Monday, March 21, 2005

Doubletake: On not judging a book by its cover

A funny thing happened to me on the way past Barnes and Noble. I spotted a DVD of an old TV show—and was startled by what I saw.

Since I’ve already confessed to being a science fiction fan, I’d like to introduce you to one of my all-time favorite comedy scenes from “Babylon 5.”

Captain Sheridan has a brilliant idea, and is so excited that he wakes his first officer up in the middle of the night, then asks his first officer to follow him to the “war room” so that he can explain further. His first officer demurs, being not exactly in uniform at the time. And then, Sheridan says the words that he’ll shortly come to rue: “Sorry I I..hadn’t noticed.”

No man should ever tell a woman that he doesn’t notice she’s wearing only a nightgown and robe.

“What do you mean you didn’t notice? I mean, what am I, chopped flarn? I mean okay..granted, I don’t have any interest in you, you don’t have any interest in me..but if you’re gonna come barging in here in the middle of the night, the least you could say is..”Nice outfit, Ivanova”—and then go on a tear.”

And yet, sometimes, I think that noticing such things can be a disadvantage. In a previous season of Babylon 5, I’d been startled when a “groundpounder”—infantry person—passing through the station on the way to battle, had complimented the security chief behind his back: “Cute butt.” Until she mentioned it, like Sheridan, I hadn’t noticed. I’d been too busy watching Jerry Doyle act to pay attention to how he looked.

I’d often thought that it was just as well that Walter Koenig didn’t play the B5 villain Bester when he was as young and cute as he was back when he played Checkov in Star Trek: The Original Series. It’s amazing how a couple of decades can add to a man’s gravitas. I’d thought that it was simply much easier to take him seriously as an actor when I wasn’t so busy drooling. But then I realized that Ed Wasser, who played another B5 villain, Mr. Morden, was just as handsome as Koenig had been as a much younger man—mind you, he’s not bad looking now, either—and I’d been so caught up in his villainy that, again, I hadn’t noticed.

You can’t plumb the depths unless you can get past the surface. And if the actor’s really good—and the writing and direction are equally good—you may be lucky enough not to notice.

That’s why I did a doubletake when I saw the photo on that DVD. Since my son’s a fan of both the shows in which he’s starred, I’ve been watching the guy in the cover photo on and off for roughly a decade. Maybe it’s just because the cover photo was a shot of him in his previous series, when he was noticeably younger than he is now. But in any case, what surprised me was that I’d literally forgotten that he’s a good-looking guy. I’d been so caught up in the characters he played and plays that it had been a long time since I’d noticed.

Still, I must admit that I spent the rest of the afternoon with a Mona-Lisa smile on my face. After all, as the not-so-old saying goes, “I may be over fifty, but I’m not dead yet.”


Blogger Shira Salamone said...

It was the still photo. Stills, as opposed to video shots, reduce an actor to just another pretty face. And while I enjoy drooling as much as the next person, I prefer to differentiate between actors and fashion models. If you just *look* at an actor, instead of *watching* him or her, you miss half the fun--and the whole point of performing. After all, "The play's the thing."

Sun Mar 27, 12:34:00 AM 2005  

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