Tag Archive for TV

Musings: On “Quality,” Diversity, and Subversiveness

Recently the NYT hopped on the bandwagon of folks claiming television has transcended (Hollywood) film. About six months ago during dinner with a couple in their 60s, I said almost exactly that: “In the last decade or so, I think TV has surpassed film in terms of quality.” The matriarch picked up her wine glass, waved it slightly, and murmured, “Damning with faint praise.” That one stung – but it isn’t particularly surprising. Sometimes I forget that other people aren’t as invested in media, as in love with the art form, as I am. Likewise I sometimes forget that our parents’ version of TV was Kraft Mac & Cheese compared to our current gourmet buffet. The discerning epicure has plenty of delights from which to choose these days, as does the gent who really just wants his Velveeta (who in the bloody hell actually watches Two and a Half Men?!). The thing is, some (some, mind you) “junk food” TV is paving the way for a richer, more diverse future.

As a slight snob and consumer of all things buzzing, I watch the good stuff. I tune in and burn through House of Cards, Mad Men, Game of Thrones (farewell Joffrey, you deplorable, inbred psychopath. Sorry not sorry for spoilers), The Walking DeadTrue Detective, Dexter, and Breaking Bad.

Mad Men Season 7 Key Art

This is the good shit. Photo courtesy AMC.

But on top of these things, I’m also paying attention to a bunch of shows I don’t usually admit publicly. I watch Scandal, Revenge, and Hannibal every week. I’m way behind on The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, but I’m watching them. If you know much about me, you’ll see the tonal connection: they’re dark, soapy, and totally implausible, every one. In these alternate worlds, though, I can turn off my brain for 47 minutes and not contemplate life, the universe, and everything.

Scandal (ABC) Cast Shot

More color and more ladies than you’d expect. (ABC’s Scandal)

But you know me. Even in “off” mode, I’m thinking about the context, the casting, the creators. These shows, the ones that are “marginalized,” at the edges of popular culture, have immense room to play with gender, race, and sexuality; they have the freedom to subvert norms and mores. Revenge‘s Nolan Ross is virtually the only bisexual male on broadcast television, and you know what? Nobody cares, either out here in the real world or in the goofily decadent Revenge-verse. (Let’s not talk about House of Cards‘s Frank Underwood. We’ll leave that for later.) Scandal‘s team of Gladiators, led by Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), is richly comprised of women and men of color. (I thank Shonda Rhimes for this – it’s amazing what happens when you stick a woman of color in the director’s seat.)

Gabriel Mann as Nolan Ross.

Indeed, Nolan. Indeed. Credit to Tumblr user bravonolanross.

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I don’t play Portal, but here we go…

I’m still alive. I’ve taken a short break from posting anything relevant on Facebook, from writing about film, from writing in general. I’m still on Tumblr, and trying to be more active on Twitter.

Much rather be looking at this right now.

Hammock, freckles, RELAXATION. Frankly, I’d much rather be looking at this right now than a screen.

I vocally stood with Wendy Davis (and fell asleep watching a Texas Senate filibuster – never thought I’d say THAT). I went camping, lake swimming, and planned a barbeque. I bought plane tickets to San Francisco to visit dear friends and enjoy the city at the end of July. My birthday is coming up in a few weeks. I just got a new kitten. I bought tickets to go skydiving and rock climbing. I also just got free HBO for six months. I took in Magic Mike. I’ve been watching The Newsroom, Buffy, Pretty Little Liars, Supernatural Season 7, and True Blood. Mad Men‘s season finale was lovely, but I couldn’t bring myself to write anything about it. I’m quite enjoying watching trash TV and trying to zone out. Split film trailer

I learned that California Literary Review isn’t dead, but under new ownership. I may continue writing there – it depends. I’ll miss my old editor, and the new guy apparently is very much a businessman. I hope the quality of content remains the same.

I’ll be back to write here at some point. For now, I’m trying to enjoy my summer, situate my life, and allow my brain to be calm for awhile. Watch for me on social media.

Mad Men Recap: “At the Codfish Ball” (Season 5, Episode 7) (5/2/12)

Sunday’s Mad Men was a bit of a doozie, and I’m late to the ball due to a crazy weekend. So here we go.

The women of Mad Men are what make the show worthwhile for me – and this was a very lady-centered episode. Particularly, the focus was on mothers and daughters, on seeking mama’s approval while struggling against the parameters your parents set for you. Sally, Megan, and Peggy are having mommy issues – which, knowing their respective mothers, is not a surprise.

Remember what phones used to look like? Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

The episode opens on a grungy dorm hallway, in which two kids play some semblance of lacrosse as a toweled boy sidles past. Who should come to pick up the hall phone, but Glen, Betty’s former nemesis and Sally’s “former” friend? He asks Sally if she’s bought the new “Spoonful album,” and she says, “It’s all over the radio,” which tells us this song has hit the top 40 (the airwaves are now firmly entrenched in that scary rock’n’roll of the 60s). Sally has stretched the phone cord across the hallway, and Pauline immediately trips over it. As “Bluto” rolls around on the floor moaning about her ankle, Sally bosses Bobby into getting her water and keeping her calm. She later tells everyone Pauline tripped over one of Gene’s toys – a lie designed, even years later, to keep Betty from knowing what was really happening with Glen. Of course, since Pauline broke her ankle, Bobby and Sally yet again migrate to Manhattan to Don and Megan’s apartment.

(Speaking of Betty, her obvious absence in this episode could be considered either a major flaw, or a very purposeful move from the writers – she’s no mother to Sally.)

Mad Men S05E07 Marie Calvet

Marie Calvet: Unhappiness personified. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Megan’s parents Emile (Ronald Guttman) and Marie (Julia Ormond, in a gorgeous casting move) are in for a visit, bringing with them their myriad problems. One of the first things we hear from Emile is a tossed slur: “Have a drink,” he tells his wife, “become nice again.” Since Sally doesn’t like fish, Megan, ever the dutiful wife and nanny (though I wouldn’t go so far as to say “mother”) produces spaghetti for dinner. Marie remarks with a sad smile, “I used to make spaghetti for Megan.” Then the pretty, sexy, sad Frenchwoman imbibes enough to stagger away from the table and pass out with a lit cigarette. Removing the butt tenderly from her mother’s fingers, Megan finds herself blessed with a brilliant idea. Read more

Mad Men Recap: “Far Away Places” (Season 5, Episode 6) (4/23/12)

In last night’s surreal episode of Mad Men, everybody was taking trips, with or without their loved ones. There’s trouble in paradise with Peggy and Abe, and Peggy’s dancing ever closer to the edge of her patience with being a lady in a man’s world. Roger and Jane take a trip together and come back apart. Don and Megan, whose relationship appears so idyllic, particularly to the likes of “miserable” Roger, do effectively the same thing. Oh, and Ginsberg may be from Mars.

Mad Men S05E06 Roger and Jane

The odd couple. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Some of us (ahem) have been waiting with bated breath for the drug culture to make its surreptitious entrance to SCDP. Well, this was it. Peggy and Abe get into a giant fight because, as he says, she wants to take him to work, stick him in a drawer, and take him out whenever she gets bored. This, unfortunately, isn’t far from the truth. Abe throws a serious jab when he yells, “I’m your boyfriend, not a focus group!” Women’s work-life balance is still a contentious topic in feminist circles, and Abe’s dissatisfaction with Peggy is not unfounded (though nor is it fair). Unfortunately, she takes her anger to the only place she knows well: the office.

After Don takes Megan away on an impromptu trip to a Howard Johnson’s (much to Megan’s chagrin, as you’ll see below), Peggy’s short a team member and sans boss for her second presentation to Heinz – which she botched horribly the last time. When the Heinz gents rebuff her again, she goes on the warpath, trying a Don tack and telling Heinz what they want. This, of course, results in a number of comments meant to put her straight back in her place. “Women usually want to please,” says Stan, disappointed. “Little girl, you’re lucky I don’t…” cries the Heinz rep. Peggy, furious and impotent, fights back tears even as she gulps a shot of Canadian Mist.

Peggy, who’d turned down Abe’s invitation to the movies earlier in the day, goes to the theater by herself. She smokes a joint with a stranger, and when he tries to slide his hand up her skirt, she takes him in her own hands, so to speak. Feeling powerless in a world full of powerful men, she uses the stranger to get her mojo back. It’s not quite as depressing as Betty’s tryst in the restaurant bathroom, but it’s not exactly a happy moment, either. Read more

Blog: Discussion: The Best TV of the Last Fifteen Years (5/4/10)

TV: Is it making us dumber, and how is it changing? (Aside from the fact that the one pictured is totally obsolete.)

Confession: I don’t enjoy American sitcoms. I hate the laugh tracks, the halogen lighting, the goofy scene changes, and the heartwarming music that always plays when Betty learns an IMPORTANT LIFE LESSON. I do not like “Friends,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Seinfeld,” or “Frasier.” The hilarious hijinx and capers characters get up to just aren’t my thing, and the family-oriented format of most TV doesn’t allow writers to tackle subject matter that’s interesting to me. It took until college to realize I hate the series format, in which one episode doesn’t lead to the next. I prefer the serial format wherein you can’t miss an episode without completely losing track of the show’s trajectory. Luckily TV has changed drastically in the last few years, seemingly to fit people like me!

There are exceptions to the sitcom rule, of course. I don’t mind watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and if “Scrubs” is on I won’t change the channel. “Roseanne” is one of the best written sitcoms out there, and I’ll fight you on it. Despite Roseanne Barr’s obnoxiously nasal voice, those were reasonable characters who lived a middle-class life and responded to situations the way, you know, real people would (I also related to Darlene the same way I related to MTV’s Daria). “Community” is hilarious (also, notably doesn’t feature a laugh track). Good writing + Danny Pudi + Joel McHale = a winner.

McHale and Pudi in “Community.”

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