“To leave space for what we want to pay attention to, all of us ignore whole categories of the human comedy,” John Leonard once confessed in our pages. “In my case, in order to read books and box scores, go to movies and AA meetings, watch grandchildren and VH1’s Pop-Up Video, I have abandoned any interest whatsoever in cars, real estate, stock quotations, ice hockey, crossword puzzles, haute cuisine, and fashion.”
Oh, but that left time for so much else! Leonard’s curiosity was so democratic and ravenous that he had to develop a signature device just to channel it. Call it The Leonard List: that headlong, run-on, signature stream of excited enthusiasms and furious complaints that gave us a glimpse of the jam-packed Coney Island of his marvelous mind. Click on any of these subjects from his online archive, and you can read our late TV critic on “Seinfeld, that Cheez Doodle of urban fecklessness”, “the tetragrammatonic code” of Sex and the City, Six Feet Under’s “mordant mortuary humor,” Angels in America, Bill Moyers, “the satanic Nietzschean flip side of “La Bamba,” Frederick Wiseman, Homicide, Charles Dickens, “Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas, and semi-moronic Epsilons,” “Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke,” Witchblade’s “Rambimbo/Ninja/Terminator Chic,” “Lolita’s pj’s and pigtails; the toenails and the bug zappers; the typewriters, the weather vanes, the bubble gum,” John Woo filming “as if Busby Berkeley and Leni Riefenstahl had brainstormed with Bob Fosse to combine Kabuki and Fritz Lang’s robot women,” public television, Anna Deavere Smith, James Franco’s James Dean, James Wood’s Rudy Giuliani, nonviolent resistance, “our psychic pimples,” “the multitude, solitude, vertigo, and trajectory of urban madness,” Ric Burns’ “whirlybirds and satellites, fallen angels and graveyard worms,” “Vantage Point, that Rashomon with training wheels,” “Wall Street bestiality from bull and bear to Golden Fleece,” “late-twentieth-century mythomanias,” “Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood playing Franny and Zooey at Plato’s Retreat while reading superhero comic books,” “Philip K. Dicking around,” Crash, Homicide’s “Zen fisherman turned Dostoevsky Jesus freak,” “fiber-optic cable, heroin between the toes, Dogma film theory, James Caan, Gary Cooper, ‘Ralph Fuckin’ Bunche,’ and ‘Chef Fuckin’ Boyardee.’”
For more — and there is so much more — click on these links for PDFs of his 1987 TV column on the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize (and Don Johnson’s HBO special Heartbeat), an improbably brilliant riff on George C. Scott’s Christmas Carol (“Dickens read by flashes of lightning, a kind of rainbow of death”) and his self-revealing 1990 cover story on Twin Peaks.