My Favorite Current TV Show Character

All too rarely, a TV sitcom character strikes just the right chords, and manages to capture something special.  Think of Norm on Cheers, or Kramer on Seinfeld.

In my view, we’re seeing that happening right now with the character of Bertram Gilfoyle on HBO’s Silicon Valley.

dinesh-gilfoyle-featureFor those who don’t watch the show, Gilfoyle (who’s always called simply “Gilfoyle,” by the way) is a software engineer for Pied Piper, the high-tech start-up that’s always teetering between the promise of fabulous riches and impending, crushing failure.  He’s got to be one of the darkest, most cynical comedic characters ever written — which shouldn’t be surprising since he’s a satan-worshipper.  With his unshaven, shaggy dog appearance, his cut-rate glasses, his gravelly bass voice, and his utter lack of sensitivity to the conventional niceties of the modern world, Gilfoyle is always ready to convey a devastating, usually vulgar put-down or offer a crucial comment while coming up with a technological way to save the day.  Often, the target of his ripostes is his fellow engineer, rival, and foil, Dinesh — who’s also hysterical in his role as the hopeless geek who desperately tries to be cool and gladly follows all of the trends that Gilfoyle then punctures with deadly, deadpan zingers.

How can you not like a character who says things like “I’m not one to gush, but the possibilities of your consequence-free reality are darkly promising,” or “If my mother was naked and dead in the street, I would not cover her body with that jacket”?  Or engages in dialogue like this:

Dinesh: “Did you see that? She gave me her hat.”

Gilfoyle: “Pretend you’ve seen a woman before.”

Bertram Gilfoyle is a rare mixture of paranoia, unconventionality, casual disregard for the law, wariness, technological savvy, and general nuttiness.  Given what’s going on these days, he’s a pitch-perfect character in our modern world.

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Searching For Snippets

Lately I’ve spent a bit of time in front of the computer at home, on the YouTube website.  I’ve been looking for some funny highlights from TV shows that are now decades old.  You might call it searching for snippets.

My initial goal was to find the “Sis Boom Bah” moment from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.  Featuring the redoubtable Carnak the Magnificent, in what I always thought was one of the best continuing skits on the show, it is arguably one of the funniest single moments on what was a consistently funny show.  (You could argue about other Tonight Show moments, like the Ed Ames tomahawk-throwing incident, but I digress.)  Sure enough, I found the entire Sis Boom Bah Carnak sketch on YouTube, and I’ve put it above in all of its early ’80s, totally un-PC glory at the top of its post.  The Sis Boom Bah moment is still hilarious.

There’s comedy gold to be found just about everywhere on YouTube, but you have to work to find it.  In that sense, it’s a lot more interactive than just watching TV and letting the cathode rays wash over you.   Let’s say that you thought the “Norm!” one-liners from Cheers were consistently funny, as I do, and just wanted to check out a few of them.  A few deft searches, and voila!   One example of what I found, with some of Norm’s choicest rejoinders, is below.  And whether it’s great moments from Seinfeld, or the title introduction to Hogan’s Heroes, or a favorite scene from The Dick Van Dyke Show, you can probably find it on YouTube.

 

Dining Hungry Heifer-Style

In a classic episode of Cheers, Norm — “Norm!” — talked about eating at the Hungry Heifer, a blue-collar dining hall where the portions were immense because all of the food was imitation.  Woody, intrigued, decided to join Norm for a meal.  When he returned to the bar he explained that the imitation food had to be called by a slightly different name, then raved about the “loobster” and “beff.”

IMG_3746Lately I feel like I’ve been channeling my inner Norm.

When my doctor told me to try to eat more fish and less red meat I groaned.  I don’t mind the taste of fish, but it’s a pain to prepare and tends to stink up the house.  One day at the neighborhood Kroger, however, I noticed packages of chilled imitation crab and imitation lobster.  They were cheap, so I decided to give them a try.  Surprisingly, they were tasty, and now they’ve been worked into my evening meal rotation on days when we don’t feel like making a big sit-down meal.  I feel good about listening to my doc when I buy them, because they have a “heart healthy” logo, too.

What’s in the imitation crab and lobster?  Mostly Alaska pollock, apparently.  The ingredient list also indicates that the product includes water, wheat starch, sodium, extracts of crab, oyster, scallop, lobster, cutlassfish, anchovy, and bonito, fish oil, rice wine, egg whites, and corn starch, as well as some more exotic sounding experiments from the chemistry lab, like disodium inosinate, guanylate, titanium dioxide, carmine, and canthaxanthin.  For all of that, the imitation lobster and crab taste pretty much like lobster and crab.  And, on the laundry list you won’t find anything that looks or sounds like red meat.  So, on any random night you might find me munching on some imitation crab leg, feeling good about my dietary habits and food spend, and inevitably thinking:  “Norm!

The Office Gets Ready To Turn Out The Lights

The Office is counting down to the last show of the series.  Kish and I enjoy the show, and we’re holding our breath that the characters we’ve come to love aren’t ruined forever as the producers seek to build tension for a big finale.

I may be the only person in America who was happy when Steve Carell left The Office.  I thought the Michael Scott character had become so painfully awkward and outlandish that the series was difficult to watch, and the Michael Scott stories were interfering with the show’s real strength — which is the ensemble of office workers.   Every moment of Michael Scott angst took time away from a Jim Halpert practical joke at the expense of Dwight Schrute, or droll Stanley Hudson comment, or Creed Bratton weirdness.  When Michael Scott finally left it cleared the way for the other characters to shine, and they did.

Many of the great American sitcoms have been ensemble efforts, rather than solo star vehicles.  Cheers, Seinfeld, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Taxi, among many others, all have been classic multi-character efforts.  What would Cheers have been without the characters shouting “Norm!” or listening to Cliff’s latest blowhard theory?  How much did Newman bring to Seinfeld, and the Reverend Jim add to TaxiThe Office characters are similarly capable of carrying their show as a group, and since Steve Carell’s departure the show has remained hilarious without the downside of the pitiable Michael Scott storylines.

This year, though, the show seems to have lost its way.  Pam and Jim are having marital difficulties, and a lbehind-the-camera sound technician has emerged as a suitor for Pam’s affections.  Andy Bernard, who may be the most unevenly written character in TV history, has gone off the deep end.  It’s as if the producers are searching for a dramatic conclusion — and I wish they would resist that temptation. We want to remember Jim and Pam as the young lovers who finally found each other or the happy newlyweds, not as some estranged couple fighting in a way that seems inconsistent with their well-established characters.

I’d be perfectly happy if the last episode featured more of the enjoyable antics of Dwight and Angela, and Oscar and Kevin, and Phyllis and Meredith, and the show ended with a Jim Halpert prank and Pam simply turning out the lights of the Dunder-Mifflin workroom a la The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as another workday ends.

Last House

Tonight Fox will air the last episode of House.  It will be a two-hour finale, and then the show will be relegated to The Happy Land of Perpetual TV Reruns.

Kish and I have watched House, faithfully, from the beginning of the first season until tonight’s end.  I don’t know how many TV shows I can say that about.  Cheers was one; I’m not sure there have been any others.  Not many long-running shows can hold my interest from beginning to end.  Often they become rote and predictable, or they take a turn for the worse, or I just lose interest.

One reason House is the rare exception is that the show has maintained a high quality level throughout its run while at the same time staying true to its core premise and themes.  Dr. Gregory House, that brilliant diagnostician who has a predictable “Eureka!” moment just about every episode, has remained a broken, deeply disturbed, drug-popping jerk who can’t maintain a normal human relationship.  The show’s creators haven’t married him off, or had him adopt a child, or required him to take some other out-of-character step to try to boost ratings or keep the show “fresh.”  I respect that, and I also respect that star Hugh Laurie and the creative brain trust of House have decided to call it quits while the show is still on top.  There is nothing more painful than a TV show — or a professional athlete — that stays on until it is well past its prime.

I’ll miss House, but I’ll look forward to seeing the awesomely talented Hugh Laurie in other roles that allow him to stretch his acting abilities.  Right now, I’m just hoping that the last show of this terrific series doesn’t fall prey to the disastrous finale syndrome that has caused other legendary shows to end with an embarrassing whimper rather than a well-deserved bang.