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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Faulty Copies & Wondrous Clues

Once somebody has convincingly pulled off a role and we've gotten used to it, it's nigh impossible for anyone else to fill in sufficiently afterward. For those accustomed to Sean Connery, Roger Moore wouldn't do, blah-blah-blah. For those accustomed to Moore, no others that followed would do, and et cetera. Or ask yourself this one: could there be any other Indiana Jones? Other than maybe Ben Stiller perhaps... but you get my point.

For me, Batman is Adam West. Or maybe he's Bruce Wayne first from stately Wayne Manor, and then Batman, but ultimately it still traces back to Adam. All other Batmen are imposters. They are batfakes, if you will. Or Catwoman... after Lee Meriwether, there could be no other. Some people just break the mold, and only Lee would fit that one.

Bewitched had two Darrins, though it was such a subtle change for a 7-year-old watching that the transformation almost seemed natural. In the context of a show where grown women commonly krinkled their noses to disappear and reappear at will, having Dick York morph into Dick Sargent wasn't all that outlandish, especially considering they shared the same first name, after all. Dick as Darrin was now Dick as Darrin, and it didn't make the universe too far off kilter as a consequence. It was as if one Darrin had become another during a dream sequence, and in the middle of a dream nothing really needs permission to make sense anyway. While they were at it, they could have had Tabitha become a large rodent, and I don't think anyone would have really minded all that much.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Rhoda had her last name change several times, and the title of the show along with it. At one point it may have been The Dendrons, I'm not sure. All I know is every week Rhoda had a different show. The premise of her shows was to see how she was coping with the newest name. But the point is that no one else could've played Rhoda. No one else would've wanted to play her either, but maybe she wins points for replacing herself so many times.

Likewise, no one could play Rusty on National Lampoon's Vacation like Anthony Michael Hall. He was, as they say in the parlance, irreplaceable. Clark Griswold's yin has only one yang in this world, and it would be Hall. I wonder if he ever goes by Tony Mike Hall with his close friends...

Historians will also note that Family Feud hosts trying to follow up on Richard Dawson had absolutely no chance. Dawson's nonchalant self-effacing bumbling jubilation for life whilst spewing the most pedestrian of inane word descriptions couldn't be duplicated or even attempted. It would be like someone trying to do a remake of Hey Jude. While you may be able to take a sad song, you can't necessarily make it better.

Thus we see a metaphor for life. Once someone has firmly left an imprint, there's no way to undo it or pave over it. It will always remain. They will allow no replacement. Are you a Hey Jude? Are you a song no one else could sing?

Such is the case of our final contestant. The culmination of all replaced character parts was none other than the inimitable Steve of Blue's Clues. Without Steve, there is no Blue's Clues. The Blue's Clues mystique would not even exist. It makes you feel a little sorry for the lackluster Joe, who's probably a very upstanding guy, but trying to follow Steve's act is akin to any other author penning an epilogue for one of Shakespeare's works. You give an encore to perfection by doing.... what exactly? In a word, you very well hardly and ostensibly cannot. Joe came into a no-win situation. While this helps us to have pity on Joe, we still don't like him all that much. Say it ain't so, Joe. Probably nothing you did directly, but you represent the absence of Steve to us. That's a legacy worth getting a refund on. And this is all due to the tremendous aspect of Steve's inherent Steveness. In case you were wondering, Joeness is not a word.
I've even seen polls that embarrassingly ask: Steve or Joe? That's like asking: Do you like Pepsi or battery acid? C'mon, give us a real question we can answer that doesn't insult our sense of decor. The only viable Steve vs. Joe debate was asked by 49er fans years ago in the waning Montana years.

If we tiptoe lightly on this hallowed territory, what we see is that our main man Steve had elevated children's theater to an ethereal level. His genuineness came through like a tidal wave of truth, to which millions across the world intoned "I believe!"

In most any other child's programming, the characters don't seem like they're fully invested in what they're doing, or they don't seem in their element. OK, Mister Rogers was invested, but he doesn't count because he was more in his own little world. Steve, on the other hand, was both invested is his role, in his element, and he was fully connected with his audience, plus he was criminally entertaining as well. That's a lot of boths. He was transmitting lethal vibes over the airwaves that resonated in a personal way to each viewer, at least to those of us who were "truly" tuned in.

As we bask on the various important Steves in history, let us consider our Steve's place among them. The Six Million Dollar Man was given Oscar Goldman's ubiquitous pleadings of "Steve", eerily reminiscent of "Shane, come back Shane..." As we know, Steve Austin was a man barely alive. And they rebuilt him. To be all the things a Steve should be. But even with all that funding, he somehow still didn't match the awesomeness of Blue's Steve.

Steve Jobs was cool too, but he similarly was no "Steve". And I always thought his portrayal in the Godfather trilogy seemed rather forced. Steve Martin... he could be cool at times, before he got to the bridal father stage. And he was the quintessential wild and crazy guy, but alas, he was no Steve.

Steve Carell? Pretender. Steve Bartman? Can't even catch a ball. Steve Urkel? Oh, puh-lease. Steve Lindstrom? Never heard of him. Steve Grondeck? Can't say I've had the pleasure. Steve Rothchild? Whatever. Steve Balboni? Meh. Steve Miller? Not bad. Steve McQueen? Yeah, I guess he's cool. But (and this is the important part), he was still no Steve.

A montage I put together shows the gamut of emotions Steve can cover in a short episode, each one of them singularly worthy of an Emmy.
Steve effectively takes us through all our moods, including those we didn't know we had. A higher power may have taken him off the air because we weren't quite yet ready for him. It's a conspiracy theory I'm willing to entertain until a better one surfaces.

Let's look at what this real Steve does well (as if there's anything he doesn't do well). He's a consummate crayon artist, evident by his exquisitely rendered simplistic scrawls in his handy dandy... notebook. This is an artist whose canvas was a notebook he was so good, for crying out loud. Let's see Rembrandt try that. I didn't think so.

Additionally, Steve's an effective power walker, even indoors. He properly utilizes his elbows for the ideal cantilever effect — a feat only a select few can master.

He can deadpan with aplomb. He could dance, he could sing, he could move, he could swing — he could do everything.  What else should we expect? He is Steve, after all.

He's expressive, including with raising his eyebrows. Possibly the best inquisitive look in the industry, with nods also to Ben Stiller again even when he's not trying. I thought the second Night at the Museum turned out to be a rather interesting piece of cinematic fare even if it wasn't cohesive in the least. It was more a spectacle than a story, and on those terms I believe it worked. Which is surprising for a Ben Stiller film. I can't even believe our civilization has gotten to the level where there's actually such a thing that's called a Ben Stiller film, but such it is. I always get Ben Stiller, Jimmy Fallon, Adam Sandler, and Fabio mixed up. They seem like an actor conglomerate, and together they almost make a real actor. But let's not try to steal the show from our real hero, Steve.

Steve would've solved any of those museum conundrums in a matter of twenty minutes with the aid of his crayon and handy dandy notebook, for he's a sleuth extraordinaire. There's no blue paw print anywhere that he can't track down.

Other cool things about him: He wears a green two-tone shirt in the Charlie Brown motif. He uses various hand signals, like the double thumbs up (which Joe later plagiarized and should be sued for). He brings excitement to getting mail. He speaks fluent Blue (of the arf-arf dialect).

Some of the few perfect caricature players in history: Marilyn Monroe, Curly Howard, Cosmo Kramer, Ed Grimley, Steve... and that's just about it. I may have forgotten one or two or eleven, but when they invite them all to dinner, our Steve is sitting prominently near the end of the table in his two-tone green tuxedo, exchanging daft pleasantries with the waiter without skipping a beat. Because that's how he rolls.
Because of our Steve, Blues has had this deserving cult following of approving four-year-olds, which over time will only tend to blossom, and his legend will live on in lore. Steve will someday achieve mythic status publicly as he has already done privately in the hearts of his grateful throngs.

Alas, as with any white-hot constellation, Steve got burned out and later became a recluse, as it were. Reportedly he even went as far as letting his whiskers grow out at one juncture. After being the Blue's Steve, he now found himself to be the Blues Steve. Move over, Jake and Elwood, here's your long lost stepbrother. It was bound to happen, first being catapulted so high into the stratosphere, that any descent at all had the real potential for a long and arduous fall. But we celebrate his Steve energy, his unbridled excitement, his uncanny ability to seamlessly blend into the set of a cartoon stage, and his abundance of renegade Steve endorphins that he has gladly shared with us. That's our captivating, mesmerizing Steve, no less. Steve Burns, and he burns brightly.

What we find as we explore this mysterious big Blue world is there's a little bit of Steve in all of us, and that's what makes Steve palpably ominous. He lives on, and he has taught us much about ourselves. In a roundabout way, he helped us to figure out our own individual clues. Because, as he has so often told us, we're really smart.

3 comments:

surroundedbywieners said...

I miss Steve.

Rusty Southwick said...

surrounded, you effectively encapsulated my blog post in three words or less.

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