“Who Kisses So Early In The Morning?” begins with Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer, the star of Walter’s dream. “Supposedly, Sir,” Harry tells Walter, “everyone we dream about is really us, so Burt Lancaster is actually you, Major.” Walter smiles. “Oh, I like that.” I don’t know about that. In the movie, Lancaster plays a man ignoring some recent troubles in his domestic life by swimming from pool to pool all the way home. Eventually he gets confronted and flees. Reminds me of Walter’s heckler. “Had I not stopped you, you would have kept going, right?”

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The heckler continues, “Plagiarist! J’accuse!” When Blunt Talk gets cartoonish, it usually involves something broad and physical like slapstick. Here it’s primarily parody, so it involves things like the LA Times chief media writer (played so straight by John Hodgman that one point he even gives a little fake laugh and immediately drops back to a poker face) flogging his Tumblr live on the news. There are a couple good points here, about overreactions on both sides, but they’re softened by the silliness.

What happens is Celia mixes up the notes for Walter’s speech at a journalism school with her own notes for something else which inexplicably include the full text of David Foster Wallace’s commencement address for Kenyon. It might be too much if it weren’t for how the mix-up goes down. Walter and Harry are meeting Celia before the speech, and Celia has just sold her late father’s piano in order to pay back Walter for paying off her gambling debt and treating her to the analyst. But in that moment, Celia just has to play the piano one last time, so she hops on the back of the truck and starts playing “Clair De Lune,” Walter and Harry following behind. Harry says, “I love ‘Clair De Lune.’ Every full moon my mother would play it, and cry, and talk about her menses.” So Celia gets driven off with the piano, and she happens to have Walter’s speech, and she makes it to the auditorium just in time to accidentally hand Walter the wrong papers. There’s no lampshading or telegraphing. This might be a sitcommy setup, but it doesn’t advertise like one.

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A couple sentences into Wallace’s speech, a heckler catches Walter, and within hours it’s the talk of the news cycle. After all, this is a public figure just off a scandal or two and he has the audacity to want to save us. What better source of schadenfreude is there? In Walter’s defense, it was a total accident. But the heckler isn’t wrong; if he weren’t there, Walter would have read the whole wrong speech. And paradoxically it might never have gone public at all.

Instead it spirals out of control. Walter compares it to lynchings and the Dreyfus affair. (Gardner: “Richard Dreyfuss is having an affair?”) Walter’s young son gets in a fight over it at school, which screws up Vivian’s day as well. “Children roughhouse! It’s part of life,” Walter protests. Vivian is unmoved. “Not at Westlake. It’s post-racial and gender-neutral. You know that.” Then there’s the LA Times bigwig who, for some reason, breaks the story of Walter having (apparently unintentionally) plagiarized a passage of Soldier’s Lament on his Tumblr, instead of, you know, the LA Times.

And it all splashes back on Celia. Walter’s already upset about her mixing up his speeches, his anger exacerbated by his righteousness about the whole situation, when he catches her kissing at the office, leading to the title line. The kiss is just an act of kindness. Shelly “used to be” “bisexual,” she admits she only gets off with women, and she comes onto Celia, so Celia gives into a little kissing. I guess she’s trying to help Shelly clarify some things for herself, but it’s platonic for Celia. Doesn’t matter. The incident prompts Walter to put a moratorium on workplace sex at a meeting with the whole senior staff. (“What about towel-whipping, Major?” “That isn’t sexual.” “It isn’t?”) Then when the LA Times guy ambushes Walter, he takes it out on Celia, and she quits.

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I’m surprised Walter lets her. All he does when Celia storms off is take a sip of the flask Harry instinctually offers. It isn’t until Jim tells Walter how much he (Walter) means to Celia that Walter relents. If Walter were less narcissistic, that might not be enough, but then again, in that case, he might never have let Celia quit in the first place. It turns out, Celia met Walter when she was in grade school. He was judging an essay contest and picked hers. Apparently it was pretty formative.

Naturally Walter tries to win Celia back with a grand gesture, and at last the cartoonishness works beautifully. He and Harry are carrying a piano in a box up the stairs to her place. It’s a silent comedy premise, and it plays out exactly how it must. The piano falls out the back of the diagonal box, slides down the stairs, and crashes into a roller-skating Jim, recently arrived on his own mission to win Celia back. It works, and the sight of the four of them sitting on the steps outside her place, Celia holding a bouquet over a floral top, is a sweet final image. There’s something distasteful and distastefully undiscussed about the American workplace TV show premise that your office is your family. But on Blunt Talk, in part because they’re all so sweet, in part because this is far from advertisement, and in part because they really are more important to each other as loved ones than as workers, for once the office family is genuinely touching.

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Stray observations

  • “Who Kisses So Early In The Morning?” is written by Jim Margolis and Jonathan Ames and directed by Michael Lehmann.
  • After Walter and Harry try to crack Walter’s dream about Burt Lancaster, establishing that Burt is Walter, Bertie pipes up wanting to play. “Good morning, Bertie!” says Walter, oblivious to the name similarities. There’s way too much denial in these episodes to catalog it all.
  • The doctor diagnoses Teddy with intermittent brain fog. He doesn’t take the news lying down. “Can I possibly produce as many erections as I do having dementia or Alzheimer’s? I don’t think so!”
  • Love the costuming in general, but it really stands out in the post-broadcast scene of the four producers all in formal blues.

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  • Jim tells Celia about Walter, “He’s very forgiving. I almost gave him an overdose, and now he calls me his son.”