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 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
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
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.
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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