TJGS Episode 6: That Ain't No Way to Treat A Lady

This show is rough.  It's the first episode that had my mind wandering and musing on running the dish washer, what to pick up at the grocery store, work the next morning, anything except for the messy business on-camera.  The trouble on-camera was at least partially influenced by the mess that things quickly degenerated into off-camera. 

As mentioned before, due to some negative feedback from average Americans participating in a screening, Hunt Stromberg came to the set and made quite a few suggestions, claiming that he knew what needed to be done to fix the show.  Judy, until this point had not thought that the show was in need of fixing and both she and Schlatter were pretty shaken by his comments.  I'm shocked that Stromberg didn't know better than to be so artless in his discussions because the whole show rested on her talents and presence and it was pretty well understood that an unhappy Judy could make some unproductive decisions.

More talks would follow, and while Schlatter heard and understood the changes the  execs wanted him to make, he disagreed, and refused to change.  He felt that he knew what Judy needed, and wouldn't relent.  As a result, the executives showed him, and a large portion of his team, the door.

It's been claimed that Garland didn't know what was coming, wasn't aware of the firings, and I suppose it's possible, but I have a hard time believing it.  If anyone would be told, it would be the star of the show. Right?   And, while most people were fired, one of those most important to Judy was saved; Mel Torme.  He helped her select music, conducted for her, kept her secure in her musical performances and to me (and this is purely conjecture) it seems like a concession from the studio brass to allow Garland to have a kind of security blanket to hold on to in the midst of the upheaval.  

Norman Jewison was brought in as Executive Producer, and this episode is his first in that capacity.  And it doesn't bode well.  While the first five episodes seemed lush, glamorous, this is awash in light.   The costumes are unflattering, the hairstyling is off (I'm talkin' bout you June Allyson)...

  Maybe everyone was just thrown off their game because of the behind the scenes drama which was impacting a relatively happy show prior to the changes, but some of the decisions were very much on purpose.

1.   I can't quite put my finger on it, but this episode seems much more "daytime" than all the episodes prior.  Much less sophisticated.

2.   Jerry stops being a bumbler who looks up to and is encouraged by Garland, and is instantly transformed into an egotistical tv expert who drills Garland, criticizes her every move and essentially tells her she's doing everything wrong, and making her appear as a novice on her own show.  She is forced to react to all the things Jerry is throwing at her, so she looks uncomfortable through most of these scenes.  It was SO much better to see Judy looking fresh and at home, to see how much her guests seemed happy to be there.  Those episodes raised her up and exhibited her at her warmest, and most at ease.  They made the studio seem like a fun place to be.  These episodes knock her off her "pedestal" by making her look a little unready, inexperienced in television, and a bit baffled.  And is that really the sort of person you want to "get to know"?  Nope. 

3.  The focus is much less on music, and thrown to these awkward, poorly scripted comedic bits. 
Steve Lawrence, who sings and looks like a dream (he really understood how to work the camera during a vocal performance) does a terrible bit in which he sings these horribly unfunny and insulting things to Garland.  He doesn't get to be a version of his own sweet self, but he's forced to be this awkward Brando-esque asshole.  ALL the patter is moronic and boring.

4.  There's a lot more "special material", and none of it is particularly good.  I'd much rather have seen Steve and Judy sing some grade-A material than what they are left with.  Opportunity wasted.

All in all, the show just seems messy, and it's not helped by June Allyson.  It seems as if she's just a wee bit too "loose".  She's tickled by everything, can't stop cracking up, and doesn't seem to take the work seriously, and witnesses say she'd been drinking a bit to overcome her earlier nerves.  Too be fair, she had been devastated by the somewhat recent death of her husband Dick Powell and had not worked in some time.  It was Garland's cajoling and coaxing that brought her out to face the world again, so these are her first brave, if somewhat shaky efforts to do so.  June had done some wonderful work prior, and has proved herself a generous and gentle soul since, so one can forgive this misstep.

As for the set?  This is the episode where every set piece is extremely literal.  It's a trend that would unfortunately continue.  Steve Lawrence is going to sing "Time After Time"?  Ok, we'll stick him in the middle of a crowd of cut-outs of clocks.  Get it??  Judy is going to sing "Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe" from Cabin in the Sky?  Well, she'll need to do it on the front porch of a cabin, of course.  And June Allyson is singing "The Doodlin' Song"?  Well, she'll need to be surrounded by The Judy Garland Dancers" as they doodle on giant rolls of paper.  Silly.  And I for one have never been fond of the way these sets seem plopped in the middle of a limbo world with no walls.   

The finale of the show, a tribute to MGM film musicals the biggest disappointment of all.  The set continues the trend of "literal" interp by dropping Steve, June and Judy amongst giant film reels.  The performances on said set are under rehearsed, and shoddy.  Both Judy and June look a little wobbly, and there is so much line flubbing, and obvious glancing at cue cards...ugh.   

Final note- while Garland has sounded brilliant in all prior episodes, during this one she's having apparent vocal troubles and mentions having struggled with laryngitis during the week.  So if you think you're hearing a rougher, raspier Garland, you are.