Monday, March 29, 2010

The Better Half Of Two And A Half Men 3/29/10

It’s been hard for me to reconcile what appear to be Charlie Sheen’s auditions for The Shining II in real life, with the truly extraordinary actor.

I watched him in Wall Street again the other day, and it is a performance of incredible range and talent for such a young man.

Every night, I watch double episodes of the sitcom Two and A Half Men, whether I am in the UK or the US; I can pretty much recite them all by heart now, but Sheen still makes me laugh out loud every time, just as the brilliant Jon Cryer (who won an Emmy as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series this year – so, so deserved) makes me both laugh and cry, as his character lurks often pitifully in his seemingly more successful brother’s shadow.

The character Charlie (played by Sheen) is the drinking, fun-loving, sex-craved one; Alan (Cryer – his character often lives up to the actor’s surname), the divorced one, has been living in Charlie's Malibu beachside home since his marriage broke up, and appears to have very little going for him.

He has virtually no luck with women, gets a hangover if he so much as breathes the same air as a Budweiser, and has the greater moral conscience.

But he is much nicer to his mother than Charlie is, and tries to keep his own food-obsessed son Jake on the straight and narrow, as the boy is passed from mother to father and back again, with several pizzas and buckets of fries acting as the middle men.

But why, in many US comedy shows, are there so many women have absolutely no, or certainly very well hidden, redeeming qualities? Lilith (Cheers, Frasier); Ros and the unseen Maris (Frasier); housekeeper Berta (Conchata Perrell), Alan’s ex-wife Judith (Marin Hinkle), and the brothers’ mother Evelyn (Holland Taylor) in Two and a Half Men?

True, many of Charlie’s women have some nice qualities, but these fly-by-nights are generally out of the door quicker than Charlie can say . . . Well: “Don’t slam the door on your way out.” FiancĂ©e Chelsea was a very rare exception; it is the three monstrous women who dominate the female part of the show.

In the UK, it is generally the females of sitcoms who set the moral barometer; they are the ones to whom the other generally hopeless characters (usually men) turn to, in order to find clues as to how they could, or should, be running their lives.

In the US, you wouldn’t look to any of the above-named women for directions to the bathroom, let alone your life path; you know they would only point you to the cellar, lock you in and throw away the key.

So who sets the moral barometer in Two and A Half Men?

It’s Alan’s son, Jake, played by Angus T. Jones, who was just a month off his 10th birthday when CBS first aired the show in September 2003 – and it is this character who ultimately defines the show as the most moral comedy on television.

That’s right: Two and A Half Men is the most moral comedy show on US television. And that is the real key to its enormous success as a family comedy.

It has the most promiscuous sex, the most heartless and cruel women, the rudest (though most daring and riotous) jokes, and yet, at its heart, a very moral tale: two grown men, seemingly at odds, little realising that what binds them is not only their relation to each other by blood, but the thing for which they are both searching, albeit in very different ways. Namely: how do you find the right person to love?

It's a primal journey, common to most people, of both sexes, the world over. It's just that Charlie gets his end away more often en route - as it were.

But Jake is the touchstone to which they both keep returning. Jake's curious questioning of life and sexuality is governed by Charlie; the importance of having a conscience is monitored by Alan.

But in both men essentially (and in Charlie's case, unconsciously) competing for control of the youngster, the men constantly have to reassesss their behaviour and lifetyle while in his presence: the young spectre at the grown-ups' feast.

In reality, Jake is saner than both his father and uncle (and certainly saner than his mother). He is the calm voice of reason, questioning both men’s behaviour, as he grows up surrounded by people who don’t know how to love because they were not, quite simply, loved by their mother.

Jake is loved by everyone, which automatically gives him the moral high ground. His security in being wanted by mother, father and, jokingly reluctantly, by Uncle Charlie, enables him to look with bemusement and wonder at the people denied what has always been given to him freely and unconditionally.

He’s a young child of divorced parents (which helps); he has crushes – on girls and older women; he loves telly; and we’ve seen him grow from pre-pubescent into handsome, funny and smart young man – without his incurring, or our ever having had to see, all the problems that this transformation usually entails in real life.

Oh, yes; and he’s always been very cute – and Jones is a damned fine young actor, as both the pre- and post-pubescent Jake glaringly reveal.

After Sheen’s recent spell in rehab, recordings for the new series were put on hold, but filming resumed two weeks ago.

I really can’t wait for it to come around again. My guess would be that it will now be Jake who starts competing with his Uncle Charlie for the same girls, which will bring Charlie’s insecurities to the fore.

That’s Charlie the character, not Charlie from The Shining II, by the way.

I’m not suggesting you swop your Bible for DVDs just yet, but there are a lot of moral lessons to be learned in Two and A Half Men, where love really does conquer all.

Even if it is often Jake’s love for whatever he’s thinking about putting in his belly next.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ready For My Handcuffs, Judge Alex 3/25/10

Judge Alex Ferrer.

He keeps me awake at night.

Seriously, I think I am in love. I know he wears a wedding ring, but I figure that with all the TV commercials asking people to pack up their gold in brown envelopes and send it to places like “We at the mail office steal your gold marked GOLD ENCLOSED”, he might be tempted to ditch it.

Then he would be free. For me. For all I know, he is married to a stunner, but then so was Tiger Woods, and that didn’t stop him trying to land a few more holes.

I confess to being addicted to the US celebrity judge programmes. In the UK, it started with Judge Judy, who hasn’t changed her hairstyle in a decade, and is terrifying in a head teacher kind of way.

I don’t want to sleep with her, which helps me concentrate on the legal aspects of the programmes, and I now feel that I could sit as a High Court judge in the US courts and act just as efficiently as she does.

I can’t help noticing, though, that the people in her courtroom are fatter than the ones on any other, and that if Judge Judy just sent them all off to Weight Watchers for a couple of weeks, they might drop a few pounds and resolve their differences more calmly.

I like People’s Court, with Judge Milian, who is, like Judge Judy, seemingly right about everything, but I just want to know who her dentist is. She really does have the best teeth of any of the judges, and she also has Harvey Levin, who stands outside the courtroom, chatting to locals about what they think should happen inside.

Poor Harvey. I specially feel for him on days when it is raining and no one gives him an umbrella. The general opinion of the hapless bunch that surrounds him is “String ‘em up”, irrespective of the crime, and when Harvey says “Goin’ back inside the courtroom,” there is more than a hint of “Thank the Lord for that, get me away from these lunatics asap” about him. He is the Ryan Seacrest of the legal world: central to the action, but always a Cowell away from true glory.

But back to my beautiful Alex, ex-Florida Court circuit judge (the only time I have ever been tempted by the idea of enrolling for "circuit training", to be honest), who I would happily disrobe in less time than it would take you to say “Guilty m’lud.” He is clever, funny, he loves the narrative of the absurd stories that unfold before him, and he always manages to get to the sexual nitty-gritty in which the other judges show relatively little interest.

So, let’s say you stole a vase from your ex-boyfriend’s mother’s house. Within seconds, Judge Alex would have managed to extract from you exactly how many times mom and pop had had sex before they bought the vase (and in which positions), where said vase was on the dresser the last time they had sex before it was stolen, and even whether the vase was used for any improper purposes before it took up residence in the new (illegal) home.

If I were to choose anyone to sit down and watch a porn movie with, it would be Judge Alex. Fully robed. Briefly. Then I would want him to handcuff me, put me behind bars and make me beg on all fours . . . Well, you get the picture. And if you don't, apparently it's illegal for me to text it to you.

A man is never more sexy than when he is at work; and a clever, witty man, who holds power, and who is articulate, who stands on the moral high ground, yet with just a hint of smut on his shoe, is always going to top my list.

Forget Judge Judy, I am saving up my Air Miles just to steal a vase in Miami, purely so that I can be on the receiving end of one of Judge Alex's admonishments. I’m not looking for life imprisonment, just a slap on the . . . Well, you get my drift.

We don’t have cameras in courts in the UK, and it is yet another reason I love being in the US. Judge Alex is my lunch hour, and as I can barely eat with excitement when watching him at work, he is proving very good for my weight loss, too.

I’m keeping an eye on that third finger, left hand, just in case he becomes available. But while that gold stays in place, lock up your valuables; I am a woman on a mission.

The only flaw to my reasoning will be when I end up in Judge Judy’s courtroom, after Judge Alex takes out a restraining order on me.

This week, however, I have been facing a dilemma as to what I do about my future: Judge Alex Ferrer every lunchtime, all-day marathons of Law and Order, and, at night, the hilarious and sassy Chelsea Handler on the telly.

Sunrise and sunset over LA, beside the pool of my Beverly Hills apartment’s huge rooftop terrace. The staff at my favourite local restaurant, Il Pastaio, and most-loved hotel, the Beverly Wilshire.

The almost endless sunshine. Martinique tea at the American Tea Room. The Container Store at Century City. The endless floor to floor joy of Bed, Bath and Beyond – best store and service of any in the world.

And Judge Alex. Every day. Yes, I know. I mentioned him. But oh, Judge Alex. Tall. Dark. Handsome. Smart. Hilarious. Way and above the best and most compelling of all the TV judges - and happily married with kids, alas, but hey ho, a girl can dream.

And will. Ex-cop, attorney, and now in robes. Uniform, authority, handcuffs. Call me old-fashioned, but 6,000 miles away from home, a daily dose of the awe-inspiring judge on TV more than makes up for several decades’ worth of British guys offering you half a Stella before throwing up their previous 18 over your new dress.

Every time I come back to the UK, I add to the list of what I miss about LA. Unfortunately, each time I return, it is usually for a funeral or memorial service, and although I haven’t been left anything in anyone’s will, some of my dear departed friends are doubtless laughing in their graves at the number of Air Miles I am acquiring on their behalf, even if those miles might land me in jail (bad) or handcuffs (less bad).

It’s been a strange week. I missed so much about LA, I put my UK house on the market and thought I would make LA my main base. Then I thought about my wonderful mum and brother, the friends I have spent decades making, and took it off again.

As I was brought back in a wheelchair, after the back problem I wrote about last week, it’s been a time of reflection. In the UK, I was told that the drugs I had been given in the US were drugs given to kidney transplant patients (at the last count, I still had two – of my own). My doctor substituted the five lots of medication for a stint of something else, but I am reluctant to be on medication for that long.

Apologies for sounding melodramatic (you can take the girl out of LA . . . ), but is it a metaphorical weight I am carrying, as well as the very real one? One night, I found myself on the driveway of my Cardiff home, crying as I tried to sort the bin bags, because they hadn’t been taken the previous week (wrong colour, wrong plastic, wrong handle position – you know what a bloody nightmare putting out your bins in the UK is these days) and wondering: Where do I really want to be?

I went to Los Angeles to change my working life, and the man who became my friend and mentor, Blake Snyder, died. I love more and more about the city and, back in Cardiff, I have no real social life.

As an older single woman, never married, never co-habited, no kids, not a lesbian, I don’t get asked anywhere. In LA, I meet gay, straight, couples, singles, all the time, all from different professions, every day.

Age never feels an issue; moving on in my professional life feels like a real possibility and very unlike what seems to be the position in the UK, where everyone appears to be running very hard – just to stand still.

Is this a woman thing? An everyday thing? A worldwide recession thing? I just know that having been in America rather than Europe for the first time in my life, I am re-assessing everything, in ways I never believed possible.

The US is an amazing country, with a variety of people, cultures and, in LA, which is pretty much all I know, a heady, inspiring experience. I also know that it can be short-lived. But then so has everywhere I have ever lived.

I want it all - at the time. I love it all - at the time. Then I want something different. Maybe, what I have discovered, in LA, is that I was right all along: I was born a writer who thrives on change.

I just may need a little more time in Judge Alex’s handcuffs to reflect on the matter.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wheel Me Up, Scotty 3/15/10

There are many things I fantasised about doing in the heady, showbiz city that is LA, but being driven around LAX airport in a wheelchair wasn’t one of them.

In fact, until this week, I had never even touched a wheelchair, much less sat in one, and my admiration increased a thousand-fold for people who have to view the world from that level and constantly be subjected to the bullying of the mobile chaos around them, not to mention being at the mercy of the pusher with delusions of Formula One.

The problem started the week before last when I woke one morning, completely unable to move. I had made a joke about falling off my Jimmy Choos in the excitement of my finally having met the actor Matthew Rhys, but it certainly hadn’t been enough to incapacitate me to the degree of pain I found myself in two days later.

It was so bad, I couldn’t even reach out to my bedside table to my phone and, living alone, there was no one I could call even to ask for a cup of tea.

This is how I was going to die, I thought. It was The End. At just 51, and having been blessed with a relatively healthy life (apart from a bout of glandular fever when I was seven, I can count my bedridden illnesses on one hand), I was now going to rot to death.

No food, no water, and, worse, no TV, because the remote was on the chest of drawers several miles away from where I was lying. If I could have passed on with CSI comforting me during my final hours, it would have been something, but dying to the accompaniment only of your own screams isn’t much fun, I can tell you.

It took me four hours to roll, inch by inch out of bed, onto the floor, and over to the kettle in the kitchen, by which time I had lost roughly three stone in the effort.

Then I remembered my black, Centurion American Express card, the all-singing, all-dancing bit of titanium I wrote about some months back, trying to decide whether it was worth paying the increased annual fee of £1800 (up from £650) for all the benefits that I could never see myself either wanting or needing - three million points for a pink Pringle sweater; etiquette evenings, where you learned how to hold a fork, that kind of thing.

D Day was imminent, and as their concierge service had still not provided me with anything that I had not been able to get myself for considerably less money, I was pretty sure I would not be renewing.

But I remembered the travel insurance, allegedly one of the most comprehensive in the world. I phoned them (another eight miles to my handbag, in which the card resided); they had AXA, their delightful, impressive insurance people on the phone within three minutes, and I was offered a house call (in the UK, I’d have to book one now if I wanted to have a doctor’s home visit in 2014). I was also told that all my travel arrangements (I was due to fly back to the UK) would be taken care of, if the worst came to the worst.

In the end, I had to take a trip to a local clinic, all paid for upfront by AXA and Medical Express. I was seen instantly, given an injection for the pain, and a couple of bottles of painkillers and muscle relaxants.

Now, the only thing I know about prescription painkillers in the US is that you die not long after taking them.

It’s the reason I was once very reluctant to have a general anaesthetic, because everyone who has one on Casualty or Holby City never wakes up. Having been reassured by the pharmacist that I was not en route to becoming the next Michael Jackson, I went home to recuperate.

And got worse.

A week later, and still rolling to the kettle, I had a proper home visit, and this time was told I would have to be treated more “aggressively”. And I mean aggressively. Methylprednisolone, Motrin, Norco, Soma, Diazepam – or, for those of you not in the know, the latter four are Ibuoprofen, Hydrocodone, Carisoprodol, Valium. Any clearer? No, me neither.

All I can tell you is that I had no pain – the reason being that I was unconscious. Out cold. I missed the whole of the first half of the Ireland/Wales rugby match on the telly, the second half of the Scotland/England game, and eventually came to in about 1971, thinking I was on the Lions tour.

The doctor insisted I be upgraded to a Business Class on my flight home, which would ensure me of a bed in which to relax, and the insurance came through with everything they had promised, including ground transportation and a wheelchair at both airports.

The wheelchair rides were more terrifying than the drugs had been. Blimey, those things can whizz along. I needed another bottle of Valium, just to get me over the trauma of the rides.

I’ll need another bottle when that Amex bill comes through, too, asking me for the £1800 annual fee.

But even with doctors’ fees and medication, I’m still not sure the titanium card has earned its full quota (I’m also not sure that the pills they provided did much more than a pint of Stella and a couple of aspirin would have done).

When the drugs finish me off (which I have no doubt they will do), maybe Amex will make up the deficit in a nice floral arrangement for my funeral. That may be their only option, as there isn’t a stonemason in the world who could find enough room on my stone for the names of those damned drugs.

But at least I can now say that I have experienced the US healthcare system, and have joined the long list of Hollywood celebrities on prescription painkillers.

It’s my biggest leap up the showbiz ladder so far.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Time To Hit The Grecian, George 3/8/10

Please tell me he’s done it for a part.

Please tell me that George Clooney’s badly styled, greying locks at the Oscars, were not the result of a decision on the actor’s part to grow old gracefully.

Please tell me that it wasn’t George at all, but an aging cousin drafted in as a body double because the real George was at home with flu.

Anything. Please tell me anything other than the inconceivable truth that George Clooney has gone totally grey.

Being the only Brit in LA not to have received an invite to Elton John’s post-Oscar bash, I watched the awards on the TV at my favourite restaurant, the Grill on the Alley, in Beverly Hills.

Far from feeling left out of the party, I was grateful to have been saved the pain of seeing Katie Price turn up as the Big Purple One from the Quality Street collection. According to reports, she hadn’t been invited to Elton’s, either, but managed to blag a ticket.

In the build-up to the big day, I saw Katie’s name appear on one invitation list as “actress” which, given that her whole life is a performance, I suppose that is pretty much what she is. Arriving at LAX with an army of minders and sunglasses the size of shields, I am now convinced the woman is suffering from an acute case of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

Katie the “actress” hadn’t arrived by the time I left the pre-Oscars pampering night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, but real celebrities gathered on the pool terrace to sample the free massages, make-up and Moet and Chandon.

It was one of hundreds of events in a week that saw the city turn into an Oscar theme park. Previous Oscar winners were wheeled out on TV to talk about their bygone days of glory, and previous winners of Best Picture dominated the film channels. I re-watched The Godfather. Twice. And although I still haven’t summoned up the emotional energy to watch The Hurt Locker, or the time to watch Avatar, I felt that I knew them backwards as a result of the thousands of clips shown throughout the week.

I began the night in the Beverly Wilshire, which I have come to regard as my local. British PR supremo Neil Reading was there, and also Michelle Collins, looking stunning, and obviously fully recovered from her stint playing Cindy Beale in EastEnders. Any woman who survived (well, until her death) marriage to Ian deserves high praise in my book.

I love this hotel, and have done ever since Warner Brothers put me up there at a pre-Oscars bash over 20 years ago. Alex, the current manager of the Boulevard Bar and restaurant is an absolute sweetheart, brilliant at his job, and a million times better than his predecessor, who would have been more at home running Guantanemo Bay. For all I know, that’s where he’s been transferred. If he has, I know he’ll be very at home there.

The staff are the best in the business. I love the way Pepe calls me “My lady”, doubtless a translation he once picked up from a phrase book, and it has the desired effect of making every woman feel very special.

It’s a great bar if you are a woman eating or drinking alone, because you always meet people. On Sunday I hooked up with some Canadians, who were in town to watch the ice hockey. After the Olympics, Canadian ice hockey enthusiasts are very smug, following their team’s gold medal. Still, Canadians don’t have much to celebrate very often, so no one minds very much.

The hotel didn’t have the volume on, so I watched the Red Carpet (which is almost as big as the Oscars themselves) with subtitles. This made everything pretty incomprehensible, with phrases like “Globe All Odd” (global audience) confusing things somewhat.

And apparently, Sandra Bullock was the star of a film called “The Blend Side”, presumably a movie about getting to grips with your Kenwood Chef.

You could spot the Brits in the crowd because they were the only ones with yellow teeth; you could spot them even more easily later on, because they were the only ones not carrying any statuettes.

Over at the Grill, the sound was turned up for the event, and I sat through what has to be the dullest Oscars in living memory. If you thought Jonathan Ross’s script at the Baftas was leaden, the one spouted by Oscars co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin felt like treading mercury.

It’s a tough gig, but just didn’t work with two presenters and, more to the point, two presenters normally dependent on better writers than the ones who produced this tosh.

Still, it was good to be in town to savour the atmosphere, and at least George made quite a few people’s nights, by rewarding their long wait with signing autographs.
Lovely man, terrific actor.

And the Grecian 2000’s in the post, George.