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[personal profile] giantsloth
And I still do. Robert Culp died yesterday. Tonight I mixed myself a martini and watched an episode of I SPY, the show that he and Bill Cosby starred in for three seasons in the 1960s. I watched "Home to Judgment," which Culp also wrote, probably the darkest and grittiest episode of the series. And that was how I said goodbye to this guy I never knew.

I'm not here to convince you that I SPY was the greatest TV show of all time. I'm here to tell you that it was wildly important to me, a kid growing up watching Bob Gordon Theater on WSJS/WXII, where you might see a syndicated episode of I SPY or STAR TREK or MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE or THE INVADERS or THE TWILIGHT ZONE or THE WILD WILD WEST on any given Sunday afternoon. There were Westerns, too, but I never much cared for them. In between the shows Bob Gordon would do really bad ventriloquism, and would teach you how to fold a dollar bill into a bowtie. Anyway, I SPY: TV's "swift and swinging spies," that was how it was hyped. Yeah, they were two stylish guys wisecracking their way through the Cold War, and how much weight do I, does anyone, want to put on that? Not too much. But then again, what came through in every episode, in every scene, was that Culp and Cosby really were friends. That they really cared about each other in real life and in fake life as a couple of globe-trotting spies. And yeah, it was groundbreaking for its time, that one of these guys happened to be white and one happened to be black, and how that was handled. Just now, watching "Home to Judgment," there's a scene at the top where Culp is lying up in a barn loft, gravely injured. The bad guys are closing in. But Cosby walks by, on the drive below the barn, and gestures to Culp that things are going to be OK. "Don't worry, I'm your friend, and we're going to get through this." That's what that gesture says to me.

"Don't worry, I'm your friend, and we're going to get through this," that's a pretty important statement.

Date: 2010-03-26 12:52 am (UTC)
ext_298353: (lf pensive)
From: [identity profile]
I was out of the country when that show came on, but as a youth, I always found it so cool that someone who looked like me could be a glamorous and debonair spy. They had a "young adult" serialization of the show, and we got our hands on just ONE of the books. I think my brother and I read it and re-read it until it was falling from the spine.

Date: 2010-03-27 05:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I knew Culp from "The Greatest American Hero," and I have never watched "I Spy" (though I did read some of the comics that one of my uncles had). But you have now convinced me to finally watch it.

Date: 2010-03-27 08:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Looks like it's up for free at Hulu: I'm not sure where I'd suggest you begin. It is still an artifact of the mid-60s. Plotting is nowhere near as complicated as today's best shows. Gender issues are exactly what you'd expect. Race issues beyond the Cosby/Culp relationship aren't always the greatest, either--there's an episode that Culp directed where he also plays a warlord in full Fu Manchu drag and accent. Maybe check out something from the first season, as that's when they had the biggest travel budget for the location shots.

Date: 2010-03-29 04:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I didn't get to see the show until long after it aired, but the chemistry between the two leads still holds up.


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