Saturday, 10 November 2012

463: Gay Pal for the Straight Gal 1 - Alice Gets a Pass

“Alice” was a sitcom adapted from Martin Scorsese’s 1974 film “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”. The show began in autumn 1976, and the second episode featured Alice discovering that the eligible hulking, manly attractive football player that all her friends are trying to set her up on a date with is really a homosexual. The Andy Lippincote storyline in Doonesbury had appeared in early 1976, so it’s just possible that this story line might have been in the back of the mind of the production staff. “Alice” was not a controversial Norman Lear social issues-all-in-your-face type of a sitcom. It was a middling, genial family-and-work-based comedy that kills the time. So if nothing else, it shows that this sort of programme is now comfortable handling this kind of material.

Like the Andy Lippincote story, the first half of this episode is about the comic deflation of romantic expectation, and the comic material in the second half comes from Alice deflecting everyone else’s wrong assumptions about her developing friendship with Jack Newhouse. The dramatic twist in the second half is that though Alice easily accepts Jack as gay, she has then has reservation about him being around her son. Her disapproval of him isn’t so much that he could be a paedophile, as that in some not entirely defined manner, he would be a bad example to Tommy. Pas devant les enfants – which of course is the general attitude of TV executives who don’t want to rock the boat. No controversy. The show does let Jack defend himself and Alice realises her fears are wholly irrational. As with the later episode of Maude, we get to see that the younger generation have the easiest time accepting the existence of homosexuals.

In a July 1977 review of homosexuals in the preceding year of television, the critic Tom Shales, wrote:

“From TV today, the impression given of homosexuals is that they’re just like heterosexuals except they have no hang-ups. Many series had stories with prominent homosexual characters last season, and, because the networks are touchy about the demands of activist groups, these characters were so removed from the old stereotypes as to seem utter supermen. When “Alice” fell in love with a homosexual man on that series, the guy was brawny enough for a Brut commercial.”

Indeed, Denny Miller was a former profession football player, but one of the ideals of American masculinity is the football player, so it freights a lot of assumptions for this episode (and was the case in “All in the Family”). And it does provide the opportunity for Flo’s little monologue about the homoerotic appeal of sportsmen together.

In the mid-2000s when a selection of episodes was released on DVD after canvassing fans, this one was on the shows that was included.

Again, as with previous arguments for homosexuality by sitcom characters, the references to famous greeks as though some allusion to antiquity endows confirmation and authenticity

Curiously, “Jack Newhouse” is the anglicisation of Giacomo Casanova – but that’s probably not important, unless you’re watching a translation on Italian TV.

And do I never need to say that Jack never returns to the series?

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"Alice Gets a Pass" - 29 September 1976
Writer: Martin Donovan

Linda Lavin: Alice
Polly Holliday: Flo
Philip McKeon: Tommy
Vic Tayback: Mel
Denny Miller: Jack Newhouse

Mel’s friend from college, a former pro-quarterback and now a western actor, Jack Newhouse announces he is coming for a fishing visit. When he shows up at the door there is assorted manly grappling between Mel and Jack. All three waitresses are attracted to Jack, but since Alice shows an interest, Flo encourages her. When Mel says he is already committed to the bowling team the first night of Jack’s visit, Flo pushes the two to go out together.

At home, Alice’s son Tommy is enthusiastic that she’s going out on a date, and at his encouragement Alice wears a more revealing dress. When Jack arrives, Tommy also tries to impress Jack about her. When Jack sees Alice in her dress he tells her she looks “beautiful, sexy, stunning”. They go out. They come back to find Tommy has set up candles, wine and romantic music. Alice asks whether Jack would like to take Tommy fishing with Mel. The two sit on the sofa, with space in the middle of sofa between them

J: I had a great time tonight, Alice

A: Me too . . . You’re also the first date I’ve had here I haven’t had to arm wrestle goodnight. Not that I have anything against wrestling, it just has to be the right guy, know what I mean?

J: Yes I do

A: (pause) You sure you know what I mean? (laughs)

J: (long pause) Alice. You’re really a great person

A: (trying to keep her jolliness up for the rest of the scene) “You’re really a great person” sounds like it should be followed by a “but”

J: But.

A: But you’re married.

J: No

A: But you’re engaged?

J: Un-hnn

A: But you got a girlfriend?

J: No.

A: I think I just ran out of “but”s

J: But I’m gay.

(Alice’s smile slowly fades then she blinks at him. END OF PART 1)

A: Would you mind playing that back again?

J: I’m gay.

A: (pause) You don’t just mean “jolly”?

J: Ngnn

A: (nods head in acceptance, obviously flustered, lip sucking, trying to smile and be friendly) I didn’t think so (shifting about) Well. I, er, I don’t, er, see why that should matter. I mean, er, you’re a person… and I’m a person, and, er, (looks directly at him) Gay?

(look from him to confirm)

A: Huh!

J: Alice, I, er, didn’t want to lead you on. I felt you were the kind of person I could have an honest, up-front relationship with - was I wrong?

A: No! Certainly not. Wrong? That’s the relationship for me. Honest and up-front.

J: Good. I’m glad you feel that way. And I’m really, really happy we’re going to be friends.

A: (smiling, conciliatory) Yes.

(rest of scene has all the awkwardness of two people building up for a kiss)

Well. It’s late.

Yes

Goodnight

Goodnight

(Jack gets up goes to door, Alice follows. Just as he steps out, pauses then turns around, then leans in to kiss Alice on forehead)

J: ‘Night

A: Goodnight.

(Alice closes door, then slowly slumps against it, blinks heavily, pulls wry face)

A: (slightly plaintive) I shouldda known. (sadly) Mel said he was a man’s man.

(at Mel’s Diner. Mel is cooking. Alice enters to get food for customer. Mel comes over leaning in close to her)

M: So! Going out with Jack again, huh?

A: Yeah. You got my eggs, side of bacon?

M: Coming, coming. (inveigling) So? How’d it go?

A: (brightly) Ok!

M: Okay? Two nights in a row and all you can say is OK?

A: (focusing on preparing food) Mel!

M: Come on Alice, you can tell me. Jack’s my friend, we were roommates together. (Walks back to grill) What he did, I did.

(A looks up stonefaced)

M: C’mon, C’mon Alice. I wannna know how it Went.

A: (brightly) Like you wouldn’t believe

(Alice leaves. Mel holds her by arm)

M: He’s an animal, right! All those pro-football players are animals, groupies in every city – wine, women, song!

A: (cocks head, beat) Two out of three ain’t bad, Mel (leaves)

(Mel shakes his head in manly pleasure. In main restaurant, Flo stops Alice)

F: Tell me, little cheerleader, how many points did that old quarterback put on that scoreboard last night?

A: (smiling) Flo, that’s tacky

F: Alright, I’ll put it another way. How was he?

A: (firmly) He’s a very nice man (tries to leave, but F is holding onto A)

F: And?

A: And nothing.

(F still won’t let A go)

F: There must have been some illegal use of the hands somewhere?

A: (getting irritated), Flo, nothing happened. (starts to serve food, and F follows)

F: C’mon sugar. Just because one of us gets lucky, ain’t no reason why the other can’t have some fun. Don’t I always tell you everything?

A: Unfortunately.

F: Well, hell, if I went out with a big handsome cuss like that, I’d get on my C.B. and shout it to the world

A: Flo, I have nothing to tell you about last night

F: Oh I understand – you’re not the type that messes about and tells. Shoot that Jack works fast.

(Alice looks around, then draws Flo closer)

A: He doesn’t work fast. Nothing happened. Nothing’s gonna happen. Jack’s gay.

F: (long pause as F slowly chews gum, then) What?

A: (serious) I went out with a guy I really dug and he turned out to be gay

F: (long pause as F slowly chews gum, then) What? Jack Newhouse?! You gone cuckoo?!

A: (emphatically) He told me

F: He told you? Himself? Just like that? Alice, pass that onion dip, and by the way I’m gay?

A: (nods several times, then) Yes

F: Are you sure he didn’t say gray? You know he colours his hair in them TV commercials.

A: Flo! He said gay.

F: (laughing) Alice! Jack Newhouse is a football player, honey! He’s big and strong. Any woman’d Die to take that hunk of candy home. Why, he spends half his life surrounded by big, virile men, in locker-rooms and showers, being tackled by other football players (slowing down as she realises) jumping up and down hugging each other (long pause) patting each other’s butts (very long pause) If that don’t beat all, Jack Newhouse gay!

A: Ooh my God! I just remembered something! Tommy!

F: What about Tommy?

A: I asked Jack to take Tommy fishing with him, but now I’m not sure I want him to go

F: Oh, you mean because Jack is a (looks directly at A and raises eyebrows)

A: Flo, Tommy’s at a very impressionable age, and he worships Jack

F: (holding A’s arms) Well, Alice, I don’t think you have a thing to worry about

A: You don’t?

F: No

A: I’m just over-reacting?

F: Sure. You are.

A: Maybe you’re right. I’m just being silly and narrow-minded

F: Of course you are

A: Of course I am

F: So what are you going to do?

A: Tell Tommy he can’t go

F: Good!

Later at busy diner, when M is off fishing. A behind counter preparing food)

A: (to F) I’m just upset. I told Tommy he couldn’t go, but I didn’t tell him why

(J suddenly comes in forcefully)

J: Alice!

A: Hello Jack

J: I got your message and I want to talk to you

A: Gee, I can’t right now

J: Listen Alice

A: Sorry Jack, I’m awful busy

J: And I’m angry!

(Flo suddenly gives very long breakfast order)

J: Why aren’t you letting Tommy go? Is it because I’m gay?

A: (setting up frying pan pan, then turns to look at him briefly) Yes

J: What do you think would happen if he came fishing with Mel and me? (helps her sort out food orders) I’m still waiting to hear. What did you think would happen?

A: I don’t know. Nothing, I guess. J: That’s exactly right. Nothing. Except for fishing and fun

(Flo comes in to get food)

J: Alice, look …

A: Jack, listen – part of being a parent is protecting your child. And I’d just rather Tommy didn’t go at this time

J: Hold it. This wasn’t my idea. You were the one who asked me to take him. (she nods in agreement) Alice if I were straight and you had a twelve year old daughter, would you trust me with her?

A: (looks up at him, beat) Yes, I suppose that I would

J: There’s no difference, Alice. Don’t label me.

A: What do you mean

J: (emphatically) I respect other people’s rights to live their way. I want other people to respect my right to live my way. (still helps her with sorting out the breakfast orders)

A: Jack, I’m sorry

J: (smiles, accepting) Okay. I don’t agree with you decision about Tommy, but I understand your right to make it, and I respect that.

A: (smiling back) Thanks.

J: Still friends (offers hand)

A: (which she shakes) Of course

(goes to leave)

A: Jack! Do me a favour. Take Tommy with you.

J: Are you sure?

A: I’m sure

J: What made you change your mind?

A: (laughs) That’s another privilege parents have – to change their minds. And you’re looking at Phoenix’s Free-Style Mind Changing Champ. When I told Tommy he couldn’t go, I just felt awful. Especially after the way he looked at me then the way you looked at me and now the way I look at me . . .

J: Don’t worry. We’ll have a great time.

(back at A’s apartment after the fishing trip. T putting away fish, says he has something to tell mother, she gets agitated, but it turns out it was only he had half a can of bee which he then threw up)

T: Mom, why all the question?

A: Nothing, nothing, I just wanted to know about the weekend.

T: Okay, level with me. First you didn’t want me to go fishing, then you changed your mind. Now the third degree. Mom, what’s up?

A: (trying to shrug him off) Nothing

T: Mom!

A: (turns to look directly at T) Tommy, Jack Newhouse is a homosexual

T: (thinking it over) Jack?

A: Yeah. Does it bother you?

T: No. Erm. I’m just surprised. From the way kids talk I thought you could always tell. I don’t care though. Jack’s a great guy. A great football player. And a rotten fisherman

A: (smiling) You really got it together, don’t ya?

(the two hug. END OF PART 2)

EPILOGUE

Mel gets off phone, excitedly recounting Jack’s latest practical joke.

M: This guy is too much! What a sense of humour! Know what he tells me last night? He tells me he’s gay!

A: Mel! Anything is possible.

M: Whadda ya? Nuts? The guys a bull! A professional football player! He’s not one of those (flailing hands) “hair-decorators”!

A: (cautiously leading) You know, Mel, a lot of famous men have been homosexuals.

M: (pause) Get out of here! (pause) Who?

A: Alexander the Great

M: Alexander the Great? No way!

A: Michelangelo

M: Mike Angelo down at the pizza house?! What are you – bananas? Mike Angelo has eight kids! Mike Angelo is about as gay as Jack Newhouse. And if Jack Newhouse is gay, I’m gay!

(beat, and close-up on Alice smiling)

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