‘Skillet’ Frontman Preaches Truth

You know, Skillet is already one of my favorite bands, and I don’t have many favorite bands (my taste in music generally boils down to “I like this song and that song, and I don’t like that one.” I don’t usually get attached to bands). They’ve gone up even further in my esteem with frontman John Cooper’s now-famous post wondering what’s happening to Christianity (words his, emphasis mine):

Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?)as they announce that they are leaving the faith. I’ll state my conclusion, then I’ll state some rebuttals to statements I’ve read by some of them. Firstly, I never judge people outside of my faith. Even if they hate religion or Christianity. That is not my place and I have many friends who disagree with my religion and that is 100% fine with me. However, when it comes to people within my faith, there must be a measure of loyalty and friendship and accountability to each other and the Word of God.

My conclusion for the church(all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years(and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?

I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?

My second thought is, why do people act like “being real” covers a multitude of sins? As if someone is courageous simply for sharing virally every thought or dark place. That’s not courageous. It’s cavalier. Have they considered the ramifications? As if they are the harbingers of truth, saying “I used to think one way and practice it and preach it, but now I’ve learned all the new truth and will start practicing and preaching it.” So the influencers become the voice for truth in whatever stage of life and whatever evolution takes place in their thinking.

Thirdly, there is a common thread running through these leaders/influencers that basically says that “no one else is talking about the REAL stuff.” This is just flatly false. I just read today in a renown worship leader’s statement, “How could a God of love send people to hell? No one talks about it.” As if he is the first person to ask this? Brother, you are not that unique. The church has wrestled with this for 1500 years. Literally. Everybody talks about it. Children talk about it in Sunday school. There’s like a billion books written on the topic. Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with it. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

And lastly, and most shocking imo, as these influencers disavow their faith, they always end their statements with their “new insight/new truth” that is basically a regurgitation of Jesus’s words?! It’s truly bizarre and ironic. They’ll say “I’m disavowing my faith but remember, love people, be generous, forgive others”. Ummm, why? That is actually not human nature. No child is ever born and says “I just want to love others before loving myself. I want to turn the other cheek. I want to give my money away to others in need”. Those are bible principles taught by a prophet/Priest/king of kings who wants us to live by a higher standard which is not an earthly standard, but rather the ‘Kingdom of God’ standard. Therefore if Jesus is not the truth and if the Word of God is not absolute, then by preaching Jesus’s teachings you are endorsing the words of a madman. A lunatic who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” He also said that he was alive before Abraham, and to see him was to see God because he was one with God. So why then would a disavowed christian leader promote that “generosity is good”? How would you know “what is good” without Jesus’s teachings? And will your ideas of what is “good” be different from year to year based on your experience, culture trends, poplular opinion etc and furthermore will you continue year by year to lead others into your idea of goodness even though it is not absolute? I’m amazed that so many Christians want the benefits of the kingdom of God, but with the caveat that they themselves will be the King.

It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.

Is it any wonder that some of our disavowed Christian leaders are letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible and subsequently their lives are falling apart? Further and further they are sinking in the sea all the while shouting “now I’ve found the truth! Follow me!!” Brothers and sisters in the faith all around the world, pastors, teachers, worship leaders, influencers...I implore you, please please in your search for relevancy for the gospel, let us NOT find creative ways to shape Gods word into the image of our culture by stifling inconvenient truths. But rather let us hold on even tighter to the anchor of the living Word of God. For He changes NOT. “The grass withers and the flowers fade away, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8)

 

You know, I was going to add my own comments, but after re-reading this, I realize that’s superfluous: Mr. Cooper says it all. Would that more of our Bishops, priests, and, yes, lay people had half this level of clarity.

I’ll leave you with a few appropriate songs:

Post note: One of the reasons I like Skillet as a band so much is that they seem to me to hit exactly the right balance in that, while Christianity clearly informs all their songs to a greater or lesser extent, and they do make overtly Christian songs, they don’t only do religious songs, and their first priority is clearly making cool, energetic rock numbers. That is, they seem to put the demands and tenants of their particular art form first and only direct it to religious matters as the song itself demands. That is the proper way to make ‘Christian’ art: to make the best art you can, allowing your faith to influence it to the form and degree suitable to that particular medium and work. Basically anyone who likes this kind of music (I assume) can enjoy Skillet, yet their Christianity informs the whole thing. I’d point to them as one example of what Christian artists of any medium should aim to achieve.

Oh, and here’s an interview with him talking more about his post. Man, this guy gets it!

Talking Violence at the Everyman

My latest piece is up at The Everyman, where I share some thoughts on mass shooters and violent crime in general; thoughts that have been percolating one way or another for quite a while.

It is this: back in, say, the 1950s there was comparatively little violent crime in the United States. Oh, there was some, especially in urban areas, but the rates were far, far lower, and mass shooting events were vanishingly rare. Going off of Wikipedia’s list of the 27 deadliest mass shooting events, only one dates from before 1960: the Camden, New Jersey killings of 1949 (the next earliest one is the Charles Whitman murders of 1966).

Today, that is no longer the case and has not been for quite some time; more than half of that list dates from the past fifteen years. Meanwhile the national violent crime rate peaked in 1991 (at nearly five times the 1960 rate) and has been trending slowly downward before rising again in the past couple years, though at its lowest it was still more than double what it was in 1960, according to the FBI crime statistics.

Taking these two facts, there is a single, logical conclusion: something happened between those two periods to change the course of society.

Do you remember those puzzles in children’s magazines which presented two pictures and invited you to spot the differences? Play that game with the two time periods. Between 1958 and 2018, you will find many, many differences. At least one of those differences, and likely many of them, must be why we have mass shootings today.

Read the rest here.

It Came From Rifftrax: You’re the Judge

I would call this one ‘charming;’ vintage 60s high school romance used to promote Crisco shortening (seriously).

The plot has two high school girls trying to tempt the objects of their affections to a party by goading them into a cooking contest. The girls use Crisco and produce a sumptuous meal, while the boys use cooking oil, which, coupled with their general incompetence in the kitchen, results in barely edible mess. (“And he went on to be the head chef at Arby’s”). One girl’s father serves as the judge (despite the title, you the viewer are not the judge) on the grounds that he’s a man and will be prone to side with the boys.

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“Our lives had descended into I Love Lucy-themed madness.”

This is one of those where I enjoy the film itself as much as the riffing. It wouldn’t make for a bad sitcom episode. Not a great one either, but it’s a fun, zany little tale of girls trying to maneuver reluctant boys into romance (“Look, we want to bang you, you thick headed doof!”). The characters even have some personality to them, like when the shorter boy tries to bowl with the pie dough then nervously resumes reading off the direction after he knocks over the flower tin. I also like the brunette’s momentary uncertainty about the correct pronoun in the opening narration (‘personality’ doesn’t necessarily mean I remember their names; this is just an advertising short after all: let’s not go overboard here). At the very least it feels like the actors have all worked together before, which is a point of quality in a film like this.

The riffing mostly complements the story nicely, with comments on both the overcomplicated and seemingly unnecessary nature of the scheme (“See Coronet’s 12-part series ‘Calling Boys at Home'”) and frequent riffs on the Crisco influence, as well as the, shall we say, generous amount of it being used (“Two cups of shortening?! Dear God, they won’t live through the night!”).

They also give some standard ‘sexist 1960s’ jokes, which are admittedly a little annoying, but they don’t pop up too much. It’s somewhat balanced by riffs pointing out how ridiculously incompetent the men are (“Reverting to chimphood before our very eyes”).

Of course, these were the days when there was actually something approaching balance in the comedy; where men and women were about equally likely to be portrayed as ridiculous one way or another, and there seemed to be little to no actual animosity about it (see also The Dick Van Dyke Show and other contemporary sitcoms). We’ve come a long way down since then. But that’s another story.

Overall a very strong short. If you like artifacts from the ‘50s and ‘60s, you’ll probably enjoy the film itself and the riffing just adds an extra layer of fun. Definitely recommended!

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“You realize you have breasts, right? These are teenage boys; it’s not difficult!”

 

Thoughts on ‘One Punch Man’

One of the most common complaints about Superman is that he’s boring because he’s too powerful. I don’t buy into this at all; I think that, if you know what you’re doing, you can make Supes’s power level into the very thing that makes him compelling.

One Punch Man is an illustration of that principle.

Meet Saitama; an ordinary salaryman who decides to take up heroism as a hobby, since he loves nothing better than to challenge himself. Somehow or other, he ends up becoming so insanely powerful that he can defeat any foe with only one punch, meaning that, by the time we meet him, hero work has becoming boring and frustrating for him; like a video game where he’s stuck on god-mode with infinite ammo. He ends up more or less going through his days in a stupor, trying to muster the energy to keep himself going while dreaming about facing an opponent who can actually give him a decent fight.

One day he crosses paths with an earnest young hero named Genos, a cyborg seeking vengeance on whoever destroyed his village and whom Saitama more or less stumbles into taking on as an apprentice. Together they enter the official hero organization and begin moving up the ranks and tackling bigger and bigger threats, though to his frustration, none of them prove the slightest obstacle to Saitama (it gets to the point where the camera cuts away when Saitama faces the monster of the week, since we all know what’s going to happen).

The central joke of the series, of course, is that Saitama is really just too darn powerful, which results in a lot of gleefully over-the-top results when the monsters explode into gory chunks when he hits them. The show also finds various creative ways to show off his insane strength, as when he carves a hole in a mountain just with the wind off of one of his punches (though a particularly funny gag has him taking on a single mosquito, which proves to be one of his greatest challenges).

Once he enters the official hero ranks, in fact, Saitama proves so powerful and so disinterested that he soon gains a reputation as a cheat or a fraud; it’s all so easy for him that people suspect he’s not really doing any of it and he gets no credit for his heroics. This further frustrates him, as one of the main reasons he entered the program in the first place was so that people might finally start to appreciate him.

Two things stood out to me about this series. The first was how they managed to keep his victories satisfying, even as he’s never in the slightest danger at any point in the story. Mostly this is done by making the monsters as smug, as boastful, and as brutal as possible. We see them tearing through civilians and the other heroes, while laughing and giving grandiose speeches about how terrifying and unstoppable they are. Then Saitama shows up, they laugh at him, and…

(I also appreciate that Saitama spares enemies who surrender or admit defeat)

A late-season two-part storyline about a sea monster is particularly good in this regard. We see this thing beating hero after hero, each of whom is fighting his hardest, but can’t cause any serious damage to this smug, arrogant creature. Then, partway through the battle, he finds his way to a shelter for civilians and proceeds to try to kill them all for no reason, even spitting an acid glob at a little girl for no other reason than that she was cheering for the heroes. The good guys are pouring everything they have into stopping him, but he just keeps coming, keeps knocking them around almost without even trying. Genos is the only one who even seems to give him a challenge. Then, just when things are at their worst, Saitama shows up and lets the thing have a free shot at him without any effect before…well, doing what he does.

The show lets us experience that sense of desperation, of hopelessness, and of just how hateful the monster is. It shows off what is basically an unstoppable bully preying on helpless innocents and then just as things look hopeless, it confronts him with a hero that he has absolutely no chance of defeating. We know that the good guys have won and the day is saved the moment Saitama arrives, but the monster doesn’t, and so we get to enjoy the prospect of him gloating while knowing he’s about to get his comeuppance.

This sequence also shows off the other aspect that stood out to me. As noted, the other heroes throw everything they have against the sea monster, all to no avail. Then, after Genos has been beaten and is about to be killed, one final hero shows up: Mumen Rider, the Cyclist for Justice! He is literally nothing but a guy on a bike, and not even a particularly skilled or strong guy on a bike. He shows up to a fight with a monster that has recently shrugged off blows sufficient to vaporize a skyscraper, and he throws his bike at it. He then takes it on in a one-on-one fight to try to save the cowering civilians and his crippled fellow hero.

Now, in just about any other show, especially a comedy, the point would be how stupid and suicidally overconfident Mumen Rider was, and how ridiculous the whole idea of costumed heroes is to begin with. But not here. Here it’s one of the most heartfelt and moving scenes in the show, as the man stands up knowing full well that he will lose this fight, but he still gives it everything he has. Because that’s what heroes do.

The point, the show argues, is not whether you win or lose; it’s not about whether you succeed or fail. It’s about your willingness to show up and give it your all; to “muddle through” as one character puts it. The heroes are heroes, not because they always win, but because they always fight.

Saitama himself sums it up perfectly: “If the heroes run and hide, who will stand and fight?”  You see what I’m talking about? The show is basically a parody, but it knows what real heroism is and it succeeds in making it appear truly admirable even amidst all the comedy and absurdity.

Then, after the battle, Saitama does something else truly heroic. I won’t spoil it, because it’s a great moment, but it’s a reminder that heroism isn’t just a matter of standing up to danger. Saitama’s physically invincible, for all we can see. But he can still be heroic by laying down his own cares, his own desires, and his own comfort for the good of others.

This, by the way, was what Captain Marvel was missing (well, one of many, many things): Danvers never makes a sacrifice, never gives up anything she wanted, never puts other people’s interests or needs before her own even once, meaning that her ‘heroism,’ such as it is, is purely a matter of her powers; because she can do things no one else can simply because the script says she can, so the ‘inspiring’ conclusion is that she realizes she has the power to blow up alien space ships without breaking a sweat. With One-Punch Man, that’s the premise and the question is how he can actually be heroic or even invested when he’s all-powerful, which leads to the question of what makes a hero in the first place.

Of course, the show is primarily a comedy, and a lot of the humor revolves around the show recognizing and having fun with its own absurdities. At one point, Saitama meets “the most powerful telekinetic in the universe!” And proceeds to comment, “you’re just throwing pebbles around. Anyone can do that.” One of my favorite moments has Saitama revealing the secret of his strength, which is so ridiculously anti-climactic that Genos starts angrily pointing out that it’s literally impossible that that’s the truth of his power.

Also a lot of humor comes from Saitama’s asocial, detached personality, especially in contrast with the earnest Genos. With his extreme power, Saitama often ends up getting preoccupied with seemingly meaningless details, such as when a monster bursts into his apartment and he punches its head off…because it broke his ceiling. This then becomes his primary motivation for the ensuring battle. Later, in the midst of a battle with an immensely powerful foe, he realizes he may have made a crucial mistake; he may have missed bargain day!

I also like the gags involving Saitama’s would-be rival Speed-of-Sound Sonic (“Who would have such a redundant name?”), a ninja for hire who, finding that his super-speed and ninja skills don’t work on Saitama, determines that he will beat him some day! Needless to say, though he always escapes with his life, it is rarely with his dignity. Meanwhile, Saitama really cannot be bothered and treats the whole thing as a minor annoyance at best.

There is also some more…off-color humor. Saitama and some of the other characters end up naked a few times when their clothes get blasted off. A character called ‘Puri-Puri Prisoner’ is a hulking, flamboyantly homosexual superhero who ends up naked every time he appears (nothing graphic, thanks to some strategic camera angles) and has a good deal of related humor (he is played mostly for laugh, though is a very powerful hero).

Of course there’s the gore factor as well, as Saitama’s punches turn his enemies into bloody chunks or splatters them into red smears against a wall, while the monsters themselves are often gleefully grotesque and produce effects to match. Basically, the content is something to be aware of before you go in.

Then of course, the whole story isn’t told in the first season, and there are some big threads left hanging and several characters who are clearly being set up for roles later on, but since I’ve only seen the first season, I can’t comment on what happens later on. Personally, I found the story I got satisfying enough as it that I don’t feel any urgent need to press on despite the poor word on the subsequent seasons. That is to say, the first season of One Punch Man is an excellent piece of work, both very funny and surprisingly heartfelt, and that’s good enough for me.

 

It Came From Rifftrax: “Remember Me”

As a lifelong fan of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ and its follow-up ‘Rifftrax’, I figured I’d start writing up a few of my thoughts on their various projects.

“Remember Me” is a short designed to teach customer service practices. It focuses on the Customer: the Least Respected Man in America, as he runs a gauntlet of ridiculously awful service personnel, including a grocery check-out clerk who goes on break while he’s standing in line, a teller who wastes time flirting with the man in front of him and then inexplicably suspects him of check fraud, and a copy repair man who apparently needs at least two weeks to fix the office’s only copier (“How am I going to xerox my suicide note now?”). In such situations, the short implies, you can either take a stand, complain, and demand service, or you can sit there and take it while silently seething that you will have your revenge.

The short recommends the latter course.

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“I just add them to my dark list of pain.”

This, of course, leads to a lot of fun from the Rifftrax crew as they have a field day both with the man’s spinelessness and his creepy assertions that he’ll win in the end. “He has a femur collection, doesn’t he?”

The line of abuse he goes through is funny as well; literally every service this man tries to use takes the opportunity to ignore, snub, or insult him somehow. It’s as though he’s been arbitrarily dropped to the bottom of the social ladder. “Trying to shop here; I should spit on you!”

To be fair, the point the short wants to make is that if the customer meets with bad service, even if he doesn’t complain he’ll just not come back, and he won’t recommend you. Which, like a lot of these shorts, is perfectly true and reasonable, especially as it’s apparently directed at service personnel themselves. But the way it’s presented, with the man suffering abuse after abuse without a word just makes it seem like he’s winding up for a bombing spree or something. “I scope out various bell towers.”

At the end, Bill “Crow” Corbett offers quick advice to both service providers and customers. To customers, he reminds them that tipping is often a big help (“Make it 20% or more and we’ll lick the soles of your shoes clean”). And his advice to service personnel:

“Do your f(bleep)ing job.”

(The USCCB might also find this advice helpful, but that’s a topic for another time).

In summary, this is one of my favorites and a great source of ten-minutes of humor. Highly recommended!

 

The Paper Chase

Prominent among my most recent television diet has been the show The Paper Chase, a four-season drama that ran from 1978 to 1986 (the show was cancelled after the first season due to low ratings – which is what happens when you schedule it opposite Happy Days: the Fonz brooked no challengers – but revived a few years later on another network for three more). It was based on a 1973 film (which I have not yet seen) based on a novel by John Jay Obsborn about his experiences at Harvard Law School.

The premise of all three is essentially the same; an ambitious law student named James Hart comes to Harvard, where he runs up against the school’s most formidable teacher: Professor Kingsfield, Kingsfield is a crushingly brilliant, unyielding teacher of contract law who uses merciless application of the Socratic method to train his students. “You teach yourselves the law,” he informs them. “But I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush, and if you survive, you leave thinking like a lawyer.” We follow Hart (who idolizes Kingsfield) as he struggles to survive and grow under Kingsfield’s stern instruction, with the help of a small group of friends with whom he forms a study group.

So far I’ve seen most of the first season (one episode I couldn’t find, a few I skipped) and part of the second. The main appeal of the show, undoubtedly, is Professor Kingsfield himself, played to perfection by the late John Houseman, who reprises his role from the film. Houseman as Kingsfield represents one of those rare marriages of actor and role where the idea of anyone else in the part is simply absurd (similar to Columbo), which is all the more impressive as the film was his first major film performance. He had been a partner to Orson Welles, a stage performer, and had trained many actors in his day (the director actually claimed that Houseman was the Kingsfield of acting), but had never had a real film role. He won a richly-deserved Academy Award for his performance back when that actually meant something.

As I say, Kingsfield is a riveting figure. As conceived in the show, he isn’t just a brilliant teacher, but a legitimate Great Man of the old school. We’re told that he’s contributed significantly to the understanding of American Law, and one episode revolves around him being considered for the Supreme Court. When it’s pointed out that he’s nearly eighty years old, someone comments, “four or five years of Kingsfield on the bench is worth another man’s fifty.” More importantly, Kingsfield is shown to have both an iron will and principles of adamant, to the point where there’s a whole episode of Hart trying to figure out an old case where it looks like he might have made an ethical compromise, because he simply can’t believe the man would do that.

One of my favorite moments thus far has Kingsfield confronting a younger professor who has come to confess that he plagiarized an article for the Law Review. After laying out his excuses, the man nervously concludes with, “we’ve all done these things.”

“No,” Kingsfield answers. “We have not.”

(Earlier Kingsfield rebuked the man for televising one of his classes, saying that the law was not meant to be a show and that, however he disguised it, it was nothing but a tribute to his own ego).

There’s another bit at an old New York hotel where, in a rare moment of openness, Kingsfield talks to Hart about the great statesmen under whose portraits they stand, saying that they represent a now all-but extinct breed of lawyers for whom principle and law were paramount rather than fame and commercial success. No one says it, but we’re left in no doubt that Kingsfield himself is one of that breed.

A ‘great’ man may in this case imply a ‘good’ man, but don’t think for a moment that it implies a ‘nice’ man. Kingsfield is often a downright terrifying figure; a man who tolerates no nonsense and who is perfectly willing to verbally tear his students to shreds if they fail to perform. He rarely raises his voice beyond the firm ‘auditorium’ level he customarily uses, but his biting sarcasm, rhetorical skills, overwhelming genius, and iron focus produces more devastating results than bellowing ever could. A large part of the fun of the series is just watching his razor-sharp tongue go to work. “Speak up, Mister Hart! Fill this room with your intelligence.”

Meanwhile, he maintains an intentional distance from his students, affecting not even to recognize them outside the classroom. There are even (not unbelievable) reports that he’s driven students to madness and suicide over his career (an intriguing and thus-far never explained element in the first season is “the Screamer:” a male voice in the dorms that periodically just starts screaming out of nowhere. It’s rumored to be the ghost of a former student of Kingsfield. I really like those kinds of ‘might be supernatural, might not, and we’re not going to tell you’ elements in otherwise down-to-earth stories).

And yet, the show is at pains to show that Kingsfield is not merely sadistic; there is a method to his malevolence. By enforcing rigorous, unyielding standards and forcing students to perform or suffer he not only prepares them for the experience of the courtroom but forces them to understand the law and its principles instead of simply regurgitating what they’ve read. The final episode of the first season revolves around Kingsfield setting his students a seemingly-impossible assignment whose solution, it turns out, forces them to delve into the very roots of the idea of law.

Moreover, the show at least gives us periodic assurances that, aloofness aside, Kingsfield does indeed care for his students’ well being and, though he won’t cheapen his instructions for their sake, he does want what is best for them and wishes them well.

The plots of the episodes, when they don’t revolve around Kingsfield, tend to be rather standard, though generally well-written and not too boring. There was one episode of the first season, for instance, that featured Hart’s activist female friend becoming enamored with an imprisoned political agitator which did a remarkably good job of depicting both the myopia and hypocrisy of her immature, ‘idealistic’ perspective (without making her unsympathetic) and the workings of a manipulative personality. To be honest, I can’t really picture an equivalent episode on modern show ending with the soulful activist turning out to be a sociopath and the unsmiling prison guards turning out to be in the right. Another one about affirmative action actually made a point of deconstructing the Black student’s anger through some decent storytelling symbolism. Nothing brilliant, but at least the writers clearly gave the matter some thought rather than coming down with a, “this is what you should think about this issue” finality. Likewise an episode about a student in a wheelchair had him using his disability to manipulate his friends, not exactly intentionally, but almost without thinking about it. I also appreciate that there is some moral awareness going on, as when Hart’s friend discovers his father has been acting dishonestly, and though he’s disgusted by it, he can’t bring himself to actually expose him. So, there is thought and nuance that went into the writing of the show, even apart from Kingsfield.

At times the show deviates hard into melodrama, especially with Hart’s many girlfriends, most of whom carry some kind of extra dramatic baggage (e.g. one episode revolves around him dating a mobster’s daughter). Also, the supporting cast makes some odd shifts; losing two major characters between the first and second season is understandable, though having one the study-group (prominently featured in the opening credits) essentially disappear for most the first season, including an episode focusing on a one-shot character in his exact situation, before being dramatically written out entirely all but screams backstage drama. As always, of course, the episodes vary greatly in quality, though as suggested by all I’ve said they’re generally above-average fair.

But Kingsfield is what makes the show, and it’s at its best when the stories revolve around him. Honestly, this is one of the most successful efforts I’ve seen on screen to create a fictional Great Man who legitimately seems like the real deal. The show would be worth watching even if the rest of it were only mediocre just for the sake of observing a master actor bringing such a figure to life.

John Houseman in The Paper Chase (1973)