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Category Archives: talking about tv though i have no tv

Gilmore Girls is a show that I watched sporadically throughout its seven year run, missing most of the first and nearly all of the last two seasons. One of the pluses about the show is that, though there are several overriding arcs that sustain the show throughout its seven year run, nothing about the individual episodes ever really strays from the general tone and format of the show; every episode will contain rapid-fire dialogue, endless pop culture references (my favorite recently-watched one involves Rory and Jess in a record store asking what Slint is, and having the apparently know-it-all clerk describe them as “grunge,” a mis-identification that actually drove me crazy before I laughed at my dead indie outrage), crazy townsfolk, and some drama between the Gilmore girls and their romantic partners at the time or the Gilmore girls and their patrician lineage in the form of Emily and Richard. In essence—and completely opposite to The Wire, Friday Night Lights, and Breaking Bad, the only other dramatic shows from the oughts that I have loved—Gilmore Girls is a perfect show to watch as comfort food, out of order or in the background. It is serialized in that events which happen in one episode mean something in others, but not so much so that the minutiae in something like The Wire will be crucial in the constant build of the series.

To backtrack a bit: I had been wanting to go through this rewatch because of the fact that I missed whole chunks of the show, filling in the blanks through reruns or outright reference in other episodes (for instance, I missed the entire Max Medina debacle that occurs in season one, but knew of it because it is constantly brought up). After being excited by Parenthood because of Jason Katims (his involvement in both My So-Called Life and Friday Night Lights makes him a deity in this house) and Lauren Graham (consistently robbed of an Emmy for her work as Lorelai Gilmore), I became quickly disappointed with its muddled tone and inconsistent performances, though it is a show that is certainly entertaining while not even close to being good. Graham is, as ever, one of the bright spots, and seeing her in Parenthood only made me want to see her again in Gilmore Girls—a show that was not just good, but often great. This, combined with my recent layoff (yes I am now a victim of America’s economic climate!), made Project Rewatch: Gilmore Girls a go.

This time around—and possibly this has something to do with knowing where they end up and how they get there—I find myself oddly and somewhat disconcertingly much less sympathetic with Lorelai (Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) than I am with most everyone else, including stuffy Emily and Richard (Kelly Bishop and Edward Hermann, two all-time greats) and gruff Luke (Scott Patterson) and caustic Michel (Yanic Truesdale) and boring Dean (Jared Padalecki) and jerky Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) and crazy Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) and insane Paris (Liza Weil) and flaky Christopher (David Sutcliffe, who looks the kind of man you couldn’t resist, making it perfect casting for a show about a girl who got knocked up at 16). Certainly they are our heroines, and complicated ones at that, but when I first started watching the show some nine or so years ago, Lorelai and Rory always seemed on the correct side of things, paragons of charm and cool and twee righteousness. Not that they aren’t this go-round, but more and more I find flaws where previously I saw none. I assume a lot of this is me getting old. Lorelai, for one, is not actually a great mother. She’s a great friend for Rory, and a barrel of fun, but whether it’s regarding nutrition or letting her own personal experiences with The Good Life sabotage Rory’s apparent (if sporadic) need for it, Lorelai Gilmore should not be anyone’s model of the perfect parent. And Rory is a bundle of naivete and bad decisions, mainly concerning boys; listen, I thought Dean was a drip and totally would have cheated on him with some bad boy wannabe like Jess too, but Rory’s very real disillusionment with having a Perfect Boyfriend and her subsequent behavior makes her into a not-very-likable girl at times (believe me, I speak from experience, being somewhat of a Rory myself, especially considering she later falls for a boy named Logan Huntzberger).

All this, of course, adds a lot of meat to the show; very much in the manner of Taylor Swift songs, Gilmore Girls has much greater depth and complication than it is given credit for, easily transcending the teen entertainment cliches it is unfairly saddled with. And much of Gilmore Girls‘ greatness rears its head when it confronts the issue of class, and with it the very real, decades-felt hurt felt by both Lorelai and her parents. The friction between Emily and Richard’s high-society life and Lorelai’s suffocation from it is a constant struggle throughout the series, and it was thrilling to discover how deeply embedded in the show it always was, specifically with three exemplary episodes from the first season:

  • In “Rory’s Birthday Parties” (episode 6), Emily throws a swanky party for Rory, inviting all her new classmates who hate her and whom she hates with equal measure, causing Rory to snap at Emily in front of everyone. Contrite, she later invites Emily to the party Lorelai is giving her the next day. Initially refusing, Emily and Richard show up to the predictably crazy bash in Stars Hollow, where Emily sadly realizes that she doesn’t know Lorelai and Rory at all.
  • In “Rory’s Dance” (episode 9), Lorelai has thrown out her back while making a dress for Rory, who is attending a Chilton dance with Dean. Emily shows up to see them off, and then stays to help Lorelai. They watch old movies and attempt to eat mashed banana on toast (a meal Emily made Lorelai whenever she was sick as a kid) and come very close to bonding, until it is found that Rory and Dean fell asleep (and nothing more) and never made it home. Emily is furious about Lorelai’s parenting skills and about Rory going down Lorelai’s path; Lorelai is in turn furious that her mother doesn’t trust Rory as well as furious that her mother could be right, and says so to Rory, who in turn is furious that her mother doesn’t trust her as much as she says.
  • In “Christopher Returns” (episode 15), Christopher returns. At Emily and Richard’s for dinner, Christopher’s parents (named Straub and Francine, amazingly) lash out at the Gilmores for ruining Christopher’s future, causing Richard to defend Lorelai for perhaps the first time in his life. Lorelai attempts to thank her father, who dismisses it, still stung by how her mistakes ruined his vision of her future. Lorelai and Christopher, alone on her balcony, where they had been countless times before, have sex. He wants to marry her, but she knows that he still isn’t ready to turn the Gilmore Girls into the perfect family picture that Emily, Richard, Straub, and Francine so desperately wanted all those years ago.

It is in these episodes—in these moments—where the glossiness of indie rock quips and coffee consumption and charming small-town preciousness melt away to reveal the big truth about Gilmore Girls: family is what you make of it. Sometimes you have to make your own family, because the one you have causes untold amounts of pain. Sometimes the family you want can never happen, so you make do with the family you have. And sometimes, even fleetingly, the family you have can be the one real thing that tethers you to something other, something greater, than yourself. When you see Lorelai shouting at her mother, feeling for all the world like a pregnant, scared sixteen-year-old girl, you see a woman who, despite her best efforts, hasn’t been able to grow up. And when you see Emily shouting at her daughter, you see a woman who so desperately wants to reassure her sixteen-year-old daughter that everything is okay, even though she knows it isn’t, and for the first time in her life feels powerless. These are the moments that make the show worth watching, when Gilmore Girls approaches something very near the sublime.

Plenty of online discourse regarding Friday Night Lights‘ fourth season has centered on its increasing resemblance to The Wire, which seems inevitable considering the appearance of not one but two Wire alums who have shown up alive—and, well, if not happy then at least breathing—in East Dillon, leading Vulture’s Andy Greenwald (my favorite FNL recapper by a longshot, because who else but the author of Nothing Feels Good can snark that Julie’s Habit for Humanity guy looks like someone in All Time Low?) to christen it The Wire: West Texas. The comparison is valid, of course, as no other show has picked up The Wire‘s mantle of entwining community politics, various societal issues, and personal dramas in concurrent, reflexive narrative strands. The only difference really is that The Wire‘s resolutions have always seemed neat (which is fitting considering the show is influenced by Greek tragedy), whereas FNL has always been much messier (which is fitting considering the show is influenced by, what, Austin indie- and post-rock?). I would like to say that I saw this happening last year, though. But it’s easier to point out when there are black people on the tv, eh Variety?

Aside from that faux pas, Brian Lowry’s article is full of so many on-the-money insights that it makes you want to shout “Hallelujah!” One of my favorites is this comparison between the two shows:

As for other areas of overlap, the fact that the two series have been largely ignored by Emmy voters speaks to a kind of myopia within that organization. While it’s impossible to collectively put members on the couch, the TV academy has historically had trouble identifying stand-out work by younger or minority performers — two categories represented in abundance on each of these shows.

Aside from large ensemble casts that make it difficult to single out individual players, these programs are so sharply executed by the casts and writing staffs as to make the characterizations look almost too easy, as if the performers must be barely acting at all.

Which is absolutely right on. But as with both shows, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that, by the end, both will have had five glorious seasons of impeccable drama (my two favorite shows ever), and considering FNL‘s start, that’s as much of a miracle as the show’s expansion from great television to great art.

To the people who are Mad Men-ing themselves, is there an option if you are not white? I don’t actually want to do it, since I don’t really like the show that much (I do have season 2 at home thanks to Netflix), but I was just curious.

History is going to look back kindly on Arrested Development not only for its incessant quality and its creation of comedic stars, but also for its influence over the rest of television comedy, a genre that had seemed to become stale and formulaic until its debut in 2003. But it’s not just the winking, complex, meta-joke style that AD ushered in which has become so prevalent in a plethora of shows that have come out in its wake (and has now become de rigeur shorthand for “quality comedy”); it’s also in the need that viewers have felt to fill the void of AD‘s absence. Because the show was so mistreated and unwatched, we as an audience now feel the need to overstate our allegiances to these great but ratings-challenged shows in order to keep them both relevant and on air.

The immediate beneficiary of this was The Office, which is now a bonafide hit after limping through a critically and commercially unsuccessful first season. When its charms and quality wore off (in a disturbingly quick manner), we moved on to 30 Rock, whose cultural capital is approaching a stranglehold. To its detriment, I find; this third season has been wildly uneven and even stilted, and though the last few episodes have been a return to form, they are still sometimes filled with easy jokes so desperate to become internet memes that the jokes can seem more quotation-mark “clever” than actually funny. A similar problem seemed to handcuff AD in the middle of season two–the confidence that they could do no wrong–though 30 Rock has received far less criticism than AD ever did for its flaws, possibly because its audience doesn’t want a repeat of fate, and possibly because it doesn’t want to realize that the emperor is sometimes only half-dressed.

Two new comedies that seem to be jockeying for the mantle of Next Best Comedy have much in common with some, if not all, of the three aforementioned shows, and like them deserve our attention as promising but ratings-challenged freshman comedies. Better Off Ted has AD‘s winking style down pat, though all too often in the first few episodes it dangerously approached cutesy Scrubs territory, while also indulging in the workplace zaniness that 30 Rock has basically honed to an artform. The cast is uniformly terrific; Jay Harrington is possibly the most problematic in that he has to do the long-suffering straight-man center thing that Jason Bateman did so well in AD (and to a lesser extent, John Krasinski in The Office), and often seems stuck in the same interest-vacuum that Jon Hamm finds himself so often in Mad Men, though because this is a comedy Harrington is at least allowed to have some fun and express joy at the more pleasurable characters that surround him. This discussion begins with Portia de Rossi, who is so much better here than she was in AD, if only because she’s given a substantive role and some actual lines (Lindsay Funke was always the least-realized character on AD). Andrea Anders has quickly graduated from put-upon beta female to neurotic, hapless mess (in some ways not unlike Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon). But the two real stars of the show are Malcolm Bennett and Jonathan Slavin as the dumbest brilliant scientists ever created; their rapport is so well-timed it seems  flawlessly second-nature, like Tracy and Hepburn or Nichols and May. It was this show’s fourth episode, centering on racist technology, that really elevated it into a comedy worth watching, and much of that had to do with Bennett and Slavin playing off each other’s harried incomprehension until it reached sublimity. This has only continued in the two episodes following that, with one of their better moments occuring in the most recent episode when they are represented by salt and pepper shakers (don’t ask). “Which one am I?” asks Bennett. “Oh pepper, because I’m spicy.” If this were AD or 3o Rock, this joke would seem laden with smarm, as both shows always had an edge of meanness in (and towards) its characters. But here it is instead played for dumb, sweet naivete (which more than anything portrays the show’s exceptional big-heartedness), and to compound an already hilarious delivery, Slavin responds, “I’m like a pirate, I’m salty.”

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The pilot for Parks & Recreation was roundly panned for its similarity in tone to The Office, unsurprising considering they share producers. Not only does the style seem played-out (the episodes of The Office that have actually worked in the past few season have been stellar, but are far more the exception than the rule), but too often it seemed that Amy Poehler was doing a variation of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott. The difference being that Carell has always been the best aspect of The Office, which has not been the case with P&R. Poehler is too gifted a comedian to not correct this, and as the show has shown increasing potential in its two past episodes, so has Poehler, showing a depth and inherent goodness in her character’s Michael Scott-esque bumbling lack of awareness. Much like in Better Off Ted, though, the lead is less a source of laughs than the supporting characters. Aziz Ansari has already gotten a lot of mileage out of his characterization of Tom Haverford, full of douche hubris, which seems a natural extension for someone so ensconced in the world of New York alternative comedy (which so often, when done wrong–and it generally is–seems more “alternative to comedy,” lolzamirite?!). As Poehler’s superior, Nick Offerman has shined as a right-wing anti-government blowhard, and Aubrey Plaza has showcased the right amount of youthful apathy befitting an intern. While Rashida Jones has seemed less a source of laughs than a catalyst for them (much like de Rossi in AD), the two biggest surprises have come in the form of two actors not previously known for their comedic chops. Roger Federer lookalike Paul Schneider, previously only known to me as the lovesick protagonist of All The Real Girls, displays immense charm in what appears to the role of romantic foil to Poehler. But the biggest and best surprise has been Chris Pratt, as playing Jones’ injured boyfriend. Pratt’s ludicrously chiseled all-American good looks were incomprehensibly irritating in Everwood, so I’m glad he’s put on a few pounds and grown a beard. And his character, in the very few scenes he’s been alloted, has already seem to come out fully-formed with some well-delivered lines that perfectly capture this kind of hipster douche lunkhead manboy, further reasserting that The Hipster has now become just a different shade of Frat Boy. I mean, how many dudes do you know who are exactly like this? I know TOO MANY, and for some puppyish reason I love them.

Both shows have had some early stumbling blocks; Better Off Ted with its terrible name and its somewhat mannered storytelling, and Parks & Recreation with its too-obvious tonal debt to The Office. But both shows have shown remarkable promise–Better Off Ted is just about on the cusp of becoming something wonderful, and Parks & Recreation is building towards the point where Better Off Ted started as–that I hope they get the same kind of attention that has been lavished on 30 Rock and The Office. Because remember, neither of those two shows started off too hot in the beginning either. I suppose this is one thing that any prospective Next Best Comedy could stand to learn from Arrested Development: how to get out of the gates fully formed, leaving the rest of the competition far behind.

…occurs at the end of Friday Night Lights‘ season three finale. I can safely say that I’ve never seen so perfect a sustained setpiece on television than these fifteen minutes, one that mixes incredible grace, emotional investment, a languidly free-form pace, and complex performances to approach something nearing visual poetry.

The wedding of Billy Riggins and Mindy Collette begins, appropriately, with a hilariously off-kilter acoustic performance of Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way” as the various participants of the wedding party march down the aisle. Before Mindy comes down the aisle with her mother on her arm, Tami Taylor tip-toes into the church and clasps the hand of her husband Eric, informing him of the bad news that he’s been replaced as head coach of the Dillon Panthers. This scene, coupled with the preceding one (where Eric delivers a tremendously prideful, and ultimately disappointing, speech to the boosters and school board), so succinctly captures the brilliance of Kyle Chandler as an actor, underplaying his big moments in a manner that suggests they could never be played any other way. Other actors on this show get such great scenes where they really give a Performance (the fantastic Connie Britton being the best example), while Chandler prefers to internalize everything to give an embodiment instead. Chandler’s face when Eric finds out the news, only to then be told that he’s been offered the job as coach of the newly reformed East Dillon school, manages an impossible mixture of complex detail.

To undercut the brilliance of Chandler’s face, we see the Riggins boys, in their terrible/amazing white suits and 10,o00-gallon cowboy hats as Mindy walks down the aisle. And then a cut to one of the most fun receptions that has ever been fictionalized, complete with a corny band performing “Car Wash,” the residents of Dillon dancing wildly with each other, including Buddy sheepishly asking Angela Collette to dance–such a minor detail, but a beautiful one, considering that their affair in season 1 led to Buddy’s downfall. The wedding band then segues into its succession of perfect song choices, starting with “Fooled Around and Fell In Love,” as Tim–for so long floundering about with a lack of purpose–approaches the one true concrete love of his life, Lyla, who had planned on going to Vanderbilt without telling Tim, but guiltily decided to forgo those dreams and attend San Antonio State with him, as they’d planned. What follows is such a lovely summation of both of these characters’ arcs: Lyla, who started the show defined by her relationship with a boy, making a decision based on what’s actually best for her, but doubting herself; and Tim, showcasing the exponential growth he’s experienced over the past three years, allowing her to put her needs before his. Though not without some inherent selfishness, as a bemused relief plays on his face–this is his ticket out of college, of responsibility, and of growth. He can now stay in Dillon and work at Riggins’ Rigs with his brother, he thinks, and this is all he wants.

The wedding band plays “Mustang Sally” as we cut to Lyla, now seemingly freed from her burdens, who twirls around on the dancefloor with her father. The jubilant music fades in the background as Julie attempts, against her wishes, to break up with college-bound Matt. He tells her “no,” and with a kiss assures her that they’ll be fine before Julie sighs, “Your grandma would’ve really loved this wedding.” Cut to Matt taking his grandmother out of the nursing home where he’d left her earlier, in a beautifully composed and heartwrenching scene that ended the the two of them separated in the frame by a wall. “You’re the only person that’s never left me. I’m not gonna leave you,” he says now, and while Matt’s escape from Dillon is now disappointingly a thing of the past, it is so perfectly in line with what this character has shown over the last three seasons–his self-sacrifice for the good of those who depend on him.

Cut back to the reception, and the band’s final Perfect Song Choice: “When A Man Loves A Woman,” while the men of Dillon dance with the women they love: Billy and Mindy, Tim and Lyla, Landry and Tyra, Eric and Tami (having a moment of dialogue that affirms their standing as the best husband and wife in the history of television)…and Julie, watching as Matt directs his grandmother to the dancefloor, giving her the dance he didn’t give his girlfriend.

The reception’s over, and Eric and Tami leave quietly before Billy and Mindy are pelted with rice. Before they can get in their limo, Tim excitedly relays the news that he’s going to stay in Dillon, figuring (per their roadside conversation earlier in the episode, as Billy wistfully pondered what it would be like to work side-by-side with his brother) that Billy would be elated. But Billy Riggins, tragicomic ne’er-do-well bad ideas doofus, surprises everyone by refusing to let this happen, and in the last words of this beautiful episode–this beautiful 15 minutes–gives FNL one of its three over-riding spoken theses (along with Tami’s speech to Eric in the bar, saying, “You are a molder of men”; and Matt’s “They needed me and I stepped up and I worked my ass and I did everything I could, but I guess it just wasn’t really enough,” all from earlier this season), in as poignant and moving a moment ever seen in this poignant and moving show (especially considering the source!):

You listen to me you little idiot. You are not going to wuss out on this. You’re going to go to college and you’re going to go get a degree. And I don’t care if it takes you seven years, alright? And when you start thinking that it’s too hard or that you can’t handle it I want you to remember one thing. I want you to think about the kids that you don’t have yet. And I want you to think about my kids. Me and Mindy’s kids that we don’t have yet. And you’re going to get the job done so that one of these days I can tell them that they don’t have to settle for second best. That they can be whoever the hell they want to be because their uncle Timmy went to college. God bless our mom and dad, wherever they are. But we gotta do better by our kids.

As if that wasn’t enough, we end with the coda: We see that Eric and Tami have run off to the decrepit, unused patch of field of East Dillon, this loving and supportive couple holding each other as a guitar plucks melancholy chords, the two of them surveying where Eric will lead a whole new group of young boys in the unending, unforgiving, and unknowable process of trying to become men, disappointment and hope and struggle and triumph to be displayed on this rundown territory in the future while, in the present, our protagonists are drowned out by fading sun.

What a fifteen minutes that was.

No spoilers, but there are only two episodes remaining in the third–and likely final–season of Friday Night Lights (which will be re-aired on NBC starting in January), and as the season has progressed I feel safe in saying that something magical has happened: it has become less sui generis than it was in season 1, less far-fetched than season 2, and rather has resembled a sort of ethnography of life in small town America, 2008.

There is no show better equipped to portray some of the rampant social crises in contemporary America better than FNL, because its emotional and situational verisimilitude has always been its strongest calling card–part of the reason why season 2 failed was the introduction of salacious storylines that rang dissonantly against the delicate timbres scored elsewhere in the episodes (though I will say that even a lot of the melodrama, especially Landry’s dad turning into Lady Macbeth, was remarkably well-done and entertaining, if entirely ludicrous). FNL has managed to take the problems regarding economy, affordable higher education (not to mention the failing public school system), the job search, real estate, and the politics of change and effectively portray the effects they have in the lives of Americans, the strain our contemporary society has on individuals, how they influence the dynamics within families. There is no other show on television engaging with societal problems–not Mad Men, not Dexter, not Pushing Daisies, not fucking Boston Legal. The only other show that ever attempted to honestly critique and dramatize our actual world was The Wire, and even on that show it was only the final two seasons that felt actually concerned with contemporaneity (the first three seasons, to me, felt couched in early-90sisms). And FNL does it without the polemics and sporadic didacticism of The Wire. FNL has always been, first and foremost, about the arcs of its characters versus The Wire‘s arc of narrative.

This season of FNL has also approached Wire-levels regarding the push-pull dynamics of its storylines–one person’s actions sets off a chain of events whose negative effects will soon be irrevocable (think back to season 4 of The Wire, and how Herc’s various bumbling enabled the decline of Randy’s situations at home and in the street); one character will experience a great gift of fortune while another character will pay in kind by losing their previous privileges; characters will step into paths that other characters have already worn, as if there aren’t any options in treading a new road (and in small towns, there almost never are). All the various narrative strands in season 3 of FNL are woven together tightly but seamlessly–much like The Wire, but FNL seems much looser (you can breathe in their threads) because of the lack of overt politicking and the focus of its characters, as well as its homier mise-en-scène. Although far less brilliant (the writing can go through creaky spots, some of the acting not up to par), FNL has taken up the mantle of Most Important Show (if not Greatest Show Ever) from The Wire because of these elements, and I dare say it’s far warmer and more human than The Wire ever was.

Oooooh look I said “cinema” instead of “movies” or even “film” because I am a douchebag who studied film theory and watched cinéaste crap like Daughters of the Dust which only exists to be taught in feminist film theory classes. After we saw Milk the day after Thanksgiving (it’s really good though redundant if you already know the story, but still undeniably powerful thanks to a) the social and moral uplift of Milk’s story, b) Sean Penn’s best performance since Dead Man Walking and the first time he’s been actually likable since Spicoli yes everyone has said that sorry, c) I have no idea why people are falling all over themselves to praise James Franco since he just sits there looking pretty and/or having a sourface in Michelle Williams’ Brokeback Mountain role when in fact the second-best performance is by Josh Brolin, giving tremendous depth to an underwritten role–the whole screenplay is problematic), George and I somehow brought up DotD, because we always do, and I fucking still remembered the director’s name: Julie Dash. I don’t know why this is relevant. We also decided that we absolutely need to watch Revolutionary Road, because OMG that shit looks boring. How many fucking movies need to be made about the soul-crushing ennui of middle-class white America?

Which brings me to Mad Men. There was an article in New York magazine recently regarding “Quality Show Fatigue,” which I pretty much agree with except I never watched The Sopranos. I definitely went through this after season 4 of The Wire was done, and then I fell in love with Friday Night Lights. The Wire‘s final season and FNL‘s second season were both disappointing, the latter’s much much MUCH MORE so. So I needed a new temporary Greatest Show Ever, and thanks to a birthday present month-free subscription to Netflix from George (as well as prodding by my roommate), I enjoyed Battlestar Galactica until the end of season three when I just got so tired of its melodrama. And then there was this hoopla surrounding Mad Men, reaching peak level in the fall due to: winning the Emmy, Jon Hamm’s buzzed-about appearance on SNL, and the notice that Hamm would appear on 30 Rock (another Greatest Show Ever moment, but that’s a comedy so it’s in a different category?…certainly Greatest Comedy Ever since Arrested Development) as Tina Fey’s love interest. So I thought, what the hey, might as well give it a shot, and got the first season from Netflix.

When I finished it, I thought the same thing I did after I saw the first season of Six Feet Under: there’s a lot to love, but mainly I just find it irritating. What I love are the tiny details of the period captured in the set and costume design, how GOOD everybody looks even if they’re not conventionally attractive, Christina Hendricks’ curves (I watched that woman and was like “wow, bonerz”), and a fascinating sense of power dynamics w/r/t gender that I initially thought would be glossed-over. Glossed over because this: Don Draper is not that interesting, and the whole show centers on him. WOW the successful white male feels trapped by his successful perfect whiteness so he acts like a successful white male conquering women and booze and jobs and life like they’re the American West and Indians and Algeria and Vietnam, oh WAIT to give him depth let’s go into his Ayn Rand-aided backstory don’t you guys SEEEEEEE???!??!!!!! he’s tormented and conflicted! boohoo the travails of white men. Which looks exactly like Revolutionary Road. And I understand that we’re supposed to be critical of Don Draper while still finding him sympathetic and relatable, but there are far too many times it feels as if we’re being nudged into seeing him as a hero in his antihero-ness. Also annoying: those LOL-in-retrospect! jokes, like about how there’s no machine that makes copies of paper. Zing ’60s!

The most interesting facets of Mad Men to me are the women’s stories (and part of my interest in the show was seeing if it would compare somehow to Far From Heaven), and how their lives and dreams are affected by the rampaging masculinity surrounding them, especially Draper’s wife (who gains increasing depth over the course of season 1, from doe-eyed naif to hellzapoppin’ no-shit-taker) and Peggy (who is severely disserviced by that ludicrous plotline that took all of two minutes to be revealed even if episodes earlier it was apparent to everybody BUT the character, which is fine except **WEE OH SPOILER DRUDGE SIRENS WOOOOO** how do you not know you’re preggers?! **END OF SPOILERS I SHOT DRUDGE JUST TO WATCH HIM DIE**). Also the absolutely most fascinating character to me is sniveling bastard Pete Campbell, because THERE. There is a story about the suffocation of privilege and status of the white American male that is told with a new and interesting slant. We see his complete emasculation time and again, and his machismo is off-putting not just in that “ugh, sexist” way but in a way that the viewer can understand–he’s all act, and a joke of one at that. Everyone sees it but him, and there he still is trying on Don Draper’s cock-of-the-walk pants. His lack of self-awareness is touching and its attendant repercussions are delicious while Don Draper’s expositions are all smoke and fire that somehow manages no heat.

*

I started rewatching The Wire a few weeks ago and have now begun season five again, dreading its ludicrous twin storylines of LIES AND FAKERY, though this time around I appreciate it more, and can delight in the shit in there that’s funny. While watching season five, I realized why I despise this hipster weiner guy at work so much (not just because he talks about Grizzly Bear or says shit like “I don’t empathize with the criminals or the poor because I’m a classic American narcissist”) who will thankfully be leaving soon: HE LOOKS AND SOUNDS LIKE FUCKING KLEBANOW, who is like top 5 most hated Wire characters ever. Seriously that dude popped up and his whiny clipped voice boomed from my speakers and it was all Eureka-time. Thanks to The Wire, I will always hate dudes who look and sound like this.

*

Lastly, I had a dream last night that Kyle Chandler died! 😦 I woke up and was relieved, especially considering how there would be no Friday Night Lights without him. Seriously I even dreamed of an opening credits sequence where Connie Britton’s name was first, not Kyle Chandler’s! WTF is wrong with me, for real.

I have to say that I am elated about season three thus far, that it has redeemed the awful simplicity and sensationalism of season two by returning to the roots of its quality: the spectre of football over a small town and its inhabitants, the optimism of promise and the wrecked broken humanity that accompanies the beauty of faded dreams and glories, and the organic and REAL push-pull dynamics of interpersonal relationships. This season has seen the pleasures of disparate pairings, new/old faces causing untold ripples in their wake, and especially the memories of the familiar: we know so much about the citizens of Dillon, TX because we’ve lived with them, and the actions of the characters–while sometimes maddening and frustrating and terrible, like those of old friends–always feel right this season, like Well Of Course You’re Being Stupid, Tyra/the Rigginses/Buddy! (as opposed the horrible fever dream that was season 2). Here’s to welcoming back old friends.

Oh yeah, GREATEST SHOW EVER.