In watching the programs in The Golden Age of Television (The Criterion Collection) you are quickly reminded how much has changed since these stories were first written and produced. Not only have styles, tastes changed, and concerns of TV viewers, but the cultural context in which these stories were first written. In general terms, they reflect a pre-suburban vision of America based in the great urban cities such as NY. They are time capsules of a time that only seems to exist now in mythic memories of the old ethnic neighborhoods of the European emigrants, something that has long passed into history.
Is one of the most famous programs from the so called Golden Age of TV and even today the writing with its minute realism is still interesting. Chayefsky truly had a way with dialog and the scene where Mardy is on the phone calling a woman up for a date on Saturday night is as good as it gets when trying to write nervousness. He also knew how to write about people doing nothing quite well. As a story Mardy is also still interesting, but it also feels at this distance (almost 60 years) unreal.
Briefly, Mardy is the last unmarried son of an Italian American widow. He is a butcher and spends his time in the neighborhood bar with his friends worrying about when he’s going t get married. He thinks he’s a looser and so is set to give up on happiness, until he meets a less than attractive woman at a dance and decides, despite the ribbing of his friends, he is going to go out on a date with her again.
What makes the story so distant is the interaction with the mother, who worries that he is going to leave her to marry the young woman and she’ll die all alone. These days that doesn’t even seem like an issue, since it is common for children to leave home after school. It is a sign of failure among many that you are still at home after school. Moreover, this is New York of the neighborhood and everyone is constantly after him to say when he is going to get married. One could be forgiven for asking what’s the big deal? Just get married, of course nothing is ever that easy and Chayefsky is quite good and portraying that and it is in that the story still has its power. The working class world Mardy inhabits may have changed and like Last Exit to Brooklyn is a working class New York that is now part of a distant history, but the character of Mardy can still be found. If one is sympathetic to his struggle just to get along, then the show is worth watching.
Patterns is Rod Serling’s take on corporate culture. The story is simple: a young executive is brought in to replace and old and worn out executive and in the ensuing power change the executive finds that he has a broader social conscience than the CEO. While this kind of corporate evil vs the young insider with a consciousness is a common theme (Wall Street for example), Serling’s climax is a little different than even a contemporary work like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. In the Gray Flannel the only option for the good is to leave the corporate world. For Serling the option is to continue to work, but try to not only work for change with in, but to oust the boss when you can. While that man work as a secret plot, Serling’s young executive tells the CEO this and the CEO is of the opinion that that is fine as long as the corporation continues on, since all that matters is the longevity of the corporation. The feed the beast argument is different and while it is satisfying to believe the young executive is going to change things in his titanic struggle with the CEO, his conclusion rings a little hollow. Perhaps it reflects some of the post war labor-management that existed in the 50’s, but the notion that one is going to bring change just for the sake of being nice to workers doesn’t usually happen. The problem with that kind of ending in a social work is that it doesn’t show the way forward, just makes everyone feel happy. That said, it is well acted and well written.
No Time For Sargents
No Time for Sargents is part of that long list of stories about yokels coming into the modern world and showing it as silly and easily to disturb. Andy Griffith plays a southern boy filled with back country wisdom who has no idea what the modern Army is like. Put the two of them together and hilarity ensues. The southern yokel jokes seem a little stereotypical now and lead right into that long line of silliness that finds is apex with the Beverly Hill Billies. Fortunately, No Time for Sargents still has some funny jokes and its take on the army as a kind of a place where average young men can over turn bureaucratic ineptitude and help make the Army the true reflection of America, a just meritocracy with a can do spirit.