Proud to jump the shark

By JON GARELICK  |  February 25, 2009

Some of the show's other idiosyncrasies blur distinctions between inspired and awful. What is it with Rebecca Pidgeon? The actress (who happens to be Mamet's wife) plays Lady Macbeth to Patrick's tortured thane, and she's the queen of the emphatic odd-syllable break ("I'm delighted to have company while Tom is at his mee-tings").

But there are felicities like Jay, or the great Linda Hunt showing up as a Defense Department psychologist, and some increasingly bizarre stories, such as this season when Jonas is dispatched to a mountain monastery in Chile to retrieve — get this — the sword that pierced Christ's side. The directive comes, of course, from Pidgeon ("Blood and wa-ter came out").

And another reason to watch the show is because anything Dennis Haysbert says is worth hearing, and Mamet and his own team never let Haysbert down. Mamet has declared his preference for Henry Fonda–type actors who don't act but just know how to be, the purity and strength of their souls always implicit. Of course, if you've seen enough of Mamet's movies, you know that it helps when these "souls" know how to act despite the boss's direction. Haysbert — with a permanent tear-shaped scar under one eye — gives the right mix of gravity and irony to a Biblical line like "Cover your nakedness" as he hands a weapon to an unarmed comrade. When he delivers one of Mamet's bromides for impending catastrophe — "Things are tough all over" — it's with a combination of cynical knowingness and pure-souled idealism. He leavens Mamet's con-game power plays with compassion. If the essence of drama is that all available choices are bad, Haysbert is the man to be with when you take that wrong turn.

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