Review:  Being Erica *****

(Streaming on Amazon)

A woman with a lengthy list of regrets meets a “therapist” who can send her back in time to make different decisions. I love the writing. Can she stop her brother’s suicide? “You can’t fix other people’s mistakes.” The therapist advises her, “We are the sum of our decisions.” And as the series goes on, regret by regret, it quickly becomes clear that as awful as the decisions seemed at the moment, or over the decades, they came together to make Erica who she is… which is a much better person than she thinks she is.

The writers are clever as they wend their way through time travel paradoxes and clichés. It turns out, I’d say, that those decisions were not as bad as they seemed: a good lesson for all of us, even if we are consumed with curiosity rather than regret.

More on Queen’s Gambit

The opinion on this Netflix series that I did not receive is one I would cherish; that of my late friend Richard Parker, snatched from this world in his 30s. He was the first chess whiz I ever met, and played at an expert level in high school, but gave chess up for science at MIT. I’m guessing he’d have enjoyed Queens Gambit, and would have gleefully picked nits at any errors.

This from Daniel Dern:

“The NYT had a good What they got right, what they missed or tweaked article on Queen’s Gambit, pointing out the efforts they went to, to have real chess games, etc., although for viewing simplicity, moves were being made more quickly.”

This from Kevin Sullivan:

“I concur with your high praise for The Queen's Gambit. I had actually read the book when it first came out in the 80s, and eagerly anticipated the story's arrival on the screen.  I found Anya Taylor-Joy captivating and her portrayal of Beth Harmon to be dead on target. As a movie fan, you might enjoy (or already have known) that Tavis was the author of the fine books (and popular movies) The Hustler, The Color of Money, and The Man Who Fell to Earth.  And for deep trivia, you might enjoy that Tavis, while at the University of Kentucky, studied with A.B. Guthrie, the Pulitzer Prize winner most notably known for his screenplay of the genre-shaking Shane, as well as his Western trilogy, starting with The Big Sky.”

RIP Alex Trebek

 While most of the known universe rushed to Twitter to offer encomiums on the death of Alex Trebek, I resisted the temptation. It was actually quite easy, as I don’t do Twitter. Still I praise him here as a great show-biz talent, and I hope he rests in peace.

I did spend some time on a sound-stage with Alex. (If you read the log, and the Diablo Magazine article that follows, you’ll find out why I haven’t watched the show regularly since 1985).

A few years ago, a mutual friend came THISSS CLOSE to arranging for us to have dinner with Alex and his wife… but the occasion fell through.

Alex was great at what he did, and he will be missed, but he is not irreplaceable. Just as Jeopardy!  survived the loss of Art Fleming and Don Pardo all those decades ago, Merv Griffen’s venerable idea will find another incarnation. After all, if Jeopardy! dies, Al Yankovic’s song I Lost On Jeopardy, Baby will no longer make sense.

Netflix: Queen’s Gambit

A big tip of the PSACOT hat to The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. Every aspect is superb, and its portrayal of a brilliant woman in a man’s world of tournament chess is a perfect metaphor for every woman I knew at MIT, down to the condescending looks from the guys that can be read as “I see you over there on the top of Mt. Stupid.” Since I love brilliant women, I loved this series. I don’t want to list everything that is wonderful, but if you hear Anya-Taylor Joy (Beth) speaking in her natural voice, you’ll be amazed, again, at how apparently easy it is (Peter Sellers to the contrary notwithstanding) to do an American accent. I haven’t read Walter Tevis’ book of the same name, but it must be great to bring this about. Kudos to everyone involved. The mini-series uses up the book, but that hasn’t prevented second series in the past. Here’s hoping it happens again. If you thrilled to the PBS coverage of Spassky-Fischer, this will take you right back. I am a terrible player, but I love chess talk.

Let me save you the trouble of looking it up: Beth isn’t real. Tevis based the film on his own life as a chess savant.

One element I might have forgotten to praise was the music, but coincidentally, this note from Daniel Dern arrived as I was finishing this item:

“We're enjoying watching the Netflix mini-series The Queen's Gambit, there's typically been two, maybe three songs per episode. Episode 3 or 4, taking place in the early sixties, included You're The One.

I was familiar with the song (from too much AM radio listening back in the day), but couldn't immediately conjure up who was performing it. Rather than recourse to the web, I waited, and sure enough, a day or so later, my little gray cells burped up, "The Vogues," which turned out to be correct.

(The song was written, it turns out, by Petula Clarke, news to me.)”

I remember the Petula Clark version from 1965; the Vogues sang it in 1970, our freshman year in college.