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Tag: "television"

TV Time Warp: Absolutely Fabulous Anachronisms

[ 255 ] April 21, 2017 |

I’m going to take a little break from talking about human suffering in on screen to bring you a different way of encountering social norms through television.

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Comedic duo Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as accidentally neo-Luddite Edina and Patsy

Enter the legendary British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous about trashy London women working in high fashion in the 1990’s. I’m an older millennial and I remember watching the show when it aired in the US on Comedy Central. I didn’t really know what was going on but they talked funny so I was hooked. Now that I live in London and call myself a “media anthropologist”, it seems as a good time as any to revisit.

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Edina uses her electronic organizer to ignore doing any actual organizing

While on a flight I came across an old episode where main character Edina gets an electronic organizer and it ruins her life. Well, her life was already pretty horrible but the device ends up becoming a total nuisance and she throws it out the window. My iphone is practically an extension of my body, so I winced a little at that scene.

Later, she calls her assistant Bubbles to come over and take notes. The strange blonde pixie arrives with a pad and pen and Eddie asks, “Where is your computer?!” She had previously told Bubbles to get a “lap top”. Confused, and perhaps a little scared, Bubbles reveals she has a tiny “lap dog” in her purse.

Bubbles holds an early version of the iPad, called a "pad"

Bubbles holds an early version of the iPad, called a “pad”

This episode, “Door Handle”, aired in 1995 and is curiously anti-technology. Even in the newer iterations of the adventures of Edina and Patsy, the two never really come to terms with the way technology has changed their society. They stay fabulously aloof. Given that in the 90’s their characters were anachronisms constantly pining for their younger days with “Mick and the boys”, this all fits neatly together. So who could really blame creator Jennifer Saunders for failing to recognize where mobile phone technology might go?

 

What older TV shows have you re-watched and felt a pang of nostalgia for their technology?

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The Lesson Is, Never Try

[ 235 ] April 19, 2017 |

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The Simpsons is celebrating 30 years on the air. If “celebrate” is the right word for a show that has been pointless to terrible for the last 15 years. In fact, it’s been bad for so long that it’s almost easy to forget just how wonderful it was. Here is a ranking of the top 100 Simpsons episodes. Tellingly, not a single episode in the top 100 happened after Season 9. If only the show had ended there, or at least by Season 12 or so when it was clear that it was dead except for cheap gags and celebrity appearances. Of course, one could say the same about Woody Allen films. Anyway, if it ever ends, it will be easier to go back and remember its greatness without being reminded of what it has become.

Who Could Have Guessed Saturday Night Live Would Play a Leading Role in Resisting Trump?

[ 204 ] February 6, 2017 |

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Donald Trump reacts to Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Sean Spicer in the most Trump way possible.

More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president’s eyes, according to sources close to him. And the unflattering send-up by a female comedian was not considered helpful for Spicer’s longevity in the grueling, high-profile job, where he has struggled to strike the right balance between representing an administration that considers the media the “opposition party,” and developing a functional relationship with the press.

“Trump doesn’t like his people to look weak,” added a top Trump donor.

Trump’s uncharacteristic Twitter silence over the weekend about the “Saturday Night Live” sketch was seen internally as a sign of how uncomfortable it made the White House feel. Sources said the caricature of Spicer by McCarthy struck a nerve and was upsetting to the press secretary and to his allies, who immediately saw how damaging it could be in Trumpworld.

Since SNL has so much power, how about portraying Bannon as a puppetmaster controlling everything Trump says. Or portray Trump as a dog who Bannon pets on the head when he says something properly racist. Even better, Trump can be played by a woman, evidently the most outrageous insult ever imagined.

4 years of this. 4 years.

….Now this is a good idea.

Mary Tyler Moore, RIP

[ 70 ] January 25, 2017 |

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Mary Tyler Moore has died, at the age of 80.

We actually made it through over three weeks of 2017 without a major cultural figure dying. And I guess it’s kind of a fitting time to go, a pioneering figure in feminist portrayals in popular culture leaving life when the nation’s government has declared war against everything that stood for.

Today in Media Normalization of Racism

[ 97 ] December 19, 2016 |

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Do we need a reality show following a KKK family around? No. Nothing good comes of this. But A&E smells some good ratings. And why would the KKK mind the humanization of their members? Sounds like a good recruiting tool to me! And sure, the show covers its tracks by bringing in some anti-racists to intervene, but this is a disastrous black hole in the Age of Trump.

Let’s Chat About the Olympics Coverage

[ 123 ] September 1, 2016 |
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men's 100 meter semifinal on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 14: Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men’s 100 meter semifinal on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

God, NBC’s coverage of the Olympics was horrible. Not surprisingly, NBC’s ratings plummeted from previous games. NBC is of course blaming it on the damn kids and their desire to watch events live. Well, isn’t that shocking! Actually being connected to the world and wanting to see action as it happens instead of having it spoonfed to you by Bob Costas and commercial after commercial after commercial. Who wouldn’t want to see that! That stuff might work for my parents’ generation, but not only is it disastrous for those crazy millennials but really for any demographic under the age of 50 who has adopted modern technology to shape their entertainment choices.

Maybe NBC should quit whining and figure out to present a decent product.

Jessica Jones

[ 162 ] July 15, 2016 |

Actress Krysten Ritter was on the set of the new TV show 'AKA Jessica Jones' on March 24 2015 in New York City.  |

I recently completed a bit of an experiment. What if I, someone who has never read a comic book in my life, even when I was a kid, and who is openly hostile to superhero stories, watched a superhero show. How would it stand up? Does it work despite my hostility to the genre? Does the story stand up for those who bring absolutely nothing of the comic book universe to the table.

So I watched Jessica Jones, it part because it was only sort of superhero-y, without the ridiculous costumes. The film-noir aspects seemed intriguing and it seemed like a good entry point.

Last night, I watched the final two episodes. So spoilers ahead and the like if you care about these things.

Basically, I thought it worked OK. The show itself was mostly fine, not great. It gets by on great performances from the three lead actors and a great concept, although I worry where it goes from here. As many others have said, the Kilgrave story is fantastic because it shows not an evil genius or a tortured soul but just a reprobate sexual abusing asshole using his powers to do that. Combine that with David Tennant and it’s one of the most truly evil characters of all time. The scene chewing was significant and enjoyable. Several of the sub-plots worked generally well–the vile lawyer and the relationship between Trish Walker and the mother at the end.

But there were also some problems. Some of them are fairly standard–Jessica’s neighbors are universally horrible and I always cringed when they were on the screen. And while this was a fairly compelling season of television, how do you follow up on that season? The Kilgrave arc seems a lot more fitting for a Season Two. I understand going in this direction–the series wanted to be renewed after all. But since so little of the detective side of the character was revealed in Season One, it went from 0 to 60 in a second. What then is the story next season and how does it match this? I imagine part of it is going to be exploring the revelation of the secret company that had something to do with her superpowers, but that seems pretty banal. So we’ll see. Turning the gore up to 11 as it does at times, especially in the last few episodes, was pretty gratuitous as well, but whatever.

And as an outsider to the story, at times the series makes mistakes by assuming viewers already know these stories. There is the episode fairly early where the people try to kill Jessica because of some alien superhero attack or something that happened before the show started. This makes absolutely no sense if you aren’t familiar with this universe. Moreover, it’s completely unnecessary in the telling of this tale. The show goes nowhere with this history elsewhere. So that was a big misstep. The final episode, where Rosario Dawson shows up out no nowhere to help them, was also more than little too convenience and out of nowhere, but then I come to find out that her character is in some other comic book show and it’s a way to connect them. Well, OK, but just basing on it this show alone, it’s just a random drop-in. Ultimately, a successful adaptation has to properly explain everything to people who are not exposed to the source material. Jessica Jones only succeeds at that sometimes.

And then I wondered, is the superhero schtick really necessary for the show? Not that it’s necessarily any more a ridiculous set up than a western or science fiction show. But one thing I never liked about superheroes was that it seemed like good way to avoid realism, as well as to use really broad plot devices to make commentary about the present without actually engaging the present. So just on a personal level, I wonder if this show really needed the superhero devices. Mostly, the answer is no, although I do get it makes for some cool fight scenes and that has value. Kilgrave’s utter vileness doesn’t have to be expressed explicitly through mind control and Jessica’s powers really aren’t even all that important to the show. No matter though.

Anyway, maybe I’ll experiment with another such show in the future. I might watch Season Two of Jessica Jones, although it may depend on the reviews because I could see this going south real fast without such a compelling storyline to carry it through. It’s certainly no Wire or Mad Men or Breaking Bad or Deadwood–in other words, I don’t see ever rewatching the show.

For now, I am going to continue catching up on The Americans and probably start Justified to replace Jessica Jones. I should watch Season Two of Better Call Saul because I loved Season One and watched the first two episodes of the latest season before I went to Germany, but then fell behind and never bought the season on Amazon (and no, I don’t have a DVR). So I may wait for that to come out on Netflix rather than buying the season. Anyway, I know I’m way behind on my TV and that’s why I am finally going to start Justified, but it seems like my kind of thing.

Can Someone Explain the 70s to Me?

[ 147 ] May 5, 2016 |

What in the hell was wrong with the 70s? Donny & Marie want to do a Star Wars spoof? Great. Let’s get Kris Kristofferson to play Han Solo! And Redd Foxx to do something! And Paul Lynde can wander in. And some dancing stormtroopers! Why not!

Can We Fund a Kickstarter for This?

[ 71 ] April 10, 2016 |

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If you were to ask me what the ultimate great television project of all time would be, I could not do better than this:

David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” said he would love to make a television series about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the collective name for the roughly 2,800 U.S. volunteers who fought on the side of the Republic during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War to help fight fascism.

“I have tried, without success, to interest U.S. producers in the story of these guys who fought in Spain,” Simon told reporters in Barcelona, where he is attending the “Serializados” festival.

A David Simon series on the Lincoln Brigade. Oh. My. God. I mean, really, how could this not be the greatest thing in known human history. Unfortunately, idiot producers don’t understand the need to target the demographic of me in making decisions. But this looks pretty good too.

He is now ready to start filming the first season of “The Deuce,” a series on the pornography industry that grew up in New York in the 1970s and ‘80s, a project that didn’t come naturally to Simon.

“I am a married man, with children. I don’t like to talk about porn,” he said.

His interest was piqued, however, after he heard the “fascinating” story of twins – played in the series by James Franco – who were part of the first generation in the porn industry that “came out of nothing” and contributed to the “transformation of sexuality” in our society, Simon said.

“The Original Disrupter in Kids’ Media”

[ 57 ] April 10, 2016 |

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Above: Big Bird’s new BFF

Please kill me now.

It has already been a big year for Sesame Street, which as of January is brought to you by the letters H, B, and O.

But the well-known children’s program is now adding something new and seemingly odd to the mix: venture capital. Sesame Workshop, a preexisting nonprofit arm of the Sesame Street organization, is partnering with Collaborative Fund to create Sesame Venture.

In the partnership, Collaborative Fund will provide early-stage startups with up to $1 million. Sesame Venture plans to invest in companies focused on education, media, family development, social and cultural development, food, health, and wellness. The funded startups will be able to take advantage of networking opportunities and useful data provided by Sesame Workshop.

“Sesame Street was the original disrupter in kids’ media, and we have a 45-year history of being a creative workshop dedicated to breaking new ground,” Sesame Workshop CEO Jeffrey D. Dunn said of the partnership. “We are in the midst of an extraordinary time in the history of how digital technology can change the education, health, and welfare of kids around the world.

“History suggests that much of that change will spring from new companies. By partnering with some of these startups, Sesame Workshop can help grow the next wave of kid-focused innovation and improve the lives of children everywhere.”

I look forward to the introduction of Poochie as the new Sesame Street character in the next season.

More Shandling

[ 17 ] March 26, 2016 |

A few more Garry Shandling related links.

One might forget how great the writing on The Larry Sanders Show was. So great. So hilarious. Thanks to Tom Till for the link.

Conan O’Brien’s remembrance of Shandling was rather touching.


And Zoller Seitz:

The Larry Sanders Show — which holds the personal distinction of being the series that made me order cable for the first time — felt in some ways like an inversion of his Showtime classic, or maybe a Cubist splintering of it. Shandling played the title character, a Johnny Carson–like talk-show legend who was perpetually terrified that he wasn’t getting the best guests, that his “best friends” in showbiz didn’t even like him and only hung around him because he was a star, and that his co-workers only put up with his crap because he was paying them. On some level, all of these fears proved accurate, and on another they weren’t true at all. All the other recurring characters and guest stars on the show were just as screwed up as Larry — they just didn’t usually have his wealth and power, so they had to suffer indignities without recourse. The “backstage” scenes were shot on film, in the graceful yet spontaneous manner of a low-budget indie comedy, while the talk-show segments were represented by cutting between brighter, grainier videotape (representing what the camera sees, and what the audience at home experiences) and filmed images of his staff and crew and backstage acquaintances reacting to his performance. That these textural (and textual) distinctions immediately started to seem arbitrary was part of the show’s point, and part of its philosophical richness. Life was all one big show here, and nobody had the script.

Few lead characters in TV comedies were as pathetic and needy and sleazy and manipulative as Larry. He took his wife for granted until she finally divorced him. He hit on every halfway-attractive woman who crossed his path (and a few of them went home with him, not because they really liked him, but because he was Larry). He’d bring dates home with him from dinner and then make them watch the broadcast of that day’s show with him, solicit compliments on his excellent work, and feel genuinely hurt when he had to coax the praise out of them. Larry was a great performer, and it’s a testament to Shandling’s physical and verbal skill as a performer that you could watch Larry interact spontaneously with guests in barely scripted “segments” and think, Carson could not have done that any better. But he was a terrible boss, petty and entitled, casually sexist and racist and homophobic, though often not as crude about it as some other people in Hollywood, which allowed him to congratulate himself on being oh-so-very liberal. (Except for Albert Brooks, few filmmakers skewered this aspect of showbiz delusion with such precision.) We should have hated him, but we couldn’t because, like The Office’s David Brent and his counterpart on the American Office, Michael Scott, we saw how lonely he was, how miserable he was in his own skin, and thought: That poor bastard. I’m glad I’m not him.

But you were, though. Shandling knew it, and you knew it. And that’s what gave The Larry Sanders Show and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show their slow-motion, train-wreck fascination.

What a huge loss. At least Shandling is being properly remembered at the genius and good person that he was.

Classic Krusty In Real Life

[ 10 ] February 7, 2016 |

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You’ve seen Classic Krusty interview George Meany. But have you seen the real thing? You have now. From September 1952.

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