Joe Flaherty 1941-2024

Remembering a consummate comedy team player. Plus: one of 2023's best movies comes to VOD.

Joe Flaherty 1941-2024

Joe Flaherty has left the building at 82. He was the one comic genius from the graduating class of Second City TV who didn’t go on to become a household name/instantly recognizable face like his troupe-mates John Candy, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, and Andrea Martin. I’m not arguing that he was the funniest of the bunch, but he was just as funny and it’s possible his career was hampered because he simply wasn’t as funny looking. Jumping from network to syndication to pay TV over the years, “SCTV” came on like “SNL”’s seedy but inexplicably hilarious little brother – the kind of show you caught late at night after coming home stoned from a party in your twenties and weren’t sure the next morning whether you saw it at all. Flaherty was the utility player, able to do just about anything, but his main comic key was irascible deflation, best exemplified by Count Floyd of “Monster Chiller Horror Theatre” desperately trying to pump up the Z-grade movies he was forced to host.

Or SCTV station president Guy Caballero with his latest programming scam.

He also specialized in unwarranted enthusiasm, viz., his Big Jim McBob of the Farm Report.

Or that epitome of D-list showbiz flopsweat, talk show host Sammy Maudlin.

Flaherty’s impressions of famous people weren’t so much accurate as they were baroque caricatures that highlighted a few physical tics until they seemed to take over his entire body.

And I’m cheered by the sheer variety of the stars he imitated, per his Wikipedia page:

Where Candy, Short, O’Hara, et al went on to Hollywood movies as leads or invaluable comic support, Flaherty’s post-SCTV life mostly consisted of featured bits in films like “Back to the Future II” and “Happy Gilmore,” and cameo appearances on sitcoms like “Married… With Children.” The glorious exception is the 1999-2000 cult sitcom “Freaks and Geeks,” which lasted for one season, launched the careers of James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel, among others, and gave Flaherty one more shot at pop-culture immortality as cluelessly straight dad Harold Weir.

I leave you with evidence that Joe Flaherty was somehow both the consummate team player of the SCTV crew and its sneakiest virtuoso star: One of a handful of “5 Neat Guys” sketches in which, if you watch him closely, you can see an entire subtextual narrative about a cheerful but hopeless alcoholic.

Rest in peace, Joe – and Sammy, Guy, Count Floyd, "N." All of you.

Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel in "The Taste of Things"

"The Taste of Things" (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2) has arrived on streaming platforms – specifically, Amazon, Apple TV, and Fandango’s Vudu – for the low, low rental fee of $4.99 ($5.99 on Apple TV) and the entirely reasonable purchase price of $14.99. I generally recommend renting on-demand titles rather than buying them – DVD/Blu-ray is the way to go if you must own – but this is one of those food-prep movies that can slow you into a state of mesmerized rapture, a kind of foodie zazen, that’s worth revisiting when the world is too much with you. I reviewed it in February when it came to theaters and had this, in part, to say:

It stars Juliette Binoche because I guess it has to. She plays Eugénie, the long-serving personal cook for the renowned gourmand and restaurateur Dodin- Bouffant in 1880s France. (The film has been adapted from a 1924 novel by Marcel Rouff, who based his fictional epicure on his gastronome friend Curnonsky and the original French foodie Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.) Benoît Magimel plays Dodin-Bouffant, and the fact that he and Binoche were life partners from 1998 to 2003, with a daughter between them, is germane to the film, which sees food and its preparation as the form of intimacy closest to physical love. The divide between master and servant has long since been whisked away, if it ever was present, and the time the two spend together in the sunlit country kitchen is silent, busy, and content. This is a marriage in everything but name, which is why Dodin-Bouffant decides he wants to make it official and why Eugénie decides that that would spoil everything.

Writer-director Tràn Anh Hùng – his debut film was “The Scent of Green Papaya” back in 1993 – has a healthy sense of perversity, beginning “The Taste of Things” where most food movies climax: With the luxuriously attentive filming of a meal being made. The opening scene, 38 minutes in length, is nearly silent except for the chop of the knife and the sizzle of the pan, Eugénie attended by two young assistants, Violette (Galatéa Belugi) and Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire), the latter a solemnly beautiful adolescent with the palate of a prodigy. Loins of veal. Fresh langoustine. A ball of dough formed into a vol au vent: a bowl of puff pastry stuffed with steaming seafood stew. … “The Taste of Things” is admittedly longer on food than on plot. In a way it’s a series of short stories in the form of meals, connected by observations of a relationship and the recreation of a vanished time and place. Its mode is one of quiet exaltation and its true subject is the place where the sensual and the sensuous merge into one. You might want to eat beforehand.

Or you might want to eat afterwards; I’ve never been entirely sure whether a great food movie – like this or “Babette’s Feast” or “The Big Night” – is better experienced on a full stomach (to forestall gastric grumblings loud enough to hear in the lobby) or an empty one (to better appreciate the resplendent meal you’ll surely be savoring later). Either way, to watch “The Taste of Things” with only a tub of popcorn and some Junior Mints constitutes the highest form of sacrilege.

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