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.