Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

November Culture Haul

Friday, November 10th, 2017

A few Highly Recommendeds for your holiday season enjoyment:

1) Vacationland, by John Hodgman. I’ve always had more of a wish to connect with Hodgman’s work than an ability to, much to my own consternation. But now that he’s written a memoir, we’re in business! I found this book so tonally winning—not just hilarious (though definitely that) but also warmly convivial. His persona is self-deprecating without being self-hating, and rather than confining himself to the priggish, sterile caricature he has such a talent for inhabiting (I mean that as a compliment) (and I’m thinking of his podcast), he allows room for tenderness and love. The result is far more nuanced, rounded, and emotionally connected than anything else I’ve seen him do, and I loved every minute of it.

2) American Vandal on Netflix. Over at Pop Culture Happy Hour, a podcast I can never recommend enough, Linda Holmes has a name for this genre of media: “a parody of the thing that is also the thing.” In this case, it’s a (fake, invented) true-crime documentary that masterfully reproduces every convention of the genre, from the shaded edges of black-and-white stills running in succession under the opening credits to the Cello Strums of Doom on the soundtrack.

The central joke (and there are so many adjacent ones) is that the crime in question is the vandalism of 27 cars in the teacher’s parking lot at a high school, each of which has been emblazoned with a giant, red, spray-painted penis. “WHO DID THE DICKS?” is a running phrase, taken very seriously. And yet the series is not a farce; the stakes are high for the kid who’s been accused. It’s possible, and immensely enjoyable, to watch this thing on both levels at once, tracking the minutely observed parody and the impeccably crafted mystery plot at the same time.

3) Transparent. Can the fourth season of a groundbreaking show be as surprising, carefully wrought, and humanely rendered as the first? If you’re Transparent, it can be—and maybe even more so. I can’t remember another show that so ably moved its characters and its themes forward in seasons beyond the second or third; even Mad Men would retread the same tracks, albeit beautifully.

In this season, the Pfeffermans travel to Israel, which is one of those I’d-never-have-thought-of-that-but-it’s-perfect plot moves, opening up almost infinite possibilities while making explicit what is a fundamental conflict for so many American Jews—i.e., “What is my relationship to the state of Israel?” Of course, the Pfeffermans are nothing if not narcissistic; their internal voices are loud enough to drown out almost anything coming at them from the outside. But it’s fascinating to watch what comes up for them, what they do and don’t see, and how they are with each other when they’re not in L.A. Not to mention the light! Oh, that gorgeous Mediterranean light!

The Gifts of Art: May Edition

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Of all the things I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching, here’s what moved me the most in the past month:

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Is there anyone more charming than W. Kamau Bell? Reading this book feels like sitting down with somebody who is not only smart and hilarious and feeling but kind and forgiving and connected*. I’d listen to what he has to say on any topic at all. Fortunately, there are many ways to do that, including multiple podcasts and one-offs and interviews. For what it’s worth, though, this book is my favorite iteration of Bell yet. It feels so eminently him.

*There’s an asterisk here, because Bell has said on more than one occasion (and he says in the book) that his amicability is in some ways an appeasement/apology for the fact that he’s a tall black guy. He’s trying to connect across race lines, and he’s excellent at that, and/but there’s a calculation in it that’s a response to racism, and that makes me wonder which parts of him we’re missing out on. I am in no way blaming him for using a tool that’s working. I’m sad for him and pissed at the world that he has to.

Manchester By the SeaEver since You Can Count on Me, which remains one of my favorite movies of all time, I’ve been in the tank for Kenneth Lonergan. I’d have been first in line to see Manchester in the theaters if it hadn’t been two hours long (back pain); I’ve been waiting for a streaming option, and it’s here; John and I watched as soon as we could. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. The layering on of the backstory is masterful. The emotional build is earned and real. The payoffs are quiet and delicate and spot-on. It’s all exactly as you would want it to be without having been able to imagine it until you’re seeing it. It was, in short, the best movie I’ve seen in an age—and contrary to what people said about its capacious sadness, I felt uplifted by it. It is undeniably sad, but it’s sad in a way that breaks you open, if you let it. And that, as we know, is when the light streams in.

Master of None, Season 2I know, I know, everybody loves it, but THAT IS BECAUSE IT IS BEAUTIFUL. In particular, the episodes “New York: I Love You” and “Thanksgiving” are ebullient and loving portraits of regular people of color having regular life experiences, with an undercurrent of compassion and Ansarian joy in the world. In fact, the whole season is infused with Ansari’s joy and wonder at living, from his adorable celebratory chants with Arnold (“Eating in Italy is my favorite thing!”) to the gorgeous wide shots of Italian and American exteriors (and interiors: heads up, Brooklyn Museum!), to the deliciously lugubrious music, to his pleasure at simple memes (“Allora”). And while some people seem disappointed or frustrated with the love story, I think Ansari, Yang, and team actually do a remarkable job at portraying a very specific and understandable and relatable kind of excruciation. I wish that the love interest hadn’t been yet another white woman (the season is otherwise solid at presenting women of color in romantic roles), but they were in Italy, so there is some justification for it.

I Am Not Your Negro: From end to end, this film is a scorching fire of righteousness, and it’s smarter and more beautiful and more gutting and decimating and enraging than anything I can possibly say about it, except just go see it and feel it and take it in. And then, perhaps, do some kind of thing that will inch us forward in some kind of way, especially in this era of rekindled white supremacy. They’re shouting things they used to whisper, and we need to step up and SURJ.

April Books and Movie

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Four “highly recommendeds” for your springtime enjoyment (and dismay):

1.  Ghettoside, Jill Leovy. Gripping account not only of a particular murder and subsequent investigation in L.A. in 2007 but of a policing and criminal justice system that is deeply failing black people and especially black men. One of the big surprises of the book is the idea that poor communities of color are vastly underpoliced, not overpoliced; in South Central L.A. as in any community of any ethnicity in any country, underpolicing  creates a gap of lawless instability that gets filled in by a street code. Fascinating and horrifying.

2. Zadie Smith, Swing Time. Really engrossing novel that contains layers of racial, social, and psychological complexity in a story that never stops being fascinating. I love that we stay with one (unnamed) narrator throughout the novel. I love that the novel is more or less her internal monologue, tracing the various in ways in which her awareness dawns over time. I love that things keep turning slightly on their axes, so our perspective shifts and the view changes, and I love that the story has stayed with me.

3. O.J.: Made in America. Hoo-boy. Harrowing and haunting and humane. Despite its length, there’s plenty that got left out — a discussion of football-related traumatic brain injury, a more general look at domestic violence (the specifics of O.J’s violence against Nicole Brown are documented) — but what’s there is incredibly important and, to me, brought layers of contextual understanding to a story that I failed to grasp at the time. Had I not been watching with John (which slowed things down, given his limited tolerance for crime-related anything), I’d have binged it in one or two sittings and walked away in a daze of dark horror and grief.

4. Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing. Incredibly smart, palpably felt, hilarious, and exceptionally perceptive personal essays on topics like friendship and politics and love, all of it examined with so much honesty and originality and integrity that I felt I was constantly waking up to things I might have known but had never named. In other words, it was a richly satisfying experience, and I was sorry it had to end. More, Tim Kreider, more! (Apparently, he cartooned relatively feverishly re: politics in the Bush era but hasn’t published much else by way of the personal essay. There’s a new book coming out in 2018, from its title I’m going to assume we’re staying with the less political and more personal.)

September Culture Update

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

As loyal readers may recall, I have a saying about this time of year: “When it’s September, it’s December.” In past seasons, I’ve enjoyed the rapid free-fall into the holidays, but this year I’m experiencing some freak-out. There’s a lot I’d like to accomplish before the calendar turns over into another year. But honestly, rather than attempt to get it all done, I’m probably going to have to breathe into some lower expectations. Sanity matters! As does my physical health.

Meanwhile, a culture update:

1) American-Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang. Delightful, surprising, funny, and smart graphic memoir about the author’s experiences as the only Chinese-American in his school—what it felt like, how he coped, and what happened when he attempted to date. His story is braided together with the ancient Chinese fable of the Monkey-King, which is not only beautifully (and hilariously) rendered but which pays off in unpredictable ways. I found the book perfectly composed, both at the level of the frame and the level of the story. Highly recommended.

2) Season 3 of BoJack Horseman, Netflix. A look at Wikipedia reveals that I am not alone in my assessment of this show. I set the first season down after a couple of episodes and didn’t bother to check out Season 2. But when someone I trusted recommended the third season, I gave it a shot, and I could not stop watching—and exclaiming wonder. It’s not just smarter and funnier; it’s deeper. BoJack is now just as likable as he is lost; his relationships matter, and so does the arc of every other character (even/especially Sarah Lynn). Plus, the storytelling has become wildly innovative, with techniques I’d never seen before (but instantly understood). No opportunity has been overlooked; every moment is densely packed with gifts from the writers. LOVED it.

3) A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry. Another rec from people I respect, and I agree that it’s fantastic and important; I learned a tremendous, crushing amount about India during the Emergency years. But I could barely tolerate it. As I wrote to a friend, the quotient of brutality and injustice essentially broke me, such that I felt my heart closing (and my eyes squinting). The title refers to life’s supposed balance between what is intolerable and what is beautiful, and to me, this book lands heavily in the intolerable camp. Still, I can’t blame a book for an honest portrayal. And the beauty is there. One of my mothers-in-law told me that she found A Fine Balance especially memorable; she read it many years ago and still thinks of it.

4) Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Charming, hilarious, heartfelt story of a foster kid and his antisocial foster father, on the lam in the New Zealand bush. Watch the trailer; it’s everything you imagine it will be, and then some. Emotionally rewarding. Muchos tears. A good movie to see with the hubband, if your husband loves wilderness, feelings, kindness, and teenagers.

Happy December!

Every *Gilmore Girls* Plot Ever

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

I’ve almost finished the entire series! Sure, I’d put my FF rate at 70%, but the gist, people. I’m getting the gist. For example:

Lorelai or Rory: This thing happened, but I’m not going to tell [current boyfriend].

L or R: You should tell him.

L or R: It’s not a big deal. It’s fine if I don’t tell him.

L or R: It actually is a big deal. You should tell him.

L or R: No, it’s not a good time. I’ll tell him later.

L or R: Sooner would be good.

L or R: I need to find the right time.

L or R: I would tell him.

L or R: And I have to figure out the right words.

L or R: Or you could just tell him.

L or R: I promise you, I’ll tell him.

L or R: [Sigh.] Okay, whatever you think is best.


Boyfriend: HOW COULD YOU NOT TELL ME?!?!?!

Other person: Somebody’s pregnant, and abortion does not exist! There are babies! Babies babies babies!

The Perks of Being a Bedflower

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

I wasn’t planning to spend the bulk of two weeks in bed, no matter how many times I’ve fantasized about it (flashback to 12-year-old me, huddled over a science test, realizing with sudden and self-knowing rue that if only I’d had control over my own life, my first choice for time-spending would involve bed and a book), but hey, my spine does things. And this time, it decided to go on a major strike. Not a petty little Day Without a Melissa. Nope: This was a full-on, massively coordinated, all-points-bulletin French transit strike. Nobody was going anywhere. For weeks.

I made the best of it. And by best, I mean I read books and watched shows. Here’s what rose to the top:

1) Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. I love the way Brownstein writes—and thinks; i.e., with a smart and sensitive specificity of voice, of herness. I love that this book is so much about how hard it is to tour, as opposed to the glamour that we all project onto entertainment. I love how vital and vivid and evolving her relationship to music is, what it means to her, what she gives to and gets from it. I love what she says about fans’ needs (that they’re bottomless) and how she has to protect herself from them. I love how honest she is about her difficulty in relationships; she refers achingly to romances she wishes had lasted, admitting, in some cases, that she doesn’t understand why they didn’t. Brownstein writes with a plain rawness that doesn’t apologize or pander. It might be defense, but it comes across as power.

2) Lindy West, Shrill. And here’s an entirely different way to be powerful as a woman: big, proud, and loud. This is an absolutely fantastic book, a gorgeous and hilarious and enraging and fiery manifesto by someone who is really killing it as a woman and a person in the world. I can’t recommend it highly enough, for everyone everywhere doing anything. I’m immensely grateful to West for having the guts and the willingness and the strength to keep advocating for human decency (also known as feminism) despite the ceaseless stream of hate that’s directed at her. She’s brilliant and glorious and should be elected not merely president but also queen.

3) Transparent, Season 2. I was an enthusiastic fan of Season 1, but 2? OMG OMG OMG. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the topic of Jewish trauma, and more specifically what Eckhart Tolle refers to as the pain body—as I understand it, the trauma that is passed down through a people over generations—explored so overtly on the screen. And it’s executed so incredibly beautifully, so feelingly, that it’s electrifying. Half the time, I couldn’t believe what I was watching: how smart it was, how careful, how knowing, how deep. Jill Soloway is showing us things we’ve never seen before but that we instantly recognize; another word for that is naming. And she’s doing it with tremendous compassion as well as aesthetic integrity.

4) And . . . um . . . Gilmore girls [sic]? I obviously feel guilty about this, given its Height of Twee, plus the fact that every single character—except, notably, Emily (and Dean, but he has no traits!) (and Jess, but he doesn’t speak!)—speaks in Lorelai. They even put patter into Luke’s mouth, which snips the strings of my suspended disbelief every time. The fast-forward function is important with this show, because there’s an awful lot of filler.

That said, there’s plenty of beauty, too, in the form of strong dramatic moments between mother and daughter that feel loaded and messy in all the right ways. The central premise of Lorelai/Rory/Emily is incredibly rich, such that even in the fifth season, there’s new stuff to mine (although again, retreading is rampant; hence the FF). As a binge-watcher I’ve also noticed the show’s crypto-Jewish sensibility, which is something that escaped me way back in the early oughts, when I would now and again catch an episode on actual television (but would always stop watching b/c of the twee).

One thing I wish: Why can’t they give Rory a boyfriend who’s worthy of her? Lorelai gets them. I understand that the show needs conflict, but I’d be happier if the conflict came from a more authentic place, as opposed to “Dean is a townie with no personality,” “Jess is a bad boy who at all costs remains mute,” and now, ugh, we’re on the path to getting “Logan is an entitled asshole who isn’t even remotely attractive, so WHY WHY WHY?” We’ll see whether I make it into Seasons 6 and 7, about which I have heard depressing things.

Another thing I wish: Less racism. (None, actually, would be my preference.) It’s not just the lack of diversity but where they place the characters of color. I just watched, in horror, as Rory “returned” the African-American chauffeur to Logan, saying, “I fed Frank.” Because Frank is both property to be returned to his rightful owner and an animal that needs to be fed. (Never mind that Frank was with Rory for nearly 24 hours and would have needed more than one meal, not to mention a place to sleep, not to mention relief from a legally appropriate 8-hour-shift.) HOW did the people producing this show miss THAT one?

The Great British Baking Show: Pure, Sweet Love

Friday, October 16th, 2015

It’s mid-October, and I’m only now getting to my monthly entry. Yes, my work situation amounts to a non-stop effort to stem the tide (about which: It’s surprising how much energy it takes to always be saying no), but also, I’ve been wanting to write in praise of something, and my culture consumption in the last couple of weeks hadn’t offered much by way of yay.

Until: The Great British Baking Show came to Netflix! This confection, as has been pointed out by countless others, is sheer delight—from the bucolic (and gorgeously manicured) country setting with its adorable splices of baby farm animals (not technically on the grounds, as far as I can tell; hence sheer pandering to the likes of moi) to the perfectly balanced palate of pastels (all the way up to the KitchenAid mixers!) to the nigh-Shakespearean doofus-clowning of the co-hosts (one of whose pants are always falling down, which nobody seems to bother about) to the sweetly humble and collaborative spirit of the participants, who won’t say a single bad word about anyone else. This thing goes down as smoothly and deliciously as chocolate tofu pie.

One of the many things I am always lamenting about even quality reality television (which as a competitive person I am predisposed to like) is producers’ seeming inability to understand that it’s fun to watch nice people get along. Even on Top Chef, which I appreciate for its seriousness about food and for the real talent it cultivates and promotes, there is almost always a villain or two, and in the talking heads you get the impression that the contestants are being goaded to trash-talk their peers.

In TGBBS, there’s a spirit of camaraderie and appreciation that feels like a giant gulp of fresh air into which we can at long last relax. It’s surprising, too—especially given my personal taste for psychology—how good it feels not to know much about anyone’s personal life. The point is baking, and baking is what happens.

(I’m sure it’s very relevant that the show is filmed on weekends; the contestants go home—and sleep, and practice—during the week. So they’re not suffering from the devastating cumulative of effects of several ceaseless weeks of intense competition, a la the folks on Top Chef.)

I love, too, that the challenges seems to include enough time to get good work done. They’re short enough to pressure the contestants to work efficiently, but they’re not so insane as to prevent success (Project Runway, which I stopped watching many years ago now, suffers from this problem). I’m also hugely fond of the technical challenge, which has all the contestants doing exactly the same (difficult) thing: It’s not only a brilliant way to get an apples-to-apples comparison of what the contestants can do; it’s also a satisfying mystery (or at least, an exercise in dramatic irony), since the contestants usually haven’t even seen a finished version of what they’re making and therefore aren’t at all sure what it’s supposed to end up looking like. Fun.

All of which amounts to: This show is immensely soothing to the nervous system. And John will watch it with me! Because it’s sweet and not back-bitey! Double yay!

Happy weekend, everyone!

Gots Me Some Opinions

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
Media Consumer

Media Consumer

Books (lots!) have been read. Movies (plenty!) have been seen. Television shows (Transparent! Is absolutely as fantastic as everyone has said!) have been watched, albeit belatedly. But here is what I want to talk about: the supposedly feminist arguments against Trainwreck*.

I keep hearing/reading people say that Trainwreck is a non-/anti-feminist copout, because instead of allowing the Amy character to live a happily single life, it pairs her with a man in a heteronormative relationship, invalidating her previous choices in the process. And . . . argh. I feel frustrated by this view.

Because Trainwreck isn’t a about a woman who wants to be single (totally valid life choice, I hope it goes without saying but will say anyway) or who wants to be partnered but doesn’t meet anyone worth partnering with. In either of those cases (great example of the latter: Whip It), sure, any film with integrity, let alone a feminist consciousness, would leave its protagonist single at the end. Trainwreck, au contraire, is about a woman who does want to be partnered but is terrified of intimacy. That’s a real thing. And it’s not feminist or anti-feminist; it’s just psychology.

At the beginning of the movie, it may seem as though Amy is living a liberated life, and to some extent, she is; she has sex casually with any number of partners without feeling bad about it. I’m glad to live in a (part of the) world where that’s possible (for some women), but it doesn’t mean that every woman wants that, or should want it to be considered a feminist. In fact, I think it’s fairly evident from the git-go that Amy is terrified of real connection—as opposed to, say, having sampled both real connection and emotion-free sex and chosen the sex.

But even if you see her character as initially having made the conscious lifestyle choice of non-attachment, that point of view is soon dismantled—and dismantled a good while before Amy spells it out for her sister by saying something along the lines of, “I made fun of your marriage because marriage is something I thought I could never have.” Because by the time Aaron (Bill Hader) comes along, the movie makes it abundantly clear that Amy likes him and wants to be with him. What’s in her way is not a desire to be single and keep sexin’ it up with people she’s too drunk to remember**; it’s a terror of being truly coupled.

It’s not anti-feminist to want authentic emotional connection with a man—especially a kind-to-the-core, egalitarian guy like Aaron, who cares about Amy’s feelings and wants to support her***. It may be feminist to prefer being single over an unhappy partnership with a man . . . but I don’t know about even that. Because isn’t feminism simply about gender equality? And doesn’t that mean that we want all the same rights and privileges that men have? And isn’t one of those privileges making our own decisions about our romantic lives, whatever those decisions are?

If you want to have random sex forever, yay! If you want to be monogamously coupled, yay! If you want to stay in a bad relationship with a woman because of the kids, yay! (I mean, ouch, painful, but yay!) You can do whatever, because those decisions are yours. Feminism does not exclude monogamous heterosexual relationships anymore than it excludes polyamorous lesbian relationships.

*I do agree that there are problems with the portrayals of people of color in the movie; here’s a good place to start for more on that.

**I may have betrayed a slight personal bias here.

***Here are my feelings about Aaron: He is perfect.




I’m Not Technically Here, But . . .

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

I’ve decreed April as my (much-delayed and long-awaited) sabbatical*, so I’m trying to avoid le computer wherever possible. However, I wanted to slap a few recent recs up here before I abandon ye all until May.

(Lovely woman we met at the hot springs: “One month is a vacation. Six months is a sabbatical.” CORRECT. But I’ll take what I can get.)


1) So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson. I love Ronson for so many reasons—hilarity, humility, neurotics (neuroticism, heh)—but most of all for his vulnerability. In this book, he’s everything that’s great about himself, and the topic is riveting. And important. And sad. Highly recommended.

2) I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One on TV, Maz Jobrani. Similar type of rec here—i.e., a smart, funny guy doing his smart, funny thing—although this is lighter fare, a comedic memoir by a very lovable comedian.

3) No Land’s Man, Aasif Mandvi. A light, quick tour through some of Mandvi’s stepping stones to Daily Show stardom. Fun, basically.


1) Am I the last one to the party re: Garfunkel and Oates? Probably. Anyway, they’re fresh and funny and surprising and adorable.

2) And the very most highly recommended of all . . . Season 4 of Louie, now available on Netflix. I’ve never been so tempted to write a fan letter, because this stuff is pure, gobsmacking genius. In fact, I’d say that it’s movie-making auteurship at its finest. There are three separate plot lines that run multiple episodes, and they’re all very, very great, but my most favorite is the 64-minute Into the Woods, in which C.K. juxtaposes present events with flashbacks in an unbelievably potent and breathtaking way. And the flashbacks! Are gorgeous and excruciating and meticulously directed and marvelously acted! Which is all the more astonishing because the actors are very young—twelve or thirteen, I think? JEZOO, this stuff. I mean. I am in awe. And I am struck by C.K.’s generosity, that he’s spending this genius on a TV show and not making movies out of it. Maybe it’s just easier, because it’s already in place—the funding, the crew, etc.? I dunno. Somebody should give him a heap-ton of money to make a movie.


New show at the Berkeley Rep! Immensely powerful and alive. First thing I’ve seen by the young uberstar Tarell Alvin McCraney, and I am most definitively on board.


You know how I’ve been brushing up on languages via iPad app? Welp, I recently discovered that when I successfully complete each level, I earn “lingots,” i.e., in-app currency to purchase more lessons. Initially, this was an excellent discovery, and I spent my lingots on a lesson about idioms. But very quickly, I began to focus on amassing as many lingots as possible without spending them. Because I am like that. And . . . oy.

A few points for clarification. First, this entire app is free. I am receiving great benefit without paying for a single thing. There isn’t even advertising! Second, these lingots are not viable currency anywhere but within the app. Saving them up does me no actual good. If the apocalypse comes, I will not be rewarded by having saved them; I will not suddenly be able to purchase more zombie-fighting technology (or sun screen, whatever) for having them. The only thing I can buy is more language lessons.

Nevertheless, I am ever so acutely aware that if and when I spend my lingots, I will have no more lingots. (Unless I earn more. Which takes a long time. But which I will probably end up doing merely by virtue of continuing to use the app.)

Recent interaction between me and John:

Me: [Sigh.] I wish I lived in a world where lingots didn’t matter.

J: [Silence, thinking.]

Me: Don’t say I already do.

J: [Silence, sweet grin.]

Me: Next topic!

Happy April, everyone!

The Problem with Jim and Pam

Monday, August 4th, 2014

So, I’ve been doing some time on ye olde elliptical machine, having moved said machine from the backyard, where it languished in the weather, to my office, where it is 5 feet to my left. And where I get on it, 2-3 times a day, almost every day. That’s a lot of time to spend going nowhere, and I require entertainment, so I’ve been rewatching the U.S. version of The Office. I’m finally near the end of season 6, which is the last full season I was able to watch; in season 7 the writing fell apart.

(Not that I blame the writers/producers in the slightest! After 140ish episodes of excellent television, with many hilarious and brilliant moments, they are allowed to have run out of ideas! Which they did!)

At any rate. For me the single most appealing thing about the show, which is maybe a bit of a heresy considering just how much intelligence and energy went into finding and honing (and honing and honing) its comedic groove, is the relationship between Jim and Pam. Why? Because it’s a love story that pays attention to how people feel, and act, in real life. It’s a very subtly written (and acted, whoo-boy) story of incrementally growing affection between two sweet people who represent pretty much the only voices of sanity in a crazy place. (Oscar emerges as the other one. ONE.) And Jim and Pam’s relationship has real impediments (Pam’s engagement to Roy), so we keenly feel the ache of the thing very badly wanted that is also the thing that cannot be. That longing is delicious pain.

Jim is also, let’s face it, a kind of early 21st century ideal of guyness. Smart. Funny. Playful, but never an asshole—quite the opposite of an asshole, actually—even as he constantly contends with (and almost inevitably bests) Dwight. Laid back. Tall and boyishly handsome. Emotionally above almost everything. And never, ever vulnerable, except in his attraction to Pam. And, well, that’s what I want to talk about.

I love watching this relationship develop, in no small part because Jim is eminently charming. But I get that I’m hooked by something stereotypical and problematic in the way that men and women are portrayed in most media. And that’s this: Jim is basically the strong, silent type that has forever been the movies’ mark of manliness, only writ goofy. And Pam—well, Pam is just not that interesting. She’s sweet. She gets how awesome Jim is (but then, everyone in the office does). She plays with him, although mostly she plays along with him; she doesn’t invent many diversions of her own. And while the writers throw in a few attempts to make her seem like Jim’s intellectual equal, they don’t stick. Pam seems lovely, and kind, but not able to truly meet Jim where he lives. More and more this time around, I felt that she was merely an object for his adorably constructed affections.

Strong, largely silent man who is never vulnerable. Sweet, passive, fairly blank woman who needs rescuing. It’s kind of classic, right? In not a great way.

Meanwhile, there IS a lively female character who can go toe-to-toe with Jim in wisecracks and practical jokes, and that’s Karen. Of course, by the time the series introduces her, Jim is so in love with Pam, and we are so in love with his love of Pam, that we don’t want it to work between Jim and Karen. But they’re far better matched than he is with Pam, and it’s a more responsible look at what a relationship between a man and a woman can be.

Compare Jim and Pam, for example, to Ben and Leslie on Parks and Rec. Or maybe the better example (in terms of age and personality type) is Andy and April. Either way, we’re dealing with two people who are fully realized in their flaws and their strengths, neither of whom is the hero in the relationship and neither of whom is rescued.

All of which is to say, I can’t quite love the Jim-Pam thing as much as I used to. Sure, I cried at their wedding. I just also felt a little bad about it.