Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Treadmill Desk!

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Now that I have a treadmill in my office, I’m consuming so much media that I’ll never have time to review it all here. You’ll just have to imagine me walking multiple miles a day (6, usually, right now) and watching untold second-rate crap on Netflix.

(True, technically the treadmill desk is for walking and working simultaneously, but I’m still trying to master the wrist/hand situation, which is currently achy when I do that. So instead, I’m using the treadmill on work breaks.)

Actually, I think I’m managing fairly well to keep the bar from sinking too low on my Netflix consumption. For instance, I spent the first week watching Orange is the New Black, which as I’m sure you’ve heard by now is excellent. It began to lose me by the final few episodes, such that I wish it had been a self-contained single season, but I’m still grateful for how very surprisingly wonderful it was. I also watched Ordinary People for the first time in my life, which, wow. Definitely my first time sobbing on a treadmill.

(Not my first time crying on a treadmill, though. When I was mid-wedding prep, I used to stave away boredom at the gym by imagining what it would be like to go through the ceremony, and I would inevitably start crying. DO NOT JUDGE, HARD-HEARTED ROBOT-PERSON.)

One thing about Netflix streaming is that it has a lot of documentaries about kids competing in things. Or rather, it knows I like those documentaries and serves them up for me. Kind of a mixed blessing, since that type of plot often appeals to my lesser angels (overachieving striver), and I’m inevitably crestfallen when the people in the children’s world aren’t adequately helping them cope with pressure and loss.

Case in point: Brooklyn Castle. It’s essentially a classic of the genre, where kids at a public school in a low-income neighborhood achieve heart-warming success via their school’s chess team. And there’s clearly a lot happening in that program that’s great for the kids. But, at least from what I can see, the school’s staff don’t do much to support the kids emotionally. (And why would they? They’re not trained counselors. One of them doesn’t even seem to be a school teacher—just someone who’s great at chess.) So, that part is always hard to watch.

Just today I took in Stage Door, a documentary about the eponymous performing arts summer camp in the Catskills, and similar thing. Except in this case, I felt that the adults were more complicit in that they created a situation where 30 or so of the campers win status in an elite performing group and then castigated those same kids for acting like . . . elitists. Can’t have it both ways, folks. Or maybe you can, but you’ll actually need to lay some groundwork for what compassion and humility look like, instead of telling the kids that they’re the “cream of the crop” and the “special people who light the way for others” (or something to that effect). Sigh.

Nursery University is impossible not to watch, but I can’t recommend it. You already know all of it, I promise. (The target is just way too easy.)

And hey—I finally finished my reread of Anna Karenina. I lost a little faith in it somewhere in the (ginormous) middle, but by the end I was reconvinced of its excellence. (Yeah, I know I’m the first to get on that train.) In particular I noticed how indelible so many of the scenes are, including Kitty’s time in labor (the narration of Levin’s state of mind), Anna’s trip to the opera post-disgrace, and Anna’s descent into madness. Every turn of mood in Anna, Vronsky, and Alexei is so scrupulously catalogued that you never stop believing in any of it.

And so on. My brain is currently a veritable chatterbox of characters and plots. Good thing John likes to hear me rehash movies and books.

 

Highly Recommended: Newly Consumed Media

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Yeah, I worked over the long weekend, but I also did stuff. Like read. And watch things—sometimes even with others! (It’s a glamorous life I live.) And you know what? All good. All very, very good. Here’s the report of Highly Recommendeds:

1) Alice Munro’s latest. Munro pretty much never goes wrong, so. This is basically another Alice Munro book, quietly removing the breath from your chest. I’d already read most of the stories in The New Yorker, but it was wonderful to experience them again, since her work rewards a second (and third, etc.) read. Also, there’s a story kind of buried halfway through that is punch-to-the-gut shocking. How’s that for an enticement?

2) George Saunders’ latest. Similar situation to Munro in that 1) I’d already read most of them in the NYer but was very glad to read them again, and 2) Saunders does not, as a rule, go wrong. He also takes your breath away, but not quietly. He kind of ravages your breath. Expect to have no breath left at all. In a good way. I did think that the final story (which is also the titular story) was less successful than the others. Everything else: WOW WOW WOW EFFING WOW.

3) How To Survive a Plague. Intense, rousing, sad, inspiring, provocative documentary about the history of ACT UP and their extremely instrumental role in getting AIDS drugs developed, tested, and distributed. Still brooding about this one.

4) Enlightened, the HBO series. I am in the early stages of giddy love with this show, having snarfed it all down in the last week. HOLY FREAKING BLEEPFEST, Mike White is a brilliant writer. I am so totally gobsmacked by his ability to walk the line between compassion and ridicule, to show his protagonist having authentic spiritual experiences and then mocking her (ever-so-gently) for how she attempts to apply those experiences to her life and her job. Laura Dern is fantastic, the plotting is super-smart (and thrilling!), and EVEN THE VOICEOVER works. AND I HATE VOICEOVER. Mike White, I bow down. Low.

Looks like Junot Diaz’s latest is next on my read list and, again, having read much of it already (NYer), I expect it to do me right. These are good times for great art, peoples!

Say Yes To the Dress: A Love Story

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

11/5/12 ETA: The below applies only to the first 5 seasons of the New York edition of the show. I was recently exposed to a more recent episode of the Atlanta edition, and the insipid scripted interludes + intentional mugging for the camera have made it unwatchable. Sigh.

Yes, I have all of the usual objections to the wedding industry: e.g., that the cultural imperative to drop heaps of money on a single day of a person’s life is not doing anybody any favors, particularly since it puts all of the emphasis on a performance of togetherness instead of the reality of marriage, which is complex and requires not merely the unglamorous commitment to requirements of everyday life but also deep emotional work, yadda yadda yadda.

I’m a feminist, I live in the Bay Area, I question consumption, etc.

I’m also a sucker for weddings. Partly because, as a crafty person, I love to see what people do with printed matter, flowers, tables, and the like. (I won’t lie: The 16 months I spent hand-calligraphing every single save-the-date, invitation, and place card for my own wedding were some of the most enjoyable months of my life.) But mainly because it’s really, really fun to see two people make a huge and loving commitment in public. It makes me happy.

I also happen to be in love with one wedding-oriented TV show, and that show is Say Yes to the Dress. To clarify: I’m not really into the idea of everybody’s wearing a white dress (or even a dress at all) and having all of those dresses look more or less the same. But SYTTD isn’t really about dresses, or at least not per sé. SYTTD, like pretty much all reality television, is about psychology. It takes a heightened moment in a person’s life and trains the cameras on her to see what happens.

And what happens is almost invariably fascinating. Because the brides aren’t shopping alone. They’ve brought their  families and friends, and whether or not these people are able to support the bride is an open question. Sometimes they are, and it’s a weepy love-fest that I’m happy to indulge in. (Supportive families for the win!) Sometimes they don’t, and it’s an object lesson in conflicting needs: The mother who needs her daughter to look a certain way; the sister who needs to control what the bride does; the friend who’s bitter because she wasn’t chosen as a bridesmaid and then fouls the bride’s experience with her bitterness.

Yet even as it exposes underlying personal conflicts, SYTTD is not exploitative. Its approach is generally fair-minded and compassionate, not least because the ethos at Kleinfeld is one of respect for the women who enter the store. There’s an atmosphere both of celebration and of cheer-leading, in the sense that the salespeople (“consultants”) don’t want merely to sell the dresses (although they do, they do) but also to give each bride a joyful experience in which she feels adored and beautiful. And very frequently, that’s exactly what happens. So even when a bride’s family is ignoring her needs, or steamrolling her opinions, or trying to manipulate her into doing what they want, the salesperson is there to bolster her and encourage her to pay attention to her own voice. I love that.

I do have a bone to pick with the store itself. And that’s this: I don’t understand how Kleinfeld can expect a bride to select a dress when she’s shown only a few, in an appointment that lasts only an hour and a half. The premise is that the consultants know the stock far better than a bride ever could and that they have the expertise to choose what would look best on any given woman, given her “price point,” and to an extent I can understand that. But in a store with 1700 – 2000 dresses, I’d have to at least browse through the racks a while before I started trying anything on. And I’d also have to try more than a few on so that I felt I had a lay of the land. On the show, whenever a bride leaves the store without a dress, there’s a tendency to take on a tone of doom—as in, something has gone horribly wrong. Whereas: You know. She didn’t buy a dress.

What did I do for my own dress? Designed it, plus a long red coat, and had them both made. Here:

Me at Mah Wedding

Me at Mah Wedding

Dancin' in White

Dancin' in White

Of Late

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Breezing into the new week with a rapid-fire culture round-up:

  1. Sleepwalk with Me: The movie, not the TAL Moth excerpt, full-length one-man show, or the book (each of which I have heard/seen/read). I think the movie is the best manifestation of the story yet, in large part because it makes the relationship between Mike (Matt, in the movie) and Abby so real and heart-breaking. (And oh my God Lauren Ambrose’s wardrobe! Is gorgeous! Even to me! And I’m not that into clothes!) Everything feels more important and less joke-y, but it’s still hilarious. Very much worth seeing.
  2. Robot and Frank. Eh. A clever concept and an excellent performance by Frank Langella, but the script is flawed, particularly in its auxiliary characters (i.e., the children). And there’s a central logical mistake, too. Still, that robot is awfully sweet. Or “sweet.” Naturally, [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER] John cried when they wiped his memory. I loves me my tender, lovin’ man.
  3. Precious Little. The current Shotgun Players production. Like Sleepwalk, also very much worth seeing, and it closes on Sunday, so hurry on over. The tightly written script is very satisfying to untangle post-show. Prepare to deconstruct!
  4. Darkness Visible, by William Styron. Just beautiful. So compassionate and humane.
  5. Top Chef: Masters. Oh, how I love Top Chef in all of its iterations—well, except for Just Desserts, which is surprisingly uninspired. But anyway, I adore this franchise. And it’s the only television show that John-the-freakish-outlier will watch with me, which makes it especially delightful. Ask me about my Friday night! When John and I ate dinner in bed! While watching multiple episodes! And pausing every few minutes to discuss and predict! (Short version: Heaven.)

That’s it for Monday, folks.

Downton Abbey: Season 1

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Yeah, I gobbled it up in a few days. But YOU GUYS.

The phrase that kept coming up for me was “gilded codswallop.” Downton Abbey is a soap opera dressed as a period drama, with all of the deeply disappointing aesthetic defects that accompany the form: stilted dialogue, condescending overstatement, unjustified turns of plot, and supporting characters falling squarely (and boringly) on one side of a saintly/evil divide.

AURGH. Because it could have been so good with even a marginally better script.

Allow me to catalogue a few of my frustrations:

1) The idiocy of the Thomas/O’Brien cohort. It’s not just that they’re unrealistically evil, which they are, until O’Brien’s sudden attack of conscience in the finale. It’s that their multiple attempts to undermine Mr. Bates are repeatedly discovered and never punished. How can Carson even begin to imagine that Thomas’s accusations have anything in them, after the first go-round with the “stolen” box? It makes no sense.

2) Plus, a man with Carson’s moral rectitude would never keep on someone as foul as Thomas, who doesn’t have a single redeeming trait. Nothing issues from his mouth but poison.

3) Every single moment of Mary’s dalliance with the Turkish dude was cringe-worthy. It was telegraphed from the moment anybody mentioned a foreign visitor and nauseatingly overplayed with every lingering glance and swollen violin, killing all enjoyment for the viewer. I am not against a romance plot. What I am against is a romance-novel treatment of a romance plot. EW.

4) Elizabeth McGovern. I can’t stand her work in this role. It’s so limpid. And fake-feeling. And flat. Is the accent tripping her up? She’s playing an American who has lived in England for a long time, so it makes sense that she might have picked up some clipped consonants. But she isn’t consistent, so I don’t think it’s intentional. The other actors are giving her so much to work with—they’re fantastic, to a fault—and she’s dropping balls all over the place.

5) Pregnancy and miscarriage plot. I do not allow.

Of course, there are pleasures, too, which is why I kept watching:

1) Maggie Smith. They give her plenty of zingers, which are always delicious. But even when they wrangle her character into untenable positions (hard to imagine that she would ever accept Mary’s dalliance, or be able to discuss it, let alone forgive it) or put silly words in her mouth, she wrestles victory from the script. LOVE.

2) Anna and Mr. Bates. They’re both too angelic for belief, and I’m tiring of his über-ethical silent suffering, but . . . yeah, I love them. Even if the writers did force her to confess love for him too soon, and in a weirdly offhanded way. I like what they’ve done with that plot since. Season 2, do not break my heart.

3) Clothes. Hair. Hounds.

4) Mary and Matthew. The writers have almost made up for the Turkish Disaster by allowing this love plot to play out slowly and honestly, and it’s deeply gratifying to see Matthew call Mary on her superficiality. I imagine that in the very end, whenever that may be, these two will end up together; in the interim, the writers will keep busy manufacturing ways to keep them apart.

I haven’t seen Season 2, but a guess: They take Mary to Italy, and she gets briefly embroiled there, only to have to retreat back to Downton in mini-shame. Or horror. Just a guess. DO NOT ANSWER.

Mad Men + Girls: Two Shows to Love

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Welcome back, Mad Men! I love you all over again.

Last night’s episode (“Far Away Places”) was my favorite of the season, in all the ways I’ve always loved the show: tight script, taut drama, and dripping with emotional juice. Very impressed by three-way plot split, too, which drilled intensely into each story, one at a time, instead of cutting back and forth. SATISFYING.

I’m also struck by how willing the show is to let its characters go to dark places. It was excruciating to watch Don chase Megan around the apartment, but it felt inevitable: indeed, how have we not seen him do that before? A little less convincing was Peggy’s giving a random hand-job in a movie theater (eeergh), but I get that we’re seeing a Don-ified version of her, from which she may very well pull back, chastened. (I hope so, for the sake of believability. And because I love her.)

And have you noticed how ruthless the producers/writers are about cutting various characters out when they’re not needed? Witness Betty’s near-absence from the show this season, save for a single episode, and Jane’s apparent dismissal last night. The story rules. That’s got to be hard on the actors; I read an interview in which Bryan Batt (who played Sal Romano) wasn’t even properly told that his character would no longer appear on the show, which totally sucks, if it’s true. But it’s fantastic for the script.

In other news, my Lena Dunham love is blossoming in the glory of her new show, Girls. I was hugely fond of her movie, and the first two episodes of the series entirely live up to its promise: intensely smart, funny, rueful. Very much about The Suck that is the mid-twenties. And has awkward sex ever been portrayed so incrementally? I feel so grateful to Dunham for being willing to be seen in all her messy, unglamorous glory.

Also, if she’s doing this at 24, what’s she going to be doing at 40? Hope to be there for it, whatever it is.

Whither Thou Goest, *Mad Men*?

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

We’re two episodes into the new season of Mad Men, and I’m bemused. Is Matt Weiner intentionally going for flabby melodrama?

I don’t say that ironically. From what I’ve read, he’s most interested in generational change, and as we inch toward the 70s, I imagine that a looser, lighter, swingy-er style might suit the content. Plus, the series has been so tightly wound for so long, he may intentionally be taking things in a new direction. Which would be awesomely brave.

On the other hand, I don’t think he meant for me to giggle at the life-and-death Betty plot last week—when, for example, she bursts into her empty mausoleum/house calling Henry’s name above doomsday music. And I am definitely against the addition of music into any part of the action, as opposed to in the closing moments, to which it had always been confined.

I also wonder whether Mad Men is finally succumbing to shark-jumping, the sad fate of pretty much every TV drama—and it’s a wonder the show has held out so long. Doesn’t it feel like a soap opera, all of a sudden? It never used to feel like that.

I’d be happy if Mad Men returned to its previous state of impeccable tautness. I’d be equally pleased to see it master a new groove. But whatever it’s currently doing is confusing me.

Been a Long Time Gone

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Nelly, it’s been ages. And I have time only for dribbles:

1) I was fascinated by the NYT Magazine cover story on Sunday, about 18 girls in the same town struck by the same twitching/ticcing condition. I don’t want to ruin it for you (read it!), but the thing I am most struck by is the cultural resistance to acknowledging feelings and what that resistance can wreak. Especially since . . .

2) In preparation for the new season of Mad Men, I’ve been reading old recaps over at T.Lo, and they’re always going on about how different it was in the 60′s, when everybody had secrets and so many things simply couldn’t be spoken. True enough, and yet it seems that at least in one American town, the gestalt still refuses to acknowledge and support normal human suffering. And that doesn’t seem good for anyone.

3) There’s a quote in the NYT article that goes something like this: “It’s not psychological, it’s neurological.” Setting aside the fact that no disease should be shameful either way, I thought to myself, “And . . . how are those different?” Our feelings live in our nervous system, right? Same-same? People hate to be told that “It’s all in your head.” But isn’t everything we experience, pretty much, in our heads?

4) The rains have come. Late and probably far too few, but we need them, and I’m happy for all the dry-mouthed living beings in Northern California. On the other hand, we have a leaking skylight. 7 years ago when we moved into our previous house, John redid the roof and put in beautiful, non-leaking skylights. 3 months ago we moved into this house, which needs a new roof and has an old, leaking skylight. Alas.

5) Speaking of husbands: We’ve been together 10 years! Not married for that long, but together. Our anniversary was in January, but we’re just now able to celebrate. Next week we head to Wilbur Hot Springs for 5 days of what we hope will be pure ease and comfort—baths, naps, food, walks, and back to the baths. Yum.

6) Said husband is also having a birthday (Thursday! Send him lovies!), and it’s a sign of the times that I didn’t order his presents until today. By which I mean, a) home renovation and b) 10 years. I think at a certain point, material presents lose most of their importance or even interest, and the daily loving connection overshadows any other kind of gesture you can make. Even “I love you,” which is always worth saying (and hearing), can’t hold a candle to the living evidence of that love. Or so I’m thinking today.

80s Culture Roundup + Holiday Goodbye

Monday, December 12th, 2011

We bought a house. And we are renovating that house. And moving in on Thursday. And getting on a plane for New Hampshire on Sunday.

Short version: Crayfish.

Longer version: No time to blog, or to do much of anything that isn’t work- or house-related.

However, I’m finally taking a moment to say hello and goodbye.

HELLO

I’ve been reading Wendy Wasserstein. First the early plays (Uncommon Women and Others, Isn’t It Romantic?, and The Heidi Chronicles), then a later play (The Sisters Rosensweig), and now Shiska Goddess, a collection of essays.

It’s been interesting to see her work develop. Uncommon Women isn’t really a play so much as a collection of not-terribly-well-written scenes, and Isn’t It Romantic? also feels young and awkward and somewhat slight. But by the time she gets to The Heidi Chronicles, Wasserstein has learned a lot about dialogue and structure.

And yet . . . I don’t know. I don’t love her work. I suppose I have the complaint I have about most things in life, which is that it isn’t deep enough for me. The Sisters Rosensweig does dig a little, and there are real moments of pathos in that play, which thus far is my favorite. But the sitcom feeling just doesn’t leave me.

One thing I am very struck by is the gigantic chasm between Wasserstein’s generation, in which the university experience included what amounted to hostessing classes and women were still fighting for the legitimacy of having a non-mothering career, and mine, in which there was absolutely never a question.

HELLO AGAIN

I’ve also been watching the first season of thirtysomething, which I devoured at 15, when it first aired. I’m amused to see how relevant it both is and isn’t, and how so much of what it helped introduce to television—whitey angst, banter, the “group of friends” thing—is still there.

I’m also pretty shocked to see how every episode is about the exact same thing, which is how hard it is to work and/or parent. I don’t begrudge them their struggles, and I even share some of them. But my, how they pratter on.

I’m glad to see that by episodes 5 and 6, we’re moving away from Michael and Hope and into Melissa and Ellen, whose struggles are at least a little different. At the same time, the writing is getting stronger, not so mannered and awkward.

GOODBYE

And, this’ll be all until, I imagine, somewhere in mid-January, when we’re back and I’m unpacked enough to dedicate time to whispering into the void. Also known as blogging.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Breaking Up with Breaking Bad

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Not that we had any kind of real relationship.

I watched the first three episodes. Actually, I watched the first, braved most of the second, and skimmed the third, with the aid of FF.

I’m disappointed, because a lot of people think very highly of the show, and I had hopes. Plus, BB has so much going for it: 1) rich premise; 2) excellent acting; and 3) some smart dialogue.

But here’s where we part ways:

1) Why must the action ratchet up into violence in the first episode? It would have been so gratifying to see Walter’s meth lab succeed handily for a few weeks, rather than slamming into a wasp’s nest of irreversible trouble before he sells an ounce.

Don’t the writers want to stretch the conflict over an entire season—and, ultimately, multiple seasons? There’s no need to empty the bag of tricks as soon as the curtain rises.

2) Speaking of conflict, here’s something I’m really bored with: the not-telling-the-spouse device. It’s become yawningly common in TV drama (and comedy, too, I suppose), and it’s just a trick.

Character gets Big News. Character does not tell his/her spouse about said Big News, despite the fact that almost anyone in real life would, and fast. Conflict ensues.

Please try harder, TV people.

I would also like to request that the female characters have roles, plans, and desires other than wife/mother. Nothing wrong with being those things, of course. Those are beautiful and important roles (for men, too—i.e., husband and father). It’s just that there’s a very, very rich history of representing women as wives/mothers in media, and it’s 2011, and I’m thinking we can show women doing maybe one or two other things.

Just a hunch.