Lunchtable TV Talk: Premature cancellation

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Do shows fail to find an audience because of (lack of or bad) marketing? Because today there is too much to choose from or just because the masses have questionable taste? (I know this to be true, and this is why I don’t much buy into the “wisdom of the crowd” or focus groups or anything that relies on tipping point-pleasing everyone logic. I, and most of my friends, are not the mass in the middle that wants to see lame singing contests on TV every night of the week or who once wanted more and more stuff like Fear Factor or Survivor or Big Brother. We’re not the ones who thought the title/concept of Big Brother was conceived with the reality show debacle that reality show “moment” spawned. We know exactly where Big Brother came from – and we know that Big Brother like tactics are exactly what are used to inform network decisions on TV cancellation.

So yeah… what about all those pleasant and sometimes fantastic shows that never found their audience, despite finding a voice?

I am sure there is a long list of television shows that I have loved – that you have loved – that saw a premature end. Then there are shows aplenty that started but could not end soon enough because they sucked that much.

Quite a few shows from past seasons were cancelled but were lovely: The Bridge, Better Off Ted, Lone Star, Party Down, Terriers. I still miss them sometimes when I think of them. And then there are some, like the hilarious The Brink on HBO. It was renewed during the first season’s run and sometime before the second season would have happened… HBO pulled the plug! I am miffed about that one and may yet be for a good while.

Somewhere in the middle were shows that were average and entertaining without being must-see. Or shows that glimmered with flashes of promise. And some things were just steadily decent.

I lament the loss of some of these – Gang Related had people like Cliff Curtis (a veteran of film of TV, who is currently a lead in Fear the Walking Dead); Terry O’Quinn (who will always make a sandwich of the bread-and-butter law enforcement style roles he commands); Jay Karnes (who is just the coolest guy in usually uncool roles). Most of these people will work no matter what. But it’s a shame when a cast comes together and works well but does not get a chance to see where it might go.

About a Boy is another similar show. Minnie Driver was sweet. Al Madrigal was silly. And overall it might have been a little mushy, but it was a mush not unlike a slightly sweet applesauce – easy to swallow and pleasant. Yes, I know – I seriously compared a TV show to applesauce.

And then I reflect on other show that I don’t miss but am not sure they would not have turned out okay – Monday Mornings, Taxi Brooklyn?

And then some, like Happy Endings, was vocally mourned by a lot of critics, who felt it was underrated – but I found it only rarely funny, often irritating and a lot less clever, funny or endearing than the aforementioned About a Boy. But still, it too might have been cancelled too soon.

But most of the actors involved in these undertakings landed on their feet elsewhere or already had well-established bearings.

Do we lose out on some of these things because we’ve hit peak TV? There’s too much to choose from or we have slow and poor attention spans? If that were true, the losses of some of these things would not still linger so many months and years after their demise.

Subtitled entertainment – Language realism on TV

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As a person who often multitasks while “watching” television, I don’t always pay close attention to every moment of action. (That is, I hear all the dialogue but don’t always catch the visuals going with it.) Particularly with some of the dumber shows I watch, such as The Following or The Slap, this does not bother me much. I pay closer attention to shows I enjoy. But then there is a growing middle category: subtitled entertainment.

When I watch a foreign (non-English-language) film, I already know there will be subtitles, and I don’t watch something like that until I am ready to focus. But television is starting to introduce more and more subtitled content. In a sense it’s an era of language realism. In most films and TV of the past, we’d be treated to unrealistic and frankly stupid dialogue in which the actors (English speakers) adopted some kind of vaguely similar regional accent representing the place they were supposed to be from… and very little of the actual local language would appear.

Now, in a further change to content development – language is adding to the realism of many TV shows. The Americans probably leads the way, with a liberal mix of English and Russian. An article has even been written on how the writers decide when to use Russian. Hint: The choice comes down to authenticity. In The Americans, it makes perfect sense. Russians working within a Soviet institution in the United States are not going to speak to each other in English.

Another show where the blend makes perfect sense is the US version of The Bridge. It takes place on the US-Mexico border, and US police and working closely with Mexican police.

It has appeared more and more in various shows recently, such as Allegiance and The Blacklist. Interesting, it appears in shows in which the plot involves a lot of international intrigue. No big surprise. Language realism also appears in shows like Jane the Virgin, in which the grandmother speaks exclusively in Spanish, but understands English perfectly. She always speaks Spanish with her daughter, Xiomara, and granddaughter, Jane, but they almost always answer her in English.

The same kind of mix has appeared in Netflix’s Lilyhammer. An American organized criminal, exiled in witness protection in Lillehammer, Norway, navigates Norwegian language and society – the longer the show goes on, the more it’s conducted in Norwegian, mirroring the main character’s “integration” (which never quite happens fully).

These are all one-hour dramas, and somehow the language realism feels more expected in that setting. But it’s also happening more and more in the half-hour sitcom format, which feels strange in that I can’t imagine people having the attention span required to read the screen. But strangely – they do. The best example of this I can come up with is Welcome to Sweden, in which a fairly typical American guy moves to Stockholm with his Swedish girlfriend. His comical trials feature prominently – often in Swedish (particularly interactions with his in-laws). I did not even think about it when I recommended it to someone who only speaks English. He was going to watch it using my Swedish Netflix account, which did not offer subtitles in English.

It seems remarkable that as foreign language is receiving less emphasis than ever in US schools, language and culture diversity is appearing in a bigger way than ever on America’s TV shows. And it has jumped from just the occasional bit of Spanish, which has arguably been the most common second language on US TV, to reflect a slightly wider range of language diversity.

Lunchtable TV Talk – The Returned – I am not returning

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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.

Scandinavian Man Invasion on TV

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Anyone as obsessed with TV as I am knows that Nordic TV shows have asserted a kind of quality and dominance that has garnered well-deserved praise and attention (and the inevitable English-language – and other – remakes, as with The Killing mirroring the Danish Forbrydelsen and the Swedish/Danish production Bron spawning American/Mexican offshoot, The Bridge, and UK/French offshoot, The Tunnel).

Amidst the sea of fantastic Scandinavian television show choices, one cannot overlook the strength and ubiquity of the Scandinavian actors on English-language TV shows. TV has been taken over by Scandinavian men… I will undoubtedly forget some of them (yes there are that many!) but the most notable that spring to mind right now include some pretty startling, arresting performances:

Mads Mikkelsen (Denmark) in Hannibal

Ulrich Thomsen (Denmark) in Banshee

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Denmark) in Game of Thrones

Joel Kinnaman (Sweden/USA) in The Killing

Alexander Skarsgård (Sweden) in True Blood

Bill Skarsgård (Sweden) in Hemlock Grove

Peter Stormare (Sweden) in The Blacklist

Of note, Stormare is also starring in a series of Volvo Trucks ads (not unlike Jean-Claude Van Damme!) that champions Swedish values – see below. Stormare rules – cannot help but think of him again frequently now that there is a TV version of Fargo. He was a highlight in the film version.

Better safe than sorry!

Look at him “fika” all by himself!

Might not want to try “allemansrätten” wherever you come from (especially the USA where “stand your ground” might take precedence)

Nowhere in the world will you see as many dads with prams!

Substantial Swedish food!

Lagom! The Swedish Goldilocks complex!

Darri Ingólfsson (Iceland) in Dexter

Christopher Heyerdahl (Canada) in Hell on Wheels (honorable mention since he is not really a Norwegian but beautifully plays a Norwegian who shifts like a chameleon into different identities as it suits him but is known in the beginning as “The Swede”)

Updated

Gustaf Skarsgård (Sweden) – Vikings (Yes, there are a lot of those Skarsgårds!)

Kristofer Hivju (Norway) – Game of Thrones (Finally – a real Norwegian to add to the list!)

Poking Fun at Cyber-Brattery

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Never has there been a better moment on TV for poking fun at the open-office-space, creative-energy-brewing, euphemism-slinging culture of big tech companies, such as Google. Not only is the show Silicon Valley doing a bang-up job navigating its reluctant “hero” (a coder with an in-demand compression app) through the pitfalls of doing a start-up – and giving us a handful of memorable characters along with it – Veep recently aired an episode in which titular character, Vice President Selina Meyer, visits a Silicon Valley company that is an over-the-top but spot-on caricature of those types of companies. The jargon, the lingo, the setting, the eccentric characters – all of it was right on the money. But just poking fun of it by having it there was not enough. The core characters (Selina’s staff and Selina herself) took it a step beyond by either making comments that deflated the “mystique” the company aimed to achieve or outright eviscerating the whole concept (“kindergarten for cyber-brats”). Selina’s chief of staff is offered a job at the company they’re visiting and basically tells them she’s too negative and is “an adult” and can therefore not work there.

Sure, working in politics or a public-sector machine can sometimes be the antithesis of a tech-sector powerhouse… always fighting for more tech resources and expertise. But it can reach this ridiculous point of being out of touch with reality at either extreme.

Meanwhile in the ever-expanding world of Nordic crime dramas, I have just begun watching the Norwegian series, Mammon. So far I am not drawn in or impressed the way I have been with shows like Bron/Broen or Forbrydelsen (or their remakes). Is it because I am so naturally biased against Norwegian things? I don’t know but it’s just not doing it for me so far.

All the Bridges and Tunnels

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Having now seen all the variations of TV’s Bron/The Bridge/The Tunnel, I find that even though each story is roughly the same, the gems of each are in the cultural differences that pop up in the telling. Sure, the Swedish-Danish production has some of that, but the cultures are not so vastly different (nor are the languages) or looked upon in the same ways, with the same kinds of prejudices as what one finds in US – Mexican relations or in the somewhat tense/frosty historical relationship between the UK and France. It genuinely surprises me that all three versions managed to be compelling and made me want to continue watching.

I saw the US version first, and I enjoyed it but felt that it struggled at times to explain and fit together elements of the story – particularly when comparing it later against the other versions of the show. The Scandinavian original is the gold standard, but the somewhat broader canvas created by the US and UK versions allowed for some consideration of real issues plaguing both countries (immigration, illegal immigration, human trafficking) – this exists between Denmark and Sweden as well but is not quite the same hot-button issue it is on the US-Mexico border or in the UK-France cross-Channel transport. Even the change of scenery in each story – and mostly good acting in all cases – made each version feel fresh. The insults that Brits and French and Americans and Mexicans hurl at each other is also a difference – the Danes and Swedes may have their issues, but nothing like what US-Mexico relations and mistrust amounts to.

I am not qualified to go on about this – I don’t have any deeper analysis. It has been a while since I saw the US version and a few months since I saw the Scandinavian one. Having just finished the UK/French version this weekend, I now only feel qualified to have an opinion – that I like them all.

TV overdoses, past and present – Random stream of consciousness

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According to HuffPost the best line uttered on tv in 2013 was, “Not great, Bob!”

““Not great, Bob!” It was only three words, spoken by an angry Pete Campbell as he joined the ever-sunny Bob Benson in an elevator on Mad Men.””

As someone who loves any line that involves “Bob” (e.g. “I used to have a pretty good pen, Bob.” Or “Scarves, Bob? His life will be filled with scarves?”), I agree. Especially because I am, like most, a Mad Men fan – and possibly an even bigger fan of the work James Wolk has done on Mad Men, the entertaining and mostly underrated Political Animals and The Crazy Ones – he and Hamish Linklater are the best parts of that show.

I get roped into a lot of television shows – not just because television is improving and offers a depth and breadth that seemed unimaginable a decade ago. I live in the middle of the Swedish woods and am a workaholic multitasker. I need some noise going on in the background all the time, and when it’s not music, it’s television shows. Mostly I carefully select the shows to which I become devoted – but in the interim, I watch a lot of stuff halfheartedly (like the aforementioned The Crazy Ones, which is not very good and only offers a funny line now and then or –puke, puke – guest appearances from – PUKE – Josh Groban. I watch, I judge, I keep watching sometimes even when a show sucks or even after it loses the plot (example, Revenge) or becomes passé (case in point – Grey’s Anatomy). Some stuff is middling all the time – entertaining but nothing extraordinary (Elementary, Grimm, Revolution – stuff that does not require careful attention, enabling my half-watching notice, mostly things I will refer to as “network stuff”. As much as the major networks are trying to be edgy, they are still just middle-ground followers. Half-baked ideas relying on shock value, soapy dramatics, riding the coattails of the deserved success of edgier, deeper, different storytelling from free and premium cable channels. (Not that all non-network tries are successful. The US version of The Killing started off with promise, dragged its feet with sloppy storytelling and carried its first-season mystery into season two without resolution – never a good idea, right David Lynch/Twin Peaks/Who killed Laura Palmer? People extended the show goodwill enough to give it a third season, which was arguably much better than the second season, but it was really too late.)

Speaking of killing, I also caught a brief article on TV characters who should be killed off. I found that I agreed with the majority. The article also brought up some other random thoughts – because that is what a multitasker does – lots of different things at once, with disconnected thoughts shooting through the brain at lightning speed. Sometimes I capture them – sometimes not (but they were not likely worth capturing).

I only recently started watching Scandal – rapidly caught up on the previous seasons over holiday break. I dislike Quinn – never had a liking for her, but it has gotten worse. I agree that she can go anytime. I have trouble with Tony Goldwyn in general – he is a good actor but for me, he is Carl the bad guy from Ghost (a film I hated). I cannot do anything except make fun of Ghost. Everything about it was so cheesy, and the villains (Willie Lopez!? Carl!). I also remember ghosts of TV’s past when Tony Goldwyn was a guest star on Designing Women, asking the women to design his funeral. He played a gay man who was going to die from AIDS, and the episode ended with his funeral. Designing Women was a preachy show and brought up a lot of issues of the day (mid/late 80s issues). Not that AIDS is not an issue today – but the issue and the illness – or approach to the illness – have changed, maybe in part because of mainstream treatment of the disease?

Which then led me to think about the show Life Goes On (not least because one of its principal actors, Patti LuPone, is now in the ensemble cast of American Horror Story: Coven. Not a favorite in the US although it went on for seasons and seasons. It was probably the first show that put a family front and center that included a member with Down Syndrome and prominently featured that character in the storylines. While that was probably groundbreaking at the time, the show also gave one of its main characters an HIV-positive teenage boyfriend (played by Chad Lowe – probably one of the only things I remember him doing since his career has been overshadowed by his brother Rob and his ex-wife, Hilary Swank – who would have imagined that when she was in one of the many Karate Kid sequels?). I thought about how this character introduction was also its own kind of groundbreaking. While Life Goes On was never actually what I could call “entertaining”, it somehow tackled big issues without being over the top or preachy. It’s no wonder it was not popular (I am told that it was popular in Iceland for some reason – so everyone remembers “Corky” – I suspect if I were to ask a representative sample of Americans if they remember Corky or Becca Thatcher, they would not).

Where is this line in television between entertainment and education? At times Designing Women just felt like a mouthpiece for the creator’s political views and feminist diatribes. Life Goes On, without being too heavy handed or dramatic, still felt a bit too real, making it too depressing to be a gripping drama. Meanwhile, something like The Wire can do both – “edutainment”. But, it is also true that The Wire was not exactly popular during its first run. It has more of the slow-burn quality that comes from being able to buy whole seasons of tv on DVD or online for streaming/download. Some things just don’t catch on until well after the fact. Some fall into obscurity (Homefront, anyone?) while others live on and gather a loyal, vocal following (Arrested Development, Friday Night Lights – note that I cite TWO Kyle Chandler classics!). Thanks to the push for original programming from unorthodox sources (Netflix), we got another season of Arrested Development after years of waiting. Was it worth it? Hard to say – need to watch it more than once to assess. That was the beauty of Arrested Development all along – you almost had to watch it more than once to catch everything. The show was laced with multilayered jokes and references, and without a pretty well-stocked brain bar, getting the perfectly hilarious mixed cocktail it intended could be challenging. It was funny on its surface in many cases but even funnier if you could unpack all the layers. (The Simpsons is a lot like that, too – albeit more so in its earlier years.)

But then so much of pop culture – any culture or discipline – relies on shared references.

For example, everyone needs to see the 1980s classic film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High – I do not know how many times I have referenced it lately and heard it referenced. There was a con mentioned in the show White Collar called “The Phoebe Cates” (referring to the most memorable scene in the film). There was a reference in The Crazy Ones to the scene-stealing Jeff Spicoli (played by then-unknown Sean Penn). Most good pop culture – even the not so good – plays on these references and adds a richness

For the sake of posterity and trying to remember how, when, where and on what I flushed so much time down the toilet, I’m listing as much as I can remember of television I recently ingested and random thoughts on some of them. There are way too many other shows I have not listed (like Mad Men, actually – because they are not on now or soon).

Nashville – Not great, not terrible. I like Connie Britton (thanks to her work in Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story and early Spin City) – not sure I buy this show but I actually like a lot of the music in the show.

The Crazy Ones – This show is all right but I don’t go out of my way to see it. James Wolk and Hamish Linklater make the show for me (really enjoyed both of their work in other things as well). Robin Williams is too over the top as usual and Sarah Michelle Gellar, whom I keep trying to like, is just not for me. I do love Brad Garrett in his role, though. The episodes seemed to get better when he arrived.

The Good Wife – New life breathed into this (not that it needed it) when main character goes off to form her own law firm.

Justified – can’t wait for the new season, coming up soon. I love everything about this show and all its characters. Agree with the writer of article cited above – do not want ANY of these characters to die.

Once Upon a Time – I admit that I have skipped the whole current season of this show. I gave up.

Californication – Thank god we are heading into the final season of this show that should have died ages ago. Sick of this story being rehashed of some loser middle-aged dude who manages to pull his head out of his ass long enough to do something artistically rewarding only to fuck up his personal life and screw over all the people in his fucked life again and again. It’s only funny or forgivable for so long…

House of Lies – Pretty entertaining because it plays on all the stereotypical business clichés and management consultant language. Don Cheadle plays a great asshole.

House of Cards – Entertaining remake of the UK version, proof that creativity can be launched from all kinds of wombs (Netflix original programming)

Episodes – Looking forward to new season. Have been surprised by how crass but simultaneously funny this show is.

Lilyhammer – Funny but also like being hit over the head with stereotypes. But then no one outside of Norway knows anything about Norway – but this might be the sort of thing they imagine. UDI (immigration directorate) might take offense to its treatment, but I’ve never heard a happy story coming out of there.

Shameless – Looking forward to the new season

Grey’s Anatomy – End already. It’s getting petty (or pettier) and duller by the minute

Revenge – It was always soapy but now it’s just ridiculous and has lost any edge it had. Best part is the ease with which character Nolan Ross switches between male and female love interests and it’s just no big deal to anyone. Perfect.

Parks and Recreation – Losing its comedic edge unfortunately.

Community – interested in seeing how this is rebooted now that its controversial creator is back at the helm. Fingers crossed after dismal previous season.

Scandal – Outlandish but a guilty pleasure.

Hawaii Five-0 – another guilty pleasure. I like the chemistry among the cast. Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan together are pretty funny. I like some of the cheeky jokes, for example about Magnum PI – long ago and faraway Hawaii-based TV

Elementary – Big Jonny Lee Miller fan, like how Aidan Quinn is pretty much always a New York police captain in every show now, and Lucy Liu has grown on me in almost all the roles she has done since annoying Ally McBeal BS.

Downton Abbey – I could fully see where the popularity came from in the beginning but it is grating my nerves now

How I Met Your Mother – So glad this is coming to an end. It used to be quite funny at times but this last season feels like a stretch.

White Collar – Time filler. Sometimes quite entertaining. I like the characters but it’s a fairly straightforward show.

Veep – Caught up on this a few months ago and loved it. Laughed a lot at the awkwardness.

The Walking Dead – When it comes back, I wonder where the gang will go. I have always been happy that the show was not afraid to kill people off as they went – that’s realistic.

American Horror Story – Enjoying. I love the big ensemble cast and like that each season brings back the same people in different roles. I never used to like Jessica Lange but this has put a few points in her column. Angela Bassett is, for lack of a better word, amazing. She always is.

Treme – An abbreviated final season. Interested in seeing how it all turns out, even though things never quite “turn out” – I don’t expect finality.

Girls – Clever at first. Eventually just annoying as all fuck. The article above wants Marnie to die. I would not mind if they all did.

Top of the LakeJane Campion is a complicated filmmaker, and she is no different when introducing her storytelling to the small screen. Visually arresting backdrop to a complicated and ugly story, Elisabeth Moss takes center stage as a New Zealander/detective who goes home for the first time in years, dredging up some of the horrors of her own past. Excellent viewing.

Luther – The story is often really outlandish and unbelievable but we can’t help loving Idris Elba, can we? Or the troubled John Luther that he portrays.

Game of Thrones – I resisted. I tried to watch once but did not get far. I tried again and got sucked in this time. Much better. I am a Peter Dinklage fan anyway but came to appreciate the whole thing (even if I still acknowledge that he’s the best thing about the show)

Bron – Swedish/Danish original of the police show – great characters.

The Bridge – US version of Swedish/Danish police show. It took a while to accept Diane Kruger and her character, but I loved Demian Bichir’s character immediately. Also appreciated Ted Levine as the lieutenant – as I loved him in Monk – and Thomas M. Wright as Steven Linder – he also figured prominently into Top of the Lake.

Orange is the New Black – Binge watched. Mostly really enjoyed this – of course it’s not perfect but it was different from most of what else is out there. More accolades for Netflix taking a chance on its own programming.

Longmire – Just renewed for a third season. Can you argue with a show that has Lou Diamond Phillips in it? No.

Ray Donovan – Not sure about this show still. I like most of the characters, but all I can think of when I watch this is that the whole plot development is advanced almost entirely by people making phone calls on their mobiles – way too much time on the phone for everyone involved. Character development suffers a bit…

Homeland – Ok, this show went off the rails many times. I still enjoy it, largely because I have enjoyed the performances of Mandy Patinkin and F Murray Abraham (he will always be Salieri to me). But let’s hope that the next season takes a new direction in light of some of what transpired in the end of the latest season.

Masters of Sex – One of the best things to come along in the last round of shows. Excellent and likeable cast, a sensitive subject handled with sensitivity and a deft hand. Beautifully done. A lot of accolades have gone to star Lizzy Caplan (well-deserved), but other cast members, including virtually unrecognizable Julianne Nicholson and, as the repressed housewife discovering sexual secrets about her husband, the always great Allison Janney.

The Newsroom – My opinion is tipping toward dislike. The background music playing in many scenes tells too much of the story – soaring music that somehow betrays that Jeff Daniels’s character is going to do something liberal and benevolent that no one expects. Too much of the annoying Maggie (played by Alison Pill) and a whole stupid storyline there. I know this is Aaron Sorkin and his famous fast-talking, wordy spiels for all the characters, but I don’t buy the characters here. Mac (Emily Mortimer) is especially out there – someone is unlikely to ascend to her position if this insecure and flighty. Best characters – Sam Waterston, Jane Fonda, Hamish Linklater (a few episodes in the most recent season). They kept the thing grounded.

True Blood – End already? The recent season was a bit more entertaining than the previous two but I could do without this one.

Boardwalk Empire – One of my all-time favorites. I don’t actually know many people who like it, but I love it. I think it becomes more engrossing each season and love the actors they bring in. Somehow the vast ensemble does not get muddled – each character is distinct, even if it does mean that one needs to pay close attention to every moment of the show. Definitely a show not afraid to kill off important characters and fan favorites, which is sad but perhaps necessary to keep it going at the same level. (Actresses I have never liked, such as Patricia Arquette and Julianne Nicholson, turn in fabulous performances here.)

Sons of Anarchy – Also look forward to this ending. It has just become ridiculous. More ridiculous than it already was.

Revolution – Time filler-killer

Grimm – Time filler – like that it is set in Portland, though, so we get references to Portland’s weirdness and Voodoo Doughnut.

Hell on Wheels – I watch this almost entirely to see the performance of Christopher Heyerdahl as “The Swede”. That alone is worth the time.

Good Good of Random Gum – Year-End Soundtrack 2013

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The Good Goo of Year-End – Queen Bee in the Hornet’s Nest
Random Gum / Year-End 2013

Complete playlist on Spotify.

1. SONIC CONTROL – “Broken Television on a Neukölln Street”
“I’m a broken television on a Neukölln street/that dog over there just pissed on me/my screen is cracked, my transformers are gone/I was state of the art until it all went wrong…” The dogs of corporate life. Thanks, ML and MS

2. Ladytron – “Mirage” …You don’t listen,/You do not exist…
“Happy not to notice/The room retracts the focus/Where you cannot see/Reflections from within”

3. Elton John – “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” …live for each second, without hesitation…
Song is a sad reminder of childhood & early years of music videos. “I simply love you more than I love life itself”

4. John Grant – “Leopard and Lamb” …Like learning how to crawl across a floor that’s covered with glass/Like learning how to look away and never to look back…
“Watch The Simpsons to remember how you’d laugh…”. For Ph. Friendship ending always hurts more than love

5. Ulali – “Mahk Jchi”
This is like being back in college again. Upon reflection, the most awkward, misguided time of my whole life

6. Royal Headache – “Distant and Vague”
One for wandering central Göteborg. And the title/theme… what/who isn’t “distant and vague”?

7. TV-Resistori – “Koputan puuta”
FUNland! ”But Ginsberg, my balls hurt!” Finnish music that sounds almost Japanese. Music for throwing away perfectly good shoes. For Naomi and ML.

8. Pepe Deluxé – “Lucky the Blind vs. Vacuum Cleaning Monster”
Thinking about Lóa, who loves vacuum cleaners.

9. Les Sans Culottes – “Tout va bien
All the French – Aurélien, Bruno, Tristan, Thierry, Valérie – and so on. All the cool people.

10. Cepia – “Ithaca”
Anything Ithaca, as much horror as it might give her, is for Jill.

11. John Grant – “I Hate This Town”
But then again you always made it clear/That you do not care either way/Which begs the question/How can I still claim to love you/You told me time and time again/That you don’t lose you always win/And that to make an effort would just be beneath you”. John Grant – hands down, one of my favorites

12. Throwing Muses – “Mexican Women” …love becomes a foreign substance…
For Martina and her reflections on Mexican women making piñatas that will just be destroyed – the fleeting nature of beauty. “Up yours, Bruno!” Also, I might as well be a man – I open doors for and bring flowers to women friends. What woman wouldn’t want to marry me? Hahaha. Pachanga! Free fika cake!

13. Yo La Tengo – “Nowhere Near” …everyone is here/but you’re nowhere near…
I have always loved this song, but love resurged when it appeared in the final episode of the US version of The Bridge this year.

14. Marianne Faithfull – “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” …at the age of 37, she realized she’d never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair…
For a variety of reasons, I really dislike the name Lucy (cue up whiny, snotty British accent for starters). I am sure I had heard this song before (Lee Hazlewood version?) and even think I knew it was written by Shel Silverstein, but it appeared in the Dusan Makavejev film Montenegro, which I only saw recently despite its being made in 1980. I had no idea it was set in Stockholm (you’d never guess from the film’s title!), the dubious heroine a resident of posh island “suburb”, Lidingö. In the early 2000s I went to a film festival in Reykjavik at which Makavejev was the guest – they screened two of his weirder films (they’re all weird)… oh memories. For Leifur.

15. The National – “About Today” …you just walked away/and I just watched you…
What more can really be said about The National? “How close am I to losing you?”

16. The Rolling Stones – “Sympathy for the Devil”
Horrifying memories of hordes of Australians on bus trip; a memory of coming home from kindergarten. My dad was playing this, and it is the only time I remember him choosing willingly to play a record on his own. I was a bit scared/very intrigued by this song because of the title and the drum beat.

17. Martha Wainwright – “Matapedia” …I could not slow down/I was not afraid…
Martha doing one of her mother, Kate McGarrigle’s (RIP) songs – really lovely.

18. Kishi Bashi – “I Am the Antichrist to You” …I was always quick to admit defeat…
“And my heart it shook with fear/I’m a coward behind a shield and spear”

19. The Bee-Gees – “Stayin Alive”
A few years ago when Robin Gibb died, I could not bring myself to include a Bee-Gees song on my mix and instead chose “It Was Disco but Now It’s Over…”. Thanks to TV’s Sherlock and its use of “Stayin Alive”, its worming its way into my brain and all the back and forth with people about disco, Tony Manero (the Saturday Night Fever character and title character of eponymous Chilean film) AND learning that the song provides the right tempo for performing CPR, I could hardly not include it. For Elisa S, Krista H, Adrian K

20. Animotion – “Obsession”
Oh, the 80s. Makes me feel old but brings to mind obsessive statements à la “Nobody has driven me crazy like this for such a long time. Never.” For JKL

21. Run DMC/Aerosmith – “Walk This Way”
Thanks to Jill for the reminder of this song, which I like much better now than in the old days. Late-night, loud rain dance praying with love for Annette.

22. Lia Ices – “Little Marriage”
This song was included on another mix but it’s too beautiful not to use again. It inspires such emotion, bringing an emptiness that longs to be filled to the surface. With love for Jane as always.

23. Jean-Louis Murat – “Colin-Maillard” …Tu traverses le miroir/Ton désir ne veut plus patienter…
Another previous inclusion… the sound and the voice fills me with a kind of melancholy.

24. My Bloody Valentine – “Feed Me with Your Kiss”
MBV released their first album in 20+ years but I select a song from an old album. Nostalgia?

25. The Smiths – “A Rush and a Push”
“Let’s talk about poetry.” The seductive power of knowing a poem or two… stealing things from others’ imaginations.

26. OutKast – “Hey Ya!” …don’t try to fight the feeling/cause the thought alone is killing me right now…
To the joy of knowing Jill: “My baby don’t mess around”

27. Lay Low – “Last Time Around”
Something nice from Iceland, thinking of all my friends there (Alfa, Jane, Lóa, and so on…)

28. Iron & Wine – “Jesus the Mexican Boy”
One of the songs in a playlist I made chronicling dogs, dog and pony shows and Mexicans. For Martina.

29. Belle & Sebastian – “Legal Man” …L-O-V-E – it’s coming back, it’s coming back…
One to lose one’s mind dancing to. “Get out of the city/and into the sunshine/get out of the office/and into the springtime…”

30. Serge Gainsbourg – “Les Sucettes” …Elle est au paradis…
For Jean, who taught me so much, and for JKL, who makes plans he will never keep

31. New Order – “Love Vigilantes”
The confusion of mixing up conversations that started about rotten chuck roast and what I thought was “dal” (as in Indian food) but was actually “dal” as in “valley” (Norwegian). I was wondering, “Since when does dal have chuck roast in it?” But the conversation was really referring to Malala from that “dal” (Swat Valley). J Love my vigilante friend, Annette. And, for Naomi – “O blessed be – my favorite dal of all the dals!”

32. The Bee-Gees – “Night Fever”
Taken aback by the rampant popularity of Daft Punk’s latest offer – it’s good, but in light of the backlash against the Bee-Gees and their sound in the late 70s – it is interesting to hear these sounds make a resurgence.

33. Human League – “Don’t You Want Me?”
Neverending back & forth with ML, who never knows what he wants – just knows it’s whatever he doesn’t have

34. Don Dixon – “Praying Mantis”
For Naomi and the happiness of driving around in a different car.

35. Darker My Love – “Talking Words”
Sitting in the autumn-dark parking lot observing OCD-afflicted people check their doors five or six times

36. Lush – “For Love”
Another song that transports me to an exact time, feeling – making me want to run back to the present

37. Camera Obscura – “Anti-Western” …you’re too good looking, I’m always gonna put up a fight…
Anthem to those stunning but ultimately false moments when you believe (stupidly!) that interest is actually real. How eager even the cynic is to believe sometimes. Thanks to Jill as always.

38. Erasure – “Oh L’Amour”
This will always remind me of the late 80s, very late-night phone calls with JBB – alternate realities that allowed for the most complete and unfiltered feeling I can ever remember feeling

39. Cinerama – “Heels” …you crushed him with your heels/and I know exactly how he feels…
For Mathieu. “I don’t really care that you found another lover/cause I know he’ll be gone the moment that you get bored…”

40. Secret Machines – “Atomic Heels” …uncover your eyes/they’re bloodied in love/who’s staring back at yours, honey what have you missed?…

41. Ladytron – “Seventeen” …they only want you when you’re 17, when you’re 21, you’re no fun…
How to feel old…

42. Lana Del Ray – “Blue Jeans (RAC Mix)” …I will love you til the end of time…
Dislike Lana Del Ray but for some reason like this mix – here’s to new cars and departed Greek dentists.

43. Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman” …I need you more than want you
For Naomi – another sort of stalker song.

44. The Bee-Gees – “To Love Somebody”
I put the Roberta Flack version of this on the other part of this mix and knew it had sounded familiar but did not put two and two together until I reheard this version in the film 50/50. The Bee-Gees’ music (as done by other artists) is everywhere. It’s got a sad sort of feel – we’ve all been there, but the “you don’t know what it’s like” also sounds like the condescending sorts who rub your being alone in your face, “You just don’t know what it’s like to be in love…”

45. Blondie – “Faces”
I listened to this – and the whole Autoamerican album – over and over when I was five. No wonder I am so fucked. 🙂 “Rapture” does at least reference Subaru! Memories of Thanksgiving with Lóa (2013)

46. Lou Reed – “Satellite of Love”
Rest in peace and bon voyage.

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What does it take to be fearless and loving? Loving people requires a certain risk-taking fearlessness that I have never really embraced. When I say never, I mean never. But kindness – that can substitute.

I take a lot of risks and make a lot of changes but am still fearful of a lot of things. Perhaps I need to focus on these things before running off on another adventure undertaken for the sake of “change”.

Sudden, unexpected loss everywhere this year – there is no time like the present to do what one needs to do to feel healthy and happy. Happiest new year wishes, as arbitrary as that really is.