Pleshette’s panache missed

<p>The death of actress SuzannePleshette this weekend brings an end to a varied career that had itszenith in one role, and underscores the paucity of decent but comicallysatisfying marriages on sitcoms today.</p>


 


GOODNIGHT, EMILY: The death of actress Suzanne
Pleshette this weekend brings an end to a varied career that had its
zenith in one role, and underscores the paucity of decent but comically
satisfying marriages on sitcoms today. Married dysfunction is hardly
scarce on the primetime ground these days, but that’s not surprising
when so few writers seem to grasp the precise nature of being an adult
anymore; it’s easy to get laughs from flawed characters, especially
when your standard for behaviour is basically adolescent, and
regardless of whether role is being played by someone aged anywhere
from their ’20s to their ‘70s.

 

 

Bob and Emily Hartley were adults; that much was hard to deny. They
may have lived in a world of neurotics painstakingly created for The
Bob Newhart Show from 1972 to 1977, but their immense appeal was that
they were patently the sanest people in that world, none more so than
Pleshette’s Emily. Stunning and wry, she could rein in her skittish
husband by doing little more than intoning his name in that husky voice.

 

Theirs was a TV marriage that resonated. We’d all seen its like
before – the knockout who prevented you from underestimating their
distinctly less impressive spouse. Newhart’s low-key but anxious Bob
must have had unseen depths if he could bat so clearly out of his
league with someone like Pleshette’s Emily, though you never doubted
that their bond. The closest comparison today would be Larry David’s
acid self-portrait on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and his longsuffering wife
Cheryl, played by Cheryl Hines, and it was no surprise when, at the end
of season 6, she’d finally had enough and left Larry with his corrosive
neuroses.

Pleshette’s career until Newhart is a mixture of typecast ruts and
unexpected detours, from the doomed ex-girlfriend in Hitchcock’s The
Birds to the James Garner’s love interest in Support Your Local
Gunfighter. Her career began in TV, and stretched from episodes of
Playhouse 90 and Have Gun – Will Travel in the ‘50s to appearances on
virtually every show on primetime in the ‘60s and ‘70s – a list that
includes Gunsmoke, Marcus Welby, M.D. Love, American Style, Ironside,
Columbo, Bonanza and The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father.

It wasn’t until Newhart that she found the role that defined her,
and it’s not surprising that she never found it again afterward. “I
work for wardrobe," she once told Orlando Sentinel TV critic Hal
Boedeker, making light of a post-Newhart career that included shows
such as Nightingales and Maggie Briggs. "Whenever I need clothes, I
take a job.”

Emily and Bob’s uneven but perfect relationship provided the punch
line for the justly famous finale of Newhart, her co-star’s next hit
series, which revealed the whole of the preceding eight seasons to have
been a nightmare, and ended with Bob Hartley back in bed with
Pleshette’s Emily, the ritual end to so many episodes of The Bob
Newhart Show - a place where many of us watching wished we all could be.

 
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