RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 1604 minutes
It’s twenty eight hours of convoluted plot. Read the book, do too much coke, and make up random shit that happens to the characters after the book is over. That’s about right.
Peter Strauss, Nick Nolte, Ed Asner, Bill Bixby, Susan Blakely
Rich Man, Poor Man was supposedly a game changer in 1976, paving the way for the onslaught of Television miniseries of the 80‘s. The show is older than me, so I can’t really place it into the proper context to judge it for it’s impact. As it stands today though, the miniseries and the short lived televison show are fairly tame relics of an era where TV tried desperately to define itself as something important.
Rich Man, Poor Man Book I must be what most people remember fondly. Peter Strauss, who is probably on a Lifetime Original Movie at this very moment, and Nick Nolte play the Jordache brothers and the income generators of the title. The first book follows them through a very 1976 version of post-WWII America as they become their respective financial archetypes. There is plenty of back stabbing, yelling, melodramatic revelations, and catty fighting on their long journey to becoming an over used American stereotype. It’s a long intertwined story and I suppose it’s good trashy fun, but it’s hard to see this being seen as edgy, serious art. The miniseries stands on some very questionable moral high ground and punishes the characters for the slightest stray. In that light, the show is an uncomfortable look at the far reaching influence of 50‘s and 60‘s conformity. Even as the movie address the issue head on, it’s smugly back handing the characters for the most minor of transgressions. Unlike something like Forrest Gump though, the characters that are punished tend to be the ones doing the stupid shit. That doesn’t forgive the heavy handed, simplistic, and somewhat dangerous ideas the series floats around, but it makes it easier to just give in to the melodrama and hate the characters along with everyone else.
Nolte and Strauss play it at opposite ends of the TV acting spectrum giving the series an awkward disjointed feel. Nolte mugs and yells through his sections, playing everything big and loud and trying his hardest to break from the small size of the screen. Obnoxiously so sometimes, but it’s Nick Nolte. That’s what he does and it works. He’s obnoxious and that’s alright. Peter Strauss seems a bit more comfortable on the small screen, but he’s still a glorified soap star here. He doesn’t quite get into the delicious villainous grove of his character until the end, but Strauss is the definition of a television actor and there isn’t much bad (or interesting) in his performance. Susan Blakely gets a decent turn as an innocent teen who gets punished by life for knowing she is attractive and, in a scary bit of racism disguised as something trying to be progressive, almost having sex with a black man. The cast has a lot of solid names but it’s not really anyone’s shining moment. No doubt, people like Bill Bixby and Ed Asner are at their best on the small screen, and here is mostly just more of the same. Ed Asner tries hard to keep his terrible German accent, but actually drops it a few times. Ed Asner should not be dropping his accent, bad as it is. It’s passable though, because, besides Strauss, I don’t think anyone here thought they were shooting anything other than a long form soap opera. It may have been mildly shocking in 1976, but today it’s trashy, melodramatic entertainment. I have no problem watching people yell at each other and pop out babies, that’s mostly what I’m already half-watching when cable is on anyways.
“I’ve hunt down John Lithgow, shot Mel Gibson, and buried Melanie Griffith alive.
But still something seems missing…”
The success of the miniseries gave birth to a whole different beast though, Rich Man, Poor Man Book II doesn’t try to hide behind self importance, it knows it’s a nighttime soap opera and it runs with it. The show goes on way past the source material of the miniseries and flies all the way into bat country. The two seasons of this show are cut straight from the Falcon Crest and Dallas cloth. It gets pretty insane and I hate to admit I mostly loved it. Literally every character is nearly murdered by one guy throughout the series and everyone else wants to fuck and punch each other. It’s awesome stuff to watch half naked and half out of your mind. Murder plots and back alley abortions just go down easier at four thirty in the morning preparing for a hangover. It’s the same sick joy you get turning on the Soap Network and accidently wanting to know who is having Kelly’s twin’s test tube love child and will Parker get out of his shallow grave before his evil step father takes over the family fashion business. It’s a sick, shameful little game of bait and reward. But when the reward is Peter Strauss beating the shit out of a hippy, it’s worth the shame.
and Alan Alda’s DNA. We should have listened.
Peter Strauss actually gives a better performance here than in the miniseries, playing his hippie beating douche of a senator with the full force of retarded power hungry scene chewing it needs. He’s a slight actor, but he doesn’t mind giving in to the ham. And this show needed that. The show has batshit insane complicated plots crawling out of every space, I couldn’t even begin to describe or remember most of the ongoing threads in the huge mess of backstabbing and sexing that passed as plots. It doesn’t have the shameless decadence of watching the Ewing’s fuck and stab each other into oblivion, but it still gives it a good old sleazy seventies try.
The value of media changes over time and I could talk about Rich Man, Poor Man’s (ever so) slight studio system charm or mention the beautiful Alex North score, but I was more fond of how often Nick Nolte looked like he was in mid-stroke. There is no golden age of television included in this set, but there is definitely a strange smell left over from the awkward teen years of television. Even if you lack the context to place this set where it goes in Television history, it’s still fun to count the veins in Nick Nolte’s head.
The only extra is an unprepared commentary by Strauss and some faceless A&E employee. It’s rambling and most of the time Strauss sounds like he’s physically straining himself trying to remember mundane facts. Not really worth the time, unless you want to hear Peter Strauss mutter ‘um’ to himself over and over again as his brain constipates his useless memories. Old people are depressing.