Cloris Leachman scares me

I thought I’d take us on a little break from the drama on Wall Street and at the county courthouse today and occupy our minds with something a little more numbing – “Dancing with the Stars.”

Longtime readers of this column have no doubt ascertained that I make no pretensions about being uniformly highbrow when it comes to my entertainment choices. Sure, I love a good play, musical or art exhibit -- I can even stomach opera on a limited basis -- but generally I prefer my idle hours to be filled with entertainment geared more for the idle-minded. I’ve always considered it the hallmark of a well-rounded gentleman when he can read a little “Macbeth” in the same night he watches Paula Abdul drool incoherently on the week’s 34th hour of “American Idol.”

‘Tis the season now, of course, for that other time-sucking scourge of pop culture, the aforementioned “Dancing with the Stars.” I hear tell we’re in the seventh cycle of the show now (remember when “season” was synonymous with “year?” -- these quasi-reality hits are now churned out every few months until we’ve sapped the life from them), but I’ve managed to have been suckered into only two.

I’m not sure what exactly made me tune in to the ABC phenomenon Monday night, but like Michael Corleone and the mob, once you’re in, you’re in. Two hours Monday. Two more Tuesday. An hour-long “results” show (that could have been two minutes, seriously ... the Jonas Brothers?) Wednesday. I’ve invested more in “Dancing” this week than I have in, say, trying to make sense of the online version of ‘30 Seconds.’

But watch it I did, and follow it slavishly I shall. While I’ve never been a “voter” on these talent competitions, I still of course root for my favorites. This “cycle,” I love Misty May-Treanor, the She-Hulk of Olympic volleyball, and Super Bowl champ Warren Sapp, who literally is “tons of fun.” I’m on the fence about Erica Kane, I mean Susan Lucci, and ex-boy bander Lance Bass, though both seem to have a lot of potential. And then there’s my favorite, Brooke Burke, of “Wild on E!” fame. Who knew she had moves other than jiggling her ample bosom? But speaking of ample, if Kim Kardashian couldn’t knock “Baby Got Back” out of the park, she should turn in her ... heck I’m just gonna say it, booty. Your 15 minutes have lapsed, hon. And if they bring up Toni Braxton’s miscellaneous heart ailment one more time, I’ll have a good case of agita myself. The rest of the “stars” are pretty nondescript, except for ...

Cloris Leachman. As I’m sure you guessed by the headline above, the woman simply frightens me. She was tolerable as a sitcom staple on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Facts of Life” and others, but after seeing her chew the scenery on “Dancing” this week, I’m ready for her to fade away.

Before you accuse me of being ageist (I’m a lot of “ists,” actually), I generally have no problem with octogenarians. I have a great respect and admiration for my forebears, and, as I grow steadily grayer myself, anyone over say, 50, who manages to get out of bed in the morning. But just like being gay, or Republican, or a Binghamton Press reader, I don’t mind if you’re old as long you don’t rub my face in it.

And that’s exactly what Cloris Leachman is doing. Don’t get me wrong; for 82, the woman can dance. Me, I can barely manage the White Man’s Overbite. Her dancing isn’t what gives me the heebie-geebies, it’s her cloying antics afterwards. I’m all for a little ribaldry, but I don’t care to see someone’s grandmother work her wrinkled cleavage and hike up her dress on national television. Leachman’s shameless mugging for the judges is ... I don’t know, is it offensive or pathetic?

That’s why Cloris Leachman scares me, I suppose. I’m not sure whether we’re to view her potty-mouthed repartee and general disrespect for the proceedings as a brassy celebration of the independence of old age or a sign of advanced dementia. I say save yourself a few bleeps, ABC, and let her dance off into the sunset.

Phew. That was far more than I ever intended to write about Cloris Leachman in The Evening Sun. And now, back to our regularly-scheduled drama ...

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