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.
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.
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.
James does Colbert.
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.
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.
[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:
“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?
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:
- 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…
- 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.
- 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?
- 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..
Here’s a thought: If you’re going to make one of your main characters a Catholic priest, try to have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the viewer. You’d think, for example, that the Catholic priest might have some mild qualms about the plan to abort several hundred alien eggs with plastic explosives. Did the Pope determine that the Visitor unborn don’t have souls? If so, did the half-human-half-lizard baby have half a soul?
I really wish I could believe that this was a subtle dig at the incoherence of the anti-choice movement, but coming from ABC that really strains credulity…
I largely agree. After buying and watching all five seasons of The Wire last year, I struggled with an internal debate: was it better than Homicide Life on the Street? While The Wire is justifiably lauded on this island as either the best or very close to the best television ever produced, HLOTS never really made an impact out here, at least one sufficiently lasting enough allowing for discussion and debate amongst my friends and colleagues.
I watched HLOTS unerringly during its seven year run, and while the last two or three seasons could be ignored, have considered it since the best television drama. The Wire challenged this notion, and it still does.