lunchtable TV talk: this kind of nerd

Standard

Many times, I have claimed that I have ‘given up’ television, and compared to what I used to inhale (night and day viewing, really), I have. I also don’t write obsessively about my thoughts on tv shows I do watch, so it looks like I’m following my own rules.

Yet, if I were to talk to almost anyone else I know, I still watch much more tv (however carefully selected it is now) than most people I know. I recently finished by the heartbreaking but often very funny, and always timely, Hap and Leonard (set in the 80s, yet with timeless and important themes, woven so tightly into the narrative that they never come across as “Important Themes”, such as those you’d see on “very special episodes of…”). It is also one of those shows that gets better with each season, which is one reason why I am pulling for renewal. (As the most recent season ends, there is no word on whether it will come back. But it really deserves to.)

I can’t really say enough about Hap and Leonard and the performances of its two leads, James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams. Both are actors I like anyway, but the humanity and depth of friendship/love for each other that they breathe into these characters puts both of them – and the show – over the top for me. I think it’s a shame that more people haven’t heard of the show. I suspect this may have something to do it with its being on the very quiet Sundance network, where many brilliant shows live quiet, critically acclaimed but often little-seen lives. This was certainly true of Rectify. Despite very few people seeing Rectify when it was on, Sundance let it continue to live – and I hope the same will be true for Hap and Leonard.

In Hap and Leonard, I also enjoy small nods to things in the show that may or may not be intentional, e.g. the sheriff in the racist town portrayed in the latest season is played by Corbin Bernsen, and as Hap and Leonard are driving through town while businesses are boarding up in anticipation of a big storm, the town cinema reader board displays the film Major League as what’s playing. If you don’t know or remember, Bernsen played a vain, aging, jack-ass baseball player in Major League (more similar to his role in LA Law than anything he has done in his later years).

Having sung the praises of Hap and Leonard and told everyone I can about it, I should also sing the praises of an Italian series, 1992 and 1993. Today I tried to moved on to watch 1993, an Italian drama that follows, logically, 1992. When I watched 1992 several years ago, I loved the storytelling and nods to that period in time (and learned a bit more about what was happening in Italy at the time). I have commented before that I am not entirely sure that there were *so many* Italians into the kinds of music that made up the 1992 soundtrack, but I can forgive that. What struck me is how the main character, an ad exec, Notte, whose savvy and forward-looking ability to see trends, leads him to politics and a bold, seemingly out-of-left-field prediction that someone like Silvio Berlusconi had a viable political future, something most others around him do not agree with. In my favorite part of the series, the Notte caused everyone around him to laugh, poking fun at his naivete in thinking that someone as ludicrous as Berlusconi could ever be a politician. One character, if I recall, argues something, through condescending laughter, like, ‘That would be like Schwarzenegger trying to be a politician.’ We all know now, of course, that both Berlusconi and Schwarzenegger went on to have dubiously successful political careers. But now, in the post-Trump era, the warnings about grotesque media figures like Berlusconi becoming politicians, and no one caring about the scandals, wrongdoing, corruption and rumors swirling around them, feel even more prescient and … sad.

I still didn’t get around to watching 1993, as it happens. I didn’t have time to pay as close attention as I would have needed to, so I turned instead to Westworld, which I tried to watch when it was new but couldn’t get into. Sometimes it just takes time, and I have managed to dive in. I don’t have anything particular to say about it because it’s not something that needs more attention or my amateurish praise. It’s far more important that less visible gems like Hap and Leonard get a polish and the chance to shine.

 

Press(ure) button: love

Standard

Sometimes the squeeze you feel is like being in a trap, and all the mind can focus on is running – both figurative and literal. Running away, to anywhere, and literally … running there. Being unable to focus and fix oneself to one place, one destiny – to commit to one nature, one path. Jenny Erpenbeck writes in Visitation, which focuses on one single property that has changed hands over many decades:

“Someone who builds something is affixing his life to the earth. Embodying the act of staying put is his profession. Creating an interior. Digging deeper and deeper in a place where there is nothing.”

I thought about this a lot after reading the book, feeling closer to the idea that I could, rather than dig deep and plant roots, fill holes and run toward ever-greater nothingness. It could well be a case of feeling down, and thus inappropriately feeling sorry for myself. This will pass.

For a long time, my idea of running toward nothingness, or possibly emptiness, was to numb my mind with television. I mostly quit this vice, but there are still things I consume in this way – either as a process of multitasking or to disconnect briefly. Part of distancing myself from the unmemorable haze of visual opiates was the sense that I should reconnect with feeling, wherever that took me.

Perhaps, though, this sometimes makes me feel too much. Sometimes this is not a bad thing, and oddly, the ‘messages’ delivered are entirely unexpected. A show I am currently viewing, Counterpart, is a kind of sci-fi-ish thing that, while enjoyable and entertaining, has not offered a single episode that hasn’t in one way or another dealt with the concept of love and how unconditional love should be. Many characters have been playing roles with each other, hiding significant aspects of who they really are, and living lies. The recurring theme, though, is that to truly love someone, maybe you have to (learn to) love the lie.

The person you love is someone you may not truly know at all. Maybe you love the person they wanted you to love, the person they want to be, the person you want them to be. You may know the whole truth, live with some variation on that, but (choose to) love anyway.

“She’s human. She made mistakes. We worked through them. … I love her. I love her for everything she is and I love her for everything she isn’t. An in the end that capacity for love, the ability to love someone unselfishly is the only thing that will separate me from you.” (Counterpart)

This theme, weaving itself persuasively into the body of the show, is what makes me keep coming back for another episode. It’s thinking about this ability to love – and commit – to someone no matter what – and stick around for what happens, whatever unfolds, that brings me back to my first points. I do love unselfishly and unconditionally, but my own selfish desire to run, not to dig deeper and deeper into one place, that keeps me from sticking around for what happens.

 

Random Gum: April Fools – April Skies 2017

Standard

Random Gum – April Fools – April Skies – Q2-2017

The banditry of collecting music continued all winter and into spring. It was a strange time, a collection of moments, lasting no longer than that.

Moment
Adam Zagajewski
Clear moments are so short.
There is much darkness. More
ocean than firm land. More
shadow than form.

The postal versions (to those for whom I have postal addresses) are going out in the mail this week.

(Almost) complete track listing available on Spotify (as are all previous Random Gum mixes by accessing my Spotify profile). You can access all the past track listings, etc. here.

01 Ghada ShbeirToubayk’iidto
Such a beautiful, haunting start from Chants Syriaques album

02 Victoria WilliamsPoetry …Be sweet, be free, every day is poetry…
Introduced by William, who put this on a cassette mix 20+ years ago; I lost my copy of the CD & this was kind of a bitch to find because it exists seemingly nowhere (or very few places) digitally. Needed again as every day for me is poetry.

03 The Spencer Davis Group – Waltz for Lumumba
Finally read a book on Congo I’d been trying to get to for years. The chaos. Thoughts of Zaki ❤️.

04 His Clancyness – Pale Fear …sometimes I feel like a failure…

05 Tashaki Miyaki – Girls on T.V. …I’ll be the girl you made up in your head…
“I didn’t hear a word you said/But I love Kurt Cobain” Huh? Mention 1 of Kurt Cobain…

06 Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White – Grease
It’s like being a kid all over again only … updated

07 Television – 1880 or So
It’s always in the 80s – the French Revolution; Congo, Dunlop & his rubber tires; Tiananmen Square. SD❤️

08 VorderhausCatacombs …Have I the right to want you/Have I the right to love you?…
Listening loud on repeat ❤️: “Have I the right to want you, to say I love when I don’t see you?” Danke, ML

09 Lijadu Sisters – Life’s Gone Down Low …but it’s not too late for you and me if we hurry…
Can you resist Nigerian identical twin sisters doing tunes like this?

10 King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Billabong Valley …Outlaws on the run/Faster than a stolen gun…
Prolific Melbourne band – can only think of Jane❤️ when Melbourne comes up

11 Kate Tempest – Perfect Coffee …We’re Sisyphus pushing his boulder/the kids are all right but the kids’ll get older…
Only thanks to MP that I gave this a fair shake. Glad I did, eventually. Took a while.

12 The Breeders – No Aloha …Motherhood means mental freeze…
And goodbye, aloha, (no) thank you.

13 Broken Social Scene – Handjobs for the Holidays …It kinda takes the joy away, we don’t come at all…
“We’ve got eyes that leave us in places we don’t see”

14 Lovers – Igloos for Ojos
“Your breath is a voice, wet purring/A kiss on the mouth’s like an elegy/when you slide down next to me and say, ‘By morning this will just feel like a dream’/Your eyes are some cold home”

15 Jealous of the Birds – Tonight I Feel Like Kafka …And it scares me to think that nobody/Looks at me that way…
How did I end up with two songs that mention Kurt Cobain so prominently?

16 Amanda BergmanQuestions …I can find in my way baby knowing that this will be over too…
Still an Andreas ❤️recommendation that pays off again and again

17 Mega Bog – London

18 LUST – Mémoire
I love how the sound starts to melt, like relationships or events that devolve and dissolve into nothingness

19 Loose Meat, CibelleDaisy Chain

20 Omni – Wire …I’m nameless on hour twenty-four…
“You don’t get tired/As far as I can see/I’ve lost my sense of time & debut/I don’t require more than you could be”

21 Cherry Glazerr – Nurse Ratched …You’re so cold master, where do I begin?…
Thanks MP

22 Jaakko Eino Kalevi – Macho …Elle en a marre des machos/des machos ringards/des machos clichés/des macho men…
One from Helsinki’s favorite tram driver.

23 Blond Ambition – Shasta

24 Pictish Trail – After Life
Scotland, of course

25 Yasmine Hamdan – La Ba’den
Can’t resist a bit of Yasmine

26 Fabienne DelSol – I’m Gonna Haunt You …So softly I remind you/Of the ways you let me down…

27 Malcolm Middleton – Ballad of Fuck All …Oh I’m locked inside/Trapped inside this body/I can’t get out, and there’s not enough room/I’m glued to the back of this bone mask…
“Oh won’t you come for me/Comfort me in the night/I’m so tired of feeling sick and tired/Dying at life’s door all the time”. More Scotland. Who would I be without that particular overdose?

28 Scott Hirsch – Loss of Forgetfulness
Modern music with sounds from another time (sneaking suspicion that this is why Spotify started recommending Gram Parsons to me suddenly)…

29 Alexandra Savior – Shades …I’m always happy to be leaving/could be the company I’m keeping…
“Shouldn’t have come back/shouldn’t have switched it on at all/didn’t mean to hold you so close/but you know how it goes”

30 Fairuz – Salimleh Alayh
No words to say about the incomparable Fairuz

31 Mark Kozelek – Float On …and we’ll all float on okay…
“I backed my car into cop car the other day…” Somehow vaguely reminded me of the “African Arm taxi driver” story from ❤️Martina and Anthony❤️

32 Wire – Outdoor Miner …No blind spots in the leopard’s eyes/Can only help to jeopardize/The lives of lambs, the shepherd cries…

33 Chris Spedding – Video Life
“Meet myself on the action replay/Hope I get there right on time”

34 Angel Olsen – Woman …With no promise of the future/Am I not allowed/To think kindly of a stranger/Who reflects the sound/Of my heartache/As it’s beating/My life to the ground…
“You can leave now if you want to/I’ll still be around/This parade is almost over/And I’m still your clown”

35 Chromatics – Shadow …Can you hear me?…

36 Lambchop – When You Were Mine
A Prince cover; still seems strange that he’s dead

37 She Drew the Gun – Since You Were Not Mine …and to my lips too cold to speak/of a love just out of reach…
“Time refused to pass/though sand filled up the glass/each grain became the last/suggestion of our past”

38 The Yearning – When I Lost You
“But the world doesn’t know how I feel now you/Are out of my life, now you’re gone”

39 Elena Frolova  (Елена Фролова) – Mezhdu voskresnyem i subbotoy (Между воскресеньем и субботой)

40 Dougie PooleLess Young but as Dumb …Could you see that I haven’t learned a thing?…
“Cause I can see you now/Though I’m not sure I can handle the sight/The arms of a stranger, the light in your eyes/That’s making me wonder if I’m on your mind/See?/I’m less young but as dumb as the day that you left me”

41 Ulrika Spacek – There’s a Little Passing Cloud in You

42 Ruby Haunt – Crave
This song explains it all. It’s March, and I depart the station, heartbroken. “Listen to the girl, who waits by your side, in a simple world, no need to ask why, nothing’s gonna change, the people pass by, you feel no pain, as she starts to cry. Craving, craving some comfort. You can’t explain, the things on your mind, you’re on your way, you won’t rewind. It’s over with, no need to lie, you’re just a myth, but you know it’s fine. Craving, craving some comfort.”

43 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Bout des doigts
❤️❤️❤️

44 California Snow StoryRailway Station
Bring on more Scotland

45 The Besnard Lakes – Albatross …Oh you showed me so much/Those days are now long gone…
“And I have to admit/Things got weird for a bit/And I scream for you/There goes my man…”

46 Lisa O’Neill – England Has My Man …England’s so lucky/I’m not sure they know/I’m feeling bold with ideas of us…
“Now I am calmer than ever before/He opened the grand can of beautiful worms/I waive my fears and I face the chance/No one got near when we first danced”

47 Dean Blunt – 100 …But we keep it going on/Feelings coming on/But the bullshit got too long, yeah…

48 Soft Hair – Lying Has to Stop …Our lives they never seem to coincide/But if it’s all right with you/I try to focus on another life…
For Jane❤️, with her infectious laugh and tantalizingly soft hair

49 Lucy Dacus – I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore

50 The Animals – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood …I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…

51 Makthaverskan – Antabus
Yeah, it’s Antabus, not Antiabus! For SD❤️. Go on with your bad self, Göteborg music (even if some of it’s happening in Berlin)

52 BeverlyBulldozer …Cat is a machine pushing the rocks around/Bulldozer sleeping, dreaming up buildings…
For Annette❤️, loving human bulldozer, and her little Norm❤️ and his obsession with earth-moving machines

53 Ten Fé – Twist Your Arm
“And I give you love unconditionally/I give you love, what do you give me/I give you love, so I don’t understand/Why I gotta twist your arm/To hold your hand”

54 Archie Bell & the Drells – Tighten Up

55 The Holy – Ramses the Evil Brother
Finns from Funland!

56 Wild Nothing – To Know You …This is the circle that we live in/These are the people that we’ve been…
“So you gave a quiet light/My one chance at order/I won’t toss your way aside/For any corner of the world”

57 The Smoking Trees – Home in the Morning

58 Twin Peaks – I Don’t Wanna Miss You
“I could talk a girl right out of her clothes/I could talk myself into kissing your ghost/but you’re always on my mind”

59 Swim Mountain – Yesterday …Nothing could make us last this long/I wouldn’t have done it for anyone/Leaning forward to hear you say/ ‘I only wanted you yesterday.’…
“You said I live in my head/Never listen to the things you said/’Cause in love there’s always one/One who suffers and one who’s done”

60 Bill Patton – Alchemy …History tells us you don’t want to be native/but you don’t want to leave home either…
Seattle ❤. “If I make it to the fountain of youth/I will come home ridiculous and bearing syphilis/Travelling back in time has never been my strong suit/It’s just taken up all my time”

61 Ibrahim Maalouf – Will Soon Be a Woman (live at Babylon Istanbul)
The sound, movement, moment of the crowd carries you away

62 Ted Hawkins – The Lost Ones …We are the lost ones/seeking help from you…

63 Shallou – Motion Picture Soundtrack …I will see you in the next life…
“Stop sending letters/Letters always get burned/It’s not like the movies/They fed us on little white lies” (Radiohead)

64 Emel – Ensen Dhaif

65 Molly Burch – Try …Wouldn’t it be so nice if we felt the same/I wish you would try…

66 Frida Hyvönen – Amors förkastliga pilar
“Om jag mot förmodan blir kär igen/då ska jag inte agera/Bara andas väldigt lugnt/å låta det passera”. Tack så mycket, Andreas ❤️

67 The Dø – A Mess Like This …Are you a curse?/From bad to worse/Our affair/Helpless as I’m/Trying to react/You were the worst idea I ever had…
“Sometimes I wonder how I landed in a mess like this…”. Always thanking Bruno for the intro to The Dø

68 Allison CrutchfieldMile Away …Self-congratulatory mess/Yeah, you keep sleeping good at night/’Cause you’re inherently right…
“You’re acquaintances on a loaded train/You were spared rejection and it’s a dangerous thing/So you wake up confident every single day/You retire your own decency, you exonerate/And you’re blaring ‘Nebraska’ while she tortures you from a mile away, mile away”

69 Brigid Mae Power – Sometimes …Sometimes I just want to collapse into you, you/But I don’t know if you want me to/Or, if I should?…
“Shouldn’t I be okay out here on my own?/Living in my little home? No needs from others, doing it all by myself”. God, this makes me ridiculously sad.

70 Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now …I fell for that light, shame on you/You’ve got this idea, I can be fooled/Again with the light shame on me…
There is only now. “If you’re not here to help/Go find some other life to ruin”

71 Elvis CostelloRadio Silence …he’ll tell you anything you want to hear…
“Libraries filled up with failed ideas/There’s nothing more for me there/I trust in tender ink and gentle airs”

72 Jesus & Mary Chain – April Skies

Photo (c) 2016 Anders Sandberg used under Creative Commons license.

Television is the new TV – The great disconnect

Standard

A few years ago when I worked in the tech industry, there was a lot of noise about “cord cutting” and how internet technologies could enable consumers to bypass expensive and inflexible cable companies. The vision at the time was just that – a vision that had not quite caught up to reality. But now we’re living in a slightly-different-than-imagined version of that reality. I know a lot of people who don’t have relationships with a cable company, and all their entertainment comes in some form of streaming and they can pick and choose, smörgåsbord style, what they want to buy into (or not). Of course there are still some constraints in terms of internet connectivity – with many people held hostage by the lack of choice in ISPs. But there has never been quite as much freedom to choose content and content source as there is today.

This got me to thinking, though, that even if we are essentially looking at content that we’d traditionally refer to as “television” – the sudden lack of “programming”, the ability to watch whenever and wherever, the ability to avoid advertising (or succumb to more targeted ads), the shift toward creating truly amazing stories and the elevation of “TV” shows to high art or at least something that surpasses two-hour film format storytelling by adding richness, depth, character building and production value – all of this means that we are witnessing the birth of something quite new. (One writer calls it “complex TV” but I would go so far as to argue that it is not TV at all.)

Can we call what we are watching “TV” just because it vaguely follows the same format? When streaming and binge-watching are becoming de facto – and shows are not necessarily created with traditional advertising streams in mind, tethers to certain templates are broken. Creativity is unleashed in new ways and places. We see small-scale, independent online production and exclusively online productions to complement traditional programming. We see “networks” creating original content, which was novel enough when it was no longer the big three American networks – Fox had been in the game for some time. But when paid cable got into the game, quality and diversity (and risk taking) became important. Ratings and audience share became less important. And when ratings still posed a challenge for some shows in one channel, it has grown likelier for another outlet to pick up the production in one way or another (some examples of this include Netflix running with long-dead Arrested Development to produce new episodes and a collaboration between different, non-traditional partners to continue producing critically lauded but ratings-challenged Friday Night Lights and Damages.) Online outlets got involved to become their own kind of networks – with Netflix leading the way and disrupting the whole model of keeping viewers on the hook for months as a story played out week after week on television. Where home entertainment, like DVD boxsets, unleashed the “binge watching”/marathon phenomenon, Netflix and later Amazon Prime were able to produce and release full seasons of high quality content whenever they wanted to (not beholden to any traditional “TV season”). Kicking that up a notch more recently has been Yahoo!’s step into the ring – reviving former NBC, perpetually on-the-bubble comedy weirdness Community.

This is still called “TV content”. But is it? When Netflix or Yahoo! bring an actual TV show from a network back to life through their own channels, is it still TV just because the show came from there? This week’s episode of Black-ish has the four kids talking in horror about how, in the old days, you had to watch content when it was scheduled or miss it forever. No pause button! No choices!

Are the methods by which we watch influencing how these shows are made, when they are released? And if this is not TV any longer, what is it? It’s not programming in the traditional television sense. And when a content provider releases entire seasons at one time, they have changed the entire production process. The content is not consumed, perceived or even built in the same way.

I recently read about how “television writers” are forced to evolve and create an end-to-end story when dealing with a full-season streaming show that is released all at once, while traditional network shows can alter the trajectory of a storyline that does not perform well or is unpopular with viewers (e.g. the storyline in which Kalinda’s husband shows up on The Good Wife. It was not well-received, so the writers scrapped it at their first opportunity). But there are no U-turns or detours when Amazon gives us an entire season of Transparent. In that way, full-season, binge-bait “content dumping” is like the release of a film, only a film is maybe two hours, and a show is 12 or 13 hours (or half that, in the case of half-hour shows) – assuming that any of these content creators decide in the long run to stick with the semi-traditional “duration” lengths. This could change, too. It already has changed to some degree.

As we disconnect from traditional methods of content consumption, we are consuming new things in new ways – we are not watching television any longer, even if we are watching our content ON an actual television.

Lunchtable TV Talk – The Returned – I am not returning

Standard

I like seeing Battlestar Galactica alums in current TV shows, but for every Grace Park kicking ass on Hawaii Five-0 or Katee Sackhoff solving crimes in an equally kick-ass fashion on Longmire (am I alone in being beyond relieved about Longmire being saved by Netflix after its merciless killing at A&E’s hands?), there’s something sort of dreadful, like Tricia Helfer (and Michael Trucco) in the rightfully short-lived Killer Women – or Aaron Douglas in The Returned. These misfires aren’t the faults of Helfer, Trucco or Douglas. The shows they’re in just aren’t good.

I am always impressed with Aaron Douglas – and his performance in The Returned is as good as any of his work. It’s just that the show doesn’t quite cut it. I have not seen the original French Les Revenants but tend to believe the original source material usually can’t be beat or recreated (with notable exception – I was quite taken with the US version of The Bridge, for example). The Returned, at its most basic, is about individuals who return suddenly from the dead and the effects this return has on the community in which these resurrections take place. Five episodes in, I don’t really know what’s going to happen but am not interested enough to care.

I love some of the actors in the US version of The Returned. I’ve already cited Douglas; Jeremy Sisto is masterfully diverse; Kevin Alejandro is a pop-up-everywhere kind of guy. India Ennenga is not bad either – her role in HBO’s Treme explored (as much as that giant ensemble of loosely intersecting stories could) teenage grief and identity. Oh, and I almost forgot – the inimitable Michelle Forbes! She dominates (in a good way) everything she’s in – had nearly forgotten her Battlestar connection. She almost makes me want to keep watching The Returned… but not quite.

But I don’t have enough time to keep watching things for which I don’t feel either love or hate. Just a few actors I happen to like isn’t reason to tune in. I’ve chronicled my hate-watching and desire to give up some of the shows, like The Following, that cry out for ridicule. I’ve also written about shows I love. But the mediocre middle ground, where shows like The Returned live, isn’t a place I want to spend more time.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Helix – “Do you know the way to San Jose?”

Standard

What does it say that I rolled my eyes and felt real dread when I realized this week that I had forgotten to watch last week’s episode of Helix? Meaning… this week, I would have to watch two episodes to catch up. Um, I can’t explain why I feel I have to keep watching something I have not liked at all from the get-go. But if we understand that this is my nature, and that I persevere, and move beyond it – let’s try to understand what the purpose of this show is.

Nearing the end of its sophomore season, Helix is incomprehensible. I found it hard to follow the first season, and when I try to explain what it’s about to other people, I find that I can’t. I found the characters and premise impenetrable during the first season – I won’t even try to explain what the plot was because I am not totally sure I get it. It’s… a bunch of CDC researchers at a facility in the Arctic investigating an outbreak of some sort. The outbreak seems to turn people into violent zombie-monsters afflicted by something that looks a lot like the bubonic plague. Or maybe that is what this year’s virus makes people look like – last year I think it was something else but either way – viruses are a-flying.

A bunch of mysterious characters come into and out of the scene with hidden motives and agenda. There’s a massive, shady corporation (Ilaria) involved somehow, and eventually it becomes apparent that there have been scientific experiments on local native people and then the emergence of immortal people. It was a confusing mess and did not become clearer with time.

Almost a year ago, I included this muddy first season in a roundup of shows I could not fathom why I was watching and included Helix in this, although Helix was not and still isn’t the worst offender of the bunch (that title is taken by The Following – and no, a year later, I still have not stopped watching). There were reasons why I kept trying with Helix – I thought it was not sure what it was trying to be and might sort itself out. Scifi? Horror? Thriller? Drama? All of the above?

The second season is not a whole lot better, but the change of scenery made it a bit more palatable. The stories that have been unfolding over the course of the season are all starting to come together a with a bit greater clarity, and some of the obnoxious characters from the first season are starting to feel at least more familiar, if not likeable, compared to the cult-follower tribe of island dwellers who became the antagonists in this story in the second season. The cult leader, played by Steven Weber (who has of late shown up almost everywhere), is compellingly egomaniacal – maybe only because it is Weber behind the character. He is an immortal and has some freaky stuff going on on the isolated island he runs.

There is a clear story emerging pitting the immortals against mortals, i.e., the immortals intend to deploy some kind of mechanism that will render mortals as infertile in order to stem population growth. They believe they know best and can reverse this mass infertility once the planet’s resources are restored to sustainable levels. Essentially, they play God and think they are entitled to do so because it is certainly in their best interests as immortals. Somehow amidst all of this, there is another virus on the loose – maybe the same virus or strain of the same virus. I honestly can’t tell you because for one thing there is so much going on at once that I don’t pay attention or watch closely and for another the storytelling does not hold my interest strongly enough.

It is very possible that if I sat down and started watching it all again from the beginning and paid closer attention and had all the episodes to binge on, it would be a more satisfying experience.

On balance, I will keep watching (I’m not a quitter, even though I need to learn when to quit – for real!), but I don’t recommend that anyone else do so.

I will say that the show’s quirks – I assume they are intentional – are what keep me coming back. Rather funny dialogue and a wacked-out and extremely eclectic soundtrack are unusual but effective hooks (for me, anyway). Many shows feature stellar soundtracks to the degree that the music choices are one of the only things I love about them. Helix’s music choices – ranging from the strangely and incomprehensibly poppy theme song to some of the songs woven into the episodes. It makes me wonder how these incongruous choices are made.

Lunchtable TV talk: Steven Weber is everywhere – “What do you think you’re doing here? Waiting for the Village People to make a comeback?”

Standard

I make no secret of or apologies for my TV addiction. I find it delightful when I can make connections with other people based on shared love or hate for particular TV shows. I am equally delighted when I watch a handful of very different shows and find a favorite actor popping up frequently. Sometimes these actors are well-known, accessible to memory only by mentioning their name. Sometimes, though, despite how ubiquitous they are, their names alone are not enough. I won’t go so far as to say that such actors are undervalued because they clearly are turning up everywhere – but at the same time, they are next to anonymous.

Steven Weber is one of these actors.

Most recently appearing in Helix, House of Lies, Falling Skies, Murder in the First and Web Therapy (I know there are plenty more in the last two or three years that I did not see) – and in the past in everything from my former go-to love-to-hate Brothers & Sisters and one of my all-time, hands-down favorites, Wings, there is very little that Weber can’t do.

Here’s one of my favorite episodes of Wings. Hilarious blast from the past. And nice to have discovered The Daly Show, featuring Weber with former Wings costar, Tim Daly. “We were in there talking and we decided that we were not born yesterday.”

 

 

Married to the TV – Wasting Berlin

Standard

I am in a fantastic city (Berlin) and also have an article I need to finish writing that has been hanging over my head for ages. All these options and obligations and what do I do?

Of course, I watch a beyond ridiculous German television reality show (in German, of course – which I don’t understand at all – half the process was trying to figure out what was going on) called 4 Hochzeiten und eine Traumreise. Horrible. Its premise is three couples competing to have the best wedding or something similar – the brides each rate the others’ weddings (and different aspects of the weddings – food, entertainment, dress, etc.). It was nothing less than astounding in its stupidity – and I am nothing less than stupid for watching.

However, in the end, when tacky couple Rana and Samer won “best wedding” (if you could call it that) and then the dream trip, the whole 45 minute nonsense turned out to be worth having watched because of the bizarre physical reaction of the groom. He mimicked a kind of “boxing-match, rapid-motion, punch-to-the-gut” motion. TO HIS WIFE. Really, follow the link and click on the video called “Rana und Samer fliegen auf die Seychellen.”

This has provided an entire evening full of laughter, replaying this in our heads.

 

Television – Someone Shoot Me

Standard

Someone shoot me – there is a handful of TV shows that are just too stupid to keep watching, and they keep getting dumber and worse… but I cannot stop watching them.

The worst of the bunch is The Following. I cannot even describe how this descends into ever-greater stupidity. I never liked Kevin Bacon much, and this does not help. The FBI in the show is made up of bumbling idiots who are always about ten steps behind the criminal mastermind of the show. But the criminal mastermind/cult leader is actually just as stupid. Everyone is stupid. And totally unlikeable. And the only remotely interesting part (but not enough to keep watching) is questioning how it is that all these people are brainwashed (or something?) enough to follow along with this cult leader. The words that signal stupidity, more than anything else, are some variation of, “Let’s not do anything stupid.” Or “We need to be smart here.” This always signals that they are already knee-deep in the boiling shit of stupidity. No show is better at sending this signal than The Following.

But right up there on the list – Helix. I wanted to like it and kept trying to – but I hate the show. Nothing changes that.

Likewise, I am none too impressed with the repetitive crap inflicted by shows like Grimm but I keep watching.

I did at least finally cross The Crazy Ones off my list of weekly viewing, but I need to force myself to mark these other crappy shows off the list, too. I need to refer to the “Fuck, yes” rule when watching tv as much as I do about every other aspect of life. Lukewarm reception – don’t waste any more damn time!

Meanwhile I have been enjoying the crass and mullet-filled nonsense that is Eastbound & Down. It is rather funny in this politically incorrect, some other section of society way. But then I realize I have actually known people who are not too terribly different from Kenny Powers, the dubious anti-hero of the show. The show has a varied and quite stunning soundtrack.

Not including or to be confused with the Jerry Reed song that shares the same name as the show.

Loads of other TV viewing but don’t really feel like chronicling the stuff that was actually decent.

Why I Changed My Mind: Julie Delpy

Standard

Julie Delpy is, for lack of a better term, a real woman. A woman of many talents, not afraid to be herself, not afraid to be quirky. And not even afraid to be a bitch. When she was younger, it was hard to see things like Europa Europa, her guest arc on the TV hit ER or Trois Couleurs: Blanc and see her as anything but bitchy – her roles were sort of icy or manipulative in ways that made it hard to see her in any other light. And things like Before Sunrise with the generally overrated Ethan Hawke did not lend any charm – a favorite “romance” flick for Gen Xers, Before Sunrise, never appealed to me (like most Gen X pop-culture goalposts and anthems, such as Reality Bites – also with Hawke or Singles, which still does not make sense to me).

The subsequent nine-year intervals between sequels to Before Sunrise, though, have made the films Before Sunset and Before Midnight quite compelling – and I think this is all down to Delpy. Since I don’t get and have never gotten the Ethan Hawke thing (somehow he was the one in Dead Poet’s Society who was singled out for attention, when it was Robert Sean Leonard‘s passionate and tragic turn as Neil that got my attention. Or the passionate, do-anything-for-the-girl classic guy-with-crush performance of Josh Charles as Knox Overstreet. What did Ethan Hawke do in that movie that was so remarkable except defy authority and be the first to jump up on a desk at the end? Yet Ethan Hawke has been the movie star and these others have been “television actors” in popular and well-respected shows, such as House and The Good Wife (and no, I don’t mean that in the snide way Warden Gentles did in Arrested Development), I can only imagine that the load is carried in large part by Delpy.

After the aforementioned “cold” roles in her early career, followed by some missteps like Killing Zoe and An American Werewolf in Paris, I think I could be forgiven my rush to harsh judgment. None of this is to say that her talents went unrecognized – I never watched these films and believed she lacked talent or was just playing variations of herself. I just wondered how it was that she always played this aloof or sometimes misguided character (thinking here of her “Leni” in Europa Europa – she was passionate all right, but the passion was wholly devoted to producing children for Hitler’s “pure Germany”. Perhaps in hindsight I can applaud Delpy’s believability because that role had to have been hard to pull off).

My re-evaluation of Delpy began when I saw Before Sunset. Yeah, I know – I hated Before Sunrise but still had enough curiosity to see where Jesse and Celine (the characters) ended up. I like to torture myself this way, watching things I don’t like, listening to music I don’t like – perhaps just to remind me that there are other, much more beautiful things to watch and hear in the world. But Before Sunset surprised me. Later I saw Delpy in other roles but really decided I liked her after seeing Two Days in Paris (and later, the even funnier Two Days in New York). (I also enjoyed the on-screen keying of cars that Delpy’s father engages in – dismissing it as “normal French behavior” – exactly what I have been trying to tell everyone who isn’t French!) Her performances were subdued and grounded in reality – and that transformed the way I saw her and interpreted her roles.

The change in my opinion also came about because I liked learning that Delpy is so active behind the camera as a writer and director – I love the idea that someone creates the stories they want to see, or they want to appear in. I have read a few interviews where Delpy has kind of downplayed the uniqueness of being a female director, particularly because France actually has quite a number of well-respected, well-known women directors. But this is rather an anomaly in the cinematic world. Not every country has a Claire Denis, an Agnès Jaoui, a Catherine Breillat, a Josiane Balasko, a Mia Hansen-Løve and the countless other women who direct films in France. Delpy can, I hope, forgive the rest of the cinema-loving world for admiring the rarity of her multitasking, multitalented jack-of-all-trades approach to her artistic career.

My feelings should not be overly influenced by what I read or the person Delpy is or appears to be – but the truth is, reading about her own feelings of insecurity or feeling like “a cow” after her child was born – and seeing how she actually looks like a real woman – a stunningly beautiful and stunningly natural woman – imbues her performances with a kind of earthy reality that is not easily found, felt or seen elsewhere. I don’t often have commentary on how actors and actresses look. They are resoundingly “perfect” and put together most of the time, and the especially beautiful and polished are slathered in accolades if they do anything that might make them seem anything less than perfect. It’s like becoming a regular or slightly unattractive person makes a beautiful person an automatic consideration for acting awards. Is that really the measure of how well someone acts? How much vanity they are willing to give up – temporarily, note – to alter their appearance?

Not the point. The point is that Delpy actually looks and sounds the part (“the part” being a woman in her 30s/early 40s). Contributing to the scripts for both Before Sunset and Before Midnight, the conversation – content and pace – throughout feels almost dull at times but in a refreshing and good way. Why? Because that’s how real conversation is. Sometimes it digs into emotion, sometimes it digs into feelings and insecurities and vulnerabilities, sometimes it is witty, sometimes it is just the kind of petty shit that people hurl at each other in moments of weakness, despair, anger. It’s not perfect – but in that way, it’s perfect. A perfect reflection of everyday life. In Before Midnight, Delpy especially – but really the whole cast (which is mostly Delpy and Hawke) – captures, with almost no action – the up-and-down nature of a relationship. Before Sunrise was lauded for supposedly capturing this, but it’s easy to have two young, idealistic adults meet and talk all night and have it be the most romantic night of their lives. Before Midnight, though, is entirely another level of “romantic” because it had to capture two people who had actually idealized each other when they were young – it showed the reality of what happens if someone pursues the “what might have been” or “the one who got away”. It isn’t going to be ideal. If anything, the dialogue and performances convey perfectly the fragility of relationships. All the things unsaid, the resentment, the misinterpretations – and the question of whether love is ever really enough.