Gene Siskel would be proud. While nobody is expecting Richard Roeper to blot out the memory of Chicago’s most famous homegrown cinemaniac, the award-winning columnist does a very good job at starting his own legacy in the re-christened “Ebert & Roeper and the Movies.” Smart, confident and itching to dole out the occasional zing, the new “skinny one” flashes — and flashes often — his knowledge, sense of humor and enthusiasm for pop culture. The torch has definitely been passed.
When Siskel died in February 1999, Buena Vista TV trotted out the turnstile and ushered in a slew of fill-ins. ABC’s Joel Siegel, Variety‘s Todd McCarthy and Newsweek’s David Ansen, among others, all made the Windy City trip, whether they were in contention for the full-time gig or not.
It finally came down to three: Internet scribe Michaela Pereira, Boston anchor Joyce Kulhawik and Roeper, Ebert’s colleague at the Chicago Sun-Times and winner of two Midwest/Chicago Emmy awards as a Fox commentator. And while all were certainly qualified, Ebert has since made it widely known that Roeper was clearly the favorite throughout the interim.
Serving as the 25th season’s kick-off show, Sunday’s half-hour was a special episode touting the twosome’s choices for early Oscar faves. And although a predictionfest seems extremely premature (considering this year’s slim pickings), Roeper stuck to his dubious guns (“Hamlet” as best pic?) and, when appropriate, disagreed firmly (on one of Ebert’s selections: “I’d be OK with it if Billy Crudup was not nominated”).
As for the chemistry, both are comfortable in opposition, and they’re excitable when they need to be. But despite Roeper’s talents, there will, of course, always be something missing here. Part of Siskel and Ebert’s appeal stemmed from their in-print rivalry; the friction was born in a marketplace in which two top-notch journalists worked at the most celebrated competitors.
Now that the criticism is coming from the same daily, the combatants seem a bit more buddy-buddy, and that might become a turn-off. And if Roeper is going to make a name for himself as a “people’s critic,” he better come up with some populist shtick a la his predecessor. (Siskel adopted the Chicago Bulls, interviewed the President and was very much at home on Leno or Letterman.)
Surprisingly, the look, feel and venue have all remained. Balcony seating and mid-shots are still the only production values, and that’s fine. But out of respect, they could have retired the “thumbs up/thumbs down” gimmick. That would have been the honorable thing to do.