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Column: Out-of-touch celebs — take a cue from Mandy Patinkin’s relatable shutdown videos

Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody
Mandy Patinkin and his wife Kathryn Grody arriving at the 69th Emmy Awards in 2017.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Can we just talk about the Mandy Patinkin videos now?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the essential hope and resilience of the human spirit has proven itself in so many ways, including our endearing and occasionally worrisome attempts to find unexpected good amid so much obvious bad. Perhaps now, we opine brightly, we’ll come to understand the importance of national healthcare/raising the minimum wage/washing our hands.

When/if the virus is conquered, perhaps we’ll slow down a bit, make our work schedules more flexible, take better care of each other and the planet, treat mail carriers and delivery teams with the respect they deserve.

Perhaps.

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But there is one irrefutable, inarguable good thing that has out of the coronavirus lockdown: the Mandy Patinkin videos. To be more precise, the video series featuring Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody, married these 40 years, as they shelter in their fabulously homey cabin with their son Gideon, who interviews them on camera and then posts the clips on Patinkin’s Twitter feed.

At least we assume Gideon posts them. One video shows Patinkin attempting to post one and it does not go well; despite, as his son points out, having an account with 85,000 followers, Patinkin has never posted a video on Twitter. “People did it for me,” he says before sidetracking into bafflement over what GIF means.

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This is one reason Patinkin’s Twitter feed may be the best thing that ever happened to a coronavirus. Watching, er, mature people fumble with technology is always hilarious and highly relatable, especially now. With kids and their parents in nonstop close proximity, secrets are hard to keep. Turns out that no, your father does not know how to take a picture of a document and send it via text — and that explains all those FedEx packages over the years.

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It is also rare to see a celebrity, particularly one known for playing experts (including most recently a man who could launch a freaking missile through his cellphone), willing to acknowledge ignorance at such an intense geezer level. The man who played Inigo Montoya asking what a GIF is. How is that possible? Does he not know that a GIF is him?

While so many stars are falling all over themselves to reassure us that we’re all in this together, as they arrange a Fenway Park field trip for nurses and chat with other intensely famous people for our amusement via Zoom, Patinkin and Grody appear to actually be experiencing the shutdown the same way many of us are. Hanging out in comfy clothes, eating too many carbs, playing with the dog, yelling dumb non-sequitur questions across the room to each other and letting their kid make weird videos of them. (Seriously, as I was writing this, one of mine came into my office to do a TikTok dance with me as background. Whatever.)

Entertainers have done an admirable job keeping us connected with digital rituals, but not even a LeBron James-hosted graduation ceremony can replace the real thing.

In the first “episode” of this series, Patinkin and Grody stand in front a splendid patch of forsythia, discussing their impact of the shutdown on their marriage: Has the fact that they are often apart helped? “Yes,” Grody answers emphatically — and the recent celebration of their 42nd year together. Which began with “a s— show of an argument” that devolved into tears (“We love to cry,” Patinkin says) but ended with him making turkey bolognese.

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Turkey bolognese!

But the best and most viewed videos are a series in which the two calmly crunch their way through a box of matzo, while Gideon asks them to define various pop culture terms — TikTok, meme, Becky with the good hair — with which they are mostly unfamiliar.

This arc ends with the couple attempting the dance move known as flossing, which may be the high point for many. For me, however, it was the matzo. For one thing, Grody somehow manages, while talking, to spread butter, in small but expert dabs, over an entire cracker that she is holding in her outstretched hand. Without breaking it. At all. Patinkin, meanwhile, never stops chewing. Seriously. It is seven minutes’ worth of serious matzo eating like nothing you have ever seen. (He too manages to spread an entire cracker without damaging it but he has to lay it down first, unlike his wife whom — and I really must repeat this because it is phenomenal — does it while holding the cracker in the air.)

Watching them each shake salt over their buttered matzo makes it literally impossible not to go out and buy at least two boxes yourself. Manischewitz, whose logo is prominently displayed, should write them a check.

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Now, I have loved Mandy Patinkin long and well since the day more than 30 years ago when I scraped together enough cash to stand for hours in the TKTS line and buy the cheapest seats available for “Sunday in the Park with George” on Broadway so I could take my mother for her birthday; it remains one of the most precious memories I have of her. I loved him in “The Princess Bride” and on “Criminal Minds,” which I also loved him for leaving. I loved all the albums and musical specials, and I recently spent two weeks refusing to watch the final episodes of “Homeland” because my husband would not reassure me that Saul Berenson did not die at the end.

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Still, at no point during these decades of infatuation did I ever think I would spend seven minutes happily watching him and his wife eat matzo.

Seven did I say? More like 70.

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I cannot get enough of these videos. First of all, how did I not know Kathryn Grody was so fabulous? I blame myself because, in disappearing down the wormhole of a Google search, her intelligence and wit are obvious, and Patinkin is not shy about sharing his adoration.

But never before have I seen a couple so truly, madly, deeply married. It’s right there, and not just in their ability to have a s—-show argument that ends in tears and turkey bolognese, or in their willingness to talk about it while standing in front of a big bush of forsythia. Even when sitting on opposite ends of the room on a video being shared on Twitter, these two people clearly exist in a shared psychic space. The kind of space that can be created only by years of willingness to endure the friction of need and objection, the pointy cornered crap we all have, all the angles that need to be accommodated, adjusted or sanded down.

Marriage is hard and working in the entertainment industry doesn’t make it any easier, but look at them! Like fairy godparents to an isolated world, they seem to be having so much fun doing nothing that it gives you a second wind somehow. Yes, that your spouse can never seem to close the dishwasher is absolutely maddening because everything is absolutely maddening. But maybe instead of bursting into “you never listen to what I say” tears, you could try laughing about it.

Or burst away. And then go make some turkey bolognese. Or better yet, some buttered matzo.


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