We watch... so you don't have to.

Cursing Kirstie

The reasons to throw a brick through the television screen are as numerous as the channels in any given cable monopoly. But which, oh which, is worth my effort? The continued, inexplicable presence of assorted Zappa offspring on tv? The emotionally manipulative pabulum on any David Kelley show? Brooke Shields?

Sure, any of those could prod me into ruining a 32-inch Sony Triniton with a well-aimed chunk of masonry. But I reserve my bile for one particular woman on television, starring in a show so bad that even its clumsy execution fails to offer any malicious amusement to mean-spirited people like me -- those who enjoy watching actors poison their careers in weekly increments. I reserve the right to lob a brick at Kirstie Alley as the title character in Veronica's Closet.

Alley acquitted herself compentently as blowsy social climber Rebecca on Cheers, but that in no way excuses her performance as Veronica. There is no excuse for Alley's performance on that show. Not the writing -- which is no worse than Caroline in the City or Suddenly Susan, and therefore can't be the one factor that causes Veronica's Closet to sink deep, deep beneath the previously low standard those two shows set. Not the supporting cast -- Dan Cortese has finally found a role he can't mishandle, and both Kathy Najimy and Wallace Langham manage to imbue their characters with some semblance of personality. The reason this show is the televised equivalent of a 4 a.m. aneurysm rests on Alley's ample shoulders, and hers alone.

Why? Because Alley has completely misinterpreted her character. In an ideal world, Veronica would be a business magnate with voracious appetites; the tension between her disciplined business sense and her outsized desires would provide the comedic impetus for the show. On the Kaufmann-Crane planet, however, Veronica is an oral fixation in mufti. Instead of coming across as a larger-than-life menace whose charisma endears her to her hapless subordinates, Veronica is simply a larger-than-life pain in the ass. Braying her lines, stomping across her colleagues' blocking, Alley's ham-handed reading of her character is a sensory experience not unlike running your fingers along a stucco wall -- at 60 miles per hour.

The first time I saw the show, Alley spent the entire time coercing her employees to pimp her to a prospective date. Between brow-beating the hapless Najimy and Langham, she'd fling herself across a couch and whine, "How am I going to get him to fall in love with meeeeeeeeeeeee?"

The obvious answer is too impolite to repeat, even here. Veronica never does figure out how to woo her prey: the episode ends with her alone after she realizes her lust-bunny is a loser, a pattern which rises again and again, much like the undead, in nearly every episode. Returning to my ideal planet, Veronica's repeated leave-taking of her senses would be seen as an irrepressible optimism in the face of experience. Here, however, Alley merely portrays Veronica as a woman who lets her percolating estrogen substitute for synaptic firing.

That doesn't mean there isn't a place for dionysian dames on television. Katharine Hellman put in a sly performance as the perpetually simmering Mona on Who's the Boss, and was arguably the only redeeming factor on that show. Christine Baranski's turn as Maryann on Cybill set a new standard for willfully undisciplined women -- between the drinking, the sexual scheming, and her soigné unrepentance in the face of her misdeeds, Maryann is a menace to civility and enjoys every minute of it. And then there is the gold standard for unabashed viragos -- Jennifer Saunders' and Joanna Lumley's Edina and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous.

So how did those woman manage to pull off arguably unlikable characters with both style and sympathy, while Alley trips over her trailing robes? Simple: Mona, Maryann, Edina and Patsy were all adults. They may have been licentious terrors, but each character had a firm grasp on cause and effect. Even while their schemes were steeped in unapologetic self-interest, each of those characters was aware of the potential for comeuppance. They were also aware that receiving comeuppance doesn't mean taking it with a stiff upper lip. Ultimately, that's what made their characters so compelling: Mona, Maryann, Edina and Patsy continued to pursue their urges without apology or doubt, and in doing so, achieved the zen-like self-acceptance that usually takes "healthy" people years to attain.

Alley's portrayal of Veronica is nothing like that. The character has no awareness that her actions reap consequences, no seeming ability to grasp the relationship between cause and effect. Instead of accepting her outsized lust for creature comforts as part of her personality, Veronica seems to be at the mercy of something she doesn't understand and doesnt particularly like. Alley fails to give Veronica the air of a person comfortable with her own wants, and in a show that depends on those outsized appetites for driving the plot, that character miscalculation is fatal. If the titular head of the show doesn't like herself very much, how are we supposed to?

And that's why I want to throw a brick at Kirstie Alley and Veronica's Closet. I don't want to watch self-loathing children sabotage themselves week after week. Saucy women braving the slings and errors of their follies is comedy; soggy trollops refusing to cultivate basic self-awareness is despicable. I am aware enough of my duty as a watcher to kill shows through apathy or poor ratings, but since Nielsen has not seen fit to give me the demographic power, I can only throw that brick until the screen breaks or Alley develops a little character awareness for Veronica.

Right now, I'm betting on the brick.


TeeVee - About Us - Archive - Where We Are Now

Got a comment? Mail us at teevee@teevee.org.

* * *