Fall 2000: "Bette"
If you look up Bette Midler in the Internet Movie Database, the first things you get told are that she's 55 and that she once performed her cabaret act at "the famed gay men's club, The Continental Baths."
So how come Bette debuted at number one in its time slot? How did it draw almost sixteen million viewers? Has the American viewing been pining for an aging camp icon to engage in gentle self-mockery? Beats me. I figured it wouldn't pull any ratings at all, but maybe Bette's performance on Carson's penultimate show got her more public acclaim than I thought.
The more you know about Bette Midler, the more you'll enjoy Bette. And I don't say that lightly. When Miss Midler looks in a mirror and sighs "I look like the last twenty minutes of 'For The Boys,'" it's important that you understand that the old-age makeup at the end of that movie looked silly. It would also help if you knew that the makeup was widely mocked.
What seems odd to me about this is that "For The Boys" came out nine years ago and only made seventeen million dollars. And while I approve of "topical" jokes that don't necessarily revolve around the usual sitcom themes of quoting popular commercials, I have to ask how many people are going to get that joke. And there are a lot of jokes like that.
Bette is not without a certain charm, however, because the show seems to understand that it's a weird little special-interest operation. Early in the first show, Bette's daughter's boyfriend says "Wow, gee, I can't tell you what an honor this is. I have all your albums. I've seen all your movies. Really, I'm your biggest fan." Bette leans over to her daughter and whispers, "He's gay." That got a big, somewhat nervous laugh.
The other reason it's watchable is because Bette Midler is a lot of fun to watch. Whether making jokes about having been nominated for an Oscar but losing to Sally Field or bouncing around on exercise equipment, she seems to be having fun. And she's got a lot of energy. This can not be overstressed: she has lots and lots of energy. Oh my, yes. And she's not afraid of looking silly on-screen. Which is a good thing, because too many sitcoms follow the Friends model of pretty people sitting around. The world could use more people willing to debase themselves for my amusement.
I also approve of the straightforwardness involved in Bette Midler starring as herself in a show called Bette. If she's anything like me (and, come to think of it, she's almost nothing like me), she occasionally searches for her name on Internet search engines, and this should really increase her hits. Every article about the show, positive or negative, can be summed up as Bette Bette Bette Bette Bette. When I figure out a way to get people parroting my name like that, I'll be well on my way to taking over the world.
Bette appears to be married in this show, and may or may not be married in real life. This confuses me because she's called "The Divine Miss M," but I guess "The Divine Mrs. M" doesn't have the same ring to it. The guy playing her husband does a good job of staying out of Bette's way, which is pretty much the job of everyone in the cast. The pilot had one scene without Bette in it; guess who was mentioned in every line in that scene.
I enjoyed a lot. I was one of the eight or nine people that saw "For The Boys," so I got that joke. I enjoyed Bette's jazzy up-tempo version of Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba," and I even enjoyed Bette's strained banter with Special Guest Star Danny DeVito. I get the impression this show will have lots of Special Guest Stars to emphasize how very Hollywood Bette Midler is.
And that's a good thing. Because apparently what the country is hungering for is glamorous Hollywood stars (like Danny De Vito? Oh well.) and clever japes about the relative merits of "The Rose" and "Beaches." And singing!
Got a comment? Mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.