I promised myself I was going to post some content on the Cultural

Blender pages tonight, and as usual it is extremely late, and I won’t

really have time to write anything much of merit, but I tend to

write way too much as it is, so for the sake of argument, I

wish to say a few things in this column about a television show I

enjoy on CBS Sunday nights at 8:00pm. The show is “The Education of

Max Bickford” new this season, starring Richard Dreyfuss and

Marcia Gay Harden. Both actors have won the Academy Award.

The writing is incisive. Although the cinematography is not “painterly”

but sort of pedestrian (lots of  close-ups and over-the-shoulder

shots,) the acting and scripts make up for it, and until last

Wednesday, this was my favorite new television show this year.

 

 

When I first heard of this show, I had an immediate need to see it.

Richard Dreyfuss has always been one of my favorite actors

(even though it might be argued that he constantly plays the same

irascible character) and Marcia Gay Harden is always enjoyable.

Both invest their characters with acid and a sharp edge.

And therein lies the rub.

I have chosen my Chop page in the Cultural Blender to talk about this

show, because I read last week that the original creators were

leaving over the dreaded “creative differences”, and the network was

going to soften up the character.

The L.A. Times postulated a new title for the show “Mr. Bickford’s Opus”

The integrity of a well written series is about to be seriously undermined.

 

“Skyler was not feeling well.

He was counting the revised pages of the script, and feeling a mite

schizophrenic. The pages were talking to him.

You aren’t the same anymore.”

 to quote Max’s literary narrative device, as he might

remark when he becomes the  “kinder, gentler Max.

 

 

Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin, the creators, have left the series

after executives at the network expressed an interest (after only

five or six shows) to soften the character of Max, and the tone of

the show in general.

Sadly, this might serve to decapitate what I firmly believe is

One of the most astute series, because the acerbic wit, and general

Humanity of the character, however flawed, is what makes

This series stand out for me.

Richard Dreyfuss, like Michael Douglas, can make an unlikable

character, if not likable, at least tolerable, and although I don’t like

some of Max’s decisions, I admire the way in which (up till now,

anyway) he is true to his set of morals.

Max is introduced as a history teacher at an all girl’s college, but

takes over as Chairman of the Department when the current

Head dies.

Max’s specialty is the Vietnam War era, and his colleagues tend to think

he is stuck in the seventies, with memories of his subversive past

Always present on his mind. He is an idealist and at the same time

a real asshole, and Dreyfuss pulls the trick off, although he has proved

grating to a number of critics. Perhaps it is the critical response alone

which has caused the show to get a retooling.

 

 

The show hasn’t even had time to cultivate a following, but in the 21st

Century, shows can actually be cancelled after a couple of showings.

The television industry, like the movie industry, seems to go for the

“instant hit”. If the numbers aren’t monumental opening weekend,

then the film goes to video quicker, and the occasional television

series is cancelled, put out to pasture, killed.

Funny thing is, “Max Bickford” was renewed for next season.

So the Nielsens were okay, but the network just couldn’t “take a joke”

as it were.

 

Max, with his children, Nell

(Katee Sackhoff),, and  Lester
  (Eric Ian Goldberg)
   

Max strolls the campus with fellow teacher Erica Bettis (Helen Shaver) who used to be “Steve.”

 

I am using this subject as the first “Chop” article, because it is about to be

chopped beyond recognition, I’m afraid. Both Max and Andrea Haskell, played

by Marcia Gay Harden, who joined the staff of the History Department

in the first episode, taking a valued and expected chair away from Max,

are at opposite ends of the subject they teach.

Whereas Max is overly sentimental but objective about history,

(He’s a man who truly believes that those who cannot remember

history are doomed to repeat it) he is constantly at odds with

former lover Andrea, who teaches “Pop Culture.”

Watching “Max Bickford”, one is acutely aware that Pop Culture

Will eventually supplant history in schools.

Perhaps Popular Culture is the study of recent history.

Perhaps we can learn about ourselves by studying our iconography

Throughout the past thirty or forty years, as I hope to prove

In the Cultural Blender website as soon as I write the content.

Max doesn’t believe Pop Culture is history. He has a lot to learn.

Here’s hoping his “Education”: doesn’t end after five or six episodes.

 

CAST

 

Starring:
Richard Dreyfuss
    (Max Bickford)

Marcia Gay Harden
    (Andrea Haskell)
Regina Taylor
    (Judith Hackett Bryant)
Helen Shaver
    (Erica Bettis)
Katee Sackhoff
    (Nell Bickford)
Eric Ian Goldberg
    (Lester Bickford)

 

EPiSODE GUIDE courtesy of TVTome.com

Official CBS Website (a very meager tribute, if you ask me.)

 

PRODUCED BY: CBS Productions and Regency Television,

in association with Twentieth Century Fox Television

EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Nicole Yorkin, Dawn Prestwich, Rod Holcomb

 

The Education of Max Bickford, one of the better series on television,

will soon lose it’s bite. The photographs on this page are video captures

taken from the Tivo, recorded on VHS., and then input to the computer

as stills. I am inspired in these endeavors, such as my DVD review/essay

of “The Stand” miniseries, by the FilmBooks written by Forrest J. Ackerman

in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine when I was a child.

I was “turned on” to many a horror or science fiction movie

By “Dr. Acula’s” prose. The filmbook was a detailed synopsis of

The movie, and the articles were illustrated with stills from the film.

It is relatively easy these days, to capture the stills from

the Tivo, and to create a page as soon as the program airs.

Michael F. Nyiri  Nov. 11, 2001

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