TJGS Episode 9: Steamroller Merm Meets the Two Other "Belters"
Episode 9 is notable for many reasons:
- The arrangements are incredible. The best of the series so far. There's Barbra's "Down With Love", Judy's "Just In Time" which modulates all over the place (and would be even more improved when reprised in a later episode with an alternate tag ending) Judy and Barbra's marathon "Hooray For Love" Medley, and of course there is the famous duet arrangement of Garland's "Get Happy" and Streisand's "Happy Days Are Here Again". It's been getting a lot of play lately, was performed on "Glee", and was featured in the most recent Pink Martini album Get Happy, but the first version is the best, and it was all Garland's idea.
- The Smothers Brothers are the first comedic guests from the series that remain funny to this day. While the other comedy acts had been pure cornball and could expect, at best to be considered mildly amusing today (I'm talking to you Dick Shawn) the Smothers Brothers are so off-beat and natural. The sensibility of their humor is still very "current" and their act seems to fly by.
- The pairing of Garland and Streisand is history in the making. Judy had brought family and friends to catch Barbra's act and was so taken with her that she convinced the execs to rearrange the shooting schedule to Barbra so could be a guest. More than anything, Judy was very generous to talent, and she was exceptionally good to Streisand. She convinced her agents to take Streisand on as a client (though they may not have needed much coaxing) and throughout the show you can see how much she gives to her when performing. Streisand on her part is a little less giving, a little more reserved, but I don't think it's selfishness, just youth. She was only nineteen after all, and still mastering the some of the "finesse" she would have later. I highly recommend the chapter devoted to this episode in "Rainbow's End" as it perfectly captures the shared spirit of admiration, the perplexed attitudes of many in the old guard of showbiz who didn't get what all the hubbub was about when it came to Streisand, and hints that the Diva in Streisand, when it came to matters like what kind of tea she wanted to drink during breaks and pitching a bit of a fit when her guest spot was slightly shortened, may have been there, even at that early age.
- Old "Steamroller Merm", as I like to call her, makes a "surprise" appearance and completely takes over. The moment she takes the stage she overwhelms everyone with volume and sheer gusto. She even commands the conversation and takes every opportunity to steer the it back to her. When the three of them sing together, Ethel's aim is obvious: steal focus. Garland gives the whole number over to Ethel preferring to be her cheerleader than compete, and when she notices that Barbra's getting a bit bowled over as she somewhat gamely tries to sing along, she pulls Streisand into the group, making her a bigger part of it. PS: I suggest watching the number a few times and focusing on a different performer each time. It's fascinating, and hilarious, as some of Barbra's slightly bemused expressions are priceless.
Jerry Van Dyke is on the show for one of his last episodes, still playing the part of "World's Number One Asshole". If they'd have just let him continue with his sweet bumbler, and let him have a hand in concocting some of the material himself, he might have made a true contribution. If only they could have dropped the bullshit about knocking Judy off her so called pedestal. It continues in this episode and extends to the show itself in a bit in which Jerry claims the show is too expensive and so starts making budget cuts. The audience doesn't need those little seeds of negativity planted in their head that would make them think the show is doing any less than spectacularly.
Incidentally the first reviews for the Garland show came out during this week would target this very aspect of the show as an awful idea, deriding the writers, with one critic threatening to punch the next person who referred to Garland as a "little old lady". Aside from that they were overwhelmingly positive, if not for the show itself, then for Garland. She'd always been the critic's darling and this was no exception. Good on you, critics.