It’s a case of “good news/bad news” for Sandpiper Air. The bad news is that Sandpiper’s lone plane is grounded because of a broken nose wheel strut. A new part to fix the problem won’t be available for a few days, meaning Sandpiper’s passengers have to be transferred to their competitor, AeroMass. What could possibly be the silver lining to this gray cloud? Why, everyone gets to go fishing on Lowell’s boat, that’s what!
Said silver lining becomes a tad tarnished, however, when Roy invites himself along for the ride. After the fishing trip becomes an impromptu morning swim thanks to Roy’s practical joking, the gang want nothing further to do with him. Faye, unfortunately, has already invited Roy to their Trivial Pursuit game night at Helen’s on Friday.
Will everyone accept Roy for who he is and make him feel at home? Can Roy change his entire personality for the good of the group? Will Roy bring his famed pasta salad? What does Ann-Margaret have to do with all this?
This episode has the feel of — dare I say it? — filler. All the scenes occur on only two sets, the terminal at Tom Nevers Field and Helen’s living room. The only characters are our familiar core group of players. We don’t have any outsiders imposing themselves on the action. In fact, we don’t really learn anything new about our characters, although Roy’s desire to be as well-liked as Joe is a new wrinkle. Even that, however, is ironed out by the end of the episode, leaving us exactly where we started.
Written by show creator David Angell, “Sports and Leisure” feels like the result of an early brainstorming session. I can imagine Angell sitting around with fellow show creators Peter Casey and David Lee and throwing out the idea for the heck of it: “What if Roy joined the rest of the gang on an outing?” It’s a good concept, but not a great one. It is something you could probably knock out quickly and keep in your backpocket on a “just in case” basis. Not every swing of the bat brings forth a home run. Sometimes you gotta make due with an infield dribbler that just gets you to first base.
That being said, there are a few highlights to...well...highlight. As usual, when he’s on screen, Thomas Haden Church as “Lowell” steals the show. Early on, the group tries to convince Joe to play hooky with them on Lowell’s boat. Joe is sure that Lowell is doing his best to fix the plane so Sandpiper doesn’t have to shut down for the day. Lowell walks out of the hanger with a fishing rod in his hand and the back of his shirt hooked at the end of the line.
Lowell: Can somebody give me a hand over here? I was practicing casting and—
Brian: Lowell, Lowell, please, I think we can piece together the rest of this perplexing mystery.
Joe [helping Lowell untangle himself]: What about that strut, Lowell?
Lowell: Ah, a nose wheel strut is a very tricky piece of equipment, Joe.
Joe: Yeah, you said that an hour ago.
Lowell: I don’t think I said ‘very.’
Later, at Helen’s, as the gang prepares for Roy’s visit, Joe regales them with the story of how Roy opened up to him emotionally:
Joe: I’m telling you, if you guys could have seen Roy in the hangar the other day, he was like a little boy.
Lowell: Did he still have the mustache?
Now there’s a visual for you: a little Roy with a big mustache. Good times!
Lowell is also at the center of the comedic whirlwind that is the Trivial Pursuit game. Teamed up with Roy for the night, Lowell proceeds to drive poor Roy up a tree by blurting out the answer to every question without conferring with his partner. Worse, his every answer is wrong. Worse still, his every answer is Ann-Margaret. What lovable redhead and her Cuban husband starred in their own television series in the Fifties? Ann-Margaret! Who is the largest user of silver in the world? Ann-Margaret! And my favorite:
Joe: What does Simon Wiesenthal hunt?
Joe [makes buzzer sound]: Fugitive Nazis.
Roy: Simon Wiesenthal hunts Ann-Margaret?
Lowell: Well, I thought he might be one of those crazed fans, Roy.
Do I need to add that Ann-Margaret ends up being the correct answer to one of the questions? Do I also need to add that neither Roy nor Lowell say Ann-Margaret? No, I didn’t think so...
In the “Do modern viewers still know who this person is?” department, we have two references. The first is when everyone gets together very early in the morning for the fishing trip. Helen says, “I can’t believe I’m up before Willard Scott.”
During his lifetime, Willard Scott was an actor, a comedian, and an author. He was, at one point, Bozo the Clown, and also created the role of Ronald McDonald. But he is best known as the weatherman on NBC’s weekday morning show, TODAY. From 1980 to 1996, Scott was the man who many Americans turned to for their weather forecasts. Scott was a born showman, sometimes donning a costume for his weather spots. Once he dressed as Boy George, another time he was Carmen Miranda. He was also famous for his birthday segments where he celebrated the birthday of centenarians across the country. After 1996, Scott went into semi-retirement, handing the weather prognosticating reins over to Al Roker. Scott filled in from time to time until his full retirement in 2015. All in all, Willard Scott spent 65 years at NBC, a remarkable run.
During the same scene, Roy shows up to everyone’s surprise and consternation. As they leave for their fishing trip, Roy slaps a cassette into his boom box and says, “I hope you guys like Slim Whitman. I’ve got 75 of his greatest hits. They’re not available in stores, you know.”
Oh, they know, Roy. They know.
I for one would love to track down every instance in pop culture where Slim Whitman rears his thin-mustache-sporting, Brylecreemed-hairdo-styling, voice-of-an-angel-yodeling head. Poor Slim. For a good long while, the guy was a falsetto-voiced punching bag, an easy target for every lazy comedian or writer who wanted a straw man to feel superior to. For a time there on TV and in the movies, if you had a character that you wanted to paint as a total dweeb and all-around uncool cat, you only had to slip their preference for the music of Slim Whitman in somewhere, and audiences got the message.
Born in 1923, Whitman was a country music singer known for kicking his voice into the upper registers from time to time. His career spanned over 70 years, and during that time he pumped out over 100 albums and over 500 songs, from country-and-western to gospel to show tunes to standards. Heck, Slim even opened for the King, Elvis Presley in the 1950s.
What made Whitman ripe for the jokesters, however, was his television commercials. Beginning in 1979, Whitman began marketing his music via TV ads that claimed he was “number one in England longer than Elvis and The Beatles.” Over the next decade or so, Whitman released five albums of tunes over the air, all of which were huge sellers and helped resuscitate his career.
So who’s the joke on now, huh?
We’re coming up to the final boarding call, but there’s one more little thing I want to talk about. Maybe it says more about me and my personal quirks, but I found it interesting. As they are getting ready to leave, Joe notices that Helen is maybe not properly dressed for the weather:
Joe: Helen, it’s going to be hot today. Why didn’t you wear shorts?
Helen: I didn’t have time to shave my legs.
Brian [disgusted]: Oh, whoa! Check, please!
Joe [equally disgusted]: Really? Couldn’t you have made something up?
Really, fellas? A little hair on a woman’s legs is going to send you into paroxysms of revulsion and nausea? Sheesh! Get over yourselves, will ya? I’ve never understood the aversion to hair on the female body. As someone who tries to shave his face as seldom as possible, I cannot fathom being pressured by society’s expectations into making sure my body is completely hairless before leaving the house. Everyday. So weird.
On that note, folks, if you look out the cabin windows, you’ll see that the weather is getting a little hairy. We probably should have taken Willard Scott’s weather forecast to heart. Nevertheless, we will try to make our final descent as smooth as possible. Please do your part by helping our crew tidy up. Make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright positions. Place your carry-on luggage beneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins, then securely fasten your seat belts. And, no, that high-pitched whine you hear is not our nose wheel strut threatening to fall off. It’s just your pilot’s 8-track tape of Slim Whitman’s Greatest Hits. A little blast of “Indian Love Call” does wonders to focus the mind, you know.
Our next flight is season two's fifth episode, “A Standup Kind of Guy.” Until next time...