Saturday, November 16, 2013

Joanna Pettet lays down the Law on "Knots Landing"

The depiction of law enforcement on most 1980s prime time soaps are usually perfunctory characterizations with professional, workman-like actors brought in as plot devices to help expedite the investigation of whatever crime has taken place on the show.  They are usually introduced to help highlight the already established and accepted personalities and relationships of the principal and regular cast members.  Rarely are they ever given their own unique perspective or personality, nor do they help to shine a different light upon the regular characters so that we are able to consider them in a way we have not seen them before.  A notable exception to this was the time in 1983 when "Knots Landing" brought in the underrated Joanna Pettet (one of the best, most appealing actresses working in films and television in the 1960s and 1970s) to play Lt. Janet Baines, a homicide detective with the Knots Landing Police Department.  (Special thanks to Chris B. of the esteemed blog for his assistance in this article.) 

Pettet appeared on "Knots Landing" in the last four episodes of the 4th Season, and continued through four additional episodes at the start of the subsequent 5th Season, playing a smart, no-nonsense investigator who becomes enmeshed in the lives of the residents on Seaview Circle after the murder of promising rock singer Ciji Dunne (Lisa Hartman).  Not only did Pettet's performance, and the character of Janet Baines, transcend the one-dimensional, cliched portrayal of law enforcement officers on prime time soaps, her character also stood in as Ciji's de-facto "avenger," quietly judging and, in a sense, punishing the regular characters who had mistreated Ciji throughout her tenure on the series.  In so doing, she helped ensure that the principal cast were not excused of their complicity in the events leading up to Ciji's death.

Janet Baines joined "Knots Landing" in the February 17, 1983 episode entitled "The Loss of Innocence."  She was introduced in a scene that took place in the morgue where she was already investigating the suspicious drowning of an unidentified Jane Doe when Mack MacKenzie (Kevin Dobson), an old flame and a new resident of Seaview Circle, arrives to identify Ciji's body.  From the get-go, it was clear that Janet was not meant to be a typical portrayal of a law enforcement officer.  She already had a personal connection in that she was once romantically involved with Mack, an acquaintance of Ciji's.  She also transcended stereotypes of police officers in that she was not only elegant and attractive, but also perceptive, detail-oriented, and dedicated to her job.  As Mack explains to his wife Karen (Michele Lee), Janet Baines "has great instincts.  She could see a body or even hear about a body, she knows it's a homicide.  She wouldn't be on this case if she didn't smell a rat."  She was neither fluffy nor ornamental at one extreme, nor stuffy or a haus-frau at the other.  Baines had her job cut out for her as she attempted to wade through the emotional morass that was known as Seaview Circle and piece together clues as to who may have committed this crime.

There is an assumption among fans of 1980s prime time soaps that "Knots Landing" was the most substantive, three-dimensional of the shows in that genre.  Its constituents point to the complex, ever-changing dynamics of the personalities and relationships of the characters on that series as examples of its distinctive qualities.  At some point, however, what can perhaps be described as a reverse-snobbery eventually developed among "Knots Landing" personnel and its followers, where they maintain that the show was more "relatable" than the Ewings of "Dallas" because of its purported middle-class milieu (which was only applicable in the first 4 seasons and only occasionally thereafter), as well as the alleged depth and sense of humanity expressed among the characters towards one another that was supposed to be a contrast to the superficiality and ruthlessness of the characters on other prime time soaps.  (To be clear, I like "Knots Landing" very much.  I just don't like it when people put down other prime time soaps of the 1980s in order to highlight is strengths.  "Knots Landing" is a great show on its own terms without having to make comparisons.)  Throughout Janet Baines' tenure on "Knots Landing, however, the regular characters behaved so reprehensibly that there was no distinction between them and the other characters from competing shows in the same genre. 

As I blogged about before, in the 4th season of "Knots Landing," the inheritance that Gary Ewing received from the terms of his late father Jock Ewing's last will and testament laid the groundwork for bringing out the worst in his neighbors on Seaview Circle.  With regards to how it related to Ciji Dunne, the normally docile Ginger Ward (Kim Lankford) grew to resent Ciji over the amount of attention and time her husband Kenny Ward (James Houghton) and Gary were spending to promote Ciji's burgeoning music career.  As Gary started drinking again and spinning out of control, he leaned on Ciji far too much for platonic friendship and support.  Gary's girlfriend Abby Cunningham (Donna Mills) resented the fact that Gary was confiding in Ciji and even threatened to harm her if she ever learned that Ciji was indeed having an affair Gary.

Richard Avery (John Pleshette) also resented Ciji because Abby had forced him to turn his restaurant "Daniel" into a nightclub/cabaret venue to help promote Ciji's career.  Richard's feelings of resentment toward Ciji intensified when he started to believe Ciji was having an affair with his wife Laura (Constance McCashin).  Valene Ewing (Joan Van Ark), Gary's estranged wife, has a heated argument with Ciji the same night in which she would be killed, with Ciji bitterly blaming Val for having written a story about her marriage to Gary that would inadvertently be published in an tabloid and caused him to start drinking again.  Val pushed Ciji away from her while she was verbally berating Val, and caused her to hit her head on a table.  And so on and so on.

The core theme for 4th season of "Knots Landing" was that it examined the effects of mob mentality when a group of dysfunctional people pick out one individual as the scapegoat to pin the blame for all the troubles in their life.  At times, especially where Richard Avery was concerned, the character of Chip Roberts (Michael Sabatino), a con artist who was Ciji's lover and sleazy manager, acted as an effective Iago-type character, whispering in the ear of all the Seaview Circle residents and laying seeds of suspicion so that they would begin to doubt the motives and actions of the show's Desdemona stand-in, Ciji.  When Ciji is found murdered, after failing to appear at the launch party for her newly completed album, Janet Baines is brought on the scene in order to try and put the pieces together of the circumstances that led to Ciji's death.  The answers she found weren't pretty and demonstrated how the characters of "Knots Landing" were as capable of being cruel, vicious and petty towards their fellow man as the Ewings of "Dallas." 

With her gruff partner Nick Morrison (Steve Kahan) playing "bad cop" to her deceptively gentle "good cop," Baines interrogated virtually the entire principal cast of the series in fascinatingly staged scenes where the cast was foaming at the mouth trying to justify their actions against Ciji while Baines (and occasionally Morrison)  quietly sat back and listened.  Joanna Pettet was particularly good in these scenes, taking in what they were saying and digesting it all.  Baines' gently probing questions, which put the regular "Knots Landing" characters on the spot by asking them to articulate their opinions, feelings and experiences with Ciji, allowed them to realize how self-indulgent and ridiculous they had been behaving all season, especially with regards to their cruelty against Ciji.  Pettet was also good at quietly expressing Baines' slowly mounting disgust and revulsion with the neighbors on Seaview Circle.  Because of the way they behaved in her presence, there was nothing about them that would make them more substantial individuals in her eyes than the people on "Dallas." 

With some exceptions, very few members of the "Knots Landing" cast genuinely mourned Ciji's death.  Each of them were preoccupied with Ciji's death in terms of how it would affect their own lives.  Even Laura, who was supposedly Ciji's best friend, lost sight of reality when she used Ciji's death to falsely accuse Richard for having murdered her in order to rationalize the reasons for why Richard had decided to abandon his marriage by disappearing in the middle of the night.  As such, Janet Baines remained the only person in the cast who had their eye on the ball where Ciji's death was concerned.  She was the only one truly seeking justice for Ciji and the only one who, in essence, during her interrogations with them, put each of the "Knots Landing" characters on trial for their complicity in the events leading to her death.  She was, as I indicated earlier, Ciji's avenger in the story.  Even Mack's motives for becoming involved in the investigation had more to do with protecting his friends and family than with ensuring that justice was served and that the perpetrator was properly punished.

I particularly like the sequence where Baines and her partner Morrison are interrogating Kenny, Ginger and Richard.  Throughout these scenes Baines and Morrison get at the heart of the issues each of these characters had with Ciji.  For Kenny, it was Ciji's perceived lack of loyalty to him after Gary sold her recording contract to record producer Jeff Munson (Jon Cyper).  For Ginger, it was her professional jealousy against the attention being paid by Kenny and Gary on Ciji's career.  For Richard, it was his resentment against Ciji's presence in his restaurant, which turned it into a cabaret nightclub, and in his marriage, where he perceived Ciji as a romantic rival for Laura.  By making them have to explain themselves out loud, Kenny, Ginger and Richard are forced to acknowledge how silly it was for them to have made Ciji a scapegoat for the more overarching problems and issues in their lives.  For Kenny, it was his stubborn refusal to try ever work for another boss again.  For Ginger, it was her own frustration and insecurity over her stagnant recording career.  For Richard, it forced him to examine the root causes to his troubled marriage to Laura.  Because she didn't pamper them self-indulgently, Baines helped each of these characters achieve epiphanies about themselves that they would never have been able to achieve if they had gone to an enabling therapist.

Janet Baines' dealings with the more prominent members of the cast further affirmed her gradually mounting disgust with the residents of "Knots Landing."  In her interrogation with Gary Ewing, it was clear that Baines was losing her patience because Gary's statement to the police was rambling, confused, and contradictory, as he continually refused to heed the advice of his attorney Mitchell Casey (Edward Bell) to reschedule his statement until after Gary and Casey had had a chance to confer privately.  Pettet is particularly good at expressing Baines' quietly mounting impatience as she tells Casey "Then why did you bother coming in today?"  In so doing, Baines emphasizes that her time is valuable and that she doesn't appreciate having it wasted because of the self-indulgence of the regular characters.  In the scene, when Casey reiterates that he would like to continue the interrogation at another time, Baines reminds both Casey and Gary "That's up to your client.  He's been advised of his rights.  Gary, you understand that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law, don't you?"  If Gary ends up inadvertently incriminating himself, and diverting attention in the investigation from the true perpetrator, Chip Roberts, it is due to his own carelessness and stupidity.  It's not Baines' fault that Gary failed to exercise his right to remain silent.  Nobody pressured Gary to give the dumb statement that he did and Baines made it clear what his rights were.  The fact that Gary later succumbs to his own self-pity and refuses to vigorously participate in his own defense in court helped further muddle Baines' investigation.  As Val later reminds Gary, "Someone out there is getting away with murder while you play this pathetic game!  If you had any respect for Ciji, you'd be doing everything in your power to put the real killer in here.  Your giving up your life for hers means absolutely nothing."

As noble as Val's statement sounds, she herself does the investigation no favors when, after learning that Ciji was killed by a blow to the head, she foolishly confesses to having killed Ciji during their argument when she knocked her down and caused her to hit her head against a coffee table.  Without seeking legal counsel, she shows up at Janet Baines' office and announces that "I killed Ciji," which causes Baines and Nick Morrison to take her into custody and interrogate her.  Val's interrogation by Baines and Morrison reflects the self-indulgent, overwrought, and emotional nature of her character.  Baines becomes particularly impatient when Val describes how Ciji, after hitting her head against the coffee table, screamed at her to leave the apartment, but maintains that she didn't dump the body in the ocean and doesn't know how it got there.  An exasperated Baines asks Val, "You mean she was still conscious when you left?...Mrs. Ewing, you came down here to tell us you killed Ciji Dunne.  Now you're saying that she was conscious when you left, and you don't know how she got in the ocean."  When Baines asks Val what she believes happened next, and Val says she doesn't know, Baines tells Val, "Mrs. Ewing, please don't waste our time."  In scenes like this, our sympathies start to veer away from established characters like Val, and lean more towards guest stars like Janet Baines, because we realize that people like Baines are attempting to properly do their jobs despite the confusion caused by characters like Gary and Val.

Baines not only has to deal with the disarray caused by the emotions attached to this case, she also has to deal with meddling from "Knots Landing's" resident sanctimonious characters, Mack MacKenzie and his well-meaning wife Karen MacKenzie.  After Val confesses to Ciji's murder, Karen, Mack and Val's mother Lilimae Clements (Julie Harris), show up at the police station demanding that Janet cease her interrogation of Val until an attorney can represent her.  They rudely interrupt the desk sergeant as he attempts to take a statement from a civilian whose vehicle is missing in order to demand that they be allowed to speak with Baines.  Karen attempts to pull rank with the desk sergeant by having Mack flash his credentials as a federal prosecutor--even though the case is a local investigation--which demonstrates the extent to which she feels as much a sense of entitlement to special treatment as the Ewings do on "Dallas."  Once Baines arrives, Karen accuses her of violating Val's civil liberties, even though Val has been informed of her rights and has waived her right to be represented by an attorney, while Mack tries to order Baines around in terms of how she should handle the case.  Janet reminds the trio that "Valene has been informed of her rights, now if she requests an attorney or if one shows up to defend her..." before Karen interrupts Janet by reiterating "She needs to be protected!"  By this point, Janet has had enough of their meddling and puts Karen in her place by telling her, "If you have a complaint, Mrs. MacKenzie, I suggest you report it to the police commission.  And may I remind you that Valene came in to see us!  We didn't drag her in off the streets!...Mack, this is my case, not yours!"  For once, it was good to see someone who was, in essence, a decent and sympathetic character put the "Knots Landing" protagonists in their place by reminding them that they shouldn't always get their way.

By the time Baines gets around to interrogating Gary's companion, Abby Cunningham, about his behavior and tendencies while drunk, after Abby insists that Gary has never been violent or hostile to her while he's been inebriated, Baines's contempt for these people has been well established so that she can only respond by sardonically joking, "Sounds like the exemplary drunk."  After Baines asks Abby whether Gary would be able to clean up a messy crime scene while drunk, Baines explains that someone else has come in and confessed to the crime.  She is unprepared for Abby's amused, almost giggling reaction when she informs her that Val has confessed to the crime.  Baines becomes quietly appalled as she witnesses how Abby is able to make light of a serious situation and is willing to throw Gary under the bus to ensure that he will not return to her romantic rival, Valene.  Baines asks Abby, "Why are you laughing?  You don't believe Val could've done it?"  Abby appears callous as she explains "No, I'm laughing because it's so Val!  It's just the kind of thing she'd do!...Confess to keep Gary from going to the gallows.  'Stand by your man' all that."  Baines asks "Even if he's committed murder?" to which Abby replies "Especially if he's committed murder!...Well, I didn't mean that..."  Baines is further shocked when Abby insists that Baines shouldn't believe Val's confession and even tries to undermine it for fear that it would bring Gary and Val back together again, "Did she say why she did it, or how she did it?  She didn't implicate Gary did she, I mean if she did you can't believe anything she says...She's crazy, you know, you can't believe a word that she says," which leaves Baines speechless as she attempts to understand Abby's true interests and motives in this case.  I like how this scene contrasts the modus operandi of Baines and Abby, two attractive, smart, successful blonde career-women who have achieved their success in different ways: Abby, through lying, scheming, manipulation, and subterfuge; and Baines, through honesty, integrity, directness, and hard work. Joanna Pettet's earthy intelligence is put to good use in this scene opposite Donna Mills' simpering superficiality. 

Janet Baines must also deal with interference from Laura Avery, who insists that Baines should investigate Richard's disappearance because she believes he killed Ciji.  Baines attempts to explain to a hysterical Laura, "I'm just a cop.  I don't call the shots in a homicide investigation, the District Attorney does.  I just gather facts and try not to form an opinion until the facts are in.  In this case, I didn't have much time to gather facts, much less evaluate them."  When Laura continues to insist that Richard murdered Ciji, Baines tries to make Laura realize that she has misplaced her anger against Richard's abandonment of her by blaming him for a crime he didn't commit, to no avail.  Meanwhile, after it comes to light that Chip is the guilty party, Val's mother Lilimae  attempts to convince Baines that she is the only one who can convince Chip to confess.  Lilimae is wracked with guilt over allowing Chip to enter the lives of all of her family and friends, by allowing him to live with her and Val, that she feels responsible for what happened and wants to salve her conscience.  She insists to Baines that "if you let me talk to him again, I might be able to lookin' him straight in the eye and tellin' him to come clean."  Baines impatiently asks Lilimae, "Mrs. Clements, has Chip ever looked you straight in the eye and lied?" to which Lilimae responds, "All the time, that's why I can recognize his lies!"  An exasperated Baines tries to remain polite as she urges Lilimae to "please go home."

Baines finds herself in the unenvialbe position of having to play unofficial therapist for the insecurities, unhappiness, and neuroses of the characters on "Knots Landing," a role that is further exemplified when she must witness, and almost play referee, to several violent arguments and confrontations among the main characters: between Lilimae and Abby when the two of them get into an argument at the police station; between Gary and Val when they run into each other while giving testimony to the police at Ciji's apartment; and between Diana and Karen after Diana learns that Karen has told Baines that Chip confessed to Diana that he killed Ciji.  Baines has had no prior contact with these characters and, as such, has not developed tolerance for their overwrought emotions.  Throughout Janet Baines' time on "Knots Landing," you sense that she doesn't find these characters as endearing as fans of the show do, and that their actions and behavior have made this the most difficult homicide investigation she has ever undertaken.  In one scene, Baines walks a handcuffed Gary, accompanied by his attorney and other police officers, through the beach area where he woke up near Ciji's body in an effort to try and piece together a chronology of the events that night.  As Gary explains to Baines that he does not remember anything that occurred the night Ciji died due to his inebriation, Baines asks him "Have you ever had this serious a blackout before?"  As Gary silently nods, an incredulous Baines asks, "And you still drink?" which demonstrates the extent Baines disapproves of how Gary is an individual unable to learn from his mistakes.  Moreover, when Baines gets around to questioning Diana about Chip's confession to her, the foolish and spiteful girl insists that marital privilege precludes her from having to testify against her husband because she married Chip in Las Vegas, "just like my mother" married Mack, Baines' old flame.  Baines has pretty much had it with these people when it gets to the point where Diana rubs it in her face that her old boyfriend has married someone else.

As such, it's no surprise when Janet Baines finally expresses her negative opinions about the people she has encountered during her time on the case.  In the 4th season finale, an episode appropriately titled "Willing Victims," Mack confronts Baines outside the police station concerning her opinions as to whether the judge will throw the case against Gary out of court.  She tells Mack, "You say I think he's innocent.  So, am I the jury?  Listen, Mack, if the judge doesn't throw this case out, if this case goes to trial, what do you think the jury's gonna see, huh?  They're gonna see a guy who's a millionaire--a Texas Ewing!--who's a drunk.  A guy who two years ago got involved in a case with gangsters that cost his boss, you're wife's first husband, his life.  Wait a minute, let me finish, I'm being the jury now, OK?  All right, I see a drunk, who left his wife for one lady, then got involved with another lady who's now dead.  I see a guy who got arrested two weeks ago for being drunk.  And then I'm gonna listen to the arresting officer tell me how violent he was.  Violent enough to kill!  Now, face it, Mack, this case goes to trial, the jury's gonna love putting him away!...You may think it's a weak case, but the defense is even weaker!"

When Mack reminds Baines that that's not how the criminal justice system is supposed to work, that innocence is presumed until a defendant is proven guilty, she indignantly replies, "The system!  I'm not sure Gary Ewing belongs on the streets because whether he killed Ciji or not, he's dangerous!  Yeah, if they let him out it won't be long before he gets drunk again and maybe kills somebody else.  Maybe not with a gun or a knife, maybe just with his Rolls Royce!  So if the system puts him away, then good for the system!  It works!" before she storms away from Mack.  At this point, Baines is so repulsed by what she has witnessed and learned about Gary that she has rationalized in her mind that putting him away for Ciji's murder, even if he is innocent of that particular crime, would be justified if it ensured that he would be unable to hurt others.  While regular viewers of "Knots Landing" realize that Gary has redeeming qualities, his actions in Season 4 ensured that an objective outsider like Janet Baines would be unable to recognize those qualities.

Ultimately, Janet Baines acknowledged her own flaws in both her reactions to the people she was encountering and her own mistakes while conducting the investigation.  While testifying in the evidentiary hearing on whether to proceed with the case against Gary, Baines falls on her own sword and admits while testifying on the stand that Gary's statement--where he accidentally says "Yes" to Baines' question as to whether he killed Ciji--was the reason why he was arrested and that, without the statement, there would have been no case against Gary.  Baines allows her professional reputation to be potentially be tarnished in order to ensure that Gary is released from custody.  She further redeems herself when she decides to remove herself from the case because, "I'm too close this, Mack.  I hate this case.  I hate that lousy schlub (Chip) we're letting go, guilty as sin.  And I hate that Laura Avery for hanging on to that sick story of hers, practically hoping that her husband was a murderer.  He was just a poor, unloved guy who just couldn't cope.  And you know what else, Mack?  I hated what happened to Gary Ewing.  And I hated myself for feeling sorry for him.  A millionaire drunk, a millionaire drunk!  And I hated hating that smart little lady who'll probably put him right back where he started before he...before this whole case began...You know, I hated watching your family fall apart.  And I hated myself for, deep down inside, feeling a twinge of satisfaction, you know?"  When Mack expresses surprise at Baines' admission and asks her why she felt satisfaction from seeing how this case affected his family and marriage, she responds "You really have to ask?  Mack, what do you do with your feelings when you're through with them, huh?  You just toss 'em out?  I don't.  You know, once I care I always care."  When Mack says that they were never really right for each other, she smiles and says "I know that.  But we weren't all that wrong.  Oh I guess just some stupid part of me thought that it was OK for us not to be right as long as you weren't right with someone else, you know what I mean?"  When Mack reassures Baines it's OK for her to react that way because she's human, she self-deprecatingly responds, "No, I'm not.  I'm a cop."  Baines and Mack admit that they'll miss each other before she kisses him on the cheek and walks out of "Knots Landing" forever.

Janet Baines' exit scene is remarkable because it allowed her an opportunity to verbally call out the regular characters on the show for their character flaws and shortcomings.  She was never a passive bystander during the investigation to what was going on around her.  Instead, she took it all in and didn't like what she saw in the main characters.  For instance, it might surprise some that she had more sympathy for Richard than she had for Laura but, in her dealings with Richard, Baines found that he didn't do anything to interfere with, or muddle, the investigation the way Laura did.  Baines' quiet contempt and slowly mounting exasperation throughout her time on the series attempted to hold a mirror up to the main characters on the show, only they were usually too preoccupied to notice what she was recognizing about them.  No scene exemplifies this moment better than the one where Val, after being released from custody, returns to Baines' office to ask for permission to speak to Gary so she can try and convince him to take a more active role in his legal defense.  When Baines explains that she is completing a report that, in essence, closes the police investigation and hands the case over to the District Attorney, Val has a conniption and screams "Well that is wrong and I'm telling you you are wrong!"  Baines urges Val to calm down and reminds Val that "You are wearing out your welcome."  When Val insists that she be allowed to see Gary, Baines rhetorically asks, "For him, or for you?  Just make sure you know the difference," which causes Val to have a brief epiphany that suggests she realizes her motives for trying to help Gary defend himself is due to her lingering fantasy that she and Gary may someday reconcile.  Because the characters on "Knots Landing" are presumed to have more substance and depth than the characters on other 1980s prime time soaps, it was fascinating to see how Baines didn't agree with this perspective and that, to her, Gary was just another "Texas Ewing," and that the rest of his cohorts were shallow, narcissistic, and malevolent individuals.  Unlike die-hard fans of the show, Janet Baines simply didn't enjoy being around these people.

The part of Janet Baines was the last good and meaty role of Joanna Pettet's career.  She started out promisingly in the 1960s on Broadway and with meaty roles in Sidney Lumet's "The Group" (1966) and as Mata Bond in the James Bond spoof "Casino Royale" (1967).  She built a comfortable career for herself in the 1970s as one of the most prolific actresses starring in TV movies and episodic guest appearances.  Her roles became more infrequent as she entered the 1980s before calling it quits entirely by the end of that decade.  Janet Baines was one of the best roles in Pettet's career.  It made good use of Pettet's earthy intelligence as an actress as well as effectively utilized her trademark deep and husky speaking voice (why director Howard Hawks never hired her for his later films remains a mystery) that went a long ways toward giving the character gravitas and authority as a homicide detective with the police force.  It's too bad that Janet Baines only appeared for eight episodes of "Knots Landing" because she had genuine chemistry with the cast and blended in well with them.  She should have remained with the show at least until the Ciji case was finally closed when a fugitive Chip fell on the pitchfork at Gary's ranch and was killed.  Moreover, I would have welcomed having Janet Baines back as the show's resident homicide cop in later seasons of the show when there were other murder mystery storylines (such as the ones involving Peter Hollister, Jill Bennett, and Danny Waleska) for the show to solve, rather than bringing in a new group of uninspired detectives to fill up the screen.  Baines' history with the show, as well as her feelings towards the regular characters, would have helped heighten the dramatic tension during those investigations.  Joanna Pettet's Detective Lt. Janet Baines ranks as a noteworthy recurring/supporting character who made her mark in the 1980s prime time soap genre. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Holly Harwood's Memorably Graceful Exit from "Dallas"

A few months ago I commented on the wrong way to write a character out of a TV show, but now I want to comment on the appropriate way to close out a character that had made a strong impact and impression upon a series.  Throughout the 1982-83 season of "Dallas," Lois Chiles gave a marvelous performance as intially-naive, but ultimately strong-willed oil heiress Holly Harwood.  After having inherited her father's oil company, Harwood Oil, after his death, she foolishly hires JR Ewing (Larry Hagman) to help her run it.  Rather than asking for traditional remuneration, JR asks for 25% ownership of Harwood Oil, which Holly agrees to give to him.  Holly would later regret this decision after she realizes that JR is using Harwood Oil assets to help give him an edge in his competition against his brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) to win Ewing Oil.  Throughout the season, Holly often consulted with Bobby, who she found herself falling in love with.  After JR gets her involved in an illegal deal to sell oil to Cuba, Holly decides to manipulate JR's wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) into believing that they are having an affair in order to force Sue Ellen to issue an ultimatum with JR for him to cut all ties with Holly.

When Sue Ellen catches Holly and JR in bed, she goes on a bender that eventually leads to a tragic car accident that leaves Sue Ellen facing criminal charges and Ray Krebbs' cousin Mickey Trotter (Timothy Patrick Murphy) paralyzed from the neck down.  JR agrees to return his 25% share of Harwood Oil to Holly, but only if she pays him $20 million.  Bobby urges Holly not to pay JR for fear that the payment would put JR far ahead in the competition.  In the finale of that season, Holly attempts to stall JR by suggesting to him that she stagger the payments over a period of time.  JR at first refuses, but eventually relents, warning her not to take too long with the payments because "Holly Harwood is not on my list of all-time favorites."  It would have been easy to assume that that was the end of Holly Harwood on "Dallas," but in the next season the writers and producers of the show gave her a proper exit that also laid the groundwork for the long-term impact the character would have on the show.

When the show returned in the Fall, Holly was nowhere to be seen in the first four episodes.  It appeared as if her storyline was over and done with.  But Holly reappeared in the fifth episode of the season entitled "The Quality of Mercy," which aired October 28, 1983.  It would be the first of three appearances in the new season spread across three consecutive episodes.  In the first scene, Holly reappears when she interrupts a luncheon between Bobby and his ex-sister-in-law Katharine Wentworth (Morgran Brittany), who conspired with JR to break up Bobby's marriage with her half-sister Pam (Victoria Principal), and is scheming to win his affections now that he and Pam have divorced.  We learn that Holly left town for awhile to try and regain perspective on what has happened to her life in the last year.  Holly expresses condolences to Bobby for his divorce from Pam and apologizes to him for paying JR $20 million to leave her company.  Holly is surprised when Bobby informs her that he and JR have decide to call off the competition and split the company 50/50.  Lois Chiles expresses the right air of self-reflection and regret as she reacts to the news "That battle was so bitter!  I mean, I'm an outsider and look at the things that I did.  I suppose it changed all of us.  It's taken me quite awhile to start liking myself again."

Bobby admits how he understands the way Holly feels--and that it's taking him a long time to like himself again after all the scheming and manipulative things he did the previous season to try and win Ewing Oil.  In so doing, Bobby expresses a level of empathy for Holly's regrets and mistakes that puts the two characters on a level playing field.  After Bobby comments that he's glad to see Holly again, she breathes a sigh of relief and says, "Thank goodness.  It took all the courage I had to come talk to you....well because I know that I've done things that you don't approve of.  But you know how I always felt about you Bobby.  And I just wanted us to be friends again."  After Bobby assures Holly that "right now I could use all the friends that I can get," an irritated Katharine Wentworth attempts to interrupt this conversation by asking Bobby to order her another drink.

A wise and perceptive Holly immediately picks up on Katharine's personal interest in Bobby and refuses Bobby's offer to get her a drink as well.  The two women, both carrying an unreciprocated romantic interest in the same man, eye one another competitively across the table.  Both Lois Chiles and Morgan Brittany are marvelous in articulating the different modus operandi of these two women.  Chiles projects a directness and honesty in Holly's dealings with Bobby that strikes an interesting contrast with the devious manipulation that is Katharine's hallmark on the show.  I particularly like the way Holly evokes Katharine's quietly seething animosity when Holly asks Bobby out to dinner some night.  When Bobby tells Holly that he "wouldn't be very good company," Holly responds, "I'm willing to risk it if you are...I just thought that, for once, the two of us could sit down and have a civilized meal.  No business.  Just kind of get to know who we are.  Not Harwood Oil, not Ewing Oil, just us."

Bobby finally agrees, which further irritates Katharine, as he promises to contact Holly and set a date soon.  As Holly departs, I believe she is sincere when she says, "Nice meeting you Katharine.  I hope you'll forgive me for monopolizing Bobby like that."  Katharine leans forward, possessively marking her territory as Bobby's companion for this meal, and responds, "Oh that's all right.  We have plenty of time."  Amused and challenged by Katharine's maneuver, Holly lightly chuckles under her breath, rises from her seat and delivers another blow back at Katharine as she pointedly remarks, "And I think it's...admirable, you're helping Bobby get over your sister."  Recognizing how Holly has seen right through her underhandedness, Katharine smirks and says "Thank you," as an oblivious Bobby kisses Holly goodbye as she departs back to her office.  Bobby is so naive as to what's just transpired between these two women to such a degree that, after he comments, "Nice lady, isn't she?," he fails to recognize the sarcasm in Katharine's voice when she responds, "Wonderful."

This beautifully written, acted, and naunced scene is notable because it demonstrates the different tactics of two women who are clearly interested in Bobby and who hope that he might reciprocate their feelings now that he is divorced from Pam.  Despite Holly's manipulation of Sue Ellen, seducing JR so that his wife will catch them in bed together, she's essentially a straight-forward, honest individual who was driven to setting JR up out of desperation.  In all of her dealings with Bobby, she has been completely honest about her emotions and motives.  The previous season, when she attempted to seduce Bobby while dressed in a bathing suit at her pool, she is direct about her longings and desires for him.  Once Bobby makes it clear that he is a faithful husband, Holly stops trying to seduce him and instead forges a genuine friendship with him.  Even though she and Pam only encountered each other in one scene at the Ewing barbecue, I always had the impression that Holly, after being rejected by Bobby, genuinely respected, as well as envied, Pam's role as Bobby's wife.  She only waited until Bobby and Pam were divorced before making another effort to make her feelings to Bobby known.

In contrast, Katharine has no such respect for Pam's role as Bobby's wife, even though they are half-sisters.  She schemed with JR to break them up, and even forges a fake letter, purportedly from Pam to her attorney, that she shares with Bobby in order to make him believe that Pam no longer wanted to be married to him.  In contrast to Holly's directness and honesty where Bobby was concerned, Katharine continually operated in a state of deception and subterfuge.  She initially did not reveal to Bobby, until later, her own romantic feelings for him.  By not being honest with Bobby from the beginning, Katharine continued to allow herself to believe in a fantasy she had created in her mind that Bobby would eventually fall in love with her.  For all of her villainy, there was a delusional quality to Katharine that just seemed desperate.

The next time we see Holly is in the following episode "Check and Mate," which originally aired November 4, 1983.  Bobby and Holly are seen walking together at an outdoor shopping area, alongside an elaborate waterway, as they come from a distance and walk closer to a bridge, where the camera filming this scene is situated, so they can stop and confront each others feelings once and for all.  The first section of the scene is shot in one long, unbroken take, where we see both characters from a distance as they walk closer to us, the audience, until both characters have reached and stepped onto the bridge, upon which time the remainder of the vignette is dramatized in long shots and close-ups that underscore the divide that has come between them.  They chit chat about the end of the Battle for Ewing Oil competition, which is due to end the next day, and the wounds and damage that the competition has caused.  Holly attempts to be cheerful and hopeful as she reassures Bobby that "Wounds heal after awhile, at least mine do.  I'm not even so angry at JR anymore."  She then pointedly asks, "What about you Bobby?  Can you forget what happened?...with me and JR?"

Bobby curtly asks "Holly, what are you really saying?" A frustrated Holly admits, "It's hard to fall out of love."  Bobby becomes uncomfortable and attempts to deflect her statement by saying "Please, Holly," as she continues saying "And I was just wondering if I was gonna get another chance with you now that you're a free man."  Bobby's tone of voice becomes slightly impatient as he says "Look, Holly, we can be friends, we can help each other, but I can't see havin' the kind of relationship that you want to have."  A disappointed Holly continues pressing Bobby as she asks him "Tell me somethin' it because I set JR up that time?"  Bobby says, "I don't know, maybe."  Holly continues, "Is it because I set him up, or because I slept with him to do it?"  Bobby responds, "I don't know.  Maybe both."  A perceptive and slightly annoyed and frustrated Holly observes how "Men have such fragile egos.  If this conversation were reversed, and you'd done the sleeping and the setting up, you'd expect me to just forget about it.  You wouldn't care how I felt."  After having witnessed the way Bobby expected Pam to accept the scheming and blackmailing and manipulation that he resorted to in order to win Ewing Oil, we're not surprised how Bobby realizes the truth of Holly's statement and the hypocrisy of his perspective.  He acknowledges to Holly, "You know something, you might be right.  But I don't see myself changing, Holly."

A disappointed Holly accepts Bobby's rejection and says, "Guess that's the end of the road then.  Not that there ever really was a road for you and me."  In saying that, Holly reveals that she is not only direct and honest, she's also a realist, a point which is further emphasized a moment later, after Bobby tries to reassure her that they can remain friends.  A slightly bemused Holly scoffs, "Friends?  No, we won't.  I could never be comfortable being just your friend."  In so doing, Holly demonstrates how she is unwilling to live a fantasy, the way Katharine has, where she can accept crumbs and remain second-best by being just platonic friends with Bobby.  Holly appears to understand that remaining Bobby's friend will perpetuate a fantasy that he might some day become romantically interested in her.  In the previous episode, when she interrupted his lunch with Katharine, Holly expressed an interest in being friends with Bobby, which this scene later contradicts.  I believe Holly has changed her mind because, after witnessing Katharine's obvious interest in Bobby, and sensing how Bobby has no interest in his own ex-sister-in-law, Holly has seen for herself how desperate and fruitless it would be to cling to Bobby forever.  If Katharine is the dangerous delusional, then Holly remains the healthy realist who knows what she needs, and doesn't need, for herself.  She's willing to say goodbye to Bobby in order to retain her dignity. 

For her final scene with Bobby, the writers gave Lois Chiles a killer exit line.  Holly kisses Bobby on the cheek and, looking straight into his eyes, tells him "You know what really kills me?  There's someone out there, somewhere, who's gonna end up with you.  And it won't be me."  She then turns and walks away from Bobby forever, never looking back at him.  She leaves a dumbfounded Bobby speechless on the bridge, too stupid to understand how he has allowed this terrific lady to slip from his life.  Considering how the lady Bobby does end up with, the incredibly bland Ann Ewing (Brenda Strong) on TNT's new "Dallas," is not nearly as compelling or interesting a character as Holly Harwood was, it's not hard to understand Holly's frustration with the situation.

We might be forgiven in believing that Holly was over and done with, but in the following episode, "Ray's Trial," which aired November 11, 1983, the writers gave Holly an additional exit scene to tie up her character and storyline once and for all.  Having resolved her dangling, unrequited relationship with Bobby, the writers now focus on tying up her contentious dealings with his brother JR, who she has not encountered in about 6 episodes.  At the end of the previous episode, as the executor of Jock's estate, Punk Anderson, and the accountants and attorneys wrap up the last details of the competition for Ewing Oil that Bobby and JR's father has set up for them, JR attempts to break the deal that Bobby made with JR to stop the competition and split the company 50/50 by asking for a full audit of both their earnings that year.  It looks as if JR will end up the majority owner of Ewing Oil, if not for the last minute arrival of Bobby's Canadian business partners, who has shown up to bring Bobby a check for $26 million for his share of investing in drilling for oil in ice covered Canadian oil fields.  This puts Bobby far ahead of JR in the competition, making him the winner and majority owner of Ewing Oil.

At the start of the episode in "Ray's Trial," we find a grieving JR in a bar, drinking away his anger and frustration at losing the competition to Bobby and having to share in the company with him.  After telling his waitress to keep the drinks coming, a gloating Holly, grinning from ear-to-ear like a Cheshire cat, shows up to gloat about JR's failure.  Lois Chiles plays the scene with the right air of schadenfreude as she tells JR, "I just heard the most astounding news!  That you and Bobby are gonna run Ewing Oil side-by-side.  Share and share alike."  In contrast to the scene where Holly interrupted Bobby and Katharine's lunch, and Bobby graciously asked Holly if she would like a drink, when the waitress in this scene returns to JR's table, and asks Holly what she would like to drink, JR curtly remarks, "The lady's leavin'...aren't you?"  Holly continues gloating as she observes how "Looks like the only friend you've got left is in that glass.  I just think it's wonderful!  That despite all your manipulations, despite all your crooked deals, despite your hitting me up for $20 million bucks to get you out of my company, despite all that you still couldn't beat Bobby!"

JR attempts to save face by trying to make it appear that he and Bobby agreed to split up the company long before the final audit for the competition.  Holly slyly responds, "Maybe you did, but the way I heard it, you were gonna double cross Bobby.  It was Bobby who agreed to share Ewing Oil with you, not the other way around."  JR attempts to demean Holly by insinuating that she got the information as to what actually happened in the final audit room by having slept with one of the auditors, "or all of them as the case may be."  A sanguine Holly remarks, "Same old JR.  Losin' has done nothin' for your soul.  But I'm happy that you lost because you cost me the one thing in the whole world that I ever really wanted."  JR realizes that she is referring to his younger brother Bobby and encourages her to pursue him because "he's free now, honey.  You can go after him, free as a bird."

 A bitter Holly responds, "You made that impossible."  JR seems truly surprised at Holly's revelation "I did?  You mean because of that one night that I spent in your bed?  Oh, my saintly brother."  A disgusted Holly gets up from the table, as JR grabs her by the arm to finish his thought, "Darlin' I'd like to make a little the fact that you will never, ever be my sister-in-law.  And I want to thank you too, for reminding me how, how ethical my brother is.  It's a flaw in his character that eventually will cause his downfall in the oil industry.  I'm not finished yet, honey.  Not by a long shot.  Thank you, I'm feelin' better."  Holly wrests her arm out of JR's grasp as she turns and walks out of "Dallas" forever.

In so doing, the scene establishes several themes that will continue to dominate "Dallas" in seasons to come.  One is how Bobby will continue to have an aversion to any women who were romantically involved with his older brother.  In Bobby's eyes, they have become "tainted" for having been with JR.  JR uses this to make Katharine believe that Bobby will reject her once he finds out that she has been sleeping with his brother.  JR later causes Katharine to believe that he has played Bobby an audio tape of him and Katharine in bed together, which leads to Katharine to confess all of her sins to Bobby and destroys their friendship forever.  In later seasons, when Bobby is dating April Stevens (Sheree J. Wilson), JR attempts to blackmail April into doing his bidding or else he will tell Bobby about their previous romantic relationship.  He refers to Holly Harwood as an example of what April has to look forward to if she does not comply with JR.  April admits her relationship with JR to Bobby, which causes their breakup.  It's only later, when Bobby gets over his prudishness and realizes how much he loves April, that he can stop seeing women who were involved with JR as "fallen women."  In the 1988-89 season of "Dallas," Holly Harwood is once again mentioned when Sue Ellen is planning to produce a film about her life with JR and she tells Don Lockwood (Ian McShane), the writer/director she has hired, about Holly's scheme to have Sue Ellen catch her and JR in bed together.  Later, we see a scene being filmed where Sue Ellen and JR quarrel over his sexual involvement with "Molly Woodward."

The final scenes of Holly Harwood are notable in the prime time soap genre because they not only provided an appropriate finish for her character, but also established how she would continue to have a long term impact on the show.  She was not a character who came and left without a trace after she was gone.  Her specter continued to haunt "Dallas" for years to come.  What's great about Holly Harwood is that she never wore out her welcome on the show, the way other characters like Jenna Wade (Priscilla Presley) did.  In so doing, Holly left fans with good feelings for her character, rather than impatience and contempt.  After all these years, fans of "Dallas" continue to discuss Holly on fan message boards, and wonder whatever became of her.  I think this helps demonstrate how she was such a memorable and compelling presence on the show, which is why I imagine they would welcome an appearance from her character in the new TNT "Dallas" at some point.  Throughout her time on "Dallas," Lois Chiles admirably underplayed her scenes as Holly so that the humanity of the character continued to shine through.  She never overacted, the way others in the prime time soap genre are capable of doing, and the character never degenerated into camp.  Chiles' sincerity in her work ensured that that would never happen.  As with all great TV characters, Lois Chiles' Holly Harwood makes such a strong impact that she leaves you wanting even more from her. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Welcome Back, Arsenio Hall

A few months ago, a married couple who are good friends invited me over for dinner with their family.  We had a great time laughing and socializing and they both told me that they enjoyed having me over because I let them relax and just be themselves.  I thought that that was one of the greatest compliments that a person could receive--that somehow you were able to put people at ease that they didn't need to put on any airs and they could express themselves naturally.  Which brings me to Arsenio Hall.  I am very happy to see Arsenio Hall return to the late-night arena this coming Monday night with the revival of his 1989-1994 syndicated "The Arsenio Hall Show."  I have good memories of Hall and his show because he was part of my regular TV viewing during high school and college.  What I liked about Hall was the warmth and good humor that he brought to hosting a late night talk show.  There was never any cruel, self-satisfied, post-modern snarkiness from Hall that I see from too many late night talk show hosts these days.  He just seemed like the kind of regular guy that you wanted to have as your friend and who always seemed to bring joy to any situation.

I first became aware of Arsenio Hall when he became one of a series of temporary hosts that the newly launched Fox Network had hired to replace original host Joan Rivers on "The Late Show" after they had fired her back in 1988.  He was funny and irreverent and kept me in stitches.  I recall how Hall, as far back as "The Late Show," dispensed with interviewing people from behind a desk and set up an easy chair in its place so that he and his interviewees could be more at ease with one another.  I still remember the time he had Eddie Murphy on as a surprise guest on "The Late Show," probably the most exciting episode of that short-lived talk show.  I was always disappointed everytime I tuned into "The Late Show" and found one of the other alternate hosts were on that night instead of Hall.  As such, I was very excited when I heard later in 1988 how Paramount had signed a deal with Hall for him to host his own self-titled talk show starting in January 1989.  I was fully prepared to welcome him into my home when his show debuted.  He had great guests, great music, and always asked great questions.

What I liked about Hall was how he let his guests be themselves, allowed them to shine and talk about what they wanted, and never tried to impose his own subjective viewpoint on them.  Occasionally, he could pull a joke on them, but it was never cruel and was always funny.  I recall the time he had Kirstie Alley on his show and screened a clip from an unsold 1983 NBC TV pilot called "Highway Honeys" that she did early in her career.  Alley laughed good naturedly as Hall dredged up this skeleton from her past and didn't seem angry or annoyed at his cheeky display of humor.  Rather, showing the clip appeared to help Alley put into context how far she had come in her career so that it was a positive look at her past, rather than something embarrassing.  I'll also never forget the night Arsenio Hall surprised Eddie Murphy on his show with an appearance by Michael Jackson, who was there to present an MTV Viewer's Choice Award to Murphy for his brilliant career in comedy.  If there were surprises on Arsenio Hall's show, it was always to enhance the people who were on, rather than the other way around (as it too often is on talk shows these days.) 

The thing about Hall that I always remember is what a good listener he was to all of his guests.  It always appeared to me that he was excited to be in that job and he really wanted to get to know who his guests were.  As such, he allowed them room to discuss the things that were on their mind.  This quality was evident in Hall even back when he hosted "The Late Show" on FOX before he got his own show.  I recall one instance when actress Margaret Ladd, who played Emma on "Falcon Crest," was making a guest appearance on "The Late Show."  After Hall introduced Ladd, and described her character on her series as "the mentally deranged Emma Channing," Ladd diplomatically disagreed with that description of Emma and took the time to describe how Emma was a much more nuanced character than that.  Hall never seemed annoyed with how Ladd was correcting his description of her character and allowed her room to express herself.  You'd never see that with Letterman or even Leno, who probably wouldn't have even allowed Ladd to get in a word edgewise.

One of my favorite segments on the original "Arsenio Hall Show" was when Margaret Ladd's colleague from "Falcon Crest," Ana Alicia, appeared on the May 16, 1989 segment in order to discuss her return to "Falcon Crest" after the new producers in Season 8 had decided to kill off her character, Melissa Agretti.  You can see the interview on YouTube here.  I really appreciated the way Hall acknowledged what had happened to Ana Alicia--and also acknowledged the frustrations of fans like myself who hated the creative decisions the new producers made that season--when he said "Well, obviously they (the new producers) don't know what they're doing because you make decisions for demographics and the fans didn't agree at all with what they did."  It was good to have someone prominent in the media underscore the importance of Ana Alicia's contribution to "Falcon Crest," as well as validate the feelings of frustrated fans like myself.  But, more importantly, Hall gave us a good interview with Ana Alicia that night where he was respectful, yet playful, and the two had genuine rapport and chemistry playing off of one another that you just can't manufacture.

At one point in the interview, Ana Alicia good-naturedly ribs Arsenio Hall for having asked her friend and "Falcon Crest" colleague Lorenzo Lamas, when he was on the show two months earlier, about Apollonia while Lamas was discussing his working relationship with Ana Alicia.  Hall becomes sincerely bashful, assures her that he has seen her work on "Falcon Crest" and knows who she is, but explains that "You know, I guess I just had this thing for Apollonia, you know, since she was a Rams cheerleader, you know, even before she was into television."  When Ana Alicia reassures Hall she isn't offended, he suddenly interjects "Have you ever seen (Apollonia's) nude scene in 'Purple Rain'?...You know what I mean?  Once you take off some leather on 'Falcon Crest' and jump in the water, I'll be asking about you all over town!"  I remember how Hall's comedic timing at that moment brought down the house.  But what made the moment work was the fact that Hall remained respectful of Ana Alicia's dignity even while playfully bantering with her.  Hall was laughing along with her throughout this segment, which is why it came off so endearing, charming and funny.

Later in the interview, when Hall asks Ana Alicia if she's married, without missing a beat, she responds with "No, are you asking?" to which Hall playfully retorts "If that skirt goes up any higher, I might!"  Moments later in the interview, Ana Alicia asks Hall if he's ever conducted an interview with a guest sitting on his lap, leading him to invite her to sit on his lap, which causes the audience to go wild.  Ana Alicia jokes, "This is really intimate here" to which Hall responds "Johnny would never give you this, baby!"  When Ana Alicia gets up and sits back down on the couch, Hall playfully exclaims "I was fine!" and sits on her lap for the remainder of the segment.  Even though they are being playful and flirtatious with one another, it never becomes undignified because Hall's respect for Ana Alicia as an individual still registers strongly.  Both individuals know just how far to take the playful bantering without ever going over the line.  She even gets an opportunity during this part of the interview to discuss her new movie "Romero" (1989) with Raul Julia in a substantive and sincere manner.  As Ana Alicia describes the movie to Hall, she jokes "I feel like I'm telling a good-night story!" before the segment wraps up with Ana Alicia and Arsenio Hall giving one another a heartfelt and sincere hug.  I remember seeing this segment when it first aired and laughing all the way through it because Hall touched upon all of the subjects I wanted to hear about--Ana Alicia's return to "Falcon Crest" and her new movie "Romero"--as well as the fact that it allowed the viewer an opportunity to get to know who these two people are as individuals.  (Hall and Ana Alicia have such great chemistry together, it's too bad the two of them have not worked together in a scripted comedy movie or TV show.)  I felt at the time, and still feel now, that this was the perfect example of how an interview segment on a late-night talk show should be--funny, energetic, and full of good humor and warmth.

Over two decades later, Arsenio Hall's innate kindness and respect still leaves a lasting and vivid impression on guests from his original show like Ana Alicia.  She recently recalled how "I was blessed to have been on Arsenio's show twice, and I found him to be a real gem of a human being.  He was as kind and funny off the show as he was on, which is unusual in the talk show circuit.  He was always supportive and, from my experience, had a great deal of respect for women, which I--as a young actress--truly appreciated.  I wish him the greatest success in his comeback, and I will be watching and rooting him on."  She's not the only one who wishes Arsenio Hall well.  There are many so-called "Generation X-ers," now in our early 40s, who have fond memories of watching Hall in our dorm rooms after a long day of classes and studying.  He was a good role model for young people in the early 1990s and set a good example of how hard work, talent, and kindness is always preferable to cruelty, sarcasm, and snarkiness (which characterizes too much of the media these days).  I also wish him all the best and expect to see him around for years to come.  Welcome back, Arsenio Hall.