Saturday, January 12, 2008

Route 66: Deep Thoughts

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I better get away from the Bloomberg topic or I'll have to rename this Pseudo-Bloombergism
I got the DVD set of season 1 of Route 66 for my birthday. Some of it is hokey, destroying a bit of the remembered reverence I had of this series, but some of it is great. The clips from the fourth episode, The Man on the Monkey Board (10/28/60), has a whole host of familiar actors. Here's part of an excellent review by Michael Barrett at popmatters
In the history of American TV, the four-season run of Route 66 was as personal a writer’s creation as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, perhaps more so. The writer was Stirling Silliphant, who co-created the show with executive producer Herbert B. Leonard and wrote about two-thirds of the episodes. (Their previous achievement was the groundbreaking cop show Naked City.) The first 15 episodes are in this box, which shares a tendency with several recent TV-on-DVD packages that don’t provide an entire season at once. The show marries Shane to Jack Kerouac. Several westerns, an overworked staple in ‘50s TV bleeding into the ‘60s, were about peripatetic yokels wandering on their horses from one town to the next, passing through a weekly anthology series of new plots and characters before moving on, ever responding to the call of the unknown, never entangling themselves with any one woman or putting down roots. In other words, never growing up or getting a job—the better to serve out a romantic notion of knight errantry on the frontier. Some of these shows were quite panoramic and philosophical, such as Wagon Train or Have Gun Will Travel with its Paladin (who technically did have a home in a San Francisco hotel). Silliphant revised and updated this form via Kerouac’s beatnik image as a semi-intellectual wanderer down America’s open roads, an image created through his travels with Neal Cassady. This updating would in turn lead to the wave of fugitive dramas exemplified by The Fugitive, where the protagonist isn’t simply restless and disaffected with civilization but driven and persecuted by it. Here’s how Marc Alvey puts it in the Museum of Broadcast Communications website: “The search that drove Route 66 was both a narrative process and a symbolic one. Like every search, it entailed optimism as well as discontent. . . . The show’s rejection of domesticity in favor of rootlessness formed a rather startling counterpoint to the dominant prime-time landscape of home and family in the sixties, as did the majority of the characters encountered on the road. The more hopeful dimension of Route 66 coincided with the optimism of the New Frontier circa 1960, with these wandering samaritans symbolic of the era’s new spirit of activism. Premiering at the dawn of a new decade, Route 66 captured in a singular way the nation’s passage from the disquiet of the Fifties to the turbulence of the Sixties, expressing a simultaneously troubled and hopeful vision of America.” In this series, Jack and Neal become Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis). Tod is a rich college boy who cruises America in a blue Corvette left him by his late father. His pal Buz, a hard-nosed orphan who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, comes along for the ride, or something. They have a curious dynamic, more or less Buz the fighter and Tod the thinker, though that isn’t quite fair. Still, these early episodes are top-heavy with unnecessary and tiresome bouts of fisticuffs, mostly to prove Buz’s street cred. At least once per show, somebody gets clobbered in rituals that range from senseless meanness to elaborate codes of sizing people up and making friends. These scenes function partly as gratuitous “action” in a show that would otherwise be all dialogue, and partly—let’s say it—as a spectacle of male intimacy, which is simultaneously provided and denied.

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