Friday, February 28, 2014

Raylan’s hat and the secret of our success

You don’t need me to tell you Justified is a Western with cars and cell phones and quicker reloads after eruptions of gunfire. It’s one of the best TV Westerns ever. Better than Deadwood. Almost as good as Lonesome Dove. It’s so good a Western that it’s easy for me to see it in my head as an actual Western with horses and six-shooters and the characters getting around their reliance on cell phones with visits to conveniently located telegraph offices and the introduction of a Cheyenne teenager named Rides Like the Wind.

Since Justified was based on Elmore Leonard’s crime novels not his Westerns---although the latter always informed the former which is how Raylan Givens came to be. He moseyed out of Leonard’s imagination into the wrong sort of novels. That was the joke. Raylan wasn’t just a man out of his time. He was out of his genre.--- Justified was always going to be set in the present.  But imagine if somewhere along the line in its development someone with the power to make it happen said, Hell with this pretending we’re doing something we’re not. Let’s make this a real Western.

Show probably would have failed before it finished its first season.

I say that not because Westerns are doomed to fail but because almost all new TV shows are doomed to fail and quickly. The ones that don’t are flukes and it’s usually hard to say what they have the failures didn’t. Good writing, good acting, lots of shows that came and went had those. The right star in the right role? That must have a lot to do with it. Bad shows succeed because of that. Justified sure has that going for it in Timothy Olyphant.

But I’d argue it’s not just Olyphant.

It’s the hat.

Justified Raylan's hat The way he wears it.

Same difference, though.

Rarely gets lauded to the degree it should, but good acting isn’t just saying the lines well or, sorry Spencer Tracy, all done with the eyes. It includes how you move. How you handle a prop. How you pull off a piece of business. How you wear your costume. How you wear your hat. Olyphant makes the hat work. The hat makes Raylan.

The producers and writers are well aware of this and make use of it. Maybe too aware. There was a stretch there when they were in danger of over-using it. Then they almost went wrong the other way and made serious moves towards getting rid of the hat. Fortunately, they snapped out of it. The hat is too important or, I should say, Olyphant does too good a job with it, carrying off an affectation that ought to mark him as a doofus and would mark almost any other lawman or man (or actor) who tried it as a doofus. It’s key to Raylan’s character and his appeal that he---Raylan, but of course Olyphant too---makes the hat work.


But here’s the thing.

If Justified had been a conventional Western, the hat would have been a lot harder to use as it’s used because all the men and some of the women would have been wearing cowboy hats too. Olyphant would have had to wear his hat better than all his co-stars who would have had to wear their hats well because you can’t have an entire supporting cast of characters who look like doofuses in their sombreros and ten-gallon Stetsons. Boyd Crowder would have had to look cool in his. Tim Gutterson would have had to too. If the producers decided to go the Calamity Jane route with the part of Deputy Brooks, Erica Tazel would have had to look as good in hers as Paula Wiegert looked in hers on Deadwood, otherwise, the male actor who replaced her would have had to look good in his.

Marshal Art Mullen---Marshal not Chief Deputy Marshal. In a traditional Western, you don't bother with bureaucratic nicities and Chief Deputy would be dropped from Art's job title---Marshall Art Mullen would have had to look good in a cowboy hat too and so Nick Searcy who plays Art is lucky Justified isn’t a real Western because I can’t see him looking good in a cowboy hat. He doesn’t seem to have the head for it. His face is too small and narrow. His ears stick out. His eyes are little and would get lost in the shadow of the brim. His jawline is blurred by his jowls. Hats make men look older and Searcy already looks old for his age. I think a cowboy hat would make him look like an old coot of the Walter Brennan type, either that or like Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles, sinister but kind of dumb, and Art may be a bit cranky verging on the curmudgeonly but he’s not an old coot and he’s not dumb. How he’d have looked in a cowboy hat might have cost Searcy the part.

As it is, something along those lines really might have cost him the part. Might have cost someone else the part. Seemingly trivial things like how they look in a hat or look when they take one off cost actors jobs all the time. Look left when the casting director thinks it would have been more effective to look right or up or down or straight ahead or left but quicker or slower, take the hat off or put it back on a beat too soon or too late, put all your weight on it as you lean on a desk, be somehow unconvincing lighting up a cigarette, appear somehow out of place standing next to a potential co-star or a horse or a car or a mailbox and the next words you hear will be “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Searcy’s lucky he got the part at all. He’s lucky he still has it, that the producers haven’t decided to kill Art off. They’re a pretty ruthless bunch, and I imagine Raymond J. Barry who plays---played---Raylan’s father Arlo agrees and is wishing he’d been as lucky as Searcy. I think Searcy’s terrific as Art and he’s part of what makes Justified fun for me. But I don’t think I’d miss him much if Art disappeared, and I mean Searcy and his character. And I doubt if he hadn’t lucked out and gotten the part very many fans of the show would be saying to themselves, This guy playing Art is ok, but you know who they really should have gotten for the part? Nick Searcy!

Lucky guy, then, Searcy.

Lucky as you have to be to succeed as an actor, luck carries you only so far. You have to be talented, hard-working, and smart, at least smart about the way you approach a part, and Searcy is talented and smart in that way and maybe other ways as well, and I assume he’s hard-working or no one would want to work with him.

He’s also a Right Wing loon.

Not that that matters.

An actor or an artist’s politics doesn’t affect my judgment of his work or my enjoyment. Clint Eastwood is easy. Robert Downey Jr’s post-prison conversion to Republicanism doesn’t change my opinion that he is one of the best movie actors among the current crop of leading men and I look forward to his appearance in a movie as much or more than I do some very liberal favorites like George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Tom Hanks.

Robert Duvall, James Woods, Jon Voight---I admire them all.

Kelsey Grammar I have a harder time with these days, not because he’s a Republican blowhard, but because he’s a despicable human being.

So I don’t care how Nick Searcy votes or what his politics are. It makes no difference to me that he’s a Right Wing loon.

What’s depressing is how I know he’s a right wing loon.

Through Twitter.

Searcy has an active and lively Twitter presence as the online equivalent of the loudmouth at the end of the bar trying to pick a fight with the guy he’s decided is the weakest in the room.

Searcy’s routine is to bait foolish and humorless liberals into engaging with him by tweeting outrageous and offensive nonsense, insult, belittle, and bully them when they do, then step back to accept the applause of other Right Wing loons among followers who think I know you are but what am I is an argument-demolisher no one ever sees coming.

If you want a sample of Searcy all a-twitter, Tony Ortega is happy to oblige with this post at Raw Story, ‘Justified’ actor Nick Searcy asked us not to call him a ‘Teabagger,’ ‘Ultra-Con,’ or ‘Bigot’ in this headline.

You’ll notice Searcy is offended when liberals sneer at him using terms along the lines of Right Wing loon, which is amusing considering one of his favorite terms of endearment for people who disagree with him politically is pussies.

Now, for all I know, this is one big goof on Searcy’s part. He might be just trying to build his brand. He has a series of comic videos on YouTube called Acting School With Nick Searcy whose central joke is that Nick Searcy, "international film and television star"  is a clueless egomaniac too full of himself to notice he’s not as smart, talented, ingratiating, or worth emulating as he brags of being. His Twitter self could just be a version of his YouTube self. His Twitter profile includes what could be a wink and an elbow to the ribs: "All new followers must proceed directly to Acting School with Nick Searcy before addressing me."

I’d like to think he's being funny. Trying to be funny. I’d like to think a successful and admired fifty-four year international film and television star has an at least financial reason for adopting the persona of a twenty year old frat boy still smarting from the B he got from a professor he’s convinced had it in for him because of his brave and bold political incorrectness.

But Searcy seems a little too convincing at it, a little too pleased with himself, a little too happy about it. So I just feel I have no choice but to take him for what he makes himself out to be, a Right Wing loon and a loudmouthed jerk with no idea of how better to spend his time than play around at being an asshole on Twitter.

Judging by the sampling from Ortega’s post, Searcy’s new tactic is to beat up his opponents with the fact he’s rich and famous and they’re just a bunch of nobodies.

The proof that he’s right and you’re not, you’re a pussy, is that he’s Nick Searcy and you’re not or, rather, he’s Art Mullen and you’re not.

It’s his version of If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?

He’s rich, richer than your average college professor, anyway; highly successful compared to most people and almost all other actors who spend the bulk of their careers waiting for callbacks for TV commercials instead of having regular gigs on popular TV series; and he’s famous, among fans of Justified, if nobody else. And his point is that since he’s all those things and you’re none of those things, you’re just a nobody and a pussy, he must be smarter than you and if he is---and he is. See above.---then he’s automatically right in all things and you, well, you don’t even matter enough to be thought wrong.

But he’s not that rich or successful or famous compared to his own co-stars, let alone to the likes of George Clooney. And if being rich, successful, and famous decides all political arguments in favor of the richest and most successful and most famous party to the debate, then Searcy’s lost every fight with Clooney before he’s even entered the ring. Before he’s left the locker room. Before he even thought of going to the gym. It would be fun, though, to dare him to walk up to Clooney at a party and call him a pussy. The fun being in watching him not doing it. I’m assuming he has enough common sense and instinct for self-preservation not to do that, not necessarily that he’s a coward.

But if Searcy believes what he appears to believe, then he’d probably be glad to concede the argument to Clooney because the point is not Liberalism versus Conservatism. It’s power, them that’s got it and them that ain’t.

Allowing that Clooney’s wealth, success, and fame make him right in all things including his decisions on whether, how, and when to throw his weight around and bully the less rich, less successful, and less famous gives the likes of Nick Searcy permission to think themselves right in all encounters with people less etc than they are and bully them.

It hardly matters. Searcy himself hardly matters, as a spokesman for Right Wing lunacy, at any rate. He’s just a celebrity, a relatively minor one at that, and his days as even a minor celebrity are fleeting---Justified’s producers have announced next season will be the show’s last. What are the odds he'll land another role as good as Art Mullen on another series as good as Justified?  Given his age, he'll likely begin winding down his career with a succession of guest starring roles of diminishing importance on shows and in movies of diminshing quality and what's he going to be saying on Twitter when he's seventy and feeling lucky to have one line on this week's episode of a sitcom that's already been cancelled?  But what do I know? He could strike lucky again. Again, doesn't matter.  The height of his political influence will be when his name shows up in the inevitable lists of Hollywood types who support Rand Paul or Ted Cruz (These days, Searcy is for Cruz.) versus those who support Hillary Clinton, adding to the general and mostly correct impression that all the really cool kids vote Democratic.

Like I said, I half-suspect Searcy's kidding around. The offline politics are real but the Twitter character is a joke.  The troubling fact is that Searcy is echoing rich and successful types who aren't joking and who do influence policy and the economy and who do believe that their wealth and success makes them right in all things and therefore they should be put in charge of running the country without question or check. The rest of us can just like it or lump it but whichever keep our mouths shut and our heads down, do what we’re told, and put up with and be grateful for whatever our betters decide we deserve.

Which is not much.

If we were deserving of wealth, success, status, and power, we’d have already earned it. Like them.

The Corporatist Right and its political flunkeys and media apologists have been growing more and more outspoken and active in their efforts to not just refuse to share any more of the wealth but to deny even more of it to the rest of us. And fundamental to their argument is that their money and success gives them the right to rule. Just the fact they have the money proves they deserve it. It shows they were favored by God or Nature, marks them as superior. Our superiors.

Equally fundamental is their belief that they earned it, every penny of it, all on their own, with no help from anyone, certainly none from the government, least of all from the people who did the real, hard, and often dangerous labor required to run the machines, dig the mines, grow the food, build the roads, maintain the offices, ship the goods, keep the peace, and mind the stores necessary to their money-making enterprises actually making money.

They tell themselves and each other I did build this! when mostly what they did was take advantage of what thousands, millions of others sweated, died, and went broke and broke their hearts building. But according to themselves, it was all their own individual doing, no one else contributed anything but cost, and luck had nothing to do with it.

This is a lie, of course, and it would be easy to show it up as lie if only there was the equivalent of for bankers, hedge fund managers, corporate CEOs, and other suit-wearers fancying themselves real-life John Galts. Then the course of their luck would be trackable and the names of the people who helped them and those folks’ exact contributions could be listed, as is the case with actors like Nick Searcy.

I said I can’t picture Searcy looking good in a cowboy hat, but thinking it over I can see him in a bowler pushed back raffishly from his forehead. If Justified had been a traditional Western, it would have been someone’s job to picture him in the right headgear, find it for him, and show him how to wear it to his advantage.

Justified Art in his office Tombstone As it is, his looking the part on camera is still someone else’s job---several someone elses’ jobs. Actors on TV shows don’t design their own costumes. They’re usually not responsible for their make-up. They don’t light themselves, don’t position the cameras. They don’t fill in the backgrounds around them. Maybe it was Searcy’s idea to hang the poster for Tombstone on Art’s office wall but probably not.

And all these people responsible for Searcy’s success every week are knowable. Their names are in the credits.

Searcy is enjoying his current success because he’s talented, because he’s hard-working, and because a whole bunch of other talented and hard-working people are good at their jobs. He is where he is because an even more talented guy, Elmore Leonard, wrote a novel called Pronto twenty years ago. He is where he is because Justified’s showrunner Graham Yost has been brilliant at translating Leonard’s style and vision to television. He is where he is because someone noticed in time that Walton Goggins had made the slated to be killed off in the pilot Boyd Crowder not just a character worth keeping around but a character that could be the show’s second lead. He is where he is because Margo Martindale’s performance as Mags Bennett in the show’s second season lifted Justified to a near Sopranos-Breaking Bad-Lonesome Dove level of tragedy.

He is where he is because a partnership of other talented, hard-working, and very likely richer people have the money to pay him handsomely to come into work a few days a week a few months out of the year to pretend to be somebody too busy, too smart, too responsible, and too grown-up to waste his time getting into silly fights and throwing tantrums on Twitter, a character who is also, by the way, not rich and not famous and not notably impressed by anyone who is.

He is where he is because a whole lot of nobodies and pussies tune into Justified each week for a number of pleasures one of which is Art Mullen as played by Nick Searcy.

Mainly, though, he is where he is and what he is because Timothy Olyphant knows how to wear a hat.

And something similar can be said about all of us, including the rich Right Wing corporatists who want to return us to feudalism and make an aristocracy of themselves and a peasantry of the rest of us because the money they’ve piled up proves their superiority.

We’re all where we are because somewhere along the way we were lucky enough to get help from someone who knew how to wear a hat.

Hat tip to TBogg for the heads up on Ortega's post.

Updated with Justified contempt and disgust: If Searcy's Twitter persona is a joke, it's a joke that's gone way too far.  But I don't think he's kidding. I think he's worse than I thought. Adam Baldwin is no prize either.

Lance Mannion on Saturday, February 22, 2014 in Rants 2010-2013, Too Much TV |