Category Archives: Television

Nostalgic and Disappointed in My Office Kitchen.

Am I the only person who didn’t know that Carlton from Fresh Prince was hosting a lame-looking show  on a network I’ve never heard of? I caught a brief glimpse of a commercial for it when I went to my water cooler and, frankly, wish I didn’t even know. Though for a minute I thought he was just in the commercial, and  that was even more sad.

Mad Men, Season 3, Ep. 11: “The Gypsy and the Hobo.”

don-betty-IMG_1977

By 10:20, I was all set to declare this episode a dud, but by 10:35, I was biting my tongue. Hard. More…

Hate on Glee.

I cut off my cable more than a year ago. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, for a few reasons. One, the times that most people watch television — in the morning before work and in the evening after work — I spent listening to music, reading, and writing. Two, because I had very, very basic cable, there was rarely anything on worth watching. Three, when I did watch, it was often mostly Sunday afternoon Hannah Montana and This Old House marathons. But about six months ago, I got Verizon Fios internet, and my world changed. I discovered Tudou and Hulu and it’s all been downhill from there. Recently, I realized that I have a roster of shows to watch regularly: Fringe, Dollhouse, The Daily Show, Gossip Girl, and Glee all made the list. The last of these, however, has caused me a little bit of consternation.

There are a lot of reasons why I should like Glee. It has musical numbers, and I am a girl who loves musicals; from Gigi to Jesus Christ Superstar, I can get behind a movie with plenty of singing and dancing. It’s in the classic high school setting, and since I grew up just as teen movies and TV shows had a resurgence in the late nineties, I have a lot of loyalty to the genre. Plus, it really is a funny show.

More…

Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 9: Wee Small Hours

Awwwww, Sal. We knew Sal was probably a goner as soon as we saw Don peak in on Sal and the bellhop, but it still seems more than cruel for Sal to get an unexpected hit on from a handsome direction and then have it turn on him. Still, that’s probably the way it would have happened. And when Don suggested Sal should have handled it the way “you people” handle it, it betrayed the secret relationship he thought he and Don had. Sal thought he knew Don because of what Don didn’t do, and that betrayal of a secret understanding really gets to the heart of the episode.

Through a weird, Ken Burns-esque letter-reading voice-over, we see the start of Betty’s affair with Henry Francis take real shape, and then fizzle and die when her juvenile chaise fantasies give way to the hard realty of a desk in an office. It’s nice to see Betty’s childishness kind of serve her well. She throws a box at Henry, but when that doesn’t end with him carrying her off into the sunset on a white horse she wants none of it. All for the best. Hard to see how that was going to turn out well.

But Betty’s relationship with Henry provides a new chance for a secret understanding with Carla, which, through awkward references to contemporaneous events sheds a little light on the superior relationship Betty’s cohort thought they had with African Americans vis-a-vis the South. When Betty’s guests discuss the barbarism of segregation as Carla hangs out in the back, the irony is a little too heavy. And poor Carla, I wish we could see more from her than the sideways glance.

The biggest betrayal, of course, is that of Conrad Hilton, who is one minute calling Don in the middle of the night to tell him he’s like a son and the next demanding some ridiculous ad like any other spoiled client. And it serves Roger the opportunity to give Don the smack down he’s been waiting to give him all season.

I’m just not sure what the episode tells us about Don. In his disappointment, Don does exactly what he’s always done. At the end he’s cuddled up with a hipster brunette which, incidentally, is just the way he started.

Wherever this show is taking us, it’s without my two favorite characters — Sal and Joan — at Sterling Cooper. This season has offered us some of the best episodes from the show yet, but this one seemed ready-made for the criticisms people often throw at it, that it’s a very stylized version of not very much that’s new. I could be wrong about the episode in the first impression. I’d love to see what you guys think.

Sound and Fury Signifying…What Exactly?

David Post wonders how much our news culture distorts the information we consume.

I call it the ESPN Effect – mistaking filtered reality for reality.  We do it a lot.  All I hear from my left-leaning friends these days is how crazy people on the right are becoming, and all all I hear from my right-leaning friends is how crazy people on the left are becoming, and everyone, on both sides, seems very eager to provide evidence of the utter lunacy of those on the other side.  “Look how crazy they’re becoming over there, on the other side!” is becoming something of a dominant trope, on left and right.  It is true that we’re seeing more crazy people doing crazy things on the other side (whichever side that may be, for you) coming across our eyeballs these days.   But that’s all filtered reality; it bears no more relationship to reality than the Sportscenter highlights bear to the game of baseball.

Back in the 1990’s, the Phoenix Suns drafted this cat named Chris Carr out of Southern Illinois. Because he was athletic and dunked on people pretty ferociously, he regularly made it onto SportsCenter. The thing was, he had a lot of holes in his game and he didn’t actually play that much,  and bounced around the League for a few years before going to play overseas. But if you had only watched  SportsCenter, you would have sworn dude was a future All-Star instead of a role player,* because television news’s inclination toward spectacle comes at the expense of context.

As egregious as ESPN is, that soul-crushing parade of bloviation is tonally indistinguishable from what you’d see on CNN. It’s the nature of an image-centered medium; it’s harder for a TV reporter to make dry events like city council meetings visually compelling, which is why the local 11 o’clock broadcasts always lead with crime or fire stories. (If they really considered fires and shootings “important” stories, you’d see stations circle back to those stories at some point to cover the aftermath, and yet they never, ever do.)

This is especially problematic when it comes to important, complicated issues like health care reform, which is why we spent all August seeing footage of really, really dumb people yelling nonsense at members of Congress instead of explanations of the various bills being debated.  (I guess this is actually marginally better than our usual “rash of shark attacks” or The Annual Missing White Girl Search in that it bears some loose relationship to social consequence.) The most camera-friendly voices on policy issues are usually the ones that are the loudest and most outrageous, but not necessarily the ones those are best-informed. For obvious reasons, this is kinda terrifying. I think the lunacy we’re seeing on the right is real, but our media landscape — which will lead broadcasts with violent crime stories regardless of whether crime rates are falling or dropping — make it hard to figure out how widespread it is or how deep it runs.

Still, none of this really explains why local TV stations or national networks never endeavor to do any original investigative reporting. (As blackink and quadmoniker can attest, local stations just follow-up on the legwork done by dogged print reporters.) Stories that do become national news via TV outlets  are almost always pseudo-events, like when prominent politicians say something stupid or wacky in front of a camera or a live mike. It’s almost always an accident; the stories have to fall into their laps. There’s an irony in broadcast journalism making the strongest case for why we need newspapers to survive.

*Meanwhile, Mitch Richmond, a consistent, unflashy player, put in  Hall of Fame-caliber work for Sacramento while no one was looking.

Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 7: Seven Twenty Three.

Wow. So much to say, right? Where should we start? More…

Moral Kombat.

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