Forward Backward Thinking

The many fans of writer extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin’s TV fantasy of the presidency, The West Wing, were able to luxuriate in nostalgia this week.

Simpler times

In support of Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote, a non-partisan (Note: Ahem) organization that seeks to encourage voting in groups that too often sit out elections (e.g. young people, communities of color), HBO Max presented a staged reading, with the original cast, of Sorkin’s favorite WW episode — season 3’s Hartfield’s Landing.

This is where senior White House staff obsess about what the first reported presidential primary vote will be in a fictional 48-person New Hampshire town.  After all, the results will dominate the news all day and, if it goes well for the POTUS, it will set a positive tone for all the hoped for favorable press their boss will receive.

LOL remember when there was no news?

And, as we all now know, there is nothing more urgent than setting an upbeat tone in order to win the White House.  Right?

Well, history turns on a dime and what seemed urgent in 2002 and then became just plain silly in light of 2016 could easily, once again, become necessary in 2020.  Right?

Right Jon, right???

Sure!  As I explained to my students this week online via Zoom, because there’s been a deadly pandemic going on for the last eight months and we couldn’t possibly all be in the same room or breathe the same air, history swings like a pendulum – from left to right and back again.

To which one of them blurted out:

So,  when IS it going to swing back?

Yikes, good question #teachablemoment?

I, of course, immediately blurted back that they had to go out to the streets and, while safely socially distanced, swing it back the way they wanted.  Until I realized this was not only likely impossible but sounded like a Grade C imitation of the response Sorkin himself would give. 

Nor do I even believe it in the darker days of 2020.  Which, I confess, is most all of them.

Still, when you live in a purported democracy that’s about all you have, isn’t it?   It’s really just in how inspiring a way you can express it. 

Like a bad haircut, maybe it just needs time.

Well, Mr. Sorkin’s once again done an excellent job on that score as both writer and director in his latest film, The Trial of the Chicago 7. (Note…. the segue).

Dropping on Netflix just one day after the gauzy West Wing redux, his new Netflix offering (Note:  Because, well, our pandemic politics has shuttered most movie theatres and shoved this planned major theatrical release from Paramount right into your home stream) is anything but delicate.

Instead, it’s a theatrically cynical look back into history when the U.S. government was intent on using politics and every piece of the legal system, whether illegally or not, to punish and jail those who dare to take their protests onto the streets.

Look back? Who’s gonna tell him?

Side Note:  It seems particularly fitting it dropped after a week of Senate hearings aimed at putting arch Conservative (and self-possessed handmaid) Judge Amy Coney Barrett on the US Supreme Court.  When asked this week by a Republican senator to name the five freedoms the Bill or Rights guarantees for all Americans, Ms. Barrett could only think of four – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.

The one freedom that stumped her?

The right to petition the government for redress of grievances, OR, freedom to protest.

And there was laundry talk!

Fittingly enough, the clairvoyant Mr. Sorkin’s new legal drama takes us back in time to the late sixties, when this very issue was very, very VERY publicly spotlighted.  This was a time when the federal government, newly controlled by the uber conservative and freedom of protest loathing Richard Nixon, decided to charge a group of young and somewhat renowned and popular anti- Vietnam War protestors for conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intent to incite riots at the site of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

Your next Netflix watch

Take the antics of this cross-section of long and short-haired, hippie and preppy, respectful and comically stoned and disrespectful young people – and mix it with a real-life first amendment-hating and often blatantly racist judge tasked with carrying out those charges by newly installed and diabolically fascist federally empowered Nixon flunkies and, well, you can see where hilarity and mass national conflicts could ensue.

And where the comparable present-day hyperbole might begin.

It’s not a particularly pretty story to look back on, even with the much hoped for and very pithily delivered Sorkin bon mots.  But even if you don’t love Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat movies or his borderline irredeemable prankster antics, you couldn’t experience anyone better portraying the late Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, who famously feasted on yanking the chain of the establishment and even of his co-defendant Tom Hayden, the more straight-laced founder of Students for a Democratic Society so well evoked by Eddie Redmayne.

Also big hair moment

Ditto for so many others, including Frank Langella’s racist persecutor/Judge Hoffman, whose shared last name with Abbie is an ongoing joke, as well as a brief but memorable appearance by Michael Keaton as Ramsey Clarke, the much more liberal former attorney general from the previous Johnson administration.

It is the shifting of the pendulum of justice between left and right, liberal and conservative, and everything in between that gives the story of this Trial of the Chicago 7 its present day resonance.  At least for those of us hoping that this Election Day is about to once again cause a major shift back to what we used to think of as American sanity.

This. This. This. This. #VOTE

Yet at the same time it’s also this very issue that makes this movie inescapably scary.  As one watches the absolute conviction a single judge, backed by a new presidential administration, has towards enforcing racist and regressive views, and notes how willing both are to twist or even ignore the very laws it’s charged with enforcing in order to permanently silence those who oppose them, one can’t help but wonder — how many times CAN the pendulum shift back and forth before it all together cracks apart?

Sorkin’s courtroom antics and filmmaking dexterity do a great job of zeroing in on the core issues at stake and give us a happy ending from five decades ago that ensures American democracy will continue.

But this week’s US Supreme Court hearing, the one that will very likely (and somewhat dubiously) enshrine perhaps the most conservative judge in American history onto OUR Supreme Court, combined with the challenge for the umpteenth time of once again shifting the American presidency away from, well, fascism (Note: Fascism being the kind word), is a very steep, real life, hill to climb. 

Holding on tight to that last shred of hope

Especially in the middle of a global pandemic.

Where our ability, and even right to vote as we can, is being challenged at every turn.

Sorkin has written and imagined the way forward for us by going back in time.  But we now have to figure how to carry it out.

Another pat answer from me that borders on the cliché. 

Still, life’s never been quite as efficient, or satisfying, as any one Sorkin movie or TV series, much as we all (Note:  Well, the majority of us), would like to continue to pretend it to be.

Bob Marley – “Get Up Stand Up”

The Pand-Emmys

What’s more meaningless and wasteful and escapist than watching an awards show during a pandemic several days after human rights icon and US Supreme Court Justice extraordinaire Ruth Bader Ginsberg died?

Not much.  Especially since at least 12 different people have assured me in the last 24 hours that the world as I know it will soon end.

As if it already hasn’t.

Welp

Anyway, this is one of many reasons why I decided to tune in to the mostly virtual 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday night.

What could be better than escaping into a sea of pop culture calamity?

My hope was for a night of diversion and bitchy commented asides that would allow for the venting of so many things that, okay, I haven’t exactly been holding down.

At all.  And not towards anyone.

If you’ve been reading here lately, or ever, you know.

And we still love you completely

Still, my husband and I are suckers for free Hollywood crack so gathering ourselves and our guacamole and chips around the TV at 5:00 PST to not exactly hate watch, more like love-hate divert, seemed like the best idea in at least five minutes.

Plus – we don’t have to social distance, wear a mask or even think about that sh-t – I mean, patriotic duty and kindness towards our fellow citizens – which we do happily since it’s no big deal and, truly, why would anyone in their right mind be complaining about it at this point?

Wear the damn mask

Like your past, who you are and what you are thinking follows you around like the plague and can rear it’s ugly head at any inopportune moment.  Which is why it’s best to show that unsavory, albeit snidely fun side of you only around people who get you’re not the total a-hole you seem to be, people like your significant other, best friend or even pooch…..during a Hollywood awards show…when you can talk back or even catcall to the screen at people in fancy clothes and over-privilege who can take it.

Even virtually.

WWJRD (What would Joan Rivers Do?)

This, of course, was not to be on Sunday night.

None of it.

This, in fact, was the opposite of what we hoped.  Overly polite people trying their best to gingerly entertain in a responsible way while consistently making the point that there was nothing really important going on this evening on this show except, well, group human hugs in a particularly difficult time of what could be our soon-ending civilization.

Ugh.  How disappointed were WE at my house?   (Note: Okay, mostly I).

Fortune 500!

But, I mean, what did we think?  That host Jimmy Kimmel wouldn’t wear rubber gloves to hand the winner’s envelope to in studio presenter Jennifer Aniston?

Or that we wouldn’t soon see that despite the early canned laughs and celebrity shots the massive Microsoft Theatre really had no audience at all and Kimmel was  really speaking to a sea of appropriately empty seats?

Or that instead of buying seats and ads and throwing lavish after parties the studios and TV Academy would pool their money and combined raise $2.8 million during the broadcast to feed hungry kids? (Note: nokidhungry.org).

Really channeling my inner Larry David

Or that many of the award categories, nominees and winners would be read by COVID-19 first responders like nurses, doctors, farmers and truck drivers?

The people putting their lives on the line to keep society going?  People taking time out of their day to appear on a silly awards show to amuse the likes of me?

These were people I bet were even expecting half of us watching at home would make fun of their hair, how they spoke or at least whom they were wearing.  That’s how cool they were.

Alas, we couldn’t do any of those things.  Nor, I suspect, could much of anyone else.

This but there’s nothing else on

Because despite how much we might very, very, VERY much want it, there is no true escape from the reality of these days.

I mean, if an award show can’t even deliver that, we truly have no choice but to face facts and become the actual heroes and heroines on our favorite TV shows in real life.

At least partly.

So yeah, it’s great that Schitt’s Creek set a new record for a TV comedy and swept in every major category – series, directing, writing, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress.  And that an out and proud gay guy, showrunner Dan Levy, took home four awards in one night.

Melting my cold dead heart

It’s also great that Succession, a show that takes on the unfeeling, corporate rich, won best drama series, best directing, best writing and best actor.

For this scene alone, Jeremy Strong earned it

Not to mention it’s great Watchmen was awarded best limited series, writing, actress and supporting actor for its original genre bending depiction of the destruction of Black Wall Street and the justice that, in turn, could have wrought.

I mean, is anyone better than Regina??

Kudos to all of them.  And many, many more not mentioned.

In fact, here is the complete list.

But what this year’s Emmys will best be remembered for, if it is at all, was for being the first major televised awards show up that best encapsulated the strangeness of our times.  (Note: Feel free to substitute strange with the angriest, or bitchiest, word of your choice).

This works too

As much as it did its job I’m hoping next year the 73rd go-round are A LOT worse, and, in turn, bring out the worst in those of us at home.

Because that will mean all of us, on the whole, are doing a hell of a lot better.

Emily Hampshire – “Maybe This Time” (from Schitt’s Creek)