It’s the new television season.
Television has always been a comfort zone for me – the equivalent of a soft, cushy chair (Note: Hee, hee) even when it’s dramatically tragic and making me think.
Of course, in a way, thinking is my comfort zone. Contemplating the fate of the world and trying to figure it all out may not always be reassuring, but excavating dark thoughts out into the open air – or page – at least frees them from doing further damage.
This is not to say experiencing the funny and absurd and entertaining is not an equally effective escape. It’s only to admit that both light and darkness do the job, albeit in different ways.
Lord (or whoever you deem your higher power to be) knows we need some escape right now.
One can’t write anything at the moment and ignore the Madness of our Crazy King Trump – the man who hate tweets the mayor of Puerto Rico as hundreds or perhaps thousands of her constituents are dying from lack of power, water and food. Her crime: begging the bureaucracy of what she still says is the greatest country in the world (that would be us – the U.S.) for not cutting through red tape fast enough in order to literally save her people.
Here was the immediate response of our Electoral College POTUS:
Sure, it did make me feel better. For like – a minute.
That is why we need television. Among so many other reasons.
So it was with hopeful anticipation that I tuned in for the newest diversions and deep thinking the small screen had to offer this past week and hit a few bright spots. The key phrase being: a few. There just isn’t enough deep thinking and diversion for my needs so far.
Still, let’s start with the good news.
Will and Grace didn’t disappoint and made me LOL. (Note: You all know what that means, right?) Any show that can more than a decade later once again start with the title characters slaying a game of celebrity to the tune of bon mots like:
Will: She’s….don’t get me started..
Grace: Jada-Pinkett Smith!!
Well, that’s the pop culture dessert for me. It didn’t hurt when that was followed by:
Will: We want to love her but she makes it impossible.
Grace: Caitlyn Jenner!!
Yes, there are the Trump jokes, the egocentric jabs at each others’ clear and many shortcomings and the exaggerated stereotypes of representation of almost anyone in its orbit. But somehow this show has always made us (me?) feel that it’s not only in on the joke but is itself actually the #1 target of all the bitchiness. I don’t care what the naysayers speak: A plus for making me scream out with joy for once this year. Aside from that night when…oh, never mind.
The Voice – Most of you know I’m a frustrated singer who can sort of carry a tune but could never call what comes out of my mouth singing. Yet if I could call it that and I could choose my voice it would sound exactly like new Voice judge Jennifer Hudson. Sure, that would be an odd sight and sound but what makes a great singer are those very oddities.
Adam Levine, Miley Cyrus and Blake Shelton are still there, the talent seemed particularly promising and the genius of those revolving chairs still work. And who knew Jennifer Hudson was not only a genius vocalist but so sassy, smart and daring? She only seemed just sort of sweet and cool when she was interviewed (Note: Which truly is enough on its own when you can…SING).
But anyone who can throw shoes at performers to tell them how much she loves them and give a white guy contestant demonstrably more vocal soul in an impromptu 60 second tutor fest is invited to my house at least twice a week for the next three months. At which time, I will have a modicum more soul and hopefully sound a little better.
The Deuce – I was fascinated by the NYC porn industry in the 1970s and not just because I was a teenager. There was something about its sleazy coolness and open arms of non-judgmental anything goes in an age where our institutions were anything but that – sparkled. Yes, sparkled.
I remember as a kid the glittering marquees near 42d St., the smiles from the hookers and pimps as you’d walk by who made you sort of feel like they were only serious to a point, and the tongue-in-cheek abandon many of its performers exhibited onscreen and in public that made it…well, sparkle. At least to this adolescent.
This show captures none of that, with the exception of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s fun and quite brilliant performance as Candy – the archetypal hooker with a sort of heart of gold. She manages to get the whole spirit of what’s going on while the rest of the cast and the writers and the directors seem caught in an imitative world of dreariness that begs to be seen as important. Maybe it’ll get better but, don’t dress. (Note: Get it?)
The return of This Is Us and How to Get Away With Murder
These are two of my favorite series and they couldn’t be more different. Still, they share one major plotline this season — the arc around THE BABY. In the latter it’s the who took my baby?!! (Note: Clearly, it’s not the dingo, though you wish it would or did) and in the former it’s we’re gonna adopt another baby whether you like it or not but…okay, maybe instead we’ll foster a teenager instead!!!
The problem with both these storylines is not that you and I don’t like babies – they’re okay. It’s that neither of them is truly in keeping with what these series are about. HTGAWM is not about the immediate fate of the toddler but what’s happened to the toddlers as adults. This is Us’ primary conceit centers on key moments in the lives of each of its three babies in childhood, adolescence and adulthood – but now they’re gonna give us a FOURTH kid?
Nevertheless, kudos to 93-year-old Cicely Tyson for making it look so easy to be that real and compelling on HTGAWM, and someone give Milo Ventimiglia a long heartfelt hug (Note: Me, again? Please?) for figuring out how to be the best version of the flawed father we all long for in our imaginary families.
Young Sheldon – As a smart kid with more than a few phobias I had to watch it. And after catching Jim Parsons promote it on Colbert as he spoke about his husband and what love can do for a gay man’s soul I really had to watch it – even if both young and adult Sheldon are not gay.
Let’s be kind – it’s not for me though the kid is cute and clever and very believable. And it wasn’t cause it took place in east Texas. It just feels like…it’s trying too hard? Why not let young Sheldon more fully fly his freak flag and have the humor come out of reality rather than attempts at zesty comic set-ups and payoffs. Then, even for non-Big Bang Theory fans, the show could have potential.
American Horror Story: Cult – Gosh, it’s ridiculous. But not solely in the AHS franchise way. How can a camp series be too ridiculous with such a cool idea as the horror of the Trump election? Well, let’s start with stunt casting.
Having Chaz Bono as a redneck store manager Trumpster who would rather saw his arm off than stay home on poll day, or Billy Eichner as a gay (bisexual?) trainer at a gym who would rather commit murder than move out of his house – makes you think only of how clever it is to have Chaz and Billy on AHS. Except it isn’t. Cause these storylines are just plain…dumb.
Evan Peters is great as the incarnation of a blue-haired Charles Manson-like nihilist and Sarah Paulson doesn’t know how to NOT be in the moment, as they teach you in acting class. But there is no actor great enough to sell the ludicrousness of the smiley-face versions of killer clowns running amuck in Red State America.
I fear this is why they hate us.
Full Disclaimer: No I have not yet watched Ken Burns’ 18-hour, 10 episode documentary The Vietnam War, which is on PBS and streaming and, I hear, is fantastic. Yes, I know all about the Nixon/Trump parallels but I just wasn’t ready for that much thinking this week. Soon, I will be, though. I think. Maybe.