Actively comparing environments in which I have worked, I laughed out loud imagining inviting someone like Reggie Watts to perform for the corporate puppets. The polite smiling but not really understanding what’s going on. Corporate life provides its own brand of lunacy and crazy entertainment. We wouldn’t need a comedy genius like Watts, who would be misunderstood anyway. The average giant company is plump with self-congratulatory pomp and unintentional hilarity.
I don’t know if it was the initial intention when The Night Shift was launched (most shows take time to find their footing), but it has become a showcase for the different aspects and challenges of veterans’ lives as they return from war, whether it’s their access to healthcare, inability to get a job, PTSD or reintegrating and feeling “normal” again.
On the whole the show is a bit over-the-top, and I would not have bothered to watch except that I needed something as background noise during an intensive project. While I did not love the show or anything, I was struck by its intention to bring real heart to its telling of veterans’ stories….
It has been especially good at portraying the bond/camaraderie that cements these soldiers together when they come home – the struggle against their own pride and the feeling that you have lost everything and cannot (and would not know how to) ask for help. One guy discusses having been a leader of men when in the war in Afghanistan but coming home to be nothing – not being able to “find their way back” – and that is where I think the show does its best work. That said, it would be impossible for me – or anyone who has not served in the armed forces or in some other kind of conflict or crisis – to say whether or not this is an accurate representation. But it tries, and getting some visibility on some of the more invisible issues at hand cannot be a bad thing.
Even when some aspects of life are annoying as all hell, others can be remarkably satisfying. But these opposing forces balance each other out eventually. Remarkably good days followed by forgettably bad ones.
The last few months, I have run into or talked to people (former colleagues mostly) who really brightened my mood – both in the moments spent together (from a couple of random running into cool people in Oslo to a couple of phone calls) and in the days following. During the weekend I caught up with one such former colleague and it was refreshing.
During the earlier part of this week, someone working at a coffee place remembered my name even though I had not been in there for months, and when I said I was surprised, and that the girl must have a superb memory, she said, “But you’ve been here since the beginning! How could I not remember?” (We’ve never really talked, and I don’t know her name.) On my way to the coffee place, some weird ladies on the tram said to me, “You are very beautiful.” Well, they said it in Swedish, but I was sure that I misheard them because that seemed odd. But they repeated it in English, and as odd and out of nowhere as it was, it was nice. Random niceness, especially when I don’t feel beautiful.
Various other nice things happened during that evening, and I also got a lot done. Contentment.
But then the next day, literal stormy weather arrived. Self-congratulatory corporate BS reared its head. Traffic was a nightmare. And then my bank apparently had problems with all of the credit cards it has issued not working at all. I have no other cards or cash so was pretty much stuck without dinner or options. And, as the real and present “threat” of a former and acute problem coming back to haunt has reappeared, I also got to endure the lonely and internal freaking out about things over which I have absolutely no control. Non-contentment.
I look for new ways to describe things but keep churning out the same tired words.
You know it’s a sad day when you hit up YouTube for a “classic” episode of The Rockford Files (“The Empty Frame”)
While the episode was remarkable for its place and time for featuring a gay couple without remarking on it or drawing attention to it, as chronicled in a book on the gay characters on TV, it was more remarkable for its take on socialist hypocrisy. Haha.
If you had told me that I would fall flat-on-my-ass in love with original programming from Lifetime, well, I would sooner have believed that I would win the lottery. Lifetime has done something unexpected by offering us unREAL, starring Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer. I like Zimmer a lot anyway but did not know Appleby before. The two together make the show. Some of Zimmer’s dialogue is a bit over the top but she pulls off even the witchiest of bitchiest. I read somewhere that the role was originally slated to be played by Megyn Price but I cannot imagine anyone in the role but Zimmer.
Appleby as Rachel, though, is a revelation: Tough, vulnerable, strong but put time and again into compromising positions that challenge her conscience. Even with the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding Rachel at every turn in her work, this is not a preachy, moralizing show. Instead it explores the grey areas of human relationships and manipulations and the extremes people are willing to push themselves to. And asks at what cost – and can a person come back from the edge? Can they really feel or trust again after certain soul-crushing experiences? What better place to do this than a fictionalized behind-the-scenes look at the backstage machinations of a reality show like The Bachelor? It’s dark but not devoid of human emotion. People all live in grey zones. It’s people being ruthless even though they do, on some level, seem to care about each other. But wouldn’t it be easy to go full-on cynical after living in this world populated by artifice? In fact because the show is deeply human, it skewers without ever turning into a parody.
As often happens, I came to the unREAL game a bit late – the entire first season was over by the time I watched (all the better to binge on, my dear). I’d read glowing reviews and heard the accolades but the Lifetime stigma and the one-sentence premise about a reality-show setting screamed, “No!” I gave in, though, and I am beyond glad that I did. Let’s free ourselves from bias – creativity can come from anywhere!
Apart from showering the stars with praise – richly deserved because they breathe the life and humanity into this show – the real thanks should go to the show’s co-creators, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who made the brilliant Sequin Raze, the inspiration for unREAL, and the prolific Marti Noxon, a TV veteran and apparently a fellow baking aficionado who owns a flour mill. How can I not be in love with these women? (I am.)
It sounds pretty cheesy, but the long-heard Lifetime tagline, “Television for Women”, has always been condescending and limiting, but I think they finally got it right here. Television for, by and about women that should engage and entertain everyone.
We never truly know the inner journey of another. I can only guess at the feelings, fears, motivations of anyone… even of a partner or of a best friend. Clearly that’s true – a case in point: my best friend in youth became so estranged and not at all the girl I thought I knew. Sure, people change, but I reflect and think, “Yeah, I probably knew nothing about how she really felt.” Or what anyone has ever felt. And it’s a challenge and a pain to face that you don’t really know the people you think you know, or at least not the way you think you do.
It is stranger, though, to reflect on the hidden, inner journeys of the people whose paths crossed ours but whom we did not know at all. Peripheral characters who populated our world, briefly appeared like little more than a blip upon the screen of the movies of our own lives. We thought of these people very little, except where their actions appeared briefly before us.
In junior high school a girl named Lupe appeared. She spoke no English, which I can only imagine created the tremendous frustration and anger she regularly exhibited. At the time it was easy just to dismiss her (and I cringe as I write this) as “some Mexican kid”. The town had a large number of migrant workers, mostly from Mexico, but the truth is… what did I ever know about any of them or of the children who came with them? Or even if that was their story? Maybe they were there for some other reason. That is the point – I have no idea. It is not that we have to know the stories of everyone we meet or see, but the danger is in assuming the background story because it’s easier, and lazier. We can make assumptions and assign stories and stereotypes to people, making it easier to categorize, dismiss and dehumanize them. It is not that that was the intention at the time. No one wanted to actively make fun of Lupe. We just had no way to reach her. Even if we had been active in trying to engage her, it would have been next to impossible. Why? Because we were Americans, and despite being enrolled in basic Spanish classes, we only spoke English. Of course!
It is not as though these stories and people come to mind frequently, but in a bout of crazy exhaustion recently, I used the word “loopy” and then as if the light in my life’s film projector flickered on, there was Lupe’s face in my mind. Lupe’s overly colorful and unfashionable wardrobe, her thick, out of control hair tamed by equally colorful rubber bands, seeing her plow through the hallways silently and angrily, one morning kicking the corner of a classroom door held open by a piece of wood, sending the wood flying, causing the door to slam shut. By the time the teacher in that classroom came out to scold the offending party, Lupe was long gone, but my friend T and I were walking by, and the teacher looked at T as if she were the culprit. Flummoxed, T exclaimed, “Lupe did it!”
And that is the sum total of what I know, knew and remember of Lupe, and it’s only now, more than 20 years later, that I begin to wonder about the inner life and frustrations of Lupe. Where did she come from, how long would she remain? Where is she now? What did she think about back then? Did she share the same adolescent frustrations we all felt, compounded by the language barrier, not being able to talk to anyone in school, and not fitting in?
When I was even younger, just a small child, a Cambodian refugee joined my second-grade class. His name was Praseuth. His “plight” had a deep influence on me to the point that I remember him very clearly even now. And the sensitivity of my youth intact, I felt so much for him and his situation, even if I could not fully comprehend it back then. I was untainted by the hideousness of … society, judgment and misconceptions. People did make fun of him and his ill-fitting wardrobe, and this broke my heart. I wanted to jump to his defense, which was something I did infrequently in general because I was ridiculously shy – could barely defend myself. He was quiet, but exceedingly polite, always making an effort to converse politely, rapidly picking up English.
I remember very clearly a picture he drew, particularly in contrast to pictures the other students drew. They drew over-the-top, brightly colored rainbows and unicorns and his monochrome pencil drawing was a lone tree, bare of its leaves, with just a few leaves blowing away in the wind. I am sure I have written about it before because I found the picture so striking, so lonely and so haunting then, so much so that it still haunts. And what of him? Where is he now? What of his hidden, inner journey?
I cannot let the day pass without writing a post even though I cannot find the energy to write about anything. It’s going to be a long rest of the week even though only two days remain. Where did the week go?
HAPPYish took a while to grow on me, and as most entertainment media pointed out upon its debut, the world did not necessarily need another portrait of disaffected middle-aged-man at a crossroads. It didn’t always hit the mark but sometimes felt very satisfying, shining a light not just on middle-aged-man dissatisfaction but also on the disillusionment of moving away from one’s youthful dreams and clinging onto and valuing the important things you do find when you’re older and more mature… and realizing that even when you do stumble onto one or two of life’s few epiphanies, you are just as likely to forget and go on with your pettiness two minutes later. It also skewered the hollowness of the advertising industry.
In a reappraisal of the show’s first – and only, now that it has been canceled – season, I think I will miss it.
As the second season of Murder in the First comes to an end, I mostly reflect on one of its stars, Kathleen Robertson. I have enjoyed both seasons of the show so far, in large part because of a good and low-key cast (including Ian Anthony Dale, who is always fun to watch regardless of what it is – including Hawaii Five-0 and the otherwise tedious The Event). I won’t say anything more about Murder in the First except that I recommend it. Instead I will talk about why I have changed my mind about Kathleen Robertson.
It would be easy to dismiss Robertson based on what she has been best known for – playing a girl in Beverly Hills 90210. I believe she spent a few seasons as a roommate and friend to the main characters and her character also dated the “Steve” character in 90210. I was never a fan of 90210 and sometimes watched it to laugh at it. Even then, Robertson seemed a bit “fish out of water” because she seemed smarter than the show and her talent was constrained by the constraints of the show. Nevertheless, my determination had been made, however unfairly.
I never gave her much thought after 90210, although she popped up here and there.
When I finally got around to watching the short-lived but powerful Boss, a starring vehicle for Kelsey Grammer, I was consistently impressed with Robertson’s performance as political aide, Kitty O’Neill. At first I was doubtful – her character was smart, ambitious, driven but under the thumb of the oppressive Tom Kane (Grammer). The O’Neill character’s professional drive and underhandedness was something Robertson handled well, but where she excelled is in her handling of the character’s personal life. She uses her overt sexuality not to gain power but, it seems, to make herself feel better, to feel desirable, to feel powerful, even though nothing about it gives her power in the end. She attaches no emotion to her encounters – or tries not to and believes she isn’t, even though she is clearly affected (not necessarily in positive ways) by all her encounters and sometimes seeming humiliations. It is the classic powerful, single woman behaving in a sexually liberated, aggressive, detached way and she seems confused by her own evolution.
In part, she has dedicated her life to the politician she works for, and in that sense, does not have time or interest in anything else. And Kane can be a Machiavellian – and emotionally abusive – boss, which would further erode Kitty’s sense of worth. But she is sexually driven, but perhaps there is a lot more behind it than is first obvious. And what makes this compelling is what Robertson brings to the role. This tough exterior with a clearly vulnerable, emotionally stunted inside. And the thing is – it was deeply relatable. I found myself transfixed many times in Kitty’s more vulnerable moments, sometimes even pushed to tears by her choices or the choices she needed to make. It’s pretty rare that I would have such a reaction.
Robertson’s role in Murder in the First is quite different, although she brings some of the same tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside approach to her role that makes her feel strong and smart – but you can feel her frustrations, her tiredness, the way she is trying to balance her demanding career with her life as a single mother.
And then to top it off, I read recently that Robertson has written a new TV project, Your Time is Up. I am looking forward to seeing what she creates.
What made the first season of True Detective delightful was its sense of coming out of nowhere with something unexpected. No pretension, no weight of expectation. Sure, some of the dialogue was out there, but the unexpectedly great Matthew McConaughey delivered even the strangest dialogue.
Under the heavy weight of expectation, the second season has been bogged down in a convoluted mess pushed further into laughable territory by the presence of Vince Vaughn. I suppose he and his handlers expected a career boost or surge along the same lines as McConaughey – maybe we had all been underestimating Vaughn all these years and he had just never been given a role that allowed him to sink his teeth in. McConaughey had been perceived for many years as a one-trick pony too even though much of his long career is studded with hidden gem performances, the likes of which do not fill out Vaughn’s resume.
Every scene with Vaughn was eye rolling. The script was not great to start with – he was asked to pull off some babble that no one would ever say. But a greater actor might have been able to do it without the viewer feeling the need to laugh. And the constant lingering of Vaughn’s character’s wife (played by British actress Kelly Reilly)… what was that all about? Throughout I was expecting that maybe she would play some larger role in the end game – otherwise what other point does her constant presence and artificial brooding play? If it was just to try to humanize Vaughn’s character, it didn’t work. Their conversation is so stilted, so fake, so forced. It looks like two people who joined an “intro to acting” course at a community college and are just fumbling their way through their first scene together. NO chemistry. And hilariously in the finale, Reilly states, “You can’t act for shit. Take it from me.” Haha. Guess what? Neither one of you can act, and the script sucks!
The season ended, and those questions about her role were not answered. What purpose did Vaughn’s wife really serve other than perhaps being some kind of glorified nanny/part-time mum for Rachel McAdams’s kid? Even if the plot questions were more or less answered, the bigger question – what was the point of any of this? – was not.
The end did not satisfy and ended up being just as stupid as the rest of the seven episodes preceding its unceremonious fizzling out.