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.
I imagine you'veheard by now that last week's fifth season premiere of 30 Rock contained a rape joke. The particular scene people are talking about is one in which Pete (Scott Adsit) is telling Liz about how relaxed he's become since Jenna (Jane Krakowski) became a producer: "This morning I made love to my wife. And she was still asleep, so I didn't have to be gentle." We are provided with a visual. Quoth Liz: "That is one of the most upsetting things I have ever imagined." Pete: "Oh yeah?" And we get another visual.
Let's get one thing out of the way: whatever this little moment was, it was certainly about a "rape." I wish this went without saying, but of course if you click on some of the links in this post you will find people (usually male people) in comments sections saying hey, butt out, this is what happens in long-term marriages all the time! I didn't realize it was such a turn-on to have sex with people who are literally unconscious but apparently some people are into that. In any event, sad to say, like many rapists who don't think they are rapists because they are really very nice people and pay their taxes and have never lurked in dark alleyways in major urban areas, the salient question in any analysis of whether rape has occurred is whether or not your partner has consented to sex. Unconscious people can't consent because they are unconscious. Tautological, I know, but there you have it. So, hence, rape.
Welcome to Grand Rounds: Dissecting Grey's Anatomy, a roundtable on Grey's Anatomy featuring Snarky's Machine, Tasha Fierce, Everett Maroon, Redlami, and s.e. smith. This week's Grand Rounds is hosted by Snarky's Machine, so, without further ado, let's begin!
When I last wrote about Mad Men two weeks ago I mentioned the affinity I had for Peggy, and a commenter noted that they'd never really understood Peggy's appeal, that she seemed entitled to them, and "embodies the kind of "feminism" that places the needs of white, cisgendered, straight, able bodied women at the center of the universe." As if on cue, this week Mad Men provided an episode in which proto-feminist Peggy is invited to comment directly on the civil rights movement and what she said was jarring.
Set up at a bar by her new friend Joyce (Zosia Mamet—yep, of those Mamets, hence the flat affect), Peggy got thrown for a loop when young (white) radical Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) decided to start lecturing her about the moral compromises of her career path. Pointing out that one of her clients was currently under a boycott for refusing to hire African Americans, Abe made fun of her work. "Civil rights isn't a situation to be fixed with some PR campaign," he said, snottily. Thus backed into a corner, Peggy noted, somewhat non sequitur-ishly, that she, as a woman, cannot do many of the things African Americans are also barred from doing. And then comes
the kicker. When Abe notes (incorrectly, both historically and in the show's own context) that there are no African American copywriters, Peggy says: "I'm sure they could have fought their way in like I did; believe me, nobody wanted me there." Abe snorts: "Alright Peggy, we'll have a, uh, civil rights march for women." Peggy picks up her purse.
Boardwalk Empire, the new HBO series from a Sopranos alum that is probably best known to you for trumpeting its association with Martin Scorcese all around town, premiered Sunday night. I expect that the jury is going to be out in this show for some time. That's at least true for me. I've learned, through hard experience, not to judge these high-end cable shows based on their first hour. These things are slow burns, not forest fires; I actually can't think of too many of them that managed to get all their cards on the table in the premiere. When you have eleven or twelve hours to go, you usually lose much of the first episode to setup.
The show is set in 1920s Atlantic City, New Jersey, and centers around the life of Enoch "Nucky" Johnson (Steve Buscemi), a casino-owner gangster type. (The character is allegedly based on a real-life figure.) Prohibition is newly begun, and Nucky's already playing politics with the local women's temperance union, where he meets Margaret (Kelly Macdonald), a pregnant Irishwoman trapped in a bad marriage from which it seems inevitable that Nucky will liberate her. Meanwhile, his second-in-command, Jimmy (Michael Pitt), changed by the front lines of the Great War, is growing impatient with his income level and social status, and is eager to get scamming and killing, much to the comparatively laid-back Nucky's dismay. Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service is beginning to watch the gangster activity in AC more closely, with Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) at the helm.
As even that preliminary list of actors should indicate, no expense has been spared as to casting the show, which is chock full of faces you'll recognize from other series, including Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire's quixotic Omar) and even Molly Parker (Deadwood's Alma Garret) in a framed photograph of Nucky's "dead" wife. The look of the show, though beautiful, is a little clean for the subject matter, all bright eyes and scrubbed faces and red lipstick, without a trace of grime or dirt. Even the eruptions of flesh and blood from the show's many gangster shootouts are clinical and clean in a way. That's probably just the Scorcese influence. And perhaps I've become too used to the sepia, nouveau-grime aesthetic of most of HBO's other period pieces like Carnivale and Deadwood.
I... don't really understand the fuss about True Blood.
I understand that the show employs very attractive people, and that those people have very attractive sex quite often. I also understand that it involves stories about vampires and werewolves, which increasingly seems to be the only growth industry left in the American economy. I also understand that we are going through a time in the culture where escapism is an increasingly attractive alternative to everyday life. I further have not read the books that form the basis for the show; I admit they may be better than the televised version.
But this is a show which features dialogue that is George-Lucas levels of terrible, horrible, no-good and very bad, delivered by actors whose amusement with the campy material they are being offered appears to have been exhausted by the time they've appeared in more than three episodes.