The Chair’s 10 Best of 2014

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Of course 10 best lists are bogus. After all, what exactly is “best?” Even the first dictionary definition itself can’t decide. It states:

BEST

  1. 
of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality.

I don’t know about you but I find there is a hell of a lot of difference between excellent, effective and desirable. In fact, the moments in my life I can remember being at my most desirable in no way made me the most excellent person in the room – especially when that number was two. Truth be told and given what usually prompts human desire, I’d actually argue that the exact opposite was true.

I can recall once or twice being so excellent at something that it is hard to imagine someone wouldn’t have found me equally desirable. But wait, let’s forget that. If you’ve been in the presence of any writer at his or her most excellent you’d know it’s not a pretty sight. Hair askew, loved ones, friends and usually hygiene totally ignored. Not to mention common courtesy. Meaning – don’t even THINK about interrupting, much less BREATHING, because I will KILL YOU. Or worse, BLAME YOU for stopping the flow. Not to mention what the world will do to you if any more of this genius is lost from its most excellent source – Me.

I have no idea what you're talking about Chairy

I have no idea what you’re talking about Chairy

Finally, we’re left with effective and nothing about the word effective comes close to evoking best. Michael Bay is probably one of the most effective filmmakers to ever work in contemporary Hollywood but, uh – best? Well, you see how words deceive. And yes, he can take it. He married us for it. Which only proves that Edward Albee is the all-time best.

Here then in no particular order are my 10 best of the year. I define best as jarring, original, memorable and cool – to me. There is nothing scientific about it. It’s a purely subjective list. As are all those that deal in bests.

FILM: Birdman and Boyhood

Looking up

Looking up

No one except a few film critics, most of whom do not partake fully in life because they don’t have the time, have seen every film in any given year. But at least I see a lot. And I say these two stand above and beyond the pack for different reasons.

In the case of Boyhood, the feat of shooting a film with the same actors aging over a 12 year period, rewriting as you go, and emerging with anything coherent – much less emotionally affecting – is nothing but the best. It takes drive, focus and talent. Richard Linklater has always been an interesting and adept filmmaker but in this case he’s managed to circumvent the Hollywood system with a truly original approach to a universal story. Anyone can pick apart the movie’s faults, but no one in the narrative commercial world has had the nerve to take a path this original lately. In 2014, that’s my equivalent of the B word.

Birdman has stayed with me for months and I’m not quite sure why. I liked the film yet in teaching screenwriting have certainly been one of those jerks to – yes – pick it apart. Still, there is something about watching Michael Keaton, a former megastar of the eighties who my college age students now barely know, play an outlandish version of his public persona so heartbreakingly that it makes me occasionally want to weep. Yes, weep. I’m not a total cynic. This is a project that for all of its faults could have gone horribly wrong. Credit director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, another fearless chance taker, and a cast of actors working at the top of their game, for keeping the high wire act alive more times than not to its pretty thrilling results.

THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE: Malala

Yes, you are

Yes, you are

You’re a smart teenage girl from Pakistan who got shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out for other girls and their education. You then endure a bunch of surgeries and manage to not only survive but to continue to speak your mind as you gain intelligence and, well, even more nerve (Note: As if that’s possible). Then several weeks ago, these same Taliban types shoot up a school and kill 141 people, mostly children, and you still continue to speak out. Not with speechifying anger but with calm wisdom and directness. This is why you win the Nobel Peace Prize before you are old enough to vote. And how the world begins to slowly change.

AMERICAN POLITICS: Elizabeth Warren

America's truthteller

America’s truthteller

Let’s have a show of hands – how many of you are still pissed off at the big banks and Wall Street but don’t know what to say or do about it? Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) does. This time she might have been unable to stop Congress from passing a bill several weeks ago that will once again deregulate Wall Street and allow major banks to engage in the kind of risky investments that almost brought down the economy more than six years ago, but that doesn’t mean she will the next time. She’s like the best and smartest teacher in school that you always remember because she was able to take a subject you never could understand and present it in a way that not only made it clear but made you became engaged. The reason for that is that for years she actually did teach at Harvard and innately understands how to simplify unnecessarily complicated principles to undergraduates – meaning the rest of us. Like all the best academics I have ever met, now Sen. Warren doesn’t fall for the fancy linguistic tricks or ill-conceived arguments the establishment class in her field consistently tries to pass off as absolute truth. She questions so we, in turn, learn to question. This is why she probably always gets high evals at the end of every year.

POP CULTURE LOSSES: Joan Rivers, Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman 

Gone but not forgotten

Gone but not forgotten

This is not the best but the WORST. Still, it needs to be included because of the ripple effect their deaths seemed to have had across the world. Doing great work in the field of entertainment puts you in public view and when you do it over a long period of time the world feels as if they really knew you and mourns accordingly. And perhaps we all did know them – at least partially. It’s an element of what made them all such outstanding artists.

Still, it is quite odd for three such unexpected celebrity deaths to occur in such a relatively short period of time by less than natural means. Flip the channels on television or the peruse the shelves of a film DVD library and you can’t help but run into these three and marvel at the talent as you simultaneously consider the sudden loss.   JR was in her early eighties, RW was in his early 60s and PSH was in his late forties. Yet in their own very individual ways they each were among the very best at what they did. Which is all any of us can hope for at any given moment in time.

TELEVISION: Lisa Kudrow and HBO’s The Comeback

Oh how we "cherish" you (sorry, couldn't help myself)

Oh how we “cherish” you (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

There is nothing currently on television that evokes the humor, pathos and general uneasy brilliant comic drama that Lisa Kudrow brings to her portrayal of actress/reality star Valerie Cherish on HBO’s The Comeback. And when I say nothing I mean her performance is unlike anything I (or you) have ever seen on TV (nee HBO) or pretty much anywhere.

This series has returned ten years after being cancelled after only running a year the first time around. That alone is remarkable. But nothing prepares you for the eight episode arc of the new season as you watch Valerie/Lisa endure the indignities of rising towards the top of a profession that often leaves little room for any real dignity (Note: How may professions do?). Or maybe she just chooses wrong. (Note: Who doesn’t sometimes?). Whatever the reason, she is simultaneously the underdog and her own worst enemy and it’s sad, recognizable, funny and uncomfortably cringe-worthy. Most of all – it’s real.

I will miss Valerie Cherish for everything she is and everything she is not. If you haven’t tuned in, do so. And for god sakes, given Lisa/Valerie the Emmy.

MEDICINE: Ebola Nurse Kaci Hickox

You ride that bike, girl.

You ride that bike, girl.

What can you say about a nurse who goes voluntarily to Africa to fight a deadly disease, returns to the US where she is put into mandatory quarantine by New Jersey governor Chris Christie (even though she showed no symptoms and did not test positive for the virus) and then publicly stands up to said well-known political bully without cursing him out or punching him in the face? That she’s my kind of gal? Needless to say.

If ever there was a face I wanted to punch...

If ever there was a face I wanted to punch…

For those who don’t recall, Gov. Christie insisted on quarantine for Nurse Hickox in a makeshift tent when she returned to the U.S., which caused her to go public and take a stand against the governor by defying his quarantine and returning home to Maine. She did all this with calm determination and the backing of medical facts despite the hysterical witch-hunts and political grandstanding that began swirling around her.

Then once she got to Maine, she and her boyfriend dared to take a bike ride while being hounded by a gaggle of media. And remain polite and calm. I shudder to think what I would have said. #GetChristieNoLove

MUSIC: Annie Lennox, Nostalgia

Click Play. Repeat. Click Play. Repeat.

Click Play. Repeat. Click Play. Repeat.

In the 1980s, Annie Lennox was the lead singer of The Eurythmics and known for huge hit records like Would I Lie To You. Once I saw her in concert where she leaned so far into the stage on one foot with her mic that I thought she’d fall over as she hit a note so raw and pitch perfect that you could hear an audible gasp throughout the entire concert hall. Some years later she went on her own and won a Grammy Award for best pop vocal for No More I Love Yous from her second solo album Medusa. She followed that with an Oscar some years after that for best original song, Into the West, from the last of the first three Lord of the Rings movies.

All that being said, it should come as no surprise that for me the best CD/download/album or whatever you want to call it of the year is hers. In Nostalgia she takes classics like I Put A Spell On You, You Belong To Me, Georgia on My Mind and Billie Holliday’s haunting song of the lynching of Black men in the Deep South, Strange Fruit, and presents them all in stripped down versions unlike anyone you have ever heard before. There are so few true real artists these days with worldwide commercial success. She’s one.

APP: Aaron Paul’s YB

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For free or by paying 99 cents for a more advanced version, you can download an app where actor Aaron Paul’s resonant baritone speaks phrases like Yo, bitch or Happy Holidays, Bitch or See ya, Bitch any time you want. Yes, I find this exciting.

See, when Breaking Bad ended its series run we also lost Paul’s Jessie Pinkman, the dumb as a fox crystal meth-cooking sidekick whose signature phrase, Yo Bitch, became a national obsession. A multiple Emmy winner and fan favorite, Paul raised almost $2 million for his wife’s charity, Kind Campaign, which helps young women in need, with a series of contests and giveaways that coincided with the final season. But after being stopped on the street, emailed and tweeted by thousands of people imploring him to curse them out with variations of his signature phrase he gave in and decided to generate some cash with it – for charity and, hopefully, for himself. Because even cursing people out loses its thrill after a while – and especially when they ask you to.

SOCIAL ACTIVITY: Protests 

Sad realities

Sad realities

The consecutive deaths of too many young Black males in the last year in numerous states by law enforcement has created both spontaneous and planned nationwide protests across the country. In the moment it feels as if this is doing nothing but letting off steam yet through the lens of history one can clearly see this is the American way to social justice and evolution.

I would not have thought this was quite true decades ago. But having been born at a time when the civil rights movement first began taking hold, and then living through the Vietnam War, Kent State, women’s rights, gay rights, AIDS, homelessness, nuclear proliferation and marriage equality, I’ve seen how it works. Societal shifts are only fueled through provocateurs that have a real and righteous point about injustice. Therefore it’s our job to take it to the streets, talk about it, write about it or even just write a check in order to make something happen. It moves at a snail’s pace but things ultimately evolve when we don’t give in or give up. #ICantBreathe.

NEWBORN BABY: Sam Van Buren

Forget Joe Cool.. meet Sam Cool

Forget Joe Cool.. meet Sam Cool

Who is Sam Van Buren, you might ask? Well, the coolest, snappiest and best-dressed baby I’ve ever seen – who happens to be the firstborn of my blog cohort and dear friend Holly Van Buren and her husband Michael.

Holly chooses the images and writes the captions for Notes and it might surprise you to know that she literally gave birth two months ago without missing a single week of choosing images, tagging and posting the blog. How is she able to do this along with everything else she is responsible for in her life – I HAVE NO IDEA!!   

It helps when Sam the Man looks like this...

It helps when Sam looks like this…

Sam the Man, as I call him, takes great photos because he is able to both smile and come off as a hipster all at the same time. Again, I have no idea how to do this. But it does give me hope that one day as he gets older he might teach me. That is if I am not too old. Do not say – too late.

GQ baby of the year

GQ baby of the year

For myself, Holly and our marketing director Samantha Rabstein – who has a few surprises in store for 2015 – that’s all he wrote. In 2014, that is.

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Life and Death

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Important note before reading this week’s entry:

Brittany Maynard, one of the two subjects of this blog, chose to end her life on Saturday at her home in Portland.  Little did I know that the day I was writing this entry, she was taking the very action she had fought so publicly for.  Rather than edit  what I have written to focus on her death, I think the better way to honor Brittany’s bravery is to leave the words intact and focus on the positive examples both Brittany and Nurse Kaci Hickox, still alive and well in Maine, are providing to the world – not to mention our 24/7 news cycle.

Ok – now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

No one wants to get Ebola because no one wants to die. Well, most of us that is. But on the opposite ends of the country two very different yet quite similar young women this week helped lead the way in our continuing understanding of life, death and all of the messy stuff in between.

In Maine, we have a 32-year-old nurse named Kaci Hickox and in Portland, Oregon, at least for now, there is 29-year-old newlywed Brittany Maynard. Both want to continue their lives the way they choose. It’s just that in the case of Brittany, who has advanced Stage Four brain cancer, that means having the freedom to decide when to die. And with Kaci, who recently returned from West Africa after caring for a 10-year-old girl dying alone of Ebola, it’s simply about the freedom to ride her bike in the woods rather than endure quarantine in a makeshift New Jersey medical tent sans plumbing or at an undisclosed government chosen hospital somewhere inside the Pine Tree state.

I know a good place to hide away

I know a good place to hide away

I refer to each of these young women by their first names. Which only seems fair since they have also chosen to let us get to know them in unusually intimate ways. Also, since it makes them feel more like real people rather than merely names in the news, and being I admire them both greatly, well – I figured it’s the least I could do.

Ebola, ebola, ebola, ebola, ebola. Something about the way it sounds even feels dangerous, doesn’t it? Or at the very least exotic or unknown. Which most certainly makes it scary. Well, any disease that can kill you is frightening, especially when you didn’t ask for it or even put yourself at risk for it. Not that the latter matters. Or does it? I mean, no one made Kaci go to Eboland, right? Why should the rest of us have to suffer for her nobility?

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Let’s get something straight about science – medical, environmental or otherwise. It is, all of it, based on facts as we know them at the time. For instance, I could have told you with all certainly that the world was flat several thousand years ago and pretty much you would have taken it for granted as true. However, all these centuries later it has been proven time and again that we live in a round world so what is true changed based on research. Is it then possible 500 years from now science will shift and prove the world is really shaped like a question mark? Well, of course anything is POSSIBLE but it hardly seems likely based on what we have learned over the last 2500 years. Although given the popularity of absolutist thinking lately, I do fear for the extinction of question marks of any kind.

The overwhelming consensus in the scientific community at the moment on Ebola is that it is a virus that is transmitted from one human to another through direct contact (broken skin/eyes, nose or mouth) with bloody or bodily fluids (urine, saliva, sweat, vomit, feces, breast milk, semen) with a person who is actively sick or through objects like syringes and needles. It is not airborne unless a current Ebola patient who is actively ill and who has a fever pries open your mouth and spits (or does worse) directly into it.

Ewwwww

Ewwwww

Many Republican conservatives have voiced the perils of those with the Ebola virus riding the subway or bus systems and randomly infecting the rest of us innocents just because they were too careless to stay home. Certainly, that is even what the scared, poor old bleeding heart liberal me at first thought until I took off my hypochondria hat and considered – when was the last time anyone threw up, bled or deposited their semen directly into my nose or mouth on the bus or subway? I suppose they could sneeze into my mouth or nose if I didn’t watch myself but they’d have to be actively sick and sweating with a high fever and I don’t tend to sit or even stand directly next to those people in public places, given the kind of weirdo I am. Plus, there is always Purell.

I really don't look good in yellow

I really don’t look good in yellow

Unfortunately, I remember this type of panic exactly three decades ago around a disease called AIDS. I also recall as if it were yesterday the now 20 plus years dead but then 13 year old boy named Ryan White who was thrown out of his school by alarmists for being HIV positive even as he lived six more years to infect no one. Not to mention Conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. going on TV at the time and suggesting young dying gay men and IV drug users in New York, and presumably very young boys like Ryan White elsewhere, be tattooed and quarantined – sort of the way they were in Nazi Germany 40 years before that. Lovely.

If that sounds as if I’m being unfair, I am not. Yes, of course I am biased. But in this case, I am simply reporting on the facts at that time. Just like you can’t un-infect yourself from a virus you can’t change the reality of the past three or ten decades later simply because it is embarrassing. Of course, you can cure a virus with knowledge the scientific community has uncovered. Much in the way you can re-educate yourself and change your way of thinking to something a bit more rational and factual. That is if you choose to do so.

Which brings us to Brittany Maynard.

Happier times

Happier times

Here is a vibrant young California woman who was just married and by all accounts smart, happy and active, diagnosed in the late stages of a lethal brain tumor that will end her life with a barrage of unrelenting headaches, a loss of motor skills and certain death in less than a year. Numerous doctors told her that her case is accelerating rapidly and that not only is there no cure but little respite they can promise her from an extremely painful and severely mentally debilitating decline.

After some thought and consultation with her doctors and loved ones, Brittany made the decision that was right for her and she and her husband moved to Oregon where euthanasia is legal. What that means is a doctor can legally prescribe Brittany a small lethal dose of pills and, if she choses to take them, can end her life in a manner of minutes privately and painlessly.   Now that wouldn’t seem to be all that controversial, would it?

Well, it turns out that it is and that even with a debilitating brain tumor Brittany was smart enough to be one step ahead of all the protestors. So she decided to post an online video explaining her decision at some length, which, to her and everyone else’s surprise, quickly went viral and has now received over 6 million hits. Wow. That’s a lot of interest. Makes you even think some of those people actually realize that they too, like Brittany, just might be faced with a similar end of life decision at some point in their lives where they just might want to explore a similar option.

Well, that would be quite cowardly, or at least not brave, according to a 30 year-old man with a brain tumor named Phillip Johnson. A Catholic seminarian from the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C. who six years ago was diagnosed with a similar though not entirely identical brain tumor, Phillip came out quite vehemently and quite publicly against Brittany’s own end of life choices in a widely read though not quite as viral article 10 days ago. Here are just a few excerpts:

Suffering is not worthless, and our lives are not our own to take.  As humans we are relational – we relate to one another and the actions of one person affects others.  Sadly, the concept of “redemptive suffering” – that human suffering united to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross for our salvation can benefit others – has often been ignored or lost in modern times. 

There is a card on Brittany’s website asking for signatures “to support her bravery in this very tough time.”  I agree that her time is tough, but her decision is anything but brave.  I do feel for her and understand her difficult situation, but no diagnosis warrants suicide.

I will continue to pray for Brittany as she deals with her illness, as I know exactly what she is going through.

Gee Phil, and I thought only God himself (or herself) can only really know all the true experiences of all the men, women and beasts in the world.

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I try not to write much about religion unless it has to do with fundamentalists who are determined to bring their way of thinking into the mainstream and that is only because they leave no room for any dissenting thought. Whether it’s done for selfish dogmatic reasons or in the name of a loving God whose word you are determined to spread because part of your religion, you believe, makes it your mission, it’s never proper to order others to adhere to your way of life en masse or judge them harshly as long as they are not hurting anyone else. Still, it does puzzle me why anyone would go out of their way to so publicly object to how a terminally ill patient chooses to end their life and why that anyone would do it in the name of God. As a NY Jew who for 27 years has lived with an Italian Catholic who did quite well as a boy in Catholic school, I’m here to tell you that even God wouldn’t like it. To wit: here’s the one Bible passage my former altar boy taught me that I can actually remember.

John 8:7: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

In the name of Brittany, take that, Phil. Not that she needs my help – at least not on that score.

As for me, I choose to think about it this way. I’m not going to use Kaci for a blood transfusion or a bedmate but I would be happy to hug her in thanks for the selfless way she chose to fight a deadly virus at its source. Not to mention, if she were in town I’d happily invite her over to my home for dinner and an evening of crazy 8s. I’d do the same for Brittany if she were well enough to travel or had the strength to have me over. Though perhaps I would give her a blood transfusion if she needed it. Which might not happen since because of AIDS gay men are still forbidden from donating blood to non-family members and most certainly to those we don’t know. We are all, each and every one of us gay guys, in the high-risk category despite our HIV statuses. Yup, there are some things we as a society still just don’t grow from. But perhaps one day we will. In time. How fortunate for those of us who still have that luxury, and for those who decide to fight for it.

Manic Emmy Monday

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The Emmy Awards broadcast has been moved to Monday instead of Sunday night this year so as not to have to compete with football???   Great. We’re already pissed off. And admit it, so are you. With that being the case let’s get back at the people who invited you to predict the winners for their damned Emmy pool begin with. Let’s win this thing.

The pitfalls: For some reason, the Emmys are the trickiest of all the awards shows to predict. Is it the blue ribbon panels? Or just because in this much lauded new golden decade of television there are a wealth of riches? Neither. It’s just ALWAYS been a minefield. Individual episodes, scenes and clips are watched by various groups to many varied effects. And there are sooo many categories!!! (Note: To be said with a whine). Soooooo. Mannnnny. Categor-iiieeeeeeeeeesssss. Boy, are these #FirstWorldProblems.

Still, none of this prevents us from handing out our free predictions or getting on the inevitably indignant soapbox if even one of our perceived deserving recipients does not emerge victorious. Yes, it’s on. Consider yourself served, Emmy-ly. You unpredictably elusive hag, you.

Preach Tina!

Preach Tina!

Feel free to consult any of these below for the requisite awards pool you might be pressured to participate in on Monday night that we have already decided you will win with our help. But remember – just as William Goldman once said about the film industry – Nobody knows anything – the same pretty much goes here. Though, well – we do have our favorites and we have noticed a few (non-test) Patterns.

Outstanding Lead Actor, Drama

All hail Heisenberg

All hail Heisenberg

The Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Woody Harrelson (True Detective), Matthew McConaughey (True Detective), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)

Winner:  Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)

The last awards run for Walter White’s alter ego. He IS the danger.

Loser: Matthew McConaughey (True Detective)

All right, all right, all right, he’s on awards fire. But do enough Emmy voters want to see him do another speech after he compared himself to Jesus at the Oscars? We think not. That said we here at NFAC are true MM fans and were amazed at the depth and intensity he brought to True Detective. But this is about who will be voted the winner. Both he and fellow cast mate Woody Harrelson will split what might have been one winning entry.

As for the rest in the field, they are all potential winners in another year but not this time out. Yes, we’re talking to you, Hammboat.

DId someone say Jon Hamm boat?

Did someone say Jon Hamm boat?

Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama

I solemnly sweat to take this Emmy home

I solemnly sweat to take this Emmy home

The Nominees: Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Claire Danes (Homeland), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Robin Wright (House of Cards)

Winner:  Claire Danes (Homeland)

You try playing a bipolar CIA double trouble agent convincingly and then get back to us. This past season was perhaps not as stellar but Danes’ Carrie was in as great a form as ever.

Loser: Robin Wright (House of Cards)

Who knew years after winning America’s heart as the love of Forrest Gump’s life that RW could play such a fascinating, duplicitous….and we’re not revealing any more. She’s won the reviews but will likely not get the pointy statuette. Some think Kerry Washington will for the network water cooler show of the year – Scandal. But we’re not one of them.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Drama

One last chance at glory

One last chance at glory

The Nominees: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Josh Charles (The Good Wife), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland), Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)

Winner:  Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

This is our final chance to say it: He’s gotta win — BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Loser: Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)

We admit that it is probably more likely that Mr. Voight will walk away with the Emmy this year for his in your face, annoying portrait of the crazed former/present mobster from hell father. But he made us quit Ray Donovan after the first season because we couldn’t take watching that character one moment longer. So he will not be voted onstage in our survey. Bitch. The rest of the guys will get another chance, except for Josh Charles. But he wasn’t going to win, anyway. Bitch.  #bitchbitchbitchbitchbitch.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama

Bringing us to our knees

Bringing us to our knees

The Nominees: Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey)

Winner: Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)

After suffering through the trials and tribulations of Walter White for what must have felt like twelve eternities, Ms. Gunn’s Skyler deserves the Emmy for her final hurrah. And her last season was probably her best. She wins for the second year in a row – in a walk.

Loser:  No one really comes in a close second. Except – uh, no. No one.

Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy

You can't help but love this guy

You can’t help but love this guy

The Nominees: Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Ricky Gervais (Derek), Matt LeBlanc (Episodes), Don Cheadle (House of Lies), Louis C.K. (Louie), William H. Macy (Shameless)

Winner:  Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory)

Surprised? Don’t be. He’s won three times and last year he was denied by Jon Cryer in Two and a Half Men. They love to award commercial success in this category but only if the actor is really great in the role. The rest of the guys all shine but all do various versions of comedy/drama.

Loser: William H. Macy (Shameless) is now competing in the comedy category in this role for the first time. He might be a spoiler. But don’t bank on it.

Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy

There's hope for Knope

There’s hope for Knope

The Nominees: Lena Dunham (Girls), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly), Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation), Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black)

Winner: Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

Who doesn’t want to see her win for the first time and give a kick ass speech? Plus, does Julia Louis-Dreyfuss even want to get up there again and figure out a way to be humble for the umpteenth time?

Loser:  We at NFAC think Lena Dunham is giving the most original, gutsy, unvarnished performance in all of TV land. She deserves the Emmy but, well, life isn’t always fair – as she and Hannah Horvath would likely agree.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Comedy

He's good... and he knows it.

He’s good… and he knows it.

The Nominees: Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine Nine), Adam Driver (Girls), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Ty Burrell (Modern Family), Fred Armisen (Portlandia), Tony Hale (Veep)

Winner: Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine Nine)

He’s really funny and anchors every episode in whatever believability it has. Watch the show and try to disagree.

Loser: Everyone else. And for all the Adam Driver fans – us included – yeah, he deserves it but his career is gonna be so stratospheric you’ll look at this minor glitch in the road one day and laugh that you even cared.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Comedy

Emmy royalty

Emmy royalty

The Nominees: Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Allison Janney (Mom), Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black), Kate McKinnon (SNL), Anna Chlumsky (Veep)

Winner: Allison Janney (Mom)

How many Emmy’s has she been awarded? Well, already one this year for her guest spot on Masters of Sex. And approximately 17 more for West Wing. This will be another.   It’s tough to make an alcoholic mom believable in the half hour format – very tough. She pulls stuff like this off – which is why she gives so many speeches on TV in the first place.

Loser: Everyone else in terms of this Emmy. Though we do wish that SNL’s Kate McKinnon could pull an upset. That poor Russian lady she does on Weekend Update was one of the show’s highlights this year.

In my country, you can trade Emmy for many goats

In my country, you can trade Emmy for many goats

Outstanding Writing, Drama

The Nominees: Breaking Bad “Ozymandias” (AMC), Breaking Bad “Felina” (AMC), Game of Thrones “The Children” (HBO), House of Cards “Chapter 14” (Netflix), True Detective “The Secret Fate of All Life” (HBO)

Winner: Breaking Bad “Felina”

We can’t help feel that one of the best series finale in recent memory (or ever) has to win best writing. Doesn’t it?

Farewell you crazy bastard

Farewell you crazy bastard

Loser: All of the others. But they were still excellent. Well, what else do you expect a writer who respects good writing to say?

Outstanding Writing, Comedy

The Nominees: Episodes “Episode 305” (HBO), Louie “So Did The Fat Lady” (FX), Orange is the New Black “I Wasn’t Ready (Pilot)” (Netflix), Silicon Valley “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency (HBO), Veep “Special Relationship” (HBO)

Winner:  Orange is the New Black (Pilot)

It’s got the buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Also, it feels as if this is the sure thing category to award what has become one of the new cultural TV touchstones of the moment – from Netflix. Or do we exaggerate?

Memories of binges past

Memories of binges past

Loser: No writers who get screen credit on series television are losers, fool. #Residuals.

 Outstanding Miniseries

Dontchaknow

Dontchaknow

The Nominees: American Horror Story: Coven (FX), Bonnie and Clyde (Lifetime), Fargo (FX), Luther (BBC America), Treme (HBO), The White Queen (Starz)

Winner:  Fargo (FX)

We have to admit we have barely watched but our spies tell us it’s a shoe-in. Plus, everyone loves a Billy Bob villain.

Loser: American Horror Story. It will have to be satisfied with the fact that it is THE most consistently entertaining show on TV.   #KathyBatesAngelaBassettJessicaLange?

Outstanding Television Movie

Emmy darling

Emmy darling

The Nominees: Killing Kennedy (National Geographic), Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight (HBO), The Normal Heart (HBO), Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS), The Trip to the Bountiful (Lifetime)

Winner: The Normal Heart (HBO)

Every gay man in America will bitch out the Emmys if this does not happen. And no one in the television academy wants to have to deal with that.

Loser: They all lose because this is THE LOCK of the evening.

Outstanding Variety Series

Does he really need to take over for Dave?

Does he really need to take over for Dave?

The Nominees: The Colbert Report (Comedy Central), The Daily Show (Comedy Central), Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC), Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO), Saturday Night Live (NBC), The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC)

Winner:  The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)

He makes what’s so tough seem soooo easy. Plus, it’s Stephen’s last time before he goes from the small to the big stage? Or is it the other way around?

Loser: Can we or thee really call any of those other guys and shows losers? Think about it a minute or two more.

Outstanding Comedy

Girlz Rule

Girlz Rule

The Nominees: The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Louie (FX), Modern Family (ABC), Orange is the New Black (Netflix), Silicon Valley (HBO), Veep (HBO)

Winner: Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)

It’s really not the best comedy on television but it’s got that thing going for it. You know that thing — the spotlight. Now it is possible voters might want to go for a true comedy, as they sometimes do here. In that case, your guess is as good as ours.

Loser: Louie (FX).

He’s an original and there are so few. As for Big Bang Theory – it has never won the best comedy series Emmy award because as some wise industry wag once told me decades ago: You don’t get to have money AND great reviews. They just won’t give you both anymore. (NOTE: I never did get out of this person just who the “they” was).

Outstanding Drama

No time to look back

No time to look back

The Nominees: Breaking Bad (AMC), Downton Abbey (PBS), Game of Thrones (HBO), House of Cards (Netflix), Mad Men (AMC), True Detective (HBO)

Winner: Breaking Bad (AMC)

Do you really want a reason? Or an argument?

Loser: True Detective (HBO).

Despite the lulls in some of the episode, it was truly something different – an existential, philosophy-driven cop show told by varying symbolic imagery in shifting time periods. Only one other show can beat that. And will.

The 2nd Annual Rockers!

Screen shot 2013-12-29 at 1.06.20 PMThis is not a BEST OF  list.   It’s about impact, surprise and lingering effect.  As a lifelong culture vulture, creative person and relentless observer of waaay too much, I have the greatest respect for anything out there that stays with me – particularly in a good way.   Mostly because it’s so tough to break through all the noise these days.   Or perhaps it’s just that lately I have the attention span of a gnat.

Of course, starting any project with the goal of making a huge and lasting splash is a sure recipe for disaster.  Much as I hate to admit, this has happened to me several times over the years.  However, when people hunker down and “do their own thing” (as they used to say back in the day) the result can sometimes be, for lack of a better word – sublime.

sub·lime

1. Characterized by nobility; majestic.

2. a. Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth.

b. Not to be excelled; supreme.

3. Inspiring awe; impressive.

Did someone say Supreme?

Did someone say Supreme?

Any one of those could earn you a Rocker and, let’s face it, who among us wouldn’t want to be awarded a photo of a red mid-century style chair.  (Note: Chair – Rocker, get it?).  Though perhaps using the term nobility is a bit much. Definition #3 – impressive, inspiring awe – isn’t that enough?  Yes, I think so.  And these, in no particular order other than the one that we chose, are my OUR awards.

BEST ROCKIN’ INDIE DARLINGS

Short Term 12; Fruitvale Station; The Spectacular Now

Indie, dahling

Indie, dahling

These three movies, all low budget independent films, have more to say in 5 minutes than do most of their budget-bloated major studio brethren manage to serve up in two three hours.  Of course, their combined box-office grosses are not equivalent to the opening weekend of, say – Ironman 3; Thor 2; or even Jack the Giant Slayer.

What this confirms once more is that fine dramatic storytelling is not the goal of the major studios anymore.  Though if it manages to happen on one of their releases amid a large profit and even larger chance to cash in via future ancillary markets and/or rights, they’ll take it.

Do not write in and call me a snob or say that this has been so in the film biz for one or two decades.  I, and even we, know that.  But it’s getting worse.  Can’t we retain even a small sliver?  Well, in their own awe-inspiring, impressive ways all three of the above did that and more.

Short Term 12:  Bravura performances all around in a deceptively multi-layered and tight original screenplay from first time writer-director Destin Cretton – whose next announced project is the film adaptation of the bestselling book The Glass Castle, starring Jennifer Lawrence.  If there is any justice Mr. Cretton will be Oscar and WGA nominated for his story of juvenile outcasts and the young people who try to help them at a “short term” facility – but there likely isn’t.  Still – now he’s got JLaw so it’s a win-win.

The Spectacular Now: A throwback to the small romantic dramas of decades ago where two mismatched, oddball young people fall in love in a most uncomfortable way.  It’s not perfect but it has so much heart that it wins you over.  This is in part due to actors Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller and to an even greater extent as a result of the adaptation of the book by 500 Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, and the precise, sensitive work of director James Ponsoldt.  The script lingered for years before Ms. Woodley, a hot commodity after starring as George Clooney’s troubled daughter in The Descendants, became its champion.  Lesson here:  Create great roles for actors.

Fruitvale Station: Finally caught up with it last night at home and am still foaming at the mouth with rage at the murder six years ago of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year old African American male who was finally about to get his life together for the sake of his daughter, his family and himself.  The choice of writer-director and USC film school grad Ryan Coogler to tell this real life story in an unembellished pseudo-documentary style is what’s most impressive here.  The film was developed through Sundance and won best dramatic feature.   Yes, there are those who like to dismiss Sundance these days as pretentious and elitist.  Watch this movie before you go there.   In fact, just don’t go there anymore.

STEFON’S FAREWELL!

Bill Hader left the cast of Saturday Night Live at the end of the season this year and along with that went the departure of Stefon – his beloved club kid correspondent for Weekend Update.  Since goodbyes are often an inevitable and dreaded part of life – especially when it comes to the mercurial television landscape – it was at least nice to see that he was sent off with love and style and his own sort of gay wedding.

What can you say about a segment that featured Furbies, the real DJ Baby Bok Choy and an Anderson Cooper-Seth Meyers fist fight?  Only that it was a perfect homage and finale to one of SNL’s most original and beloved characters.

(Note:  For everything you ever wanted to know about the 38 seasons of SNL check out the funny, brand new and exhaustively researched book, Saturday Night Live FAQ: Everything Left to Know About Television’s Longest-Running ComedyThe author is Stephen Tropiano and he’s the Seth to my inner Stefon)

Note: Hader created Stefon with the very talented comedian-writer John Mulaney.  His standup act is hilarious and he is doing a new TV comedy for Fox next year in which he’ll star as the young, struggling comedian he once was.  Co-starring will be Martin Short.  Must see TV?  We think so.

ROCKIN’ NEWS MOMENT OF THE YEAR 

same-sex-marriage-decision_645x400

US Supreme Court Pro Gay Marriage Ruling.

Starring:  Rob Reiner, David Boies, Ted Olson, Edie Windsor, Kristin Perry & Sandra Stier, Paul Katami & Jeffrey Zarrillo – and President Barack Obama.

There has not been a film or television movie about it – yet.  But this year’s landmark US Supreme Court rulings that officially legalized gay marriage on a federal level is a landmark case that will have positive civil rights repercussions for generations.

Not to be partisan – but I will be – the reasoning behind this decision was foreshadowed in Pres. Obama’s 2013 inauguration speech where he talked about the journey “through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”  Translation:  the struggle for women’s rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights are all one in the same and if the US stands for anything it means we progress towards freedoms for not some but all Americans.    Here is his exact quote:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.

citizen_cane

Arguing the case were lawyers Boies and Olson – adversaries in another famous US Supreme Court case, Bush v. Gore, for the courageous LGBT defendants Windsor, Perry, Stier, Katami and Zarrillo.  Oh, and if you don’t think it takes courage to be the public face in a civil rights case in terms of time, attention and vociferous hate mail – try it some time.  Or better yet, just post a comment to any random website where you disagree with an extreme right wing position – as I did this weekend about A & E’s reversing its decision to reinstate Duck Dynasty’s hate-speaking Phil Robertson – and note the number of truly savage, hate-filled responses you get.  It ain’t pretty.

A meathead no more!

A meathead no more!

Finally, you can dislike whatever Rob Reiner films you choose to but you cannot be disagreeable about his overwhelming commitment of time and energy to both raise money and personally finance the fight for gay marriage through it’s case origins in California right up through to the US Supreme Court.  There are political activists in the industry but few with Mr. Reiner’s reach, fervor or unwavering determination.  And, uh – p.s. – he’s not even g-a-y.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

BREAKING BAD – THE FINALE SEASON

Tear.

Tear.

There are so few moments in pop culture that live up to the hype.  But the phenomenon that was Breaking Bad was one of them.  I was admittedly late to the game in catching up with all seven seasons but given the national cultural hysteria I finally gave in, knowing full well that I would inevitably be disappointed.

Okay, well, so I don’t know everything.

I chronicled my eight days of binge-watching all 52 BB episodes here in time to join the real world in real time for the finale.  It might make my life seem small and insignificant to note that it is one of the few experiences I will never forget – but only if you have never tuned in and checked out the show itself.

Why does it work?   There are so many obvious reasons – great writing, acting, directing and across-the-board terrific technical talents.  But it was also a perfect reflection of our times in telling the story of an extremely smart but downtrodden everyman – nee a financially struggling high school chemistry teacher who is suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer– who will do anything to provide not only for his family but for himself before he dies.  And anything means – A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. If you want to know more than that, borrow some DVDs or hack into someone else’s Netflix account.

Finales are tricky but this one proved every bit as powerful as each and every episode before it.  Sadly, this was not the case with another departing hit show fave of mine – Dexter.  Yes, endings are tough.   But ending well and going out the way you came in (Note:  Yes, that’s an unintentional quote from the 1967 camp classic Valley of the Dolls) – that’s the toughest.

ROCKIN’ THE WOOL OVER THE AUDIENCE’S EYES  — IT’S A TIE!!!

HBO’S Behind the Candelabra  &  NBC’s The Sound of Music – LIVE

Help!

Help!

Popularity doesn’t mean you rock.  It just means you’re popular.  I mean, did Paris Hilton rock?  Does (or did?)  Kim Kardashian?  Or, to put it another way, did Crash deserve to win the best picture Oscar over Brokeback Mountain? (Note: Watch them again and then compare and report back).

What popularity does account for are bodies taking notice of you or your deeds or your product.  That does not mean you’re good or even well done.  It just means you are and that you got A LOT of attention.

Therefore, by any objective standards the Liberace movie called Behind the Candelabra and the NBC live three-hour broadcast of the beloved musical The Sound of Music starring country singer Carrie Underwood were phenomenal hits.  But to my mind, not in a good way.  Carrie Underwood has a pleasant voice but cannot act.  I mean, I could’ve played a better Maria – especially if I got to do some of those lines next to Audra MacDonald.

As for story of closeted gay icon pianist Liberace – it was not the true story – that would have been far more salacious since Liberace’s real life lover Scott Thorson was 16 years old when they first met and couldn’t have been played by Matt Damon.  Had the real story been told – and not just the gay men as spectacle taleit would have had to be shown as the telefilm version of NBC’s To Catch A Predator.

In conclusion, and put it in high school terms – which often works in all things Hollywood – there is no way to argue with popularity.  It either is or it isn’t and you either are or you’re not.  But remember – the Emperor’s New Clothes were once popular, too.   Just sayin’.

ROCKIN’ SENTIMENTAL MOVIE OF THE YEAR

Saving Mr. Banks

Believe the hype.

Believe the hype.

No, I’m not going to defend myself.  I loved it — and not just because I loved Mary Poppins as a kid. The film is being sold as a comedy but it’s really about how writers (or any artists) try to survive the painful moments of childhood by weaving its high and low points into some sort of creative expression that can correct and/or save you or your loved ones from the situation.  As a writer who has done just that – and speaking for anyone else who hopes to do just that – you can keep all of your snide, snickering bah humbug remarks to yourself.

Plus – there’s Emma Thompson.  She’s not only sad, touching and irascibly funny in the movie, she gives the most hilarious press interviews you’ll ever want to see.  Case closed.

ROCKIN’ MALE PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR:

Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis

Me-Ow

Me-Ow

The guy can act AND sing.  No, seriously – he can really, really sing.  You can’t fake that when you’re playing the lead role of a folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village in a Coen Bros. movie and a good part of the film is you, in five feet of close-up, chirping unadorned for the entire international world to see.

Also when the moments that you are singing onstage are the only ones where the audience can truly sympathize with your character’s plight, it is an enormous acting challenge.  Therefore, it didn’t surprise me or anyone else to hear the filmmakers admit publicly on a panel after an early screening of their film that had Mr. Isaac not walked in and nailed his audition very late in the casting process they were not sure if they would be able to make their movie at all.

The film as a whole is to a taste.  Okay, it’s odd.  But it’s also a rare opportunity to watch someone you’ve probably never seen onscreen before totally morph into an unforgettable character you’re unlikely to see onscreen again at any time soon.  If ever.

ROCKIN’ FEMALE PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR IN TECH ACHIEVEMENT OF THE YEAR:

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Floating towards.. Oscar?

Floating towards.. Oscar?

Oh, hiss and boo your own selves, as Bette Midler so aptly put it in her 1985 comedy album Mud Will Be Flung, Tonight!  I thought Sandy (yeah, that’s what everyone in the biz calls her) was pretty great in the movie….actually, quite great.

Fine – you try acting to nothing for most of your time on camera.  And when I say nothing I mean – nada.  There’s a green screen behind you.  You’re suspended in the air in a heavy faux astronaut’s uniform.  And you’re shooting on and off for years on end, trying to maintain some continuity of your character’s emotional state while the technical team behind your film tries over and over again to get the special effects just right.

Yeah, yeah, I know Cate Blanchett was terrific in Blue Jasmine.  But why does digging into the emotional life of a Ruth Madoff meets Blanche DuBois character have to trump the acting skill it takes to survive the contemporary vagaries of big major studio, SFX ridden contemporary Hollywood while simultaneously delivering an against-the-odds truly convincing performance that literally carries the film?  It doesn’t.  Sorry.  Sandy wins.

PS – Yes, her body looked good in those shorts.  So what??!!!

PPS – The movie was a huge leap in what we can do in SFX – not that you care!!

ROCKIN’ ACCLAIMED NOVEL I STARTED THREE TIMES BUT CAN’T YET CRACK: 

The Goldfinch By Donna Tart

This is thoroughly unfair but why can’t I read past pg. 20 of 761 pages no matter how many times I read those 20 pages over? I know the book is acclaimed but why, why, why is its prose so dry, dry, dry and leaving me so parched, parched, parched?  Too much TV?

tumblr_mea9wqzdbK1rl7213o1_500

(Note: Before judging me you should know I read every wet word of both Jonathon Franzen’s The Corrections AND Freedom and always wanted more).

ROCKIN’ UNACCLAIMED MEMOIR I LIKE TO READ ESSAYS FROM:

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, By Chris Kluwe

Also.. best hair!

Also.. best hair!

Funny, snide, smart, scrappy, funny, fun, fun.

And it’s not only because he’s hot and spoke up for the gays.  And…personally answered one of my tweets.  On Twitter.  In a direct message.  Okay, maybe that’s part of it.  But it’s not…everything.

ROCKIN(EST) SCARY VERSION OF THE FUTURE THAT MIGHT ALREADY BE THE PRESENT:

Spike Jonze’s Her

Falling in love... no buffering

Falling in love… no buffering

This is a world where a lonely fella can fall in love with his operating system (OS).  Yes, the OS is voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson, who strangely enough gives what, oddly, is her best screen performance.  The sexy rasp and all…

Still, there is something significant happening here that goes well beyond Simone, the interesting but long forgotten 2002 film where a man concocts the ideal virtual female.  What’s going on is also significantly depressing if you think about it for too long or in the wrong way.  What is the right way to consider a world in the not so distant future where many of us are so incapable of relationships that we turn to our computers or mobile devices for our primary emotional attachments?  To admit that it is really happening right now?  Or to dismiss that notion as some sort of superficial movie industry take on New Media for Dummies?  Hmm, maybe neither.

None of this would work at all were it not for Joaquin Phoenix’s extremely committed performance.  But none of it would even be possible at all without the originality Spike Jonze brings to a subject matter so easy to present in a hackneyed way.

Wait – originality?  Yeah, I said it – you didn’t have to.  So, maybe 2013 leaves us with some hope after all?  Well, we can all rock to… this:

A Bad, Bad Binge

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

Breaking-Bad-Week-Logo

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

Day-1-Calendar

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

DayZDay720_4

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?

day6_web

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.

Binge is the new Black 2.0

Brilliant illustration  by Kiersten Essenpreis (youfail.com)

Brilliant illustration by Kiersten Essenpreis (youfail.com)

What’s the last TV show you binged on?

I had 30 responses to this Facebook post within an hour or so.  Which, if nothing else, tells me that gluttony in America is by no means limited to food.

But let’s start at the beginning.  Most of us seem to know exactly what binge TV is, though it’s a relatively new phenomenon.  Nevertheless, definition please:

Binge Viewing

n.  A period of excessive indulgence spent watching previously broadcast episodes of a TV show.  (binge viewer n.)

Of course, one person’s excessive indulgence is another person’s appetizer course, especially given our country’s lack of portion control (Don’t believe me – try ordering a plate of pasta in Italy).  Yet the inverse of this is also true, especially if you’ve ever ordered a spaghetti main course at the Olive Garden (yes, I was once dragged there and actually had a ton of leftover penne on my plate).

All of this makes me think of another great American phenomenon – the TV dinner.  Originally invented as the perfect size plate (tin?) of food a person could graze on through their favorite series, it would certainly need reinvention nowadays in light of binge viewing.  Maybe a — TV trough?  Or at least, well let’s say, a Banquet.

Or just add a pound of butter..

Or just add a pound of butter..

This already leads to an amendment of our brand new definition in light of the recent premiere of Netflix on-demand series like Orange Is The New Black, which by far was the #l binge choice to my informal binge survey. The women’s prison drama, adapted to your screen of choice by Jenji Kohan, creator of Weeds, has ALWAYS been completely available – each one hour episode of thirteen – since its debut.  Which means goodbye to excessive indulgence of a previously broadcast series and hello to gluttonous viewing of ANY TV series since shows financed by relatively new content providers like Netflix give us the CHOICE of ordering up and devouring ALL THIRTEEN HOURS of a season at one sitting if that’s what it takes to satisfy our ever-growing cravings.

Programs like Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Game of Thrones all drew multiple votes  – though OITNB outweighed them all at least four times over.  This could in part be due to the fact that the New Big O has only been on the market for a month and is the current IT show.  After all, we are all human and live in the USA which means we exist in a place where the most current, talked about material will always be the thing that is considered the most popular binge of the moment.  This is as sure as the fact that somewhere among us there will always be prom queens and prom kings.  (Note:  It is also reassuring to know that, much like prom royalty, the #1 popular cultural choice will also quickly be replaced by something else more to one’s liking since beauty, like popularity and ratings, never last forever).

2010.10.14.burnett-watercooler

What is far more interesting and encouraging is that aside from those top contenders, 30 television series running the gamut of every genre one could possibly imagine ODing on each got at least one binge recommendation from those who responded to this very unscientific survey of what do you binge on, TV-wise?  They include:

  • Existing cable series: Bates Motel, Breaking Bad, Switched at Birth
  • Existing pay cable:  Nurse Jackie, The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire
  • Defunct series: The Wire, Golden Girls, Friday Night Lights, Studio 60, Greek
  • Euro imports: Sherlock, Dr. Who, The Lake, Braquo, The Fall, A Touch of Frost
  • New Media First Runs: Attack on Titan, Arrested Development
  • Network Series: Scandal, Under the Dome, New Girl, Parks & Recreation
  • Reality Series: Kitchen Nightmares, The Biggest Loser

At the very least this tells me that audience taste in the new media age of binge is not as monolithic as market researchers (they usually work for networks and studios) want us to believe nor can it necessarily be categorized by age, ethnic origin or region (Note: I have an eclectic group of both Facebook and IRL friends who, as they used to say in the days prior to market research binging, cover the waterfront).

But what do these ever-growing gluttons really think about all of this stuff, beyond just their choice?  I wanted to know more without the help of a paid market researcher and so should you, especially since my opinion markers are probably a lot closer to your taste than theirs.  So take a look at a handful of five more in-depth and uncensored responses to questions posed by your Chair about the four very different TV shows these individuals recently binged on and why. (Note:  Okay, full disclosure – The Chair is the fourth respondent because, well…there IS always a method to my madness – in this case diversity of choice).   And further note that these respondents range in age from their late 20s to late 60s, live on various ends of the country, and include two males and two females of various sexual proclivities who, needless to say, all have very, very different tastes.

The Questions:

1. What show and why binge on this particular show?

2. How did you watch it? Did you speed through it, or take a little at a time?

3, What is your reaction to this show? Are you hooked? Would you recommend?

4. Did you know spoilers previously? If not, how did you avoid them?

5. Do you prefer binge to regular watching and why?

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ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, Netflix

Respondent #1- Female, 20s, NYorker

1) After all the buzz, I waited about 2 weeks and finally had to get “in the know.”

2) I watched it via Netflix streaming, probably at about 2 episodes a night (sometimes 3!). It took about a week to get through.

3) The great thing about it being available on Netflix is that it lends itself to voracious viewing – meaning, it needs to be seen in a short period of time. The pacing of the show doesn’t lend to a week-to-week viewing, and I’m not sure I would have stayed as invested in the characters if I’d done it that way. I almost imagined that I was in “viewing prison” with Piper (the lead character) – it was time to hunker down and be trapped with the show for a short period of time and then be released.   I would recommend this to someone who is looking for a show to fill the void until the fall season – and who has 13 hours to kill.

4) I had steered clear of all spoilers, despite working in front of a computer all day, and having a lengthy commute which allows me to read every entertainment article imaginable. It’s fascinating to me that bloggers and recappers are incredibly careful and considerate when it comes to respecting the binge-watching viewer. Headlines are kept clean of any spoilers, first paragraphs are even non-specific and filled with warnings regarding content below. Vulture (one of my go-to recap haunts) decided to space out its reviews of Orange to suit a three-episode a week average. Considering the trolls out there, and the loose lips (fingers?) of my Facebook friends, it is a miracle that I was still able to be unsullied by spoilers.

5) It fulfills the need for instant gratification – there is no need to wait to find out what happens next – which I simultaneously love and hate. I love it because I’m impatient and love being able to see full character arcs unfold in a short time. I hate it because I lose the excitement of the week leading up to the episode… the wondering, the guessing, the appointment viewing… the last vestiges of a pre-DVR world. But who am I kidding? DVRs are the greatest invention since the remote control, or Google Maps. I just prefer regular, weekly viewing because then I don’t end up a mole-person, permanently in my PJs, un-showered, unaware of the time of day.  (Chair Note: Is the latter really such a bad thing?)

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BREAKING BAD, AMC, Basic Cable on DVD

Respondent #2 – Female, 40s, Los Angelino

1) My friend kept telling me to watch it, and I had read about how good it was.  I wanted to see for myself — and to see if I liked it as much as Mad Men They’re both great in their own ways.  Impossible to compare.

2) I watched it on Netflix – 54 episodes in just under 2 weeks.  One Saturday I think I watched 6 in one day. Most days I watched between 2-4.  I wanted to make sure I finished before the season premiere aired because I knew that if I didn’t I would have found out what happened.  Social media and the Internet would have spilled the beans.

3)  I love the show.  I am completely hooked and would definitely recommend.  I was reluctant at first because I wasn’t interested in the world where it was set.  But once I started watching I was captivated by the storytelling choices, and the acting, and the visual style choices.  I had recently heard that they were supposed to shoot the show in Riverside County, California but Albuquerque was offering a huge production discount so that’s why it was shot there.  The location really suited the show and I’ve heard numerous people say that Albuquerque became a character also.  It really did, I couldn’t picture it being shot anywhere else.  It’s wide open and claustrophobic at the same time.  Also, the editing is stellar.  Two of the episodes are nominated for Emmys this year.  I’m probably voting for the season finale.  (Chair Note:  The latter fact makes this person that very desired elite binger).

4) I knew the basic premise of the show but did not know any spoilers.  I could tell from the image of Bryan Cranston on the poster that the character undergoes some type of transformation.  He starts out with hair in season one and he ends up with a shaved head and a goatee, kind of the badass look.  I also made sure I didn’t read any of the articles on the Internet.  When I started watching people were already talking about it in anticipation of the season premiere because it was off for a year and everyone was really excited for its return. I really made an effort to stay away.

5)   I love binge watching – it makes me the boss of the TV I like being able to decide when and how many I want to watch.  It’s feels similar to reading a great book, wondering what’s going to happen next.  I just turn on the TV and find out. The disappointing thing is when you’re done you have to wait and watch the rest with everyone else.  After this season’s premiere, for a moment I felt like I could just go to Netflix and watch the next episode, but sadly NO 😦  Also, I’ve heard that some creatives don’t like people binge-watching.  They feel that people are not allowing enough time to reflect on the stories being told.  I disagree. (Chair Note: This person IS a creative so that’s at least one industry vote for the binge).

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DOWNTON ABBEY, PBS by way of ITV, DVD

Respondent #3 – Male, 60s, Floridian

1) My friends kept at me about it but I am resistant to the period because to me it’s feels very much like “teacup movie time.”  But when my brother, who is a really straight guy who lives in Idaho and builds kitchens, started talking about it to me, and told me I’d love it, I finally said, Okay, I gotta watch it.

2) My neighbor gave me the first two seasons on DVD and I watched it in a week and a half.  Then a month later someone loaned me season three and I watched it in less than a week.

3)  I’m totally hooked.  It’s great storytelling and great characters.  You get emotionally caught up in all their stories and want to know what’ll happen next.  It’s so well written, sympathetic and well developed.  Plus, Dan Stevens is dreamy. (Chair Note: Uh-oh)

4)  Somebody slipped and mentioned a spoiler to me when I was in the middle of season two.  Then I read something about a contract with one of the actors in season three so that sadly made me aware of the possibility of losing another character. I was late to the game so the article made me aware.   But it didn’t hurt the show.  I suppose it might have been more of a shocker if I didn’t know but that didn’t matter.

5)  I do like binge viewing.  Watching Downton Abbey week to week – I would’ve been really frustrated.  That’s particularly the case with Breaking Bad, which I also binge viewed a few months ago.  I’m used to watching these shows sometimes till 3 in the morning, sometimes 3 or 4 episodes a night.  You’re consumed with it and it becomes much more impactful. It’s not so much the show even but the process of watching it and being engulfed in that world.  Now you have to wait a week and you lose momentum, the all-consuming effect.  You can enjoy it for that hour but then you go on with your life.

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COLD CASE, CBS via Syndication

Respondent #4 – Male, 50s, Los Angeleno

1) I accidentally stumbled on it one night when I couldn’t sleep and immediately got hooked.  I don’t generally like one-hour network drama these days and refused to sample this show when it aired.  Wrong!  More than half of every show flashes back in time to another decade where an unsolved crime was committed and is then played out in key bits and pieces dramatically.  It also uses the real songs of the period, making it one of the most expensive network shows on television because of the music rights to famous songs from artists as varied as Bruce Springsteen, Nirvana, Donna Summer, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones.  Those songs alone takes you right back into the period.  Plus, the way they match the period character with another actor who plays the same person 20 or 30 years later is impeccable.  Some of the best casting I’ve ever seen on television.

2) I watched almost three of eight seasons of 22 episodes each in about three weeks.  The issue is due to the music rights of such famous songs, the show is not available on DVD.  The only way to get it is on reruns on the CBS cable channel ION-TV.  Though I suppose there are other ways one could get fined for.  Still, it’s sort of an adventure this way – you never know what you’re going to get.  And there’s something about watching all these shows that are not readily available that, well, I kind of like.

3) I love it.  Sometimes it’s so disturbing, depending on the crime, yet it’s also sort of soothing because most of the shows enable people to resolve a terrible issue that happened in their past and get closure.  That resolution is almost always emotionally resonant and doesn’t always happen in real life – which is part of why we watch dramas anyway.  After watching so many of the shows, you can see the structure.  And yet, it also surprises me.  I’d particularly recommend it to friends who are stubborn like me about network procedural series and who love music.  There are almost no television dramas, or even films, where famous music plays such an integral part of the storytelling.  It puts you in the space and informs the action in a way no amount of great dialogue ever could.

4) I knew NOTHING about this show.  Absolutely nothing.  Except that it didn’t interest me.  Which proves that sometimes I literally do know nothing.

5) I like both but do love binge watching when I get to discover something I didn’t know about or resisted.  That is not to say that I want to binge watch everything.  I couldn’t imagine binge watching Mad Men because I got hooked immediately.  The same with The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Dexter.  That said, there is plenty to binge on.  Oh – and added bonus.  Cold Case was created and written by Meredith Stiehm, one of the principal writers on the brilliant Homeland in its first two seasons. Another of its writers and eventual show runners was Veena Sud, who has gone on to create AMC’s The Killing.  This allows you to understand how creative people grow into their careers and to experience the great works of their pasts.

So what have we learned here?  That there is a huge gamut of public taste buds waiting to be tapped into if done in the right way.   It just can’t all be done in the same way and, given our changing patterns of consumption, it won’t be anymore.  Certainly producers understand this.  You might think it’s cheapie programming on Netflix but you’re wrong – the low end cost estimates of shows like House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black is  $3.8 – $4 million per episode.  And there’s a reason why so much money is being spent.  With so many options of ways to view and so many platforms to do it on, content providers see avenues opening up to make substantial overall gains on their investments.

Keep the drip flowing

Keep the drip flowing

Here’s the deal.  They need lots and lots of content – both new and old.  Not only what is the next new thing but what will be the next new “old thing.”  What will last /endure beyond first run – which is more and more not much of a run – certainly not even a sprint and, in fact, something even longer than a marathon.

For a large and growing segment of today’s audience it’s not AS important to watch one episode (or even season) of a show when it debuts than it is to discover something that’s already been checked out by your friends and loved ones and given the seal of approval so you don’t have to waste time deciding.  That’s the new model being established by binge viewing.  This greatly differs from the network model, which wants to sell overpriced ads for first run appointment television, charging companies and audiences as much as they can for goods delivered with as little creative challenges or off-centeredness as possible to the widest possible audience. (Note:  This model also causes them to complain endlessly at Emmy awards time when they’re often shut out in favor of more inventive cable programming).

What both cable and on-demand providers and have now discovered, thanks in part to technology, is that you can forever make money on superior (or even just plain quirky) creative choices that don’t necessarily take the easy way out and tell great and far more sophisticated stories.  How much money?  Well, this remains to be seen.  But judging from Netflix’s investments coupled with initial and growing audience response – quite a lot.   In particular, this change should cause creative unions to take note and readjust their financial demands because certainly none of these newer companies will fully share their true profits from these alternative revenue steams unless their hands are absolutely forced.  The creative guilds, especially the writers, lost a fortune by not pushing back harder on the studios for a share of DVD revenue when it was the hottest thing going and the studios cleaned up.  That is until there were newer and quicker ways to watch older or just seen shows.  The same thing will undoubtedly happen with the burgeoning on demand /web based viewing – binge or not –  if  there is soon not some strong re-accounting adhered to.

A glimpse into our future

A glimpse into our future?

Meanwhile, we mere viewers can bask in the many great choices now available on a growing home, tablet, or computer-screened menu.  For decades television was seen as the poor stepchild of movies but these days it seems like the roles have been reversed.  Respondent #3 notes that if he were an Emmy voter he’d find it impossible to choose the winner of best drama series between such nominees as Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey.  Almost as difficult as he found it to choose the winner of the best picture Oscar in 1976, the first time he was a voting member of the Motion Picture Academy.   Among the nominees that year were Network, All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver and Rocky.  Nowadays, he struggles to even have that many films worthy of nomination.  But has no trouble finding many more choices than that to binge on from the small screen.

Addendum:  This blog inspired me to binge view all six episodes of a new half-hour Australian show called Please Like Me.  It’s sort of a gay version of Girls and it is faaaabulous.  And — it can now be seen here

Addendum 2: 2.0? A previous version of this blog ended up in many spam folders… I blame network television execs!