A Bad, Bad Binge

WARNING: VERY MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD… will not impact any future bingers. I PROMISE!

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I always thought that I was too much of a hypochondriac and a coward to ever be a drug addict.  But Breaking Bad has turned me into what I thought I’d never be.  I’m a full-on joneser, bitch – and this show is my drug.

I know it’s overdone but I can’t stop saying it, bitch.

Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, BITCH, BITCH, BITCH, BITCH, BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The secret word is.....

The secret word is…..

What is it about this show?

Okay, now that it’s over – now that my time for mainlining a new hit of BB has come to an end (and not by choice mind you, merely out of the fact that there will never be a new episode again) – I’m going to have to take inventory and start at the beginning.  Because then and only then can I deal with a future that holds no more stories about the adventures of Walt and Jesse.  Sorry to disappoint the women in my life, but I could deal with a future that didn’t include Skyler.  But more on that later.  (Note: She grows on you).

Almost six years went by before I ever tuned in.  Well, I’m nothing if not opinionated.  I tried watching part of an episode once.  Eh.  It was later in season one and it was a combination of boring and over-the-top.  Of course it was.  I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

But now that we’re in the 2010s and can instantly view almost any television series of our choice from the beginning thanks to Netflix, Amazon Prime, DVRs and well, uh, other more illegal means (Note:  This IS a show about crystal meth makers), I, and anyone else with these kind of first world problems, have the option of changing their tune.  Why did I change?  Between my students, my family, my friends and the weird combination of BB celebrity tweets from the likes of James L. Brooks, Samuel Jackson, Aisha Taylor, Patton Oswalt and Melissa Gilbert (Half Pint from Little House on the Prairie??!!)  I eventually had to give in.  That and the fact that I can’t bear to be the guy that’s left out, especially from a cultural conversation (Note: This could have something to do with always being the next to last person chosen in gym class before I wised up in my senior year of high school and volunteered to be attendance monitor.  But I’m not sure).

Breaking Bad fan, bitches.

Breaking Bad fan, bitches.

Still, how do you catch up and get with the program when there’s only 8 days remaining before the cultural conversation about the program you’re missing changes, the final episode airs and you’ve missed it all and can never get it back again?  Well, it’s no different from taking a final when you’ve never done the reading; or writing a new story or screenplay on a deadline when you’ve procrastinated to the point of absolute terror.  You cram.

Of course, there’s a kinder word for what we TV watchers do:  BINGE.

 Here is my story.

 

Pre Day One

Stretch it out!

Stretch it out!

 If one more person posts anything about Breaking Bad or brings it up in a conversation I will literally buy a gun.  Seriously.  I talk to my sister, who binged in 2-3 weeks this summer in order to watch all of the final season with everyone else in real time this fall and ask her if she thought it was possible for me to do it in one week’s time for the final episode.  I mean, she’s seemed happier than she’s been in months – a tense, hyped up kind of happy but still…  I figured – we do have some of the same genes.  So there could be hope for me.  Maybe I should and could try this???

She was very encouraging and said, knowing me, it was probably doable – though like all good sisters, she did worry I might push myself too hard.

As were my students, many of who had been watching it for years or had binged months or years ago on their own.  But when we factored in the dates and my desire to join the party with them in time for the finale 8 days later – and with the current total number of one hour episodes I’d have to watch at 61 (!) – I saw the grave doubt in their eyes.  A person this old (Meaning ANYONE over 40) could NEVER pull this off.  Especially one who has to spend part of their days teaching them and reading their work.   Hah!!  They don’t know me very well.  They don’t realize I used to cover film festivals and once, when I was an aspiring TV writer in the 80s, watched six full seasons of Kate and Allie on a VCR before the days of DVRs in preparation for a pitch meeting.  (Note:  One that, incidentally, never even took place!)  I knew that I could do it.  What I didn’t know, however, and what they did know, was what I had in store.

In the beginning...

In the beginning…

Breaking Bad is a show about a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with lung cancer, fears leaving his family destitute from exorbitant medical bills and decides he could provide a tidy little nest egg for them if he uses his vast scientific skills to be a cooker of crystal meth.  This gives nothing away since it is pretty much all covered in Season One, Episode One.  But this is also not a proper summary of what the show is really about.

It’s really about the dissolution of the middle class American dream, about greed, about liars being rewarded, villains who are really heroes and vice versa.  It’s about the destruction of the nuclear family in great part due to the times we live in and the people we choose to live with.  It’s about fathers and sons, husbands and wives, the burdens and joys of being in a family and the very idea of what or whom constitutes family.  Moreover, it’s about drugs, sex and a little bit of rock ‘n roll – well, the current version of it, anyway.  Hell, if I had only known that I might have begun watching six years ago.  Which might not have been that good for me. Not in a show that mixes all of the former with drug lords, car chases, shootings, knifings, poisonings, twenty feet wide beds of cash, sleazy lawyers, corruption behind every bit of cactus in Albuquerque, NM, and drug montages set to some of my favorite forgotten hit songs of the sixties – Crystal Blue Persuasion and Windy. As Carrie Fisher famously wrote, instant gratification takes too long – especially in a story like this one.  I don’t think I could’ve been strung along over that big of a period of real time with this kind of story.  I experienced that once with one very destructive love relationship I had in the early eighties and vowed to NeVeR AgAiN (BB Fans:  Note the typeface there?) put myself in that position.

Or, to phrase it another way: If anyone tries to make a case to you that binge watching an entire series in a matter of days is improper viewing because it doesn’t give you the necessary breathing room television episodes are supposed to have, tell them this – I wish I could have done it in 61 straight hours. #ChannellthatBitch!

Day One – Friday, 7pm

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Note:  I hate the wife.  I’m drawn to the 16 year-old kid with cerebral palsy for reasons I don’t want to examine (Uh, not what you think. Or is it?).  I feel bad for Walter White, even though he’s a straight, middle-aged white man who by his very birth has enjoyed an odd type of superior status in the world.  He’s smart and moral but has had a lot of bad luck.  Plus, now he got cancer.  Even before this his wife treated him like a child.

Walter’s idea to cook meth with his former failed chemistry student Jesse is misguided but sort of brilliant.  I’ve met Jesse and so have you – he’s Sean Penn’s Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High if Spicoli had lived in the desert and graduated from pot into a full on drug dealing meth head.  Jesse might seem stupid but he’s not dumb.  And he has a good heart.  He reminds me of the cool guys I let cheat off my tests in high school.

I’m partial to family dramas but I’m finding myself much more drawn to the drugs and suspense.  My heart is racing a little.  Wow – there are an awful lot of drugs.  And a gun or two.  Or three.  But the money’s coming in and there are an awful lot of lies starting.  Hmm, this can’t end well.   I feel for Walt when he has to shave his head from chemo and I do like his badass new black hat.

breakingbad

But unlike Jesse I was a very good student, even in subjects like chemistry that I wasn’t interested in.  In fact, I remember the name Heisenberg.  He was a famous scientist.  Actually physicist.  I google him.  Oh, right – also a Jew who managed to live and work in Germany during the Nazi regime.  Uh, oh.  This is CANNOT end well.  For me or for Walter – who now likes to call himself Heisenberg when he’s wearing the black hat.  Yes, that’s right, it’s a BLACK HAT (get it???).  As for me, it’s 3 in the morning and I’m done with all seven episodes of season one.  Clearly, there’s trouble ahead.

Day Two – Saturday, 2pm

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I’ve got work to do and plans tonight so I’m just gonna watch a few.  Poor Jesse.  He’s the dangerous screw up in high school and college who was always nice to me when he didn’t have to be.  I want to reach out and help him.  I wanna hang out and have him teach me a few things.  Like – how do you come up with those cool expressions? (Note:  Do NOT say writers).  How can you be so fearless?  How are you able to cry at the drop of a hat and yet, shoot guns or shoot drugs a second later?  Plus, he’s got the hair I will never have.  I love him and sort of hate him all at the same time.  Young Blue Eyes.

Then there’s Jane.  Whenever I meet a girl whose hair and makeup is that jet black – a gal who is also artistic and sober after what clearly must have been a debauched adolescence – I’m frightened.  In both a good and a bad, bad way.  Jesse, of course, evokes no such thing.  Which is part of the reason we (I?) love him.

As for Walter, he’s beginning to scare me.  I wish I had the nerve to shave my head.  Actually, I don’t.  He’s twice my size so it won’t look nearly as good on me.  We’re talking macho vs. sickly, skinny guy with a nasty attitude.  If I were Jesse it could work.  But clearly I’m not.  And I’m beginning to be happy about that.

Omigod – it’s 6:45 pm and I’m not showered and I have a dinner date half an hour away in 45 minutes.  I’ve got to stop.  WW J & W do?  They’d take the five extra minutes and finish episode six.

I do.  And I’m not sorry.

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11:15 pm

I’m home.  And it’s on.  Oh – it’s soooo on.  I’m beginning to understand where Skyler is coming from.  Walt’s got a bit of an ego, doesn’t he?  Well, okay, who doesn’t.  Plus, he has CANCER.  Still, when your spouse lies to you – when the trust is evaporating – all bets are off.  I remember the guy from the eighties and that crappy relationship I was in and suddenly I’m with her.

Wow, I don’t think I’ve seen the actor Giancarlo Esposito since Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.  Well, he’s certainly different – all suits and buttoned down shirts, y’all.  And is he playing this guy gay?  Nah, it must be my imagination.  Neat and fastidious is not necessarily a code word for gay anymore.  Still, I don’t mind it.   The character is one of the biggest drug dealers in country, works in a straight man’s world and has managed to outsmart and outlive everyone else.  Kudos to him.  Plus, he reads Walt Whitman.  Which makes him erudite.  And I guess is also a big clue about who he is.  Duh.  It’s now 3:30 am and I have three episodes left to the end of season 2.  Fine.  I’ll go to bed.  But I’m not sleeping all day tomorrow.  I mean, Today.

Day Three – Sunday, 8:30 am

Day-3

Why is my dog BARKING!!  That little rat!!!  I mean…I love my dog.  I have to find out what’s wrong.  I mean…I hope she’s okay.

Wait – she’s a BITCH!  I should have known.

Noon

I posted my blog and dozed for 15 minutes but really, I can’t sleep the day away.  Maybe I’ll just turn on the TV for some company.  Oh look – Netflix is still on.  I forgot to put it back to regular TV.  Oh well, might as well continue before I go to the gym.

Is Jesse and Jane sort of supposed to sound like Jesse James, the badass outlaw?  Perhaps not.  I think I’m pushing the metaphor.  Thank God Bob Odenkirk has been added for comic relief.  I remember when he used to date Janeane Garofalo, and this was before she had tattoos.  Boy, am I getting old.  I’m much more of a Walter than a Jesse, I think – at least age wise.  How did that happen?  And who has all of my drug money?  And why aren’t I the head of something bigger than this blog?  Walter’s doing it and he’s sick.  And tired.  I’m just the latter.  Plus, I’m beginning to have trouble breathing.

Lord that's a bad suit

Lord that’s a bad suit

One thing I’ve learned over the years, though, is to stay away from gay guys like Esposito’s Gus.  Yes, I’ve met a few.  They usually have slightly better suits but, then again, most of these guys lived in New York and L.A.  There is a difference.  Sorry to my friends who are in the fly over or under states.

Meanwhile, I think Walter has crossed a line.  In fact, now that season 2 is over, I’m sure he has.  This series is very anti-drugs.  In fact, it should be shown in high schools.  Why isn’t anyone writing about that?  And seriously, what world do I live in?  High schools?  In 2013 America?  I don’t think so.  It’s not the seventies anymore.  I’m off to the gym.

8:30 pm

I pulled a stomach and I think groin muscle after 2 hours at the gym trying to work off all of this tension.  Damn it.  Well, I guess there are worse things.  I can walk and I’m only a bit twisted inside.  Maybe I’ll turn on the TV for some therapy.  I’ve earned it.

I’m on season 3 and I’ve got 13 of them episodes ahead of me.  And I’m injured.  I guess I have to take it easy and relax.  Click.

I’m beginning to like some of these lines.  Things like:

I trust the hole in the desert I’d leave you in!!

My favorites, though, are the Jesse-isms.  For those who don’t watch (or skipped what I’ve written so far and started at this part)  he likes to use Yo and Bitch a lot.  In one of these episodes he’s lamenting about cleaning up the meth lab and dreams of having assistants to not only handle all the dirt but to wait on him hand and foot.  Imagining what it would be like, he fantasizes lines like these:

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Is it any wonder that I love this guy?  Even when I hate, and have always hated, the taste of Gatorade?

It’s 2:30 am again but it doesn’t matter.  I’m on Season 3 and, as they say in the old country, this shit’s getting’ real.  Blood is being mopped.  It’s very Sweeny Todd without Johnny Depp, Angela Lansbury or even a whiff of show music.  Though I wouldn’t be surprised if they do eventually go there.

Oh, and P.S. – I’ll never look at an ATM machine the same way again.

Day Four – Monday, Sometime in the afternoon

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I’m in more pain than I thought and wish I had some meth.  No, not really.  It’s just a fantasy.  But speaking of fantasy – Click.

Oh God – Gus, Gus, Gus, Gus.  I’d still choose a gay villain over Sean Hayes.  Because I don’t think I want to live in the world that Sean has saved.  At least with Gus there’s a chance I could still get to read and understand Walt Whitman, eat fried chicken and wear clothes that don’t come from J Crew.  Though I’m not quite partial to jewel tones so I might have to think about the latter.

In any event, Walter’s new lab is ONE COOL CRIB.  It sort of reminds me of Frank N. Furter’s science fantasy place in Rocky Horror Picture Show.  In fact, Walter’s new lab assistant, Gale, could be the before version of Eddie in Rocky Horror.

A resemblance?

A resemblance? Or am I going bleery-eyed?

Leading a double life is not easy but Walter’s getting the hang of it.  He’s even staring down cancer.  But does he wonder where his son is disappearing to when he says he’s with a friend?  Nah, too busy.  I’m hoping Walter, Jr. (now Flinn) is getting laid.  Though I’m not sure we’ll ever find out.  And truly, it’s not our business anyway.

The White family is in a shambles but as a child of divorce I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.  It does get better when the fighting stops.  But only IF the fighting stops.  Which doesn’t seem likely here.  Suddenly, younger children have entered the mix and there are more meth heads than you can shake a stick at.  I can’t bear to look at any more rotting teeth.  Which begs the question of why Jesse’s are so always so pearly white.  Whatever.  It’s a fantasy.  And it’s Jesse.

Uh, I spoke too soon.  Holy mother of whomever – I’m not sure I’m liking Hank, the DEA brother-in-law anymore.  He thinks he can do what to Jesse?

My stomach hurts really bad – not so much from the gym injury but the bald and built TWIN (actually, they’re just brothers but they do dress alike) MEXICAN ASSASSINS.  They are sort of like post millennium Terminators without the Austrian accent.   Actually, they don’t speak at all.  Well, barely.  Which makes them even scarier.

I’m afraid to look at what time it is but I know it’s dark and everyone else in my house is asleep.   Season 3 is over and it’s a cliffhanger.  I don’t teach till tomorrow night so I usually go in the office later.  I can prepare and do my readings…whenever I get to them.  IF I CHOOSE TO GET TO THEM!

No one has ever died from binge watching a series – good or bad – though there is a cult movie from 1935 called Murder By Television (starring Bela Lugosi) that posits it is possible.  Though not so much from the content of what’s onscreen but more the rays being emitted.

And then of course, you could go the way of Carol Ann...

And then of course, you could go the way of Carol Ann…

I’m not too far gone to realize BB has taken over my life but I am too far gone to stop watching.  This was my choice.  No one forced me to do the drugs.  And NO ONE is going to force me to stop doing them.

Damn it – I have to moderate a panel of former students who are working at cool jobs in the entertainment industry to educate current students about to get into the entertainment industry.  I know how I will get through it.  I’m a Ginsberg.  That’s close enough to a Heisenberg.  I’m the best cook around and I know they’ll be buying what I’m serving up.  Click. Pause.

Day Five/Six – Sometime that night after 10pm and before 2:30 am Tuesday morning

Television Prison scroll

Television Prison scroll

I’m not sure where I am.  Here’s what I do know.

  1. I don’t want to live in Albuquerque.
  2. My partner downstairs doesn’t take kindly to me calling him bitch.
  3. I’d better be nicer to my partner downstairs because he tells me he can get me the missing  first 3 episodes of Season 5, Part 2 that are not on Netflix and are not scheduled to be rerun on AMC until Sunday.  Since I already have the final five episodes after those this will ensure I have what I need to keep me fully wired through Friday night and meet my deadline of the one week binge.  Being nice is a small price to pay.  Though it’s no longer in my nature to be nice.  Still, like Heisenberg, I can fake it.

Walter is great even as he’s reinforcing the old cliché: Power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely.  He’s turned Jesse into something he was never meant to be and he’s turned himself into someone he was always meant to be, as we’re beginning to find out.  After a lifetime of working in show business the one thing I’ve learned is that rarely is the person who is rising up to be the most rich and powerful among us also the warmest and fuzziest.

I’m scared.  I’m very scared.  Yeah yo, I am. To quote Skyler, who I’m beginning to have some sympathy for:

Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family.

10:30pm

I taught my Day Five, I mean, Wednesday night class.  Luckily one of those bitches didn’t show up so I got home a bit earlier.  Pass the pipe.  Er, I mean the remote.

Day Six – The Late Morning.  I think?

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If I can’t kill you, you’ll sure as shit wish you were dead. – A Jesse-ism

A guy opens the door and you’re afraid I’LL get shot??  No, I AM THE DANGER!   – A  Walt/Heisenberg-ism

Jesse has crossed the line and even I can’t make any excuses for him.  Except…well, never mind.  I’m trying to avoid spoilers.  And…I have a really bad headache.

Like all great criminals, Walt reveals more of himself than he should because of his own ego.  But I don’t assume this will sink him because there are two more seasons left and because Sen. Ted Cruz is still standing.  (Note:  Show business and politics will always be extremely inter-related).

Plus, there’s the old mute drug lord at the senior citizens home who can only communicate by dinging a little bell at the top of the arm of his wheelchair.  Not to mention…well, a lot of other stuff.

I have all day to do this and I will.  There is tuna in a can downstairs, bread and water.  That’s all the time I can spare right now.  All I need.  All I deserve.

Wait, this isn’t day six.  I’m quoting what happened last night, which is really early this morning.  Everything I just said on Day Six really happened on Day Five.  Or Four.   And I soooooo don’t care.

What I do care about is that I have 2 three-hour classes to teach today and I haven’t read any of their outlines.  Pass the six pack of Diet Coke.

How I'm staying awake

How I’m staying awake

Yeah.  Right.  That’s what the label says on the outside.  On the inside – I’m not telling.  But – you know.

11:00 pm

Wow, that went better than I thought.  Kudos to Diet Coke. (heh, heh).  Still, now that I’m home – me and the significant other, we usually watch Project Runway on Thursday nights.  Walter and Skyler’s equivalent was probably bowling before all this started.  Luckily, like all good long-term marriages, my partner and I have our own stuff to do this particular night.  He’s busy working on an honest to goodness book and asked not to be disturbed.  Like I planned to.

Suddenly, I’m not tired.  I mean,  At. All.  Click.

It is so in keeping with who I am that the final episode of Season 4, which was voted the best episode of television in any number of publications that year, was among my least favorite.  As I tell myself and I sometimes tell my students:

It doesn’t pay to look too forward to anything, especially anything in movies or on television.  You’ll inevitably be disappointed.

Not that many parts of the whole thing weren’t great.  There’s a seminal moment that was very cool and lots of stuff gets resolved.  Not my addiction, though.  Never my addiction.  I have to see what happens in just the first episode of Season 5, Part 1, Episode 1.   Okay, maybe Episode 2.

I do this and I am treated to one of my favorite Jesse lines of the series:

magnet-meme

Plus, somewhere along the line I find the first few missing episodes of Season 5, Part II on the table near the TV in a teeny, tiny package marked BITCH!. Presents like this will often magically appear in BB world.  Though they also always carry a price.  Hmm, I’m not gonna think about that now.  I’m excited and tired at the same time.  And I have a big cook ahead of me tomorrow.

THE LAST DAY

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The rest of season 5, Part 1 and all of Season 5, Part II, except for the final episode, which will be broadcast Sunday night.  Together that’s almost 12 hours of television.  Hmmph, it’ll be child’s play to hit all of that up.  Like – seriously –  me not being able to hit it up is akin to chances of me trying to keep up with Robert Downey, Jr. on any sort of drug binge 20 years ago.  That was a time long before he got sober and long before I needed to.

Something happens when you know you’re in the home stretch of something you so, so worked for and are about to get.  There’s an…exhilaration?  And some sadness.  But no time to reflect.  Not now.  Not ever.  Well, at least for now.

Walter White is the smartest person in the room.  And he isn’t interested in money so much as he is in BUILDING AN EMPIRE!!!

He’s turned into a non-ethnic, southwestern version of Don Corleone.  The major difference is that instead of hearing the Tarantella we finally get to enjoy Tommy James and Shondells’ version of Crystal Blue Persuasion as he cooks the blue-tinted drug he invented that is now being fetishized by users round the world.  My question:  Why did it take them so long to use this song and why didn’t I ever see it coming?

Some time after the song stops, or perhaps it was a long time after, something I know all too well  suddenly comes out of nowhere and hits me over the head.  No, it’s not the significant other, though that would be justified.  It’s that the first rule of drama is: If you introduce a gun or anything else that threatening in the beginning of your story you know it’s going to have to be fired or explode in the end.   I’m beginning to see the totality of what Walt and Jesse and Skyler and the rest of the family are up against.  And up to.   Not to mention some of the other morally questionable drug enablers I’ve grown to love this week.  It’s getting Shakespearean, yo!  Did you see the end of Hamlet, Macbeth or even Romeo and Juliet?

I have no idea that is what will happen.  In fact, I have NO idea what will happen.  I only know that I can’t eat, my stomach is in knots and if one more person leaves a message on my cell phone or machine I am going full Luddite.

Sometime later that evening

I can see the end in sight because I just watched the last episode before the final episode pass behind me.  I’m done.  Caught up, I mean.  Yes, it’s really early the morning of the eighth day but I wouldn’t advise you challenging me on that just now.  Not after what I’ve gone through.  Not just yet.

SUNDAY NIGHT:  One episode remaining.  One hit left.

i-funcking-love-u1

It was beautiful. Every last millisecond.  It was sooo worth it.    All of it.

And I ain’t sayin’ any more than that.  Bitch.

Pass the pipe.  Er,  the remote.

#Binger2TheBone

Ya smell that?

Who is this imposter and what have you done with NPH?

Who is this imposter and what have you done with NPH?

Sunday night was smell-a-vision night here at the House of Chair.  Except that it felt like a combination of baby diapers, horse manure and the unwashed gym socks and muddy jock strap from a gym locker in 1982.  What other way was there to describe the highly anticipated Emmy Awards telecast hosted by the perennially charming Neil Patrick Harris?  Well, charm only gets you so far.  Remember – even Clooney once played an awful version of Batman, latex nipples and all.

As if this wasn’t enough we were treated to the HORRIBLE (no other word for it) series finale of Dexter – a program that was formerly one of the best television shows in recent memory and one which helped define the Showtime brand of over-the-top but compelling anti-heroes.  Michael C. Hall was still great but even he couldn’t save….well, you get the drill (but more on that below…)

Perhaps it was the mood in the House of Chair.  For the last three days I have been in full binge of the entire Breaking Bad  series– Season 3, Episode 8, bitches!!!!  – and probably didn’t want to be interrupted.  (Note:  For those who don’t watch – and you should – please know the aside in the middle of the last sentence is a relevant, rather than sexist, comment).

Look for the full Binging Bad experience next week with as few spoilers as possible.  In the meantime, what’s that I still smell —–

1. Network Stench

toot

  •  But when the best looking guy or gal in school who doesn’t use deodorant raises their arms in the air, it still stinks to high heaven.  Sunday night’s Emmy broadcast was an embarrassing hypefest for the CBS brand and all of its programming rather than a salute to the small tube in general.  Did you notice that a large group of the presenters were from current or upcoming CBS shows (I’m looking at you Mark Harmon & LL Cool J of NCIS, Anna Farris & Allison Janney of Mom)?  Not to mention the deadly backstage cut-ins hosted by Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds, much?)  Not to mention every other commercial interruption – and there were many – was for a newly premiering CBS show.  (Can’t wait for Hostages!!!)
  • I knew we were in a trouble when the program started and Emmy host NPH was being escorted into the theatre by a security guard being played by CBS president Les Moonves, a former actor.  Followed by a badly-conceived bit where NPH was stuck in a chair watching numerous five second TV series clips that turned out to be the only examples from current television series that we got to see all night.

It’s supposed to be a program honoring the best of television.  Not a kickoff to the new television season starring CBS actors and its top executives.

Rating:  Five Smelly Diapers.

2.  Music

What... is... this?

What… is… this?

  • I don’t know about you, but when I think of the 50-year anniversary of the Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 I immediately think of country singer Carrie Underwood. And why not have her sing Yesterday, a Beatles song released in 1965?  Because we can.  And because Okie Carrie will be starring as Maria Von Trapp in a live television production of The Sound of Music in November.  Again, who better?
  • Elton John is a gay pianist and Liberace, the subject of the Emmy-winning (but early Sunday night just nominated) biopic Behind the Candelabra, was also a gay pianist – get it????  Elton John has a new CD/album/record out this week, so why not cross-promote?  And why not get BTC stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon to introduce him???  Well, because try as he might to make the connection, EJ’s new song Home Again didn’t feel like it had anything to do with Liberace – certainly it had nothing to do with television.  Which is the point of the entire show.  Or – is it????

Rating:  Twelve gym socks.  Though if we were on the telecast we’d certainly choose jock straps because we’d be making a dumb gay joke like Emmy winner Michael Douglas did when he picked up a statue for playing Liberace (Paraphrase Note: …I should be splitting the award with co-star Matt Damon  – do you want the top or the bottom??  Or – this is really a two-hander!).  Yuk….yuk…yuk.

Bonus eyeroll!

Bonus eyeroll!

3.  Specialty Items

  • In the middle of the program there was finally a Neil Patrick Harris song and dance number.  It was called The Number in the Middle of the Show.  For some reason it was thought by someone that it would be a funny idea to do an elongated song and dance number parodying a seventies dance number from the 1970s program Solid Gold.  NPH was helped along by Nathan Filion (Castle) and Sarah Silverman, followed by a gaggle of Solid Gold type dancers.  It was not a good idea.  It was quite painful.  Perhaps mostly for Nathan Filion, who is said to have a bad back that has caused him to miss several days of filming Castle in the last few weeks.  Was it worth the risk? Uh – no.
D. Hough in a suit.. silver lining?

D. Hough in a suit.. silver lining?

  • This is the first year the Emmys gave a choreography award on-air.  Consequently, it was thought necessary to do an elongated interpretive dance to the tune of Luck Be A Lady from the classic Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.  Then, we were treated to interpretive dances meant to evoke such TV series as Mad Men, American Horror Story, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad… and Big Bang Theory?    This really happened.  Really.  It did.

Rating:  Six rancid dancer’s belts.  One for each of the TV show tributes.

4.  Comedy?

  • Neil Patrick Harris’ co-stars from the CBS show How I Met Your Mother came together to do a sort of filmed PSA comedy bit for something called Excessive Hosting Disorder.  Well, it was sickly and obsessive, as far as comedy goes.  HIMYM never would have survived nine seasons if they were only this funny.  So we can’t blame them.
OK forget Carrie.. what is THIS?

OK forget Carrie.. what is THIS?

  • Will Ferrell brought out his three kids – or someone’s three kids – to deliver the final awards for best TV series.  They wore pajamas and had a tablet they were playing with.  People laughed.  I’m not sure why.  There was some mention he was just pulled in to give the awards because Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, who had been scheduled to do it, couldn’t make it.  Well….okay.  But the mere mention of Dame Maggie made one long for one of her Downton Abbey bon mots to save the show.  To wit:  What’s a Will Ferrell and why has he dragged those vagabond roustabouts onto my stage?  Yes, she would have said it better.  But she didn’t get the chance to.  But then again, neither did any other of the characters on TV that we really care about these days.

Note to the Emmy’s:  A few clips from the current golden age of television might be nice.

And now – back to Breaking Bad.

HOLLY’S CORNER: A EULOGY FOR DEXTER

Wrap it up.. it's over.

Wrap it up.. it’s over.

Crazy to think that a serial killer deserves better, but that, and more, can certainly be said about the uber-lame Dexter finale that aired opposite the Emmys last night. After eight seasons, a few football fields worth of plastic wrap, and countless bad Michael C Hall wigs, the show that came in with a ear piercing screech of freshness, went out like a sad shriek and a whiff of old garbage.

I started watching the series just as it aired, having piggybacked it with catching up on Hall’s fantastic turn as David Fisher in Six Feet Under. Dexter was superhero meets supervillian – and the writing was superb. I shared my love for this devilish leading man with The Chair and he too agreed that this show was breaking new ground, and slicing up some excellent week-to-week water cooler moments. I would promise to follow that Dark Passenger until the very end…

Yes, this meant getting through Miguel Prado, Lumen, Doomsday, and the Russian mafia … but for every misstep there was Doakes shouting “Surprise, Motherfucker!”, Jordan’s hypnotizing “Take It!”, Lila’s Parisian demise, and of course, fan-favorite (and rightfully so) Trinity. With so many bad things made right, I was sure the finale would supersede an otherwise lackluster season….

Instead, I, like our beloved “Slice of Life,” was set out to sea, destroyed by the wrath of the illogical, ridiculous Hurricane Dexter – and the most devoted fan was forced to admit with heavy regret: Goddamn, that sucked.

And so we go on, with Season 4 DVDs clutched tightly to our chest, cherishing the good times we had, forgetting that in the end we were left with a bearded, damp, Twin Peaks Dexter, and instead remembering Deb the badass, Masuka the freak, Quinn the over tanned, LaGuerta the over accessorized, Battista the loyal, Jamie the clueless, Rita the saint, Harry the guardian and of course Dexter, the darkly dreaming disaster we’d all come to love.

Farewell Miami Metro… at least we’ll always have breakfast.

I’m Rubber, You’re Glue

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I was listening to talk radio this week and heard Ann Coulter referring to Pres. Obama as a monkey three times in 3 minutes.  Then I heard Rush Limbaugh calling the Obama policy in Syria Operation Shuck and Jive twice in just one minute.

Normally I don’t pay attention to this kind of stuff or these kinds of people (that’s hate-speakers, not conservatives) because, well, I’ve learned over the years we have a limited time on Earth and really should pick and choose who and what we spend our time on.

But to not pay attention to this sort of thing is also absolving your responsibility as a thinking member of society.   That’s not right and it’s insidious.  And the more you ignore the more it becomes a kind of allowable “norm” people can get away with.

George Carlin famously talked of the seven dirtiest words you can’t say on television, all of which you can now say on cable and some of which you can periodically get away with on the networks. (They are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits – all of which you can say in a blog!).  Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and a long list of many others also challenged us with language that could be deemed offensive.

Don Rickles, the last of the old school Rat Pack-related comedians from the bygone Vegas era of entertainers, pioneered a variation of this kind of thing in the most mainstream way in the sixties when he evoked racial epithets for pretty much any ethnic group you can think of.   But part of his success was being an equal opportunity offender – no group, including his own, was safe.   Andrew Dice Clay tried another brand of this humor two decades later in the eighties by personifying the most chauvinistic black-leathered jacketed working class asshole from the boroughs or Jersey or anywhere else you can think of.  But he quickly faded away, mostly because he almost solely went after women in a very ugly way and partly because he committed the cardinal sin – he wasn’t nearly as funny as his predecessors (Note: ADC portrays a defanged version of this character in Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine, a performance that probably works a lot better for those who don’t remember the Diceman’s original act).

What do you do with all this?   Are words, in themselves, offensive?  Why could Richard Pryor (and now Chris Rock) say the “N” word but when I say it, it takes on another meaning.

It’s all about context.  And intention.

I shudder to even post this image.

I shudder to even post this image.

Moreover, why do Windbag Rush and Annie the Terrible purposely use their offensive terminology in order to provoke favor with like-minded thinkers and non-thinkers alike who are salivating for some new form of socially acceptable hate speak?

It’s all about changing the Norms of Context.  And it’s very, very, very intentional.

Also this week, Soviet president Vladimir Putin chastised the US in a NY Times op-ed piece for daring to talk about American “exceptionalism,” concluding with this thought:  We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.  Well, that sounds good but some months ago Putin began strictly enforcing new laws that allow his government to exorbitantly fine and arrest anyone who engages in homosexual activity, or even publicly approves of any sort of pro-gay activities.  Gays can’t marry, adopt or, if they’re vocal about it, teach (Note to Self: Cancel my trip to Russia).  So there goes his written plea for equality for all of God’s creations– right out the Kremlin window and right behind anyone listening to a Bette Midler album.  This also begs the question of what he plans to do with Atheists – who don’t ask the Lord for any sort of blessings because they don’t believe a God created anyone.  One shudders to even consider the punishment for that.

Forget about context and intention.  You now can add truth and hypocrisy to the list.

There are ways to think about our differences and there are ways to exploit them.  More importantly, there are many ways to express them.  Not all, but many people who are in the public eye are smart enough to know exactly what they are saying.  Certainly there is the occasional gaffe and arguably there is nowadays a whole class of speakers who just wander into the spotlight and are uninformed.  But you and I usually know who they are.  And we certainly know that’s not who we’re speaking about here.

Ya'll talkin' bout me?

Ya’ll talkin’ bout me?

When Putin, Coulter, Limbaugh, Carlin, Clay and all the others speak they know EXACTLY what they’re saying and why.  They choose their words for particular reasons because it is their living to do so.  They get (or got) paid handsomely for it.  And as such, they’ve earned an answer when they go over the line.  This is also the case for people in your life, or those within earshot adjacent to your life.  They’re not getting paid but they’re occupying your space and opening their mouths.  At last check, the US (not Russia) was essentially a freedom-of-speech-loving country where you not only get to say anything but get to be answered back within the confines of the law.  Hate speakers don’t get to have a one-sided conversation as they call you out for being too politically correct while they hide behind the mantle of free speech.  The latter cuts both ways.  If they have the right to speak as they do (and they do), we all have the obligation to call them out when we believe their heinous words and thoughts are polluting the environment in which we must live – both literally and figuratively.

That’s why comedian Richard Belzer was totally justified to call Ann Coulter a fascist party doll in 2006 when he threatened to walk off of Real Time with Bill Maher as Maher began to introduce her.  He was reacting to a myriad of Coulter statements that came before this appearance, stuff like My only regret is that Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) didn’t go into the NY Times building or that the 9-11 widows are reveling in their status as celebrities…I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s deaths so much.

Of course, all of those were said several years before we had our first Black president so Ms. Coulter, a best-selling author in the tens of millions, has had to up her game.  How do you answer an educated person who knowingly likens the most famous Black Man in America (nee the WORLD) to a phrase that was commonly used and drawn in the antebellum South to describe the Simian nature of their former slaves???

An American artifact from 1900.

An American artifact from 1900. That would be 113 years ago…

The correct answer is not:  she doesn’t deserve an answer.  The correct answer is to tell the Ann Coulter in your life, or the one you overhear, exactly what you think – in a word, or phrase, or something longer (and perhaps, preferably, with something sharper).

Don’t take this for a second to mean that we’re letting Mr. Limbaugh off scot-free.  If these are truly our public airwaves, what do you now say to someone who uses the term “shuck and jive” to describe a Black president’s policies?  As Mr. Limbaugh understands, that’s a phrase that came into being when black slaves sang and shouted gleefully during corn-shucking season and evolved in common usage as way to indicate Black people who were clowning and lying.

Obama’s a sla-ave, Obama’s a sla-ave, O- ba-ma’s the N word, O-ba-ma’s the N word…,

you can hear Limbaugh taunting.

Well, you can now see why current Senator Al Franken had no other choice than to write:

Rush Limbaugh’s a big fat idiot, Rush Limbaugh’s a big fat idiot!

But that book was almost 10 years ago and Rushbo has gone into entirely new territory here.  What do we, or anyone, say back to him now?

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I’m waiting….

No – the correct answer is not to ignore him.  Not for this.  Not in this case.

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Certainly, we all make our own choices in these situations.  In 1993, the only African American female Senator in the history of the US Congress was Carol Moseley Braun.  (Note: Ms. Moseley Braun served as a senator from Illinois, a seat Barack Obama would 10 years later be elected to).  This week, The Rachel Maddow Show reported on a much repeated story of what happened in the Senate elevator at that time when ultra conservative and virulent racial separatist, North Carolina’s five term (that’s 30 years) senator, Jesse Helms, found himself riding up in the elevator with Sen. Moseley Braun.  This very white senator from the South looked this very Black senator from the North straight in the eye and began singing “Dixie” (Oh, I wish I were in the land of cotton…)” in the elevator, turning to Utah Sen. Orin Hatch and saying “I’m gong to make her cry.  I’m going to keep singing Dixie until I make her cry.”

Yes, this is a true story and it took place in the nineties.  And no, it is not about Mr. Helms being a product of another time and place.   It is about a particular type of viciousness that needs to be addressed in the moment – or after – not by turning your cheek but by turning into the punch and retorting in some way that you see fit.  In the case of CMB, she decided to respond by looking straight back at him, saying: ‘Sen. Helms, your singing would make me cry if you sang ‘Rock of Ages.”

You go, Carol.

You go, Carol.

Incidentally, this encounter was supposedly prompted by Sen. Moseley Braun successfully leading a fight on the Senate floor the previous month to defeat an amendment by Helms that would allow the renewal of the patent on the Confederate flag insignia by a group called the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Get the point, yet?

Have times changed in 2013 when a person thought to be a minority (Pres. Obama) chooses to live or govern in a way that a particularly vocally virulent person in the public eye thought to be in the majority (Mr. Limbaugh? Ms. Coulter?) doesn’t want them to live or govern?  Clearly not.  And what about then Senator Moseley Braun’s response?  I, for one don’t think it went nearly far enough.  But the deafening silence to Coulter and Limbaugh’s remarks seems to indicate we’ve backtracked from there to a strategy of no answer necessary.

It would be nice to think this is because we’ve come far since then and incidents like these are fading into the woodwork.  But I don’t think so.  In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite.

For years I had my own response to people like Sen. Helms, who all through his terms (which only ended in 2001) refused to fund AIDS research and was virulently anti-gay  (e.g. homosexuals are “weak, morally sick wretches”).  As I watched him trying to defund gay artists of any kind from the National Endowment of the Arts (and the entire NEA itself) at a time when I was also watching many gay friends and acquaintances die left and right from AIDS, I signed petitions against him, wrote letters and gave money.

1990_artificial

And — in my bathroom for years hung this famous Robbie Conal poster that read ART OFFICIAL with Helm’s hideous image drawn below it.  It served as a reminder to me and everyone who ever stepped in front of, on, or near my toilet that Sen. Helms was totally full of shit.

Hey, we all do what we can.

Note:  I’ve purposely left out of the conversation Sarah Palin, who has used monkey, shuck and jive and many other terms to describe the first Black president.  This is because Cruella (as Aaron Sorkin so aptly labeled her several years ago) has a dwindling audience and now falls into the don’t waste your limited time on Earth category. Well, unless it allows us to bring back Tina…

Tina-Fey-Sarah-Palin-SNL-2007

Rubbernecking

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Target Practice

We Americans love to gawk.  Okay, maybe it’s not a totally American thing since the term paparazzi became popular as a result of Fellini’s legendary La Dolce Vita (the perpetually annoying photographer in the film was named Paparazzo).  Still, in my limited travels around the world it feels as if me and my fellow countrymen (and women) are always among the first to arrive – either by ourselves or with some sort of filming device – to either a celebrity sighting or crime scene, especially when those two events happen simultaneously.

Granted, it is not necessarily a bad thing to be observant.  But – what exactly are we observing?

That all came to the forefront this week when Valerie Harper, the 74-year-old actress who was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and is best known to us baby boomers as Rhoda from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, was announced as one of the contestants on this season’s edition of Dancing With The Stars.

Let’s be clear.  Anyone who has terminal brain cancer gets to do anything they want, including spending their final year(s?) of life rehearsing ballroom dancing four and a half hours a day in order to perform a 3 minute weekly dance routine before a live television audience of 17 million people.

Plus – full disclosure.  I LOVED Rhoda!  She was sassy, spoke with an accent from the NYC boroughs, endured an overbearing mother who made her life crazy AND had trouble keeping a guy.  With the exception of the head scarves and a few lady bits, I found watching her in my twenties was often the equivalent of looking into a one-way mirror.

I could have rocked that look

I could have rocked that look

So I’m not quite sure why her appearance on DWTS strikes me as a bit exploitive and over-the-line. Could it be my own fear of death?  Perhaps.  I mean, I know it is there and have witnessed it more times than I care to remember.  Still, I don’t like the idea of it staring me in the face weekly.  Though I did love Laura Linney on The Big C, a Showtime series about cancer where anyone, anytime could die each week because, well, it’s cable.

No – I don’t think it’s that.

Maybe it’s my general concern for Ms. Harper as a fan who has enjoyed her work for decades.  Aside from her time as Rhoda, she ‘s done lots of other interesting things over the years, including a recent brilliant onstage performance as the iconic actress Tallulah Bankhead in the stage play Looped.

Yes, she started as a dancer on Broadway, her cancer is near remission, and she announced that she wanted to attempt this enormous feat of athleticism to be a role model so others won’t fear life in their final days. Hmm, maybe I’m turning into Rhoda’s overprotective mother?  Or even worse, my OWN MOTHER???

Sorry – I REFUSE to admit that’s it.  Or to even think about it one second longer.

Here’s what I do think it’s about.  It’s the idea of being compelled to watch DWTS at all, which I now most definitely will do, at least on DVR – and probably a lot more than sometimes.  This makes me nothing less than a typical member of the flash mob out there that we call society.  All too human, all too base, all too bloodthirsty.  But to see what exactly?  Valerie Harper die live on television?  Or at least pass out from exhaustion, only to get up again and barely make it through the number amid gasps and awe?  Or to see her emerge victorious as many weeks as possible, proving you can cheat death when you have a terminal disease?

And all for this hideous, tacky thing?

And all for this hideous, tacky thing?

If we’re all hooked up to a lie detector, which would we all MOST want to watch?  Which would be the most…ENTERTAINING?  (Note:  You cannot choose none of the above.  And…you must tell the truth).

It did not escape me that a survey by Fandango this week of the most anticipated of all the fall movies – a time that is (or used to be) considered THE time to launch the classy or at least more serious Oscar contenders – the #1 choice was The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  This is important to note because it is the sequel to a film that is literally about watching people die in a live (or in this case dead) televised competition.   Well, one supposes that could really be next.  Or perhaps it has already begun to arrive but we have not yet realized it.

En fuego

En fuego

I might be stretching the metaphor.  But barely. Humanity has a history of such things, from Gladiators fighting to the death in the Coliseum to boxing matches where every so often someone gets knocked out cold.   The difference is that hundreds of years ago the very function of gladiators was to do battle until someone literally collapses and dies.  These days we sort of just like putting people into impossible situations to see if or how long they can survive and how well they do it.  Yes, they can die or be irrevocably injured for our own enjoyment.  But it’s their choice.  Certainly, that’s a lot more civilized.  Isn’t it?

Civilized? Well, all except Wipeout.

Civilized? Well, all except Wipeout.

It’s interesting to read or watch the news each day and see what passes for current events.  Sure there are real wars but we usually black out the actual killings on television in favor of showing our politicians deciding whether or not to fund either more bloodbaths or more social programs.  Still, we get to see George Zimmerman, the man acquitted in the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, being arrested for the second time in several months for a speeding ticket or photos of Zimmerman’s wife filing for divorce because he spends so little time at home and has become too selfish.   You can’t blame him.  I suppose I’d be a little full of myself also if I got that much attention.  Speaking of attention, did you just hear that his defense attorney Mark O’Mara has been signed by CNN to be a legal analyst? That’s something else we can look forward to when we inevitably tire of this season’s DWTS.  God Bless America.

It’s not as if the US media and entertainment industries (yes, technically they are different) always know what we want, or are even thinking.  If this were so Neil Patrick Harris wouldn’t have happily announced several days ago that he would not be doing a musical opening number when he hosts the Emmys later this month.  Sure, the Oscars get Seth MacFarlane singing and dancing but television DOESN’T get Neil Patrick Harris singing and dancing.  Just what are they thinking there?  Obviously, not much.

You're breaking my heart, Doogie!

You’re breaking my heart, Doogie!

Then there is the massive advertising campaign for Ron Howard’s new film, Rush.  It’s gotten glowing advance reviews and very nice film festival reaction.  And Mr. Howard’s teaming on a somewhat commercially risky subject matter written by acclaimed British writer Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) also deserves kudos.  But Rush is based on the 1970s true life story of two competing race drivers – a sport where fatal and near fatal fiery crashes and the charred beyond recognition human remains they left behind were a way of life.  You’d think they could give us a little more of the actual blood sport in the trailer, knowing as they do our taste for carnage.   Right now there are mostly the supremely enviable blonde tresses (not to mention other things) of the supremely enviable Chris Hemsworth as he charms the machinery off of every human and non-human being in his sight lines.  Well, I suppose audiences can forgive a little lack of carnage for that.   I know that I can.

Oh.. is this movie about car racing?

Oh.. is this movie about car racing?

What is difficult to accept is that one easy way to get attention these days is to always do morea lot more – and preferably in as dangerous or titillating a way as possible.  Perhaps this was always the case.  In fact, when you chart the rise from Playboy, to Penthouse, to Deep Throat, to Hustler, to online porn, to Showtime’s annual and highly-rated multiple broadcasts of the AVN Awards (the Oscars of the Adult Entertainment Industry, which I stumbled across one day and reacted to like a bad car accident on the highway – I couldn’t look away) we can prove it not only was but that today it is even more so.

Of course, none of this means I will cancel my subscription to The New Yorker.  Or that any museums will be closed down.  But one can’t help but wonder if, as the years go on, those touchstones of culture won’t be viewed much like we now look at the language of Latin or the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare – intellectually impressive, perhaps even brilliant artifacts of another time and generation but nowhere near as exciting to us as the potential slaughters or killings occurring right before our eyes in any one of the Coliseum-like arenas of  entertainment that we’re choosing to put right in front of us.

Hmm, on second thought, maybe the times haven’t changed all that much at all.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Summer

Take a bite?

Take a bite?

Summer is over and it’s time to look at where we are and where we’re headed.

Actually, the summer doesn’t officially end until the start of fall, which is technically the last week of September. But in the US, it always seems to end right after the Labor Day weekend.  And why not?  What better way to signal the end of fun than a holiday that salutes the worker (who presumably have at least been given some kind of summer vacation) and falls on the last long 3-day weekend of the most carefree of our seasons?

Of course, when I was younger and a student, summer’s end coincided with the start of the school term or fall semester.  Which now happens mid-August if you attend or teach college or, even if you’re still in elementary school in some places.  That also used to coincide with the beginning of the fall television season.  But don’t get me started on when that begins because there aren’t really small screen seasons anymore.  Just nights and weekends where you can fit in TV binge viewing.  My personal theory is that binge viewing might be linked to global warming since it seems to be particularly inspired by unseasonably hot or cold weather – an everyday occurrence these days.  Which begs the question of there even being any sort of seasons at all (certainly not in L.A.).

Still, we soldier on.  Because more than anything else Americans cling to some traditions that, by any rational standards, have long and forever outlived their usefulness.

That being the case, this seems like a good moment to take stock of what sins have been committed, and where we are and how we move forward into Fall – as opposed to free-fall – since certainly we here at notes don’t want to outlive whatever usefulness we currently retain in the world.

LUST: SEX AND THE SINGLE MILEY

sigh.

sigh.

Never has so much been made of so little.  That’s actually a quote famously appropriated by the late actor David Niven when a naked guy streaked across the stage at the 1974 Oscar ceremonies.   But it applies here.

Like any parent, we don’t like to see our kids grow up and become sexual.  But when exactly is grown up enough for sexuality to be employed when it’s your own kid?  16, 18, 20, 25…50…or never?   I’m not a parent but if I were I’d have to vote for never.

If you don’t know about (or have never seen) the MTV VMAs, here’s the problem – former tween star and now 20-year-old recording artist Miley Cyrus did a song and dance number of her hit tune “We Can’t Stop” at the Video Music Awards last week where she rolled her tongue around like a snake charmer, bumping, grinding and (get your urban dictionary out) twerking across the stage against or dangerously close to the crotch area of tall, hunky and rappy 36-year-old male singer Robin Thicke, who has cultivated the oily persona of a studly, very well-endowed lothario in his hit song “Blurred Lines.” The latter may or may not be true in life, but who am I to say? Entertainment Weekly this week famously called it all a “teddy bear orgy” but, then again, who am I to say or even re-appropriate that phrase?

The bigger issue is this: we Americans are pretty hung up about sex, aren’t we?  Yes, I’m purposely including myself in that because while I was watching the Miley/Thicke spectacle (which I then re-watched several times) I groaned, called it gross, and was generally turned off – wondering why Hannah Montana felt compelled to become a fifth rate version of a Sunset Blvd. stripper on national television and why a guy who is height-advantaged, considered hot and, okay, some sort of talented (and is married to the very talented and very hot actress Paula Patton) felt the need to carouse onstage in front of an international audience with a girl young enough to be his…stepdaughter?

As if that wasn’t threatening enough to me and Middle America, he was wearing dark shades and dressed like a high class (if there is such a thing) pimp in a tighter version of the black and white vertical striped pants I wore to one of my own high school dances in the seventies in order to make me look taller.

Just don't say his name 3 times!

Just don’t say his name 3 times!

Certainly that has nothing to do with his involvement with Miley, as a very successful female writer friend of mine argued.  She’s (Miley) of age, she was (or still is?) engaged to be married and isn’t a Disney star any longer.  Why the international headlines?  Why can’t women own who they are?  Why are sexy girls given the scarlet letter when sexy guys are given the term of…well….stud, or even young buck?  In other words, what’s Miley to do?

She has a point, I suppose.  But had the dance moves been a little better, the routine a little more clever, or the 36 year-old guy a little bit more of…well, something…it all might have been sort of funny.  It wasn’t.  Nor was it the end of the world.  At the very least it’s the beginning of a new one for Ms. Cyrus.  Stay tuned to wherever it’s headed.  Which, odds are, has to be up.

GREED: MIDDLE EAST WARS, SYRIA – NOT Syriana

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Unfortunately, we have a tendency in the summer to see events through the lens of a popcorn movie, preferably a sequel.  In our minds, this reduces even political atrocities like the current mass nerve-gassing of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Syria by a power-hungry dictator to the Oscar-winning George Clooney movie Syriana, which didn’t even take place in Syria and, in fact, wasn’t even released in the summer.

Sadly, the realities revealed in the real Syria these past few weeks seem to be signaling the involvement of the United States in yet another awful geo-political struggle in the Middle East.  This is seen as unavoidable in some form by both sides of the political spectrum and surely signals the end of a carefree summer.

It is doubtful, however, whether even the best civics teacher could explain the pros and cons of this extremely complicated situation in ways in which those of us just emerging from the summer of ’13 (that’s 2013) could reliably understand.  Try as they might on network news, or on CNN, MSNBC and FOX (let’s list them all together and be fair and balanced here), it’s still not happening for those of us not in the know of these things.  Which really means – all of us.

The best I’ve come across is an article in this weekend’s Washington Post.  It breaks down the pros and cons of US involvement in Syria and gives a basic understanding of the political situation there in general.  Think of it as – Syria For Dummies.

(Note:  This title in no way meant to diminish the tragic circumstances.  It’s simply the strategy of good teaching: to make something digestible, first reduce to its simplest form and then begin to add layers).

GLUTTONY: DOWNTON ABBEY & YOU

Someone close to me likened the hit PBS series Downton Abbey to crack in its purest form.   As a faithful follower, I know this is so.  However, as a life long culture vulture, I’m not quite sure why the lives of the aristocrats living in a countryside British castle at the turn of the 20th century along with the servants who love and, well, serve them has such a hold on its worldwide audience.  Perhaps because it’s so different than the world in which we live in today.  Though the writing, acting, directing and castle itself could have something to do with it.

In any event, the fourth season starts being broadcast in England sometime this month and is set in the roaring twenties.  It will also introduce race into the equation with its first Black cast member, a singer in the traditional of jazz great Cab Calloway played by acclaimed British actor Gary Carr.  I suspect this is not just novelty casting but will be used as a way to continue to tell the story of the vast cultural shifts of the times as the upstairs-downstairs way of living slowly begins to unravel.

Hellllloooo Gary!

Hellllloooo Gary!

It should be noted that my students have a particularly hard time with the social mores shown in period pieces even though they are historically accurate.  For instance, I’ve given up even mentioning either the book or movie version of Gone With The Wind in class since the Mammy character and the sashaying young black maid seems to take them out of a story quicker than the foot and a half sized cell phone you see in early 1980s American films.   Yes, I know – those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.  You try telling them that.

Finally, DA does not officially premiere in the US until January 2014.  That’s a shame.  Given how connected the world is via social media and the rest of the web, it’s very difficult to wait four months without spoilers to begin a series that is, admittedly, a street drug.  Of course, you can get someone you know in London to send you DVDs that come out midway to late in the fall season.  Or you can do it another….no, I am NOT advocating that!  Am I?  Well, as Will Ferrell once joked on SNL, ‘Maybe I am and…maybe I am…”  (Note to law enforcement:  That’s a joke).

SLOTH: LAZINESS AND THE MOVIES

Do you smell that?

Do you smell that?

Someone has to say it – 2013 has generally been a crap year for movies.  Sorry, it has.  There were a few of good films.  But nothing great or particularly unusual.  I’m leaving out Fruitvale Station because people I trust really like it and I haven’t seen it yet.  Though I very much enjoyed The Spectacular Now and Cate Blachett was wonderful in Blue Jasmine even if the film as a whole somehow disappoints (uh yes, that’s just my opinion).

Still, there’s hope.  What I’m hearing through sources is that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are great being weightless in GravityInside Llewyn Davis is a very cool movie from the very cool Coen Brothers and two actors who were different kinds of movie stars in the seventies will be up for Oscars in two other films.  They are Robert Redford in a practically one-man tour de force in JC Chandor’s All Is Lost and Bruce Dern (yes, he’s Laura’s Dad) as the difficult father in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. 

I want to see all of these and many others I haven’t heard anything about.  But just as much I want to see Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks, which tells the story of what happened when the writer of the Mary Poppins books, PL Travers, came to Hollywood and is finally convinced by Walt Disney to allow him to film her story.  Emma Thompson plays the writer and Tom Hanks plays Walt.  But that’s not why I care.  See, Mary Poppins was my favorite film as a child and I played the record endlessly on my little “victrola” (that’s what they called record players, sonny), at the turn of the century.

Do not write in and tell me you’re disappointed in me for wanting this film.  Or  — that I will be disappointed.  I know both already.

PRIDE: STRANGEST NEW FALL TV SEASON ENTRY

OK that's it.. I'm done.

OK that’s it.. I’m done.

I’m not going to belabor this.  Something called the DIY Network (it stands for Do It Yourself) is doing a reality show called Vanilla Ice Goes Amish.  In it, the king of nineties White Rap immerses himself in the Amish community to learn how they do construction work.  This will be an offshoot of the network’s current home renovation series, The Vanilla Ice Project.  And why not?  When I want to hear about how I break into the 2013 rap scene I’m going to call The Property Brothers.

ENVY: ME AND QUEEN JANE

Anyone who thinks 75 year-old actors have lost their looks, timing, talent and general star appeal need only watch Jane Fonda in the final scene of last week’s episode 7 of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.  In just under four minutes, Ms. Fonda gives a master class in creativity and craft.  Alternately dramatic, funny, coquettish and powerful, she plays each moment to the hilt without ever going over the top or calling attention to herself beyond the requirements of the scene.  That’s rare in television acting and even more rare in the movies these days.  Newsroom star Jeff Daniels put it best in a recent interview:  She comes in prepared and you just watch 2,000 Oscars and 1,000 nominations work.

PS – Ms. Fonda has given immense credit to Aaron Sorkin’s writing for her bravura appearances. But as any writer knows, tour de force scenes such as these can go horribly wrong, especially when you don’t have exactly the right person acting them.  See, cause it’s all made up.  Stay tuned.

WRATH:  IT’S HOT!!!

This summer, which has not yet ended, is best summed up by Krissy Chula’s YouTube video rant of several days ago.  Yes, it’s a little raw.  But so was Richard Pryor.  I’m not saying she’s a star.  Yet.  But the video has gone viral and will soon be nearing 1,000,000 views.

The humor, the rage, the weather – it all speaks to where we are now – maybe at this very moment.

Or maybe… we’re here: