaten, and Eleanor asks (beautifully, perfectly, from down the hallway), “Had Ned’s heart stopped beating before you pulled him out of the water?”

Our hero steps out of frame before she asks, but steps back into frame to repeat the question back for her. He repeats every word of the question, as though looking for even the smallest loophole to get out of this discussion. Eleanor’s very careful — and humorously elaborate — phrasing is very likely due to the fact that Steve’s tried to wriggle out of an awful lot of things in the past.

When he realizes he has nothing left but to answer honestly, we find out that, yes, Ned’s heart had stopped beating. But they “got him started again pretty quickly,” which is the kind of reassurance that only makes the problem more horrifying.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

The conversation continues, but much later, it seems. Eleanor is now in bed, rather than in a chair down the hall. Anderson implies a long, awkward silence without showing us, and I adore that.

She’s thought about what she’s going to say, and what she says is, “Don’t go on this voyage right now, Steve. One of you is already dead, after all.”

Eleanor has picked up on the foreshadowing that Steve — possibly deliberately — is overlooking. On the DVD there’s a deleted scene of Eleanor warning Ned about going on the voyage as well. As our “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” Eleanor has foreknowledge that could change the course of events. Of course, living with Steve as long as she has, “foreknowledge” is less like prediction and more like the simple process of elimination. (No pun intended.)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

It takes Steve a moment to realize that she’s referring to Esteban, and we have our answer to a question asked much earlier: why isn’t Steve “sitting shivah?” Because he’s already forgotten. And as many times as he’s reminded, he’ll forget again.

Steve doesn’t mourn. As close as we’re told he was to Esteban, he does not acknowledge (or process, or react to) the man’s death. He projects the responsibility onto the Jaguar Shark — and enacts a vague scheme of “revenge” — but forgets Esteban himself.

Steve Zissou is very much the opposite of Chas Tenenbaum in this regard. Whereas the unforeseeable and unpreventable death of someone important to Chas resulted in a heightened, tense, hyper-careful lifestyle, Steve lost his closest friend and crewman to negligence…and would prefer not to think about it. In fact, he gets upset if he is made to think about it, as he is here.

His tremendously dickish, “Thanks for bringing that up,” sets the rightful tone for Eleanor to stub out her cigarette and abandon the team. She is, after all, the only one who seems to be taking the inherent tragedy of Team Zissou seriously, and her words of caution to him represent the best she can do to stop this from happening again.

If she goes unheeded — if her visions of the future are dismissed — then she can serve no purpose. She leaves Team Zissou. And as much as I love Steve…good for her.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

She explains that she doesn’t want to be a part of whatever is going to happen out there, knowing full well that if Steve is the kind of man who will be so dismissive of his own crewman’s death, there’s no chance of this turning out well. As we in the audience know, she’s right.

Steve replies, “Nobody knows what’s going to happen. And then we film it. That’s the whole concept.” Wolodarsky adds, “That’s how we’ve always done it.”

But by this point, as we’ve seen and as we’ll see again later, we know that isn’t true. Continuity is slaved over, ADR is frequent. Reenactments and staged scenes are commonplace to the point that we don’t know how much of Steve’s footage (very much unlike Anderson’s) is real. In fact, as Steve pleads with her not to leave, he reveals that she’s the one who would tell him “the Latin names of all the fish.” This makes a certain moment in “Trapped in the Ice!” play differently in retrospect. When Steve is asked what kind of animal they’ve found, the camera doesn’t pan to him; we cut to him. Very likely, he didn’t know. Eleanor telling him was either snipped out, or the scene was reshot later after Steve had the chance to ask.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Eleanor expresses disapproval that Steve took Ned’s money to bankroll this film, and Steve, evading the actual concern, refers to Ned as “an investor…he’s my sidekick.” At no point does he say son, which I think is important. Steve only plays that card when it will do him some good.

Then Steve indicates, just as Eleanor steps out of shot and onto the pier, that the sugar crabs are back. He’s told — again, he doesn’t know — that they’re mating. And this is one of my least favorite moments in the film.

The sugar crabs themselves have a nice design, and I love that there’s a third role played in the mating ritual. That’s an interesting and welcome flourish. But, beyond that, it’s a bit too pat. Steve is fighting with his wife, he’s told explicitly that they’re witnessing mating, and the female yanks the male’s arm off and leaves.

Anderson is typically above being so overt in his symbolism. It’s really something, I feel, that should have either been cut, or re-staged so that the male-being-left-wounded aspect was portrayed more artfully.

It takes me out of the film in a way that so many other moments of silliness do not. (See the swamp leeches scene later in the film.) Broad comedy isn’t necessarily a bad thing in an otherwise sedate atmosphere, but in this case, I think it becomes too much of a cartoon and works against something Anderson was otherwise doing a great job of establishing cleverly.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Eleanor says goodbye, but Steve doesn’t like that phrase. Steve retreats back into the same comfort zone we encountered in his interview with Jane. Favorite color, blue. Favorite food, sardines. Favorite ways of saying goodbye? Bon voyage.

It may not seem like much of a departure from “goodbye,” but, taken literally, it’s a wish for a “good journey.” Eleanor allows the substitution, and indeed does wish Steve a good journey.

It’s what she wants, which is why she says it.

But she already knows how it will turn out, which is why she won’t be around for it.

Next: The Belafonte at sea.

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