Our Friends and Family

As Russia is just about to invade Ukraine, and the U.S. and its European allies are just about to retaliate by crippling Russia economically, and the combined fallout from those actions are just about to start the 21st century version of World War III, I spent my Friday night with my good friend Midge Maisel.

No, thank YOU!

Not only that, I plan to spend Sunday night with my new friend Sam, as played by the magnificently freaky Bridget Everett, and might even this week, if I have time and have to escape that badly, finally check in with my four-decade old frenemy Tammy Faye Baker via the unique metamorphosis of Jessica Chastain. 

Though I considered loving Lucy (and Desi) a second time if Nicole (and Javier) will have me (Note: As if THEY (or anyone else) have a say these days about ANYTHING I do).

I’m talking about the fourth season of The (indeed) MARVELOUS Mrs. Maisel, the new episodes of the first season of my fellow freaks on HBO’s Somebody Somewhere and the reverse of nostalgia (Note: Rage?) provided by the 2021 feature film I’ve thus far resisted, The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

You need this show in your life

Not to mention my favorite film (or is it streaming platformed movie) of 2021, Being The Ricardos, which didn’t get a best picture Oscar nomination but should have.

And no, I don’t care that you didn’t like it.  I was thoroughly and totally entertained.

As for Russia, F them and the Trump they rode in on.

We’re all here now, right?

I write all this to remind myself, and anyone within earshot (or brain-shot), that TV and movies, especially these days, are important.  

These people are our friends and family because too often our real family and friends are not to be had or enjoyed at the snap of our fingers.

Even if they are, who knows if they’re our 2022 definition of safe to be around without wearing a f’n mask?  

The good ones probably are but when this week we hear that the U.S. Surgeon General’s 4-year-old kid gave him and his wife and their other kid symptomatic COVID all bets are off about what’s safe.

I surrender!!!

Screw Bill Maher and the rest of his acolytes who are over masks.  Safe is safe and sometimes only a pre-selected and pre-screened handful of a virtual few can provide true comfort and joy in an age of duress.

Duress meaning not so much threats or pressure but looming and persistent international insanity.

It might seem strange that a gay male adult of advancing years such as myself could find pleasure in spending time in 1960.  But the brittle, sarcastic wit and survival skills of Midge Maisel reminds me of just how much I have survived and just how much I’ve used my humor, brittleness and sarcasm to get me through in the past.

Bonus hats! Bonus Milo Ventimiglia!

Plus, um, the clothes.  I couldn’t fit into them but there is something inspiring when you take the time to match your hat and shirt with the color of your wallpaper.  That kind of attention, that effort, well, it does make you believe that anything is possible if you can get yourself motivated enough.

As for Somebody Somewhere, it’s not like I’ve ever lived in, or even been to, small town Kansas.  I’m a New York City boy whose idea of exploring the heartland was the two years I spent in grad school and working in Chicago.  

Me? A country boy?

However, what Sam and her non-traditional cohort of friends point out to me in each edgy half-hour segment is just how small town everyone’s life truly is when you strip away the big buildings and your own ego.  

No amount of sophistication can diffuse the internal rage you inflict on yourself because of the actions of some friend, family member or acquaintance the kid version of yourself endured in the past.

Not to mention, it’s nice to remember that big can be just as small and equally as lethal if you don’t figure out a way to get over yourself and be honest and bold from this moment going forward.

But what the first season of this show helps remind me most is that no one, not any one person, can do this alone.  We like to think we’re one-man bands in survival and endurance, especially those of us who see ourselves as survivors.

Really makes you think about how talented Bert is.

Yet watching Ms. Everett and company I’m reminded that often it’s only when you stop pretending and admit that you’re at your absolutely crappiest in the presence of someone you’d normally never tell anything to, and certainly never deign to hang out with, that you learn anything valuable about yourself.

Meaning insanity IS doing the same thing (or person) over and over again but expecting different results. (Note:  Thanks Einstein and sorry for the parens).

I can’t explain why I am once again tempted to be in the presence of Tammy Faye since she and her then evangelical hubby remind me of many of the hypocritical bigoted, destructive and hateful forces that truly changed American society for the worst.

Poor Jessica with those eyelashes!

Not only do we still feel their effects today but understanding the personal foibles that caused them to create a movement that is still with us in an even more poisonous form somehow makes it all worse.  

Many of us got her, and them, then.  I mean, is it really that difficult to understand those were the actions of several deluded and damaged people?

But perhaps that’s exactly the reason to spend a few hours with her now. To remind ourselves (Note: Okay, myself) that it’s nice to understand but it’s even better to use that knowledge to move around, over and right damn, gub through them.

In order to diffuse the bomb you need to know what makes it tick, if you want to use World War lingo.

Which leaves us with Lucy (and Desi), who so many of us still love. 

Lucy forever!

I can count on one finger the number of TV characters from the fifties who have survived to this day.  And still make us laugh uproariously.  And are still loveable.

One. 

Finger.

This provides me, and you, with perhaps the greatest gift of all.  

To know that survival is, indeed, possible.  Especially if you are able to laugh at yourself and the world as it quickly unfolds, and sometimes upends, all around you.

I Love Lucy Theme

Loving the Ricardos

I’m a college professor and a writer so no matter how hard of a professional day I have, let’s face it, I’m not working in the mines. 

Please don’t share that with my college’s senior leadership team or any producer, director or editor I might work with in the future.

Even though deep down they know the same applies to them.

#WriterLife

Nevertheless, it’s hell out there these days, isn’t it?  Or some human replica of what we imagine it to be.   

In a few weeks we’ll be going into our third calendar year of the COVID pandemic.  Though three doses of either a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (Note: The third being your all important booster shot) can pretty much ensure you of not dying, becoming hospitalized or even seriously ill with this potential demon only 30% of the country have so far been boosted.

Don’t ask me why, that’s way above my pay grade.  Though if you press me I’ll say stupidity, stubbornness and willful ignorance, not necessarily in that order.

Yes, Grandma, they are.

To give you an idea of how infectious the new Omicron variant is, New York State set a record of 21,027 new cases on Thursday, the single HIGHEST number since this all began almost three calendar years ago.  (Note: Didn’t I just bring up those THREE calendar years?  Well, I’m doing it again).

There are all kinds of other statistics but perhaps none as sobering as almost 5.4 million deaths worldwide, including 805,000 in the U.S.  The numbers continue to go up and if you continue to be unvaccinated know hell is no longer just waiting for you outside your door but finding better and more clever ways to vaporize itself beneath it and into your system even as I write.

Just call him Omicron

This is why everyone needs to do TWO things this Christmas season.

#1 – GET YOUR F’N VACCINE.

And —

#2 – Watch BEING THE RICARDOS either at the movie theatre wearing a mask, or at home on Amazon beginning Tuesday, Dec. 21st.

You didn’t think we were going down that road, did you?

Wait, really?

But we are taking that turn because you and I and everyone we know is tired of talking about COVID and all of the things we can’t, shouldn’t or should do.  In fact, we’re going out of our f’n minds doing so.

Broadway is closing down left and right, local theatre the same.  Sporting events are getting cancelled or postponed and if you’re going to be attending a music concert in these winter months inside, good luck to you.

No, seriously, good luck.  You’ll need it.

Best wishes from Katniss

However, the one thing we can do is sit at home and partake in that age-old American tradition of watching a movie. 

The entertainment industry is trying to get us all to go out but, with infection numbers spiking so much in just two weeks PRIOR to Christmas, it’s getting more and more unlikely there is going to be a rush to anything at your local theatres.

EXCEPT for the new Spiderman: No Way Home, which broke box office records this weekend because we live in a sick world where the idea of watching a superhero is far more appealing to the American public than actually being one in real life by getting a f’n vaccine.

I mean he is so cute

But if you are actually an adult tired of all that, or a kid or adult like me who was never into superheroes (Note: Except the campy 1960s TV series Batman, which really doesn’t count because Tallulah Bankhead, Eartha Kitt, Victor Buono and Caesar Romero as super villains is too good to turn down), Being The Ricardos will momentary take your mind off of it all.

Not that writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s smart, fast-talking and clever take on the private and professional lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz – or as we still know them, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo of I Love Lucy fame- isn’t both super and heroic in its own way.

Super Lucy!

In fact, it is at times both serious and affecting.  But it is also always entertaining, thoroughly watchable and a marvel.  The latter is because somehow Mr. Sorkin has managed to throw us back into the 1950s via what is probably the most famous television series in history and yet somehow not get swallowed up by the legend of it all.

He’s is helped greatly by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem, who so manage to evoke the spirits of Lucy and Desi onscreen that it’s as if you’re eavesdropping on the better, mover clever version of every conversation, seduction and argument they’d tried to ever have but likely never literally ever had.

Thanks for the rave review!

This is what writing teachers and critics and writers like myself preach when we say that the work should evoke real life without ever literally being real life. 

This is because real life doesn’t happen in three-act structure and can often have endless deadly dull moments in the space of two hours. 

Films, on the other hand, can use those two hours to tell the story of a year, a month, or – in the case of Being the Ricardos – a key week in your life.  And they can do this by showcasing the spirit of your truth in a much more entertaining way than a bunch of cinema verite home movies that you personally shot or even lived could ever hope to do.

Get Back shade?

Movies, at their best, can capture the magic we know sometimes happens in life, with all the good and bad our humanity offers.  And with the right combination of artists and technicians they can also harness all that passion and verve we humans get to experience in a way that reminds us of who we are in those times, at times like these, where it’s easy to forget.

It helps that I Love Lucy still cracks me up and was one of my favorite shows as a kid.  But that’s not truly why I’m on the Ricardo/Sorkin soapbox at the moment.

No one like her!

It’s because for two hours the creative team behind this film made me forget how absolutely screwed up everything is at the moment by telling me a story about a fictional week in the lives of a couple of Americans where absolutely everything was also screwed up for them.

Yeah, it was literally quite different.  But screwed up is screwed up.

AND it made me laugh, forget and finally feel something other than COVID-stark raving madness while doing it.

Just in time for Christmas!

If that’s not the best holiday present you can give yourself in the next two weeks, I got nothin’ else.

But know you certainly won’t get it from The Power of the Dog, despite what every major film critics association want you to believe and labor with.

Meow.

But I’m right.

Being the Ricardos Trailer