Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wish You Were Here (TV)

Created by
Steven Bawo.
Starring Lew Schneider
IMDB Entry

For awhile in the late 80s and early 90s, the networks experimented with premiering new TV series for limited runs in the summer, with the hope that they might catch on under the lesser competition.  Some did (Northern Exposure, The Seinfeld Chronicles), but most came and went without attracting the slightest notice (Remember Arresting Behavior?  I didn't think so.)

Wish You Were Here was one of these. I started watching because if its pedigree:  Robert Altman was the producer.  I love Altman's work, and, figured it might have some of the quirkiness that I like so much.  I was not disappointed (in researching this, I've discovered that it was a different Robert Altman).

Lew Schneider starred as Donny Cogswell, who has just gotten a new video camera.  And as he takes it to work, he tapes himself being fired from his job as a stockbroker.  So he decides to just pack everything in and go off to Europe. Each week, he sends home a tape of his adventures.

The structure of the show is set from the first episode:  someone receives the videotape and plays it.  We see what Donny is doing, and the reaction of the viewer.  For instance, in the premiere, it is his ex-girlfriend watching, along with her new boyfriend, who she tells not to be jealous (though by the end, he has reason to -- she seems to have second thoughts about dumping Donny).

Another fine episode is when Donny visits his grandfather's home village in the Balkans, only to spit upon when he mentions his name.  His grandfather and the family watch stoically as he tries to get to the bottom of the contempt, knowing the answer, but keeping it secret.

Schneider is terrific as Donny. He was compared to Tom Hanks, and has a nice easygoing charm, which is helpful since he is the only recurring character. He acts infrequently, and seems to have spent more time producing, being listed as a co-producer of Everybody Loves Raymond.  (He was a lot less goofy looking back in 1990, but I guess working on Raymond does that to you.)  I would like to have seen him in other roles.

Part of the reason for the videotaping was to save costs.  The European scenes were all on location, but with a single cameraman and no need for lighting or makeup, it could be done very cheaply on location. 

The show ran six episodes. Some are uneven (one was a particularly bad Casablanca spoof).  I could also see problems with a long run; how many people can Donny send videos to?  But the show definitely was well worth seeing.