Auntie Emmy

Why is it the Emmy Awards telecast feels like something only your old auntie would watch in real time so she can root for her shows?

  1. Because it is?
  2. Because there is too much TV to have a favorite show if you’re under 90?
  3. Because there are too many award shows and none of them carry much weight?
  4. Because who wants to watch anything except the slow disintegration of the country?

Notice there is no all of the above choice.

At 70 years of age Auntie Emmy is a bit quaint.   She’s sort of the equivalent of a pop culture painting of Elvis on a velveteen blanket or arriving with a box of Fannie Mae chocolates for the beau you’re taking to the church social.

nuff said

Of course, the Chair has never been to a church social, purchased a box of Fannie Mae anything or really knows if there is such a thing as a velveteen blanket, much less one with Elvis painted on it.

Still, it sounds right, doesn’t it?  Something that used to be frivolous, fun and fiercely IMPORTANT now feels almost dull, superficial and, well…unpatriotic to spend any spare time on.

Except….

We Are Americans.

The only thing we love more than competition is…

TELEVISION!!!!!!

Lest we forget COMPETITION TELEVISION #ChoppedAllDay

So who am I/we kidding? We’ll be watching, tweeting, DVRing, reading, dishing and paying some sort of mind – even if it means going out of our way to proclaim both the show AND awards never entered our minds.

This became apparent to me about 10 years ago when I ran into a show biz guy I knew who had just been nominated for an Emmy at a trendy brunch spot that morning and, upon congratulating him, he synthetically replied:

Oh really, were those today? 

Well, yes, that’s why you are in the trendiest show business watering spot in town, you fake, I replied knowingly.

Okay, of course I didn’t.  I mean, I was there too.

Still, those were the days when Emmy was not an auntie and we were both A LOT younger so what does it matter?  He is no doubt still denying he cares as he grudgingly watches, along with the rest of us, silently cheering, or perhaps audibly jeering, for or against his shows.

Which is why every year from now until the end of our republic we will feature:

THE CHAIR’S EMMY CHEAT SHEET:

DRAMA SERIES

Nice try but I will NOT shut up about this show #BlessedBetheFruit

The Handmaid’s Tale
Game of Thrones
This Is Us
The Crown
The Americans
Stranger Things
Westworld

Sadly, there is nothing more timely than The Handmaid’s Tale.  Don’t say you know, but it’s too depressing to watch.  You owe it to your country to be forewarned.  Or at least keep up with current events by way of Gilead.

Yes, all of the aforementioned nominees have their merits, and yes The Americans is all wrapped up and sure Game of Thrones has won twice before and wasn’t up last year when The Handmaid’s Tale won the first time.  So what? Stranger Things and Westworld are audience favorites too and yes, This Is Us could sneak in because it’s the one network show critics, industryites and audiences all love.  But we’re going with the Zeitgeist.

LEAD ACTOR DRAMA

SO. MUCH. PLAID.

Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Ed Harris, Westworld
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us

Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

Trusting our gut here.  The season long tease of Jack’s death on This Is Us gave Milo Ventimiglia all season to be the 70s Dad, man, hottie (NOTE:  NOT all three at once, step back) of our dreams.  Prognosticators don’t give him a chance but sometimes ya get a feelin’.

LEAD ACTRESS DRAMA

Dare I say… SLAY!

Claire Foy, The Crown
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Keri Russell, The Americans
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld

You’re gonna bet against OfFred?  Really?  No, really?  We didn’t think so.  And if one more person tells you Keri Russell gave the performance of the decade or that Sandra Oh’s win will make history ask them if their characters could endure sub freezing temperatures in the suburban wilderness nine months pregnant and then give birth by themselves in the middle of  drafty house with only the fireplace to light their way.  Please.

SUPPORTING ACTOR DRAMA

Wait.. I thought only Harry rocked the beard! #JusticeforHarry

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Joseph Fiennes, The Handmaid’s Tale
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Matt Smith, The Crown

Tough category and all of these actors deserve the honor.  But in any other year The Crown could win best series and best actress.  So it’s Matt Smith here – an actor who somehow managed to make a younger Prince Phillip sympathetic and sort of sexy while not shying away from him also being a lying, priggish philanderer and full on abusive father.  That alone is award-worthy.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS DRAMA

Let’s hope this Serena isn’t robbed. #stillnotoverUSOpen

Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Vanessa Kirby, The Crown
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale

One of the only sure thing categories.  I myself find Serena the most heinous character on television so it’s amazing to see an actress who is actually able to make us believe she’s human.  Don’t know what that means because you haven’t watched the show?   Then WATCH IT!!!

COMEDY SERIES

Emmy’s Darling

Atlanta
Barry
Black-ish
Curb Your Enthusiasm
GLOW
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

There has never been a pilot episode of a television series less likely to break through as both an audience and critics TV favorite as much as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  As I said to my sister, who first turned me on to the show:  This is the most Jewish thing I’ve ever seen, I can’t believe anyone but us and our family is watching it!!

It will be a close race with the depth of storytelling in Atlanta and the sheer originality of Barry but count on Mrs. Maisel for bringing us an escape from reality by way of late 1950s Greenwich Village.

LEAD ACTOR COMEDY

Make more room on the shelf Donny! #thatsuittho

Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Bill Hader, Barry
William H. Macy, Shameless

Donald Glover will deservedly and rightly win.  Everyone else in the category is good but he’s doing something different and real here we haven’t seen before – and doing it consistently in between his tasks as its creator and sometime writer.

LEAD ACTRESS COMEDY

Oh don’t worry Midge, we’ll be there. #Catskills #Season2

Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Allison Janney, Mom
Issa Rae, Insecure
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

The other sure thing category.  It’s Midge in a w.a.l.k.  And when you watch Rachel Brosnahan being interviewed and see how far she is in real life from the character she portrays, well….it’s Midge in a w.a.l.k.

SUPPORTING ACTOR COMEDY

No shark this time

Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta
Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live
Henry Winkler, Barry

Henry Winkler was first nominated for an Emmy 42 YEARS AGO and has never won.  Five nominations and – bupkus.  This guy was THE FONZ!  Plus, his work as a deluded yet somehow effective acting teacher on Barry is heartfelt, fresh and more than deserving.  Not to mention, in real life he’s the nicest man.  Don’t mean to name drop but…..

SUPPORTING ACTRESS COMEDY

Never better #notalternativefacts

Zazie Beetz, Atlanta
Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Aidy Bryant, Saturday Night Live
Betty Gilpin, GLOW
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace

A REALLY tough call.  Alex Borstein should win for being laugh out loud hilarious as Mrs. Maisel’s snide, baked beans eating manager and Megan Mullally has made Karen Walker one of the most popular female supporting characters in the history of TV.  Still, in the 24/7 world of politics Kate McKinnon playing the clown from It as Kellyanne Conway is so frighteningly…something that it trumps all else.

LIMITED SERIES

Welcome to Miami

The Alienist
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Genius: Picasso
Godless
Patrick Melrose

There was something so revolting and alluring about the Assassination of Gianni Versace that it’s hard to imagination it not taking the honors here.  It felt doubtful that this lurid tale warranted an American Crime Story show at all until we watched it use the tale of a twisted killer of one of fashion’s legends as a way to tell  an American tale of class and sexual repression at the turn of this past century.

LEAD ACTOR LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE

Werkin that serial killer lighting like a pro.

Antonio Banderas, Genius: Picasso
Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Melrose
Jeff Daniels, The Looming Tower
John Legend, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
Jesse Plemons, U.S.S. Callister (Black Mirror)

Darren Criss played Andrew Cunanan as the boyish serial killer next door and against all odds it worked.  Criss never fell into psycho cliché or gave us outsider gay sociopath 101, which made his presence all the more disturbing and riveting.  It was hard to turn away even though, honestly, there were spots where you had to turn away.  Perhaps he was too much of an awful thing for some voters, which could shift the trophy to the equally good Benedict Cumberbatch – but probably not.

LEAD ACTRESS LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE

OK fine, this is Dern in Pretty Little Lies but like… Renata forever.

Jessica Biel, The Sinner
Laura Dern, The Tale
Michelle Dockery, Godless
Edie Falco, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders
Regina King, Seven Seconds
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Cult

An odd category this year with no true standout.  Still, in the #MeToo era Laura Dern deserves the credit for a smart portrayal of a difficult character – a woman who must delve back into her past in order to save herself in the present.  She made the transitions between the adult self and the other actresses who played the younger versions of her character seamless, which elevated the material far beyond where it could have landed.

SUPPORTING ACTOR LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE

I mean.. OK sure.

Jeff Daniels, Godless
Brandon Victor Dixon, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
John Leguizamo, Waco
Ricky Martin, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Edgar Ramírez, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Michael Stuhlbarg, The Looming Tower
Finn Wittrock, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Not going to lie.  This is a guess based on prognosticators.  But EVERYONE agrees it’s Jeff Daniels and the more you read his reviews the more you will also agree.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE

But also kudos to hair and makeup because this is late 90s perfection.

Sara Bareilles, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
Penélope Cruz, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Judith Light, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Adina Porter, American Horror Story: Cult
Merritt Wever, Godless
Letitia Wright, Black Museum (Black Mirror)

The majority of critics believe it’s going to be Penelope Cruz but I could only understand half of the words she said through all the episodes and that’s being generous.  Besides, there is only one Donatella Versace and that’s Maya Rudolph.  Heck, they even once shared the stage in matching evening gowns at the VH1 Fashion Awards.

However, Judith Light brought a new level of denial as the successful and privileged businesswoman wife of a closeted gay man.  It was a strange yet real type of character we don’t see much on television and she could easily get the Emmy for it if it doesn’t go to Merritt Wever or Lettia Wright.  Meaning, we’re not sure but we’re going with Judy.

VARIETY TALK SERIES

We seriously cannot forget about Marlon Bundo. #thebest

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
The Late Late Show with James Corden
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Every single show is worthy.  It really depends on what their producers submitted.  But Last Week with John Oliver feels like the gold standard here and the rightful successor to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, especially after his win last year.  Though what do we know, we and everyone else we know voted for #HILLARY.

VARIETY SKETCH SERIES

This happened!

At Home with Amy Sedaris
Drunk History
I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman
Portlandia
Saturday Night Live
Tracey Ullman’s Show

Until Trump gets impeached it’s Saturday Night Live.  Never has there been a more perfect match of time, material and talent (Note: The White House being the exception).  Though it’s safe to assume SNL would gladly make a deal to give up the honor if they could get him out.  ……Wouldn’t they??

REALITY COMPETITION SERIES

DVR IS SET

The Amazing Race
American Ninja Warrior
Project Runway
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Top Chef
The Voice

The awards are on a MONDAY night this year and desperately needs some sashay. Besides, I’ve watched every season of The Voice and this last one sucked.  Gurrrrl…

Sissy That Walk – RuPaul

 

Stay tuned for the Chair’s recap of the Emmys! Follow along during the show using #NotesfromtheEmmys … hopefully it will be MARVELOUS (like I could resist).

 

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Same Old Song?

Turner Classic Movies had Judy Garland Day last week and, being a gay man of a certain age, I couldn’t resist tuning in at one point to this 24-hour Judy film fest.

Don’t judge me.

But of all of the choices available who knew that it would be a 1961 dour melodrama about four German judges being tried before a postwar military tribunal for their collaboration with Hitler and the Third Reich, Judgment at Nuremberg, that would hit me like a ton of bricks.

I can think of at least five other Judy films that would have been more enjoyable. (Note: Okay — A Star Is Born, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St. Louis, Easter Parade and I Could Go On Singing). Though none that could be more timely.

Realistically, this is how I wish I felt about today’s political climate.

In hindsight I should have predicted it. Like the currently much lauded, breakthrough post apocalyptic Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale (which is about to once again become a multi Emmy winner for its superb second season), you can’t go wrong in 2018 watching a story about a country of people who enable a rabid white nationalist political regime to persecute, maim and/or kill anyone they deem to be a subversive OTHER.

Unless all you want to do is escape and put your _____ in the sand.   In which case, you are not only wrong but veering towards the same sheep-like behavior portrayed by some of your fellow countrymen in that movie, that series and no doubt countless other ____________s about to come out on other platforms that will be, at least thematically, very much like them.

Whether we call it the Nazis, the power brokers of Gilead or simply Trumpism – it’s all the same thing. A regime that wants to demonize anyone outside of a select group of people they don’t judge ‘ideal’ – whether they be Jews, the non-religious or Mexican/Middle Eastern immigrants – in order to rouse a base of loyal voters whose lives they promise to improve and whose country they vow to protect and/or rebuild.

I’m gonna go ahead and add “Crippling Insecurity” to the YES column #tinyhands

This strategy is always advanced with promises to put the people of said country FIRST, declarations that said country is GREAT and proclamations that the rest of the world is NO BETTER morally than they are and usually quite INFERIOR.

Yeah, I don’t like comparing any regime, especially America’s current regime, to the Nazis. But the argument being advanced is not how successful the regime is at achieving their goals or to what ends they will get to go in order to achieve them. Instead, it’s the philosophy and the strategy.

The degree to how far they get to go – well, this is up to their subjects… er….citizenry. In other words – THIS IS UP TO US.

BRB

Again, the comparison seemed a bit reach-y. Until too many lines from Judy’s Nazi film, for which she was nominated as Oscar’s best supporting actress that year along with several other cast members in their own categories, began to ring a bell.

— It started when Marlene Dietrich’s upper crust German woman says of Hitler:

He was in awe of nobility but he hated it.

— Then it continued when Montgomery Clift’s ordinary German man recalled the times he was MOCKED by LEADERS of the power class for speaking in a way that seemed slow even when he demonstrated the ability to understand logic.

I’m with Meryl — this still makes my blood boil

— It continued when Judy’s youngish German woman recalled how her best friend, a 65 year old Jewish man, was laughed at and held up to mockery by the PUBLIC at his trial simply because he was A JEW. The charges were violating the new law outlawing A JEW having sex with A GERMAN ARYAN (Judy), a charge he was found guilty of and put to death for even though, as it turned out, it never happened.

–Then there was Marlene’s defense of herself and the German people over Americans condemning her after the war:

Listen to me, there are things that happenedon BOTH SIDES.

ummmm… WHAT?

— Which all finally led to one of the four judges on trial, eloquently played by Burt Lancaster, exposing the lies he and his fellow Germans told themselves about Hitler and the Third Reich:

We say – what difference does it make – our country is at stake – Hitler (He) will be gone after a while. Things denied to US as a democracy are open to us now…. And then one day we looked around and saw what was going to be a passing phase had become a way of life.

Yes, all of these lines were indeed written – by the great screenwriter Abby Mann – but they were based on actual transcripts and stories he culled from the real Nuremberg trials right after the end of WWII.

.. and with a cast like this to make it come to life.

They were not his thoughts he put into his characters’ mouths so much as a distillation of real sentences and opinions and ideas of the time.

Though perhaps knowing there would be a portion of their audience that still might think they were being too polemic or had gone a bit too far, the filmmakers’ “movie trial” included 5-10 minutes of REAL NEWSREEL FOOTAGE of thousands of actual naked Jewish corpses – as well as others barely alive and starving – to back up their words.

This along with clips and still photos of the real crematoriums, featuring close ups of the popular German oven manufacturer that built them. In addition to historical maps indicating the dozens of specific towns with concentration camps hidden among a significant percentage of German citizenry who either supported Hitler because he was doing some good things or because it was easier to turn a blind eye to the whole ugly mess just because.

It’s difficult to face the truths, or potential truths, of any world, especially our own, but in the end it’s far uglier not to.

or you know, truth becomes relative. #stillcantbelievethishappened

As Spencer Tracy’s presiding American judge lets us know at the end of Judgment at Nuremberg in a way only a presiding American judge played by Spencer Tracy could truly make work:

A country is what it stands for – when it’s the most difficult. We stand for justice, truth and the value of a single human being.

Or to put it in 2018 parlance: There’s a reason why Sen. John McCain, who died on Saturday, chose Barack Obama and George W. Bush, a former Democratic president and a former Republican president, to deliver the eulogies at his Capitol Hill memorial service this week rather than the current sitting President of Trumpism.

 

United States of Handmaids

There’s a moment in the just released duo of episodes from the second season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale where Elisabeth Moss’ title character finds a way to mourn the many dead in her dystopian world.

It’s a rare moment of grace in one of the most depressingly riveting series to ever be on television, yet it doesn’t tip the scales towards hope. More tellingly, it simply provides a road map by which she can go on.

These days I so get it.

I’d so like to see Donald Trump as a handmaid. Mostly because it would mean I wouldn’t ever have to see or hear from him again. (Note: Handmaids don’t get to back talk and if they do they get beaten to a pulp). Plus, he’d look so god damn awful in one of those god damn red robes and god damn white bonnets.

Yeah, this is what I’ve come to. Wishing very bad things – and worse – on other people. I don’t ever do that sort of thing. Except, well, I guess now I do.

We’re here for you Chairy

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, I’d like to see Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his entire meat and potatoes Cabinet and each member of his immediate, extended profiteering family wearing the uniform too. Including Melania. Let’s see if she can silently style her way out of that one while the rest of them long for their halcyon days while chowing down on virtual pieces of their Marie Antoinette-styled tea cakes.

There is nothing in film, television or, frankly, any other art form at the moment that captures the Trump era in America better than The Handmaid’s Tale. This was clearly not novelist Margaret Atwood’s intention when she wrote it 30 plus years ago since back then the occupier in chief at the White House was merely a New York tabloid punch line – the ultimate representation of the nouveau riche 1980s, with all of the tackiness, tastelessness and déclassé that represents.

… which is why this 1990 movie reads in a MUCH different way

But that was then and this is now – as the before and after narratives in Hulu’s small screen series so relentlessly point out. What was once a paranoid delusion (ICE agents in the street ripping apart families) can become as serious as a heart attack (women seen merely as sexual objects who double as baby making machines) in what feels like the blink of an eye (National security risks) in the world of dystopian fiction as adapted for television.

Or is that mostly real life mirroring television as adapted from dystopian fiction.

This is not a drill!

Beats me if I know the difference anymore. In many ways, it’s merely a matter of degree and where you sit when you’re looking at it.

Ask the overwhelming majority of us native New Yorkers who spent any time there in the eighties. Every day these days we rue any other day in the past when we dismissed Donnie, our loathsome homeboy, as nothing more than a corrupt, racist carnival barker.

That is because we know that we treated him as merely a delicious target of amusement – someone we allowed to skate through our headlines fueled by the disgrace of his Daddy’s money, an immoral streak as unrelenting as his motor mouth and as wide as the obviously receding hairline he was even then so desperately trying to hide during a decade where looks, money, and power, as typified by lots of gold gild, somehow became the ideal.

As Barack Obama once so eloquently told us: It is time to own their (nee OUR) failure.

GET ME MORE WINE

I’ll tell you what brought me back here – to that place of rage I was at right after the 2016 election.

— It wasn’t his continuing campaign against Muslims and other non-Whites from entering our country to stoke fear and division.

Uh oh… it’s happening

– It wasn’t his restrictions against transgender people in the military out of sheer ignorance or his order to not include gay families in the US Census out of purposeful spite.

– It wasn’t his constant rolling back of Obama era environmental regulations out of greed, anger and a powerfully personal, neurotic antipathy towards his predecessor.

Getting angrier…

— Nor was it his relentless totalitarian attacks towards what are now Pulitzer Prize winning members of the free press or his own unapologetic compulsion to pass off brazen lies as truth and cold, hard inarguable facts as fake news.

– It wasn’t even the constant lying about his ties to Russia, even by the standards of Alice In Wonderland-type logic (Note: How many of his “people” in the campaign and/or administration now have confirmed ties to the Russian rabbit hole and their various other regional oligarchs – a dozen, two dozen, three thousand?)

Can’t… suppress… the… rage

In truth, it happened with his remarks this week when he was hosting this year’s medal-winning Olympic and Paralympic athletes and their families at the White House.

Specifically speaking to the Paralympians – those being top tier athletes with a wide range of disabilities, including quadriplegia and intellectual impairment – the sitting U.S. president stated:

“And what happened with the Paralympics was so incredible and so inspiring to me…. And I watched — it’s a little tough to watch too much, but I watched as much as I could. It was really fantastic, and I want to thank you.

Imagine, you have a disability you were born with or arbitrarily acquired and yet manage to train to the point where you are an international competitor, in games commensurate to the Olympics every four years, and a guy born into privilege who lives on a diet of junk food and undisciplined rage, stands up and says to you from the loudest bully pulpit in the world that it’s:

a little tough to watch you compete too much but (mea culpa) he watched you as much as I could.

How do you feel about that – you living a daily life of unbridled discipline in order to survive?

And what do you think, or feel, if you’re a friend of such a person, or a member of their family?

Moreover, what is your reaction as another human being to an off the cuff statement like that by some currently serving as you own…president?

Yeah we feel that

Reminder to a large swath (though not majority) of the American people who chose such an individual to be their leader:

Having one or two Black friends doesn’t mean you’re not a racist.

Attending a gay wedding or inviting a gay celebrity over for dinner doesn’t disqualify you from being a homophobe.

Nor does voting for or continuing to support one disqualify YOU from either label.

You’re all terrible

It is time YOU own our failures and for the rest of US who let you off the hook to give you HELL daily.  Especially if you continue to support such nonsense for your own personal convenience, peace of mind or greed.   You don’t like it – tough. You think it’s the wrong strategy? Bite me.

From now on, every day is the day after Election Day.  Or else #WeAreAllHandmaids.

Unless, of course, we already are but just haven’t been given the outfit or streamed till the end of the season.

Grace – “You Don’t Own Me”

Who’s Naughty and Nice?

If the bar for presents from Santa Claus is who’s been naughty or nice why shouldn’t we also use it for all the fictional characters in our lives?   These days they seem far more alive than any number of real people we come across daily – especially those we see daily reports about on television.

Yes we, or perhaps only I, have gotten to the point where what’s out there on an hour-to-hour basis is more impossible to fathom than any extreme or even random action taken on any one of our favorite TV shows by any one of our favorite friends um, characters.

The best reason to be antisocial this season

The most overused expression of 2017 – aside from the world is ending – has to be “we live in The Golden Age of Television.” Nevertheless, we do. The choices feel infinite and, instead of what used to be 439 channels and still nothing to watch, we’ve now got so much we want to watch and so little time to do so.

Make of that last sentence what you will. And drink each time you ponder the part about time and little.

Certainly, it’d be a bit alarming to start buying actual gifts for your favorite friends characters. Or would it? I, for one, have a new bar for alarming and it’s neither nice or naughty. It’s scary.

Just call me Kenneth the Page

Which is not the case for the best of my fantasy buddies. They’re not only naughty AND nice, they never fail to disappoint me – especially in the toughest times – which in these days is every day.

THE LIST:

#5 – Hannah Baker (Thirteen Reasons Why) and Jack Pearson (This Is Us), played by Katherine Langford and Milo Ventimiglia

Just give me all the Kleenex now

Well, why NOT start with TWO DEAD PEOPLE? No, these are not spoilers. In the theme of reality IS fantasy these two characters are more alive to their friends and relatives in death than perhaps they ever were when they were actually living.

You can say both are naughty because they seemed to have ultimately caused their own deaths. For Hannah, it was a suicide. For Jack, well – the writers haven’t quite revealed it yet but the drinking and his repressed dark side are both pointing to a demise that was at least, in part, his own doing.

Which makes it all the more memorably heartbreaking to recognize that Jack and Hannah were/are both – so damn nice!

Jack Pearson is the fantasy Dad whose bon mots are timeless life lessons passed on to us, along with endless supplies of sensitivity and an eternally buoyant hairline. Oh, the hairline.

#HAIRENVY

Hannah Baker is girl that got away (literally), the girl who made you laugh, the girl who was the smartest and most infuriating in high school and the girl who you still wonder about decades later and would choose over almost any one else to have just one more final meeting with.

They both remind us that life is fleeting and every so often make us want to contact the estranged parent, friend or person we haven’t yet gotten the nerve to talk to before it’s too late. Which, in itself, is pretty damn nice, indeed.

#4 –  Dougie Jones/Agent Dale Cooper/Evil Doppelganger Cooper (Twin Peaks: The Return), played by Kyle Maclachlan

Hair is becoming a theme here

For those who didn’t tune in to this limited Showtime series to see what happened to Agent Cooper 25 years later, suffice it to say that these three people are indeed all part of one person.   No, you don’t want the explanation. Just accept it.

Dougie Jones walks and talks like a programmed robot (which he indeed may be) but all bets are off when he enables a “homeless” woman in Las Vegas to hit numerous jackpots on the slot machine and bring reams of his own winnings to his long suffering wife and kid – all while unwittingly bringing out the best of two dim-witted Mafia guys with his innate kindness.

Which doesn’t mean he’s incapable of choking a person who gets in his way. Though much of this is left to his Evil Doppelganger who shoots, bites, knives and brutally kicks his way through multiple murders. This version is the irresistible id of evil – someone we all revile because he’s the miniscule evil part of us we would never publicly admit we occasionally have to repress. Not that I just did.

Not me… all the time

As for Agent Cooper, what can you say about a guy who has barely aged a day in a quarter of a century? You admit he’s one of your faves, meet him for pie and coffee and find out his secrets – many of which are still to be revealed.   A 2042 sequel?   We’ll see. On second thought, maybe one of you will.

#3 –  Offred/June Osborne (The Handmaid’s Tale), played by Elisabeth Moss

Peggy Olson sure has changed #jonhammwhereareyou

No one expressed the naughtiness of our current reality and dystopic alternative reality than Offred. It feels reductionist to say the most famous handmaid on any plane was the precursor to the #MeToo movement and impossible to believe that she became the poster child for all of our worst fears about America in the Age of T—P.

Before Offred was an enslaved, raped and tortured handmaid she was the fun-loving, feisty and sweet June Osborne – just a gal making her way in a big city where she worked, fell in love and lived a life. It wouldn’t seem imaginable that her past could serve as prologue to her future but that’s the point – both we and June are often too busy and not observant enough to pick up the signs.

This is where Offred takes over and shows us there are times when naughty is the essential survival skill and nice is a but a mere luxury – some would say relic – of the past. If that seems applicable to the way we live now, well perhaps it is. Or soon will be.

#2 – Dustin Henderson (Stranger Things 2), played by Gaten Matarazzo

CODE RED

Twelve year-old Dustin has a lisp, unruly hair, mad crushes on two teenage girls who will prove unattainable and a look that will forever read best friend rather than star anything.

But Dustin also subverts every stereotype as we watch him not only tame his hair but prove time and time again he is the smartest, funniest and overall most charming in the room – or in town.

don’t forget that Farrah Fawcett hair product #thankssteve

This is not to say he is without his faults. Hiding a slimy and mysteriously growing little creature in your home and allowing it to eat everything you can find, including your (NO SPOILERS HERE but you can imagine) wasn’t the best of ideas. Nor is his unwavering loyalty to the bonds of childhood friendships. Or is it?

The latter is a question we all ask and re-ask ourselves through the decades, which is why every victory this kid has and each mistake he makes feels impossibly awful and improbably life-affirming.

Dustin manages to be a piece of the young us we will always be on the inside.   That he not only brings back those awkward times but makes us simultaneously long for them and embrace him, is the ultimate achievement of both the character AND the young actor who so effortlessly embodies him. And us.

#1 – Miriam (Midge) Maisel (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), played by Rachel Bronsnahan

Bring it, Midge!

What we all needed in 2017 and will need in the future is funny and MIDGE IS, most of all, FUNNY. Funny, funny, funny, funny. How ironic is it, then, that she exists in 1958, 1959 and 1960?

Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a relatively new streaming series that many of you have not yet sampled but will surely do so as it gains awards and attracts critical attention, steam and an expanded audience in the near future.   This is because it is indeed FUNNY. Funny, funny, funny, funny.

Midge is an unlikely mainstream star in her time – a young, Jewish housewife/daughter/mother on the upper west side of New York who is much too smart and too witty for her own good, at least in the decade in which she lives, yet just creative enough to make it work for herself in the most unlikely of professionals – stand up comedy. Or so one hopes.

SLAY

If you’ve ever wondered if you’d have been better off being born in another decade or place (and which of us haven’t this year), Midge gives you hope. She’s the ultimate problem solver for herself and everyone else – that is until it all falls apart and she has to rethink everything and everyone she once knew for sure.

She fails, gets lucky, fails again, opens her mouth when anyone in their right mind would hold back, gets lucky once more, stumbles – and through timing and fate keeps talking back – until she begins to finally get heard. Only to lose a little more ground once more after a big gain.

Midge gets shoved onstage, performs drunk and/or stoned, bombs big time and occasionally slays – in a small club in Greenwich Village, N.Y. with sticky seats where the men tell jokes and the women sit there and laugh.   It’s hilarious watching her discover what those close to her have always known but never ever told her – that she’s the best joke teller in the room.   But it’s even better when she begins to discover what pretty much everyone else in the world knows: she too is an artist – though not quite the kind she had thought or even ever hoped for.

That Girl

I have a close female friend in my life I’ve always called a can-do gal to her face and have always made sure she knew it was the highest of compliments. That is because this is a person who, despite everything, always manages to make it happen and always does so with humor. She has fun.   Not only that, when you’re with her you get to have fun. And at least feel like you’re accomplishing something.

Midge is this kind of person. You can’t help but want to hang out with her, hoping that some of that can-do joy will eventually rub off. Not to mention, she’s…well, you know.

That’s why these days she’s my #1. Fictionally, at least.

Fred Astaire – “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

Darlings in Dystopia

The first masterful piece of mass entertainment reflecting the Trump era is here and, strangely enough, it’s based on a novel from 32 years ago. Thanks Hulu, or more correctly, damn you, Hulu – for your new series The Handmaid’s Tale.

Set in a dystopian future where women have no rights and the country has undergone a cultural/religious revolution brought on by terrorism and perhaps limited (!) nuclear war, The Handmaid’s Tale is simultaneously riveting and extremely difficult to watch. Much like an accident. Or Sean Spicer’s daily White House press briefings when not given by Melissa McCarthy.

…and not nearly as delicious/campy/tragic/gorgeous as FX’s Feud #ohmamacita

Of course, to reduce the retelling of Margaret Atwood’s classic 1985 novel, which she wrote decades ago in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down, as merely an allegory for Trumpism would be selling it short. Not to mention it would be giving the Electoral College POTUS too much credit. (Note: The mere mention of his name is too much credit for me, but that’s another story, and not a particularly funny or readable one. So I will #resist the temptation).

The brilliance of Atwood’s story is that her dystopian world adapts to easily reflect the post-modern apocalyptic realities from any number of time periods in which we currently reside. Though perhaps this series just makes it look that way. More correctly, it’s probably a little bit of both.

Imagine a world where women are not in control of their reproductive rights or being gay is seen as “gender treachery” and appropriately punished.   Then revisit Trump’s sound bite at a town hall event with Republican voters in Wisconsin last year where he publicly stated that if abortion becomes illegal women should face “some form of punishment.

Or simply read about the well-documented death and torture of gay men now occurring in numerous “detention centers” in pro-Russia Chechnya.

Unless this is where you’d rather live #keepinitreal

In the Hulu/Atwood world of terrorism, contemporary women, who only hours before were annoyed that their Uber driver was late, now find all their digital imprints frozen and assets seized. It’s for their own safety, say the authorities. Terrorists. Nuclear war. Centralize power and control for PROTECTION.

When mass sterility (due to environmental poisoning) sets in only a few years later it’s not hard to see that the few females that are still somehow able to reproduce become a treasured governmental commodity. I mean, what price is the continuation of the WORLD, right?

Well.. don’t get ahead of yourself Ms. Knowles

The fact that this is a world now dominated primarily by wealthy WHITE men, helped along by a few female counterparts not quite as powerful as they are, is not really questioned. And the fact that it’s not really questioned by the masses is one of the few differences it has from the basic world order in 2017.

Right after the inauguration of Donald Trump 3.2 million people took to the streets in a march for women’s rights. Which in turn became a growing resistance to emerging authoritarian rule that promised to roll back the rights of numerous other minorities – of color, of race, of national origin, of sexual persuasion, you name it – by an authoritarian voted in by a PLURALITY of voters. The idea, to save the country going down the tubes by making it GREAT again, was not sitting particularly well with its masses.

Pretty much sums it up

So given what I saw as one of those 3.2 million masses marching back in January it was not too difficult, and more than a little scary, for me to make the leap this Hulu series asks. Especially since the three black hooded corpses of a priest, a doctor and a gay man hanging on ropes high from the walls of what used to be a former library were really only incidental backdrops. That’s how I often feel now as a gay man in Trump country and Trump logic.   An annoying incidental to the main story.

Which in some ways is a better place to be than enduring the indignities many females are facing in Trump America. Certainly, it’s better than what the lead women in the Hulu show were about to endure. Though even here I hate to sell the latter short.

We’re not in Stars Hollow anymore, Rory.

It’s hard to tell where any of this is going or whether fiction will for sure prove worse than fact. As a wise psychiatrist once told me, you can only operate from “what is.” And what we do know in the real world is that an estimated 13,000 women are now planning to run for office across the country and a group called Emerge America recently held training classes for 25 female Democratic candidates for Congress, state senate, city council, etc. in 18 states.

Their numbers are up 87% since the election, which seems reasonable. So do comments from the female candidates on a recent NBC news report where one admitted needing practice in the best ways to do things like “asking for money” and “connecting with voters.” Those skills don’t always come naturally for those not born into power positions. But what do they say – Necessity is the mother of invention? Actually, it was not they but the Greek philosopher Plato and yes, I had to look it up. (Note: And yes, he was a man, as far as we know. Which doesn’t make it any less true).

well, that too. #wink

As far as the series is concerned, I take some solace in the casting of Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss in the key lead role of Offred/June, our birth machine/handmaid heroine. Watching Ms. Moss personify the slow empowerment of the 1960s woman as Mad Men’s Peggy Olson – who goes from mousy, intelligent and intimidated to smart, savvy and, yes, empowered, gave hope to many of us hopeless incidentals. And to any of us who have ever felt, or will feel this way.

How I will always remember you girl #peggyforever

It’s one of the best gifts a truly gifted actor can give us. So in the bleak but all too truly allegorical world of The Handmaid’s Tale we can’t help but feel safe in her hands.

One wishes the same could be said about the leading player, or players, in our 2017 reality.

 

Snob Stories

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 12.17.22 PM

There are few things more annoying to me than an art snob. That endless debate about high and low art where the snobs turn their nose up at specific artistic endeavors – meaning the commercial kind, the childish kind or even the basic kind – in favor of what they perceive to be masterworks that have not gained mainstream acceptance. This group also doubly bridles when others often criticize their masterworks for being slow-moving, esoteric, sad, depressing, overly intellectual, confusing, distancing or, at the end of the day, just plain boring.

This argument cuts equally the other way. For there are also those who are consistently determined to leave what little bits of brains they have remaining at the door and dismiss anything on film, television, the stage or even at a museum that challenges them to spend more than a second or two pondering or, heaven forbid, processing its meaning. The adjectives this group – the anti-snob snobs — apply to their hate list usually begins with pretentious and ends with high-fallutin’.’ Translation: Anything that doesn’t immediately make me laugh or cry is beyond the ability of a reasonable person (Note: ME) to understand and enjoy and therefore is not worth my time. This, too, is snobbery, but of the mainstream kind.

Ugh. Is this movie in black and white?

Ugh. Is this movie in black and white?

Of course, neither of these forms of elitisms is to be confused with the most treacherous – the financial and/or critical version. Meaning the amount of money a creative effort makes in relation to the cost or how many experts write complimentarily and eloquently about it is the real bottom line of its value???

Uh, no.

Simply put, just because your latest favorite film has grossed a billion dollars worldwide is not tangible evidence it is great. Money is not necessarily proof of artistic talent. It is evidence of a talent for moneymaking. Similarly, a handful of rave reviews from your fellow intellectuals and/or critics who always agree with you does not prove the new piece of cinema which didn’t get theatrical or even VOD distribution but you so, so enjoyed is better than anything playing at any random multiplex anywhere in the world. Nor does it give you a pass to boast voluntary ignorance or giggle derisively when someone mentions it might be worth your time to check out a really fab new limited TELEVISION series they saw with their kids and spouse at home one Saturday afternoon while lounging on the sofa.

#goaway

#goaway

Full confession: I was a film and television critic for Variety many decades ago and used to fight these battles daily with fellow co-workers, studio executives and other critics – as well as with many in my family and friends. There is a reason why the saying, Everybody has two businesses – their business and show business has stood the test of time. People get very emotional and are very invested with what they find good and bad on the cultural landscape.

This is why comments by Variety’s chief film critic this week proclaiming his total ignorance about contemporary television – as well as an article in Filmmaker magazine that boldly declared TV IS NOT THE NEW FILM (Note: You could almost hear the writer shouting it off the page) really got my goat. Oh, and add to that writer/director Ethan Coen’s response to a question at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where along with his brother Joel he served as grand jury president, about the much-acclaimed TV series version of their hit film Fargo.

It’s not that I don’t like TV. It’s alien to me.  I haven’t watched a television show in decades. 

…..he said proudly.

Oh yes, he was just being honest. The same way Variety’s Justin Chang was truthful when he wrote about the Cinema vs. Television debate in a gee whiz sort of way:

I would have to bone up on years of neglected TV watching before I could hazard a guess — as it stands, it feels like an apples-and-oranges comparison, and one where I don’t have the clearest idea what oranges taste like.

I suppose this was better than what Mike S. Ryan proclaimed in Filmmaker.

As much as I love Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men or Twin Peaks, as great and as groundbreaking as those shows were, they are still not Cinema.

Oh, why is it whenever anyone says or writes the word cinema I want to stick my tongue down their throats and get them to spit up a hairball?

Preach

Preach

The reason this has surfaced is that the upcoming Toronto Film Festival has decided to follow the lead of other film festivals all over the world and feature one of two programs this year devoted to television i.e. the pilot episodes of several new series viewers will be treated to later in the year.

The immediate reaction of critics like Chang is to sniff they were just too busy with CINEMA to watch contemporary television, even the superior kind. It seems like it’s even the inferred response of a prominent film artist like Mr. Coen, who treats the mere mention of the medium as some rare oddity from outer space he, as an earthling and non-scientist, has just not had the time or education to get familiar with.

anigif_enhanced-31485-1424364409-2

Frankly, I’m amazed at these reactions.

Certainly everyone has the right to sample what they choose to or have time for. We’re lucky to live in a world where there are so many possibilities of art to sample with the click of a button. But this is the same reason for any evolving artist and/or critic to try and take a little bit more time to survey the contemporary world if they want to continue to remain interesting, or even relevant.

This past week I stood in front of three different small groups of students in the first classes in the college semester where I will guide them as they formulate and execute any number of screenplays, television pilots and spec episodes of existing series. These are all smart, aware and active young people in their early twenties and it might or might not surprise you to know that the vast majority of them only very sporadically go out to the movies or watch a television series at the precise moment its network or cable outlet decides to first air it. Nor do they particularly care whether they view what they eventually watch on a big screen, laptop, iPad or smart phone. Oh sure, there are the occasional events, or motion pictures that must be seen large or viewed as early as possible. But these are rare. Like – VERY rare.

Like this...

Like this…

And studio executives take note – the two most repeated words I heard in all of our conversations about which movies and TV shows they liked and watched (Note: Yes, they all did BOTH!) were:

HULU and NETFLIX.

Unless one wants to write about or create art rooted or set solely in the past it might be nice for those at the top of their game in either of these fields to take note of some of the above. It does not mean you are betraying Renoir, Tarkovsky or Chantal Akerman. Anymore than it means you are turning your back on The Real Housewives if every now and then you decide to go to your local art house or streaming service and check in to see what Andrew Bujaski or the Dardenne brothers are up to.

As for the high vs. low art issue, I for one refuse to get into a debate over whether The Hangover is better than Breaking Bad, if the first season of True Detective had camerawork and imagery that would indeed rival the latest Terrence Malick film or if Guardians of the Galaxy was more enjoyable than any one episode of Mad Men or even The Sopranos. I mean, who really gives a shi damn???

Oh who am I kidding? The answer is ALWAYS Mad Men. #EmmyforHamm

Oh who am I kidding? The answer is ALWAYS Mad Men. #EmmyforHamm

Yes, I’d rather watch Breaking Bad on a loop for the next three years than to have to sit through another Hangover even one more time. But I have actually seen the first two (Note: Ok, not all three) Hangover films. Not to mention all of the above choices, even the last few from the brilliant Malick – a director I really have to take a rest from before I become one the very kind of lazy, non-thinkers I’ve warned my students (and all of you) not to become.

See, sometimes it’s not enough to simply be aware of your tendency toward marginalizing, judgment or limited thinking in the art world. You actually need to make an effort to get off the couch or your soapbox, or flop down onto your couch and put on the TV. You’re free not to do that. But if so, please spare us your snob stories.