Erstwhile Molly Dodd in sci-fi pilot

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
, 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



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
. 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
’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.