It’s not often that I can tie together what is arguably the grittiest crime drama on network television with a 1966 rom-com–OK, I’ve never done it, so today’s a first–and I’ll be frank with you, tieing these two objects together is going to take some doing, so have patience. I’ll get there.
Yesterday during my workout I watched “How to Steal a Million” (1966), starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. It is a light-hearted bit of fluff about the daughter of an art forger and a purported art thief who need to steal something to protect a secret. It’s set in Paris, Audrey is swathed in Givenchy throughout, O’Toole sports around in an XK-E, and it has several temporal “shout-outs” to the stars’ previous hits, so I’m sure it was doubly enjoyable for folks back in ’66 who’d been following these two icons through their early careers. It’s a little less believable than most romantic comedies (which means it was totally farcical), but one doesn’t watch a rom-com for believability or with any doubts as to the outcome. We watch them for the interaction, for the play, for the fun of it, and in this respect, “How to Steal a Million” delivers, even today.
I thought it was out-dated, though, because of its treatment of Ms. Hepburn’s character. It wasn’t anything unusual for the day; the “girl” is lovely, innocent, perfect, a fawn among wolves as it were, and Our Hero (good-looking, dashing, and well-spoken as they all were back then) feels a need to protect, assist, and manage the girl’s over-exuberant inclinations. When he falls for her (as he must), he feels the perfect right to kiss her without permission, to keep kissing her despite her protests, and to pull her into a “clinch” to keep her there. Naturally (for 1966), her protestations quickly dissolve because, as we all know, she really wanted him to kiss her in the first place.
As I watched, I said to myself, “Well, at least we don’t write women like that anymore.”
That evening, we watched this week’s episode of “The Following,” a show with Kevin Bacon as a former FBI agent brought back to the job by his old nemesis, a psychotic serial killer played by James Purefoy. It’s gritty, it’s unremitting, and (so far) it’s been fun. The two main actors are excellent, bringing a truth to the emotional side of their characters that is rarely seen on television. The female lead is played by the lustrous Natalie Zea. Ms. Zea, like Ms. Hepburn, is a pleasure simply to look at, but she also matches her co-stars with the quality of her work.
When she’s given something to do, that is.
Last night’s episode was a disaster. In it, Zea’s character lost every bit of a brain she had and got stuck in a ridiculous situation. I mean, when a criminal working for your psychotic murderer ex-husband says “Trust me, get in the car,” do you really? Really? And then, after being driven across town by this guy, the writers give her the totally stupid line, “Where are we?” Dear, you were in the car the whole time; didn’t you pay attention to your surroundings?
Then it goes from bad to worse, when she gets kissed without permission, and later on, she gets pulled into a “clinch” where her protestations quickly dissolve because, as we all know, she really wanted him to hold her in the first place. It was Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole all over again. It was a 1966 flashback.
Since I’m having problems with the plotline in “The Following” anyway, this wasn’t a welcome development. As with many Fox Television products, the show will go for the shocking twist where a simpler, more prosaic device would work better. This “shock treatment” will work well once and perhaps even twice, but by the third time the audience is expecting it, and by the fourth time we’ve been counting down to it, knowing it was coming.
A viewer’s (or reader’s) credulity is not elastic. Once stretched, it remains stretched, and repeated stress will eventually lead to a break.
For “The Following,” I’m nearly broken. I’d have an easier time believing Audrey Hepburn as an art thief.