Posted by Zan Romanoff
I started watching Eat Drink Love mostly because the rest of the world was at that very moment tuning into a new episode of Breaking Bad-- which, as I admitted last week, I am woefully behind on. And even though I should have known better I will admit that I was a little excited about it: I spent my first few years out of college working for a food-focused non-profit, and I hoped that maybe a show centered on three professionally successful women would cover something more substantial than their love lives. They could gossip and fight all they wanted, as far as I was concerned, as long as they did it over anything other than the men in their lives. The food industry is notoriously a masculine one, and anyone who's made her way to the top of it has got to have more going on than the real housewives of American suburbia.
My first inkling that this was not going to achieve even my modest dreams for it came midway through the first episode. The show's cast, some of whom know one another well and some of whom are pretty clearly strangers to one another, gathered at a taco place for dinner. "It's so nice to be out with women who eat," Nina Clemente, a private chef observed.
"Oh, I don't eat all day in order to do this," Waylynn Lucas, owner of Third Street's Fonuts, told her casually. The conversation moved on from there, highlighting publicist Brenda's recurring fear that she's "the big girl" in the room and in the city. At the end of the episode the rest of the women threw Brenda a birthday party at an exclusive bar where they gifted her with a vibrator, a dig at her very single status, and Brenda called out the beautiful, flirtatious Kat Odell for stringing along the bar's owner among a host of other men. The second episode tried to play Kat and Brenda off of one another again, though from Brenda's voice overs it's clear that she knows the supposed object of their affections, Chris, isn't into her and certainly isn't looking to settle down.
There are other narrative threads: Jessica's struggle to be taken seriously by the male kitchens of the restaurants she manages, Nina's attempts to rise above her current position as a mostly untrained private chef who cooks fancy dinner for wealthy families. And it is fascinating to watch Brenda and Waylyn disparage Kat, which they do freely in interviews, while both acknowledging that they need her (she's an influential food blogger) and that they think she's a hack who gets ahead because she sleeps around.
In some ways it's telling of the way women in every profession are ghettoized: they're lumped together and told to support one another, forced to duke it out for a vanishingly small number of token positions. Of course they hate one another, and of course they have no choice but to be friends with one another. The show has an interesting story but it's not the kind that gets ratings, so it doesn't choose to tell it. Women arguing with one another always sells. The reasons why they might be doing it, sadly, are still immaterial to the story they're trying to tell.
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August 16, 2013 | 8:14 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Last week on Graceland: nothing much happened. This week on Graceland: a bunch of semi-improbable things happen at once. Mike discovers that his supervisor, Juan, has been bugging him, and decides that his whole assignment investigating Briggs is based on nothing more than a paranoid revenge fantasy of Juans' for a tragedy that happened years ago. Charlie keeps investigating the Odin/Briggs connection but instead turns up a Mexican federale, with whom she enters into a tentative alliance. Paige and Michael have a lot of long conversations for no real reason-- have they ever been close before? The only non-surprising development is that the Caza Cartel continues to pursue Bello, eventually trapping him in his supposedly safe house to torture Odin's location out of him.
Most of these developments are surprises, things you couldn't reasonably have guessed at from the clues we've been handed so far. The reveal of Jangles-- the notorious, terrifying Caza boss-- as being one and the same with Mike's supervisor, Juan-- works as a legitimate twist only because for the space of the episode we've been learning not to trust him. It would have been far more effective if we'd been suspicious of him-- or even seen him as anything other than a low-level pawn taking Mike's reports-- previously. It's also tough to pull of an FBI officer as drug dealer surprise! when you've done just that several episodes ago with Paul as Odin.
The episode ends with Michael confessing to Paige why he's been in Graceland all along. It's one secret too many, the thing she's not yet ready to hear. She leaves him alone in the hospital room, and Michael has officially lost everything: his girfriend, his friends, his family, perhaps soon his job. Next week he goes undercover to try to flip Bello on Odin: three episodes left, and he's hit rock bottom, which means it's time for him to begin to rise again.
August 15, 2013 | 10:07 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Several weeks ago a masked figure stood outside of Danny's window filming him and Lacey making out on a living room couch. It was just after the disastrous party Danny had thrown, which was interrupted by a crowd of boys wearing masks with his face on them, re-enacting the murder of his aunt just where it had happened five years earlier. At the time it seemed like just another part of whatever sinister plot has been tightening its noose around Danny's neck since the season began, framing him for Regina's murder and the poisoning of his soccer teammate, Cole.
It turns out, though, that this incident was unrelated: the mysterious videographer was a dork from the Mathletes who, in his own words, can't help being a creep. It's a boring fakeout based on offensive, lazy stereotyping, and the whole plotline fails to address the real seriousness of the incident, the deep violation of Lacey and Danny's privacy that occurs. Twisted plays it for laughs-- Rico saying that the sex tape "violates the mathlete code of ethics"-- and then for maximum dramatic effect, as a way of revealing Lacey and Danny's affair to poor unsuspecting Jo. Never once does it gesture at how deeply wrong the filming of it is, instead seeming to suggest that taping your classmates in an intimate moment and then distributing the resulting footage is just a normal teenage impulse, a mean but ultimately harmless thing to do, rather than being deeply sociopathic in its own right.
The rest of the episode's plot is equally messy and unlikely: Danny's alleged poisoning of a soccer teammate, Cole, has resurfaced for no real reason. The coach who kept it quiet has been fired, and Danny is being threatened with expulsion from school. The only way to save him is through a school board hearing where members of the community can attest to the quality-- or lack thereof-- of his character. This is both an improbably and obviously terrible idea. Pretty much everyone in Green Grove hates Danny at this point. Danny and Jo convince Cole to speak on his behalf, and Jo basically admits to being in love with him on the stand (while the adults sit there calmly encouraging her to keep talking, like, I willing to suspend a lot of dibelief but what, what planet is this on, real grown ups would be like "this is going nowhere, thank you and goodbye. Next!") It doesn't work. Danny is expelled.
This episode was basically useless: it didn't advance the main plot, and it didn't significantly alter any relationships between characters except in the final minutes, with the big reveal. It was, instead, lazy and offensive, content to coast on stereotyping and cheap humor as a means of filling out air time. Twisted unknotted itself significantly last week, and I was hoping that would mean making steadier progress, but if it keeps going on like this I don't know that I'll want to keep up with it after all.
August 14, 2013 | 8:43 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
There were lots of things to quibble with in Monday's episode of Teen Wolf: the five minutes of expositional dialogue at the beginning (seriously, there are too! many! characters! on this show) and some particularly cringe-y line readings and my god, did I find Sheriff Stilinski's monologue about how he couldn't be with his wife when she died because he didn't believe hard enough manipulative, but-- but! It was so much better than anything the show's put up in the last few weeks that it's honestly almost not worth mentioning the parts I didn't love. This, at last, was the kind of stuff I'd been hoping to see when MTV announced a smarter, darker direction for the show, something still a little bit rooted in camp but also capable of mining the dark hysteria that is the flipside to surrealism and absurdity.
Plot-wise not all that much happened: once again characters ran around trying to figure out what the audience already knows, which is that Jennifer the Darach has Scott's mom, Melissa and Stiles and Allison's dads, the first-nameless Sheriff and Chris, stashed in the root cellar of the house with the Nematon, which is mysteriously located in some sand dunes near woodsy Beacon Hills. Chris has gotten himself captured on purpose, thinking he'll be able to use his training as a hunter to fight Jennifer. She mostly dashes these plans, stripping him of every hidden knife he's got, but he manages to hang onto some kind of low-frequency radio that will call the wolves to him. This is crucial, since Derek and Peter have been to the Nematon before but the memory of where it is has been removed from them by their old Alpha, Derek's mother, the now-late Talia Hale.
Derek spends the episode trying to decide whether he's going to heal his sister, Cora, who's dying of mistletoe poisoning, at the expense of his status as an alpha and possibly his own life. Of course he does it, his eyes turning back to beta blue in the episode's final minutes; it remains to be seen whether it worked for her, and what kind of weird evil plans his awful uncle Peter had in store when he suggested this strategy in the first place. Peter's been manipulating Derek since he was sixteen, apparently. Maybe next week if we're lucky we'll find out why.
In the mean time, Scott leaves Deucalion's pack (well, that was short) and Lydia kisses Stiles out of a panic attack, which... might work, sometimes, for some people, but is definitely not adviseable as a general strategy. The episode's real emotional whallop comes in the final third, when Deaton announces that in order to protect their parents, Scott, Allison and Stiles have to repeat Isaac's ice bath trick from earlier this season. They have to die, just briefly, in order that their parents might live.
It's a really gorgeous sequence, one of the very few instances in which the show's love affair with slow motion is justified. There's something heart-rending about Allison's perfectly pedicured toe testing the icy surface of the water: it's exactly why I love Allison, because she dresses up like a girl every day and never bothers to act like one. Each of the kids compelled to make this sacrifice is the child of a sinlge-parents household: Allison's mother and Stiles' both died tragically, and Scott's father left him years ago. (He's back in town now, though, as an FBI agent investigating the various disappearances.) They're scared, of course, but not nervous. They have always known they would do this for their parents, that for them family and love are quite literally as necessary as breathing. There's been lots of talk this season about sacrifice, what it means and what it is. There's no joy in this moment, in the faces of the anchors who will hold Allison, Scott and Stiles down, who will also tether them to their bodies as they die. There is, however, a certain kind of graceful surrender, a sense of the characters finally finding their place and their plot, slipping into it gratefully. At last, at last there's something they can do. It's the same relief that washes over Lydia when her kissing trick works, which is beautifully clear on Holland Roden's face in the scene, and it's the light part of the agony on Derek's face when he heals Cora. The power of sacrifice comes in surrender gracefully given: you wouldn't think Teen Wolf would be capable of getting us there but this episode does, almost wordlessly highlighting the quiet power of knowing exactly how and when to give up, to give in.
August 12, 2013 | 12:44 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
I'm pretty sure I could get myself fired for this, but it's time to admit it: I've never seen an episode of Breaking Bad. It's been on my to do list for ages-- my friend C. loaned me his DVDs of the first season a full three years ago now, and since C. is the person who got me hooked on The Wire it's not like I had any reason to mistrust him. Though the issue isn't that I think I won't like it (oh, god, I don't think I could take the ostracism); it's just that there's never been a time in that period when it's seemed like a good idea to sit down and absord a wrenching drama about the failures of the American health care system and the depths to which desperation and fear can drive an otherwise sane and rational person. I'm twenty six and irregularly employed. I don't need any more anxiety in my life.
And then, you know, the longer I waited the more of it there was to watch. Now part of me hopes that the last season disappoints everyone spectacularly and I can just write the whole thing off, which is how I handled Lost, but that doesn't seem fair, either, to me or the show. Whatever happens in these last eight episodes it's clearly a groundbreaking show, worth watching certainly in part if not in whole. (Though based on the scattered reactions I've seen so far they're off to a pretty excellent start.) Last night I indulged myself in my usual mindless TV shows (True Blood, which is kind of redeeming itself with campy weirdness, and which is making such spectacular use of Sara Newland that I kind of love it again, and the premiere of Bravo's new reality series Eat, Drink, Love, which we'll discuss at a later date--) but today I'm making a fresh start: I will watch one episode of Breaking Bad every day until I'm caught up. I probably won't make it in time to catch the last episode airing live, but at least I'll be back somewhere closer to the cultural zeitgeist. And I'll probably write about what I'm seeing along the way as I try to catch up on what I know perfectly well I should have been watching all along.
August 9, 2013 | 3:54 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
After last week's weirdo challenge Project Runway kept it simple on last night's episode: actor Jesse TYler Ferguson talked about how he sells bow ties for marriage equality for a little while, and then the designers made garments that incorporated and reimagined the bow tie in their conception and execution. (This is the kind of thing that sounds like a particularly intricate mode of torture to me-- reimainge the bow tie, why? How?? Which is one of the many reasons I'm not a designer.)
The actual designers took the challenge with a minimal amount of fussing, mostly, and turned out what we're starting to recognize as their standard fare: Dom made an adorable striped dress with origami-style bow ties pleated onto the front and even did her model's hair up in a bow on top of her head, Miranda made another sharp, boring pencil skirt with an inexplicable green silk crop top that landed her in the bottom, and Sandro overdid it like crazy. He was safe, and could have stayed on for another week if he hadn't stopped to ask for criticism on the runway and then refused to take it, flouncing out of the studio and threatening cameras and cameramen as he went. His temper eliminated him and kept the rest of the designers safe.
It made an odd contrast to the episode's front-runner, Braden, who capped off his win by proposing to his boyfriend of eighteen years on the runway. ("You'd better say yes," Heidi chided from her judges chair, before asking if she could be a bridesmaid. I like Heidi; I think she is a woman who's enjoying her life.) As it turned out this was right around when DOMA and Prop. 8 were struck down-- Braden's boyfriend called later that night with a proposal of his own. It was just about as tear jerk-y a moment as can be imagined, but the whole thing never felt manipulative-- Project Runway does surprisingly well with this kind of confession, as it did when Mondo came out as HIV positive several seasons ago. Whatever else it does, the competition does seem to encourage its contestants to be honest with themselves in a way that always makes for compellingly watchable television-- whether they're professing love or storming out in a huff, presumably never to be seen or heard from again.
August 8, 2013 | 10:47 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
A fun game is to Google the ages of the actors who play teenagers on whatever television show you're watching. Teen Wolf, for instance, provides a pretty good case study: Tyler Posey and Dylan O'Brien, who play seventeen year olds, are twenty one, which is bad but not so bad. Crystal Reed, who plays Posey's seventeen year old girlfriend, is twenty eight years old, which makes her technically senior to Tyler Hoechlin, whose character, Derek, is somewhere in his early twenties. (Hoechlin is the only actor playing within two years of his actual age.) The show also features the queen of this phenomenon, Bianca Lawson, who first played a seventeen year old character in 1993 and is still doing it twenty years later-- though her Teen Wolf role is as a guidance counselor and adult. Twisted does better, but not by too much: Jo, Lacey and Danny are supposed to be seventeen, and they're played by actors who are 18, 24 and 21, respectively.
It makes sense: the blog Actual Adult, Actual Teen is your one-stop shop for remembering exactly how dweeby and reedy teenagers (especially teenage boys) really look. Adults have clearer skin and bigger, um, biceps and things, and actors who are over eighteen can work longer hours and don't require on-set tutors. Teenagers are young and dumb and full of possibility; these characters can get away with behavior (and drama levels) that would be difficult to watch coming from characters we were meant to understand as adults. And so television shows get the best of both worlds, bringing in maximally beautiful people to act out maximally emotional stories, a world of cathartic, escapist melodrama inhabited by people long past the awkward stages of their growth spurts.
There's plenty to be said about the way this affects us as individuals and as a culture, the way that is makes teenage life seem fun and sexy in a way it really, really isn't, and ages up our understanding of what it means to be, say, a seventeen year old girl. (Not to mention what it does to seventeen year old girls, who look at the women on screen and can't understand what their hair and skin and bodies don't look like that-- not understanding that they don't look that way yet.) It's fun and easy, but, like most things that are easy to swallow, damaging in the long term. We're a culture obsessed with youth, yes, but only with the pleasant parts: we mine the misunderstandings and heartbreaks because a sad middle gives shine to the happy ending, and anyone who actually look young and vulnerable makes that too real for us to take.
August 7, 2013 | 12:52 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Last night on Twisted everyone told their secrets. Rico told Danny he'd seen his mother throwing away the incriminating necklace; Lacey, Jo and Danny came clean to Sheriff Masterson about the apartment Danny's late father owned, and the cash and ransom notes he was sending Regina; Jo told Lacey, in a strangely tacked-on subplot, that her father was gay-- and hooking up with Lacey's sister's gymanstics coach. Finally Danny's mother, Karen, told her own truth: that she'd confessed to murdering Regina only when it looked like her son was going to jail, because she was a terrible, selfish mother when he was younger and has felt guilty about it ever since. She had to take the fall to protect him, apparently, but of course she isn't the murderer.
It was relief to get all of that air cleared, especially since, as Danny points out to Sheriff Masterson towards the episode's end, the envelope full of cash really does point suspicion away from him and his mother and towards someone else entirely. (Though of course that someone else may be his dad, who died in a mysterious boating accident, and whose body has never been found.) It gives us room to move as we head towards next week's finale, with all of the minor reveals over and everyone pretty much on the same page once again.
Or are they? There are still two huge secrets being kept: Lacey and Danny's (maybe kaput) relationship-- which fell victim to Danny's confession that he had had the necklace all along, or until his mother disposed of it-- and, on the murder side of things, the fact that apparently (we learn via flashback) Karen knew about the Connecticut apartment and VIkram's secret trips there all along.
Twisted does fine as a straight up teen murder mystery, but I miss the creepy ambiguity of the first few episodes, the promise that the show as going to explore Danny's psyche and the discomfort of those around him as they tried to figure out whether he was, as Lacey dubbed him, a socio, or whether he was, in fact, sincere in his rehabilitation and efforts to reintegrate himself. It would have been nice to have stretched that out longer-- the question of Danny's guilt no longer seems relevant, even to Sheriff Masterson. There's one episode left to wrap up loose ends, and likely another season after that to create new ones, but I'm curious about how the show is going to earn its title once Danny's good name has been cleared for once and for all.