Sunday, December 27, 2015

KNOTS LANDING Episode 013 of 344: BOTTOM OF THE BOTTLE: PART TWO



Season 01, Episode 13

Episode 013 of 344

Written by John Pleshette

Directed by Roger Young 

Original Airdate: Thursday, March 27th, 1980

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Gary and Richard get drunk. A drunken Gary takes an unconscious Richard home. Gary passes out and Laura offers Gary some coffee. Gary wants a drink and is very aggressive towards Laura. Laura calls Val as Gary tries to break into Laura's liquor cabinet. After Gary slaps Val in the face, she commits him to a detox ward. Kenny has an affair with Sylvie and his marriage with Ginger is strained. They make up at the zoo as Kenny turns up in a gorilla suit. Gary escapes detox and goes to the bar for a drink. He is reminded of the doctor's trick when she made Gary choose between having a drink or Val. Gary decides to go to AA.

 

                You wanna know why I’m so excited to discuss Bottom of the Bottle: Part Two?  The answer lies within the man who penned the script for today’s episode of discussion.  See, even though this is our second Gary-centric episode in a row, the script was actually written by Richard Avery himself, Mr. John Pleshette!  I’ve already talked at some length about how much I enjoy the character of Richard and The Plesh’s brilliant acting and charisma, but this is the first time we’ve had an episode he also wrote!  In addition to acting and writing, he will even be directing some future episodes, starting with Homecoming in 1983 and concluding with Simmer in 1991.  Interestingly, his directorial efforts on KL all occur after he left the main cast of the series.  It’s nice to know he continued hanging around enough to write and direct episodes even as late as the 12th season, no?  Anyway, I love The Plesh and I love all the episodes he writes, including some really great ones coming up in the next few seasons, and this is his very first script for the show, so can I say hallelujah?

                Before we get started with the episode, we have one of those hilarious recaps where the narrator, rather than just saying, “Previously on KL,” instead says, in an extremely slow manner, “Here are some scenes from the first part of tonight’s story.”  Then we get a long recap (I think over a whole minute?) and then, “In a moment, this story will continue.”  I do enjoy this old fashioned style of storytelling for the dramatic nighttime series, I must confess; it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

                Now, before we get back into our drunken Gary saga, we gotta spend some time with my two very favorite characters, Kenny and Ginger!  See, Kenny is having another groovy party (with another groovy public domain record blasting from the speakers) and Ginger is having none of it.  Actually, maybe this isn’t one of Kenny’s groovy parties after all, is it?  I think the scene concludes with Ginger saying she is “Going home,” which tells me this party is happening elsewhere, not at the Ward house.  Anyway, she is grumpy and leaves, which obviously plays right into Sylvie’s hand; now she has all the time and privacy she needs to seduce Kenny! 

                Next up, Richard finds drunken Gary hanging out in some dive bar.  Now, I do have some questions about this scene, specifically regarding how Gary is paying for all this alcohol.  We saw the street toughs (Jason Voorhees, remember?) stole his money in the previous episode, yet he’s drinking at this bar and appears to be well on his way to blackout drunk.  How has he been paying?  I have a hard time believing that the bartender would let him get this drunk without seeing any money first.  Is he really just letting Gary keep a tab going?  Or did he perhaps become privy to the fact that Gary comes from the famous Texas Ewing dynasty?  Maybe he assumes the money will be coming because the drunken mess in front of him is a rich drunken mess?  In any case, I suppose it’s not all that important; what’s important is that Gary is here and he’s still drinking and he’s still very, very drunk.

                Who comes wandering in to take Gary home a moment later?  Why, it’s Richard!  Unfortunately (but rather comedically), things don’t exactly go as planned because Gary convinces Richard to have a drink with him and, well, the next time we see them, Richard is passed out on the counter of the bar.  Again, I remind you that The Plesh wrote this episode, and for him to immediately present his own character as such a shit, to the point that he can’t even get the hardcore alcoholic home safely without getting drunk himself, well, I love it.  This shows such insight into his own character, such understanding, and he makes no bones about writing himself as a real heel.  I love it! 

                There’s also a bit of misdirection in this scene.  See, Gary steals Richard’s wallet out of his coat and uses it to pay the bar tab.  Next, he grabs his car keys and heads out, and obviously I’m thinking he’s gonna take the car for a joyride and crash it or something.  No, instead, Richard gets tossed out on the street by the bartender and Gary comes rolling up in the car to pick him up and the two miraculously make it home safely. 

                They both stumble drunkenly into the Avery household, where Laura is a little alarmed to find the two of them in such a state.  There’s a lot of wonderful authenticity in this sequence, such as Gary losing the keys and then realizing he left them dangling in the doorknob of the house, hah hah.  He’s also crawling around, trying to figure out how to unlock the Avery liquor cabinet, while Laura is running off to the kitchen to prepare some black coffee (that’s a myth, by the way; what you really want to get for a very drunk person is lots and lots of water). 

                This is a very intense scene, actually, and I even gasped a little at one point.  See, Val comes running in, and at first she’s relieved that Gary is alive and, I guess I’m not gonna use the word “well,” but she’s relieved that he’s alive, in any case.  But Gary is having a hell of a time trying to get that liquor cabinet open, and while Val is sorta hovering over him, trying to get him to come home and go to bed, he just punches right through the glass of the liquor cabinet, cutting his hand up, and then he sorta punches Val, which I did not remember and which legitimately shocked me.  I guess it’s not a huge punch, but damn, we’ve never seen Gary get physically violent with Val before and I don’t think we ever do again; to my knowledge, this is an isolated act of violence.  Anyway, she goes flying backwards onto the ground and spends the rest of the episode sporting a nice big black eye.

                Some medics arrive to take Gary away, and Val tells them he needs to enter a rehabilitation center if he’s ever gonna get better.  At first, the medics are like, “It has to be voluntary, it has to be voluntary, blah blah blah,” but they mention how they could commit him if he had attempted suicide.  At this point, smart Laura jumps in and says he did try to kill himself.  “Look at his arm,” she says, insisting that Gary was cutting his wrists and trying to off himself.  Thanks to Laura’s clever lie (she thought up a lie and she thought it up quick), the medics haul off Gary and send him to a rehab center.

                Back over in Storyline B, Kenny is continuing to cheat on Ginger but she hasn’t quite realized it yet.  I do have one rather significant compliment to pay to an early scene featuring the two toxic bores of Seaview Circle.  See, it’s during another boring “Are you having an affair?” scene, but there’s this really artistic shot that struck me, something far more artistic than usual shot compositions on early ‘80s television.  See, Ginger is mad at Kenny, and she sits down at her big-ass mirror, and there’s like a total of three mirrors, okay?  So you have Ginger framed in the center mirror, but you have a reflective image of two Kennys being framed in the mirror on the very left and the one on the very right.  I actually paused this shot and turned to My Beloved Grammy and was like, “Look at this shot; it looks like something out of a Brian De Palma movie!”  I became very excited about this shot, which is framed like this great work of art and really elevates a terribly dull scene into something much more interesting.  I note again that KL was unafraid to display a little more cinematic flair than its parent series, which always tended to be shot in a very bland, very flat way (sorry, Dallas).  So hats off to the director of this episode, Roger Young; you actually made a Kenny/Ginger scene visually interesting to watch!

                Later, Kenny is staying late at the recording studio to record a “hot” new album with Sylvie.  The only problem is that her singing is awful.  At first, I wasn’t sure if her singing was supposed to be awful (after all, Afton Cooper’s singing over on Dallas was dreadful, yet everyone acted like she was this great singer on the level of Bette Midler or Karen Carpenter), but I quickly realized this was intentional.  She hits her high notes in a very painful way, and we get some shots of Kenny cringing along with his record-spinning pals, and then they finally give up for the night.  However, Kenny and Sylvie hang around the studio after everyone else is gone and, you guessed it, start to screw.  They don’t get very far, however, before Ginger comes walking in and catches them red-handed. 

                I’ll confess this scene was not that bad, and there was even some moderate intensity, although My Beloved Grammy did turn to me during it and say, in regards to Kim Lankford’s “acting” abilities, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen acting so bad.”  So as you can see, not only do the toxic bores of Kenny and Ginger annoy me and send me into a coma, but they are hardly the favorite characters of My Beloved Grammy, either, and she’s a smart lady and knows her shit!  I’ll confess that I actually found her indictment a little harsh.  True, neither Kim Lankford nor James Houghton are fantastic actors, but this scene was okay.  Follow me along, here.

                See, Ginger immediately rushes home and does what women tend to do when they’re mad at their man: destroy all his most valuable possessions.  She runs in and just starts destroying his record player, the stereo, his collection of amazing public domain records, all of it.  He comes running in after her and is like, “I can explain!”  Obviously this is just rhetoric, as Ginger caught him without his shirt on (and I think without pants on) attempting re-entry on Sylvie; it’s kinda hard to back out of that one once you’ve been caught.  But anyway, as he runs up to her, her big old bug eyes just bulge out (rather frightening) and she turns red and screams, “GET OUT!”  Again, I don’t care and the acting leaves something to be desired, but I’d still rather watch this storyline act out versus, say, the exciting story in Home Is For Healing where Kenny wanted to throw a party and Ginger didn’t want him to.

                Let me focus for a minute on why this entire storyline ranks so low for me.  First off, as I’ve stated ad nauseum, Kenny and Ginger just aren’t very interesting characters, and I’m starting to think it’s a combination of their limited acting abilities mixed in with the writers barely even attempting to turn them into interesting characters.  No matter what their story is, they always feel isolated to me, like you have this cul-de-sac full of interesting, richly drawn characters, and then there just happens to be this one couple who are unbelievably boring.  In addition, the third player in this little drama is also just not interesting.  That’s right, I’m looking at you, Louise Vallance as Sylvie!  Sylvie is such a boringly generic bitch character.  She’s wicked and she’s conniving, but she’s not wicked and conniving in an interesting or a fun or a campy way.  Remember Katherine Wentworth over on Dallas?  Now that was a wonderfully wicked character, pure evil all around but so deliciously campy and fun to watch.  In contrast, Sylvie is just sorta a bitch; there’s no fun in her performance, just the same boring evil shenanigans that we’ve seen in a million other shows.

                However, you sure won’t hear me complaining about Storyline A, which heats up nicely as Gary is committed to a little rehab center run by a friendly Transmorpher.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the rehab center is run by Dr. Kramer, played by Diana Douglas.  I note with interest that she was, from the years 1943 to 1951, married to the legendary actor Kirk Douglas, but I also note that she appeared in the 1983 Dallas episode entitled The Letter.  She will also be back on KL for one more episode, one coming up pretty shortly entitled Remember the Good Times (season two, episode three). 

                Anyway, Dr. Kramer has some, um, questionable methods of alcohol detox, I must say.  See, we get to a certain point in the episode where Gary is speaking with Dr. Kramer about his problems.  The thing he doesn’t know is that he’s being recorded and Val is in the other room, watching everything.  Dr. Kramer pulls out what she claims is a small bottle of whiskey (it’s actually tea, spoiler alert) and then a dime.  She says, “You can have one of these: A sip of whiskey or a dime to call your wife; which will it be?”  The music swells and there’s this really agonizing couple of seconds in which Gary has to decide where his priorities lie, but finally he just yanks that bottle out of her hands and guzzles it down before spitting it out and hilariously yelling, “IT’S TEA!”

                When that line came up, I almost peed my pants laughing, and I had to explain to My Beloved Grammy that I am not laughing at Gary.  I care for Gary and I want him to get over his drinking problems and improve his life.  The reason I laugh is because pretty much every time my brother or I prepare a cup of tea, one of us will take a sip of the tea and then scream “IT’S TEA!!!!!” really really loud.  So, when Gary delivered that amazing line, I just thought of my brother drinking tea and it made me laugh really hard.  Oh yeah, I also laugh because it’s a bit of campy, over-the-top delivery, but again, I remind you that I say all those things with love.  I love KL for lots of reasons, but the campy nature of the stories and acting is a huge part of that, and when I point out campy acting, I am always pointing it out with love.

                To be serious for a moment, however, I do think this little display is almost crippling for Val.  She has now seen first hand that Gary is so deep in his bender that he would rather have the quick fix of a sip of whiskey versus a relationship with her.  With all their history together and their long love affair, at this moment in time, it’s more important to Gary to have a sip of whiskey, not to attempt to rebuild a relationship with Val.  In all honesty, watching this scene, it feels like this may be the moment that they break up and get divorced, but surprisingly that doesn’t happen until 1982 and the conclusion of season three (thanks in no small part to Abby’s interference, of course).  I suppose Val is smart enough and knows Gary well enough to recognize that this behavior is a manifestation of his disease and not a true reflection on his feelings towards his wife.

                Next up, we have Gary shooting pool with this black guy.  What’s the deal with this black guy?  Can someone please explain it to me?  The guy’s name is like Mohammad or something, and he’s speaking with Gary as if he’s some wise old sage, like Yoda or something, all about how he conquered his own drinking problems and blah blah blah.  Okay, that’s all well and good, but then why are you here?  The guy is dressed in a robe just like all the other patients of the rehab center, and he appears to be in the same boat as all of them, yet he speaks as if he conquered all his problems decades ago and has since moved on.  So is he a patient or is he just a guy who hangs out at the rehab center cuz he likes wearing the sexy robes?  Well, I certainly can’t figure him out, so any information on this character would be appreciated. 

                Sid comes to visit Gary while he’s playing with that black guy in the pool room.  At first, Gary is kinda hostile towards Sid, I guess feeling like he’s only receiving a sympathy visit from Saint Sid, but when Sid is about to give up and leave, Gary is all like, “Guess what; I’m going to my first AA meeting tonight!”  Now at first, I thought he was just making that up as an on-the-spot-lie to make Sid think he’s improving.  Turns out I was sorta half right; Gary made up the AA story, but he fully intends to escape from the institute in a few hours rather than attend the meeting and admit to his problems.

                Our next scene is Gary’s Great Escape.  As tends to be the case with television shows of this era, his escape is remarkably easy.  All it requires is for him to put on a business suit underneath his robe, wait for the lady working the front desk to get distracted, and then sneak behind the desk to steal some keys (as well as a bit of cash from the lady’s purse).  Using the keys, Gary unlocks a back exit and escapes into the night.  He returns home to Val, acting more like someone who’s just done a few lines of coke.  He’s hopping around, acting way too excited, and he’s all like, “Oh Val, I feel great!  Everything’s gonna be great!  I’m so happy!”  When the phone rings, he’s all like, “Don’t answer that, Val!”  Val is sharp enough to recognize what’s going on, that he wasn’t released from the rehab center; he escaped. 

                Since KL was originally conceived as, essentially, Scenes From A Marriage set on a cul-de-sac, sequences like this are very important.  Here we have Gary and Val experiencing real marital turmoil, and this is, for me, when the show really shines.  Throughout the fourteen seasons, maybe that original conception of the show dissipates, but it never disappears completely.  Here we are seeing two people who are struggling.  Val is struggling with her love of Gary, a love that goes back to pretty much the first time they ever met, along with her feelings about his behavior, his drinking, his temper, all that crap.  On the other side, Gary is struggling to be an independent person without help from his rich Ewing family, but now he’s disappearing back into his old, bad habits, and he’s not yet ready to admit that he has A PROBLEM.  At this point, he’s still telling Val that he’s got his problems licked, that all it takes is his own self motivation.  Again, she is smart enough to not accept this, instead telling him that he needs to return to the rehab center to deal with his issues.

                The Gary storyline is coming to its conclusion, at least for the confines of this episode, but hold your horses, cuz we have at least one more scene between Kenny and Ginger that, I suppose, we need to discuss.  See, at this point Ginger has thrown Kenny out of the house and told him she never wants to see him again.  How do you deal with a marital spat like that?  If you answered, “Dress up in a gorilla costume and harass your wife at a zoo,” then you win the secret prize!  You see, Ginger is taking her kindergarten class (including that super cute black kid who I love, last seen in the episode The Constant Companion) out for a field trip at the zoo.  As they observe the monkeys, Kenny enters the scene dressed in a gorilla costume.  Endearing?  Mmmm, not so much.  Ginger tells her entire kindergarten class to just, um, sorta run off, which is a questionable decision for a teacher of small children in a busy public zoo, but whatever.  She and Kenny have a little talk and she tells him she just can’t see it working out; that probably they should get a divorce now.  Boy, how nice would it be if the two divorced and moved off the cul-de-sac right now and we didn’t have to look at them anymore?  Sadly, we still have three more years with them, but don’t worry, cuz then they go away and we have ten, count ‘em, ten glorious years without them!

                How is the episode going to end?  Don’t worry, cuz we’re almost there, and like I said, we don’t end on a cliffhanger the way that seasons two through thirteen will.  Gary goes to a bar, but he’s not drinking anything stronger than club soda.  He’s sitting there, sorta introspective, reflecting on things, holding a dime, clearly thinking of calling up Val or something.  From there, we cut to a fun filled session over at Alcoholics Anonymous where a very depressing middle aged woman is talking all about her drinking problems.  Val is there, as well (which kinda confused me; isn’t the AA rule that you can only attend if you are, yourself, an alcoholic?), looking sad and forlorn.  Anyway, things are about to wrap up at this session when none other than Gary Ewing himself enters.  He walks into the room, there’s a long, drawn out silence, and then he announces, “I’m Gary and I’m an alcoholic.”  Everyone starts to clap, Val is extremely relieved, and our inaugural season of KL comes to its conclusion.

                Pretty fucking great, huh?  I’m so glad that our season finale for the first season was allowed to be a two-parter, because it definitely helps to make it feel a little more epic, a little bit more the part of some grander story.  At the same time, I noticed lots of fascinating talking points regarding these two episodes as the conclusion of the season.  For one thing, I got the strong sense that the writers were covering their butts and making this be, possibly, the series finale. 

Again, Dallas finished the 1979-1980 season ranking at #6 in the ratings (and it would jump up to #1 during the next season), while KL finished at #30, just barely making the top thirty by an inch.  Because of that, I definitely think the writers, producers, and creators probably were unsure whether they would even get a second season, and that’s probably why this season doesn’t end on some grand cliffhanger but rather with a sense of some resolution.  Pretending that KL just ended here, there really aren’t a lot of dangling threads, are there?  The only one I can think of is that of Kenny and Ginger and Sylvie, but nobody cares about that, anyway.  The Gary and Val storyline actually feels like it reached some conclusion at the end of this episode, that they will work out their problems and try to move on. 

Thank God we got thirteen more seasons, by the way, because we would be missing out on so much classic television without those.  However, now that we’ve finished the abbreviated first season, I gotta say I enjoyed it much more than I remembered.  Yes, I think I would rather take later seasons over this one easily, but I really found myself loving this first season almost all the way through (with the glaring exception of Land of the Free, of course, although that one still made me laugh a lot).  Seriously, this was a delightful surprise; even while starting the series, I warned My Beloved Grammy that the show doesn’t really get good until the fourth season, but then as we started working our way through the first season, I was like, “Well, that episode was great, and that episode was great, and so was that one.”  Maybe it’s just the warm and fuzzy feeling I get from visiting with my friends on the cul-de-sac?  That feeling of seeing these people for the first time and knowing what wonderful adventures they are about to embark on?  I dunno, but something about this first season changed for me upon this viewing and I just thoroughly loved it. 

Now, next week I am gonna post "A Reflection on Season One," where I kinda give my thoughts on the season as a whole (I plan to do this at the end of every season), and then before we proceed with the second season of KL, we’re gonna return briefly to the land of Texas and all the wheeling and dealings over on Dallas.  That’s right,  it’s time for another two “Brief Dallas Interludes.” 

See, while Gary was getting drunk and going on a bender, J.R. was getting shot and television history was being made over on the parent series.  In my research, I found that before KL started its second season, Gary and Val crossed over for two episodes of Dallas to make sure J.R. was alive and well (and, of course, to remind viewers of that series that there was now a spinoff on Thursday nights that they could also enjoy).  So, please join me for two Dallas eps in a row when we discuss both No More Mister Nice Guy: Part One as well as No More Mister Nice Guy: Part Two.  After that, we’ll get started with the second season of KL and meet a lovely new neighbor, Miss Abby Fairgate Cunningham Ewing Sumner (although when we first meet her, she is just Abby Fairgate Cunningham), with the KL double whammy of Hitchhike: Part One and Hitchhike: Part Two.  Talk to you then!

2 comments:

  1. What a great way to end the first season! And the cul-de-sac better enjoy it, because their next 13 summers are going to be rough with cars going off cliffs, stolen babies, kidnappings and many, many more tragedies.

    Brett, I am glad we don't have to wait a whole summer for you to dive into season 2!

    The whole recap paragraph was hilarious! It is amazing how much time the shows back in the 80's spent recapping/foreshadowing and for the theme song. Sometimes all of that takes 3 minutes! Fast forward to 2015 where "Modern Family" has like a 10 second intro. Amazing!

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  2. I crack up whenever you reference Kenny's public domain music collection.

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