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Television: Carol Burnett again proves she’s still a star on ‘Better Call Saul’

Carol Burnett’s pivotal appearance in the closing episodes of “Better Call Saul” is a reminder of the remarkable career the talented entertainer has had on the little screen.

Yes, Burnett made movies and appeared in live theater before and after her television success.

Television is where she shined. Her technique is geared for the intimacy and detail of the medium. Somehow, even counting excellent performances in films “The Four Seasons” and “Pete ‘N’ Tillie” among others, Burnett did not register of resonate on the big screen as much as she when she entered people’s home on television.

This is where she was fearless and able to elicit laughs and break hearts according to the occasion.

“The Carol Burnett Show” would win my vote for the best variety show in television history, even about the programs helmed by Ed Sullivan, Andy Williams and Dean Martin.

The closest to it would have been “The Garry Moore Show,” on which Burnett cut her television teeth as a regular before attaining her own program.

To me, the secret behind Burnett’s success, beyond the natural warmth she exudes, is her indifference to how she looked in the scene. Dress her in a gown, dress her in rags, make her up to look as glamorous as she could get, or smear her face with smudge marks and wrap her hair in a babushka, and she would make the scene work.

A lot of stars would have balked at doing bits in which they were costumed not to look their best, or even given make-up and wigs that made them look outlandish, but Burnett never seemed to worry about such things. She aimed for the laugh or the pathos. She trusted in her material, and that trust paid off for her and her viewing audience.

In “Better Call Saul,” a series that bids viewers farewell Monday night in terms of new episodes, Burnett stayed true to form.At age 89, she was chosen by “Saul” creator Vince Gilligan to play the dowdy aunt, Marian, of a cab driver who recognizes Saul through his current alias as Gene, a Cinnabon employee in Omaha. Gilligan knew from the actress herself that “Better Call Saul” was among her favorite television programs.

As usual, Burnett did not worry about doing a “star turn” or standing out in away besides what comes from quality acting. She accepted her supporting role and played in brilliantly.

In tonight’s finale, that role becomes as important as any guest-starring stint in the “Better Call Saul” or “Breaking Bad” canon.

Whether Jimmy, Saul, or Gene, the lead character on “Better Call Saul” has been able to charm the elderly. He develops his lone legitimate law practice by looking out for seniors’ needs. He builds a cogent class action case against a large nursing home company that is fleecing its residents by overcharging them for allegedly provided items such as groceries and toilet paper.

The old and vulnerable are Saul’s most enthusiastic clients, even more than the drug dealer he represents on “Breaking Bad.”Marian is different. She is initially enamored with Saul, or Gene as he is known when she meets him in a timeline that comes after the conclusion of “Breaking Bad.”

Later, she becomes suspicious of him. She wonders whether he is leader her nephew into serious criminal behavior. She does some research to see who Gene really is. What she learns scares her, and amid the windup of “Better Call Saul,” she does what no one has bothered to do or has been intimidated from doing, and lets the authorities looking for Saul know where he is.

Burnett fits neatly into a fitting ending for the “Saul”/”Breaking Bad” series. Her actions as Marian add another memorable credit to her outstanding career.

The great thing about Carol Burnett is she approaches her seemingly throwaway but eventually crucial role as an actress as not as a star.Once again, she accepts the trappings of her character and is willing to dress down and play a plain old lady instead of insisting on glamorizing or sophisticating Marian.

Once again, it is her ability to connect with the TV camera and register with the little screen that makes her appearances a lastingly integral part of “Better Call Saul” rather than a star’s showcase.

The way Burnett looks at Gene at one point, she lets you see the fear in her expression and that expression makes you fear for and care for Marian. Burnett doesn’t rely on the tricks of a celebrity or take her presence on a screen for granted, she gives a full, faceted performances that make you empathize with Marian even when it is clear she is going to take down a lead character you enjoyed seeing getting out of scrapes and avoiding his just deserts in through the decade “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” elevated television to its highest levels.

Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler had a similar effect during her tearful outburst in last week’s penultimate episode.

Vince Gilligan said at the time “Breaking Bad” was ending he believed in retribution via justice for the malefactors his audience had faithfully watched and rooted for. It seemed logical to me he would take the same tack with Jimmy/Saul/Gene, who has some good works to his credit but was mostly a conniving finagler who more often than not used his prodigious verbal skills and legal expertise to let mayhem, chaos, and crime continue.

Kim pleads with Gene to turn himself into authorities and sets an example. Marian makes it impossible for Saul to be Slippin’ Jimmy one more time and get away. Gilligan, in the end, puts Saul in a position to face his due.

If everything plays out the way I see it happening, “Better Call Saul” will have a fitting and proper ending that will add to a lasting estimation as one of the best series in television history.

Ardmore’s Pasek brings ‘Evan Hansen’ home

Only twice in the history of daytime Emmys has the award for ‘Best Musical Performance on a Daytime Talk Show” been given to the cast of a Broadway musical.

One of those casts was the original company of “Dear Evan Hansen,” which received the accolade for its performance of the song, “You Will Be Found,” on NBC’s “Today Show” in 2017, the year the show also earned a Tony for Best Musical.

One of the writers of “You Will Be Found” and the entire score of “Dear Evan Hansen” is Benj Pasek, who grew up in Ardmore, a happenstance that adds some importance to the show making its first appearance in Pasek’s home region tomorrow at Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre, where it will run for two weeks.

Pasek and his writing partner, Justin Paul, wrote songs for television about the time their music began being heard in theaters. In 2007, they wrote songs for six episodes of “Johnny and the Sprites” for the Disney Channel. They also contributed tunes of the second season of NBC’s “Smash,” some of their material doing well on iTunes charts after they were heard on television.

Another original song, “Runnin’ Home to You,” was sung on both “Flash” and “Supergirl.”

Pasek and Paul had a particularly good year in 2017, when “Dear Evan Hansen’s” Tony win was preceded by team winning an Oscar with composer Justin Hurvitz for their lyrics for “La La Land’s” “City of Stars.” They later received a Golden Globe for their song, “This Is Me” from the movie “The Greatest Showman.”

Too much parmesan for Lapidus on AGT

Simon Cowell was right about Doylestown’s Ben Lapidus who auditioned for NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” with an original song about his love for parmesan cheese and his insistence that waiters pile his plate with it.

It’s a song that has a short life span, a one-note samba so to speak. Except for a catchy repeated phrase – I always want more parmesan, but I’m embarrassed” — “AGT” judge Heidi Klum said was going to be the biggest earworm in America the next day, the song goes nowhere. (Although I’m singing the lines now….and I’m embarrassed.)

That didn’t stop it from acquiring fan support. Lapidus is a spirited and insistent entertainer, and he brought the “AGT” audience to their feet as they sang along with the phrase quoted above.

The upshot is during auditions Lapidus received four “No” votes from judges. Klum included, which would normally be a death knell to further appearances but wasn’t this time.

Viewers enjoyed Lapidus’s parmesan song so much, they voted him through to the live competition in spite of the judges’ unanimous rejection.

Much to Cowell’s chagrin, and the live audience’s delight, Lapidus returned to “AGT” last Monday to vie for one of the 10 finalist spots.

Cowell looked stricken as Lapidus took the stage, but the singer promised to show a different side of his songwriting. Coming out in a blue chambray shirt buttoned to the top and looking rather nerdy with a guitar slung in front, he began a doleful tune about a guy disappointed with life.

After four bars, he paused in a seeming panic as if he forgot the words to his composition or developed sudden stage fright.

It was a ruse. He stripped off his nerd-guy outfit appeared bare chested in a leather vest and pants and launched into the parmesan song.Same number, same result.

Well, sort of.

As Lapidus emerged as the Parmesan Guy, Cowell immediately hit his no button, followed quickly judges Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara.

Doom looked likely at last for Lapidus. Only Heidi Klum withheld a “No” vote.

Meanwhile the audience sang along with Lapidus again and cheered him at the end of his rant.

This time the three “No” votes had their effect. (Thank goodness!). In overnight voting, fans did not vote in numbers enough to give Lapidus another chance to appall Cowell. In a ballot that eliminated nine of the eleven acts that competed, viewers seconded the motion of Cowell, Mandel, and Vergara and voted Lapidus off “AGT.”

Neal Zoren’s television column appears every Monday.


Source: Berkshire mont

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