Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
February 18, 2002
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Don't Be Such a Stranger
They were such a part of our lives for so long that they almost felt like
part of the family.
Then they went away, and I miss them. What's stopping them from
making a visit now and then?
I'm not referring to celebrities who died. Janis Joplin, Art Linkletter,
Bing Crosby, Charles Schulz, Isaac Asimov, Spencer Tracy, Chris Farley -- that
list is way too long, and besides, they're not coming back no matter what I say.
Nor am I talking about celebrities who are simply too old or ill. We don't
really want to see Bob Hope or Ronald Reagan make public appearances right
now, I suspect -- far better to remember them as they were in their prime.
I'm also not talking about people who were once wonderful and have
since been replaced by obnoxious caricatures of themselves. Sure, I'd like to
hear from the young, eager, brilliant Barbra Streisand rather than the vain,
terrified person now performing under that name.
Remember how funny Roseanne Barr and Drew Carey once were?
Remember when Ted Koppel wasn't pompous? But nothing we do now will
bring them back to what they used to be.
I'm talking about people who got tired of talking to us or performing for
us long before we -- or at least I -- got tired of them. They're still alive, still
healthy, and still hiding.
Johnny Carson. During all the talk of "late night wars," when Leno and
Letterman were battling over the succession to Carson's late-night crown, what
few dared to point out was that not one of the candidates was fit to take
Letterman and Leno will do almost anything to be funny, and often they
succeed. But neither has ever come up with anything as lovably funny as
Floyd R. Turbo, Karnak, Aunt Blabby, or any of the other characters we loved
to laugh at.
Carson was smart, not a smart alec, and when he needed to, he could
talk to us from the heart. When Leno and Letterman try it, they always look
like little kids trying to convince their parents that they're really really telling
the truth this time.
Carson actually understood the news stories he made fun of. And
though he had the power to destroy political figures -- Jerry Brown never
recovered from the "Governor Moonbeam" tag -- Carson was truly even-handed
in his political humor.
Unlike Leno and Letterman, who combine cheerful ignorance with
Most of all, I miss the fact that when Carson talked to a guest, he
actually listened; his mind was actually engaged; there was real live
Johnny, I know you're having a good time in Malibu, spending all that
money, but every now and then, couldn't you come out and talk to us?
Andy Richter. Conan O'Brien isn't half as stiff and unfunny as he used
to be. But during those awful early years, the only thing that saved his show
was Andy Richter, who put up with Conan's heavy-handed mockery while
adding genuine humor and likeableness to "Late Night."
He left to do "other projects," and I wish him well in that. But if you ask
me, I'd rather see Richter doing a latenight show than anybody currently doing
Bill Watterson. "Calvin & Hobbes" managed to be biting and warm, wise
and silly, all at once, all the time. The comic strip antics of the little boy and
his stuffed -- but dangerous -- tiger were the best thing in the paper most
I understand why Watterson quit -- he didn't want to slip into the
pattern that weakened Charles Schulz's later years, relying on stock characters
and situations that were increasingly divorced from real life.
But can't he come up with a new strip to which he brings the same wit
and style and heart?
Gary Larson. "The Far Side" creator hasn't completely disappeared -- a
few years ago he did a preachy sort of children's book, "There's a Hair in My
Dirt." But that's not a lot of output from a guy who twisted our world into
hilarious clarity every day for not-enough years.
Patty Scialfa. Long associated with Bruce Springsteen, her voice can be
heard singing with him on the recent "Live in New York City" cd. It only made
me wish she would release another solo album.
Her "Rumble Doll" (1993) was perhaps the most brilliant debut album
I've ever heard. Every cut was a good song movingly performed. Her wistful,
world-weary voice is unforgettable. One album from her is not enough.
Julee Cruise. Her dreamy, fifties-style songs are hauntingly strange.
"Floating into the Night" (1983) and "The Voice of Love" (1993) show why David
Lynch used her music with "Twin Peaks," but unlike Lynch, who is usually
unwatchably precious, Cruise's music has a kind of universality and I'm
impatient for her to record again.
David Hartman. He walked off ABC's "Good Morning" as the undisputed
king of morning talk. I also thought his acting performance in the made-for-TV
remake of "Miracle on 34th Street" was first-rate.
He had exactly the right balance of relaxed charm and gravitas to be the
first voice we heard in the morning. I'd rather see him than any of the crew we
get thrown at us today.
Andre Braugher. The first moment I saw him on "Homicide: Life on the
Streets" I could see that this was an actor way too hot for the little box of
television. He needs to be in feature films, and feature films need his power.
Unfortunately, he keeps getting cast in sidekick roles, and he doesn't
belong there. He practically has to act inside a paper bag to keep from stealing
scenes from the less-talented stars he is hired to "support."
If ever there was an actor born to play fiery or tortured roles -- one
thinks of Hamlet or Macbeth -- it's Braugher.
And yet he's funny and tender, too -- I think he'd do as well as Tom
Hanks in bringing off the baffled-but-game Jimmy Stewart character that
audiences love so much.
To all these entertainers, I have only one word to say: Encore!
My nomination for Best New Comic Strip in the N&R in 2001: "Zits."
Truthfully written, wittily drawn, this strip joins "For Better or For Worse" and
"Sally Forth" on my list of "comic strips worth opening the paper for."
My nominees for Best Editorial Columnists in America: Leonard Pitts,
Jr., and William Raspberry. Neither follows a party line; both examine issues
on their merits and manage to fit cogent, well-written, thought-provoking ideas
into the short space that columnists have to work with.
And Pitts's book "Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to
Fatherhood" is the book I recommend most highly for fathers of any race.
My nomination for Most Spineless Columnist in America: Ann
Don't misunderstand -- I've been reading her column for many years and
I don't plan to stop.
But I remember a time when she used to make a call and stand by it.
Now her most frequent answer is "see a counselor" (a copout if there ever was
one, for an advice columnist), and whenever she gets a few negative responses
to a column, she flip-flops and apologizes instead of standing by her original
All the principles she used to have seem to have been replaced by a
nervous twitch whenever she thinks she might have been caught being