When men tell dirty jokes they're vulgar, and when women tell dirty jokes they're liberated. Not true? It seems to be the presumption behind Roseanne Barr's HBO comedy special, "Live From Trump Castle," premiering at 10 tonight on the pay cable network.
It's all kind of icky. Like, you not only want to take a shower afterward, you may want to turn off the TV and take a shower during.
Barr's last HBO special had lots of blue humor too, but there was a compensating factor: It was funny. This time, Barr has decided to introduce a "new" act and a revised persona. No longer the suffering "domestic goddess" bemoaning her middle-class existence, she now presents herself as a kind of cut-rate Mae West in a red evening gown, the theme of her routines centering on the harrowing rigors of stardom.
Whether they emanate from a pretentious rock star like George Michael or a desperation comic like Roseanne Barr, complaints about the harrowing rigors of stardom almost never merit a hearing.
For much of the evening, Barr stands beside a grand piano from which a snotty accompanist sneers at her, at one point calling her a "fat, tone-deaf bitch." Piano? Accompanist? Yes, Barr does indeed commit the unthinkable: She sings again, bringing back grisly memories of her "Star-Spangled Banner" bummer of last summer.
"I could never imagine wanting to sing in public again," she tells the small audience in the casino's nightclub, "but then again, I could never imagine the possibility of nuclear winter." Whatever that means.
She offers two satirical medleys, one about women and one about men. For the male medley, she poses with cardboard cutouts of scantily-clad hunks, mangling such musical oddities as "Davy Crockett" and "Kung Fu Fighting." Perhaps Barr intends to lampoon the attitudes the sexes have about each other, but it's not always easy to tell.
Jack Benny made lousy violin-playing funny, and comics like Andy Kaufman and Bill Murray made lousy singing funny. But Barr's singing isn't satirically bad or amusingly bad. It's just abominably abominable.
To make the show more abrasive still, Barr keeps shoehorning her thin-skinned, fat-bodied husband, Tom Arnold, into it. He does a painfully amateurish five-minute warm-up, then returns to assist Barr in an ill-advised segment that has her putting down the kind of jokes she used to tell.
These were the lines that made her a star, like her explanation of why men can read maps better than women can: "Only the male mind could conceive of one inch equaling a hundred miles."
By disparaging these jokes and others she told in her early years, Barr also seems to be disparaging those who found them, and her, amusing and refreshing. When she first burst upon the scene, and burst is the word, Barr was a rebel protesting show biz phoniness and sexist male comedians.
Now she appears to have embraced her own vindictive brand of show biz phoniness, and the old brash impudence has congealed into bitter, all-purpose contempt.
Not even the "live" crowd at the show (which is, of course, on tape) seems very enamored of the new Roseanne. During reaction shots, one can glimpse more than one dumbfounded or perplexed customer. Director Louis J. Horvitz tries to shoot around those people, and the laugh track has been generously spiked, but the impression emerges that Barr Nouveau is Barr None.
Immediately following tonight's telecast, Barr and Arnold will do a live call-in show. HBO promises that this segment, like the stand-up routine preceding it, will be "uncensored." After an hour of watching Barr flail and wail, however, "uncensored" loses its mystique. The more relevant term is "unfunny."
'Real Life With Jane Pauley'
Jane Pauley's fame seems to have gone to her face. On the return of her fluff-minded NBC News series "Real Life," Pauley makes goo-goo eyes and chipmunky nose wriggles and works a little too hard at being Little Miss Sparkle. She's turning into Shirley Temple.
Of course the program, at 8 p.m. tomorrow on Channel 4, hardly calls for stern sobriety. But Pauley's coy camera antics almost seem patterned on those of that winky, Twinkie tease, Deborah Norville. It seems self-demeaning, as well, for Pauley to beg for viewer attention by importuning, "Don't hang up! Don't change channels!" prior to a station break.
On tomorrow's show, the pieces that supposedly reflect "the real story of life in America in the '90s," as Pauley bills them, include a visit with a Seminole, Fla., nurse who is a member of the Air Force Reserve and has now been called up for active duty in the Persian Gulf.
A woman preparing to leave her husband and children for military service is certainly a sign of the times, and the story is fairly well told, but there are some shots that beg credulity. How did a camera crew manage to be there when the woman got the call telling her of her active status?
It's kind of an unseemly invasion of privacy, too, for the camera to be there as the woman says goodbye to her tearful husband and shares a last night at home with the family. Most everybody seems intimidated by the camera anyway, so "real life" is probably not what we're getting.
There's a piece about guys who don't like sports -- some proud of it, one attempting to reform by taking a "sports literacy" class -- and a closer about those darn computers that answer telephones and send callers off on wild goose chases with the Touch-Tone buttons.
But what the man in the sports class says about his belated education may also pop into the minds of viewers as they watch Pauley's show: "Why do people need to know this?" Next week's edition, Pauley promises, will include a profile of Michael J. Fox. Oh joy. Another movie star interview. How real can you get?
Tom Brokaw appears briefly to promote his new series, "Expose'," which follows at 8:30, promising "two powerful stories." NBC did not make the Brokaw show available for preview. Will the stories indeed be "powerful"? Compared with "Real Life," almost anything would be.
It's hard to miss with a gangster story. All you have to do is alternate gunplay with foreplay -- the "kiss kiss, bang bang" schematic. "Dillinger," the "ABC Sunday Night Movie" at 9 on Channel 7, executes the formula with a certain panache, even if in the long run the film seems pointless.
Mark Harmon plays the Depression-era criminal, first encountered in the film on his release from prison in 1933. Soon he is off down a crooked road, one that brightens in the second half-hour when he meets Sherilyn Fenn of "Twin Peaks" as a sultry waitress.
Director Rupert Wainright makes the sex scenes pretty sexy and the violent scenes spectacular. We go from bank holdup to bedroom romp and back again. During an early close encounter with Fenn, writer Paul F. Edwards makes a not-so-veiled reference to one of the legends surrounding Dillinger, namely his allegedly Brobdingnagian er, uh, brobdingnag.
When Harmon tells Fenn, then slipping around in her slip, that there has been bickering among gang members, she tells him the other guys are just jealous, adding with a light leer, "If they knew what I know, they'd really be jealous."
In the old Warner Bros. gangster films, the criminals were deranged maniacs and the FBI boys were stalwart do-gooders. This won't play anymore, the word having gotten out that J. Edgar Hoover (here played tersely by Vince Edwards) was a megalomaniac, a publicity hound, a racist, a snoop and Lord knows what else.
So in ABC's movie, the bank robbers seem like a nice bunch of guys, at home in any beer commercial, whereas the feds are on the sociopathic side. The balance of moral power in the gangster movie was shifted, of course, by "Bonnie and Clyde," with its lovable crooks and fiendish lawmen. There's even an homage to "B&C" in "Dillinger": a family picnic, complete with snapshot shooting.
The period clothes, cars and settings are handsome in the extreme, with the only major misfire a very annoying shrieking-sax score by David McHugh -- although when, near the end, we finally see the sax player on a fire escape, it's a nice touch. Lawrence Tierney, who played John Dillinger in the 1945 movie, has a brief appearance as a sheriff shot dead by Dillinger's heavily armed comrades in arms.
We never quite learn what made Dillinger tick, but why should we expect to? It's only a TV movie, after all. The most you get is the usual rumination about fame and myth and notoriety and, late in the film, Dillinger's stated philosophy of life: "The only thing that matters is, have some fun, live while you're here, hard as you can." And so on.
Later, Dillinger picks up yet another cute waitress at a bright deco diner. "You're crazy, aintcha?" she says to him. "Oh yeah," he replies, "but I ain't dull." Neither is this movie.