Sometimes You Can’t Go Home Again

It feels like the new television season has started but, well, are there even seasons anymore?  Not only on television but, in general?

How about movies?  Isn’t late September/early October when we begin ushering in the prestige films?  Yet it’s Shang-Chi and Venom 2 for the fall, 2021 box-office win. 

Next….

Not a bad outcome if you’re a theatre owner, since there is very little “prestige” Covid box-office business to be had.  In fact, doing any business at all right now could be considered prestigious.

It was in this spirit that I approached my personal, potentially exciting entertainment choices this week.  And, in fact, it could account for my choices. 

It does not escape me that the three new offerings I was most looking forward to – the new Apple+ series, The Problem with Jon Stewart; the debut of the long-awaited big screen prequel to television’s legendary The Sopranos HBO series, The Many Saints of Newark; as well as the return of Saturday Night Live for SEASON 47, were all subconscious attempts to recapture my past.

Live from LA it’s 2005!

This was a time when the excitement and potential of new seasons seemed infinite.

A time when being snide and being a cynic did not necessarily go hand in hand.

As I recall.

But let’s not quite go there, as the kids say (Note: Or once said!).  Even though Going There is the title of Katie Couric’s new memoir where she dishes former morning show competitor Diane Sawyer as her complete opposite – tall and blonde, with a voice full of money.

Katie is shady and we all know it!

Yes, I’m sidetracking, but interestingly, even my choice of sidetrack subject harkens back to a time of what was rather than who is now.  (Note: And if you don’t relate to that, let enough years go by and, trust me, if you’re lucky enough, one day you will).

As for my choices, let’s say they all have their charms, even as they all, at times, felt a bit charmless and disappointing.  Which probably says more about me than it does about them. 

After all, when you go to a party expecting to recapture the perceived halcyon days of your past, you have concocted a recipe for disappointment.  It’s self-sabotage to the nth degree, and colossally unfair to blame all your troubles on the party you’re standing in.  Which is not to say this present party is entirely blameless.

But home is in 2021…. I don’t want to!!

I’ve loved Jon Stewart a bunch of years before he took over a not very much watched Comedy Central series in 1999 called the Daily Show, revamped it, added his name into the title and in the process changed the face of political social satire and the way young people, in particular, forever perceived the news.

I saw the makings of this back in 1996 in his solo comedy special Unleavened.  That was when this fellow Jewish kid from the east coast took on the then VERY rabidly homophobic Republican Party politics and joked that presidential candidate Pat Buchanan blamed gays for so much of the country’s problems because, of course how can you concentrate on anything with the constant sound of all that butt f—-g going on in your ears.   

This is why it particularly disappointed me at how much I was disappointed in his new bi-weekly Apple+ series.  After all his achievements in re-setting political humor and taking on establishment politics, it seems only natural that the next step would be for him to be less jokey and more proactive in trying to shine a light on the serious issues he’s been mining over the years.

Certainly, Stewart’s time as an advocate for 9/11 responders would lead to him being an advocate for thousands of wounded Iraq War veterans not receiving medical coverage for various forms of cancer and other serious diseases they came down with years after their service due to their exposure to toxic chemicals. So wasn’t the latter a more than a worthy subject for show #1?

Welp, there’s definitely a problem

See, it’s his idea now that in each episode in his new series he takes on an issue – nee PROBLEM, hence the show’s title – introduce the topic with his writers and others, give reportorial examples by interviewing and discussing those it affects; and then look for solutions in a third segment by reaching out to experts and powerbrokers who could effect change.

There’s some humor in there amid all the journalistic talk as well as some satire and commentary.  And it’s a worthy undertaking. But it’s not a laugh riot – nor should it be expected to be.  And yet I suspect a show with as much potential as this could likely begin to drown in a sea of expectations of what we all so desperately want from Mr. Stewart at this point in time and what we actually believe we’re entitled to given the last 18 months.

Right on Chairy!

He seems more than aware of this too since he closed out the premiere episode joking to his writers that once the new show airs and he returns to a table full of comics backstage at a local comedy club he’s dreading lines like, ‘oh look who’s here, Mother Theresa.

Of course, he’s several steps ahead of his audience as usual, looking forward instead of back, even if we (okay, me) are right now unable to do the same.

The Many Saints of Newark is all about looking back because it literally gives us the origin story of HBO’s Sopranos.  Interestingly enough, that series debuted the same year Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show and over eight years became the first cable TV series to EVER break into the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings, essentially catapulting HBO past all of the major networks in television excellence.

It’s all vintage now!

To say that it changed the face of what could be tackled in a one-hour television drama critically and commercially doesn’t quite do justice to the impact it has had on the business model for series TV and on what was possible for all creative teams artistically if they broke out of the constraints imposed on them by the four major television networks.

With that in mind, it’s difficult to not appreciate the joys offered by The Many Saints even though most of us are indeed still watching this new Sopranos FEATURE FILM story on TELEVISION via HBO Max, rather than on the big screen its creator David Chase intended it for.

What even is TV? #deepthoughts

It would also be dishonest to say that by the end of this film one didn’t feel they were now once again ready to revisit the next chapter of the Sopranos family that picks up exactly where THIS FILM leaves off.  Because it’s only by the very end of this film that we fully get where the filmmakers were going with this somewhat generalized, episodic prequel.

Sure, it’s well acted, well made and psychologically cringe-worthy in all the best ways at various points.  But what makes it special, and what makes it tick, is all the knowledge we bring from its six seasons over eight years on HBO.  That was a time when America willingly embraced a larger than life guy running a huge criminal enterprise and family business more deadly and corrupt than anyone could fathom from the outside (Note: Sound familiar?). 

Yet for all their faults, this family, The Sopranos, have always been more inherently conflicted, and scarily human than any of its real-life present day political dynasties.  Which is what makes them all the more riveting and thought provoking in these particular times.

… and then there’s Livia

And to answer the lingering question – yes, Michael Galdolfini is often terrific playing the young version of the title role that his late father James Galdolfini, made famous.   But he doesn’t enter until halfway through the film and by the end we want more of him.  At least an HBO miniseries?  Think of it as the Jersey, or even Jersey Shore, version of The Crown.  Something that doesn’t so much try to capitalize on the past, but instead deepen our understanding of it so as not to want to repeat it.

Which brings us to Saturday Night Live.  In its 45+ years, SNL has covered about the same amount of time as The Crown has covered Queen Elizabeth’s reign.  And overall it has probably been just as effective as a series in its way.  Indeed, both have deservedly won lots of Emmys, delivered high ratings and won all kinds of other accolades even if some episodes or years wound up not delivering, and even disappointing, more often than not.

Unfortunately, this SNL opener this past weekend hosted by Owen Wilson, was much more in the latter category.

I mean.. the suit was good.

Its spoof of female hosts of The View/The Talk, Wilson lambasting Jeff Bezos in space, the show’s take on a local school board meeting with several dozen crazies testifying about government controlled nonsense, and even Wilson spoofing himself voicing a new Cars movie simply felt tired and forced. 

The new SNL cast member portraying Joe Biden – TikTok star James Austin Johnson – showed some promise.  And Pete Davidson on Weekend Update saying the outfit he wore to the Met Ball last week made him look like Tilda Swinton on casual Friday was clever.  But, oy vey, as my Grandma, used to say.  Is that all they got???? 

SAVE US KATE!

Well, next week Kim Kardashian West is the host so how much worse can it get? 

That was both snide and cynical for those keeping score.

Adele – “When We Were Young”

Cancel This

Women who claimed abuse or even bullying used to be seen as fragile, suspect, or asking for it.

Men who even claimed they were bullied were seen as weak, pathetic, not one of the boys and, well let’s just say it, GAY.

And in some neighborhoods, dinner tables, and as we now know, New York State governor’s offices, this is still true.

This time… maybe try to do something?

But we’ll get to NY’s 63-year-old Andrew Cuomo’s “flirting” within the confines of his lair with a young female aide who is a sexual abuse survivor (Note: Meaning asking about her dating and sex life while confessing he was lonely) in a moment.

Not so long ago, the right to speak out and be heard about any of the above subjects, and others, was viewed as one positive way our society had evolved into a more inclusive and just era.   A more perfect union, to quote our Founding Fathers.

Not close to perfect but not bad for a society that was founded on slavery and didn’t even allow women to vote until less than 100 years ago.

Forget about what it did to the gays and still hasn’t done for non-whites.

Doing my best Pete Campbell here

Yet here we are, backing into 2021, and finding ourselves in still yet another age.

One in which continuing to speak out on any of the above subjects has been officially slapped with this new and relentlessly un-clever phrase – CANCEL CULTURE.

This is a term founded on a proposition that it will stop us dead in our tracks and prevent us from achieving anything close to what our forefathers envisioned for us nearly 300 years later.

You, the accusers, want to tell us, nee order us, how to behave and if we don’t adhere to your strict set of politically correct guidelines, you want to EXTERMINATE US!

Cue the audience heads exploding!

In other words, you claimers, you complainers, are no better than Nazis.  In fact, YOU are the Nazis of freedom of speech and behavior.  Not us.

You want to tell us how to speak, what to do and even what to eat.

Well, I guess it’s no accident the Trumps plowed down Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden as soon as they could. 

Just as it’s not a coincidence House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy posted a video of himself this weekend reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.

Oh the places you’ll go!

Never mind that it was Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the late author’s own family company, that decided to pull six of the least popular of his hundreds of books for racial stereotyping the good doctor himself recognized during his life.

Rep. McCarthy had a cancel culture point to make and gosh, darn it, he was gonna make it even if he had to read from one of the books that WASN’T cancelled.

In essence, it’s that anyone who complains about racism, sexism, homophobia or anything of the like in the public sphere wants to rub out American life as they’ve always known it. 

BYEEEEEE

They want to cancel American history, cancel American freedom and soon cancel the very definition of the American Way.

Well, if it means we cease to evolve as a country and stay mired in racism, sexism, homophobia and the way things have always been done then um, yeah, Kevin, sounds good to me.

As Nike, one of our great American corporations you love to brag about to the world (Note: Their embrace of Colin Kaepernick, not withstanding) tells us, JUST DO IT!

This works too

I’ve been writing this blog for 10 years and here is what someone named Neil Brown wrote in the comments section just this past week:

Mmm, another LGBTXYZ “person” who thinks they have anything good to add. Sorry, kid, but you don’t…

Interestingly enough, this comment was not directed at any particular subject I had written on.  Instead it was posted in the About section where, among other things, I define myself as an opinionist, screenwriter, writing teacher and… gay man living in L.A.

Imagine if I had listed the gay part, first?

Live images from Neil’s house

By the way, if you’re looking for Neil’s contribution you won’t find it because I blocked him.  I’m all for discourse, especially with those who strongly disagree with what I have to say, but it occurred to me a few years ago it’s not worth what precious time we have here arguing with morons.

Yet Neil does have the distinction of reminding me for the umpteenth time of what I’ve known practically my entire life.

As a gay person there is nastiness, marginalization, hatred and if one is really targeted, violence around every corner.

You’re throwing softballs here!

This is not even close to being the worst thing I’ve been called over the decades.  It’s just the latest minor example in a slew of major comments and actions I’ve been experiencing about my, mmm, “personage” since I was about 10 years old (Note: That I know of).  Certainly, it wouldn’t even make it on a list ofthings others in the LGBTQ community have experienced in their lifetimes.

Yet if the mere notion of a gay person speaking on anything is enough to so ruffle Neil’s feathers that he is motivated to sit down and actually vent his ire on a blog that he rarely, if ever, reads, what happens when one of those persons says something within shouting range, or does something that could potentially affect or alter he and his brethren’s way of doing things?

You see where this is going.  Or has gone.

Me, everyday?

Gov. Cuomo is not as bad as Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby. 

There’s no proof that Woody Allen committed the crime of abusing his then 7-year-old daughter, even though she says so.  And even though he is now married to her stepsister, who he met when she was a teenager and bedded when she was barely the legal age of consent and was writer-director-star of a quite famous box-office hit, Manhattan, centering on a forty something writer who has a very intense love relationship with a not yet legal 17-year-old girl, back in 1979.  What does that prove? 

That Mr. Allen was just past the age of his fictional doppelganger when he had sex with his stepdaughter and was accused of abusing his daughter?

So?????

(Note: Read about the normalization of that movie romance from a very good female writer here)

Does not pass the smell test

Andrew Cuomo never touched that young female aide in his office and the photo that captured him touching the face of a different female NY state employee at a wedding who said she didn’t want to be touched and didn’t welcome his accompanying question of, May I kiss you, doesn’t mean HE did anything wrong.

Though certainly, it’s not very strong evidence that he did anything right, either.

Which brings us back to the subject of what is wrong and what is right, what is legal vs. illegal and how we act on, speak about and rectify our beliefs about these issues. 

Well, I’m no judge and was only once a member of a jury (Note: Where we ruled an insurance company had to pay this poor family they had turned their back on millions of dollars.  So don’t get me started). 

How I see myself on a jury

But it seems to me that even if we adopted the cancel culture mindset the pink slip cuts both ways.  If you’re engaging in status quo behavior others object to and you feel right to air your grievances against them, you can’t cancel those others from speaking out on what they think.

That wouldn’t be fair, that wouldn’t be just and it certainly threatens us with an entirely new cultural definition – one of the imperfect union. (Note:  No, this is not directed at Woody and Soon-Yi unless YOU choose to SAY it is).

I don’t pretend to know the way forward.  But what I am sure about is that any time your only essential retort back at criticism is you’re being too sensitive, I didn’t realize or that’s the way it’s always been you’re on shaky ground. 

And will wind up cancelling yourself before too long.

Paul Simon – 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Check out the Chair’s newest project, Pod From a Chair , now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!