Robin Williams, 1951-2014

Crazy_Ones_TCA_Charcater_Profile_Robin_640x360The initial reporting following the shocking death of Robin Williams Monday at 63 concentrated on the usual touchstones of “Mork & Mindy” and “Good Will Hunting” but generally ignored his recent work. One report even erroneously said he hadn’t been in much lately.

Yet he hasn’t exactly been invisible. Just last season, he starred in a broadcast comedy “The Lucky Ones,” getting the kind of ratings that would have been a cable hit but couldn’t quite compete on network TV.

Like his first sitcom, it afforded him the chance to use his fast and brilliant mind, ad libbing and riffing his role as ad man, just as he had in his first, “Mork” decades ago.

“With ‘Mork & Mindy,'” he told reporters a year ago at the TV Critics summer press tour, “literally they would put in the script ‘Mork does his thing here.’  Which was just like ‘Riff, riff little white boy, here we go.’ So, I mean, in a weird way that’s kind of the same thing here, but the idea now is that there’s a great there’s a lot more to talk.”

“Clearly, at the beginning, we all looked at this as a Robin Williams vehicle,” said David E. Kelley, the veteran TV writer who came up with “The Crazy Ones.” “Once it was cast, we knew we had quite an ensemble here.”

“The joy for me is working with them, because I just watch them,” Williams said at a set visit just last January of his cast mates Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Wolk and James Wolk . “It’s a great group of people. The pressure’s off, thank God. So I don’t have to be a Robin Williams vehicle. It’s a bus. And there’s other people on the bus.”

Working in sitcoms again, he said, “it’s been really interesting. The first couple of weeks was, like, all right! And then now I’m into the rhythm. And that’s why it’s great that it isn’t totally a Robin Williams vehicle, because after a while I’d go, ‘There’s  a —-load of work, Daddy!‘”

“The idea of me trying to supply the architecture for comedy to Robin Williams is like handing me the keys to a NASCAR race car and saying, ‘Go compete’ I felt totally ill-equipped,” Kelley said. But, he added, “there were going to be more tender moments. And for that, I needed true actors. So I was heartened that I was getting a great actor.

“The fact that he was Robin Williams the comedian, on top of the great actor,” he said, “what writer wouldn’t do back flips for that opportunity?”

“For me,” Williams said, “it’s great to have a steady gig after so long. It’s wonderful.”

It only lasted one season (“Mork” lasted four). But Williams could always get work as a comic, where his bristling wit could run freely. That was the case in his 2009 HBO comedy special with its now-ominous title “Weapons of Self Destruction.” In it, he riffed about a then-new political figure:

If you want comedy, there’s always Sarah Palin. She is wonderful. Sarah is a self-opening piñata. She is a gift. How did they find her? Was it ‘Project Running Mate’? Did Ronald Reagan have a kid with Vanna White and drop it off it Alaska? And she was raised by wolves so that’s why she hunts them?

And she says amazing things like: ‘I know about Russia because I can see it from my backyard.’ You have Super Vision. No. 1. I can see San Quentin from my backyard but that doesn’t qualify me on prison reform…

It’s incredible too. She says polar bears are not endangered they’re just unlucky. And who knew Katie Couric was the cutting edge of journalism with ambush questions like ‘What do you read?’

‘Well, that’s a trick question.’

Not if you read, no.

 

 

 

 

 

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