Due to a phone call, my wife missed a fair portion of last night’s premier of THE EDUCATION OF MAX BICKFORD. A minute after she rejoined the show, she asked “is this as overwrought as it seems?” “Well, it’s certainly got a lot of wrought…” I replied.
I guess I’d better put up a SPOILER WARNING for those who taped the episode but have not watched it yet. During this episode, we learn that Professor Max Bickford (played by the ever-convincing Richard Dreyfus) is a recovering alcoholic widower who is passed over for promotion for a student he had carnal knowledge of 15 years before, who is being forced into a department management position that he doesn’t want, whose daughter announces a missed period, whose best friend took a sabbatical and has just come back with a new gender, whose students are uncaring, inattentive, and demand unearned grades, and whose son doesn’t make the basketball team. And oh yes, Max is writing a novel, a thinly veiled version of his life, only he is named “Skylar” in the book. And the novel is bad. Not a lot of subtlety in bringing him to a low point that he has to rebuild himself from.
To be fair, I’m not sure that the novel is *supposed* to be bad, so maybe that isn’t supposed to be part of his miserable life. My wife was quite annoyed with the on-going narrative of events that comes from Max composing the novel. I liked it though, because I thought it perfectly captured the sort of lousy novel I would expect from a burned-out professor who was seeking to redeem himself by reprocessing his life at fiction at age 50-something.
So it’s overwrought… but it is well made. The cast is strong, the dialog is generally good. The real question is: now that they’ve got the lead character striving upward, will their be good plots along that path? I’ll give this series at least a few more episodes to find out. I like Dreyfus, and this is a project with the aroma of quality (if accompanied by the stench of trying a bit too hard to be Greatly Respectable Material. Dreyfus said that he considered going into TV at this time because of the example that The West Wing has set, but that show launched with a lot of fun built in, and fun is something missing from this new show.)
Give it a try. Things to watch for in the pilot: Ron Glass from Barney Miller plays another professor, although apparently his is not a regular character on the series. And Max’s 12-step sponsor runs a classic auto restoration shop, so there’s a scene with some nice cars to ogle.