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Tag: "television"

Predetermined Reviews

[ 78 ] March 22, 2012 |

I feel like this Alessandra Stanley preview of the upcoming first episode of Season 5 of Mad Men is a predictable as a Pitchfork review of a band’s 4th album after album 3 hit is big–it reflexively can’t be as good because we’ve moved on to something else.

The downside of success is too much devotion. “Mad Men” fatigue is brought on by all the fuss and cute imitation: the Banana Republic fashion line; copycat shows like “Pan Am” and “Magic City,” a new Starz series set in 1960s Miami; ’60s memoirs, coffee table books, cookbooks, cocktail recipes and magazine spreads; “Mad Men” costume parties; and “Mad Men” drinking tours of Manhattan.

It’s not fair, really, but a show that became a hit because it seemed so original has been so co-opted that it now looks like a cliché.

Seventeen months have passed since last season’s finale, and other shows have come along that are set in a present that suddenly seems fresh and unexplored, like “Homeland” on Showtime and “Girls,” which begins on HBO in April.

The personalities on “Mad Men” don’t change, but the times do. At this point, the context may be more interesting than the characters.

Note that none of this has anything to do with the quality of the show itself. She calls the first episode “long and a little dreary.” Could be, but of course Mad Men is always a show that builds slowly toward its season theme. I also think the worst criticism of Mad Men is that because it is set in the 60s, it should reflect the major political and social themes of the times. Well, no. I mean, it could and it often does. But I think the show is at its worst when it tries to shoehorn in the decade’s major events. These are rich white dudes, they don’t care about civil rights or Vietnam except in how it affects advertising. And that’s fine. But the show is not about people’s idealized view of the 60s. It’s about a narrow slice of society, which is far more indicative of the actual 60s than a decade’s greatest hits.

Also, this is not a case of the Sex and the City, where by the time of the second movie they were celebrating a lifestyle that seemed grotesque in the middle of bad financial times (never mind that the lifestyle was actually grotesque for the entirety of the show). Mad Men may celebrate the fashions of the time, but not the people and behavior itself. So I don’t see how the murder of Trayvon Martin somehow makes the show less appropriate for our times.

In any case, the quality of a show is dependent on many factors–acting, writing, production, etc. And until there’s evidence that this has declined, which in season 4 it most certainly had not, then I simply refuse to believe that somehow it is old hat because Pan Am was bad.

Vincent and the Doctor, Together Alone

[ 16 ] February 15, 2012 |

(This be another one of those posts in which I “[feign] some kind of cultural superiority … even though [my] opinions and tastes are largely shite of the first water [that force most commenters to] make an effort to shaddup when [I] want to wax long and philosophical about some mainstream film [I'm] content to call art.)

I covered the palette of “Vincent and the Doctor” in my post about the Leverage episode “The Van Gogh Job,” so I’ll save some time and just say the wheat:

Doctor who vincent and the doctor2012-02-15-11h48m59s146

The wheat:

Doctor who vincent and the doctor2012-02-15-11h49m01s166

The wheat:

Doctor who vincent and the doctor2012-02-15-11h49m04s193

The wheat may not seem that important—though damn do I love it—but it calls to mind Woody Allen’s famous parody of Ingmar Bergman in Love & Death, which is relevant because “Vincent and the Doctor” is an episode devoted to the consequences of loneliness (felt or otherwise). The Doctor’s alone because he’s the Doctor; Amy’s alone because (unbeknownst to her) Rory’s been unwritten from existence; Vincent’s alone because Vincent’s always been alone; and the Krafayis is alone because it’s been abandoned by its fellows. This is a story that’s fundamentally about lonely people “coming together,” only director Jonny Campbell doesn’t shoot it that way. I bring up the visual punning on the wheat because the shots it parodies are relevant. To wit:

Read more…

Linkocity

[ 48 ] February 3, 2012 |

A lot of interesting stories today, too many to comment upon:

1. Neil Genzlinger on the absurd proliferation of strip club scenes on television. As he points out, the problem with the scenes is not so much moral as it is that they are boring, lazy, and repetitive.

2. If you haven’t this Sabrina Rubin Erdely profile of the anti-gay climate of Anoka, Minnesota leading to a rash of gay teens committing suicide, do it. This is Michelle Bachmann’s district. The climate of hate she pushes trickles down to the public schools. The schools openly push hard-right evangelical values that vilify homosexuality. I don’t know Minnesota very well, so I can’t speak to why this area has so much hate. Would be curious to hear more informed people’s thoughts.

3. In case, the Anoka story didn’t make you angry enough, read Ari Berman on how the GOP is redistricting Southern states to not only destroy the Democratic Party but to resegregate the South.

4. When you think of Nevada, you probably think of a) Vegas, b) legal prostitution, and c) Vegas. But there’s a lot of land in Nevada outside of Las Vegas. And it’s populated by some very crazy people. Of course, Las Vegas is so much bigger than the rest of the state that Democrats can win the state and completely ignore everything outside of Vegas and the Reno/Carson City area.

5. On eating squirrel.

6. The interesting “transpartisan” political coalition in Nebraska that brought down the Keystone XL Pipeline. Also, I really want to visit the Sandhills of Nebraska.

7. Corruption and cronyism in the Alaska Fish & Game Department is all too typical of how western states run their wildlife programs: for the wealthy who like to shoot things.

8. I like American jobs as much as anyone, but I don’t like this. Caterpillar is shutting down a Canadian plant where it had locked out workers last month and moving operations to its plant in Muncie, Indiana, where it can take advantage of cheap American labor.

Hungry Muppet

[ 27 ] October 5, 2011 |

Well, leave it to the always excellent Sesame Street to be one of the first major artistic endeavors to take on the current economic crisis, reaching to the growing number of hungry children with a character they can relate to.

No doubt this will convince Republicans to double down on eliminating PBS funding in the next budget.

Whitey

[ 26 ] June 23, 2011 |

Finally captured. Two related recommendations:

  • Black Mass is as gripping an airline read as you could ask for.
  • Brotherhood, the fictionalized, transplanted-to-Rhode Island Showtime series based on the Bulger case, is an extremely underrated show; I’d rank it easily among the top 10 from TV’s great decade.

Drogo

[ 17 ] June 3, 2011 |

Charli and her partner discuss Khal Drogo’s war speech from last week’s Game of Thrones. Spoilers, etc.

Geektacular!

[ 18 ] May 9, 2011 |

James does Colbert.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bill James
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Saving the book for an upcoming cross-country flight, but will have some thoughts about his recent greatest-team-of-all-time analysis, which regrettably (but probably correctly) lands on the ’98 Yankees.

F.f..f..f..f..fricking Anarchy!!!

[ 11 ] November 5, 2010 |

This reminds me of this.

Mad Men Amuse Bouche

[ 37 ] October 4, 2010 |

While waiting for SEK, once again MZS has a good take on a fantastic episode.

Has any show of quality ever reached a new peak in its fourth year?     Well, yes, The Simpsons, but a drama?    That certainly seems where Mad Men is headed.

Mad Men: Picking up “The [wrong] Suitcase”

[ 5 ] September 16, 2010 |

[I know I'm a week behind, but I had to take an emergency vacation when I realized the quarter starts next week.  Expect one more post on this episode before I get to the most recent.]

In the first post about “The Suitcase,” I concerned myself with the way Getzinger’s camera conspired with blocking to frame the characters oppressively, and I want to build on that at the beginning of this one, but need to backtrack a bit first.  In that post I noted that Getzinger switches to a medium shot and opens up an abyss beneath Draper that terminates in his office.  I was spectacularly wrong.  At the beginning of the episode, Draper’s office sits atop an abyss, as the shot after the aforelinked one clearly demonstrates:

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Mad Men: Structural Oppresion in “The Suitcase”

[ 23 ] September 8, 2010 |

“The Suitcase” may well be the best episode of Mad Men to date.  Not that admiration necessarily precludes critique, but as I may gush a little bit about Jennifer Getzinger‘s direction or Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss’s acting, I wanted to make it clear that 1) what follows is not an appreciation and 2) I may bear down a little harder on the episode’s only flawed moment so everyone knows this isn’t an appreciation.  “The Suitcase” opens with the distribution of tickets to an “Exclusive Theater Telecast” of the Ali-Liston rematch.  That these advertising folk are attending a viewing instead of the fight itself is no doubt significant, but not significant enough to dwell on in light of everything else going on in this episode, the first hint of which happens here:

Getzinger places Danny Strong’s “Danny Siegel” in what is clearly a subordinate position, which is ironic because 1) Draper is confidently predicting a Liston victory in the fight, and 2) Draper had coopted Siegel’s idea earlier and is therefore his superior in name alone.  Peggy will later remind Draper of this fact and precipitate the first of Draper’s many breakdowns, but for the moment it is enough to note that the framing of this shot militates against its manifest content and move on to Don receiving the news that the wife of the man whose name he stole is about to die:

Note how severely the camera frames this moment: a) despite being quite a distance from each other, the lamps on the desks in the foreground and background simultaneously occupy the center of the frame; b) the lights on the ceiling and the angles of the wall suggest a classic one-point perspective terminating in an unseen vanishing point; c) Draper and his secretary are not simply balanced, they are equidistant from both the each other and their side of the frame; d) as are the secretaries in the background); e) coupled with the suggestion of an unseen vanishing point, the symmetry of Draper and his secretary occupy the same position relative to the architecture of the building and the lines of perspective.  Let me show you what I mean as best I can given my limited Photoshop skills:

Now that I’ve cleared that up, compare the above with the shot that immediately follows:

The severely ordered world of the previous shot is unbalanced by the switch from a medium long to a conversational medium shot, with the overall effect being that a symmetrical abyss seems to have opened up behind Draper.  By shifting the camera slightly off-center, however, Getzinger creates the impression that this orderly abyss has opened up to swallow Draper and Draper alone.  At the bottom of it?

Read more…

The Tudors

[ 13 ] July 8, 2010 |

So, we finally struggled through the final season of the Tudors.  It’s been clear for some time (say, early in season one) that this was not a series that deserved attention in the same family as the best of the HBO and Showtime series, but it’s remarkable how weakly the series ended.  Some thoughts:

  1. Whether because of the writing or because of Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s limitations as an actor, it became apparent by the end of the first season that Henry VIII as depicted in this series was just not a very interesting character.  Comparison with the Sopranos is instructive; we become aware in season six, through Dr. Melfi, that Tony isn’t really going to grow or change as a character in any productive way.  He was a sociopath in season one, and he was a sociopath in season six; the experience and analysis weren’t going to change that.  In Tudors, the deficiencies of the main character become clear pretty early on, and yet the series continues for another three years; unsurprisingly, when nothing of much interest can happen to the main character, the series gets fairly boring.  What we were watching, essentially, was the court of Saddam Hussein; that could be somewhat interesting, but the focus then needs to be on the interesting characters and machinations in that court.  This leads to the second point…
  2. With a few exceptions, the producers were unable to produce any useful supporting characters around Meyers.  Part of this was due to necessity, of course; there could be no Carmela in this series.  Nevertheless, the inability to make the supporting cast interesting is inexcusable.  There were exceptions; Sam Neill did a fine job as Cardinal Woolsey, James Frain did good work as Thomas Cromwell, Sarah Bolger was solid as Princess Mary, and Alan Van Sprang produced a lively Francis Bryan.  Unfortunately, the great bulk of sidekick time was handed to Henry Cavill’s Charles Brandon, who had an almost singular ability to say and do nothing of any interest at all.
  3. The Tudors had an absurd number of side characters and side plots that had no meaningful impact on the course of the overall storyline.  Several times during the series, the wife and I would watch a murder or seduction scene, then openly wonder who the characters were and why we should care what happened to them.  Payoffs for these incidental asides would be rare; who really cared about the saga of Reginald Pole?
  4. For some reason, the producers believed that signing big name actors then giving them nothing to do and failing to integrate them into the storyline was a great idea.  We get Peter O’Toole as the Pope for some reason, and Henry Czerny as the Duke of Norfolk with three lines in an entire season, and Max Von Sydow as some guy who was somewhere for some reason that was utterly peripheral to the main story.  Producers should sign actors with some sense of what those actors are for; nobody watched the Tudors in order to see Peter O’Toole shamble about and make proclamations on a sound stage miles away from the rest of the cast.

I’d like to say that I’m looking forward to the Borgias, which is apparently by the same producers, and stars Jeremy Irons. I’d like to say that..

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