Erstwhile Molly Dodd in sci-fi pilot

on

J.J. Abrams recently announced

the cast of his upcoming sci-fi pilot, Fringe. To most fans, I suppose the big news

is that Mr. “I Discovered Keri Russell and Jennifer Garner” has

chosen the beautiful-but-unknown-in-the-States actress Anna Torv to play the lead.

But the casting bit that caught

my eye was the news that one of my most beloved ’80s TV stars, Blair Brown, will play “the brilliant Nina Cord,

a 16-year veteran at Prometheus Corp., a cutting-edge research facility.”

Cutting-edge, indeed. The Divine

Ms. B was, of course, the star of The Days and Nights

of Molly Dodd
,

a laugh-track-less dramedy that ran, starting in 1987, for two years

on NBC before being picked up for another three seasons on then-nascent

Lifetime. A year before Murphy Brown began its epic run redefining

what it was to be a complicated woman in the 1980s, Blair Brown’s

Molly Dodd was a quick-witted, complex, vaguely employed, literate libertine

who captured the essence of New York womanhood at the time. She was

a charmingly neurotic cross between Mary Richards and Annie Hall. And

along with Woody Allen’s 1989 Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1988’s Crossing Delancey and the following year’s When Harry Met

Sally
, it informed

my opinion of New York as a cultural, multiethnic, funny, intelligent

place that I someday wanted to live.

Even now, hearing the familiar

strains of the theme song — with its smooth jazz tones matching images of Central Park

carriages, busy street corners and yellow cabs — brings me back to my

parents’ wood-paneled living room in Ohio, waiting for the show to

start.

 

 

Calling the show “quirky”

is like calling Lost “a little confusing.” Divorced, thirtysomething

Molly had a crazy family, a zany best friend, a wacky/wise elevator

operator, a musician ex-husband and a pile of relationship issues. She

didn’t have a steady job. She had a romance with a — gasp! — black

guy. She often sang (standards, and beautifully). She talked — a

lot
. She was cool and warm, and smart and sexy as hell. In one memorable

arc, her female therapist had a crush on her. (That and the minor lesbian

plot on Heartbeat that same year left my younger self with

a lot to ponder.)

If Molly Dodd was a feminist,

she was one in her own way — more in line with fast-talking, wise-cracking

Nora Charles than with career-centric ’80s characters such as Designing

Women
’s Julia Sugarbaker, Baby Boom’s J.C. Wiatt,

Working Girl
’s Tess McGill and Thirtysomething’s Hope

Steadman (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In its depiction

of not-quite-sanity and über-urbanity, it helped established the wry

bohemian as part of the culture, a perfect antidote to 1987’s other

zeitgeist-tapping portrayal of (certifiable) womanhood, that of Glenn

Close in Fatal Attraction. Later series, including New York–

and female-centric Sex and the City, offbeat Ally McBeal

and witty Gilmore Girls certainly owe the show a debt of gratitude.

(And yet Dodd is somehow not on DVD!)

Despite all my ramblings about

idiosyncratic Molly Dodd, her praise-worthy portrayer, Blair Brown,

now in her 60s, is an equally fascinating subject. Brown, whose medium

was primarily theater prior to her acclaimed work on Dodd

(in addition to a memorable turn as William Hurt’s wife in 1980’s

truly disturbing Altered States), has since returned to the stage,

winning a Tony in 2000 for Copenhagen and even directing (the Dodd-esque A Feminine Ending had a brief run off-Broadway this fall).

She’s quite a prolific narrator, as well, showcasing her melodious

voice on many recent audiobooks and documentaries.

But if the buzz on Fringe is any indication, Brown promises to

exhibit her smart, flinty side on television once again. Between her

and Cherry Jones as Madam

President on 24

(when will you let us see her, Fox?!), I’m

beginning to think casting agents check this blog for ideas. Jill Bennett

as Sarah Connor’s ex, you’re next.