"Love" was the magic word. It was the answer.
Of the two Anderson Cooper interviews with women suing Donald Trump last week, his long Thursday CNN interview with the former Playboy Playmate of the Year was, by far, the more interesting. That one is where Karen McDougal claimed to have had a 10-month affair with the current president during which she told him she loved him and he told her he loved her.
That was very different from the "60 Minutes" Stormy Daniels interview whose almost entire substance was already known by the time it scored juggernaut ratings.
Other than beauty, nudity and sex, the two women had very little in common. McDougal said she was shocked and brought to the brink of tears by Trump offering her money after their first encounter. Daniels--whose real name is Stephanie Clifford--is a lifelong professional sex worker on camera as well as writing and directing films where others do. In contrast to McDougal's idea about what happened between her and Trump, Daniels said that when she emerged from the bathroom at their encounter and fully understood what the future president expected of her, she said to herself "uggghhh, here it goes."
That was only one point during the Daniels interview, which had been prerecorded, when it became obvious that there was a different interview hiding behind the real one.
Daniels, who said she had one episode of consensual sex with Trump, gave evidence all through it that she'd have been more comfortable kicking out the jams with a late-night comic or, even better, backstage with others in her profession. It didn't take much to imagine Daniels with her fellow professionals turning her whole encounter into a ribald story. As it was, select details showed it could be a very funny movie--the way he made her wait until he finished watching Shark Week on TV and her demand that he drop his pants so that she could spank him with a magazine whose cover was adorned with his portrait. That was a wry and potentially raucous professional storyteller at work--though maintaining as much propriety as possible for obvious reasons.
Serious stuff was involved--money, truth, cover ups and most, important of all, her allegation of a physical threat to her and her daughter made to her by a man in Las Vegas while mother and daughter sat in a car. That is what she most wanted to get across for the time being. More will come. So her lawyer says anyway.
McDougal painted an entirely different picture--a sexual relationship involving real and reciprocal affection with a man she eventually voted for. McDougal--a former Playmate of the Year--is by no means a professional sex worker.
The circumstances of the two Cooper interviews were hugely different. McDougals' was allowed to run much longer on CNN and, as a result, was absorbing. Daniels' seemed truncated in every way--length, feeling, information. It was just "60 Minutes" doing "60 Minutes." Smacking the news and then moving on smartly to something else.
No wonder that despite behemoth ratings, the Daniels interview was judged to be mediocre television, no matter how bizarre. The McDougal interview was anything but.
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Clancy Brown is one of my favorite character actors. We see him far too little. He came in for just a few minutes of the third season premiere of "Billions" on Showtime on a spectacular Sunday night for television. Much more is promised for the terrific series down the road.
Brown is playing the new Attorney General of the United States. Brown--who is only sitting when delivering lines in the first three episodes of the show--is listed as 6 feet 3 1/2 inches in biographies. As he plays the new A.G. on the show (Paul Giammatti's character calls his new boss "General"), he's a flamboyant and very folksy Texan. The Trump cabinet member he most resembles is the recently departed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The real current Attorney General Jeff Sessions is, at 5 feet 4 inches, almost a full foot shorter than Brown. Certainly, he's more than that if we were talking about flamboyant affect.
Of the three new episodes of "Billions" I've seen (the first three) Sunday's was a good re-introduction of the show's brutal, electrifying, fast-talking world of unethical stock manipulation and government oversight that is just as unethical. The delicious premise of "Billions" is that two of the most astutely verbal actors on television--Damien Lewis and Giamatti--are facing off weekly surrounded by actors who are almost as proficient with slam-bang street eloquence as they are.
Most of us dyed-in-the-wool "Billions" fans have no idea what its Wall Street grandees are talking about when they're waxing eloquent about 11 figure deals, but the cat and mouse game is such a delicious upgrade to lions vs. gazelles that it's terrific and irresistible television.
And that's on a weekend night when opposite them is Donald Sutherland blowing the doors of the night in his portrayal of Jean-Paul Getty in FX's new "Trust." As good as "Billions" was in its season premiere, next Sunday's episode is that much better. No, the show can't surprise us anymore but then after its first season "The Sopranos" couldn't either. And like "The Sopranos" "Billions" continues to satisfy us almost as much as "The Sopranos" always did.
The biggest surprise of the week, by far, is this Tuesday's second installment of Judd Apatow's "The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling," a remarkable TV show.
While its accumulated length over two nights can certainly be seen as far too much, it is also, on Tuesday's lengthy conclusion, a singular thing in TV history. Apatow is best known in America for his big, megaplex-conquering comedies which successfully feminize the slob comedies of the '70s ("The 40-Year Old Virgin"). Elsewhere, he is better and more weightily represented by his irreplaceable book of stand-up comedian interviews "Sick in the Head."
Apatow admits throughout the "Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling" that Shandling was his mentor along with his employer. It was Shandling who let him direct for the first time. When you see how much freedom HBO gave Apatow for such a loving and serious portrait of his old boss and friend, it isn't quite what you've seen in anything else. You can see that, as with Anderson Cooper's McDougall interview, there is no substitute on television for real human emotion that is allowed to be itself without layers of formality and B.S. to cushion it from hitting us where we live.
I always liked and admired Shandling. But now that I saw Apatow's acutely private Shandling, I understand why so many loved him as much as they did.