When There’s Mutual Admiration
Respect can be a vague term. Anytime someone sits down for a glass of chianti in Vesuvios with Tony Soprano or hands him a gluttonous envelope of cash, they’re “paying him with respect,” but that’s an investment in keeping their throats free from a piano-wire necklace. A gesture of respect is shaking your incurably offensive uncle’s hand at a family gathering. But do you respect him?
A feeling of respect swells in someone uncontrollably and sometimes leaves as quickly as it arrived. It knows no boundaries of rival or archnemesis. It’s a mutual understanding almost impossible to conceal like a creeping smile at an ill-timed joke. In TV shows, it can be a big heart-tugging embrace between two friends or it can be a subtle nod between enemies. Either way, a display of genuine respect is what turns caricatures into characters in some of our favorite TV shows.
These are five of the best displays of respect in television, in no particular order.
5. Carmy’s “No Acid” Text to Syd in The Bear
In The Bear’s first season finale, “Braciole,” the rising souffle of tension and delusion around the will-they-won’t-they make this restaurant work finally collapses. At the center of the meltdown is the relationship between the two people who actually know what they’re doing: Carmy and Sydney.
Like any terrific chefs, they both have big egos, calloused by years of abuse in the restaurant industry. Sydney’s ego is immediately put to the test by coming into the restaurant as a sous chef. Carmy is poked and prodded by having to explain and prove himself to the people who work under him. This comes to a boiling point when Carmy ignores a risotto dish Sydney made for the new menu, and she instead serves it to a customer who just so happens to be a critic. The risotto is front and center in the review, and although Carmy claims it’s okay, his anger spills out of him at the first unrelated mistake Sydney makes. Sydney, continually frustrated and on guard, quits after the blow-up.
In the fallout, as Carmy manages what he believes to be a sinking ship, texts Sydney to make amends. In the silence of an alley, before opening a letter from his dead brother, he tells her, “No Acid.” It’s simple, and to most emotionally illiterate, but to her, it’s a piece of what she wanted. It’s a note, it’s constructive, and it’s a recognition of her talent. The risotto was great. It just needed more acidity. She tells him to shove his advice where the sun doesn’t shine, but the gesture is enough for her to return to the restaurant for a final paycheck. Upon seeing her crew of motley cooks bailing wadded cash and marinara out of a sinking boat, she joins their glimmer of hope that this restaurant might succeed. She respects them all and Carmy too much to jump ship. And Carmy respects Sydney’s talent too much to let her leave, even if he can only express it in a two word text.
4. Jim’s Bazooka Gift in The Office
Jim and Dwight have a complicated, if not toxic, working relationship. Sure, they dislike each other, but without Jim’s merciless pranking of Dwight and Dwight’s persistent needling of Jim, work would feel like…work. Throughout the series, there are moments that hint at their unspoken friendship, or at least their reluctant desire to keep each other around. Dwight saves Jim from a Roy beatdown with his volunteer sheriff sidearm (mace), Jim and Dwight team up for sales calls adopting the persona of brothers and proving to be a formidable team and of course, there’s the time Jim physically tackles Dwight to save him from being fired by Robert California in Florida. But, nothing puts the friendship cards on the table between the two like when Jim plans Dwight’s bachelor party as his “bestest mensch” in the series finale. It’s a setup that still leaves plenty of room for pranking and bickering, but instead, Jim concocts the most unexpected prank of the entire series: without irony, giving Dwight his moment. The entire episode, he offers Dwight pleasant surprises, culminating with Michael Scott’s return as the true “bestest mensch.” However, the first major gesture of respect Jim gives Dwight is when he hands him a bazooka at the first stop at his bachelor party.
As Jim watches Dwight fire a rocket downrange, he doesn’t make jokes, there’s no side-eye to the camera or a backfire paint explosion ala gender reveal. Jim cheers for Dwight and basks in all the weirdness he used to resent as he gives his frenemy the ultimate weapon on his penultimate day. It might be the strongest gesture of respect between two people who often thrived on disrespecting one another.
3. Al Swearengen compliments Bullock’s store in Deadwood.
In Deadwood, Al Swearengen owns the town and the screen. He is a large, malicious, and hilarious presence, and his appeal to the baser instincts of humans (his business is sex and boozing, after all) is put at odds with the morally upstanding, considerate, and completely unfunny Seth Bullock. Swearengen has a greasy mustache, and Bullock has a hearty one, but in some ways, they are two sides to the same ‘stache: one of American optimism. They want Deadwood to succeed. There is mutual respect in this regard, and the first hint we see of it is in episode nine of the first season, “No Other Sons or Daughters.”
Swearengen spends the better part of the previous two episodes devising ways to kill Bullock and make off with the gold claim of a widow who was widowed upon his orders. Then, smallpox comes into town, and his scheming comes to a halt. He calls for an impromptu meeting in his saloon with the movers and shakers in town to create some sense of law and order to get the pesky disease under control so his girls at the Gem Saloon don’t have to be coughing all over clients and driving good business out of town.
One of the first people Swearengen invites is the good Mr. Bullock in the hardware store he once refused to let Bullock build. Al looks around the newly built shop and says with a breath of fresh pine in his nose, “You did a fucking good job here.” No calculation, no backhandedness, just pure, almost compulsive admiration for the building of something from the ground up, in the profane nature of his name. Sure, it’s good for the town, and what’s good for the town can be spun into being good for business. But, with a hot cup of coffee in his hand, he notes it almost as if looking out at the water on a fine day for sailing.
2. Kenny saves Stevie from his Geisha Servitude in Eastbound and Down
It would be difficult to describe Kenny Powers and Stevie Janowski’s relationship in Eastbound and Down as a “friendship.” To call them “employer and employee” would be the kindest way to frame it. Kenny constantly ridicules Stevie and eschews him until he sees use in the unflappably gullible sidekick and the rose-tinted Pit Viper shades he sees Kenny in. Where else could Kenny find someone who would allow him to empty their bank account while on the run in Mexico?
Kenny decides he needs Stevie in the second episode of season three, “Chapter 15,” when the flamboyantly villainous Ashley Schaffer takes Stevie for his own servant and dresses him like a geisha to seduce South Korean Kia business constituents. Kenny arrives with a sword in hand declaring, “I came here to liberate my assistant.” But, the heroics of stepping in the line of cannonball fire to free Stevie from the Schaffer plantation pales in comparison to the moment immediately after. When the two finally make it to a truck and hightail it out of there, for the first time in the series we see the two laugh together, not at Stevie’s expense, but as two friends would after escaping a pickle. At this moment, they almost feel like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It is the first time Kenny treats Stevie like a companion in their wild escapades and possibly the only genuine moment of mutual respect between the two we ever see in the show.
1. Prez Cracks the Pager Code in The Wire
In The Wire, Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski has a combination of qualities that leaves him lacking in the respect department. He is near comically incompetent, a nepotism hire and possibly racist. He downgrades his label from the joke of the department to disgraced when he drunkenly pistol-whips a teenager and incites a neighborhood-wide riot. But, in the policing world, the kind of thing that earns others’ admiration is doing some solid policing. And Prez did just that when he translated his sudoku skills over to cracking what was believed to be the impenetrable Barksdale Crew pager code.
In episode five of the first season, “The Pager,” McNulty comes back to the Task Force’s headquarters to find the sidelined Prez asking if he received a page from him. McNulty, already dismissive of what he believes to be a kid-playing-cop act, brushes off the question until Prez reveals that he did it in the fashion of the Barksdale Crew’s pager system. The exaltation that comes over McNulty as he kisses Prez on the cheek and says, “Prez, you little genius. I could kill you, that’s so good,” is comparable to that of the star quarterback congratulating the third-string receiver on a game-winning catch. This moment is the beginning of one of the greatest redemptive character arcs in television history. Prez doesn’t hit his stride as a cop, but a moment like this (getting a fist bump from the popular kid) is enough to instill some confidence in the slack-chested muck up. By the end of the series, Prez finds a way to offer something positive to Baltimore’s sensitive ecosystem, rather than another drunken, vindictive cop. Prez learns to win by listening and understanding rather than hitting back. The acknowledgment McNulty gives Prez at his lowest point is one of unquestioning, prejudice-free respect. When it hits you, it hits you.
The Wire 2002 Official HBO Trailer