Friday, April 23, 2021

Terrible Shows I Like: Eisenhower and Lutz

 

Allan Burns died back in January of this year, something that should have been acknowledged in this blog.

 

Burns was the co-creator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the writer of some of its most memorable episodes, including the Christmas show and the episode that introduced Nancy Walker as Rhoda’s mother. He also co-created Lou Grant, a series that ranks in the top three of my personal favorites.

 

That alone would be an impressive legacy; but Burns was also among the genius stable of writers for The Bullwinkle Show, and contributed standout scripts for Get Smart and Room 222.

 

Given his track record, one would be tempted to blame someone or something else when a series he creates doesn’t work – perhaps a mistake in casting, or too much interference from clueless network executives. However, Burns surprisingly also created a lot of shows that didn’t last very long, starting with the infamous My Mother The Car, followed by Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers, The Duck Factory, FM, Cutters, and our topic for today, Eisenhower and Lutz

 


 

 That series debuted in the spring of 1988 and was canceled after 13 episodes. I missed it then but watched it for the first time a few years ago, and have recently gotten reacquainted with it courtesy of YouTube. If it’s rarely great and sometimes barely good, I still always find it interesting, as the cast is comprised of actors who all went on to greater TV success.

 

Scott Bakula starred as Bud Lutz, Jr. a slick case of arrested development who coasted through school on his looks, and somehow managed to secure a law degree from a low-rent college. He’s “short on smarts, long on cute,” according to the show’s theme song.

 


After trying to hang out a shingle in Las Vegas, he moves into a seedy storefront office in Palm Springs, where he scams personal injury settlements and offers discount specials on immigration cases (“If you get deported, there’s no charge”). The firm’s name is Eisenhower & Lutz, even though there’s no Eisenhower, because Bud’s dad thought it sounded classier. Callers asking to speak with Mr. Eisenhower always wind up with Mr. Lutz.

 

In the two-part opener “The Whiplash Kid Returns,” written by Allan Burns, Bud gets an unexpected referral from Kay Dunne (Patricia Richardson), one of his high school conquests, now a successful attorney at a prestigious firm. The attraction is rekindled, and complicated by Bud being in a relationship with tiki bar waitress Megan O’Malley (DeLane Matthews).

 

The “which one will he choose” question hangs over every episode, alongside the more obvious question of why either of these perfectly nice and attractive ladies would want him in the first place. 

 


 

A lesser show would have played up the battle between Megan, the slightly ditzy blonde who wears a sarong to work, and Kay in her ‘80s power suits and shoulder pads. But this series was smart enough to back burner any direct conflict. In “The Hernia Chronicles” they even get drunk together in Kay’s office and compare notes about Bud’s foibles and fear of commitment.

 

It has its moments. “Play It Again, Bud” features a Three’s Company worthy misunderstanding when Bud moonlights as a piano bar singer, and Megan thinks he’s working as a gigolo. And Elizabeth Ashley adds a spark to “Pride and Prejudice” as Kay’s mother, who also makes a play for Bud.

 

It didn’t work for the reasons most shows don’t work. But I enjoy seeing so many likable actors doing their best with marginal material, knowing they all had success in their future: Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap and Enterprise and NCIS: Tacoma or CSI: Wichita or whatever he’s in now; Patricia Richardson in Home Improvement, and DeLane Matthews in Dave’s World.

 

Here’s my theory on why it failed: Bakula cannot help but project innate decency, so he’s not convincing as an amoral character. Bud should have been played by someone who could be charming but still believable as a rat – Jay Thomas perhaps, or Steven Weber. He’s good here, but he’s just not right. 

 


 

The series never tips its hand on which lady he should stand by, but Megan always seems like the more natural choice. Or maybe I’m just partial to DeLane Matthews’ lilting, melodic voice and killer legs. It’s obvious the show wanted their own version of Sam and Diane from Cheers with Bud and Kay but the chemistry isn’t there, though I liked Richardson’s dry delivery of the occasional joke that lands.

 

The supporting cast is pretty good, too: Rose Portillo as Bud’s sassy secretary, Leo Geter as the unpaid intern who winds up doing most of Bud’s work, and Henderson Forsythe, who appeared on and off on As the World Turns for decades, as Bud’s lecherous father.

 

One interesting postscript: Allan Burns must not have thought the cast was at fault, as he reunited Richardson, Matthews and Geter for his next short-lived sitcom, FM, which starred Robert Hays as the program director of a public radio station. 

 


If you missed Eisenhower and Lutz like nearly everyone else did in 1988, check it out on YouTube. Maybe it will be a terrible show you’ll enjoy as well. 

 


 

5 comments:

  1. Mr. Hofstede, have you seen the 1986 TV movie "I-Man"? Scott Bakula was in that one as well

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  2. I'm sorry to not know of Allan Burns death, you always saw his name in MTM's credits--and casting Nancy Walker as Rhoda's mother, my God those episodes were brilliant! The more I read of this Eisenhower & Lutz, I kept thinking "Did I fall into an alternate universe?" I have no recollection of this, zip, none and that was a great cast, at least! Thanks for the curious read David, and I wish I could find a way to watch Room 222 again!

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    1. The first two seasons of Room 222 are on DVD - as for the rest, you'd have to rely on 'unofficial' sources. But they're out there.

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  3. Here are some terrible shows that I like. Maybe you can do a story about one of these one day: "Joanie Loves Chachi", "The Tortellis", "Flo", "Three's A Crowd", "The Ropers", "Holmes & Yo-Yo", "We Got It Made", "My Two Dads", "Mr. T and Tina", "Me and The Chimp".

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