After the jump, some notes on health care, Ted Kennedy, "The Closer," stoner jokes and things on my bookshelf.
For my DVD column last week I took another look at "90210," the updating of "Beverly Hills, 90210," including the first-season finale. It included some humor based on two of the show's adults accidentally ingesting pot-laced food and so suffering through stoner symptoms. Then, on last night's "The Closer," we also got an accidental-stoner storyline, but one done with considerably more intelligence -- reminding us how good that show can often be.
Not consistently, I should add. Any season of "The Closer" will include episodes where the central mystery isn't all that mysterious, or where the character bits are not effective. But far more often, the show is very well done, both in its storytelling and the treatment of characters.
This season has seen the appearance of Brenda's niece (played by the real-life daughter of star Kyra Sedgwick and hubby Kevin Bacon), who is a family troublemaker ending up with Brenda and Fritz because no one else can handle her. In last night's episode, she received a package of pot brownies, which sweet-toothed Brenda unknowingly tried, with the expected comic effect.
But then the episode took a turn. Just as we had settled into the ha-ha of Brenda's being stoned, Fritz became enraged. He is, after all, an alcoholic, and his eating one of those brownies could have had bleak results for him and his recovery. It pushed to the foreground the consequences of even casual drug use, and it did so in a way that made sense for all the characters involved. Good work.
I start back to school in a couple of weeks and expect to fill my reading time with classwork (hello again, Henry James!). But I've managed to squeeze in some book larnin' in my spare time the last couple of months, and much of it has been history. Books have included Rick Perlstein's "Before the Storm," which I think I have mentioned here before; Joseph T. Glatthaar's "General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse"; Will Bunch's "Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future," and, just finished, the Boston Globe-assembled "Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy."
The Kennedy book tries to be warts-and-all but there are places where it seems overly kind -- that the events it describes could be interpreted in a far less favorable fashion than the book does. (It also lacks an index, when it needs one.) But it does make an argument for Kennedy's accomplishments as a senator, even if he might have achieved more were it not for his drinking, dubious behavior and awful actions in Chappaquiddick.
But the book is timely not only because Kennedy is seeing twilight but because one of his passions has been getting health care for all Americans, a cause once again on the front pages and in noisy newscasts.
And it didn't have to be that way. The book notes that Kennedy might have achieved his dream close to 40 years ago, when then-President Nixon "unveiled a plan to expand health care to nearly all Americans through their employers, with the federal government subsidizing insurance premiums for the poor." It looks like a good deal now, the book notes, but Kennedy "stubbornly held out for a straight-up, national health care system funded through general revenues and Social Security taxes."
Kennedy wondered years later if he had missed a good chance. And when we see the screaming about the issue now, it's more than reasonable to think that he did.