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Erin Listens: Great Gildersleeve, Amos’n’Andy, My Friend Irma December 1, 2015

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches, Meta.
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The listening to old-time radio continues. Seriously, I can burn through 19 episodes in a single work day, I’ve gotta keep ’em coming.

The Great Gildersleeve has gone downhill since its first season. Shifted from comedy to more soap-opera drama, which is not nearly as interesting as the show seems to think it is. (They did two storylines in a row where Gildy spends all season courting a woman, they’re engaged for half of it, then in the season finale he decides he doesn’t want to marry her and frantically tries to sabotage the relationship. At least the other characters kept lampshading it the second time around.)

(In both cases he gets out of the engagement for unrelated reasons, and in the seasons since, his relationships with both of them have gone back and forth between “flirting” and “jealously trying to agitate each other.” Straight people, I swear.)

On the plus side, the historical angle is still interesting — I just passed the end of WWII, and the characters are slowly moving out of the era of war bonds, rationing, and high interest in the Red Cross. And I’ve only caught a few of the vintage pop-culture references — to “oh, you kid“, to Alphonse and Gaston — gotta wonder how much I’m missing by being born 50+ years after the target audience.

Worth noting: the unintentional subtext between Gildy and Judge Hooker keeps cropping up. Sample line: “All that time I was flirting with [yet another love interest], I was thinking of you!” They literally did a “we rented a single hotel room together and ended up sharing a bed” episode. Then spent New Year’s Eve alone together, complimenting each other. “You’re a he-man, a real masculine personality.” / “I’ve noticed women looking at you on the street. Recently!” Really, guys. Really.

Intercutting that with Amos’n’Andy, which is…not as racist as pop-culture osmosis had led me to expect? The leads are a couple of white actors doing dialect voices to play black characters, so there’s that. But it’s not like they’re the Two Black Stereotypes in an otherwise-white world — most of the characters are black, and there’s as much variety and characterization as in any of these other shows. I don’t know that I can unpack it any further than that.

Our heroes fumble their way through get-rich-quick schemes, romantic entanglements, and the schemes of unscrupulous friends and unsavory relatives. Oh, and there was that one time they got arrested by the FBI on suspicion of stealing military secrets for the Nazis. (I’m listening through the war years here, too.)

Wikipedia let me know that Calvin and the Colonel is actually an Amos’n’Andy remake with cartoon animals. Neat. I knew the voices sounded familiar, but I wouldn’t have guessed they were the same.

Speaking of familiar voices, one of the side cast members is clearly trying to do the Mel Blanc thing (most familiar today from Porky Pig), “try to answer a question one way, stutter over some phoneme too hard to get through it, try to phrase it another way, stutter, try again, stutter…” Except that the actor is not Mel Blanc, or even Mel-Blanc-league, so what he’ll do is…say the whole answer (with a few ums and ahs around it), then say a whole new phrasing of that answer, and so on.

Makes me miss the Mel Blanc Show. Unfortunately, limited stores of preserved episodes means I burned through all of those at least a year ago…

Lighting up my days more than anything since running through all the Our Miss Brooks episodes is My Friend Irma. Our heroines are Jane and Irma, a couple of working girls sharing an apartment in NYC, which right away puts you on a more progressive foundation than some of these shows.

(I know Gildy is supposed to be a buffoon, but it’s still pretty teeth-grinding when he lectures his niece about how she should learn to be a good wife rather than planning to get a job. …And then, with no sense of irony, complains about girls with career aspirations to his female cook. Followed by his female secretary.)

Jane’s the sensible and sardonic narrator; Irma is a sweet, dreamy Cloud Cuckoolander. Sometimes Jane’s treatment of her crosses the line into patronizing, but there’s enough real affection to make it worthwhile. Similarly, Irma’s love interest is kind of a shiftless bum who’s always chasing schemes and making bets rather than settling down to a normal job, but it’s clear that he isn’t dating Irma because she’s gullible. And he tries to do genuinely selfless things once in a while (though they inevitably blow up in his face, because it’s funnier that way).

It’s sweet and fun, and has a steady pattern of not making me want to pull my hair out in frustration. Would rec.

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