Posted by Zan Romanoff
First, shana tova! And happy official end of summer to you all. Fall television should be getting going as September rolls on (and, god willing, cools down) but this week's allotment was just sad: a boring, obligatory activewear for Heidi Klum challenge on Project Runway which had the designers struggling to reimagine leggings and another saggy, pointless episode of Graceland. So instead here's some smart talk about television from Sady Doyle &co. over at In These Times. It's a roundtable on race, class, and sexuality, among other topics, in Orange is the New Black, and it's a fascinating and important read.
10.10.13 at 9:53 am | Stylish, unsettling, ultimately predictable.
10.9.13 at 8:34 am | Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets boring.
10.8.13 at 6:07 pm | Last week, a certain finale brought an epically. . .
10.8.13 at 9:20 am | HIMYM limps ever closer to its finale with an. . .
10.7.13 at 11:16 am | Diablo Cody, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. . .
10.4.13 at 9:20 am | The show's sixth season doesn't show any signs of. . .
9.25.13 at 3:52 pm | Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. picks up where The. . . (7)
7.18.13 at 2:01 pm | If you like Korean soap operas, this is the one. . . (7)
10.7.13 at 11:16 am | Diablo Cody, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. . . (4)
September 4, 2013 | 2:53 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
An excellent corrective to Luther's relentless sexism is another BBC show, The Fall, which premiered in May of this year and is now available in its entirely on Netflix. It could be just another routine procedural: the plot concerns a serial killer who stalks and strangles young, single women and the detective (played by the always stunning Gillian Anderson) who's trying to catch him. But The Fall is up to something smarter than that: in the second episode scenes of the killer, Paul, choking a victim are intercut with a sex scene between Anderson's Stella Gibson and a young Irish cop. It's a short sequence, quiet, like many of The Fall's scenes are. But it explicitly connects the two women's bodies, and the ways they can interact with men's bodies, the way we can watch them do it. It explicitly suggests that our voyeuristic pleasure in the sex is just as suspect as our horror at the killing, that in both cases what we're objectifying women in ways that should make us feel uncomfortable.
Later there's another, similar intercut: the same woman's dead body, which has stiffened and set into the pose Paul left it in, being lifted onto the table for an autopsy as Paul washes his young daughter's hair in the bath. The contrast between the dead woman's white, lifeless body and the little girl's mobile one, the presence of Paul's hands in one scene and their absence in the other, are not creepy or chilling but haunting. The Fall's pleasures are not cathartic; they are attenuated, meditative. The camera follows its characters tightly while they move around rooms. There is often no soundtrack, so the small sounds of life are isolated and revealed: the difference between the ways shoes sound on pavement, on cobblestones, walking down hallways.
The most remarkable thing that The Fall does, though, is to show us women in the world. The victim is female, but so is the detective who investigates her death, and so is one of the cops who first finds her body. The pathologist is a woman. Sarah, the victim, has a sister. We see Paul's wife at work in a maternity ward. Each of these women gets her own long, lovely scenes, her own quiet space in which to see things, to react, to walk through her piece of the story. It's a strange thing to call a show about a serial killer comforting but in some way it is: it's so rare to see women so carefully considered on screen, allowed diversity of opinion and profession and activity, that I find myself quieting along with it. Each of these women has a whole actual story; she is fully realized beyond the parameters of her interaction in Paul's destructive narrative. It's worth watching; I'd highly recommend it.
September 4, 2013 | 12:46 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
The Newsroom is back again for the first time!
I was hesitant to hop in the saddle for a second go at Newsroom, especially with an already packed schedule of Breaking Bad, Top of the Lake, re-re-watching Orange is the New Black and replying to a heavy influx of fan mail after one Pablo Schreiber made me Twitter famous. But with only one episode left before the finale and my grievances having gone unrealized so far, it’s safe to assume the time catching up was well spent. These characters are finally growing into their third dimension, and their dialogue is a vehicle for communication instead of that formidable mansplaining echoing through the News Night hallways of Season 1. You hear no one gets a second shot at a first impression, but a first shot at a second impression isn’t so bad either. And as of last night, a third impression is on the horizon with HBO giving the official go ahead for Season 3.
I’ll start with the newcomer, my favorite cowboy from Capitol Hill Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater). He exploded into the tightly knit News Night quilt after Jim fled the scene to cover the Romney campaign and spend some needed time away from jagged little (Alison) Pill. (Reaching, I know … just go with it.) Dantana brought the ruckus by way of an investigative mission that, according to a tipster, “makes careers and ends presidencies.” Eager to show the team his chops (and win a Peabody Award), he bites. And so begins the drama of “Operation Genoa,” an extraction mission involving US fighter planes allegedly dropping the very deadly and very illegal sarin gas on a Pakistani village to rescue two soldiers taken hostage.
Dantana is hypnotized by the implications. And as more sources backing the story start oozing in, he falls deeper into the spell. Deep enough to cook a key witness’ interview tape.
He was the lone ranger who really wanted, needed this story in the public eye. And despite Jim rattling off the federal gravity of these claims, Mack and Charlie’s visible hesitance in the final hour, and Will’s historic “I trust Mack and Charlie” copout, to the public eye it went. And to the Pentagon. And to their lawyers. In a matter of just three Red Team roundtables and one expired shot clock, Dantana had managed to completely unravel each of their journalistic better judgments at the seams.
Of course the best type of villain is one you like, so I don’t think I’m the only one a little bummed to see him lawyer up into the sunset. Stinging more is a disappointment that he pulled such a bush league stunt in the first place. A guy with as stacked a resume as Dantana expecting to not answer for fudging the interview tapes of a Gen. Corporal 5-star NCAA owner or whatever he is makes Will’s relationship with the New Year's huss almost believable. Maybe his Jerry curls masked my judgment, but this interviewee had taken special care to distinctly say, “If, if we used Sarin, this is how.” It was the only aspect of the interview as carefully thought out as his viewing access to March Madness before and during. How could he think a frantic boy-who-called-libel wouldn’t be waiting in the very near future? Maybe we’ll find some insights in the depositions to come, but we do know the Genoa saga doesn’t end well. Not that we care much about the lawsuit’s outcome, though, since it’s the journey we’re finally invested in. A journey that will now span a third season.
This has been really, really fun to watch.
It’s been nice to see a resemblance of maturation in Mack this season, too. Watching her trip over fewer wires and pop culture references is a welcome change as the Mackenzie McHale, Executive Producer Extraordinaire, promised in The Newsroom’s pilot episode starts to shine through. She busies herself with heart-to-hearts over drinks with Don (Thomas Sadoski), instead of acting a complete fool over Will’s date nights.
I’m also a staunch supporter of this Lady Maggie of the Night bit. She escaped Jim’s quasi-romantic clutches by signing up for a stint in Shantytown, Uganda, where she learned there are human sicknesses that lie beyond psychiatric walls and outside prescription bottles. She then found herself a drinking habit back in the states and a sassed up mouth to boot. It looks good on her and last night’s vodka tonic smells even better. Definitely better than her new spiky red ‘do, anyway.
If anyone wants to fill me in when exactly that happened, please don’t hesitate.
The Newsroom airs Sunday night at 9:00 pm PST on HBO.
September 3, 2013 | 10:23 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Mallory Ortberg recently proposed one of the best things I've heard in a long time: a type of costume party where every attendee has to "come dressed as an unpopular wife from a prestigious drama on cable television and treat each other with respect the entire night." Ortberg is talking about the morally complex gray-man anti-heroes of critically acclaimed shows-- Don Draper, Walter White, Tony Soprano--but the same trope repeats itself on both sides of the gender divide in detective shows, which all too often allow their violent, troubled heroes forgiveness and asbolution in the arms of smart, strong, and theoretically fiestely independent women.
You know the story in its broad outlines: he stands strong against the system, the small beauracratic minds that want to find evidence and follow procedure-- his brilliant intuition has no time for these things! He must right the wrongs of his dark and private past. His pursuit of justice twists him because he feels too much. He is brutal in his heart, and brilliant, and he could have chosen a criminal life but he lives on the side of the light! We must respect him for it. Inevitably his wife is among those who don't understand: she wants him home from dinner, she wants him to stop brooding while she's doing the dishes and putting the kids to bed. She leaves him for another, less complicated man. And then she comes back to him. Because he is so passionate and twisted and true.
This story repeats itself in the first two episodes of Luther, which is as many as I could bring myself to watch. It's a poorly-plotted procedural, somewhere between boring and inexplicable on the level of the crimes detective Luther is actually trying to solve, but it's Luther's relationship with his wife Zoe that makes the show intolerable. Twice in the pilot he has violent outbursts in her presence; both times when someone comes to restrain him he announces that he's a policeman, too, and they back off. Can we just imagine for a moment this story told from her perspective? What it would be like to be involved with a man who, upon hearing that during their separation she's started seeing someone, smashes a wooden door into pieces, and then gets to tell the police that it's okay, he's one of them, nothing to see here, move along? Zoe has every right to be terrified of Luther, but we never get to see her fear because the show doesn't consider or respect her enough to imagine that she might feel it.
It's chilling to watch the show edge us around to liking Luther, romanticizing his outbursts as evidence of his unbearably passionate nature instead of the uncontrolled rage of a man unchecked in his violence. It is essentially apologizing for an abusive dynamic as it repeatedly undermines Zoe's protests against having Luther in her life, telling us over and over that she doesn't know what she wants, that he's the only one who can protect her, that his actions are justified by the ends they achieve.
That's the problem with these shows: they write neat arcs in which there is a moral justification for every one of Luther's screaming fits. But in real life it doesn't work that way, and even if it did, all of the Zoe's of the world have a right to determine whether they want to be screamed at or not. The idea that anyone else can decide what is for a woman's own good is base, primitive thinking, and it's awful to watch it underlined in what sells itself as a smart, thoughtful drama. A costume party would be a nice start, but what I want more than anything is a show that takes women's stories seriously, talking about what it's like to be loved by men who genuinely aren't good for you or for themselves. I want to watch Zoe walk away from Luther and see what happens after, when she's in control, an acting subject instead of a beloved object, a sexy lamp in need of protection.