Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When David Chariandy Guest Starred On Friends

I was over at my parents' house last night; it was a quarter after six and we were sitting in the kitchen, eating dinner. My dad likes to watch the news while he eats, so they have a TV that sits on the counter and faces his place at the table. It's a "flat screen" TV, but he likes to tell people that it's a plasma. "The screen's flat." "So, that doesn't mean anything. It's an analog TV with a flat screen." "But aren't flat screens the best?" "Yes. But flat-screen plasmas." "You don't know what you're talking about. It's the screen, not the TV. Flat is better. Jodie [my mother], we're not talking about you." We were watching City News at Six. That's the broadcast that he likes. Ever since Anne Mroczkowski started showing a little cleavage, that's all he'll watch. I keep telling him you can't see anything, but he keeps waiting for the day they change the overhead lighting. About five years ago he saw her at Pusateri's on Avenue Road. She was wearing a summery blouse, and he tried desperately to take a picture with his cell phone. But my mother was buying coffee beans, and he couldn't figure out how to work the phone. Even the guys at the meat counter couldn't help him. Now he shops at Loblaws.

But his description of what he'd seen was little less than Kathy Ireland in her SI days. "David, I wish this city had a beach." And I keep hearing about Melissa Grelo and Pooja Handa. He loves Mika Midolo, and the man won't stop telling me that Laura DiBattista is his ideal. Pam Seatle, Kathryn Humphreys, and Tracy Moore...The conversations we've had about City TV have been, without exception, near-pornographic.

You have to understand that my father is a writer. So he's home, all day, with Ann Rohmer torturing his prose.

"I don't understand," my mother once said of City's female personalities, "they're all so beautiful. Is that supposed to give them credibility?"

"No," my father said. "It's supposed to get you to watch."

"Because they're attractive?"

"Because you'd sleep with any of them--or all of them, all together. One day, you'll see, their furnace will break."

"But it's the news."

"Fuck the news. Put a mirror on the back wall of the studio and I guarantee you NBC would pick up the feed. There's just one whom I don't like."


"Mulligan. I don't think she'd be much fun. She's so thin; such big lips; so angry looking...Actually, wait a minute. Maybe I'm wrong."

So they were watching City News when the broadcast went to commercial. I was cutting a steak, and watching Rudy Wiebe pitch an ad for Idomo. Then a promo for Friends came on. Weekdays at 7:30 City airs syndicated episodes of Friends. They're up to the part of the series where Courtney Cox's character is dating Tom Selleck. I hadn't seen an episode for five or six years, and I wasn't really paying attention to the spot, but Selleck's mustache drew me to the screen. "On the next Friends...tomorrow at 7:30..." And there, in the background, drinking coffee in Central Perk, was David Chariandy.

He was wearing a brown turtleneck sweater; his legs were crossed (right over left); he'd left a very small tip that was still sitting on his table. But it was David Chariandy, the Canadian writer.

"That's David Chariandy," I said, pointing with my German steak knife.

"Who?" my mom asked.

"A writer. A Canadian writer."

She turned. "The one with the spiky black hair?"

"No, that's Matt LeBlanc."

"That sounds Canadian."

"Quebec or Canada," my father said.

"He is Canadian, but he's not the writer. That guy is." And I pointed, again, to Chariandy.

"The one reading the dictionary?"


"Is he famous?"

"He was nominated for the Giller."

"Did he win?"


" least he was on TV."

So the next day I watched as Chariandy's episode aired. Maybe he was just an extra. He was in LA on the backlot while they were filming, and someone picked him out of a crowd. All he had to do was sit there, pretend to drink a coffee, and not look at the camera.

But it wasn't like that at all. He actually had a role. He had a speaking part. He was the episode's antagonist.

The story, briefly, goes like this: Ross is up for a job at Columbia. He's pegged to give an important televised (PBS) lecture that'll be attended by members of the hiring committee. Chariandy plays Ross's rival--a fellow professor gunning for the Columbia job. Chariandy, in a Friars Club-type plot, scoops Ross's paper, leaving Schwimmer standing at the lectern trying to improvise a twenty-five minute lecture. Chariandy's hired, and the rest of the episode concerns Ross's attempt to exact some kind of revenge. I won't spoil the ending, but it's a lot like Irving Wallace's The Prize.

Chariandy's a decent actor. And he can tell a joke. Take a look at this exchange:

Chandler: So, you're a professor? What's your field?
Chariandy: Paleontology.
Chandler: Oh, just like Ross.
Chariandy: Yes, rather.
Chandler: That's an interesting field. Dinosaurs. Bones. A lot of bones.
Chariandy: In many respects, yes. Ultimately, however, it is profoundly about the teaching.
Chandler: So, you enjoy it?
Chariandy: That is a rich and complex question.
Chandler: So you don't enjoy it.
Chariandy: Of course, as you note, enjoyment is a concomitant pleasure of my research.
Chandler: Concomitant. Sure. I can see that.
Chariandy: Indeed, it is central.
Chandler: Well, that's good. You stand up there; you talk; you mark papers.
Chariandy: I'm really pleased that you consider the job interesting on a purely formal level. I work with great care at it.
Chandler: Well...nice talking to you...
Chariandy: Immediately I am reminded of the subtext--
Chandler: Yeah, work on that. I've got to get back to the land of apostrophes.

It's amazing how Marta Kauffman managed to keep Chariandy in character. When he started talking to Lisa Kudrow about catachresis, I almost dug a hole in my wicker chair.

Other Canadian writers who've appeared on American sit-coms:

Clark Blaise (Golden Girls), Bharati Mukherjee (Night Court), Dionne Brand (Dear John--a good oldie starring Judd Hirsch), Dennis Lee (Empty Nest), Leon Rooke (The Hogan Family).

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