Sunday, October 18, 2015

KNOTS LANDING Episode 003 of 344: LET ME COUNT THE WAYS


Episode Title: Let Me Count the Ways

Season 01, Episode 03

Episode 003 of 344

Written by William Hopkins

Directed by Henry Levin

Original Airdate: Thursday, January 10th, 1980

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Richard is opposed to Diana's favorite teacher, David Crane, for his unorthodox teaching methods. He decides to run against him for a seat on the school board. Meanwhile, Karen, who is going through mid-life uncertainty, decides to go to the school to find out more about this teacher, but ends up falling for him and even contemplates having an affair with him.


Oh boy, now here’s a classic episode of television.  I’ll just say right off the bat that this episode, this glorious, glorious, glorious episode, is not only my favorite episode of season one (at least as I write this; perhaps my opinion will change as I go through the season), but also one of my favorite episodes of the entire fourteen season run of KL, and remember this is coming from a guy who would easily call seasons one, two, and three the least exciting or engaging seasons of the show.  But this episode, man, I couldn’t wait to watch it again, and whenever I think about it, I just feel so lit up inside, and after watching it, I thought about it for days, seriously.  I love this episode, oh how do I love this episode?  Let me count the ways! 

Now would be a good time to discuss the various different stages of KL.  Fourteen years is a long time, but one of the things that made KL so good was that it stayed fresh and would shake it up and change its style every couple of seasons.  I’ve done some thinking and I’ve found it’s fairly easy to divide the show into different eras.  Again, everything I'm about to say could potentitally change as I might discover little nuances or things that make we see the show in different eras, but as of this writing, here's how I would divide it, okay? 

The first era, I would say, spans 1979 to 1982, the first three seasons of the show.  During this time, the episodes are highly grounded in reality (more or less, every now and then you get a ridiculous biker invasion, but that’s a discussion for another time), mostly focusing on domestic issues and things that real people living in a real neighborhood could probably relate to.  Another thing about this era is that episodes tend to be fairly self-contained, usually focusing on one character with the other characters functioning in more of a supporting role. 

The second era would span seasons four through seven (1982 through 1986) and this would be the most purely serialized, purely soap portion of the series.  During this era, there’s not really a lot of humor, but it’s soapy deliciousness you can’t compete with (even with the Dallas seasons from that same time period), pretty much as good as the entire genre of the nighttime soap could ever possibly get; I like to refer to this four year period as the "super soap era." 

The third era would be my personal favorite, seasons eight through twelve (1986-1991).  This would be the Lechowick/Latham years that are, apparently, quite contentious amongst fans and the cast members, as well, with some people thinking they are brilliant and some people not liking them at all.  This is the most humor-imbued portion of the show, and, from my recollection, is easily the highlight of the series.  I recall watching that era and just feeling that the show was still at a creative peak even as late as its twelfth season, which is very impressive. 

Finally, we have the last two seasons (1991-1993).  How would I designate these?  I guess I’d designate them as, um, the last two seasons.  I don’t remember disliking either of these seasons (including season thirteen, which a lot of fans view as the pits), but I will say they don’t strike me as terribly memorable.  I guess we’ll call this fourth and final era of the series the “winding down” period where the show is still going, but it’s maybe lost a touch of its creativity and is starting to come to its conclusion. 

My extremely circuitous and long winded point?  We are still very much within that first era of the series.  Episodes will be mostly self-contained and far less serialized, with a few little exceptions (Abby and Richard’s affair, Sid and the mafia, the continuing seduction of Gary by Abby), and generally an episode will be focused on one character.  Now, Pilot maybe doesn’t count, as it was focused mostly on meeting the entire gang, but that second episode, Community Spirit, was, I would say, highly Gary-centric, as he had to man up and best his brother.  Well, this week we have our first official Karen-centric episode, and it’s stupendous (next week we’ll have another episode I really enjoy, The Lie, focusing heavily on Laura). 

As I mentioned before, Karen is my favorite character ever on KL.  I know that some fans find her a little, um, over-the-top, and I know that some find Michele Lee a rather obnoxious presence in her real-life interviews, but I feel none of this.  I think she is brilliant and a tremendous actress and I think Karen is the heart of the show.  Indeed, she’s the only person featured in all 344 episodes, even in that final season when they were slashing the budget and making everyone sit out for two or three episodes.  I think Michele Lee turns Karen into a really full fledged and three dimensional person, and, most importantly to me, I think she always kept Karen a good person, someone who tried to be good and true and have a sense of value and ethics in the way she conducted her life.  It’s so easy for that type of character to become boring, too (not to pick on anybody, but I certainly found the character of Bobby Ewing on Dallas to be rather boringly nice and good), but Michele kept Karen always interesting.

We know straight away that this will be a Karen-centric episode, because it starts with her in the kitchen, hectically trying to get breakfast ready for everybody and keep everything in check, clearly a bit overwhelmed by everything.  Michael and Eric are talking loudly about something (some girl in school that Eric’s crushing on or whatever), everybody needs this or that from Karen, everyone’s demanding things, and right away I get a great sense of what this episode will be about.  Karen may love her husband and she may love her three children, but she’s upset about something, and as we go through the episode, we will come to understand it quite well.

Very significantly, this sequence ends with her peering out the kitchen window and seeing Gary headed off to work and Val following along behind him, ever the doting wife, wishing him a good day.  The two exchange a nice kiss and then he drives off, and everything looks so happy.  Karen sees this and, I think, she wants that.  But there are many things to be said about this little scene (which, random, I believe is the only scene in this whole ep featuring Gary and he doesn't even have any lines!).  First off, yes, of course Gary and Val look like the happiest couple in the world, but that’s because they’ve been married for, what, about twenty days now?  They’re still in their honeymoon stage (or perhaps I should say second honeymoon, although I kinda doubt they got a first one way back in the '60s) where everything is sunshine and roses.  As we will see very shortly, their marriage is not as happy and peaceful as it looks, and Gary certainly has, shall we say, an eye that wanders.

The second significant thing to note is that, quite simply, Karen is seeing the grass as being greener on the other side, that’s all.  No viewer can look at Don Murray as Sid Fairgate and say that he is not a great husband and a wonderful man, but at this moment, Karen is simply yearning for that other, the thing she feels she does not have.  Really, none of Karen’s feelings and actions over the next 48 minutes are related to a dislike of her great husband, but more of a general, existential unhappiness with the state of her life at this moment.

Lastly, it is in this scene that we get the BEAUTIFUL Karen piano theme for the first time.  Oh, how I love this piece of music, and if I’m not mistaken, it plays quite often throughout the course of the first season.  How can I even describe this masterpiece of piano composition?  Let’s just say that it’s quiet, it’s simple, it’s beautiful, it makes me want to cry, and it ends with this really lovely and melancholic last couple of notes, sorta fading out as a button on the piece.  I wish desperately there was some sort of KL nine-disk CD set with all the songs and music throughout the series (imagine having ALL of Lisa Hartman’s songs on one CD!).  Perhaps if I find a way to write to Jerrold Immel, he could hook me up with copies of the original music?  A boy can dream.

Okay, what’s next?  Well, the main gist of this episode gets started right and quick with Richard speaking about a new teacher at Diana’s high school, David Crane (this name rings a bell, and I’m pretty sure it’s the name of one of the writers or creators of, gulp, Friends).  Apparently this David Crane character is quite contentious, and Richard asserts that he had a prostitute in class, as well as a junkie who demonstrated how to shoot up to the students.  Some parents think this guy is amazing, that he is showing the students “The real deal,” and some are shocked and chagrinned, mortified and stupefied.  Obviously Richard is the latter, but Karen is the former, a true defender of unorthodox methods, and she trusts Diana and Diana loves this new teacher.  Anyway, Richard wants to organize a meeting at the school to speak out against this teacher, and Karen shows up to speak in his favor.

Now, we hear all about this controversial teacher before we actually see him, and when we do meet him, we don’t know who he is at first, you see.  Karen is at the high school (along with Transmorpher Fran Bennett; in a few moments I will explain the concept of the Transmorpher) and she needs to go use the 1980 pay phone in the lobby, but she finds this man (spoiler: The man is David Crane) already talking on the phone, and he actually pauses his conversation to ask Karen for a dime, but she only has one, so there’s this little back-and-forth, and the sparks start to fly.  Truth be told, I don’t think I like this character, but I do like seeing how Karen reacts to him, how she is so obviously smitten.  However, I personally see something rather arrogant in this man, and while I truthfully do agree with his teaching methods, the actual character leaves a bad taste in my mouth, particularly because of the ease with which he goes after a married lady.
 
A friend of mine looked over this writeup when I was working on the edit and getting ready to publish it and pointed out that I never bothered to name the actor who plays David Crane and that was a bit of an oversight, so here's some information on this gentleman.  His name is David James Carroll (pictured below) and he actually died in 1992, sadly.  According to my friend, he is a big name in stage acting, but I'm not as familiar with that stuff, so I'm just gonna take my friend's word for it.  According to his IMDb page, he didn't have a ton of movie or TV credits, but I guess if you really follow the theater, you would be familiar with his name. 

Before we get too far, let me also take a moment to explain the Transmorpher and what that means and how I define it.  I define any actor or actress who appeared on both Dallas and KL playing different characters as a Transmorpher.  This means that Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Charlene Tilton, etc., etc. etc., do not count as Transmorphers.  Why?  Because they may appear on both series, but they are playing the same characters.  Here, we have, I think, our first Transmorpher in the form of Fran Bennett. You may recognize this rather stern and authoritative black actress from such movies as, oh, I dunno, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.  Here, she plays one of the teachers at the school, but she also appears in the Dallas episode Where Is Poppa? (Season 7, Episode 19) as Receptionist. 

Not only that, but my research showed me that she will be appearing in TWO MORE KL episodes and play a different character in both!  We will be seeing her as Kimya Haman in Abby’s Choice (Season 4, Episode 11) and as Dr. Faulkner in The Legacy (Season 7, Episode 25).  So not only is Fran Bennett a Transmorpher for being on both Dallas and KL, but she is also, like, a Transmorpher within a Transmorpher because she plays three different characters on KL, so congratulations Fran!  Perhaps I have already missed other Transmorphers in the previous two episodes, but so far as I know, Fran here is the first one, and I will keep my eyes open to note as many Transmorphers as I can as we go through the series.  Now, I'm not even gonna attempt to catch all of them, cuz I'll bet there are hundreds and maybe over a thousand, since it seemed Lorimar had a little stock collection of actors they liked to use and they will inevitably end up appearing on both shows.  But when I notice them, I notice them, and I'll make sure to note it here when I can.

The first real solid clue we get that David Crane has a boner for Karen comes right about here.  He is speaking in front of the crowd at the school, insisting that his teaching practices help the students to learn as well as enhance the fun and enjoyment of school.  He says that he makes big, bold gestures in order to get their attention, and he demonstrates this by, um, kissing Karen.  Yeah, that’s pretty bold all right, and I’m pretty sure if a teacher pulled this now and kissed a married woman in front of a crowd just to make a point, well, he would probably lose his job.  In 1980?  Gee, I’m not sure, but I guess I can buy that it would slide way back then.  Anyway, he kisses her, she clearly likes it, and we’re starting to establish our main conflict of the episode: Will Karen have an affair?

Karen and Val go out to a diner for a little late night coffee (I get the feeling that we see this cafĂ© quite a few times throughout the series, including when Gary takes The Other Paul Rudd under his wing for A.A.).  While at the diner, David Crane shows up, sits down, and the flirtation continues.  Poor Val (POOR VAL!) turns into a third wheel as she tries to keep up with the conversation, but it quickly becomes obvious that Karen and David Crane are lost in their own little world of conversation and flying sparks.  This is one of the earliest scenes involving Val as a quiet and observant witness to something.  She might seem like a dumb country girl, but in this episode (and the next one, The Lie), she is able to see things going on right in front of her without having to open her mouth. 

In the little B-storyline going on here, Richard is doing, um, something political.  He’s running for, like, school board president or something, specifically because he wants to get rid of David Crane.  He adorns his little van with a bunch of posters and loudspeakers and goes to work, getting all political.  As this is only episode three, I can see why new viewers might not know just what to make of Richard yet.  Certainly, at this juncture in the series he may still seem like 100% jerk, but I have the foreknowledge to know that Richard does, indeed, have good qualities; they just tend to be hidden under his control-freak nature and his own insecurities.  Richard and Karen do have a nice exchange here where she sorta puts his arms around him and she says, “You’re my neighbor, and for some strange reason I like you.”  Ah, yes, what a lovely moment.  As we go though the first four seasons, we will see that while Karen often disagrees with Richard or finds some of his behavior distasteful, she does have a very special friendship with him and the two do love each other in a special way, and right here is the first example of this.

All signs begin to point to Karen having an affair, including David Crane giving her a lovely little flower and reminding her that he’s up for it if she is.  The scenes we get here with Sid are some of the best parts of the episode, mostly because the writing is so good that we can see he is a great guy, a fabulous husband, but we also understand why Karen is considering straying.  This culminates in my favorite scene from the episode (and, frankly, one of my favorite scenes from the entire show), where Sid comes home super excited because of some new pots and pans he bought.  Karen’s in the kitchen, see, and Sid comes running in, all hyper, like “Look what I got, honey!”  He pulls out these pots and pans, talking about how they are a special design, non-stick, and nothing will stick to them no matter what.  He demonstrates by cooking up some cheese in the pan, and then he smears some cheese on a cracker and basically feeds it to Karen.  Michele Lee’s reaction here is maybe the best thing ever in a movie or a TV show, as she just sorta passively allows herself to be fed with this hilarious blank face.

Why do I love this scene so much?  Again, it’s because I perfectly understand the feelings and the actions of both characters.  We’ll start with Karen.  She is a woman who loves her husband and her family but is starting to feel a little underappreciated and is also starting to have thoughts about the different ways her life could have gone, maybe in a more of a late ‘60s activist direction.  She wants to be viewed as a full woman, and she is excited by David Crane because he makes her feel young and sexy again and he views her as more than a housewife.  As for Sid, he is excited to bring home these pots and pans because he thinks they will make a fabulous gift for his wife, and obviously it’s the thought that counts with any gift.  Sid is trying to make his wife feel loved and happy, but he just happens to have picked the wrong way to show that.  Pots and pans serve as a reminder to Karen that her family sees her as “The woman in the kitchen,” so she is unable to be happy with her husband’s gift to her; rather, the gift pushes her closer to adultery.  It is scenes like this that demonstrate what KL is all about and what makes it so special, and we will have tons more in the course of the next 341 episodes.

Okay, so Karen picks up the phone and gives David Crane a call and tells him she would like to stop by his apartment.  Next up, we have her in the bathroom (random: I love the layout and the look of the Fairgate bathroom/bedroom, and this is definitely the house I would most want to live in if I lived in Seaview Circle), getting all dressed up, looking pretty, and putting on some perfume.  I guess “some perfume” is inaccurate, as she kinda drowns herself in perfume, really overdoing it.  In real life, I’m pretty sure a spray or two on the wrists and one on the neck is about all it takes, but Karen sprays the perfume, like, five times, going all over the place.  Oh well, the perfume’s not the important part; the important part is Karen’s face and the AWESOME job of acting Michele Lee is doing here.  Look at that face in the mirror, man, and look at how her expressions tell us everything we need to know. 

She arrives at David Crane’s apartment.  This thing is about as ‘70s as you get (yeah, we’re in 1980, but just barely, and I actually think this episode might be taking place in 1979; more on that later), decorated with lots of ‘70s posters, a “Look at me, I’m an artist” guitar leaning against the wall, a general “White wall” feeling, and a tiny little bedroom that, I must admit, looks quite cozy (oh yeah, I should also mention that this place looks exactly like Cliff Barnes' apartment over on Dallas; now I wonder why that would be?).  One gets the feeling that this is not David Crane’s first time stealing a married woman from her husband; the guy is a bit of a pro and, you can tell, quite the playboy.  Anyway, he gives Karen some wine and the two sit down on the couch.  Karen tastes the wine and then says, “The wine is very good, but I don’t want to drink it right now.”  Yup, we all know what that means.

David Crane shows her the bedroom, and he has a pretty nice little speech about how he made the bed, wanting it to look nice and tidy, but then decided that seemed too pre-planned and presumptuous, so he messed it up again, and then finally returned it to being made, because that’s what he’d do anyway.  Does that make any sense?  I guess you just have to hear the way he delivers it, cuz it’s a nicely realistic moment.  Karen says how she would sorta like to sleep with him, but she can’t do it, and it’s here that we get her Emmy-worthy speech of amazingness.

I wish I had transcribed this entire speech down, or I wish I had the powers of a better memory so I could just remember how it went, but it’s awesome, and it’s long, and it’s delivered perfectly by Michele.  When I say give her an Emmy, I’m not being funny or exaggerating; seriously, GIVE HER AN EMMY!  I don’t care that the show has been off the air for over two decades or that this particular episode is 35 years old, JUST GIVE HER AN EMMY, NOW!  Seriously, this speech rocks, and she delivers it like a true actress.  She explains how she is approaching mid-life, a word she hates, and that she’s afraid, and that every time she looks in the mirror, she feels a little older, that she’ll find a wrinkle that wasn’t there a year ago, and so on.  She says how his attraction to her made her feel young and sexy again, and that was a good feeling, but she needs to acknowledge who she really is, the life she really leads, the family she loves waiting for her at home.  Oh, she’s just so good in this scene.  It’s the real test of good acting if you can just deliver a long speech with basically no interruption and keep it interesting and emotional all the way through, and Michele does it brilliantly. 

Karen returns home and has a little chat with Richard.  In a nice display of humility, Richard tells her he lost the election, that his dreams of school board president are gone, but then he says, “I’m running for President in 1980!”  I wanted to note this because this episode aired in 1980, January 10th of 1980, to be precise.  Obviously it would have been filmed earlier, but does this mean these first couple of episodes of the series are actually taking place in 1979?  I like to just sorta assume that the episodes are taking place in time with their airdates, but maybe we are slightly behind (if you think this is headache-inducing, just be glad we don’t have to discuss the “Dream” season of Dallas and question if everything after Bobby’s resurrection is actually taking place one year in the past!). 

The very last scene of the episode is the perfect cherry on top of a delicious ice cream sundae.  Karen returns home, all dressed up for her trip to “the market,” which nobody questions.  I’m willing to forgive this one because it’s KL and I love KL, but I’ll admit it’s a little silly that Karen claims to have gone down to the market but she returns with no groceries and dressed up in an absolutely stunning outfit, dripping with perfume.  She finds Sid at work in the garage, gives him some hints that she would like a little late-afternoon shag, and the two go inside the house to make this a reality.  Now, it’s the very last shot, specifically, that I love so much.  They enter through the kitchen and walk out of the camera’s path, and then the camera pans down to show the pots and pans Sid bought for Karen.  They’re sitting on the counter, super duper shiny, almost out of a pots-and-pans TV advertisement, and what’s sitting next to them?  The flower that David Crane gave Karen earlier in the episode, except it’s all wilted and dead.  This last shot confirms for us that David Crane’s affections for Karen were fleeting, not true love, but those pots and pans from Sid?  That, ladies and gentlemen, is true love, and it’s on this fantastic image that we freeze frame, get our "Executive Producers" credit, and fade out of the episode.

Let Me Count the Ways is easily the best episode of KL so far.  I know we’ve only watched three episodes, but damn, this one is just so good.  Even as we get deeper into the series, and I’m talking at the 200 episode and beyond mark, this one will always stand out as one of the series’ best.  From start to finish, everything about this works.  You have a brilliant script that shows the characters full of dimension and you have awesome acting from all involved, but especially that show-stopping performance from Michele Lee.  For me, it’s this kind of an episode that elevates KL over all the other nighttime soaps of the ‘80s.  Maybe the others had glitz and glamour and the soapy ability to make you want and need to go on to the next episode, but they didn’t have the heart and the maturity of KL, both of which are on perfect display here. 

Next week we get a little rapey and shift our focus to a different character, Laura Avery, as we discuss The Lie.

7 comments:

  1. I am happy to see you bring up the late great David Carroll, who had one of the best voices ever to grace the Broadway stage.

    I do love this episode and it is certainly a high point of the early years. Another great essay on your part!

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  2. This is just such an incredible episode. I love how it serves as a mission statement for the character of Karen for the rest of the series; she is never not trying to be the best she can be, and I love her for it. I guess the producers had firmly dropped the idea of having her as Knots Landing's J.R. by this point?

    And woah, that speech. Sum up the human condition a SMIDGE, queen.

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  4. I've just found your blog and I'm really enjoying it. I'm a big fan of the Big D's of the 80's (Dallas & Dynasty) because those prime-time soaps were a HIT in Spain (too). Knots Landing, here known as California, arrived very late, in 1989! 10 years late! but as much as I loved the big D's and Falcon Crest (very succesful in Spain) I agree with you when you say those three "had glitz and glamour and the soapy ability to make you want and need to go on to the next episode, but they didn’t have the heart and the maturity of KL". KL was great drama, and had the ability to make us feel very close to the characters in some plots, to really share their problems. In my case, when my mother died of a colon's cancer unexpectedly I remember rewatching "The Loudest Word" and Laura's Arc (including episode 200) with tears in my eyes, not just for Val's and Laura's illness in the plot but because I watched all episodes of KL with her. Olivia's drugs arc is another of my favorites, and loved the way they made us feel sympathetic for a b***ch like Abby. Those are just few examples of KL qualities.

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  5. You are right, Brett. Karen was the heart of the show. One of my favorite things about Michele Lee as Karen was her expressiveness. Her reactions to the craziness around her were always priceless! She wore her heart on her sleeve.

    Great post!

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  6. That peanut butter and jelly poem was hard to listen to. I was embarrassed for David. Karen is a character that I enjoy watching from beginning to end. She's so multifaceted. I love how Michelle Lee is able to convey so much with a facial expression.

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  7. I love that you are regularly referring to the number of episodes we have left in the series.

    I love that you love and appreciate not just the acting in this show, but the writing, directing and producing choices made, music being a very big one. Everyone who wants to work as a producer in scripted television should watch this series. They enrich the script so much with all the tools television story telling has to offer.

    I know Fran Bennett would agree.

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