Monday, July 1, 2024

TV Quote of the Day (‘Fernwood 2Night,’ Sending Up an Early EV and ‘70s Talk Shows)

Barth Gimble [played by Martin Mull]: “Virgil, why don’t you tell us what we got here, huh?”

Virgil Sims [played by Jim Varney]: “Well, I’m as concerned as the next fella about this energy crisis and, uh, I believe clean air is everybody's business.”

Barth: “Absolutely.”

Virgil: “And I've been working on, uh, developing me a low-cost, high-efficiency, battery-powered car.”

Barth: “Battery-powered.”

Virgil: “Yeah and Ithere it is. I finally finished it and I copyrighted this sucker. Okay, and besides catting me around town real good, this little baby might make quite a few big bucks!”

[Gimble second banana Jerry Hubbard gets into the car.]

Barth: “Well, that’s great.” [Noticing Jerry in the driver’s seat, getting ready to turn on the ignition.] “Jerry, no, and don’t touch anything!” [Opening the door, impatiently.] “Jerry, out of the car! It's patented, Jerry, and you don't have a license.” [Jerry gets out of the car. To Virgil, as Garth moves toward the driver seat]: “You know, he loves to ride in the car, though. You should see: you have to roll the window down like with the dogs [sticking his neck there in imitation]. He’s crazy.”

Jerry Hubbard [played by Fred Willard] [indicating the window over the driver’s seat]: “You can stick your head right up through there.”

Barth: “Yeah, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. Why don't you stick it up there and I'll try to roll it shut?”

Jerry [obliviously]: “Like you’re going over a bridge.”

Barth: “Yeah, it looks like a police car there with hair on it.”— Fernwood 2Night, Season 1, Episode 59, “Battery-Powered Car,” original air date Sept. 22, 1977, teleplay by Bob Illes, Wayne Kline, Norman Lear, Tom Moore, James R. Stein, Jeremy Stevens, and Alan Thicke

The actor-comedian Martin Mull, who died at age 80 in Los Angeles, was a familiar presence on film (e.g., Clue) and even more on TV, with guest appearances in such series as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Roseanne, Two and a Half Men, His and Hers, and The Ellen Show.

But for me, nothing could top where I saw him first, as talk-show host Barth Gimble in the Seventies talk-show parody Fernwood 2Night. 

The show ended all too soon—after three months and 65 episodes, before morphing into America 2 Night for a similarly short run the following year. 

But it managed to mercilessly mock late-night television by reducing it to an absolute absurdity: offering the kind of broadcasting fare one might find in the fictional Middle America small town of Fernwood, Ohio.

Central to the show’s hilarity was the dialogue between Gimble and Hubbard, which spotlighted the relationship between a dim-witted, phony talk-show host and his stooge of a second banana. 

It foreshadowed the same dynamic between Larry Sanders and Hank Kingsley in Garry Shandling’s longer-lasting acclaimed Nineties satire, The Larry Sanders Show.

(Indeed, Shandling recognized this connection—and paid tribute to his friend—by having him appear on the latter show.)

As soon as I discovered this scene on YouTube, I felt its irresistible tug. It’s not only a perfect example of the Gimble-Hubbard relationship, but made me chuckle at the thought of Virgil Sims as a small-town—but far less successful—forerunner of Elon Musk.

Some of the TV shows most worth remembering last the shortest. That was the case with Fernwood 2Night. Fortunately, Mull’s career lasted considerably longer, and later generations will be able to rediscover his talent repeatedly.

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