This week, on FIELD OF STREAMS, Frank presents a streaming farewell to one of the giants of comedy
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We said goodbye to a comedy institution earlier this month when the world lost Carl Reiner. A Hollywood mainstay for decades, Reiner touched every conceivable medium which welcomed his comedic voice, from stage, to TV, to film. No matter the method, Reiner’s keen observational eye and knack for storytelling literally changed the way people laughed at situational comedy. While creation of The Dick Van Dyke Show, instantly elevated him to the status of TV pioneer for a show which remains groundbreaking, behind-the-camera efforts such as The Man With Two Brains and Fatal Instinct showed a film director always aiming to find new ways to make audiences laugh. Even though Reiner largely stopped writing/producing back in the late 90s, he never fully stopper. He found a new wave of popularity with supporting roles in the revamped Ocean’s trilogy and guest appearances as Betty White’s love interest in Hot in Cleveland. He oversaw colorized restorations of his classic sitcom and even though he’d published books before, Reiner’s 2003 autobiography, “My Anecdotal Life,” spurned a new writing career as a bestselling author, which included the follow-up installments “I Remember Me” and “Too Busy to Die.”
Outside of his works, Reiner remained as relevant and beloved as he’d ever been. His legendary friendship with Mel Brooks was the envy of everyone and his non-stop presence on twitter rivaled that of users young enough to be his great-grandchildren, tweeting about everything from his bad grammar due to age and his endless criticisms about Donald Trump. When asked about his longevity, he replied with his now famous quote: “Every morning, I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section, and see if I’m listed. If I’m not, I’ll have my breakfast.” The quote, which would incidentally become the title of the 2017 documentary Reiner hosted about nonagenarians in show business (earning his 18th and final Emmy nomination in the process), was the perfect summation of Reiner; a man grateful for every day and well aware of the potential of each moment.
In honor of Carl Reiner’s passing, I thought I’d take a look back at some of the comedy pro’s most remarkable achievements; all of which are streaming and all of which continue to stand the test of time.
THE THRILL OF IT ALL (Peacock)
While he gained fame and prominence for his work on television, most notably for his collaborations with Sid Caesar, Reiner entered the world of moviemaking with the screenplay for what would become a very entertaining Doris Day vehicle. In The Thrill of It All, housewife Beverly Boyer enjoys her role as homemaker and her marriage to her doctor husband Gerald (James Garner) when a popular soap company chooses her to be their main spokesperson, thrusting her into the limelight. Director Norman Jewison brings all the elements together, but Reiner’s screenplay is the reason it all works. Many themes which would become standard on The Dick Van Dyke Show are easily spotted here, from the priceless blend of physical comedy (Day and Garner prove game for any pratfall thrown their way), to the ever-changing relationship between husbands and wives. While Doris rarely took on hot-button issues in her movies, here she finds herself starring in a film which boldly dealt with the gender gap in American closing by having the picture perfect housewife finding her own success outside of the home. As perfect as the movie’s leading lady is, and as skilled as Jewison is behind the camera, the beauty of The Thrill of It All remains Reiner’s script and the brilliant way it spotlighted one of the most timely and relevant of scenarios through the purity of humor and laughter in a way few screenplays ever manage to do.
THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (Tubi)
There will be few shows that will ever be able to reach the same level of acclaim and legacy than The Dick Van Dyke Show. The show, a brainchild of writer/producer Reiner, borrowed heavily from his life as it told the ongoing story of the head writer of successful comedy show (Van Dyke) who was also a loving husband and father. The way The Dick Van Dyke Show balanced and refined both the workplace comedy and the humor of suburban life laid the blueprint for many sitcoms to come. So many countless episodes can rightfully be called iconic, bursting with laughs, pathos and sometimes, even social commentary. “Never Bathe on a Saturday,” “It May Look Like a Walnut” and “That’s My Boy?” all push the sitcom boundaries in their own way, but it’s Coast to Coast Bigmouth that we’re remembering here. Featuring Reiner (who appeared on occasion as the star Van Dyke’s character wrote for), the episode is a highlight simply because of his willingness to go as far as he can. As the vain and secretly bald Allan Brady, Reiner has a ball accentuating his character’s bruised ego when Mary Tyler Moore’s character goes on TV and reveals he’s really got no hair. The result is an extended sequence with Reiner talking to his collection of toupees (“Fellas…that’s the little lady who put you outta business”) as he lets both Van Dyke and Moore have it, proving just what a landmark sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show proved to be and how much of a comic genius Reiner was.
NIGHT GALLERY (NBC)
The Twilight Zone may go down as Rod Serling’s crowning television achievement (and rightfully so), but for a very loyal following, that title belongs to Night Gallery. Set inside a darkened art gallery, the show followed the same format as Serling’s landmark series as its host stood next to a macabre collection of paintings and statues which led into stories of horror, fantasy and science fiction. Although only on the air for three seasons in the early 1970s, the show was a winner, from the guest stars featuring both fresh faces like Diane Keaton and seasoned pros like Vincent Price, to the eerie synth score, to the stories themselves, a good handful of which came from the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, and Serling himself. One of the show’s most memorable stories, “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture,” stars Reiner as the titular character, a college professor who awakens a collection of mythical gods (including Cthulhu) while delivering a lecture. While the episode was made as dark, campy fun, Reiner delivers a surprisingly layered performance. His Professor Peabody starts off as the kind of pompous know-it-all academic who looks down at his students before finding himself battling the very gods he’s delivering remarks on with such intensity as if he’s literally trying to fight their wrath. Known for its limited budget and creative use of effects, Night Gallery delivers in this episode with some effective use of rain, lightning, thunder and wind noises to create tension. Yet no effect is more intense than Reiner in a truly go-for-broke performance that makes it all work.
ALL OF ME (Hulu)
People can argue which is the best movie Reiner ever made as a director. Some cite The Jerk (which introduced the film world to Steve Martin), while others point to The Man with Two Brains. Both are worthy examples, with the latter (also starring Martin) a true madcap classic. But for many, it’s Reiner’s pairing of his favorite leading man with the great Lily Tomlin in this wonderful fantasy/comedy that represents the pinnacle of the comedy maestro’s directing career. In All of Me, an up-and-coming powerhouse lawyer (Martin) finds himself sparring with a wealthy, bitchy long-term client (Tomlin) from his firm who is on her deathbed. When circumstances result in her soul being transported into his body, the two personalities battle each other in an effort to try and escape their unorthodox situation. If the premise of All of Me seems silly and far-fetched, it’s sold every inch of the way by its two committed leads. In their hands, both characters come across as comic hoots with flaws that make them unbelievably endearing. It’s Reiner’s handling of the material though which allows this onscreen magic to happen. The director doesn’t overdo it on the script’s larger-than-life elements, but instead looks the movie’s multiple layers and explores each of them thoughtfully. In Reiner’s hands, All of Me comes off as a buddy comedy, a tale of magical realism, a comedy caper and an unlikely love story. Watching the final scene showing Martin and Tomlin dancing together in that empty ballroom remains the best way to remember the kind of magic Reiner so effortlessly brought to the screen.
There are countless services to explore and great things to watch on all of them. Which ones did we miss that you would suggest to us? And, as always, if you’ve got thoughts on titles we’re missing out on or new services to check out, leave a comment below.
Check out Cinapse’s other streaming content in the meantime, but till next week… stream on, stream away.