TV Episode of the Week

Chicago Hope does little week after week but prove that TV is a writer’s medium. How else to explain how a show that boasts Adam Arkin, Christine Lahti, Ron Silver and (well, through ’95) E.G. Marshall and Mandy Patinkin plays a distant second fiddle to ER, home to George Clooney and Noah Wyle? Since its cynical debut as a rival network’s bid for the ER audience, Chicago Hope has yet to truly distinguish itself. ER had its season premiere a few weeks back, a lackluster gimmick of an episode in which the actors performed the show live during its broadcast. (Since then it has returned to form.) Chicago Hope responded earlier this week (Wednesday, 10/15) with the contrary: a fully choreographed song-and-dance episode. Just after leaving the hospital for good, 15-year Hope employee Dr. Aaron Shutt (Arkin) collapses in a Quick-E-Mart, and his (former) colleagues commence the race to save his brain. Meanwhile, in morphine-induced bliss, Shutt observes the whole goings-on, from both the hospital bed and the out-of-body-cam perspectives, as a series of song-and-dance numbers. Shades of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and Dennis Potter’s entire oeuvre (especially The Singing Detective), the episode presents musical nuggets by Frank Sinatra, the Four Seasons, Jimi Hendrix and others as comic, if obvious, glosses on Shutt’s situation. The cast either squeaks out the words, or pulls a sly karaoke. When a hot-shot neurosurgeon is flown in from Canada (her name: Denise Potter), the entire hospital breaks into “Luck Be a Lady.” There are touching flashbacks to Shutt’s bar mitzvah, a kind of Freudian performance-anxiety touchstone, and a great cameo by Mandy Patinkin — who, needless to say, sings his own material. (“Hey,” asks jealous, tone-deaf Shutt, “why’s that your real voice?”) The episode doesn’t necessarily cohere, and its claim to pop-culture cleverness was certainly undermined when a commercial break brought an ecstatic, big-budget car ad featuring the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.” Then again, any bow to Potter, poet laureate of the BBC, is a taste of what TV can be.

Originally published in the October 17, 1997, edition of epulse (3.41).

Pummeling, Jigsaw Techno

Perfect for your friend who’s worn down his Last Temptation of Christ CD. For On This Planet (Fathom), Steve Roach is (blessedly) unfashionable as ever, having turned his back on the pummeling, jigsaw techno of our moment and produced an extended, meditative trance. From its opening thunderclap, the album is steeped in ambient portent and grace.

Soundtrack Music of the Week

The soundtrack music of the late Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu has been sporadically available in this country, if at all, so The Film Music of Toru Takemitsu (Nonesuch, out now) is most welcome. Takemitsu was best known in the U.S. for his work with filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (represented here with a section from 1970’s Dodes’kaden), but he composed 93 movie scores over 40 years and his range was remarkable. His music was greatly influenced by the West, and there are moments on this compilation that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Ennio Morricone or Jerry Goldsmith collection. There are stately organs (as on the opening selection from 1989’s Rikyu, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, who used Takemitsu for many of his films) and lush strings with melodies hinting at the baroque. But there is also the distinctively Japanese flavor he brought to his harrowing score for Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964), where the dry scrape of strings personified the shifting sands. This collection shows the breadth of Takemitsu’s work. This is one entry in the Nonesuch Film Music Series, which also devotes discs to Alex North, Leonard Rosenman and Georges Delerue. (For those interested in exploring Takemitsu’s non-soundtrack music, Denon has released the orchestral disc Autumn and a CD of his guitar works performed by Shin-ichi Fukuda; the latter is recommended if you can find it.)
Originally published in the October 3, 1997, edition of epulse (3.39).