Lunchtable TV Talk – Dig: More subtitled entertainment


I have been a fan of A Fine Frenzy for years. I had no idea when I started watching Dig – a show that is not (so far) great by any means, but which has enough twists and turns and depth to keep me watching – that A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol is one of its standout characters.

While it does not seem to be a great show yet, it fits squarely into the category of shows I have been considering and writing about lately – those shows that use languages other than English extensively (and thus a liberal use of subtitles). With Dig, it’s Hebrew.

Jason Isaacs often shows up in programs that are a bit too obscure and conceptual – and thus do not seem like they will be long for this world. Awake is a good example. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t bring exceptional insight to his roles. He plays grief and confusion quite well. This large cast, in addition to Isaacs and Sudol, includes some great talent; notably, Regina Taylor (also seen in The Unit and the great, long-gone but not-forgotten I’ll Fly Away), Anne Heche (also seen in Hung and Men in Trees), Lauren Ambrose (also seen in Six Feet Under and Torchwood), Richard E. Grant (also seen most recently in Downton Abbey and Girls – among a million other things) and David Costabile (also seen in Suits, Ripper Street, Breaking Bad, Flight of the Conchords, Damages and many others).

With Dig, which has a few related storylines in play in parallel, it might be too slow, too intricate and again, obscure, for most viewers. But I will give it a shot… and like every time I watch a film from Israel, wish that I knew Hebrew.

With Dig, which has a few related storylines in play in parallel, it might be too slow, too intricate and again, obscure, for most viewers. But I will give it a shot… and like every time I watch a film from Israel, wish that I knew Hebrew.

Lunchtable TV Talk – Louie: The Walking Uterus


The premiere episode of Louie, as it returns to television, was as uncomfortable as Louie always is. Add a dose of the freaky Cylon baby farm in Battlestar Galactica or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and you have yet another agonizingly awkward chapter in the story that is Louie.

Louie (the guy and the show) takes on a lot of uncomfortable, controversial topics. The inaugural episode of this season has Louie attending a potluck hosted by parents in his daughter’s school (and here’s a great description). Louie is never the most socially adept character, but the quirks and abrasiveness of other characters never helps. They always appear extreme in contrast to Louie’s socially awkward stance and in his interpretation of the interactions around him. At the aforementioned potluck, a parent named Marina and her partner introduce their surrogate to another guest and behave as though the surrogate is “a walking uterus” and absolutely nothing else. The surrogate is given no chance to answer her own questions or set her own boundaries. She has become nothing more than a vessel for these other people’s child, and while the whole conversation appears “normal” – Louie is the only person who seems to unveil the discomfort inherent in the situation.

Louie certainly does not do anything to unpack these awkward encounters or make them less uncomfortable. Some people revel in the squirming. Louie often holds up a mirror to society’s weak and squeamish subjects, and we get unflattering reflections back. For example, there was much ado last year after Louie went on a date with a “fat girl”. Many people posed the question as to whether Louie poked the issue but was still sort of an anti-fat chauvinist trying to give himself a pat on the back for going on a date with her at all – but isn’t his telling of the encounter a fairly incisive look in the mirror?

Most guys in our society, we are told, are not going to look at the fat girl. Most guys will not go out with the fat girl. If one is cornered as Louie felt, he might agree to go just to ensure the girl does not feel bad, to give himself a conscience-boosting pat on the back. But he is probably never going to call again. And he will be concerned with what others think of him. It is the society we live in – and Louie held up a mirror to all of these kinds of things. Not necessarily things that are universally true but things that are common enough to be recognizable when he projects them as part of his character’s experience. (Of course he also weaves “fantastic” – in the “fantasy” sense of the word – scenes in with real stuff, but I think the audience can tell the difference.)

Is it kind, is it NICE? Probably not. But does it have to be?
Again it goes back to this idea that somehow our entertainment, our tv shows, are supposed to teach us something – that they owe us some kind of perfection or search for enlightenment. But that’s not how real life is. Looking forward to the rest of the new season to see where Louie takes us.

Non-English on English-language TV: No subtitles


I wrote a bit earlier about the increase in number of subtitled TV shows. Not foreign TV on predominantly English-language screens but the jump in number of shows featuring a mix of languages. Knowing that many Americans don’t have the patience and tolerance for languages or subtitles, this has been an interesting development. It has always existed in shows to some degree but its centrality to certain shows, such as The Americans, has made the concept more prominent.

I thought back, as the latest season of Louie premiered this week, to last season’s arc in which Louie has a brief affair with a Hungarian woman who speaks no English. I wrote about it at the time, and about how no subtitles accompany her speech. I assume this was an intentional device, inviting the viewer to share in Louie’s feelings of being charmed by and having real feelings for someone he cannot understand (as well as the frustration of not being able to understand or communicate complex feelings).

As much as I thought about compiling a list of shows in which more than one language (and subtitling) is used regularly, I also thought about the number of shows that have used the intentional lack of understanding brought about by another language’s use as a device. Any thoughts?