Sunday, May 16, 2010

When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along, Once and Again, and thirtysomething

By Nicholas Stix

The Critical Critic
January 30, 2009

[I just can’t return to the grim business of racism, murder, and miscarriages of justice, without yet another entertainment break.]

[Sorry, folks, but the videos whose embeds I coded into this article are not showing up at all. Various video problems are plaguing Blogger, have plagued my blogs for a few months (though only new publications), and have now gone from skewing video images to the right of the screen, to not publishing videos at all. Fortunately, until Blogger's techies solve this problem, you can still view the original article, complete with videos, at The Critical Critic.]

I don’t understand how youtube turns a profit, but I’m sure glad it’s around. I just came across a performance of the song, “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along,” from an episode of the brilliant show, Once and Again which, I believe, had a grand total of two viewers—me and my wife.

Once and Again was produced by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, who had previously produced thirtysomething, both of which number among my favorite TV series.

Both shows were domestic dramas about extended families. thirtysomething centers on two families with small children in the eponymous age group, the Steadmans and the Westins, whose husbands are longtime best friends and business partners, Michael Steadman (Ken Olin) and Elliott Westin (Timothy Busfield).

Once and Again centered on Rick Sammler and Lily Manning, each of whom is hitting 40, has recently divorced, has two not-so-young children, and who meet and fall in love. On Once and Again, the “extended family” aspect concerns the protagonists’ exes.

“When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along” is performed in the episode at the end of the second season, in which Lily and Rick finally get married, one of my three favorite episodes from the series. The others were when Rick, an architect, has to give the performance of his life, in making a presentation to some shopping mall developers, in order to win a contract; and when Lily and her family visit her schizophrenic kid brother (played by Patrick Dempsey), who is living with his schizophrenic girlfriend, the two of whom are hopelessly in love.

And that was the theme of the series: All you need is love—domestic love, fraternal love, mad love.

The lyrical “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along” is, for my money, one of the greatest songs ever written, and Evan Rachel Wood’s performance of it on the show is the best I’ve ever heard. Harry M. Woods’ 1926 standard, as traditionally performed—whether at a medium tempo by Al Jolson, or by Doris Day on speed—is thoroughly upbeat.

And yet, when Wood slows it down, the upbeat lyrics collide with a heartbreaking melancholy that comes out of the melody, and the melancholy wins. On top of that melancholy, however, comes a second collision, with the happiness of the occasion: After surmounting many obstacles, protagonists Rick (Bill Campbell) and Lily (Sela Ward) have finally married, and Rick’s daughter, Jessie (Wood), is singing at their wedding. And so, there are tears of happiness, as befits the occasion.

Herskovits and Zwick had used a wedding episode in a similar fashion on thirtysomething.

In one of the series’ last episodes, “A Wedding,” when characters “Billy Sidel” (Erich Anderson) and “Ellyn Warren” (Polly Draper) get hitched, director Scott Winant uses a montage of wedding revelers dancing to the soundtrack of Ray Charles singing Arlen and Mercer’s, “Come Rain or Come Shine.”

I’m gonna love you,
Like no one’s loved you,
Come rain or come shine.

High as a mountain,
Deep as a river,
Come rain or come shine.

I guess when you met me,
It was just … one of those things,
But don’t ever bet me,
‘Cause I’m gonna be true,
If you let me.

You’re gonna love me,
Like no one’s loved me,
Come rain or come shine.

Happy together,
Unhappy together,
And won’t it be fine.

Days may be cloudy or sunny,
We’re in, or we’re out of the money,
But I’ll love you always,
I’ll love you rain … or shine.
In the episode “The Second Time Around” on Once and Again, the wedding scene directed by Dan Lerner is more powerful, because the couple has lost their original wedding reservation, and been forced to hold the wedding in a circus tent; because the vocal performance is by one of the characters, and thus organic to the scene, rather than being externally imposed on the soundtrack; and most of all, because while on thirtysomething, Billy and Ellyn are secondary characters, on Once and Again, Rick and Lily are the show.

Yet another pleasure that Once and Again affords fans who have seen thirtysomething, is in the way the former is a reincarnation of the spirit of the latter, and episodes like the wedding allude to their predecessors. And while the character of sinister businessman Miles Drentell (David Clennon) is the explicit tie that binds the two series, the theme of the trials and tribulations of the struggling small businessman is an implicit yet much stronger tie. thirtysomething drew much pathos from Michael and Elliott’s losing battle to maintain their two-man advertising agency, and after its failure, to survive on “Madison Avenue.” Once and Again, for its part, features not one but three struggling small businesses: Rick and his best friend, David Casilli’s (Todd Field, who is better known as a movie director), architecture agency; Lily and her sister, Judy’s (the winsome yet alluring Marin Hinkle) bookstore/cafe; and the restaurant founded by the sisters’ father, Phil, and presently owned by Lily’s ex, the tragically boyish Jake (Jeffrey Nordling).

Already during thirtysomething’s run I became convinced that Herskovitz and/or Zwick had been raised by a struggling small businessman. They were hardly the first producers to depict a small business, but they had achieved a standard of dramatic excellence in portraying a small business that would only be met when they produced Once and Again.

The decision to transform a famously upbeat standard into a slow weepie was surely inspired by the young Barbra Streisand’s brilliant decision, almost 40 years earlier, to work a similar magic on “Happy Days are Here Again.”

When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along
Words and music by Harry M. Woods (1926)

When the red, red robin
Comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, along,
There’ll be no more sobbin’
When he comes throbbin’ his ol’ sweet song.

Wake up! Wake up, you sleepy head,
Get up! Get up, get out of bed,
Cheer up! Cheer up, the sun is red,
Live, love, laugh and be happy!

What if I’ve been blue,
Now I’m walking through fields of flowers.
Rain may glisten,
But still I listen for hours and hours.

I’m just a kid again,
Doin’ what I did again,
Singin’ a song,
When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along.
Many thanks to cafevideos and MisterCanning for posting the above videos.


John Robert Mallernee, KB3KWS, in Vernal, Utah said...


The reason your videos are skewed to the right is because you need to resize them.

To do that, you change the numbers in your embedding code from whatever they are to "245" and "344", or at least, that's what works for me.

Also, my blog is oriented the opposite of yours, with all my sidebar paraphenalia on the left, instead of the right side, of the page.

Thank you.

John Robert Mallernee, KB3KWS, in Vernal, Utah said...


The numbers are "425" and "344".

John Robert Mallernee, KB3KWS, in Vernal, Utah said...

Also, in the embedding code, those numbers appear in two (02) different places, near the beginning of the code, and near the end of the code, so you'll need to alter those numbers in both places.

Nicholas Stix said...

Thanks a bunch, John!