Dynamic Duos

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I love great pairings on TV so I set out to write a post about all of my favorites. However, upon discussing TV’s dynamic duos with others, I found that I was much more interested in what they had to say so I asked some of my favorite writers and TV watchers to help me out this week.

What’s Inside a Scooby Snack?
Scooby – Doo and Shaggy by Mike Bell

This is a question that has plagued TV watchers for decades.   In the TV series Scooby-Doo, and its various spin-offs, the duo of Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Scoobert “Scooby” – Doo” have probably eaten their weight in ScoobySnacks ten times over.  These snacks were offered as rewards or incentives for chasing monsters, such as the Headless Horseman, the 10,000 Volt Ghost, and the Demon Shark (just to name a few).  So why would Shaggy and Scoobyrisk their lives for these snacks?   What was in them?  What was the exact chemical composition?

Some say Shaggy was on drugs. He was a hippie and always had the munchies – Bingo!  So maybe the Scooby Snack was made of pot.  Perhaps.  But then why did Scooby Doo go crazy for it?  He was just a dog – a Great Dane in fact.  Do Great Danes have a weakness for gonja?  Perhaps.  We may never know the full answer.  But what’s inside the Scooby Snack may be the wrong question.  What’s inside the person might be the better one. Does courage come from within or does it only come because of the promise of something special?  An interesting debate.

Mike Bell writes stuff, drinks beer, and watches sports. Not necessarily in that order.

Jerry and George/Larry
by Curtis Brown

Seinfeld will always be remembered as “the show about nothing.” This description was immortalized in the classic episode The Pitch, in which Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza come up with the idea of selling NBC a sitcom that not only includes themselves as the main characters, but also has no plot and no real story.

This was a winking bit of meta-humour about how Seinfeld was perceived by fans and critics: although it was popularly described as “that show about nothing,” it was originally intended to be a show about how a stand-up comic (Seinfeld) gets his material. This is why even though many fans of the show will remember Seinfeld for the memorably and wonderfully off-beat cultural tropes it produced – Festivus, the puffy shirt, the big salad, the man-purse/”European carry all”, Elaine’s dancing, off-the-wall neighbour Kramer’s wacky antics – the show is really driven by Jerry and George’s conversations and relationship.

The reason this works is because the connection is based on a real life relationship: George Costanza’s character is based on show co-creator Larry David, and these types of conversations mimicked real-life discussions between Seinfeld and David when they were both stand-up comics in New York during the 1980s. Seinfeld and David co-wrote the majority of Seinfeld episodes and sprinkled their wry and off-beat observational humour through the mouths of Jerry and George.

The presence of Elaine, Kramer, Newman and every other character made the show more interesting, but they were not integral to what made Seinfeld great. Jerry and George are the engine that made Seinfeld run like one of the real-life Seinfeld’s many vintage cars. You could just put Jerry and George in Monk’s Diner or Jerry’s apartment for 30 minutes and have them talking about the ubiquity of salsa, or what they did for toilet paper during the Civil War, or who would get eaten first if their plane crashed in the Andes, and it would still be a tremendous show.

It’s why this teaser commercial for this year’s Super Bowl caused an intense freakout among Seinfeld fans– after 16 years away, it was great to have these two back doing what they do best.

Curtis Brown writes about politics and numbers most of the time. This is more fun

Lenny and Carl by Simon Bracken

I can’t say that Lenny and Carl are my favourite TV duo.  But after Jane posed the question, they’re the only pair that came to mind, and though I tried, I couldn’t shake them (Burns and Smithers are a way funnier and more obvious example of a “duo”).  I think I’ve spent more time watching The Simpsons then any other TV show.  To this day, long after I stopped watching it regularly, when the clock strikes five I think “Oh shit, it’s starting and I’m nowhere near a TV”.  When my family moved to the UK for a while as a teenager, I clung to The Simpsons as an after school ritual (though it only played on Mondays and Fridays).  It grounded my fourteen year old self, otherwise lost in a very different world.  Springfield could be Winnipeg.  It could never, ever be anywhere else then North America.

It’s now well established knowledge that The Simpsons was the great satire of modernity.  That was lost on me as a ten year old, finally allowed to watch it as my mom, a real life Marge Simpson minus the blue hair, gave in and gradually stopped turning the TV off when it was on – she’d had concerns it was too violent.  Thankfully, she maintained this assessment that only the visually impaired could have for Full House, sparing myself and my siblings in the process.

Because The Simpsons is satire, it was never expected to make any real representation of North American life.  I’d argue that perhaps it did, inadvertently, through some of it’s less developed characters. Lenny and Carl are the generic late thirty somethings working joes.  They are the real everyman – the everyman these days is Philip Seymour Hoffman or Clive Owen, but Lenny and Carl have no such luck, being neither as handsome or intelligent.  Archetypes not found in Chaucer, their purpose is to be the most bland and nondescript foils to Homer’s wackier impulses.  The show, of course, acknowledged that with my favorite Lenny and Carl moment, when Homer has to check his crib notes “Lenny = White, Carl = Black”.  Archetypes, I’m realizing, is probably the wrong word.

If I get on the bus, and cause the slightest of disturbances by fumbling for change longer then usual, or ask for a transfer only to apologize because I already have one, I’ve entered into some other passenger’s daily narrative as “interesting”.  They have no control over this – our eye wanders naturally to a story that is currently unfolding.  What am I to them?  Have I entered their story as just another Lenny, nondescript and bland?  Or is my physiognomy too different (the unfortunate realities actors have to acknowledge, and even champion) to ever be the real everyman?  Could I ever play a Lenny?  Could I only “swell a scene or two”?  Would you even want to (how unambitious!!)? Despite the fact that I have only done just that in many productions, I find myself worrying that I can only sell myself as an actor based on how “different” I am, when increasingly, I feel like the great untold, untapped stories could be shown through a Lenny or Carl.  Then again, maybe we need something to stick out, just a little, in order to empathize.

As a post script to die hard Simpson fans, if it isn’t obvious, I stopped watching the show after season 9.  I’m sure since then Lenny and Carl have been “developed”: gotten married, given birth to conjoined twins, joined the circus, had sex changes, etc etc.  Maybe one of them died.  I don’t care.  The show ended for me when it relied on the sensational, rather then picking apart the mundane and respecting plausible character arcs.

Simon Bracken is an actor in Toronto.

Those Two Guys in that Play:
Frank and Cyril by Ivan Henwood

My favourite TV couple from recent viewing is Frank (Michael Polley) and Cyril (Graham Harley) from Slings and Arrows and the fictional New Burbage Theatre Festival. Frank and Cyril are stock players who have dedicated their lives to acting and to the festival. They are best friends. They have the souls of Bert and Ernie in the bodies of Statler and Waldorf. If there is any doubt if you should watch Slings and Arrows all you need do is watch the opening credits to be rest assured. It is welcoming and wondrous as Cyril joyfully plays a song on the piano with Frank at his side belting support. Together they sing a song for the actors, bar patrons and audience highlighting the season’s specific Shakespeare themes and paralels. The pair have barrels of fun while remaining charming, elegant drunken hosts.

I suspect Frank and Cyril are lovers. In any case, the two know each other very, very well. They are “small-bit” players who are not integral to any of the show’s story lines, however they do provide its heart. For a few episodes in the first season Frank battles a hearing problem—it isn’t explicitly stated but Frank’s blank stares and failure to respond correctly to statements and questions makes it obvious and hilarious. Cyril has his buddy’s back and always loudly repeats to Frank what he has failed to hear. Frank never fails to thank his friend by nodding with a gesture of understanding and approval. As with many of the scenes the pair’s secondary characters play on stage, the moment is played for laughs but is also very touching.

A scene in the second season involves Frank, Cyril and some other actors in the company taking part in a reading of a “new Canadian play” the festival has commissioned. The playwright is fraught with doubt, knows his work is crap and demands the actors lose their scripts and tell the story in their own words. Frank and Ellen (Martha Burns) begin to recite a poorly written scene verbatim when again the playwright interrupts and demands Frank tell the story in his own words. Frank apologizes for being a “quick study” and for a third time speaks the words the way they were written. Both Frank and the character he is reading in the play are completely truthful. I am unsure if Frank repeats the words as they are written so as to say “fuck you” to the playwright or because he is so dedicated to the craft of acting and that he is, in fact, a very “quick study” who is very set in his ways. In any case, the playwright runs out of the room screaming in despair. The camera cuts to the actors only this time it is Cyril who nods to Frank with a gesture of understanding and approval.

Ivan Henwood is an occasional TV viewer who also occasionally enjoys the theatre. 

Jimmie and Brian from Hannibal by Jane Walker

I had a hard time narrowing down my favorite duo so I settled on my new favorite odd couple from a TV show I started watching this year, Hannibal. Dubbed as Team Sassy Science Jimmy (Scott Thompson) and Brian (Aaron Abrams) function to balance the dark, visually rich and (sometimes overly) poetic series with humour, science and heart.

The FBI lab technicians inject humour into the horror with hilarious banter that sometimes makes it impossible for me to cover my eyes during the gory bits. While poking around in a corrupt congressmen turned into a tree, Jimmy deadpans that, “the tree man bears fruit,” while Brian looks for a laugh by pointing out his, “varicose vines.”

Although hilarious, these funny men take their science seriously. They are skilled at what they do and are weary of Will Graham’s apparent super human ability to solve cases. The pair even appear to poke fun at the series stretches in logic. When asked connect some dots on the newest deaths in the Chesapeake Ripper case Jimmy exclaims, “I’ve been yearning to return to the fundamentals of investigation!” while Brian asks, “you mean beyond the application of supposition and unexplained leaps?”

While smart and funny the two often anchor the fantastical and absurd world of Hannibal with honesty and heart. In a series heaping with visual grandeur and poetic language it was the simple exchange of silences between Jimmie and Brian that packed the biggest emotional punch after Beverly’s death. It is in this exchange that it is clear that the duo functions as a support system for each other (and sometimes the audience) be it through humor, science or just being quiet.

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