Saturday, March 31, 2012

How Archer became the funniest show on TV

Archer, Lana, Pam and Carol in "Lo Scandalo," one of the many brilliant episodes of the show's third season. Source.

After last week's terrific Archer season finale, "Space Race, Part II," I was perusing the AV Club's recap of episode. I was struck by the final line, in which Todd VanDerWerff - one of my favorite TV writers and, more importantly for the purposes of this article, a die-hard fan of Community - said that FX's absurd spy series was "the best comedy on TV."

Then I started to think about it, and I realized that Archer might, in fact, be the best comedy on TV. At the very least, it's the funniest comedy on TV.

You might think that, for a comedy, being the funniest show on TV would automatically equal being the best. That sort of depends what you want out of your comedy. As I have mentioned before, I am a big fan of comedies that give the viewer big emotional payoff, a quality that is often at least somewhat at odds with the business of being funny. Thus, while Community is not as consistently, hysterically funny as Archer (the only show that can give the spy series any competition is Happy Endings, which is slightly less consistent), it gets me because it aims for the heart in addition to the funny bone.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A brief history of the New York Times' hatred of Game of Thrones

Daenerys' dragons might have something to say to the New York Times.

After Ginia Bellafante's incredibly sexist (not to mention poorly written) original review of Game of Thrones sparked backlash and controversy from the many women who resented being told that they were supposed to like Sex and the City and dislike Tolkien, you would think that maybe the New York Times would have taken a moment to rethink its editorial stance on the show. At the very least, you might think that the Old Gray Lady would allow a critic who doesn't have such an obvious dislike of fantasy to review the show.

You would, sadly, be wrong.

Bellafante, who wrote the paper's official review of HBO's fantasy epic (and who has replaced The New Yorker's Nancy Franklin at the top of my list of most-hated TV critics), somewhat infamously said that Game of Thrones was "boy fiction," and implied that, weirdly enough, instances of incestuous sex and violent rape had been added to the series to appeal to women, because apparently we as a gender are into that sort of thing. More than that, however, Bellafante refers to the show's setting as "the universe of dwarfs, armor, wenches, braids, loincloth," a remark that is just plain wrong (There are not "dwarfs" in the sense of Tolkien's separate race, since Tyrion Lannister is a dwarf in the scientific sense of the words, and I wasn't aware that braids were reserved for unreal worlds) and that demonstrates a deep-rooted dismissal of and disdain for fantasy as a lesser genre.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cliffhangers aren't cowardice (but catharsis can be)

James Gandolfini, Edie Falco and Robert Iler in the series finale of HBO's The Sopranos.

A few days ago, historian Andrew Roberts wrote an absolutely confounding piece for the Daily Beast calling for an end to unresolved movie endings. (The piece can be found here, but be warned; there are spoilers for The Grey, Rampart, Footnote and The Italian Job, among others). Roberts begins his article by calling unresolved endings "a curious malaise born of cultural decadence," and ends it by accusing those cavalier, amoral directors who film movies with cliffhanger endings of "sheer directorial moral cowardice" in their apparent quest to deny the good people of the moviegoing public "the catharsis they've paid their $13 to experience."

First of all, who the fuck is charging $13 for movie tickets?! I thought my local theater was gouging me with $11 tickets, but apparently it could actually be worse if I, like Roberts, lived in London. It's enough to make me want to move back to Utah, where ticket prices are hanging out around $8.50 (which, of course, I thought was totally unreasonable when I lived there. Times change.)

More importantly, however, Roberts' claim that directors who choose to end their films without resolving the plot are moral cowards is wrong-headed. He claims that endings that are unresolved are "shortchanging the moviegoing public, which has the perfect right to see good behavior rewarded and bad behavior punished." For good measure, he adds that "all the great filmmakers of the past" understood and respected this supposed audience "right" to a happy ending.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Comedy is evolving, and you have to keep up.

Photo courtesy of The Awl.

I wrote this piece for Splitsider about the evolution of comedy, the conundrum of cutting-edge humor and, of course, Community. (It always comes back to Community.) It's pretty awesome, so you should go check it out!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Doctor meets... Robocop?!

On the heels of Stephen Moffat's announcement that Doctor Who's titular Time Lord is getting a new companion, the BBC has released a trailer for the as-yet-unscheduled seventh season. The awesome clip doesn't show any footage of Jenna-Louise Coleman's new character, but it does feature plenty of Amy and Rory, some clever jokes, and an antagonist who looks strikingly similar to Robocop (or KickPuncher, if you prefer).

I love Amy fumbling with the gun, and the cowboy requesting that anyone who isn't American put their guns down. On a related note, Doctor Who, after spending most of its existence confined to the British isles (well, the whole of time and space, but mostly Britain) has been coming to America rather frequently in the last couple seasons; last year's two-part season opener marked the first time the series had ever filmed in the U.S. (and in my home state of Utah no less!), and now the Wild West is making an appearance.

In addition to a villain who looks like Robocop (seriously), I also caught a glimpse of Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), and have begun to to suspect that appearing on Doctor Who is a requirement for BAFTA membership, along with a role in a Harry Potter movie and an appearance in a BBC adaptation of either Dickens or Austen. And, as always, there is an enormous amount of running involved.

I'm really hoping that the shot of an eyestalk emerging from the snow, accompanied by a mention of the Daleks, doesn't foreshadow that species' return. I agree with Moffat that the sheer number of defeats they've suffered at the hands of the Doctor invalidates them as enemies. What I really want is the return of the scariest baddie in the Whoniverse, the literally unmemorable and yet absolutely unforgettable Silence. But I'll deal with the Daleks if it means the return of the Doctor, Amy and Rory. Season seven can't come soon enough!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The greatest tree in cinematic history (is on TV)

Brother Justin's tree from Carnivale (photo courtesy of Dauntless Media), and a tree in Brookgreen Gardens, Pawley's
Island, South Carolina.

A few weeks ago, Slate ran an article about the greatest trees in cinematic history and the obsessive directors - Terence Malick, Alfred Hitchcock, Lars von Trier - who spent their time, money and sanity searching for them. I was reminded of this when I saw the above tree on a tour of a former rice plantation in South Carolina and, because I am the sort of person who is constantly pretending that I am in my favorite TV shows, immediately started to compare it to the actual greatest tree in cinematic history: Carnivale's tree.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Carnivale has the greatest pitch in the history of television

Those who are already fans of Carnivale already know that Daniel Knauf's head trip of a series provided viewers with the coolest opening credit sequence on television, one of the great cinematic tattoos, and the most complex mythology since... well, ever. But did you know that Knauf's original pitch to HBO is, in its detail, style, and inclusion of enough mythology to melt your brain, one of the all-time great TV pitches?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Doctor is getting a new companion, and Amy Pond fans everywhere are heartbroken

Jenna-Louise Coleman will play the new
companion on the seventh season of Doctor
Photo courtesy of the Huffington Post.
Amy and Rory are really leaving the Tardis.

Stephen Moffat announced today that Jenna-Louise Coleman will be replacing everyone's favorite redhead and her husband as the Doctor's companion in the upcoming season of Doctor Who.
Coleman has been confirmed as the Doctor’s newest companion, with executive producer Stephen Moffatt saying the 25-year-old British actress will play a fast-talking live wire who will lead the Time Lord on “his merriest dance yet” (metaphorically speaking, presumably). Coleman is a relative unknown on these shores, although she has starred in the British soap Emmerdale, had a bit part in Captain America, and appears in the upcoming Titanic miniseries from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes—none of which will matter once she plays the companion on Doctor Who, of course, because that’s how the Internet will look at her ever after. (Just ask Catherine Tate.) Anyway, Coleman’s entrance naturally means an exit for the Doctor’s current companions, the Ponds, which Moffat has said will occur in the fifth episode of next season and will be “heartbreaking.” But then, as so often happens on Doctor Who, a new pretty girl arrives to make it all better, so don’t worry too much about it. 
via The AV Club.
I've said this every time there's a cast changeover on Doctor Who - and every time I have been proven wrong - but I'll do it anyway: there is no possible way that Coleman will ever replace Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) in my heart. I love Amy. I love her relationship with the Doctor. God help me, I even love Rory (Arthur Darvill). And while I have come to adore Matt Smith in a way I never thought possible after falling for David Tennant, I refuse to accept that anyone could ever fill Amy's miniskirt.

Of course, since Miss Pond is (SPOILERS) River Song's (Alex Kingston) mother and, as of recently, the Doctor's mother-in-law, I'm assuming we haven't seen the last of her. Even a 900-year-old Time Lord has to take the occasional vacation with the in-laws, right?

When does off-screen behavior start to interfere with the onscreen world?

Martha Plimpton (left) and Patricia Heaton (right). Photos courtesy of

Last week, two TV shows that are beloved by critics but ignored by audiences (and no, neither of them is Community, as much as that might shock you) went into ratings free fall. This wouldn't really be a newsworthy story, as under-the-radar critical darlings are constantly losing viewers, except that these ratings declines followed controversial comments by the series' lead actresses. Raising Hope's Martha Plimpton came out against proposed legislation that would restrict abortion rights, and The Middle's Patricia Heaton joined Rush Limbaugh in his slut-shaming of Georgetown student Sandra Fluke.

June Thomas, writing for Slate, blamed the shows' lowered ratings on their stars' outspoken political comments. It's certainly possible, although it's always worth remembering that TV ratings are unpredictable, and rise and fall all the time for no apparent reason. If Heaton and Plimpton's comments (which were both published on that notorious publicists' nightmare, Twitter) did in fact to their shows' ratings slide, it raises another question: at what point do a star's off-screen antics start to infiltrate the onscreen world?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Why The Vampire Diaries' most important theme is family

Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley as Damon and Stefan Salvatore. Source.

If you, unlike me, aren't absolutely obsessed with The Vampire Diaries, you might think that the show is mostly about romantic entanglements. The CW certainly markets it by playing up the love triangle between Stefan, Damon and Elena, and the most vocal 'shipper camps are those of Delena and Stelena.

I, however, belong to neither of those teams. I am firmly in the camp known as Team Salvatore, the one that roots for Damon and Stefan. (NOT in a sexual way, people, so get your minds out of the gutter.)

The thing is, The Vampire Diaries is at its most compelling when it focuses on the relationship between the brothers. The most recent episode, "1912," was just one of the many hours that benefited from keeping the story largely confined to Damon and Stefan. There was some stuff happening with Elena and Matt in the background, and the requisite final-scene cliffhanger was all about Alaric, but the real heart of the episode came from watching Damon trying to save Stefan from himself.

This isn't anything that we haven't seen before. In this particular iteration of the Damon and Stefan relationship, Damon spent the hour convincing Stefan that quitting human blood cold-turkey would only lead to more problems. At other points throughout the series, the Salvatore story lines have seen Stefan giving himself to Klaus to save Damon's life, Damon trying to bring Stefan back from his heartless, bloodlust-induced rampage, and Stefan refusing to kill Damon even after his brother has murdered his best friend.

These stories work, instead of just getting tiresome and repetitive, partially because of the incredible quality of the series' writing, but mostly because the series always insists on the importance of the Salvatore brothers' relationship above all else. The show says this outright when Elena, heartbroken from the loss of Stefan, tells Damon that he is the only one who can bring Stefan back. Stefan may love Elena, but his connection with Damon will always be stronger.

This focus on family ties over romance might seem odd for a show that many people think of as a mere Twilight knockoff. First, let it be stated that The Vampire Diaries is not only better than that other teenage supernatural love triangle - largely because Elena Gilbert has more agency in her little finger than Bella Swan has in her entire pouty body, but also because the bloodsuckers on The Vampire Diaries are real vampires who burn in the sun, and who do not fucking sparkle - it's also better than HBO's True Blood. I suspect that people would be more willing to accept this fact if TVD aired on a different network and had a different name. As it is, the writers spend each week giving a master class in television writing only to be ignored in favor of the increasingly schizophrenic True Blood.

Second, when you really start to watch the show, you notice that familial relationships are always the main focus. Whether you're talking about the Salvatores, the Originals, the Forbes or the Lockwoods, brothers and sisters and parents and children are always front and center. The very structure of Mystic Falls is dependent on a group of so-called "founding families," for god's sake. It's all right there, hidden in plain sight.

This season's Original Family arc has made the theme even more clear. One of the things that particular story hit on brilliantly was the way that complicated family dynamics tend to reduce even the most self-sufficient, powerful people to children. (This is, essentially, the same observation that animated the recent, excellent Simpsons episode "Holidays of Future Passed.") Klaus, the invincible werewolf/vampire hybrid, is really just lashing out as his parents for their dishonesty. Rebekah is reduced to a bratty, rebellious teenager when faced with her brothers' disapproval. Elijah is torn between absolute love for his mother and her hatred of his very being.

These vampires could eat the world alive if they wanted to, but instead they squabble and tease. And, much like the Salvatores, their love for one another almost always prevails. Even the Original's mythology is built on a familial structure; there wouldn't be such a thing as vampires were it not for a mother's desire to protect her children.

The show is also filled with a myriad of smaller moments between family members, and those moments are where The Vampire Diaries' heart can be found. Caroline's fractured, broken relationship with her father is moving because she is willing to look past every terrible thing he has done if only he'll go back to loving her unconditionally. When vampire Anna tries to communicate with Jeremy from beyond the grave, it's not because she wants his love, but because she's lonely and can't find her mother. Even Carol Lockwood, one of the show's least interesting characters, gets her moment to shine when her son, Tyler, forces her to watch him transform into a werewolf so that she can understand his pain.

When you start reading The Vampire Diaries as a show about the importance of family above all else, you can also begin to tease out where the series' real tragedy lies. The show can be seen as the slow, systematic loss of everyone in Elena Gilbert's family: her adoptive parents, her mother Isobel, her father John, Aunt Jenna. Now, with Jeremy away and Alaric slowly going insane, Elena is completely alone. She's missing the network of family who can love and protect her when no one else, not even Stefan or Damon, can.

Looking at Elena's situation this way adds a whole new layer to her confession to Matt, the show's other orphan, about why she fell in love with Stefan. When I first watched "1912," her blunt statement that she loved Stefan because he would never die seemed too simple, too reductive, to really work. Thinking back on it now, however, it makes perfect sense. As everyone in Elena's family has been taken away from her, it makes complete sense that she would latch on to someone who would never leave. Elena's reason for falling in love with Stefan isn't simple or reductive; it's an expression of the fundamental importance of family, one that gets right to the core of Elena Gilbert and of The Vampire Diaries.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring Break!

Loyal reader, much like Arrested Development's Kitty, I will be down for the count for the next week, because I will be on spring break, at Senor Tadpole's, getting a margarita made in my mouth. But because I care for you, I've prepared several articles for your viewing pleasure next week. On Monday, you can read about the fundamental importance of family in The Vampire Diaries, on Wednesday I'll be talking about the odd moments when a star's off-screen behavior interferes with their presence onscreen, and there will be a new, as yet unannounced, piece available Friday as well. So enjoy spring break, and keep reading!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Community recap: Blorgons and bitterness

"Urban Matrimony and Sandwich Arts" wasn't the type of over-the-top, completely bonkers episode, like "Remedial Chaos Theory" or "Modern Warfare" that gets fans and viewers salivating over how great the show is. It was more akin to two of my personal favorites, "Critical Film Studies" or "Mixology Certification" - a half-hour that was firmly grounded in reality, focused on character development and redolent with the pain of these people who have all, in some way or another, had their dreams snatched away from them.

That's not to say the episode wasn't funny, because it contained some truly great comic set pieces; Jeff and Britta's drunken mock-wedding was a highlight, and Gillian Jacobs and Joel McHale played the hell out of it. And there was a good amount of bonkers as well, mostly provided by Troy and Abed's hilarious attempt at normalcy. But the episode was really centered on four characters - Shirley, Pierce, Jeff and Britta - coming to realizations that they haven't ended up where they wanted to be in life, and trying to come to terms with who they are now.

And we are now, officially, no longer in the darkest timeline

Not only has Community finally returned to the airwaves, bringing joy and happiness back to all our sad, dull lives, but last night's "Urban Matrimony and Sandwich Arts" managed to attract nearly 5 million viewers and, more importantly, scored a 2.2 rating in the all-important 18-49 demographic. This news makes me gleeful! It's like my brain finally let my heart get in its pants! And Dan Harmon is excited about it too:

In all seriousness, though, this is really good news. A 2.2 might not seem like much, but between the ratings increase (up from the fall's 1.6 average) and the recent syndication deal with Comedy Central, things could be looking up! The similar increase for 30 Rock, which now airs right after Community, and the fact that Up All Night and The Office didn't see a ratings increase, seems to indicate that this was specifically a response to the study group's return. So, let's keep it up for the rest of the season! Six seasons and a movie!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

HBO has cancelled Luck after a third horse died on set

According to TVLine and EW, HBO has cancelled the David Milch horse-racing drama Luck, which was recently picked up for a ten-episode second season, after a horse died on set. This is the third animal that died during production of the show.
“It is with heartbreak that executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann together with HBO have decided to cease all future production on the series,” the pay cabler said in a statement. 
The latest equine casualty was being walked back to its barn by a groom at Santa Anita Racetrack when it reared up, fell backwards and was injured. “Unfortunately, the injury was serious and could not be treated,” says the American Humane Association, which had a representative on the premises at the time. Though the injury was neither sustained while on set nor during the filming of a scene, the AHA went on to demand that “all production involving horses shut down… pending a complete, thorough, and comprehensive investigation.” 

Here's a grisly new Game of Thrones poster for your viewing pleasure

We all know that Game of Thrones is not a show that shies away from graphic violence. But the newest poster for Season 2 (which starts on April 1, people!) is disgusting even by that standard. The poster is the newest entry in a series of five posters based around the "War of Five Kings," each of which was designed by fans. The first Five Kings poster clearly represents Robb Stark:

Photo via EW.

The second poster, which I assume is a nod to Joffrey Baratheon, is not for the faint of heart (although presumably, if you're watching GoT, your heart is not faint), and can therefore be found after the jump.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How accurate was Julianne Moore's Sarah Palin? Judge for yourself!

YouTube user flammable2002 put together this compilation of clips comparing Julianne Moore's performance as Sarah Palin in Game Change to the real thing, and it's pretty damn impressive. (video via Slate.)

Were it not for the fact that Moore is clearly a good bit shorter than Palin, it would be difficult to tell which one is which, although I'm happy to say that the inclusion of the Katie Couric footage has vindicated my criticism the terrible back double who stands in for Couric for part of the interview (you can see my real-time unhappiness in the live blog I did of the film). I suggest that Julianne Moore submit this video as her Emmy reel, because it showcases just how phenomenal her performance is.

Young Danielle Rousseau and Bristol Palin are the same person

Melissa Farman as (left) Bristol Palin in Game Change, and (right) young Danielle Rousseau on Lost.

The young French actress who played Bristol Palin in HBO's Game Change looks uncannily like the real thing. The resemblance is so strong that an audience member at an advanced screening of the movie felt compelled to ask aloud, "Is that Bristol?" when she first appeared onscreen.

Before Game Change, however, USC student and actress Melissa Farman was best known as another pregnant teenager braving hostile conditions. As young Danielle Rousseau in "This Place is Death," a fifth-season episode of Lost, Farman dealt not with the mockery of TV pundits, but with the constant threat of dismemberment by a disembodied smoke monster.

Because I am the sort of person who enjoys conflating different characters played by the same actor - I'm still waiting for Community's Professor Kane to start whistling "The Farmer in the Dell" while cheerfully murdering some drug dealers - this discovery has me theorizing. What if Bristol Palin is, in fact, the smoke monster in disguise? What if the Man in Black has secretly been using Bristol's human shape to groom Sarah Palin for the presidency as part of some nefarious plot to escape the Island and wreak havoc on the world? What if Sasha or Malia Obama is actually a reincarnation of Jacob, fighting with the Bristol-shaped Man in Black to avert the apocalypse? What if it was all true?!

So, clearly that's not the case, and I'm just letting my finals-addled brain run wild. Obviously the real explanation is that Bristol Palin somehow fell through a wormhole and ended up in 1988, with her memory wiped, speaking perfect French and convinced that she was part of a scientific expedition despite the fact that she was seven months pregnant. It explains so much...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Can we stop pretending that women only have female friends?

30 Rock's Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy (courtesy of E! Online) and Up All Night's Chris, Reagan and Ava (courtesy
of Max Updates).

Katie Stroh at TVSquad recently published a piece about the lack of "genuine" female friendships on television. Stroh claims that, since Sex and the City and Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air, "there's an undeniably enormous gap between the number of shows with female characters whose lives revolve primarily around men and shows that work the other way around." The only representation of a female friendship that Stroh finds compelling is Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ann (Rashida Jones) on Parks and Recreation.

Stroh makes some interesting points. She notes that many female friendships on television are defined by "petty backstabbing and competitive cattiness," and also points out that, for all the talk of this season being the year of women on TV, many of the new, female-centric TV shows don't present a good portrait of women's friendships (although I would disagree with her claim about 2 Broke Girls, since the central female friendship is about the only thing it has going for it.) Stroh's argument, however, has two major problems.

The first is her over-reliance on the Bechdel Test. The test is an interesting metric, but its existence at this point is really about shock value. As TV Tropes points out, "A movie can easily pass the Bechdel Test and still be incredibly misogynistic. Conversely, it's also possible for a story to fail the test and still be strongly feminist in other ways." The problem here is that Stroh (and she's hardly alone in this), cites the Bechdel test like its the only metric available for determining feminism. Stroh describes the test as a method of measuring whether "female characters have lives and relationships that don't primarily deal with the men around them." In doing so, she not only leaves out a lot of relevant information about the Bechdel Test itself, but is also working off the assumption that women are only friends with other women.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Does Game Change humanize Sarah Palin?

Julianne Moore plays two sides of Sarah Palin in the HBO movie
Game Change.
Does Game Change humanize Sarah Palin?

That's the question I kept asking myself while watching HBO's original movie about the 2008 McCain/Palin campaign for the second time tonight. I went to an advanced screening on Tuesday night feeling that the movie didn't make Palin look bad, or at least worse than she made herself look. Some moments were too public not to be included, and many of them - the Katie Couric interview, the comment about Alaska's proximity to Russia on Charlie Rose - don't put Palin in the best light.

There were also moments, however, when Sarah Palin the hopeless naif and Sarah Palin the cunning politician took a backseat to Palin the person. Watching Julianne Moore, as Palin, comforting her sobbing daughter Bristol while the media tears the teen to shreds, or the tenseness that creeps into her face while talking to her son Track, fighting in Afghanistan, is to watch a devoted mother trying to grapple with her children's pain. It's heart wrenching. Similarly, watching the kindness with which Palin greets people with Down's Syndrome in rope lines is to understand just why people were so taken with her. It's these scenes that seem to justify the many critics who claimed that the film encourages the audience to empathize with her.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Live Blog - HBO's Game Change

Loyal readers, set your DVRs! Tonight, starting at 9:00 pm CT, I'll be live blogging the HBO original movie Game Change. I had the opportunity to go to an advance screening, so I'll be sharing my thoughts and insights with you while I watch.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Slate's strong bisexual women are nothing of the sort

Lost Girl's Anna Silk and Ksenia Solo. Source.

A mere four days after I wrote a piece chastising Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker for reinforcing homosexual stereotypes and perpetuating the "no bisexuals" trope, Slate decided to up the ante with an analysis of a new trend: strong bisexual women on TV. (The article discusses three characters, which is apparently enough to constitute a "trend" these days. It's similar to the incest "trend" that was the talk of the TV world at the end of last year, which also consisted of... three whole examples.)

At first glance, these characters - Kalinda from The Good Wife, April from the new Showtime series House of Lies, and Bo, the protagonist of a Syfy show called Lost Girl, which is apparently a thing that exists - seem to call into question the "no bisexuals" trope. After all, these three women are tough characters who are open about their attraction to both men and women. This seems like an indication that even the most staid and old-fashioned TV networks - The Good Wife is on CBS, for god's sake! - are starting to recognize and legitimize the existence of bisexuality. Right?

Not so much. The article's starts out promisingly enough by talking about Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), who "doesn't identify as bisexual - or accept any other label, for that matter," and whose sexual preferences are "just one aspect of the air of mystery that surrounds her." The description is slightly in danger of crossing into femme fatale territory, but it generally makes Kalinda's bisexuality sound like a thoughtful character choice, rather than a ploy designed to titillate and increase ratings. Which is more than can be said for the other two characters. Here's the article's description of Bo:
She grew up believing herself to be a killer kisser - literally - so you can imagine the relief when she learns she isn't human. Instead, she's a supernatural seductress known as succubus, part of the Fae, who are divided into two clans, light and dark.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Here's a trailer for the return of Community, if you're interested

You may not have heard, but Community is coming back on March 15 at 8:00 pm. And because NBC knows that you probably aren't excited by that news, they have thoughtfully prepared this epically fantastic trailer to help get you in the right frame of mind. (Apologies for the lower-quality trailer, but the official one from E!'s website is permanently set on autoplay, and it's annoying.)

I don't currently have any coherent thoughts on this trailer, because there is too much awesome here for my brain to process. So I will simply provide a list of some of the amazing things that happen in the mind-blowing two minutes and thirty seconds.
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo-inspired font and structure. That trailer has been almost as good to the comedy business as the Republican primary.
  • The look on Troy's face as the study group is told they've been expelled, because it promises Donald Glover crying.
  • Annie suggesting that getting a C is the equivalent of getting pregnant at a bus station.
  • Annie and Shirley's "awww" at the tiny riot gear, followed by their "aaah!" at a man getting pepper sprayed.

The Walking Dead is just talking about morality, not showing it

The Walking Dead's discussions of morality are as slow and stagnant as
this rotting zombie. Source.

A piece that ran yesterday on The Atlantic examines the "post-apocalyptic morality" of The Walking Dead, and gives the zombie series a lot of credit for its depiction of a world unmoored from traditional morality.
In a recent, revealing tweet, Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara said that every writer on the series is required to read psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's legendary concentration camp narrative, Man's Search for Meaning. The connection between a true-life account of the Holocaust and a TV series about zombies may initially seem tenuous, or even crass. But it also shows that Mazzara and his writers are taking The Walking Dead's pulpy premise very, very seriously. Man's Search for Meaning chronicles Frankl's unimaginable philosophical journey: from shock, to apathy, to bitterness and despair, and eventually to purposefulness, after having survived one of the most dehumanizing experiences imaginable.
It's a real-life version of the despairing process that's beginning to happen to the protagonists on The Walking Dead, who have begun to confront how best to survive in a world of utter hopelessness. For the dearly departed, becoming a zombie is dehumanization in the most literal sense of the word. But The Walking Dead's subtler, more insidious dehumanization is what's happening to the still-human survivors.
The author of the piece, Scott Meslow, then goes on to detail the full spectrum of the group's moral decay with quotes from the more recent episode, "Judge, Jury, Executioner." Dale's fast grip on the morality of the old world is phrased as "Keeping our humanity - that's a choice." Rick's slow descent into a more pragmatic mindset is represented by "We have to eliminate the threat." Andrea's fatalism gets a "Who says we're civilized anymore?" while Shane doesn't get a quote, because everyone knows that Shane is evil (or so I assume).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My love for Arrested Westeros is all over the internet

Courtesy of Arrested Westeros.

I wrote a piece for Splitsider about the awesome Arrested Development/Game of Thrones mash-up Arrested Westeros. Go check it out! I promise, it's awesome.

TV Pundits, Slut Shaming and Community

Britta Perry is a sexual being, and she will not be shamed for it. And if you
try, she will shoot you in the face. Source.

Rush Limbaugh's stunningly offensive remarks to Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke have launched a thousand debates about sexism and slut shaming. (I'm not going to provide a link; if you haven't heard about this incident by now, you are clearly living under a rock without internet, and you therefore can't be reading this blog.) The conservative radio host's personal attack on Fluke - whose crime, apparently, was testifying before a senate committee about how birth control can, in some cases, be a medical necessity - was appalling and indefensible. And it wasn't an isolated incident; Kirsten Powers over at The Daily Beast wrote an excellent piece that contained far too many examples of slut-shaming by television personalities on the liberal side as well as the conservative side, and on tonight's Daily Show, Jon Stewart eviscerated Limbaugh and the conservatives who refuse to take him to task for his actions.

The thing is, though, that denunciations of the very deserving Limbaugh don't actually deal with the issue of slut shaming in our culture. Most people aren't Limbaugh or Bill Maher or Rick Santorum (offenders mentioned by Powers and Stewart, respectively). They're not stupid enough to come out and say that any woman who has sex is a slut. If you consume enough popular culture, however (which I do), you start to realize that implicit slut shaming is depressingly common.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Apparently, homosexual stereotypes will never die

Smash's Ellis Tancharoen, played by Jaime
Cepero. Photo courtesy of Yahoo! TV.
After last week's episode of Smash drew only 6.6 million viewers and a 2.3 rating - which are good numbers in the context of everything else on NBC, but show a drastic dropoff from the 11.5 million people who gave the premiere a 3.8 share in the all-important 18-34 demographic - Ken Tucker wrote a piece where he attempted to explain the ratings drop. His answers, unfortunately, both failed to account for the vast gulf between critical appreciation and audience interest, and also displayed some remarkably stereotyped notions about homosexuality.

The first problem is that, although Tucker frames the piece as an exploration of Smash's precipitous ratings decline, it really just turns into complaints about the show's direction from a TV critic's point of view. This would be totally fine - while I'm quite enjoying the show, the narrative and characterizations undoubtedly have their frustrating aspects - but for the fact that Tucker offers these criticisms as an explanation for viewers' wandering eyeballs. Apparently he's forgetting that, if critical love had anything to do with ratings, Fringe and Community would be drawing numbers not seen since the days of The Cosby Show, rather than attempting to scrape together enough viewers to stave of cancellation.

The bigger problem with the piece, however, is an unfortunate remark about the character of Ellis (Jaime Cepero), scheming assistant to Christian Borle's Tom. Tucker asserts that it's "slightly odd" that Ellis has a girlfriend, due to the fact that "he signifies, and is perceived by many in the show's enthusiastic fanbase, as gay in every other way." The piece continues,
What may factor into this is the theme of Ellis shaping up to be the series’ villain: the guy who’s going to gum up the Marilyn musical by claiming the idea was his (which it sorta was). Perhaps Smash and/or NBC wanted to avoid a gay bad guy in a way that Glee, for all its looniness, frequent narrative incoherence, and regular detachment from reality would never have had a qualm about.
Let it be said that I quite like Ken Tucker. I think his reviews are generally sharp and well-written, even when I don't agree with him. That doesn't change the fact that there are about a million things wrong with this analysis, the most egregious being the notion that Ellis has to be gay because he acts gay. Tucker claims that Ellis "signifies" as gay, but the only evidence I could find that points to the character's homosexuality is his dapper wardrobe, involvement in musical theater, and love of Marilyn Monroe. In the era of Happy Endings' football-loving, beer-drinking, slovenly Max Blum, is it really necessary to fall back on a stereotyped love of musical theater and designer fashions in order to determine whether a character is gay?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Shockingly enough, John McCain and Sarah Palin won't be watching Game Change

In the run-up to the March 10 premiere of HBO's original movie Game Change, directed by Jay Roach and written by Danny Strong, both Sarah Palin and John McCain have been giving the film some free publicity by talking about how much they hate it:
Current and former aides to Sarah Palin lashed out Wednesday at HBO's Game Change, describing the upcoming film's depictions of her on the 2008 campaign trail as "sick" and inaccurate. 
None of the aides said they have yet seen the movie, which debuts March 10, and some said they had asked for an opportunity to screen the film but had been denied. 
via USA Today
How these aides know what the film's portrayal of Palin, played by Julianne Moore, will look like, given that they haven't actually seen the movie, is a mystery. USA Today notes that the staffers are basing their claims on the trailer, an indication that none of them understand how marketing works. If movies actually resembled their trailers, Battle: Los Angeles would have been the best movie of 2011, and Aaron Eckhart would be getting the work that he deserves. (Seriously, watch the trailer for that movie, and tell me it isn't amazing.)