Another Perspective

Ozzie Nelson, Proto Postmodern Sitcomist

There was once a day when adventures in media did not require recourse to a Mute Button.

By 3.9.04

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Friends, are not there moments in your hectic and besieged life when you wish you could hit a giant, all-encompassing MUTE BUTTON and silence the entire media world?

Aren't there times when you'd like to tell Dan, Tom, Peter, Diane and Katie to just shut their fat flapping lips? Wouldn't it be pleasant to not have to turn your eye from Janet's painfully adorned boob only to hear your buddy, my buddy, everybuddy's buddy Hannity defend Stern's border town brothel toilet mouth?

Speaking of boobs and brothels (everyone else is), when driving with your daughter (past the XXX ADULT STORE/PRIVATE MODELING, located between the grocery store and the HOT NUDE BABES EXOTIC DANCING CLUB) and listening to the Laura Ingraham Show, is your finger poised over the on/off waiting to mute the frequent ads that conservative talk show carries promising men longer lasting and more satisfying erections?

Speaking of erections -- sorry, elections -- do you watch TV talk shows in despair as Republicans forever embrace defensive response whilst fleeing from anything resembling bold leadership? Does this cause you to consider quadrupling the courage of the RNC by donating your own few measly milligrams of tired testosterone?

Do you wonder why, in order to spit in Hollywood's eye and FIND THE REAL GOD, your only big media option is to pay eight bucks to watch The Book of Mel's two hours of graphic CG images; flesh lacerated by whips, crows pecking out eyeballs, etc.? Can't you just find Him the old fashioned way, reading a Gideon's Bible at the Holiday Inn?

Just not laughing anymore at cartoons, commercials, kid's shows, family shows and Disney films featuring gag after gag involving noxious farts, stepping in piles of doo doo, getting kicked in the nuts, peeing, bestiality, sexual innuendoes and genuinely insulting moronic put-down humor?

Friends, do you long for the Good Old Days? Then you will pleased to know that I have found them! In the discount DVD bin at Teresa Heinz's Wal-Mart. For a mere five bucks you too can buy twenty episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, put them in your player and drown out the filth, noise, tumult, despair and angst of present day, real time media.

And here's the kicker. Ozzie and Harriet and Rick and Dave are not the oppressive, authoritarian, patriarchal, boring family the Naomi Wolfs would want you to think they are! Ha! Not by a long shot.

FROM WHAT I'VE PICKED UP on various websites, when Ozzie Nelson was a law school student in the 1930s, he organized a band for a hobby. Its success was such that he dropped law school and made a career out of it. He conveniently married his band's singer, too. In 1946 Ozzie and Harriet, along with two young actors playing the parts of their sons, started a successful radio show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. A few years later Ozzie brought the real Rick and Dave into the show and in 1953 it became a TV show that would run a remarkable 454 episodes for 14 years.

Not only was the TV home of the Nelsons a duplicate of their real Hollywood home, but the scripts were based as much as possible on real life events in the Nelson family. Ozzie produced, wrote and directed all the episodes. Son Rick successfully used the show as a platform to become a famous singer. Dave really did become a lawyer.

Now, I anticipated deriving a campy experience watching these DVD episodes. I thought I'd be watching yet another version of The Beav's father giving a stern lecture, or Robert Young knowing-it-best in front of ever remorseful Bud and the little Kitten. I was wrong. Ozzie was one far out comic genius. If he had a working motto it was, "Why moralize when I pretend to be improbably normal and seriously play with people's minds?"

Ozzie's is an acting style impossible to find in today's sea of sitcoms. Quiet, easy restraint, innocently earnest. An incredible sense of timing. Thanks to Ozzie's acting and directing, you never know when he's going to hit you with a punchline, and, thanks to his writing, you never where it's going to come from. Try picturing a sitcom written by Buster Keaton and Franz Kafka and directed by Luis Bunuel.

For in the better episodes there's a pervasive sense of surreal stream of consciousness. Totally diverse things just sorta keep happening, one on top of another. Not chaotic, but more like gentle morphine dreams. You never know what's next. (Perhaps not unlike this very article.) Ozzie and Dave might suspect a woman of deceiving Dave's law office and try to smoke her out, only to end up inadvertently in charge of a drive to start a National Wife's Day, talking with the state Governor and the President, the original plot completely discarded.

And Ozzie frequently uses the camera in creative ways rarely and perhaps never used in any other television show. In my favorite scene in all sitcom history, Ozzie steps out of the house to hurriedly deliver a letter. Cut to a very, very loooong shot of a tree lined residential sidewalk in LA. The music plays. Off in the distance, something. It comes closer. It's Ozzie. He's running down the sidewalk. Still running. And running. Run, Ozzie, run. Run run run run. Closer. Thirty seconds later (says my watch) he stops in front of the camera, winded to the point of heart attack, turns, drops the letter in the mailbox. Then he runs back down the sidewalk. For another thirty seconds. Disappears into the center of the horizon. I dare you to find a one minute plus, uncut shot anywhere in the history of TV sitcomdom.

WAS OZZIE THE STICK-in-the-mud conservative, follow-the-pack thinker Patricia Ireland would have him be? Ha! In one episode he was a veritable James Dean, a rebel without a cause. Harriet told him to get out of bed one Sunday morning and he asked why.

"Why do I have to get out of bed? Where's the law that says a man has to get out of bed. Doggone, I'm not going to. I'm going to stay in bed all day!" And he does! Can you imagine Ward Cleaver questioning the very fabric of human behavior?

Sadly, some of the later episodes, where Rick and Dave are grown and married and Ozzie rarely seen, are at first viewing boring to point of tears. But I pretended to be an M.A. in Literature and generally Stanley Fished my way through the shows, discovering that Ozzie was the proto postmodernist, creating fiction without a center long before Misters Fish and De Mann received their high school diplomas.

At its best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is brilliantly creative, presenting a real family displaying an ideal, but (seemingly) genuine love and compassion. At its transitory worst, it's a delightful MUTE button on the media dreck seeking to suffocate your soul.

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