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home : opinion : opinion May 20, 2022

11/11/2021 2:19:00 PM
A Conservative Point Of View
What Shows Do Conservatives Watch?
Thoughts on right-thinking entertainment oases in a desert of liberalism

From The Desk Of
Thomas Lark

In a world of dwindling good options for entertainment, what would a conservative enjoy?

Let us consider television and confine ourselves, for the sake of argument, to that one medium. Sixty years ago, former FCC chairman Newton Minow famously described television as “a vast wasteland.” What was on back then, when you had but three networks and nothing else?

In 1961, the best thing on television was clearly “The Andy Griffith Show.” Indeed, I can’t think of anything else that was on at that time. Griffith created a show at once very much a part of its time yet also somehow timeless. When we lived Down East, my wife, Julie, and I helped launch a chapter of “The Andy Griffith Show” Rerun-Watchers Fan Club. We met once a week at a local Baptist church, and we’d all bring something: fried chicken, potato salad and, of course, pickles. You gotta have the pickles, Aint Bee! We’d watch two episodes and discuss this or that Christian moral featured in each one. It also tied in with the popular Sunday School programme, “Teaching Christianity through ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’”

Our chapter was called “Barney and the Choir,” after the episode of the same name. That particular episode and so many others demonstrated how Andy forgave Barney “seven times seventy” and how, as Christians, we are called to do no less.

As for Minow, he himself acknowledged that television had such points of interest and real merit as what Griffith & Co. offered back then. But en balance, he argued, TV as a medium offered mostly stultifying dreck that would cause anyone to die of boredom. And nowadays, it’s all crap.

With that in mind, considering that Hollyweird ran out of gas and ideas some 30 years ago (hence its nauseating habit of unimaginatively repeating itself and needlessly “rebooting,” as the kids so stupidly call it, countless old shows) and realising that more and more there’s less and less good in Clueless Joe’s bizarro-world version of America, many people are opting to turn their televisions into time machines. TV shows from the 1970’s and ’80’s, as well as even a few exceptions from those godawful ’90’s and some as recent as 15 years ago, are enjoying a resurgence of popularity.

For the past 18 months, my wife and I have been slowly building our DVD library of films and television shows. And it’s been enormously fun. 

“I know what you’re thinking.”
Early last year, I noted that the Hallmark Channel (hijacked by libs in recent months, alas, so caveat spectator) was rerunning “Magnum, P.I.” (NB: I refer here, as do most fans of the show, to the original “Magnum” from the good, old 1980’s and not to the modern non-canonical and utterly superfluous reiteration on CBS. There is only one Thomas Magnum, and his name is Tom Selleck. Accept no substitutes.) Unfortunately, said network took one of the most kinetic and flat-out best opening credit sequences in all of television and cut it in half. I also noticed other minor edits here and there, and it bothered me so much that I broke down and bought the complete series on DVD. I hadn’t seen Magnum, Higgins, Rick and T.C. since the show ended in 1988. Quite funny, in reuniting with them, as it were, I realised that I still had entire scenes memorised.

Soon, Julie and I were binge-watching “Magnum” and loving it. The show’s original run spanned her high school and college years, so she missed it back then. Thus for her, this was a joyous new discovery, enjoying the (in more ways than one) perpetually sunny Selleck and Roger Mosley as T.C., Larry Manetti as Rick and the late John Hillerman as Higgins.

A high school friend of mine was six-four and muscular, just like Tom Selleck, and, in his 20’s, he grew a thick moustache, also like Selleck. Girls told him he favoured Magnum to an amazing degree. It’s true. He did. He also thought I favoured Higgins, and we used to crack each other up with our in-joke, ad-libbed comedy routines.

“Ah, come on, Higgins!”

“Really, Magnum, how very droll.”

“Magnum” is a show all about friendship, loyalty and honour. The camaraderie and brotherhood known only to men who’ve survived wartime combat to-gether is a big theme of the show. Thomas (a U.S. Navy SEAL and Naval Intelligence veteran), T.C. and Rick (respectively a Marine Corps helicopter pilot and door-gunner) were soldered to-gether in the heat of battle, fighting for the freedom of the South Vietnamese people against the brutal, evil, sadistic and satanic Viet Cong. Theirs is an unbreakable bond of friendship. They may squabble on occasion, as brothers are wont to do, and Thomas, T.C. and Rick, in their respective current jobs as a private investigator, helicopter charter pilot and swanky nightclub manager, have their ups and downs. But at the end of the day, they each have the other’s back, and they all understand that implicitly. And Higgins, whilst originally a bumptious, comic-relief foil to Magnum, evolves into a mentor and even a kind of father-figure for the younger man, who lost his own navy fighter-pilot dad during the Korean War, as we see during the show’s later, often darker and more serious episodes. A veteran of MI-6 and a British aristocrat, Higgins is actually possessed of far more than meets the eye. Throw in that gorgeous Hawaiian scenery, and you have one of the greatest shows ever on television.

We watched the complete series in its entirety thrice last year. As Julie observed, it really was like being with old friends. I came down with what fans call “Magnum Mania,” and I now have a closet full of aloha shirts (a sartorial style very popular with conservatives), all of them just like the ones worn by Selleck on the show and made in Hawaii by the same excellent company that the man himself put on the map 40 years ago. I even wear a Croix-de-Lorraine ring, just like Thomas, T.C. and Rick. Said cross is often seen on the show as a symbol for the Catholic-based resistance to the Viet Cong, and it is featured on the team ring that Magnum and all his comrades wear.

“Magnum” remains tremendously and understandably popular among conservatives, Republicans and Vietnam War veterans. Indeed, back in the 1990’s, the late conservative author, Tom Clancy, planned to co-write a script with Selleck: a story in which Magnum, by then back in the navy and serving as an admiral, took on a ring of Chinese spies. All very prescient, especially in to-day’s dark world of Xi Jinping––a real-life James Bond villain. Alas, Universal, in its infinite stupidity, turned down Clancy and his excellent idea.

Selleck himself, an all-round nice guy and a surprisingly humble man, remains one of the few Republicans in Hollywood. He has paid a price for that, and it would have sunk a lesser actor, especially in to-day’s toxic show-biz milieu. His autobiography is coming soon, and I look forward to reading that. 

“I hear the blues a-calling”
Then there were “Frasier” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” They ran at almost the same time, respectively 1993-2004 and 1996-2005.

“Frasier,” of course, spun off from “Cheers,” which was odd when you consider that the latter was singularly unfunny. That’s the difference between good writers versus hacks. Many critics and fans have noted that the Frasier Crane on his eponymous show seemed a completely different character from the one on which he originated. Dr. Crane was a lovable snob who could commit uproariously funny mistakes in his own life yet dispense insightful advice to others and be a real blessing (or a curse!) to the people he cared about. “Frasier” was witty, charming and sophisticated. It didn’t talk down to its audience. It never insulted its fans’ intelligence. It assumed you’d get the various references to classical music, psychiatry, wine and so on, and it could be terribly clever. It really was the best thing on television in those days.

Kelsey Grammer brought the lovably stuffy Dr. Crane to laughable life. During its original run, my wife and I would sometimes laugh so hard that our sides would hurt. Another of Hollywood’s precious few Republicans, Grammer, too, has paid a price for being right and for being Right. God bless him for his courage.

He was ably assisted by David Hyde Pierce (the greatest physical comedian I’ve ever seen, right up there with Buster Keaton) as Dr. Niles Crane, Frasier’s neurotic brother; the lovely Peri Gilpin (an American graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art or RADA) as Roz, the producer of Frasier’s radio show; the striking Jane Leeves as Daphne, the object of Niles’s affection; and the late John Mahoney (actually an Englishman, very adept at playing Americans) as Martin Crane, a retired cop and the voice of common sense.

There’s talk of a “Frasier” reunion, these days. I hope it doesn’t come to fruition. Some things are done so well, so “tied up neatly in a nice, little bow,” as Selleck said of his “Magnum,” that anything further seems pointless and completely unnecessary. And with Mahoney gone, I just don’t see how it’s possible. 

“Just so you know.”
“Raymond” evolved from the stand-up comedy routines of star Ray Romano. A quarter-century ago, Romano appeared on David Letterman’s show (the last of the great late-night chat shows; they all stink nowadays and share a sucky sameness and lameness). Before Romano was halfway through his routine, one of Letterman’s execs was calling CBS, saying, “Get that man a show.”

That show was based on Romano’s own real-life experiences and observational comedy. It could be clever. It could be slapstick. But it was always funny, whether Ray was dealing with his archnemesis, pushy Girl Scout cookie lady Peggy Hitler (“She beat you up, Ray!”) or getting common-sense advice (usually unwanted) from his Korean War veteran dad (“Holy crap!”). Romano, another nice guy who finished first and who is truly humble, the father of four kids, married to the same woman for 34 years (remarkable in Hollywood), by his own admission is not an actor. But he does surprising work as sportswriter Ray Barone (based not so loosely on himself), and he gets superb support from veterans Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts (both now gone, sadly) as the pater and mater familias, Frank and Marie Barone; Brad Garrett, another great physical comedian, whose eyerolls alone are enough to send us into peals of laughter whenever he’s on camera as NYPD Lt. Robert Barone, Ray’s brother, based on Romano’s real-life brother, Richard, an NYPD veteran; and the beautiful Patricia Heaton as Debra, Ray’s nagging yet sexy wife.

In two years’ time, we’ve ploughed through the complete series of “Raymond” so many times, we’ve lost count. We have it memorised, but it rewards watching again and again. This show is a real tonic, and it will have you in stitches.

Like Selleck and Grammer, Heaton is a Republican. A Catholic activist, she is known for her work in the crusade against abortion.

So what came after “Everybody Loves Raymond”? Not much, I fear. Maybe nothing. As Frasier would say, “Numquam postea!” “Raymond” was the last of the great shows. If you can find anything good these days, chances are it’s a rerun from the Eighties.

My wife accuses me of living in the past, of being stuck in the Eighties. To this, I cheerfully reply, “Guilty as charged, Your Honour!”

“Well, if you want my advice,” as Frasier would say, hop in that red Ferrari (no, not the DeLorean) and speed on down the Pali. You, too, just may end up in the Eighties, when Reagan was president, and MTV actually played music videos.

And ask yourself: “What would Magnum do?” 

---The views and opinions expressed in “A Conservative Point of View” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Lincoln Herald.

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