10 August 2012

Books: Blue Heaven by Joe Keenan (1988)

Long before Joe Keenan joined the classic sitcom Frasier, he was a playwright, essayist and in 1988, a novelist with Blue Heaven.

The basic premise is Keenan goes back to Hollywood’s Golden Era when screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night were all the rage. However, instead set in the 30’s, the author updates the premise by setting this screwball comedy in present day New York.

The plot is expansive, but it’s about two long-time friends, one a playwright named Philip Cavanaugh (who narrates) and the other is Gilbert Sewlyn, who has reached his mid-twenties without really doing anything, because he’s pretty much a self-centered, petty schemer who’s only ambition is have lots of money that he doesn’t have to work for. Also, both Philip and Gilbert used to be lovers (well, when they were 16, now they have an on-and-off relationship) and while Philip gets angry at Gilbert, they still have a connection.

While trying to figure out to acquire some more money, Gilbert attend his mother’s latest wedding to a man known as Tony Cellini, who’s wealth comes from the mob –something Gilbert’s mother is unaware of. It’s there, at the wedding, where Gilbert potentially sees a way to score some cash, as he stares with envy at all the gifts and envelopes that carry untold amounts of cash. 

Of course, the one thorn in this sudden plan is no bride. But there is an opposite of Gilbert, a woman who is just as self-centered, just as ambitious –but with even fewer scruples than Gilbert- in the name of Moria Finch. Gilbert hates her, and she him, but they decide to join forces and become an engaged couple. 

Before you can say “what could go wrong,” things start to get out of hand. And what began as two conspirators soon blossoms, as thing quickly begin to unwind. Philip is brought in first, and then Philip’s writing partner, Claire –who, as it turns out, is much smarter than the boys and quickly realizes Moria is not to be trusted. At all. There are plenty of twists, turns, double-crosses, triple-crosses, blackmail, and one-liners than you can imagine.

Keenan, who went to win multiple Emmy’s for his writing on Frasier, shows in Blue Heaven why he’s a genius with throwing all but the kitchen sink into the air and seeing what hits the floor. It’s a hugely entertaining novel, laugh out-loud and eye rolling at the same time. Had I read this when it was released then, I might have not been reminded of many plot elements, one-liners and exasperated deus ex machina ending the book that eventually popped up in the series that starred Kelsey Grammer.   

Still, Keenan can be credited with turning Frasier into the screwball comedy series it became after a somewhat up and down first season. His first episode he wrote in season two, The Matchmaker, became one the funniest of the show, winning him a Writer’s Guild Award and a GLAAD Award for its lighthearted satire of the various stereotypes surrounding gay men.

With his wit and intelligence, he sends up the old style 30s comedies by updating it to the 1980’s, even though it has some unfortunate scenes of casual drug use that are out of place today. But overall, it takes silliness to new heights and in this day and age, if you need a laugh, beyond putting a few classic episodes of Frasier in the DVD player, this book will do it for you. Keenan did write two further adventures of Philip, Gilbert and Claire in the sequels, Putting on the Ritz and My Lucky Star.

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