Saturday, August 14, 2004

Prescient Sitcom

Last night, I happened to catch an episode of a syndicated Nineties sitcom, Dharma and Greg. (See ABC website here.) I know, I know, shame on me, but it was 2:30 in the morning and what else is there to watch without cable? Even MTV2 was re-running some crappy Jackass knock-off, instead of videos.

Anyway, this episode (number 8) was so spookily relevant to this campaign season, it was impressive enough to merit this post.

The show is built around the opposites-attract romance between Greg and Dharma. Greg is the conservative, straight-arrow, fraternity-row son of wealthy, doting parents always worried about money and appearances. Dharma is the free-spirit, New Age-y, shame-free daughter of Sixties hippies who are still keepin' the faith in the Nineties, fighting The Man and living in harmony. On a chance date they fall in love and impulsively get married. The comedy derives mostly from the friction between the uptight Greg (and his upper-crust parents) and anything-goes Dharma (and her flower-power parents). The show is set in California, which serves to facilitate set-ups and collisions.

True to television sitcom form, it is mostly stuffy, embarrassed, stick-in-the-mud Greg who is the one who must change, loosen up, for Dharma. But to be fair, everyone and their beliefs are the butt of jokes at some point or another. Greg turns out to have a goofy side; Dharma later reveals a darker side.

(Digression: This show has one of the most brilliant opening credits ever. Over a soundtrack of a harp-like guitar filigree that sounds vaguely carnival-esque, on a set that is only colored backdrop, we see preppy Greg standing reading his newspaper with a serious expression on his face. Cut to happy Dharma, seated in a lotus position, blowing soap bubbles that float past Greg. They catch his attention. Next we see Dharma and Greg embracing tightly and spinning around happily before the camera. End.

It's only fifteen seconds or so long, and yet it perfectly captures the essence of the show. Admittedly, it's a pretty simple premise to begin with, but still. It's a model of brevity and distillation, a jewel of its type.)

In this episode, Greg (a Federal District Attorney and prosecutor) is approached by a friend of his father's to run for the local Congressional district seat. He accepts, but has to "clean up" Dharma to pass muster with voters.

At his political coming-out he and a Chanel-suited Dharma impulsively slip away for quickie sex. When Greg appears before the cameras, he doesn't realise his fly is still down and his shirt-tail is sticking out. Naturally, his speech is full of accidental double entendres and the cameras are snapping away. Greg believes his campaign has been killed before it could even start.

Of course, word of his slip-up fills the papers and news. But! The public is surprisingly pleased with a man who -- refreshingly -- has sex with his own wife!

Shades of Jack Ryan, former Illinois candidate for the Senate, and his embarrassment over allegations that he tried to convince his own wife to have public sex! That's right, a married man who wanted to have sex with his own wife was found so shameful that he had to drop out of a Senate campaign.

So, Greg resumes his campaign with Dharma at his side. He goes on talk radio, where a caller wonders how Dharma keeps her husband interested.

A few nights later, Greg's opponent Washburn appears at a news conference. This sixty-something man, the typical fat and white-haired pol, with his traditional wife at his side along with a handsome young aide, announces that after thirty years he's decided to come out. He's gay!

Shades of Jack McGreevey, the corruption scandal-plagued Democratic governor of New Jersey, who had to resign steps ahead of a sexual harrassment lawsuit by his younger male lover. McGreevey, wife also at his side, turned the press conference into a defiant stand. "I am a gay American," he proclaimed. The news was filled with a story of his brave coming out, not his corrupt administration's unravelling.

Back to the show. Greg doesn't know what to make of Washburn's announcement. Dharma sweetly notes that Greg's campaign is over. Newly bisexual Washburn trumps monogamous Greg. After all, it's San Francisco!

This episode was made nearly eight years ago. (There's even a Clinton joke.) But it seems to have predicted two of the major sideshows of this campaign season. Amazing.

And now, at last to bed.

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