Sunday, May 10, 2015

Play Mommy For Me

By Bill S.

Today is Mother's Day, and it's customary for me to mark that occasion with a look at some of the less-than-stellar movie and television moms. This year, I've decided it's time we pay tribute to an actress who's excelled at playing such parts. Of course I'm talking about the fabulous Jessica Walter.
Born in 1941, Ms. Walter began her career in film and television back in the early '60's, but didn't hit her stride until a decade later. Her breakthrough role came in the 1971 thriller Play Misty For Me , as a crazed fan of a radio DJ. 
It made her a star, and established that she wasn't cut out to play ingenues, frumps, or anything in between. In 1975, she won her only EMMY for playing a police chief on the mini-series Amy Prentiss. Then in the '80's...

Wait, what? She only has one EMMY? That doesn't seem right.

...in the 80's, she landed her first sitcom mother roles, on the short-lived Three's a Crowd (not to be confused with the 1969 movie, which she was also in). The idea of her playing such a role seemed so absurd that, in his book TV Sirens, author Michael McWilliams likened it to casting Anthony Perkins as the father on Family Ties. I choose to interpret that as meaning, "Kinda wrong, but also kinda awesome." Walter doesn't play wholesome, Donna Reed-Marion Ross moms. When she plays one, she slings cutting barbs, downs booze, flirts inappropriately, or simply conducts in decidedly non-maternal fashion. And we love her for that. Well,I do, I don't know about you. Maybe you're an idiot with no taste. Here are some of my favorite Walter roles:

Fran Sinclair on Dinosaurs. More often than not she was the show's voice of reason, as much as a talking dinosaur could be. Still, there was that episode where a play date between Baby Sinclair and another boy goes horribly wrong. Which is to say, Baby Sinclair eats him. Fran and Earl have to deal with the other boy's indignant parents, and the Sinclairs address the problem as you'd expect -- by eating them. If I'm not mistaken, that was also the ending in the original draft of Yasima Reza's God of Carnage.

Tabitha Wilson on 90210. A retired actress who still craved the spotlight, even if it was only her family. She decides to oversee the class production of Spring Awakening her granddaughter Annie is appearing in, because this reboot of the '90's series takes place in a parallel universe where a high school is fine with letting kids perform in a musical featuring songs with titles like "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally Fucked". In this clip, Tabitha helpfully offers pointers to Annie and the other girls on performing the opening number.

Listen to your granny, Annie. Unfortunately, Walter was only on the show for the first season. I don't know why. Perhaps her character was deemed too similar to Susan Sullivan's character on Castle* Or perhaps they noticed that she didn't look that much older than the show's "teenagers".

(*idea for a TV series: a geriatric reboot of Charlie's Angels with Jessica Walter, Susan Sullivan and Holland Taylor as the Angels, and Kathleen Turner supplying the voice of a female Charlie. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd watch the crap out of that!)

Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development. Her most famous, and arguably, funniest TV mom. Lucille could never be a typical housewife, because there's no way to balance a highball glass on a vacuum cleaner. She raised her daughter Lindsay and eldest son Michael as fraternal twins, concealing from everyone the fact that Lindsay was A.) adopted, and B.) five years older, which nobody -- including Lindsay and Michael -- ever quite picked up on. Treated middle son GOB with utter contempt, although to be fair, anybody else would. Having withheld affection completely from her first three children, she showered a bit too much on youngest son Buster, which may explain why he ended up dating a woman who was not only the same age as Lucille, but shared the same first name. And let's not forget THIS horror (as if we could!)

Malory Archer on Archer. As the head of the super-secret international spy agency her son worked for, she was his boss. She used her position to satisfy every selfish whim she had, commit global atrocities, and display maternal instincts that made the Madea of Greek tragedy look like the Madea of Tyler Perry comedy. In other words, she was a heightened parody of every mom role Jessica Walter ever played. Which makes sense, since the show's creators conceived Malory with the actress in mind.

Walter is a mother in real life too, and we can safely assume a better one than the ones she's played onscreen. So let's wish her a Happy Mother's Day! and hope she continues keeping us entertained with many more bad moms in the future.

And to all the Moms who are reading this, a Happy Mother's Day too.

-Bill S.

6 comments:

maryclev said...

(*idea for a TV series: a geriatric reboot of Charlie's Angels with Jessica Walter, Susan Sullivan and Holland Taylor as the Angels, and Kathleen Turner supplying the voice of a female Charlie. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd watch the crap out of that!)

THIS. How is this not a thing that's going to happen?! TV Network Executives? You know what you have to do now!

Bill, as always, an awesome piece. Thanks!

Bill S said...

In this version, Bosley would be Charlie's grandson. He'd be a baby-faced nerdy genius who creates tech gadgets to aid the Angels in their detective work. They'd dote on him constantly, much to his embarrassment. I see Dan Byrd (who played Courtney Cox's son on "Cougar Town") in that role.

Meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

Fran Sinclair on Dinosaurs
<a href="http://www.monsterbashnews.com/sinclair/Brontosaurus.jpg>Needs moar green...</a>

<i>He'd be a baby-faced nerdy genius who creates tech gadgets to aid the Angels in their detective work.</i>

Laserboobs!

And perhaps some Mother's Day (unless I've missed it) y'all can give Polly Walker's "Atia of the Julii" some love. Or hate, whichever...

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'm with Mary, great jerb Bill.
~

Meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

Aaaargh! I've never clicked on my nym before, and...looks like I need a new URL...
Also could use a quotation mark. Anyone got a spare?

grouchomarxist said...

Sorry, Meanie, but I'm fresh out. All I've got is a couple of surplus umlauts. (I love that word.)

Completely brilliant choice for this year's Bad Moms tribute, Bill S.