COUPLING (2000-2004) – One of TV’s best sitcoms, British or otherwise

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The following is my contribution to The Small Screen Blogathon, being hosted by the blog Maddielovesherclassicfilms on Feb. 20, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on their favorite TV series!

 

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British TV writer Steven Moffatt is best known these days for the TV series “Sherlock” and a “Dr. Who” revival. But long before those came around, he was responsible for a gem of a sitcom titled “Coupling.”

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“Coupling” is blatantly based on the evolution of the relationship between Moffat and his girlfriend and then wife, Sue Vertue (also the show’s producer). (As if to drive home the point, the show’s lead characters are named Steve and Sue.) Aside from its traditional three-camera, live-audience setup, the series uses a variety of Annie Hall-like techniques to examine love and relationships: split-screen, depicting a single event from three perspectives, and even performing half of an episode in Hebrew. As Moffat put it, his simple setting encouraged “an epic, ridiculous way of telling an ordinary story.”

Most American viewers are quick to compare the series to “Friends,” as it’s a sitcom about the intertwining of several close friends’ lives. I hate to sound sacrilegious, but I much prefer “Coupling” to “Friends.” I always got the feeling that the “Friends” writers were happy to drop characterizations if they could get a quick laugh (for example, daffy Phoebe suddenly coming up with a searing witticism). By contrast, Moffatt said his show’s laughs sprang from context and that he wrote “no jokes per se” — and I feel his show is much richer for it.

My only complaint about “Coupling” is its fourth season; hence, I will deal with that later as a separate entity. Here is a summary of all of the characters, save for one that was added in that fourth season.

Steve

Steve Taylor (Jack Davenport) is a well-meaning guy who is somewhat milquetoast. In the series’ first episode, Steve is shown having trouble breaking off with his clingy and rather ditzy girlfriend Jane Christie (Gina Bellman). He eventually hooks up with Susan Walker (Sarah Alexander), and while their love appears to be true, Steve often cowers under Susan’s short temper.

Susan

Susan is a successful but sometimes insecure career woman. The bulk of Steve and Susan’s exchanges revolve around their arguments and differences of opinion.

Jeff

Jeff Murdock (Richard Coyle) is a co-worker and ex-date of Susan’s and is Steve’s best friend. Jeff is well-meaning like Steve but is even flightier than him, eager to find a woman but mostly unable to carry on coherent conversations with potential dates.

Sally

Sally Harper (Kate Isitt), like her best friend Susan, runs a successful business but is even more insecure than her friend (Are you sensing a pattern here?). She sometimes comes off as mean-spirited but is really only (only?) mostly paranoid.

Patrick

Patrick Maitland (Ben Miles) has a one-track mind when it comes to women, and that track revolves around getting laid. He is an ex-boyfriend to Susan, who refers to him as “donkey” and “tripod” when referencing his below-the-belt appendage. It is this that first perks Sally’s interest in Patrick. Patrick and Sally end up being the show’s romantic counterpart to Steve and Susan.

Jane

Jane, as started earlier, has been dumped by Steve, though it takes her several episodes to admit this to herself. As the series evolves, we come to realize why Steve couldn’t take her anymore; she comes on strong and very flighty. She does traffic reports for a local radio station, and her main claim to popularity is her sexually explicit reporting.

As in the best sitcoms, “Coupling’s” laughs (as noted by Moffatt) come from the characters’ quirks and interactions. I would recommend nearly any episode of the first three seasons as great introductory viewing for the show. However, IMHO, the show reached its peak in the eighth episode of Season 2, “Naked.” 

Julia

In this episode (a showcase for the wonderful Richard Boyle), Jeff goes to a storage closet at his office and happens to bump into his new supervisor, Julia (a winning performance by the late Lou Gish, shown above). Later, Jeff and Julia, separately, recount to the series’ men and women their closet encounter, and in each case, they embellish their recounting with hyperbolic fantasy to cover up the fact that they were very attracted to each other. To top it off, Jeff is about to turn 30 and is lamenting the fact that he cannot manage to have an ongoing relationship with a woman.

The rest of the episode shows Jeff and Julia playing cat-and-mouse, coming right up to the edge of admitting their attraction but shying away at the last moment. I don’t consider it a SPOILER ALERT to state that Jeff and Julia finally get together, because the way that it happens results in one of the most beautifully realized sitcom-episode finales I’ve ever seen. (The episode is embedded below; by all means, please watch and enjoy.)

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Sad to say, I feel that this delightful sitcom jumped the rails in Season 4. That season’s very first episode came off as ominous for three reasons:

  1. With no explanation, some interesting plot threads that were left dangling at the end of Season 3 were inexplicably abandoned by Moffatt.
  2. Richard Coyle feared becoming typecast as hapless Jeff, so he left the series at the end of Season 3, refusing requests to do a “goodbye episode.” This resulted in what I consider the series’ biggest mistake.
  3. OliverJust as “The Brady Bunch” started losing viewers when they introduced Cousin Oliver, so “Coupling” went stale when they introduced the character of Oliver Morris (Richard Mylan). While the other characters were rich enough to mine for three seasons’ worth of stories, Oliver’s main characteristic is how accident-prone and clueless he is. Unlike with Jeff, it’s not caused by insecurity or nervousness around women — he’s just stupid. This is not a character for the ages.

Probably the most watchable episodes are the season’s final two episodes, which nicely resolve some plot threads among the characters; otherwise, I consider this season a wash-out.

Other than that, I think “Coupling” is one of the all-time funniest and best-written sitcoms ever. I like to think that, if the show had returned for a fifth season, it would have brought back Richard Coyle and gone all “Dallas” on us, sheepishly admitting that the fourth season was merely a bad dream.

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THE APPRENTICE (2004) – Starring our future President

READERS: Please forgive me this period piece. I wrote this for a local newspaper 13 years ago, when the reality series “The Apprentice” was in its heyday. I can’t resist posting it as a historical document.

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You think your job is bad? Consider “The Apprentice” (Thurs., 9 p.m., NBC), reality-TV’s answer to Glengarry Glen Ross,

Each week, New York building mogul Donald Trump gives two (rapidly deteriorating) teams an enterprising scheme — e.g., pitch a new brand of bottled water. The team that earns the most money gets a week’s stay of execution. The losing team gets to meet with Trump in — cue music sting — the boardroom.

The boardroom is where the real sales job comes in. Trump grills the losing team members on why they didn’t succeed. And with few exceptions, each member does his or her best to point out why some other team member was at fault. The team member with the worst excuses gets to hear Trump intone in New York-ese, “Ya fahd!” (translated as, “You’re fired!”).

Then there’s the payoff. At series’ end, the final person left standing will work for Trump for one year, at an annual salary of $250,000. So the prize is…more kissing-up to Trump? For only a quarter-mil? Isn’t that, like, cigarette money in New York?

The most interesting players are, of course, the most manipulative. Thus far, that includes the ousted Omarosa (a passive-aggressor who used a slight bump on the head to get out of two whole episodes of work) and Troy (who lures people in with his country-bumpkin routine before going in for the kill).

As with “Survivor” — the other reality-TV gem from “Apprentice” creator Mark Burnett — “The Apprentice” is guilty-pleasure heaven. Unlike most reality shows that either trade on fading celebrities or degrade decent folk, this show has perfect pitch.

Viewers can easily identify with someone having to survive on his wits, either on a desert island or Manhattan Island. At the same time, you don’t feel terribly sorry to see these people get dumped on, because every one of them proves they had no scruples to begin with.

So when you think you’ve had the occasional bad day of toadying to your boss, go home and watch “The Apprentice,” where toadying is a job prerequisite.

THE INCREDIBLE JEWEL ROBBERY (1959) – The Marx Brothers’ day at the finish line

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Today is the 57th anniversary of the TV broadcast of the Marx Brothers’ final filmed appearance together. (Whew, that was a mouthful!)  Harpo and Chico Marx appeared as Harry and Nick, two inept thieves who try to pull off a jewelry heist, in “The Incredible Jewel Robbery,” an episode of “General Electric Theater,” a CBS anthology series that was hosted by future U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

(From here on in, this blog entry is one big SPOILER, if you care.)

The episode is primarily noted for its cameo appearance by the stars’ brother Groucho at the end. The episode is played completely without dialogue until the final scene, where Groucho joins his brothers in a police line-up and says, “We don’t talk until we see our lawyer!”

CBS’ press release for the show stated, “If you watch the show you’ll see a familiar face equipped with mustache and leer. Because of his contract terms [Groucho was still doing ‘You Bet Your Life’ on NBC], his name can’t be mentioned, but he is not Jerry Colonna.”

I was 11 years old when I first read about this TV episode, and I felt as though I’d have given anything to see it. Now it is readily available for viewing on YouTube — it’s embedded below, in two parts — and it couldn’t be more disappointing.

First, the entire premise is played out at such a literal level that even a kindergartener would be rolling his eyes at it. At one point, Harpo is trying to paint a police-car logo onto his car to make it look like a cop car. The logo is circular, so Harpo gets a spare tire, holds it up to the car, and traces the outside of it with his paintbrush in order to paint a circle. Haw-haw.

Second, the silent-movie conceit would be a lot more enjoyable if the show was truly silent. The episode’s musical score is loud and intrusive, and worse, there’s a laugh track all the way through the show to tell us when we’re supposed to guffaw. Since when do the Marx Brothers need a laugh track to tell us they’re funny?

Sadly, this is a show for comedy completists who feel as though they have to see everything their heroes ever did, rather than having entertainment value on its own. Once you’ve viewed “The Incredible Jewel Robbery” one time, your curiosity will be more than satisfied.

Here’s Part 1:

And Part 2:

 

 

A slippery slope called Gilligan’s Island

Ken Levine has had an amazing career as a TV writer. (“M*A*S*H” and “Cheers” are just two of the highlights on his resume.) He now writes a blog that is just as entertaining as his TV work has been.

Levine is a stickler for character plausibility. He recently wrote a blog about everybody’s favorite TV punching bag, “Gilligan’s Island,” a series that was anti-plausibility the way Tony Soprano was an anti-hero.

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Levine and his daughter Annie (also a TV writer) brought up the major sore spots that everyone has been addressing for — can it have been this long? — a half-century. Why did the Howells bring so much luggage along for a three-hour tour? How come the Professor could make elaborate contraptions but not fix a hole in the wrecked boat? And so on down the line.

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Before I go any further, my personal history. I grew up just outside of a small town in Illinois. Every afternoon, the school bus dropped me off outside my home at precisely 3:30, at which time I would rush inside to catch the local TV station’s umpteenth rerun of “Gilligan’s Island.” Don’t ever tell me that kids don’t enjoy repetition in storytelling. By the time I was 10, I could have transcribed every episode of that series from memory.

Me at age 10. Who do you think put that smile on my face -- Ginger, or Mary Ann?

Me at age 10. Who do you think put that smile on my face — Ginger, or Mary Ann?

Like everyone who cleaves to some part of his or her childhood, I continued to enjoy “Gilligan’s Island” as a guilty pleasure throughout my twenties and thirties. When my daughter was young, she and her cousin would watch reruns of the show. My daughter was constantly amazed that when I was walking through the room, I could stop, stare at the TV for a couple of seconds, and say, “Beauty contest,” or whatever plotline that episode happened to be about.

"The Honeybees episode. (Actually the Mosquitos episode.)"

“The Honeybees episode. (Actually the Mosquitos episode.)”

I have finally come out at the other side of the wormhole and have figured out the series’ major dilemma. It’s not so much that the show is relentlessly moronic (though it is certainly that). The main problem is that the show tries to have things both ways. At times, it wants to be nothing more than a slapstick comedy. Then, for reasons unknown, at other times it wants to be taken seriously and truly tug at your heartstrings.

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The show would have been much better off if it had gone completely in one direction or the other. If it had gone for the full silly, it would probably have been regarded as a comedy classic along the lines of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” or “Police Squad!” If it had truly been about some people stranded on a desert island whom we were supposed to care about, it could have ended up like “Lost” — which, for my money, was “Gilligan’s Island” with a lot more pretentiousness but is certainly regarded as a TV cult classic by many.

But no. A “Gilligan” episode would get you all worked up about a potential rescue for 20 minutes. Then Gilligan would gum up the works in the last five minutes, which meant that we were supposed to laugh the whole thing off. Wha-??

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The worst results came when the show did its version of all-out seriousness (which happened more often than its fans care to admit). In one episode, a plain-Jane woman named Eva Grubb (played by Tina Louise, in addition to her regular role as sexpot Ginger Grant) navigates a boat to the island. Eva has been spurned by all men and wishes to rid herself of all civilization for good.

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The episode plays this angle mostly for pathos. Near the end, for reasons upon which I won’t elaborate (because I know you don’t really care), Eva ties up Ginger and intends to ride her boat back with the others to civilization disguised as Ginger. Luckily, Ginger breaks free in time and angrily spills the beans to the entire group. Eva sputters an extremely lame apology and asks Ginger’s forgiveness, which Ginger magnanimously extends to Eva.

Nice ending, right? Hold on, little buddy. The next morning, the castaways find that Eva has left the island, leaving behind only a note. The note reads that, since Eva briefly fooled the castaways when she was disguised as Ginger, she now intends to fool the entire world by “resuming” Ginger’s Hollywood career. The note is signed, “The New Ginger Grant.”

And that’s where the episode leaves us — with Ginger in tears and a psychological wreck, and the castaways yet again still stranded on the island. To a kid, this was nearly as devastating as finding out that Col. Henry Blake’s return to America was interrupted by an unscheduled swan-dive into the Sea of Japan on the season finale of “M*A*S*H.”

And what’s worse, the series doesn’t even have the nerve to deal with this issue again. The next episode is business as usual, as though Ginger hadn’t had her life’s rug pulled out from under her. When series creator Sherwood Schwartz did the reunion TV-movie “Rescue from Gilligan’s Island” in 1978, he was obviously hoping that the show’s fans had terrible memories. Once the castaways got back to civilization, Ginger resumed her career in Hollywood as though Eva Grubb (and more than a decade squirreled away on an island!) had never happened.

I now look back and realize that many TV producers made millions of dollars from the viewership of naive kids like me. And while I don’t begrudge anybody an honest living, I think I’d have been ashamed to make any millions the way some of them did: Hanna-Barbera with their cheapo cartoons, Sid and Marty Krofft with their garish shows…and Sherwood Schwartz with “Gilligan’s Island.”

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MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS – Episode 34, “The Cycling Tour,” orig. broadcast on 7/12/1972

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The following is my contribution to the “Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon,” being held March 27 through 29 at the blog A Shroud of Thoughts. Click on the above banner, and read interesting insights into bloggers’ favorite single episodes of TV series!

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

“My name is Pither…as in ‘brotherhood’, but with P-I instead of BRO and no HOOD.”

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Broadcast for a total of 45 episodes — first on the BBC from 1969 to 1974, followed a year later by its American premiere on PBS — Monty Python’s Flying Circus changed the face of television comedy. Its sextet of writer-performers (Britons Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin; and American expatriate Terry Gilliam) delighted in offering sketches that had no punchline finale and often commented on each other. Generations of comedy fans have delighted in this TV surrealism.

However, as Humpty Dumpty proved, sometimes it’s just as meaningful to put something back together again as it is to break it. After 33 episodes of TV deconstruction, the “Flying Circus” actually went the traditional route for one episode. “The Cycling Tour,” a third-season outing from 1972, actually carries a linear storyline from start to finish.

However, even most Python fans are not likely to cite this as their favorite “Flying Circus” episode. Even though it has a “traditional” plotline, it careens all over the map even more than their Etch-a-Sketch-style episodes. It has references that will be lost on the average American viewer. (Previously, I was unaware of the Eurovision Song Contest, which plays a major role in many of this episode’s gags.) And one scene contains Chinese stereotypes that are as jaw-dropping as anything you’ll find in old Charlie Chan movies.

Perhaps it’s for all of these reasons that ‘The Cycling Tour” is my all-time favorite “Flying Circus” episode. It’s as though the Pythons are saying to their detractors, “You don’t like our unique comedy style? Right, then, we’ll do a sitcom-style plot and screw up that tradition for you!” For that reason, I find this episode as adventurous and wondrous as anything in the Python pantheon.

(Actually, the only reason that this is a more “traditional” “Circus” episode is that Michael Palin and Terry Jones, who are the main stars of this outing, had written this script for another venue, only to see it unused. The Pythons snapped it up to fill out an episode when they found themselves running short of material during their third season.)

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The episode follows the adventures of Reg Pither (played by Palin, who seems to have gloriously channeled Stan Laurel for his character’s likable imbecility). Mr. Pither is on a bicycling tour of Cornwall, and every few yards (or so it seems), his bicycle overturns because, as he informs us in off-screen narration, “the pump got caught in my trouser leg.”

Mr. Pither recounts this mundane fact (and the contents of his lunch pack) to any number of people who couldn’t care less. He blathers on about it to a woman who tends to her gardening without ever acknowledging him; then to an equally disinterested restaurant cashier; and finally to an arguing couple whose relationship’s demise is aided by uncomprehending Mr. Pither.

Doctor

My favorite such encounter is when Mr. Pither goes to a doctor (Eric Idle) after one of his pump/trouser catastrophes. The doctor tries to uncover Mr. Pither’s malady, but he has none. Pither went to the doctor simply because he needed proper directions and didn’t want to trust “the possibly confused testimony of some passer-by.” Irritated, the doctor provides the necessary directions — in prescription form. The doctor scribbles some Latin on a piece of paper and says, “Here, take this to a chemist [pharmacist]!”

Gulliver

Eventually, Mr. Pither has one too many trouser-based accidents and winds up in the backseat of a car driven by Mr. Gulliver (Terry Jones). At last, Pither has found his equal in pedantry. It seems that Gulliver is an inventor making breakthroughs in self-protected lunch items. He has even perfected a tomato that ejects itself from an automobile just seconds before an accident occurs. Sure enough, a Gulliver-laced tomato pops out of the car, followed by crash sound-effects and a screen blackout.

When the scenario resumes, Pither is transporting Gulliver to a hospital via his bicycle. Gulliver lost his memory in the car crash and now thinks he is Clodagh Rogers, the then-recent winner of the Eurovision Song Contest for her pop smash “Jack in the Box.”

Hospital

The hospital scene is a slapstick delight involving Palin, Jones, and Chapman and Cleese as hospital personnel. One Python biographer reports that the scene actually bombed when performed live for the show, but Jones and “Circus” director Ian MacNaughton turned it into a comedy miracle via some judicious editing.

In any case, Gulliver gets booked in a nightclub to sing as Clodagh Rogers. But once he gets on stage, he suffers another lapse of memory and starts spouting Communist propaganda in the mistaken belief that he’s now Leon Trotsky.

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Pither checks Gulliver into a hotel for safety and goes to the British Embassy, not realizing that his bicycling has taken him all the way to Communist China. As previously mentioned, there follows the episode’s most unforgivable scene, with Chapman and Cleese cavorting as outrageous Chinese stereotypes that put even Jerry Lewis’ foreign mimicry to shame. (However, it is funny, in the Pythons’ usual non-sequitor way, that the embassy duo are singularly obsessed with bingo.)

When Pither returns to the hotel, he finds that Gulliver/Trotsky has headed for Moscow. The Russian secret police are tailing Pither, and they take Pither to Moscow “to be present as an honored guest when Trotsky is reunited with the Central Committee.” But they tell Pither — who is too dim to figure out the international mess he’s in — that they’re taking him to a clambake.

Trotsky

When Gulliver/Trotsky is “reunited” with his comrades at a huge meeting, he starts out by giving a pro-party speech, but the speech then turns into a seductive nightclub number complete with feather boa. Gulliver has suffered yet another memory bash; he now thinks he’s Eartha Kitt. The Russians arrest Pither for misleading them, but they decide to let Gulliver continue his number since “He’s going down well.”

Pither is then thrown into prison, and shortly thereafter, he finds himself in front of a firing squad. Again, Pither is completely oblivious to this ominous threat until the guns are actually aimed at him. Luckily, everyone in the firing squad misses their intended target. Pither is thrown back into prison while the firing squad practice their shooting skills.

There follows one of Python’s greatest-ever gags. I am a long-time opponent of the old “It was only a dream” cop-out; it was used in countless Chaplin and Keaton silent comedies, as well as many TV sitcoms to follow. Instead, in this extremely satisfying scene, Pither falls asleep in his cell and wakes up to find his mother serving him tea in their backyard. There follows this exchange:

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Sure enough, Pither is woken up so that the firing squad can have another go at executing him.

Meanwhile, Gulliver/Kitt has snagged yet another nightclub engagement. But as luck would have it, when he gets up to perform, he slogs his memory one more time and now becomes Edward Heath, the then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (who was a frequent butt of Python jokes). When “Heath” starts spouting capitalist rhetoric, an Eartha Kitt fan in the audience smacks him with a turnip.

The turnip finally brings Gulliver to his senses, and he runs out of the nightclub and through town (while in a gown, high heels, and blackface) screaming for Pither, as the out-for-blood audience trails him. Gulliver hears Pither’s voice and climbs over a wall to get to him.

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“Pither!” an elated Gulliver cries. “What a stroke of luck!” “Well, yes and no,” dithers Pither, as he points to an oncoming firing squad armed with bayonets.

How are the duo going to get out of this one? We’ll never know. A “Caption – Scene Missing” title flashes on the screen, followed by Pither and Gulliver on the outskirts of town, recounting their luck at their “amazing escape.” The duo say goodbye and go their separate ways, as the title “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” finally graces the screen. (The episode had no opening title sequence, probably to try to confuse viewers into thinking they’d switched on the wrong TV show.)

Oh, did I mention Terry Gilliam’s animation? Two strange-looking monsters named Maurice and Kevin rear their ugly heads every so often during the episode, before coming on after the credits to provide a rousing final laugh.

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Despite its being a traditionally-based episode, I find “The Cycling Tour” as endearing as any episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” It has every element that made the series a comedy stand-out: Completely insane actions performed by nonchalant people who act like it’s just another day at the office; hysterical verbal wordplay and sight gags; Gilliam’s wacko animation; and definitely a smattering of bad taste. I might not recommend it as an introduction to the Python style, but the episode wouldn’t have been out of place at the end of the team’s movie debut, the sketch-laden And Now for Something Completely Different. Kudos all around!

The real Clodagh Rogers. Click on her photo to hear her award-winning song.

The real Clodagh Rogers. Click on her photo to hear her award-winning song.

Want quality TV? Better watch BETTER CALL SAUL

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Please forgive my bluntness. But I have seen so much shit TV in my life, I get pathetically grateful for a show such as “Better Call Saul.”

A little background: I only ever watched the final episode of “Breaking Bad” (of which, most of America must know by now, “Better Call Saul” is a prequel featuring the sleazy lawyer from “BB”). My wife and son, however, were “Breaking Bad” fanatics, guaranteeing that they’d be compelled to watch this follow-up series.

Call me naive, but I initially viewed each show from only its surface details. Why should I care about some white-bread schoolteacher who goes into the meth business? Why should I watch a show that looks like a bad, elongated lawyer joke?

But I happened to catch the opening of “Better Call Saul’s” debut episode, and I was intrigued. The opening was filmed in black-and-white (Who does that on a TV show these days?), and I’m a sucker for The Ink Spots (whose song “Address Unknown” was used for the opening’s soundtrack). So I made a point of watching the episode all the way through.

It was stunning.

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First, you’ve got Bob Odenkirk, who plays small-time lawyer Jimmy McGill. Even when he’s trying to look professional by wearing a suit coat and tie, he looks as though he slept in it. Just the appearance of this guy gives off the stench of desperation.

Then you have writer-creator Vince Gilligan, who has an eye for detail that is rare in television. In Jimmy’s first scene of the debut episode (SPOILER ALERT!), Jimmy defends (fairly eloquently) a trio of teenagers. He makes it sound as though they’ve pulled some minor prank or burglary and they should be let off the hook.

When Jimmy finishes his defense, the prosecutor, wordlessly, rolls in a TV and proceeds to put a tape in to play on the TV. A man in the courtroom walks out before the tape even begins. Why does he do that? The tape answers our question. It’s a video that captured the boys doing something rather unspeakable with a corpse. As the tape continues, many other courtroom witnesses walk out in revulsion.

Now, that scene would have played just as effectively without that guy’s initial walk-out. But for me, that walk-out was the tiniest of hints that you’re in the hands of a master storyteller. From now on, if Gilligan throws in a detail that leaves you scratching your head, it’s not because he’s a sloppy TV-maker. You can trust that there will be a payoff somewhere down the road.

The show’s second episode is even more compelling and amazing than the first. There’s a prolonged scene in the desert that the show’s makers readily admitted was a tough one to pull off. Sand and dust were blowing in the actors’ faces, and positions of the actors and props had to be shifted constantly due to the changing arc of the sunlight.

Then later, there’s a bravura sequence that “quotes” the movie All That Jazz. It’s a long but thoroughly engrossing montage of Jimmy handling case after case and showing all of the minutia that goes along with it. If you’re expecting typical, nail-the-camera-to-the-ground television, you’ve come to the wrong TV series.

All of this is by way of saying, the show’s movers and shakers probably could have gotten by with less. A lot of TV looks as though it’s done on the run. Even this show probably could have sailed along on the coattails of “Breaking Bad” and done the sleazy-lawyer-joke type of series that I had anticipated.

But no. This isn’t a show where you can turn on the TV and work on some home project while you’re watching it. This is a piece of entertainment that you actually have to pay attention to, as you would with a really good movie.

And they’re doing it on television. Every week.

Thank you, Vince Gilligan, Bob Odenkirk, and every single actor and crew person responsible for “Better Call Saul.” Thank you for going the extra mile — even when it leads to a desert.

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