The Emmy Blues

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So much TV, so little time. Except when you have too much time to extol the virtues of TV. Ha! As if the producers were attempting to show us or even talk about great TV.

Actually, I’m not quite sure what it was. A way to trend on social media and grab the “young people?” Not so much. The best line of the night was Larry David explaining how he dates, admitting he’s grown tired of saying to women, as a way of pretending he’s interested, tell me more about your niece. I wonder if Emmy has nephews. Not that I’d ever ask, or even pretend to.

LOL

LOL

Of course, there was also the moment when host Jimmy Kimmel’s faux arch nemesis Matt Damon came out eating an apple after Kimmel and his show lost for best something or other, and proceeded to rake him over the coals for three minutes. Kimmel took it like a champ and then slyly retorted: Thanks, Jason Boring.

Okay, I thought it was funny. But trendy or trending –- not so much. Again.

I don’t blame the host, who seems likeable, nice and game. And he’s certainly an improvement over Andy Samberg or the time I attended a few years back when we had the reality star trifecta-plus hosting skills of Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron and god knows who else. Now that was quite an evening. Or three.

Ahem, ME! #SeacrestOut

Ahem, ME! #SeacrestOut

How do you do a show about the best that’s on television and not show one clip of what’s ON television? Check that, the In Memoriam segment did show two or three-second moments of recently deceased stars with nothing but the sound of Tori Kelly singing Hallelujah – one of the greatest and most misused songs ever consistently sung on awards shows. But what chance did it have? Henry Winkler started the segment pre-song extolling the many virtues of the wonderful and wonderfully talented, recently deceased king of perennial 80s comedy, Garry Marshall (Note: Okay, 70s, whatever) and we didn’t get a snippet of the Fonz, Laverne and Shirley or even Richie Cunningham.

That would have had a much better chance of favorably trending than the bit where therealJeb!Bush pretends he’s Kimmel’s limo driver and admonishes him for being…oh, who the heck remembers anything Jeb ever says anyway?

This really happened #NoTipfromChair #Ubernightmare

This really happened #NoTipfromChair #Ubernightmare

Point being there was a time when audiences got to celebrate the work of the honored actors, creators, directors and writers by actually watching clip packages of the real work being honored. This would seem even more necessary these days when absolutely NO ONE can possibly watch the entirety of more than 50% of ANYTHING that is being honored. That is, unless they themselves are a DVR and the networks are now going for the eyeballs of machines.

Speaking of the BIG FOUR networks – which thus far have been the ONLY hosts of the Emmy awards show in history – could they be the culprit? Well, perhaps. For why would they want to give free clip service to sub networks, streaming services and basic/pay cable channels like HBO, Amazon, Netflix, BBC America, USA, FX and PBS? Isn’t it enough that HBO’s Game of Thrones and Veep won best drama and comedy series? Or that Sherlock won best television movie? Or that American Crime Story’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson took best limited series? Yeah, FX is a subsid of Fox but, let’s face it, it’s not part of the big 4 profile – and certainly not the Big 3. Why give them any more of the free publicity they’re already getting??

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia #nuffsaid

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia #nuffsaid

Everything in the entertainment industry is one part a business decision and another part creative decision. But are they ever EQUAL parts? Well, certainly not very…often? One is usually in the dominant position but if the other one is dragged along to success with that strategy kicking and screaming, at the end of the day everyone’s happy. Or claims to be.

You want to know the awards the (formerly) major networks won Sunday night? Well, NBC was the big victor with two – one for The Voice in the best reality show category and the other for the brilliant Kate McKinnon as best supporting actress in a comedy series for Saturday Night Live. Fox made the cut for best direction of a variety special for Grease Live and Regina King was awarded supporting actress for her work on ABC’s innovative American Crime. As for CBS, anyone? Bueller???

Not so fast CBS! Even Janney walked away empty handed.

Not so fast CBS! Even Janney walked away empty handed.

This doesn’t say much for any of the Big 4’s regular prime time, non-reality schedules, does it? And perhaps that is the root of the problem. For anyone under 30 ( and perhaps even 40) there is no regular prime-time schedule. There is little appointment television anymore and when there is it has to be great, or unusual or at least timely. That’s what award shows honor and that is why there’s been a reversal of big network dominance. Most of their schedules cater to very little of that.

Was anyone asking for this? #deepthoughts #NBC

Was anyone asking for this? #deepthoughts #NBC #CominginDecember

It is also interesting to note that the night’s two most deserved and surprising winners were Rami Malek for USA Network’s Mr. Robot and Tatiana Maslany on BBC America’s Orphan Black for best dramatic actor and actress. Both do unusual, almost superhuman work and both play extremely troubled and disaffected people under 30.   They anchor two of the most current and trendy shows on television – neither of which would ever have a chance of getting on the air solely through the American Network Big 4.

YES YES YES YES YES #CloneClub #FSociety

YES YES YES YES YES #CloneClub #FSociety

This brings us full circle back to the mix between creativity and business. After all, it is the entertainment industry or show biz.

The problem with the Emmy awards is no longer what’s on TV today but who’s showing what on TV today. And for what reason. And for whom? You can almost hear the collective sighs of the Big 4 honchos every time one of the major award winners was read. Followed by grumbling, disgust, denial, anger, depression and fear.   But what they really need to do is get to the final stage – acceptance. It would make their shows, and certainly the Emmy awards show, a lot higher rated. And certainly more entertaining.

But what do I – an inveterate fan of Mr. Robot, Orphan Black and a host of many other nominees and winners, know? I’m only the audience.

 

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Global Warnings

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Why does one write about anything as silly and meaningless as an award show – especially the Golden Globe Awards – which are chosen by a bizarre group of international critics who have the collective credibility of, well – a blogger?

The correct answer is not – because you are a blogger.

Rather, it is the same answer I give my students and friends when they ask, Why does fill in name of a good or favorite actor do so many bad movies?

Answer: Look at all the choices available to them at the time. Which one do you think they should have picked?

In my case, I just can’t spend another week on The Republican Apprentice, Hils, the Bern or Grandpa Munster (Note: Oh please, you know who I mean).

I'm back!

I’m back!

Plus, our president has guns covered at the moment, there doesn’t seem much of a debate left on climate change and do you really need to read another 10 best/worst list of 2015 or a preview of your top choices or potential losses for 2016? No, you do not.

So here are my GG predictions. We’ll weigh in on Monday for a post mortem of the show. The commercials have host Ricky Gervais teasing us that he might make a celebrity cry. Don’t dress. And take that as seriously as any tease you encounter on television – or anywhere else for that matter.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

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CAROL Number 9 Films; The Weinstein Company

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures / Kennedy Miller Mitchell

THE REVENANT Regency Enterprises; Twentieth Century Fox

ROOM Element Pictures / No Trace Camping; A24 

SPOTLIGHT Anonymous Content / Participant Media / First Look; Open Road Films

Winner: SPOTLIGHT

It’s got the heat, as they say. And it’s a really good film. CAROL is too rarified for this group, MAD MAX is too forward-thinking, THE REVENANT is too gross and ROOM is too small. If you are thinking a possible upset for your betting pool, remember this is an international consortium – so perhaps, REVENANT or MAD MAX. But, uh…no

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

the-danish-girl

CATE BLANCHETTCarol

BRIE LARSONRoom

ROONEY MARACarol

SAOIRSE RONANBrooklyn

ALICIA VIKANDERThe Danish Girl

Winner: ALICIA VIKANDER

This is one of the trickiest categories so don’t wager the house. Brie Larson should win and will probably be awarded the Oscar because it is likely Ms. Vikander will be put up for supporting actress. But given these nominations, the international appeal of THE DANISH GIRL should do it along with AV’s universal raves. The CAROL women will split. Possible spoiler is Saorise Ronan but that’s doubtful since the film is small and likely has not been seen by all the voters, “critics” though they may be.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

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BRYAN CRANSTON, Trumbo

LEONARDO DICAPRIO, The Revenant

MICHAEL FASSBENDERSteve Jobs

EDDIE REDMAYNEThe Danish Girl

WILL SMITHConcussion

Winner: LEONARDO DICAPRIO

FYI, I think Bryan Cranston will win the Oscar. But again – international voting is a big element here and Mr. DiCaprio seldom, if ever, wins awards. The true winner should be Michael Fassbinder who couldn’t grunt, bleed, accent or costume his way through the nearly impossible role of a somewhat unlikeable icon. But that won’t happen. Nor will Mr. Smith go to the stage.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

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THE BIG SHORT    Paramount Pictures / Regency Enterprises

JOY     Fox 2000 Pictures; Twentieth Century Fox

THE MARTIAN    Twentieth Century Fox

SPY     Twentieth Century Fox

TRAINWRECK    Universal Pictures / Apatow Productions

WINNER: THE MARTIAN

How much do you want to see Amy Schumer up there? Well, (NOTES SPOILER!) you’re going to have to wait for a category. And the true winner should be THE BIG SHORT. But I’m not entirely sure this group will go for the latter. The international market ADORES Ridley Scott and he’s another perennial non-winner. Not to mention, there are a group of critics who see the overly long, overly optimistic for humanity theme of THE MARTIAN irresistible. Well, no one can accuse we here at notes of any of that!

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

BFFs

BFFs

JENNIFER LAWRENCE, Joy

MELISSA MCCARTHYSpy

AMY SCHUMERTrainwreck

MAGGIE SMITH, The Lady in the Van

LILY TOMLINGrandma

WINNER: AMY SCHUMER. And no, you didn’t read that wrong.

It’s a comedy and this group also likes to feel both hip and out-of-the-box from time to time. Not to mention – the Hollywood Foreign Press’ main source of revenue (meaning how they stay afloat) is the broadcast of this show (which means ratings).

Lest we forget who won big at the 2010 Globes!

Lest we forget who won big at the 2010 Globes!

Not to say Ms. Schumer doesn’t deserve best comic (and even musical!) performance by an actress this year. Though my vote would go to Lily Tomlin. Why? Because how often do we get the treat of seeing Lily Tomlin playing a snide lesbian…in the movies, that is?

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

The world saves Matt Damon... again

The world saves Matt Damon… again

CHRISTIAN BALE, The Big Short 

STEVE CARELL, The Big Short 

MATT DAMONThe Martian

AL PACINODanny Collins

MARK RUFFALOInfinitely Polar Bear

WINNER: MATT DAMON

Sure, this feels ridiculous. Is ‘THE MARTIAN a comedy? As much as it’s a musical. Nevertheless, it’s Damon in a walk. My vote is for Bale or Carrell. Or Mark Ruffalo. Or Al Pacino, even though I haven’t seen that movie.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – ANIMATED

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ANOMALISA    Starburns Industries; Paramount Pictures

THE GOOD DINOSAUR    Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

INSIDE OUT    Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

THE PEANUTS MOVIE     Blue Sky Studios; Twentieth Century Fox

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE    Aardman; Lionsgate / Studiocanal

WINNER: Um, INSIDE OUT. Seriously.   (For my thoughts on the truly bizarre Anomalisa, check out last week’s post)

BEST MOTION PICTURE – FOREIGN LANGUAGE

#honesty

#honesty

THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT (BELGIUM / FRANCE / LUXEMBOURG)

THE CLUB (CHILE)

THE FENCER (FINLAND / GERMANY / ESTONIA)

MUSTANG (FRANCE)

SON OF SAUL (HUNGARY)

I have no business weighing in here since I haven’t seen any of the nominees. The talk is for SON OF SAUL. Few Hollywood groups or award contests can resist a Holocaust film.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE

Whatever Chairy, you know I'm fabulous!

Whatever Chairy, you know I’m fabulous!

JANE FONDA, Youth

JENNIFER JASON LEIGHThe Hateful Eight

HELEN MIRRENTrumbo

ALICIA VIKANDEREx Machina

KATE WINSLET,  Steve Jobs

WINNER: JENNIFER JASON LEIGH

I gotta say Jennifer Jason Leigh even though THE HATEFUL EIGHT is the one big film this year I still haven’t seen. Why? It’s only early January. Why JJ Leigh? Because she should have won years ago for GEORGIA and I’m still annoyed. Look it up. #SadieFlood4Ever

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE

Not a knockout for Sly

Not a knockout for Sly

PAUL DANO, Love & Mercy

IDRIS ELBABeasts of No Nation

MARK RYLANCE, Bridge of Spies

MICHAEL SHANNON99 Homes

SYLVESTER STALLONECreed

WINNER: MARK RYLANCE

Mark Rylance has the edge. Watching his performance is an acting master class in less is more. It should be required viewing for anyone serious about the craft.

BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE

Le sigh

Le sigh

TODD HAYNES, Carol

ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU, The Revenant

TOM MCCARTHYSpotlight

GEORGE MILLERMad Max: Fury Road

RIDLEY SCOTT, The Martian

WINNER: TODD HAYNES

This is one of the toughest categories. The winner SHOULD be Tom McCarthy for not showing off and telling a story in a compelling way without all the bells and whistles. But likely it’s between Todd Haynes and Ridley Scott. Hmmmmmm. Okay, it’s Todd Haynes. It’s just the kind of film that would feel arty to these voters.

BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE

Is that my office?

Is that my office? #hotmess

EMMA DONOGHUE, Room

TOM MCCARTHY, JOSH SINGER,  Spotlight

CHARLES RANDOLPH, ADAM MCKAYThe Big Short

AARON SORKINSteve Jobs

QUENTIN TARANTINO, The Hateful Eight

WINNER: TOM MCCARTHY, JOSH SINGER, Spotlight

It’s hard to imagine they won’t win for making journalism heroic, dramatic and noble once again. The writers of THE BIG SHORT could be the spoilers here simply for originality. Though let’s not get carried away on that score.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE

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CARTER BURWELL, Carol

ALEXANDRE DESPLAT, The Danish Girl

ENNIO MORRICONE, The Hateful Eight

DANIEL PEMBERTON, Steve Jobs

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO, ALVA NOTO, The Revenant

WINNER: ENNIO MORRICONE but…

…really no one has ANY idea, including the members of the Foreign Press.

Is this the tie-breaker in your pool? Then go for Ennio Morricone. Otherwise, drink every time someone onstage says original.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE

Betting against the sentimental choice

Betting against the sentimental choice

“LOVE ME LIKE YOU DO” (Fifty Shades of Grey)  Music & Lyrics by: Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Ali Payami, Ilya Salmanzadeh

“ONE KIND OF LOVE” (Love & Mercy)  Music & Lyrics by: Brian Wilson, Scott Bennett

“SEE YOU AGAIN” (Furious 7)   Music & Lyrics by: Justin Franks, Andrew Cedar, Charlie Puth, Cameron Thomaz

“SIMPLE SONG #3”  (Youth)   Music & Lyrics by: David Lang

“WRITING’S ON THE WALL” (Spectre)   Music & Lyrics by: Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes

WINNER: ONE KIND OF LOVE 

Since the entire movie of YOUTH depends on and leads up to the performance of the haunting SIMPLE SONG #3, you’d think this was a lock. But I don’t believe this group can resist giving the much-loved Brian Wilson biopic, LOVE AND MERCY, some love. Or the much-admired Brian Wilson some long overdue awards attention.

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

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EMPIRE (Fox)

GAME OF THRONES (HBO)

MR. ROBOT (USA Network)

NARCOS (Netflix)

OUTLANDER (Starz)

WINNER: MR. ROBOT

I’m going out on a limb here though it could easily be GAME OF THRONES. But the Foreign Press loves to be the FIRST to discover a show around awards time. I remember at the turn of the century when they SHOCKED the crowd on hand and at home and gave Fox’s PARTY OF FIVE best drama series. Again, look it up. As for MR. ROBOT – I’m in the middle of binge-watching it and I have to say I’m sort of hooked. Sort of? Huh?

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

Friendly competition

Friendly competition

CAITRIONA BALFE, Outlander

VIOLA DAVIS, How to Get Away with Murder

EVA GREENPenny Dreadful

TARAJI P. HENSONEmpire

ROBIN WRIGHTHouse of Cards

WINNER: VIOLA DAVIS

Take it to the bank. She’s crazy good. Literally.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

JON HAMM! JON HAMM! JON HAMM!

JON HAMM! JON HAMM! JON HAMM!

JON HAMM, Mad Men

RAMI MALEKMr. Robot

WAGNER MOURANarcos

BOB ODENKIRK, Better Call Saul

LIEV SCHREIBER, Ray Donovan

WINNER: JON HAMM

That’s the sound of me cheering.

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Still riveted

Still riveted

CASUAL (Hulu)

MOZART IN THE JUNGLE (Amazon)

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (Netflix)

SILICON VALLEY (HBO)

TRANSPARENT (Amazon)

VEEP (HBO)

WINNER: TRANSPARENT

It’s the show of the moment. It just is. I suppose VEEP could sneak in it but it’s doubtful.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

You know you love me Chairy

You know you love me Chairy

RACHEL BLOOM, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

JAMIE LEE CURTIS, Scream Queens

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, Veep

GINA RODRIGUEZJane the Virgin

LILY TOMLINGrace and Frankie

WINNER: JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS

Has Julia Louis-Dreyfus ever lost an awards competition? Who does she know? Still, there is a slim chance for Gina Rodriguez. Yeah, the international factor again. But I’ve learned my lesson betting against the Walt Disney of comedy actresses. (Note: I didn’t really just write that, did I?)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Is there a Globe for failure to age?

Is there a Globe for failure to age?

AZIZ ANSARI, Master of None

GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL, Mozart in the Jungle 

ROB LOWEThe Grinder

PATRICK STEWART, Blunt Talk

JEFFREY TAMBORTransparent

WINNER: JEFFREY TAMBOR

The closest there is to a sure thing. A brilliant portrayal of a trans woman because he plays her very simply – as a person.

BEST TELEVISION LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

A winner dontcha know

A winner dontcha know

AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL (FX)

FARGO (FX)

FLESH & BONE (Starz)

WOLF HALL (PBS)

WINNER: FARGO

It’s the most talked about drama this year. If one more person looks at me wide-eyed and says – What do you mean you don’t watch Fargo – you must! – I’M GONNA SCREAM. Ahhhhhhhhhh

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TV

Oh Chairy, you betray me!!!

Oh Chairy, you betray me!!!

KIRSTEN DUNST, Fargo

LADY GAGA, American Horror Story: Hotel 

SARAH HAY, Flesh & Bone

FELICITY HUFFMAN,  American Crime

QUEEN LATIFAH, Bessie

WINNER: KIRSTEN DUNST….

….Because c’mon, you HAVE to watch FARGO. Then you’d understand. Though remember when she burst on the seen as a young girl in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE? I do. Again, look it up.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TV

pg-6-wolf-hall-bbc

IDRIS ELBA, Luther

OSCAR ISAAC, Show Me a Hero

DAVID OYELOWONightingale

MARK RYLANCEWolf Hall

PATRICK WILSONFargo

WINNER: MARK RYLANCE

Because FARGO has to lose in some category and Mr. Rylance is that good in everything he does.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

You crazy, Chairy??

You crazy, Chairy??

UZO ADUBA, Orange is the New Black

JOANNE FROGGATT, Downton Abbey

REGINA KINGAmerican Crime

JUDITH LIGHTTransparent

MAURA TIERNEY, The Affair

WINNER: JOANNE FROGGATT

How do you not give DOWNTON ABBEY something? Talk about international appeal. Not to mention – it’s Anna.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

What about my comeback?

What about my comeback?

ALAN CUMMING, The Good Wife

DAMIAN LEWISWolf Hall

BEN MENDELSOHNBloodline

TOBIAS MENZIESOutlander

CHRISTIAN SLATER, Mr. Robot

WINNER: BEN MENDELSOHN

I actually saw all of Bloodline. If there ever were an award-winning type of role, Mr. Mendelsohn had it – and delivered. The others will have to make do being in his company this year.

OKAY – SEE YOU ONLINE where I’ll be live tweeting at: @NOTESFROMACHAIR. Tune in!!!

Must (Not) See TV

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There is too much TV. There, I’ve said it. So do not chastise me because I stopped watching The Leftovers after three episodes and Masters of Sex after two even though I liked them both. Also, DO NOT get on my back because I haven’t yet sampled Orange is the New Black (it’s on my list) or that I can’t deal with Kevin Spacey talking to the camera with a phony accent in House of Cards enough to get past the beginning of season one. As for Scandal, for me it’s beyond ridiculous but not in a good way in much the same way that The Good Wife is a solid, well done broadcast network TV series that has never grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go.

Ugh... yes that too.

Ugh… yes that too.

I freely admit to all of these offenses.

Still, isn’t it enough I have watched every single episode of Mad Men and Girls – two shows that never ever disappoint me even on their worst nights? Or that I long to know what will happen next to the cast of PBS’ Downton Abbey exactly as much as I’m jonseing for season four of American Horror Story to begin next month? Or even season three of Orphan Black to start in January? How about that I never miss an episode of the broadcast network series Revenge, or NBC’s The Voice? Doesn’t that give me some mainstream television street cred?

penny-needs-help-for-her-computer-addiction-on-the-big-bang-theory

Okay, fine – then let’s close with the following – Here are the television comedies I enjoy very much almost every time I tune in: Archer, Parks and Rec, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Louie, Please Like Me and, perennially and forever – I Love Lucy. Though I can stand to miss episodes or seasons here and there because after all, one does need to eat, sleep and have some fun in well, some OTHER way at least…occasionally. Doesn’t one?

I have spent at least a million minutes of my life watching television and for half of that time there were only three broadcast networks and 0.00 cable series to choose from. And I suspect most of you under 30 would have similar stats, give or take a few thousand minutes, especially if you counted TV content you’ve viewed via your computer, touch-Pad, phone or any other mobile device/screen I’ve left out. Oh yeah, you know you would because given the way we live now even buffering counts.

They should really add a pillow app.

They should really add a pillow app.

More than half a century ago Newton Minow, the former FCC chairman and attorney, famously dubbed TV a vast wasteland in a speech he gave before the National Association of Broadcasters. No doubt he’d now have that to say and more about what it’s done to my mind and yours after all these recent years of abuse. Oh – and before you yell BULL PUCKY to the opinion of this still ticking 88 year old – who to my knowledge has never taken back the verdict he came to in that famous speech – consider the entire statement he made all those many decades ago as he chastised a captive audience of station owners and television insiders alike.

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

Hmm, well I haven’t quite tried that. But I will confess to being a part time insomniac and night owl who has watched more than my share of 2 am infomercials. These include Cindy Crawford’s beauty secrets derived from a French doctor synthesizing a rare melon that promises the age-defying skin of a 25 year old to not only you and I and the supermodel but also to Debra Messing and Valerie Bertinelli, two of the celebrity subjects who appear beside CC in this very engaging hard/soft sell. Wasteland? Not at all. I prefer the old adage waste not, want not – as does my age-defying epidermis. Especially when the alternative is to suffer the endless workouts offered at that time of night under the tutelage of Sean T’s Insanity or Tony Horton and P90X.   I mean, talk about a no brainer!

Aside from never aging, she even managed to clone herself

Aside from never aging, she even managed to clone herself

As for television, I try to do my work and it beckons. Daytime, nighttime, afternoon time – it beckons. MSNBC, reality, cable, network, computer, smart phone, tablet – it’s there. It’s difficult to get off the juice, as it always is with any sort of addiction, yet isn’t it wise to try? There are books to read, work to do, people to engage with, movies to see, friends and family members to……..text? Pictures to post on..…….Instagram? And pet videos to…….. ___________? Not to mention, museums, plays and planetariums. Or beaches, hills and mountains to climb. Literally, if you so choose any of the latter.

Well, that's one way to repurpose your old console

Well, that’s one way to repurpose your old console

Speaking of which, this week I was packing up the home of a dear friend who died recently and was going through old photos and various other memorabilia. These items showed this person through the ages and reference various movies through many decades that this person worked on. These movies were all famous and like many people in the business my friend has keepsakes from them – a baseball hat here, a plaque there, a jacket somewhere else. Decades and decades of work you would all likely recognize in an instant.

The fact that this friend had an impressive career in and around some of the more iconic moments in film history was in that moment both impressive and moving to me because it not only referenced visual and intellectual memories of the individual I knew but touched on several iconic moments from the past that would no doubt move people who did not ever know my friend since they serve as enduring pop culture touchstones to many millions of others of us throughout the world.

Movies used to do that more than any other form of entertainment and certainly there are still some films these days that reach iconic status. But one could make a case that the viewing habits ushered in by new technology and our unremitting demand for more, more, more has now placed television at the forefront if for no other reason than sheer numbers. Has anything Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino directed in the last 10 years tapped into the cultural hot button the way Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Office or even South Park has? I doubt it. Even niche television like Broad City outreaches a niche indie film darling like Obvious Child these days.

There is no "shut your phone off" warning before Scandal.

There is no “shut your phone off” warning before Scandal.

For better or worse TV, no matter how you watch it, is at the peak of our culture despite how high or low of a medium one chooses to see it as.   Certainly it has replaced movies as the more consistently discussed mode of entertainment – which replaced theatre before it, which took over from books and radio for a while, which in turn took over from plays. Which has nothing to do with sports except for the analogy of how football began to dominate over baseball decades ago, at least in the U.S. Though who knows for exactly how long as we watch the popularity and billion dollar corporate sponsorship of the NFL begin to collapse the more its culture of covering up the heinous domestic and child abuse allegations against some of its most popular ($$$) players are exposed to the harsh light of day.

That said, one wonders if there is something about all of us which is really to blame here since logic dictates that the most popular entertainment we choose at any particular moment in history is merely and certainly reflective of who and what we really are as a people. Wow, that’s a scary thought. Or, more pointedly, a mind-numbing one. Which sort of brings us full circle.

The eternal question

The eternal question

When this sort of thing comes up, I instead prefer to consider something, well anything else that I’m looking forward to doing the rest of the week. This includes watching anything and everything that I can on television because, let’s face it it’s easier than thinking about any of those questions above for one more second.

Here are a few of those program choices in no particular order and not all of which will even debut this week. I include all of them as possible diversionary material only because it’s gotten to the point where even anticipating and/or dreaming about what’s on television has become more desirable than experiencing or even pondering some of life’s most stickiest issues.

Cherishing Valerie

Cherishing Valerie

1. The return of HBO’s The Comeback on Nov. 9. – This show gives me hope for the future since it proves that in even the turbulent, competitive times of 2014 you can reinvent and resurrect yourself after nine years in the doghouse.       That’s the life-affirming meta message of this half hour black comedy starring Lisa Kudrow as supposedly washed up television actress Valerie Cherish. And this is because after being axed by HBO and off the air for nearly a decade both The Comeback and Kudrow’s Valerie have been given an almost unheard of second chance.   Yes, she might be clueless and fame seeking (which of us isn’t?) but somehow her sweet and sour self perseveres as she tries to navigate the minefields of her career and personal life by allowing any and all cameras to film her day and night. If that’s not a metaphor for today, then…you don’t understand metaphors. Or today.

Cosby show in the Obama age?

Cosby show in the Obama age?

2. Black-ish – I’m going out on a limb with this one because I only saw a 10-minute preview and they tend to be misleading.       Still, when network television (ABC) green lights a story about an upper middle-class African American Dad (Anthony Andreson) who panics when his young son decides he wants a bar-mitzvah and then forces the family into more Black appropriate rituals and behavior– I can’t wait to sample it. And this would be the case if it were the other way around and it were a White TV family trying to act less Black (Note: As if THAT would ever happen).

Adding to the allure here is that Laurence Fishburne plays the crotchety Grandpa. Not to mention that when Dad admonishes his mixed-race wife (Tracey Ellis Ross) for not being Black enough, she snaps at him a line like: Really? Then tell that to my hair and my ass! Sure, it could all go horribly wrong but it could also be politically incorrectly right. Given that ABC has scheduled it to directly follow Modern Family it just might have a shot at the latter. (Air Date: Sept. 24).

Bring it on!

Bring it on!

3. American Horror Story – Season 4 – I’m addicted to this show for all the wrong reasons it’s sick, twisted, sometimes illogical, and campier than a room full of Ann Miller impersonators (Note: For those under 30 substitute RuPaul impersonators, or simply RuPaul). It doesn’t matter. The new season in this anthology series is called Freak Show, is set inside a Florida circus of outcasts run by Jessica Lange and features a set of conjoined twins, a bearded lady and a severely large, red-mouthed guy in white face named Twisty the Clown. Need I say more? I don’t think so.

Until Oct. 8, the preview can say it for you. In three different ways (Note: Actually, thirteen if you check YouTube on your own).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKGwySm9nMc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cexbmH3xLuQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shIZH4GnQT0

Of course, there are museums to visit, social issues to protest and scathing words to write and say about a myriad of issues that comes across our screens on any given day. Not to mention if we really want to be proactive and do something different we could contribute to a charitable cause, or any cause, we believe in with an amount that exceeds our monthly bills from Time-Warner, Direct TV, Netflix and god knows what other mega speed Internet connections we’re signed up to that enables us to view all of the former in minimal discomfort. Those are all worthy gestures and would no doubt be personally satisfying. But nowhere near as exciting as the momentary thrills we receive after just a few minutes in front of our very own small screen. And therein lies the problem.   That is, if any of us ever choose to see it as such.

 

Excellent, Dude

Figure Skating - Winter Olympics Day 2

How do you achieve excellence?  There are certain markers like this week’s Olympics and the Oscars two weeks from now.  Within them are societal and cultural markers like medals, trophies, fame and money.  But without any one of these, does it mean that you are not excellent at the things you do?  Hmm, perhaps we should consult our trusty dictionary.

Excellence

  1. 
The quality of being outstanding or extremely good;
an outstanding feature or quality.

Notice that nowhere in this definition does it state THE best.  This is because the dictionary knows better than we that no one and nothing in the world can be judged THE best due to the fact that THE best changes on any given day.  The most you can hope for is excellence.  And that comes with its own set of rewards.

... or maybe you do think you are the best.

… or maybe you do think you are the best.

You can beat yourself up, tell yourself you have to get better and concoct an intricate system of deprivations for yourself when you don’t reach your perception of excellence.  I used to do this with my writing and it seemed to help for a while in allowing me to achieve more.  But it also took a heavy psychological toll that at some point began to cost me my excellence.  Kicking and screaming I backed off and realized – after any number of years of psychotherapy and crippling exhaustion from whipping myself into submission – that I had to accept I was no longer doing my best, or more importantly at my best, when using this particular strategy.  So after much practice at actually getting myself to believe that a new way was possible I got myself back on the excellent track by simply working hard and – odd concept though it may seem –once again ENJOYING the work at hand that I have chosen.

Marriage seems to me another sort of cultural benchmark these days –- one of love — especially for gays and lesbians.  Yet for some of us it can also be seen as more of a necessary legal arrangement rather than an arrangement to aspire to in the sweepstakes of the heart.  In either case, the institution itself has little to do with the excellence of a relationship and more to do with mainstreaming yourself into the world so as to be treated like everyone else who wants to publicly declare and legalize their love relationship. But what if you don’t want to be like everyone else?  What if you do not want to conform?  Does that mean you are any less excellent at love, or even relationships?  All societal markers to the contrary, the answer is: certainly not. (Note:  I confess to having spent more than my fair share of time battling this one and have decided that love is always excellent, no matter how simple or complicated we make it).

The bottom line is — you don’t have to be part of a race you don’t want to win.  Does that make you any less excellent in your chosen category of endeavor?  Certainly not, again.  There are lots of people who choose not to compete in many areas of life and are not interested in competition in general.  Some of this thinking harkens back to the old Eastern spiritual philosophy to not shine the light on yourself but on others.  But this does not mean these people are any less excellent at what they do.   It only means that you simply may not know about them because they are not in the commercial or competitive rings.

You go and get your award, Malibu!

You go and get your award, Malibu!

The broader question – and perhaps the only one to ask is:  how much do you want to push yourself to achieve personal excellence?  Do you aspire to be extremely good at what you do? (e.g. do you have to be THE best snowboarder in the world?) Or Is simply doing your thing your most excellent way to live and what excelling means to you?  Or – and here’s a thought – can’t you be and do both????

Watching the winning trifecta of young male U.S.  Olympic slope style skiers pose in what will surely become their iconic silvery polar jackets from Nike (Note: Printed on the jacket’s inside linings are the words: This is your moment) – their gold, silver and bronze medals around their necks fresh from the winners podium – one couldn’t help but smile.  C’mon, these guys are DUDES– it’s all good rad crispy that they won.  But what made it better was that if you met them on the street and knew nothing of their backgrounds you’d be hard pressed to know that they were anything but happy-go-lucky bros who were only special because of how good a mood they seemed to be in in contrast to everyone else.  Oh, with the exception of silver medalist Gus Kenworthy – a lifelong dog lover who made it his mission in Sochi to save a wandering brood of pups he saw on the street and either take them home to the US or find them proper homes in Russia.  In either case, that makes him exceptionally exceptional and his deeds outside of the Olympics the most, MOST excellent.

Stand-ins for One Direction?

Stand-ins for One Direction?

What I’ve also observed this Olympics is how excellently talented people act when they don’t “win.”  In particular, I was impressed with 19-year-old ice skater Jason Brown (our main image for today), who ultimately came in ninth place in his event but gave interviews with the excitement of someone who came in first.  This was in sharp contrast to many other wonderful athletes who to varying degrees felt shamefully disappointed that they didn’t medal or did not win the gold.  Of course, this was not entirely their fault.  I watched in a sort of strange angry horror at how two time gold medal Olympian snowboarder Shaun White, who finished fourth this year in his event, was branded in the media as the big “loser” all week and cross-examined about how disappointed he must be to be deemed only the fourth best in the world in his sport on that given day.

Maybe it was the hair?

Maybe it was the hair?

For years people in Hollywood have joked that it’s an honor just to be nominated for an Academy Award with the unsaid truism being you’re ultimately a loser if you don’t win.  What this is saying more than anything else is that it doesn’t count at all unless you win.  Wait, so then… being an Oscar nominee means you’re…a loser?  That’s what one actor I once worked with told me it felt like after losing in the big category.  This person recounted leaving the whole thing totally depressed as someone who had disappointed everyone.  In fact, to this day that actor looks back at the experience with extreme sadness.  This would seem either hard to imagine or simply neurotic behavior to me if it weren’t for the fact that more than one Oscar loser I have met over the years has told me exactly the same thing.  That’s how far this way of thinking has all gotten.

Of course, any kind of ongoing excellence comes with some sacrifice.  But that should not be in how you’re looked at or categorized by others (or even yourself) –and more in accepting the idea that you can’t be excellent at everything in every moment.  No one can do it all and be everywhere at once so no one – not even you (or me) can excel at everything IN the world.

Uh... ya think?

Uh… ya think?

For all the hours you spend practicing your snowboarding there will simply be less hours you can devote to  –  dating?  making love?  movies?  visiting museums?  watching TV?  family time?  friends?  writing?  Something has to give.  Oh, you can try to incorporate some of those into your routines and multi-task. (Note:  Just the images this brings to mind makes it all worth trying). But multi-tasking takes away from the singular focus you need to excel, at least that’s what the research says.  You see where I’m going here.  You have to make some choices and narrow it down.  You can’t do it all even if you decide to think you can.

A lot of writers face this problem when they structure a script and try to tell the story of every character.  Here too you must make choices.  This is especially challenging for my neophyte writing students who, in their enthusiasm, won’t sell any of their people short.  I see this as generosity, admire the kindness of their intentions and hate to be the Scrooge McDuck who has to tell them that part of being excellent at their craft means making the hard decisions and sometimes being the “bad guy.”  That guy (or gal) who sacrifices something – or someone –  for the greater good of what they are all doing.

Oh you mean I can't have this many characters?

Oh you mean I can’t have this many characters?

Perhaps a nicer way to put this is – compromise.  Not comprising your values but modifying rigid ways of thinking.  Rigidity should not be confused with discipline, which is always necessary to be excellent.  Rigidity is about not listening, about a harshness of spirit with yourself and what you are trying to achieve that does not allow you to see the forest from the trees.  If you are going to be your best – i.e. some version of excellent – the first step is to admit you do not know it all and to learn from the best.  You can be stubborn here– making the choices you see fit and sticking to your guns when you feel deep down in your core of cores you are correct.  But you also cannot set yourself up as a deity that is all knowing and needs to be worshipped (Note: even if the rest of the world is treating you that way) and be your most excellent self.

What is fascinating about Hillary Clinton, among so many things, is not only her overwhelming work ethic – some her a workaholic – but the fact that she always seems willing to compromise (or even accept defeat),  listen, sit back, be a team player, and then regroup.  This just might win her the U.S. presidency.  A person who lost the election of her life then joins the man who beat her up on the political battlefield and helps him have a better presidency by traveling the world as his Secretary of State? Whatever bitterness there might have been did not last and by most accounts Mrs. Clinton and Pres. Obama became quite friendly, if not friends and treasured professional colleagues.  Imagine if she had just thought she knew better, licked her wounds and went away, dragging her faux fur behind her?   Who knows where either one of them would be?  But this is a pattern of excellent behavior on her part that has allowed her to go from being a potential First Lady in the nineties who once snapped I’m not some Tammy Wynette, standing by my man baking cookies, to being a successful First Lady who nevertheless failed miserably at her task of passing health care in the 90s…. and then still go on to be someone branded as sad and foolish for staying with a husband who kind of had sex with a 22 year old intern in his Oval Office, and then still on to being an inexperienced U.S. senator who eventually became a top colleague who won the respect of senators on both ends of the aisle for her intellect and effectiveness… only to emerge again as a leading yet failed presidential candidate who then became U.S. secretary of state and worldwide opinion maker, and now seems likely, at 66 years old, to run again for the White House and thus make history by becoming the first female president of the United States.

Did ya get all that?

Did ya get all that?

Yes, Hillary Clinton is connected, political and extremely intelligent – but there are a lot of political, connected and extremely intelligent people in the world.  She is excellent because she listens, learns, practices, fails, starts over, makes mistakes, practices some more, withstands the missteps, makes more mistakes and then gets up and does it all over again.  She also tries new things and isn’t intimated by new opportunities.  Well, maybe she is intimidated– probably she is in her private moments – but who among us isn’t?  And how many of us go ahead and continue on to do the hard or even hardest thing anyway?

Don’t mistake this for a Hillary Clinton puff paragraph (or two or three).  In truth, it was the famous playwright Samuel Beckett who once wrote “Try again.  Fail Again.  Fail Better.”  This was in an obscure series of short novels published in his later years under the umbrella title Westward Ho and the words were written in an entirely different, much more obtuse context.

Still, it is the nature of writing that sometimes a mere tossed off phrase that you meant one way becomes a mantra in another.  Or in this case, a recipe for success for everyone from a Silicon Valley billionaire to a graduate school student to a middle-aged blogger like myself.  That doesn’t make Beckett a failure any more than winning the Pulitzer Prize makes him a success.  What was most excellent about him, and so many others, was the combination of both his talent AND his work and the dedication and determination he brought to both.

Decades ago I worked on the crew of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the sequel to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Truth be told, it wasn’t a great movie nor was it one of my penultimate professional experiences over the years. I remember thinking at the time that these movies were so dumb that I could not believe they got made at all AND earned boat loads of money, nor that I was being so well paid to do a job on something so insignificant.  Yet here I am, 30 years later, voluntarily using the phrase most excellent – a phrase that was first brought into the international lexicon by the writers of those films – to make an intellectual, or at least common sense point about excellence.

Go figure, dude.