Posted by Zan Romanoff
Addiction is a tough thing to talk about on a television show. It's a disease that defies the typical narrative arc: there's a slow start and a long middle, and getting treatment never guarantees that anyone will stay sober. So it tends to be relegated to Very Special Episodes or dealt with sparingly. Nashville's first season did a good job of portraying Deacon's alcoholism, both in sobriety and in relapse; it did the painful but necessary work of reminding viewers that addicts aren't addicts because they aren't loved or supported, necessarily, but because they're people who are sick. A particularly heart-rending late season scene showed his young neice pleading with him to sober up, and Deacon telling his sponsor he that he knew what he'd done and needed to start over, only to sneak off to the shower to drink in private. That's the true, terrible story of addiction in all of its various forms: that it isolates people who are loved and well-supported, that sometimes it makes it impossible for us to love them and support them the way that we want to.
So I was deeply disappointed by one of the storylines on last week's second episode of Camp, which featured one of the senior counselors, Robbie, dealing with his mother's gambling addiction. They don't call it that on the show-- Robbie always refers to his mother's problem, taking great care to minimize it, insisting that it only flares up every now and again. While the rest of the camp competes in a color war she calls him from a local casino asking for a ride, asking him to lend her the rent money she's gambled away and then, when he gets her the money she needs, going back to gamble it, too. That particular day it happens to work out, netting her several thousand dollars that she insists will keep her comfortable for a long time coming. They argue about whether he should go to law school (she thinks he's not smart enough for Stanford) and make up when she buys him a day planner with her winnings, writing a supportive note in the front.
It was distressing to watch the levity with which the show treated the issue, instead making it out to be about affection and attention. His girlfriend Sarah couldn't understand why he didn't want to have to bail his mother out yet again; "she's your mother," Sarah kept saying, essentially guilting Robbie for not caring enough. The episode ends with the two of them laughing in the kitchen together, taking quarters to scratch off lotto tickets. I couldn't help flashing back to earlier in the episode, when Robbie talked about a childhood of living in fear that the electricity would get shut off or the car reposessed, to the scene in which his mother gives him scratchers for his eleventh birthday and then has to use his money on utilities. Everyone has the right to handle the addicts in their lives in their own ways, of course, but it was depressing to see her behavior normalized and accepted, to essentially be told that Robbie would be wrong to cut her off, to witness the notion that addicts just need to be loved to be healed reinforced on-screen.
The rest of the episode wasn't much better, shlocky and heavy-handed, without the fun summer romp vibe that kept the pilot on the move. I'll give the show another week, but my guess is that's it's over for me and Camp-- my first summer fling already fizzling itself out.
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. . .
10.8.13 at 9:20 am | HIMYM limps ever closer to its finale with an. . . (8)
7.29.13 at 2:22 pm | All right, I'll admit it: I just don't get Orange. . . (6)
7.8.13 at 2:30 pm | The series' sixth season is well underway, and. . . (5)
July 22, 2013 | 4:56 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
“Hate-watching” is a recurring theme in The Newsroom conversations, but I think the more accurate label comes from Tim Goodman’s review in Hollywood Reporter when he said “Don’t kid yourself — you were 'disappointment watching.'” The creator, the concept, the cast, all was ripe with hopeful promise. Then Season 1 happened and we were left not with anger, nor a resignation to spend our viewing time more productively elsewhere, but a certain sadness. The mighty hath fallen, and we alone to wander, wondering how, why, when.
Sir Sorkin heard our cries and already we’re seeing a couple of marked improvements. At least the team shows signs of being tethered to their own universe, one with rules, one with lawsuits, as opposed to free falling unscathed through an impossible, hind-sighted version of ours. Will is finally accepting the consequences and responsibilities of his mouth. (“I’m not who I used to be right now.”)
Charlie (Sam Waterston) pulls Will off the September 11 tenth anniversary coverage, citing Will’s recent labeling of the Tea Party as the American Taliban, and the sensitive timing with the even more sensitive issue. “You’ll get the flu around the 9th or 10th.” The silent moments following resemble a funeral march, starring Will as the pallbearer, the priest and the deceased. We learn later that Will’s first night as an anchor was September 11, 2001, adding some needed weight to their conversation and his somber reaction. And after we’re shown his opening footage from that night, a scene delivering arguably the series’ most emotionally heavy moments to date, the scars of last season begin to feel pardonable.
Likely still licking his wounds from last season’s ego-blow in The New Yorker, and now with the boot from the tenth anniversary coverage, Will is starting to show welcome changes to his previously indestructible demeanor. Whether the pendulum will swing too far the other direction remains to be seen, doubtful as it is. (Still, Will 1.0 of last season wouldn’t be affected in the slightest upon finding www.whywehatewillmcavoy.com. Though we’re only able to catch a glimpse of the site, it looks about as foreboding as a Westboro Baptist Church message board.)
But while we’re on the subject, time has passed come for Mackenzie MacHale to take some responsibility of her own. Season 2 deserves recognition for its sizable tape job, but the Mackenzie dilemma is getting more unbearable by the minute. Forget the fluff stuff – her flittering about, the ditzy desperations, the dumping of her Jameson Rocks on Will’s shirt without even a suggestion of ramification. Season 2 has her committing offenses that do more than file her under Sorkin’s Dim-Witted Woman with High-Profile Career folder.
Also, is there one person in America who believes Mackenzie MacHale’s drink of choice is Jameson on rocks?
In last week’s season premiere, Neal (Dev Patel) approaches Mack about chasing the Occupy Wall Street lead and is told to find more concrete, reliable sources, a completely rational, responsible answer given the information available at the time. But after a few short moments, she submits to her maternal and less reliable instincts and gives him the go-ahead to attend the group’s next drum circle. Why? Because Neal made a sad face. She had no choice! But last night’s stunt will prove less forgivable, as seen by Maggie’s traumatic new hair do. Maggie chases Mack down at the gym to beg for a chance to prove herself a vital News Night player. She will accomplish this by reporting from Africa. Specifically Kampala, Uganda, which she believes is the next American military base in the War on Terror. Again, Mackenzie is rightfully hesitant.
But Maggie can name the president, and she even promises to take her vitamins. Plus she reeeeaalllly wants to go. Clearly these are adequate grounds for permission to travel to a third world country, across the world, to the War on Terror’s next military base. Besides, everyone deserves to be picked first for dodge ball at some point. So off she goes to book her flight, with Mack’s blessing. We don’t know what happened to Maggie, the season is running as a long series of flashbacks, but we know it didn’t end well.
I would forgive every violation The Newsroom has committed thus far if Mackenzie is fired.
Now on to Page 6. Don’s discovery of the YouTube video documenting Maggie’s intoxicated profession about her feelings for Jim was the most unfulfilling breakup scene known to exactly nobody, save for those who hide from their failing relationship behind office patty-cake. Last week’s faux-mantic high fives? Relax. No one does that, not even in Sorkin’s Love Sandbox, USA. Population: everyone. But all’s empty that ends empty, as was their relationship and on-screen chemistry. Seems like we’re in store for a much-needed break from the original triangle (special guest appearances by Sloan Sabbith), with Jim safely tucked away on the Romney campaign bus and Maggie headed for Africa. We will still need to deal with Will and Mackenzie, but even their dynamic seems more tolerable, even if it is simply from less time together on camera. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Despite its structural improvements, the show has a long apology road ahead as evidenced by its paltry two Emmy nods this year. One belongs to Jeff Daniels for Best Actor in a Drama Series, the other to Jane Fonda for her role as AMG owner Leona Lansing. Watch Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on HBO to track the journey.
July 19, 2013 | 11:58 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
As a rule, I feel like television needs more police procedurals like I need a hole in the head. I've had enough of criminal minds and crime scenes and lab techs etcetera to last me several lifetimes, plus almost no one's ever done it better than Law and Order. (I do mean Original Flavor, though will also accept SVU and some seasons of Criminal Intent.) I started watching Graceland out of sheer idle curiosity; as far as I can tell no one's talking about it, which is a shame because it's totally engaging storytelling featuring a diverse cast of very attractive people. The pilot was medium-shaky and there are still some too-obvious moments, storylines telegraphed too boldly too far in advance, but it seems to me that the show really improves episode to episode; I'm almost sorry I can't wait for a binge-watch at the end of the season, because I'm starting to get impatient for more.
What sets Graceland apart from the rest of the field is partly structural: instead of focusing on a single case from start to finish, it's a show about a handful of undercover agents from several federal agencies (FBI, DEA, Customs) who live in a Venice apartment the government picked up as part of a drug raid some years prior. They slip in on each others' cases-- one of the FBI agents, Jonny, moonlights as a Mexican drug dealer when his roomate, DEA agent and white girl Paige can't pass enough to meet a contact-- which means there's a lot less technical fiddling around and a lot more tense scenes involving improbably quanities of drugs, guns and cash.
The real fun of Graceland is watching a bunch of pros at their tops of their games as they work. The show doesn't mess around with anything remotely trivial, instead keeping things at at least a medium simmer in every scene. It's picked a plot that's interesting without being complicated; it's fun to follow, but there's no threat you'll lose track. You get the satisfying case-per-episode wrap up of a procedural without any grim morgue sequences or monologues about The Dangers of the Internet. (Okay I am looking at you a little bit there, SVU.) It's basically brain candy but it's not embarrassing to watch: like a cold popsicle on a hot day, maybe. Just because it's not necessary doesn't mean you won't enjoy the hell out of it while it's going down.
July 18, 2013 | 2:01 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
I wish I had a better explanation for the Boys Over Flowers thing. A friend mentioned it to me last June while we were walking around New York: there's this weird Korean soap opera I've been watching that I think you might like. She talked about the characters and their antics about how ridiculous and over-the-top it was and I smiled politely and said I would watch it without any intention of doing any such thing. But then, as these things happen: a month or or so later when I was hungover and lazing around, trying to figure out what I could watch without overtaxing my brain, I remembered her enthusiasm and thought I might give it a try. (The show is available in its entirety on Netflix.) I spent the rest of the week evangelizing about it with what I now recognize was a slightly insane fervor. I'd go out to dinner or meet someone for coffee and they'd ask me how I was and I would smile very widely and say "I'm great! Have you ever heard of Boys Over Flowers?"
There's something about this show. I mean, the number of versions of the story that exist attest to its weird enchanting power: Boys Over Flowers was originally a Japanese manga, and has since been adapted into various movies and television series in Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea. The Korean version is the most famous one; it's the one I watched, and I think it's justifiably known. It's just... I don't know, man, it's just great.
It's ostensibly the story of a lower class girl named Guem Jan-di, the daughter of a dry cleaner, who, through a series of mishaps, ends up a student at Seoul's most exclusive private school. There she catches the eyes and the ire of a group of popular boys who call themselves F4, the sons and heirs of the most important corporations in the country. It's a lot of fantasy wish fulfillment-- and a lot of montage makeover scenes-- replete with lavish vacations and luxurious parties. There are dramaticly evil villains and a lot of really intense emotions. It's definitely cartoony-- you can see its roots as manga all over the place.
What saves it from being cheesy is that it's just so weird. And weird without trying, I think, surreal because it cares so much more about creating story and heightening dramatic tension than it does about any kind of realism or believeability. There's no point (and, more importantly no fun) in trying to watch the show on any terms but its own: it demands that you just believe in it, full stop. It's fantasy without being fantasy, a world almost like our own and then not just, not quite. One of the boys of F4 helps Jan-di's best friend get revenge on a nasty ex by playing a song on the saxaphone for her. At a dance club. He's the only one of the boys who's not an heir; he's rich and famous because he makes beautiful pottery, pottery so good, apparently, that it makes women swoon. The show is earnest in its outrageousness. It plays its surrealism incredibly straight. There's none of the self-consciousness or snark that American shows sometimes try to leverage into lighter fare-- Boys Over Flowers makes no apologies for what it is and what it's doing. I love it for that. Perhaps, um, unsurprisingly, given my taste for the genre.
July 17, 2013 | 11:34 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
It's weird how hard it is to work technology into stories. We spend all day texting and tweeting, getting updates, making calls, but for some reason it looks awkward on-screen, both when teens text do u want 2 go out l8er and when adults send the same. It just always feels forced and awkward, like product placement even when it isn't. Apparently this happened when telephones first became common, too. It only took like a hundred years for them to work their way from our homes into our narratives.
There's also the matter of how boring it can make things-- think of how many classic plots are obviated by the existence of the cell phone. (Romeo and Juliet, I am looking at you.) I'm pretty sure the Sex and the City movie was one of the first to just take a character's mobile out of the equation (a little girl puts Carrie's in her purse, preventing Big from reaching her for reassurance on their wedding day so that he ends up abandonding her at the altar) but it's now become industry standard: the phone can be stolen or lost or running out of battery just as long as characters can't use them for anything. It's how we're dealing in the mean time.
What was puzzling about last night's Twisted is that no one ever suggested using Google instead of taking a long road trip that all three characters had to lie to their parents about, that took Danny across state lines in violation of his parole, and that had a really extraordinarily scant chance of working in the first place. They trio head to Connecticut, following the trail of a return address on an envelope sent to the murdered Regina just before she died. It contained hundreds of dollars in exchange for a promise that Regina keep her mouth shut about something; it's not a hard leap to take to imagine that the kids are now on the trail of her killer. They seem pretty blithetly unconcerned about that, though, about what they'll say when they meet him, whether he might put them in danger.
Instead the episode is mostly about working out the tensions between Lacey and Jo, whose once-strong friendship fell apart after Danny killed his aunt when they were twelve. On the one hand, of course it's believable that two truamatized middle schoolers wouldn't be able to stick together; on the other, it's a tired version of the same old girlight: one got goth, the other went popular, they stabbed one another in the back. The trailer for next week's episode promises more romantic entanglements, and I'm sure their tentative truce will fall apart again when they realize they're both pining after handsome, mysterious, still-possibly-a-killer Danny. My kingdom for two teenage girls who have real, strong on-screen friendships, who choose one another over boys, who don't even have to make that choice because they have different taste in men-- however unimaginable that might seem.
Of course I'm sure it won't work out that way-- they're setting us up for Jo to realize at some point that she's always loved her geeky best-friend-in-the-interim, Rico, who's pretty obviously got a huge thing for her. But I can't help reading it like a consolation prize: just once it would be nice not to tell the dorky, awkward, sullen girl that she just doesn't know what she wants yet, that what she wants is the shy puppy love of someone who's never interested her before.
July 16, 2013 | 2:36 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Teen Wolf seems very determined to remind us that its characters-- no matter how smooth their skin or ripped their abs-- are still in high school. The first episode of the season opened with Scott studying for the PSATs; every week since has offered us a key word, first mentioned in a classroom, that comes to play in the action of the episode. Ephemerality, risk and reward, intransigent, anachronism; this week, it was currents. The currents Deucalion told Scott to look for his captured mentor Deaton in, the currents of water and electricity flowing across Derek's apartment as he and his betas attempted to electrocute an attacking Alpha Kali, the geosomething-or-other vaguely mystical currents poor Danny was plotting for a school project before mistletoe poisoning landed him in the hospital. It's all about flow this season, movement and placement in space and time.
(Also still about water and fire: Derek's flooded apartment, sparks of electricity shooting across the floor.)
Last night's episode was blessedly self-contained: we learned in the opening moments that the Darach is sacrificing healers this week, disappearing two doctors from Beacon Hills' ER at a particularly crucial moment and going after Scott's boss, the mysterious veterinarian Alan Deaton, for the third. Deaton recognizes the warning signs, butterflies massing at his windows, and calls Scott to warn him in turn; most of the rest of the episode is spent in pursuit. The B story is Derek and his loyal betas, Isaac and Boyd, preparing his apartment for a visit from the Alphas, who are very formal about the whole arch-enemy thing, always warning him days in advance. Deaton is saved (with the help of Sheriff Stilinski, who really, really needs to find out about the whole existence of werewolves thing sooner rather than later); Derek is, too. It's Boyd who doesn't make it.
It's hard to talk seriously about a lot of what happens this season; creator and showrunner Jeff Davis has been pretty clear that the Alphas have potent mind-control powers, so you're never quite sure what's a plot hole and what's an intentional red herring. It seems like there's definitely something up with everything happening around Derek: no one has yet explained how his little sister survived the fire that killed the rest of their family or where she's been for the last six years. I'd say that last week's seduction of a woman he barely knows while bleeding from multiple open wounds was similarly inexplicable but come on-- have you seen Tyler Hoechlin shirtless? We are all Jeniffer Blake. But there were shots of Stiles' distinctive baby blue Jeep in the traffic jam that caught up the track bus while Stiles himself sat on board, and there have been too many other unexplained oddities to be sheer sloppiness at work.
Which is a long way of saying that I don't think Boyd's dead. His dying monologue-- about how everything that happened to him as a werewolf was worth it-- makes no sense, since three weeks ago he was still pretty raw over Erica's death. My real takeaway is that we should be on the lookout for the lunar eclipse, which is the last thing he talks about as he's dying, which he remembers Erica mentioning before her own (possibly faked?) death. (I want to know what happened to her body. That was a mysterious disappearance in its own right.)
The episode ends by letting us know that Scott is such a special gem of a dude-- has such character, morality and will-- that he has turned himself into an Alpha without having to kill anyone to do it. A Born Alpha. I'm sure it will come up again, so we'll talk about it next week, but I'll just say for now that as far as I'm concerned the least interesting thing about Scott is his self-serious I'm a Hero and a Good Guy attitude, and the idea that the show is rewarding him for it by making him into some special category of werewolf is far and away the most boring thing it's ever done.
July 16, 2013 | 1:22 pm
Posted by Melissa Weller
Orange Is the New Black, adapted from the 2011 memoir of the same name, is, in a word, perfect. Perfect pacing, perfectly scripted, perfectly performed. A voluntary incarceration to the couch proved a fine way to spend the weekend, and many who participated in this latest Netflix binge-fest can be spotted with glazed-over, bloodshot eyes and a cat-who-ate-the-canary look of satisfaction.
On paper, Orange can be easily dismissed as another … coming-of-age? coming-of-cage? female dramedy cataloguing a privileged white girl walking on the underprivileged black side of the tracks, the genetic makeup of which we’re all familiar. But there’s something refreshingly believable about the whole thing. Believable, but not entirely relatable, which is refreshing in itself. When people say they enjoy a particular movie or TV show because they sympathize with what the characters are going through, or relate to the tribulations in some way, it’s usually because they can point to their own stories with a heartfelt “I’ve been there.” This is not the case with Orange. (Save for the lady viewers who have served hard time in a federal corrections facility. Hats off to you.) Creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) and her dream team pull off a perfect balancing act of challenging viewers to invest in the characters selflessly while keeping them at a believable distance. I’ll go out on a limb and assume the majority of us don’t have much experience in global drug rings, or surviving only on hope and heroin in the streets of New York. Just the starting line down those paths is one beyond most of our collective comprehensions. But Orange is a dramedic reminder that we don’t need to look to our own personal, limited understanding of achievement or struggle as the only avenue for empathy.
At the crux of the show’s palatability is an appreciated absence of heavy-handedness, despite the heavy content material. Idealistic social comments aren’t shoved down our throats and we’re trusted to draw our own conclusions, at our own pace, and tailor them as the show progresses in whatever fashion we find most meaningful. We end up caring for these women deeply because we decide they’re worth our care, not because someone on the other side of the camera is lecturing us.
This cast. My god, the cast. The chemistry of this cast is stunning, with Kohan providing a structure ripe for damn near D.D.L.-level method actors.
Yes, I recognize I just made that comparison. Anyone who I’ve offended may call the Jewish Journal front desk at (213) 368-1661.
Taylor Schiling is phenomenal as Piper Chapman, the college-educated blondie who co owns an artisanal bath soap business (“We made it into Barneys!”). She’s landed a 15-month sentence per her involvement with an international drug cartel, one her ex-girlfriend Alex Vause (Ex-Girlfriend!) occupied a large operational role. Laura Prepon goes full sex-pot mode as Alex, the tattooed alpha vixen with a soft soul. Piper’s fiancé Larry is played by Jason Biggs. Jason Biggs is Jason Biggs is Jason Biggs, channeling with ease his masturbation-obsessed, parent-helicoptered Jew Boy à la American Pie. Then there’s Pablo Schreiber, who absolutely kills it as Officer Pornstache Mendez, the prison guard creepster. Our consumption of him is entirely uncomfortable yet irresistibly delicious. Like Sriracha. He is the evil older brother of the entire Reno 911 cast and genius in his delivery.
Most important shout out belongs to the scene when Larry visits imprisoned Piper for the first time and their hug is cut short when a guard yells “No touching!” Anyone who burst into fan-girl/fan-boy ecstasy with the (intentional, I’m sure) homage to Arrested Development, another Netflix darling, I see you.
July 15, 2013 | 9:08 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Summer is my favorite season, I think, which is a funny thing to say because the reason I love it so much is that it's all about escape. Kids go to camp and adults takes weeks seaside, lakeside, poolside, slipping out of whatever unbearable city we're inhabiting to be somewhere else, somewhere pleasant for as long as we're allowed. Summer is suffering we're encouraged to bear and then evade, unlike winter, which I've always found opressive in its omnipresence. And when we go somewhere else we get to be someone else: maybe I just haven't been out of school long enough, but I can't quite shake the idea of summer as a period of reinvention, the hope that whoever I am on the longest days of the year will finally manage to stick through the spread of the colder ones.
NBC's new hour-long dramedy (which is apparently just a word people use now) Camp is all about that particular kind of fantasy: the staff of titular Little Otters contains a kid trying to escape his recent Leukemia diagnosis and two cousenlors who spend every summer sleeping together-- only to ignore one another during the academic year. The pilot, which aired last week, is not great in the way most pilots are-- and this one is particularly overstuffed and exposition-heavy-- but that almost doesn't matter. The cast is large and varied (and contains Rachel Griffiths, who, as far as I'm concerned can do very little wrong) and it's got that unapologetic 80's good guys/bad guys thing going on, villains you can identify because they're rich and they eat lobster and wear polo shirts with the collars popped, because they say nasty things about nice girls and race across a shared lake on loud, obnoxious jet skis. It's like every cultural trope about summer crammed into an hour of television, something fun to relax into after a long day outside in the sun.
Netflix's latest attempt at original programming is about a very different kind of reinvention: Orange is the New Black follows a mid-thirties yuppie named Piper Chapman as she navigates a fifteen-month sentence for aiding and abetting an international drug-smuggling operation some years prior. That Piper has, in the mean time, given up her life of crime (and the girlfriend, Alex, who got her into it) to become, in own words "the nice blonde lady" she was always meant to be doesn't matter-- so she's stuck inside the prison's walls trying to launch an artisanal bath products company, trying to keep her engagement to her fiance, Larry, from falling apart.
I'm only midway through Orange is the New Black; Netflix releases its original programming in whole-season blocks, which means they're ideal for binge-watching but easy to feel behind on. So far I'm not entirely sold: the characters too often veer into charicature, and Piper's milquetoast white lady oh no reaction to pretty much everything-- from pie-fights to women peeing on her floors to being starved after she insults the chef's cooking to her face--is hard to watch after a while. I'm just through episode five, in which she abandons an important work phone call to chase a chicken everyone in the prison is obsessed with (don't ask), and hoping it will mark a turning point both for her and for the show, turning her into the kind of heroine I'll actually be interested in watching, forcing her to let go of who's she's been so that she can reinvent herself, just like everyone else does this time of year.