Monday, October 4, 2010

Rewatching "The Bronx Is Burning"

My DVR taped The Bronx is Burning when it re-ran on MSG a few months ago. For some reason, I missed seeing the final episode when it initially ran on ESPN, so I finally got to see that, as well as re-watching the rest of the episodes. Few things I noticed on the second viewing of the series:

* I thought Oliver Platt was a buffoon as George Steinbrenner the first time around. He didn't bother me as much the second time; maybe it's that I miss the Boss' larger-than-life personality

* The best thing about the series was Erik Jensen's portrayal of Thurman Munson. He is the only character where you really suspend disbelief and think that you're seeing the player himself, and not an actor. His portrayal was so good, that it rekindled interest in the captain's life, to the point where Marty Appel was able to writer the excellent Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain.

* The actor who played Lou Piniella looked more like Bill Murray than anybody else. I half-expected him to start talking about "Groundhog Day" or something.

* Daniel Sunjata, who plays Reggie Jackson, is too handsome for the role -- at no point did I think that I was watching anything other than somebody portraying Reggie.

* John Turturro's Billy Martin portayal was pretty good, but they overdid the ears. Billy didn't look like Dumbo in pinstripes, after all!

*  Watching the Billy/Reggie interactions reminded me a lot of Torre and A-Rod -- just two people who didn't get along, and didn't even understand each other. I knew that Billy didn't want to bat Jax fourth for a long, long time, but it took until mid-August for him to put him in the cleanup role. How insane was that? If Steinbrenner hadn't threatened Billy with his job if he didn't put Jackson fourth, the Yankees wouldn't have made the playoffs. (Uncle Mike, you should do one of your what-if scenarios about this!)

* And how about Billy benching Reggie in Game 5 against Kansas City? That was another crazy move. But remember, Reggie really didn't become known as Mr. October until Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

* Cool touch to have reporters like the late Maury Allen and Steve Jacobson interviewing players.

* Did Joe DiMaggio really give Reggie Jackson a pep talk, comparing him to other Yankee greats like himself, before Game 6? It's not mentioned in the book the show is based on, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City. But it's one of those stories you wished really happened!

* I loved seeing the epilogue, where real-life clips of Reggie, Thurman, Billy and George were shown from that time period. Made me sad to think that three of the four are no longer with us.

Up next? Getting caught up on "The Tenth Inning!"

What do you think? Tell us about it!


Jesus Melendez said...

The actor that played Piniella, Mather Zickel, did in fact once play Bill Murray in a movie about Gilda Radner.

Check out this interview I did with Zickel...

Zoom said...

Interesting but couldn't disagree more about Sanjata. He lived and breathed Reggie IMO. He had the swagger, the walk, and the slick talk totally down pat and more importantly he captured the essence of the man which is all one can hope for unless what you are looking for in an impressionist as opposed to an actor. I was at the big game in "77" and I was totally sold on Sanjata. He also recreated in great detail the post game WSeries interview lol I loved it! Munson was good to, but mostly because the guy who played him happened to come out of the womb as Thurm's doppleganger. But he threw kinda like a girl. No athleticism what so ever. Thank God for stock footage. I loved Platt and Turturro as well, and the costumes were totally on point. Makes me wanna dust off my polyester and pimp shoes I gotta say. Anyway that's my view. And the 7 friends who gathered in my home to watch the show pretty much felt the same way. I guess you are entitled to your opinion though even if it's wrong. Lol joke! Peace

Lisa Swan said...

Jesus, cool article. That's hilarious that he portrayed Bill Murray in a movie!

Zoom, I just wasn't buying him as Reggie. Sorry! But thanks for writing.

One other note: Billy Martin, for all his swagger and tough talk, was basically a coward when it came to benching Reggie against Kansas City. Some tough guy, getting Fran Healy to do his dirty work. (And yes, that is what happened in real life.) It reminded me of how Torre batted A-Rod eighth, without having the guts to tell him himself. Doesn't speak well for either manager, that's for sure!

Uncle Mike said...

My “Otherwise Sports” blog is something I've sadly ignored, but with things going on in real life, something has to give. But doing a piece on Billy not batting Reggie 4th for the rest of ’77 would be pointless. After all, if Billy had remained adamant, George would have fired him on the spot, and replaced him with another manager. Maybe Dick Howser, maybe Yogi, maybe George would’ve called Bill Veeck and brought Bob Lemon in right then. With Reggie’s former Oakland manager Dick Williams no longer under contract to Charlie Finley, maybe he could’ve been plied away from Charles Bronfman in Montreal. Reggie still would’ve been batted 4th, and the Yankees still would’ve won.

The big difference would’ve been what would’ve happened to Billy after that. He might’ve gone back to Oakland sooner, and stayed in his hometown until Walter Haas got tired of him, and the only way he would’ve come back to the Yankees would’ve been on Old-Timers’ Day. Then again, not working for George so much, maybe he drinks less, and lives longer. But he’d be 82 now, so he’d probably be dead by now anyway.

"The Bronx Is Burning" -- as did the 2008-09 ABC series "Life On Mars" -- did a great job of recapturing Seventies New York. Comparing it to the City in the Giuliani and Bloomberg eras, it really does feel like a different planet. As the saying goes, a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there. At least, not without observing Gibbs Rule Number 9 from "NCIS": Never go anywhere without a knife!

My only complaint about the series was the music. I like the Ramones, but for theirs to be the only music played was wrong. I hated all the disco glop that Spike Lee put into "Summer of Sam," but at least it was more representative of the time, especially since it was about the only music with female lead singers, outside of Fleetwood Mac (sometimes), to be on the charts that year, and also since the Ramones never had a "major chart hit." No Eagles, no Bob Seger, no Billy Joel?

Uncle Mike said...

As for the acting... Oliver Platt as George: The face was all wrong, but everything else was right on the money: The facial expressions, the voice, the hair, the mannerisms, the clothes. (George really was a better dresser when he adopted the navy blazer and white turtleneck, just as his friend Bobby Knight was when dropping the plaid jackets for the red sweaters.)

Daniel Sunjata as Reggie: In real life, he looks more like the young Reggie than the makeup and glasses made him look like the one we knew in New York. He also has a voice too high. But as the series went on, just as Reggie himself did in ’77, he grew into his role. Let’s hope Sunjata becomes known more for being a good actor than for what he’s known for most now, being a 9/11 conspiracy guy.

John Turturro as Billy: A truly scary portrayal, both in how close he was (though Billy’s hair wasn’t nearly that curly) and in Billy’s emotions, which rarely seemed to be under control. Turturro (whose brother Nick played a friend of Reggie’s in the film) gives us Billy in all his joys, rages and anxieties. I miss Billy… but I wouldn’t want someone like him managing today, especially not with the way the media invades private lives: He would’ve been destroyed if his peccadilloes were revealed.

Erik Jensen as Thurman: The voice was a little too high, but otherwise he nailed the part. Mather Zickel as Piniella: Looked more like the character than any other actor playing a player. It’s easy to forget Lou was once a lot slimmer… and that he had a dopey Seventies hairstyle. I loved him then, and more so now. Leonard Robinson (a standup comic) as Mickey Rivers: Really funny and matches my memory of the guy, but if he had a gambling problem that bad, he's lucky he didn't get banned. Joe Grifasi as Yogi: A lot better than he was as Phil Rizzuto in "61*." And Michael Nouri in that film was much better as Joe DiMaggio -- Christopher McDonald was totally the wrong choice.

Not sure if DiMaggio gave Reggie a pep talk, but I don’t think Reggie needed it. If it did happen that way, Joe was just confirming something Reggie already suspected: This was his time, his night. But that snafu with Joe’s tickets before Game 1? When Game 3 of the ’78 Series was played on YES’ “Yankees Classics,” they showed Howard Cosell interviewing Joe in Monument Park before the game, and they laughed at the ticket situation, so apparently that was real.

I also liked that they let the real Maury Allen, Steve Jacobson and Phil Pepe (he can be seen walking behind Platt/George while he’s giving out his “Seven Commandments”) be a part of it. Was Bill Madden in the movie? I couldn’t tell.

Michael Rispoli was a spot-on Jimmy Breslin. Sean Hingston, a real-life Australian, did a great job as the ever-sleazy Steve Dunleavy. And having Stephen Lang, who played a New York serial killer in "The Hard Way" and the title character in the 1991 TV-movie "Babe Ruth" play Inspector Tim Dowd in a movie about both the Yankees and the Son of Sam case was a stroke of genius.

Lisa Swan said...


My brother was one of the original Ramones fanatics. Bought the first album in 1976, saw them at CBGB's, etc. He thought similarly to you. Although he wished the Ramones were played everywhere at the time, they were pretty much a cult thing that got no airplay. (Americans really didn't know what punk rock was until the Sex Pistols, and that was a little later.)

Summer of Sam wasn't a great movie by any means, but I still enjoyed it. Two of the things Spike Lee excels at is having great soundtracks, and finding terrific unknown talent. As soon as I saw Adrien Brody in that movie, I was like, "This guy's going to be a star!"

Uncle Mike said...

Brody was great. Mira Sorvino was fantastic. Nice job by Ben Gazzara as the neighborhood Mob boss. And how good did Patti LuPone look at age 49? But Spike really overdoes it on the profanity and skin scenes, and did he really have to play "Geraldo Rivera" himself?

I got my Top 10 Worst Executives posted. Two Yankee guys and two Met guys make the list, but neither is Number 1.

Jonmouk71 said...

UM - I liked your executives list but I would have placed Grant number 1 for no other reason than trading Seaver for 5 stiffs. Speaking of stiffs, Weeb gets a big, black mark for drafting that big stiff Woodall and keeping him around for five years to replace an injured Namath (which became a yearly affair). Mike Burke tried hard but CBS wanted to spend less than even Topping-Webb did at the end. BTW - after reading the parts of Madden's book on Steinbrenner that referred to Burke, I went out and acquired a used (and autographed by Mike!) copy of Burke's memoirs. Know what's missing from it? His callous firing of Red Barber at the end of the 1966 season.

Uncle Mike said...

Jonmouk: Sorry, but as bad as Grant was, he messed up one franchise. Dolan has messed up two, and that's the deciding factor.

I have a copy of Red's memoir "Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat," and he basically said he was tired of it all and basically dared CBS to can him by pointing out the massive crowd of 413. Covering his tracks? Maybe, but he wasn't exactly known for playing with the truth.

Gary said...

Platt was good. His costume just sucked. Tuturro I found compelling. He has that intensity. Sunjata was powerful and he is going to have a great career. Plus his 9/11 activism stuff is awesome. I especially loved Munson played by Eric Jensen. Great job. I think the murder plot line sucked though and was a distraction from the team story line. Who cares about Son of Sam? I think the word is extraneous and that's what that was.

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