Thursday, September 1, 2011


To kind of piggy back off of my recent 'Road To Nowhere' blog entry that made me the talk of Monte Hellman's facebook page for an entire day, I'm writing about a failed project from one of my all time favorite directors. As a true fan of David Lynch I'm willing to admit that his often forgotten about 2nd attempt at television (after the short yet extremely popular cultural phenomena known as Twin Peaks) was a failure. Such a failure that when i mention 'On The Air' to people, they look at me like I'm crazy. One of my friends was certain that i was making this show up until i showed him the actual VHS tape of 'On The Air' (one of my most prized possessions) as proof that it existed. Even some people who claim to be "REAL" David Lynch fans (which just about anyone who's seen eraserhead twice claims to be), don't even know about 'On The Air'. But after watching a few episodes you can kinda see why it didn't last. Only a hardcore David Lynch fan that's in denial can admit that this was good. Yet at the same time...i find myself watching an episode or 2 once a year.
This short lived television series that only lasted for 7 episodes on ABC, which David Lynch created, produced and directed (well, he directed episode one at least) was about a 1950's television studio that aired the live sitcom; 'The Lester Guy Show'. Every episode some wacky disaster behind the camera would happen while the show was airing, and the characters would spend the rest of the episode trying to rectify the situation in order to save the show. The main characters included...

"Lester Guy" - a has-been/egocentric actor and star of the "Lester Guy Show" 
"Betty Hudson" - an incredibly stupid, yet sweet actress who becomes popular over night by accident. Lester Guy spends most of his time trying to sabotage her only to have it backfire in his face.
"Bud Budwaller" - the mean TV executive (actually Miguel Ferrer, an underrated character actor, did a really great job in a performance that was reminiscent of his more recognizable roles as the "unlikeable guy" in 'Robcop' and 'Twin Peaks').
"Vadja Gochktch" - director of the lester guy show that speaks his own language that no one can understand but his assistant "Ruth Trueworthy" 
This show may not have been all that good, but it still had many of Lynch's signatures. It had a similar vibe to Twin Peaks. The show, taking place in the 1950's, continued Lynch's fascination with that era. And along with a few re-used actors from twin peaks, there were plenty of David Lynch "regulars" involved in the show on & off camera: Miguel Ferrer (twin peaks & fire walk with me), Mark Frost (twin peaks), Jack Fisk (the straight story, mulholland drive), Deepak Nayer (lost highway, fire walk with me).
Its kinda sad that my first blog entry on the films of one of my favorite directors is about one of his biggest failures. Twin Peaks may not have lasted very long, but it still holds its place in television history, has a cult following and spawned an underrated film that was nominated for best picture at Cannes. Even his other "failed" television attempt turned in to one of the greatest movies of the last decade (mulholland drive). 'On The Air' tried too hard to be satirical and slapstick and it just ended up falling flat. Sorry, David. I still love you though. If curiosity gets the best of you, a few episodes of On The Air are on youtube. But unless you LOVE David Lynch, chances are you wont dig it.

'Straight Story' aside, the 1990's were not kind to David Lynch. His name was still more than relevant and he was very active, but everything he did seemed to be tainted with some kind of negativity. Twin Peaks was cancelled after 2 seasons. The show lost its steam once Laura Palmer's killer was discovered mid-season. The whole mystique of the show was "Who Killed Laura Palmer?". Once that mystery was discovered there was no point to watch the show anymore. Sure the show featured many great characters, which is what Lynch tried to expand upon, but at the end of the day it was all about Laura Palmer. The Lynch won best picture at Cannes (wild at heart) but was boo'ed by the audience upon receiving the award. You just read about 'On The Air' and its cancellation after 7 episodes and the most popular criticism of his much hyped 'Lost Highway' was a negative one...

The underrated made for cable television 'Hotel Room' always seems to fall between the cracks and go unmentioned. Unlike 'On The Air', this short lived mini-series was great and it featured a few David Lynch regulars like Harry Dean Stanton, Alica Witt, Crispin Glover and Barry Gifford. The premise of the show was about a series of events that went down in the same new york city hotel room (room 603) at different time periods. The vibe of 'Hotel Room' still features Lynch's signature quirkiness and oddball sense of humor mixed with a slightly more serious tone. If you're a fan of Twin Peaks, 'Are You Afraid Of The Dark' and 'The Shining', chances are you'll enjoy 'Hotel Room'. Each episode featured new actors, with the maid and the bellboy being the only 2 recurring characters in all 3 episodes...

Moe (played by David Lynch regular Harry Dean Stanton) and his friend Lou take a hooker back to room 603 for a fun time, but things turn dark. Instead of jumping right away in to sex, the characters confess personal stories about themselves to one another. Eventually Lou starts to get weird & violent and scares the hooker away. Then Moe & Lou's friendship is put to the test. This is by far my favorite story of the 3. Its interesting that Lynch takes a pretty cliche story (2 guys take a hooker back to a hotel room and things get dark), yet he still manages to make it interesting.

A stuck up gold digger (Sasha) and her friends (one of whom is played by a pre-law & order Mariska Hartigay) sit around room 603 talking about whether or not she should marry her wealthy boyfriend Robert (Griffin Dunne). Things take a dark turn when Robert arrives. An argument ensues between him & Sasha, and after he calls her a cunt she hits him over the head with something and seriously injures him.

In this story, a married couple (played by Crispin Glover and Alica Witt) sit through a major power outage and as the story unfolds, we learn that the wife is mentally unstable due to the loss of their child a few years ago. 

Nowadays more and more movie directors have switched over to television: Todd Haynes (mildred pierce), Spike Lee (directed the pilot for 'Shark'), Michael Mann (Luck), Martin Scorsese (boardwalk empire) and John Cameron Mitchell's upcoming HBO series.
'Tricks' is also available on youtube in 2 parts.


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