I'm probably alone on this one, but my secret obsession at the moment is NBC's completely milquetoast Parenthood, and I wish I could better explain why. The show is, of course, well-cast—I'd watch either Peter Krause or Lauren Graham pick their noses for an hour if it came to it—and has that patina of shiny Bay-Area bourgeois healthfulness, complete with artfully cluttered ranch houses and comfortable-looking, natural-fiber clothing and that "no-makeup" look. But dramatically there's very little about it I can recommend to you on a principled basis. It has basically no aspiration to any kind of social commentary whatsoever. (The show does make some gestures towards addressing disability—there is a child with Asperger's depicted on the show—but it is largely framed as how the parents coming to terms with the "tragedy" of having such a child.) But every Wednesday morning, it's the first thing I watch on my DVR lineup. It's soothing, somehow, like warm milk, bland and inoffensive, without challenge. In my overly cerebral, often quite stressful life, it doesn't demand much of me, and it's without the sort of shameful prurience one attaches to, say, certain guilty-pleasure reality shows.
I've been following the discussion about the representativeness of The Social Network, about whether it accurately depicts women and "toxic masculinity" in technology particularly—a conversation which, as I said last week, I've been sort of surprised we're even having. Such a jaded feminist have I become, I guess, since I'm now actively surprised when people actually care about how women are depicted in this culture, but I digress. Personally, I thought the movie was sufficiently infused with internal comment on the misogyny of its characters that I wasn't as upset as I might have been by it's flat depiction of femininity.
I'm hardly the first to observe this sort of thing, of course, but I am, lately, obsessed with this question of how you reconcile your politics to your art. Rather than wade into the discussion on The Social Network particularly, though, since I'm only supposed to be blogging about television here, let's just situate some of these issues in that context.
It's been an abnormally bad year for new shows—there are few I'm sticking with past one episode. But so far, I'm still watching No Ordinary Family, a little one-hour drama from ABC that will air its third episode tonight. The premise is fairly simple: distracted, over-committed modern nuclear family goes on family vacation. They get into a plane crash in the jungle, mingle with jet fuel, and voilà: superpowers. In other words, it's a sort of live-action version of The Incredibles. The show is pretty well cast—you'll recognize faces from Dexter, The Shield, and Weeds. (And, umm, Seventh Heaven, but I guess someone's trying to break away from typecasting so let's not rib him too much for that.) The dialogue is pedestrian, but not painfully so. In other words, it's not yet some kind of heir to Heroes or Lost—the pilot simply isn't as strong as either of those shows' was—but the rest could be.
This week on Grey's Anatomy, spiders and virgins and condoms, oh my! Find out what the Grand Rounds bloggers think about it after the jump, and sound off with your own thoughts. Here there be spoilers!
Regular readers of Bitch know by now that Glee, while addictive and entertaining (if you try and tell me you didn't make a heroic attempt at recreating the choreography from "Safety Dance" alone in your room, I'm going to straight up call you a liar), is imperfect. This week's episode, which tackled religious belief (or the lack thereof), was no different.
I spend a lot of time blogging complaints. Not enough women, too many but too insubstantial, why do they only talk to each other about men, etc., etc. This is a complaint commonly made about bloggers, and, hell, feminists, that they are too critical and don't ever seem to see any good in anything.
But today I've something positive for you. The other night I was watching the Colbert Report and a small, good thing happened. Colbert was interviewing Aaron Sorkin, who, if you've been living in media blackout for the last six weeks, has out a new movie about Facebook called The Social Network. The movie being essentially about a tech startup, not a form of human organization known for its devotion to vagina-ocracy, there aren't exactly strong female roles in it. This is not something I expect to be a common observation about the film, because at least as regards the gender of the main movers and shakers, the film is merely reporting the facts: they were men. So imagine my surprise when the one major issue Colbert stated about the movie was that its portrayal of women seemed flat. "The other ladies in the movie don't have as much to say because they're high or drunk or [beep]ing guys in the bathroom. Why are there no other women of any substance in the movie?" And then when Sorkin admits this is a fair question and terms the women "prizes," Colbert asks, "Are women at Harvard like that? I'm trying to figure out if I missed out on the college experience."
This week on Grey's Anatomy, lightning strikes a flag football team, Doctor Yang breaks down in the operating room, Callie and Arizona spar over paint, Dr. Bailey lays down the law with Dr. Karev, Meredith opens up in therapy, and so much more! Find out what the Grand Rounds bloggers think about it all after the jump.
In this week's episode of Modern Family, "The Kiss," Gloria dreams that her dead grandmother wants her to connect to her roots by preparing traditional foods, despite the fact that, just last episode, we saw Gloria cooking up a shit ton of empanadas. No matter, we need a plot device! And food is a logical choice.
A year ago, right after the start of Glee's first season, I complained in this space that the show was riddled with stereotypes. These days I haven't much better to say about the show, other than that, from my perspective the writing has gotten even lazier, which I didn't think was possible. This week's Britney Spears episode, for example, didn't even have a nominal plot, just a disconnected sequence of novocaine-induced hallucinations. Increasingly the show is just an excuse to connect musical interludes, and as people more learned in the field of music have remarked, the interludes are less and less good as time goes on. (I admit I loved the football version of "Single Ladies," but it's been a long time since the show did anything near that inventive.)
I'm hardly the only person who complains about Glee, of course. It seems to be something of a lightning rod for people's complaints, particularly about diversity in television. The reason for this is somewhat immediately obvious; Glee presents itself as being a show about misfits. It's taking up the banner for every kid who hates the social structure of their high school, whose clothes were mocked, who liked the wrong things (like music), or who were just, in the extraordinarily cruel way of teenage thinking, not the right kind of person, because they had a wheelchair, they were pregnant, they were black. For the people for whom any of these things were true, that's a narrative that's pretty close to your heart, and when people go to reproduce it in popular culture, to speak for what it felt like to be excluded and rejected—well, you feel a special ownership over that, I think. At least, I still do, though I'm now more than a decade away from that time in my life.
One of the weird things about writing about television these days is that very few people watch it "live" anymore, which is to say follow it from week to week while it airs. So if you haven't already seen it, allow me to suggest that you Netflix a 2005 HBO series called The Comeback. This was Lisa Kudrow's first post-Friends foray, and it only lasted a year—apparently HBO would rather forget that it existed altogether as it isn't even listed on their website.
The storyline of the series was very simple: Valerie Cherish (Kudrow) had one successful sitcom role in the 1990s, and is now, some years later trying to stage a comeback with a linked sitcom and reality show. The sitcom, called "Room and Bored," pairs Valerie with a cast of nubile twentysomethings whose older landlord and aunt she plays, including a young ingenue named Juna Millken (Malin Akerman), who Valerie immediately tries to mentor.
The "real" show, the one we watch, is a tad meta: It is presented as an extended version of the footage being taped for the reality show. This draws out a fragmented performance from Kudrow, who is usually playing a Valerie aware that she's performing Valerie for the reality show (someone's making some noise about performativity in my ear), but occasionally she slips, forgets what she's doing. And the Valerie that comes through in those moments is less smiley, less calculating—more desperate.