Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Another One in the Can

Jeffrey Sconce, if that is his real name,* has declared in favor of crap:
One of the few benefits afforded by the mass production of culture is the opportunity for odd, bizarre, and otherwise demented “filler.” If a production company must by contract cough up 32 hours of television each year—even if one hour involves little more than all the characters sitting around remembering clips from the previous 31 hours—there is almost an iron-clad guarantee that at least one or two of the episodes will go off the rails in some interesting fashion. Remember when Beaver Cleaver made friends with the son of the garbage-man, causing June to freak out about class-mixing and the possibility of junkyard rat bites? Or when Kramer accidentally mocked the Puerto Rican Pride parade on Seinfeld? Or when Danny Bonaduce joined the Black Panthers on The Partridge Family? None of these jaw-dropping moments in our televisual heritage would have been possible without the crushing demands of sheer volume. Each required a harried producer or show runner to look at his watch and say, “To hell with it….I have Dodgers tickets for tonight. Just get it in the can by next week.”
Cousin Oliver is the personification, the allegorical authentication, the man-flesh synecdoche of this insight. His pale, flopping locks got the makers of the Brady Bunch through the remains of their side of the contract, without which viewers would have been asked to choke down storylines asserting either that Bobby and Cindy were still childishly cute, or, worse, that Bobby and Cindy had entered the trials of puberty and would brave the hardships in ways not previously charted in the show's annals. Or, still worse, we might have had more Johnny Bravo.

Whatever else might be said of these alternate lines of desperate improvisation, none of them would have spawned the grotesque toy-child renaissance that inspired such programs as Diff'rent Strokes, Webster, and Silver Spoons -- which is to say, the doe-eyed, toe-headed thread of Family Affair might have died out without the bridge formed by the squeaking vocalizations of Cousin Oliver.


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* Actually, this is so whether or not that is his real name, and whether or not he is truly a he.

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