Making it Work

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The big news this week was that Tim Gunn – America’s Teacher and longtime Project Runway mentor and defender – finally went off on one of his designer contestants for the first time in 14 seasons and 11 years. Confronted with endless excuses and Swapnil Shinde’s admitted laziness despite his obvious talent, Mr. Gunn told him his behavior and excuses were a bunch of bullsh-t, adding what is the f-cking point of doing anything if you’re not going to commit and give your all.

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If someone else had ranted this – from me on up – it would have been just another day at the workhouse or of trolling the web. Certainly, it’s de rigueur when it comes from the mouth of The Republican Apprentice – who now ranks as America’s top GOP presidential candidate by a lot, to use his exact words. But when a beloved nice guy or gal explodes in your face it’s a lot different.

There is nothing like the unexpected – especially when it goes from nice to naughty – to jolt us into temporary attention and perhaps submission – if not shock, awe and/or revulsion. Remember when Tom Cruise jumped up and down like a madman on Oprah’s couch? Or when we found out that NY Congressman/nice Jewish boy Anthony Weiner was really Carlos Danger, the secret online seductor? How about when Disney’s own Miley Cyrus stuck her very elongated pointed tongue in and out and towards a man twice her age on television at MTV’s VMAs? The country went absolutely, positively apoplectic.

It could be a partial explanation for our preoccupation and fascination with the phenomena that is The Republican Apprentice – or at least it was until recently. It’s scary to write this out loud but yesterday I found myself saying over dinner to a handful of very smart people who asked me that I now actually believed for the first time that The Ole RA might very well be the presidential nominee by next year’s GOP. What was once shocking and unique has now suddenly become establishment and imaginably viable. Plus, there’s no denying several months of double-digit poll numbers.

Current mood

Current mood

But back to Mr. Gunn, for whom who I have always held a soft spot. He was on to something when he spewed out his tough love truths in a desperate attempt to deliver one final wakeup call. Think of it as a gay Hail Mary pass to a competitor possessing the clear ability to win the game but who lacked focus, discipline and respect for not only himself but the entire competition in which he voluntarily chose to participate in the first place. As a teacher myself I can tell you there is nothing more infuriating. You mean you have the goods but are just…. lazy… scared…. stuck in your own drama…. unwilling to move just three more steps…. prefer instead to… play??? Seriously??? See your less-talented colleague over there, the one who works 24/7? Don’t come bitching to me (or anyone else) in 20 years when you wonder why what they do has gotten the response they have – be it in either money or creative praise or both. It just doesn’t happen out of nothing. You have to put in the time in order to perpetrate the crime that you now see as success. They did. You didn’t. Now suffer the consequences.

Nice try, honey.

Nice try, honey.

Of course, this isn’t all there is to it. All the hard 24/7 work in the world doesn’t guarantee victory nor is the converse true. There are those in the minority who through timing, luck or extreme talent can stumble into a kind of momentary success despite all of their best efforts to NOT make it so. Still, on the whole it really is the hard work, the push back against the most desperate straits and all evidence to the contrary in those dark moments of doubt, that produces something unique or even spectacular. At least on any sort of consistent basis. Whether the world recognizes it or not is never the point. The real victory is when you know you’re leaving it all on the stage – as they say in show biz.  Or on the field – as is noted in sports. Or in/on the ________, as people tell you in whatever is your chosen field of labor and/or desire.

The fifth season of American Horror Story premiered this week and has gotten royally raked over the coals for — well, I’m not exactly sure what. It seems as if it is to some degree on this very subject. Have Ryan Murphy and company finally jumped the shark and delivered something so dull or gratuitous, as many culture vultures have so GLEEfully pointed out, or have we (meaning THEY) all just grown all too used to it? As a longtime fan of the series I am the first to admit that it occasionally lacks a certain story sense or too often than not falls victim to an overindulgence of style, sexual subversion and violent perversion. But jeez, isn’t that part of the fun of it all?

American Horror Story edition

American Horror Story edition

The brilliance of the whole concept is that there is nothing quite original in the storytelling, look or manner of the show in itself. The point is that it takes every subject trope of its season of choice – be it haunted houses, insane asylums, witches or carnivals – and ribaldly steals from every movie, television show, play or short story every executed on the subject. Then it throws it all together in some bubbling stew of camp, pathos and politically unacceptable (Note: Or acceptable depending on whether you’re me or everyone else) morality where it emerges with something if not new then unique unto itself. Its strength lies in its overall execution and what often becomes two handfuls of truly memorable moments over the season. Yet it is those moments that make the parts of the whole that fall flat work – which is more than I can say so far for either The Republican Apprentice or this season of Project Runway. (Note: Although Mr. Gunn did give me one of those in this past week’s episode meltdown so there is that).

I mean, whatever, I'm into it! #noshame

I mean, whatever, I’m into it! #noshame

Watching Lady Gaga and Matt Bomer portray what amounts to millennial versions of Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie in 1983’s much under-rated The Hunger as they executed deadly sexual games with another couple in their all-too-stylish boudoir on the premiere episode of AHS: Hotel more than worked for me. As did the creepy kids skulking around a la The Shining and The Innocents. As did loveable Max Greenfield’s gay, blonde hair-dyed heroin-injecting pretty boy burnout being sexually violated by a dead ghoul with a power tool. Yeah it was gruesome, but it was also Grand Guignol ridiculous. The gay positive sensibility of the series puts this sort of thing in the crazy context of just one more form of mindless brutalization the AHS word offers, rather than serving to cast a specific retribution towards a member of one specific minority group the creative forces behind the scenes don’t cotton to.

One wishes The Republican Apprentice, the entire GOP field or any number of religious organizations across the world would take note before they choose to scapegoat their next real-life victim(s) of choice. They’re dealing with real life choices not the creative ones in television and Grand Guignol theatre. Or are they? Well, if nothing else, at least they’re committed. Or should be.

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Sitting Down with the Emmys

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ATT: POP CULTURE VULTURES & TV LOVERS

RE: LET’S HAVE SOME FUN….please?????

Given the week we’ve just had it feels exactly right to spend a bit of time concentrating on an event that has pretty much zero affect on our everyday lives – the EMMY Awards.

This is not to say we don’t care at all or as fans, or friends of nominees, or of people who work on shows that are nominated – or – as possible nominees ourselves, (Note: Uh, no – not me) we think they are unimportant.   Actually, in point of fact they are very, very, very American.

We in the U.S. of A. love a good competition – how else can you explain why a liberal like myself actually spent 32 hours Wednesday night watching 11 Republican candidates gumming each other to death from a stage at the Ronald Reagan presidential library? No, I certainly wouldn’t do it for a football game (Note: Except the Super Bowl because its half-time show usually features either a gay icon or a band from the seventies) but then I never said we all like every competition. This is still, for the time being, a country that is pro-choice. Which brings me back to the topic at hand – television.

Lonely Island Emmys

Lonely Island Emmys

The Oscars might still have the classiest statue but the Emmys are more intimate and ultimately more fun. These shows and the folks who create them, star in them and actually make them, come into our homes. They’re not so much royalty but pseudo friends. We don’t spent a mere two hours or so in their company as we do with our filmmakers but rather upwards of two years or more doing all kinds of things while viewing them that we don’t need to go into here. I don’t know about you but for me that makes it a lot more familial and certainly much homier.

Not to mention – I can’t spend another evening obsessing about the14 year old Muslim boy who was handcuffed in Texas for bringing a clock to school, the apocalyptic El Nino weather warnings that everyone keeps saying will destroy my newly purchased home, or the unavoidable rantings and ravings of The Republican Apprentice on just about every topic and airwave imaginable.

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On that minor point let me say this: If you’ve had your scalp reduced and hair plugs inserted in your head, the rat’s nest that rests on top of it certainly doesn’t count as ALL YOURS. Could you imagine having to look at that from the Oval Office for the next four years???

And no – I didn’t accuse anyone of anything so I don’t have to apologize.

In any event, Sunday’s festivities officially begin now with some major category predictions for your betting pool at home. A warning upfront: No one really has idea who is going to win for sure. Well, except when it comes to Jon Hamm. He WILL WIN for best dramatic actor this time out. This is not only true but it is one more reason to objectify him.

I. Can't. Even.

I. Can’t. Even.

He’s an actor. Trust me, he doesn’t mind.

And every time Jon Hamm’s name is mentioned or the camera is on him – DRINK!

The nominees/winners are below:

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES

It's Maura's night!

It’s Maura’s night!

“Louie”

“Modern Family”

“Parks and Recreation”

“Silicon Valley”

“Transparent”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

“Veep”

Prognosticators are divided on this category, giving a slide edge to “Veep.” I don’t think so. This has been a defining year for the transgender community and thus it feels like Hollywood will give the award to “Transparent.” The story of how a family reacts when its patriarch comes out as a transgender woman has been universally praised and let’s face it – “Veep” will be even better in a presidential election year.

Winner: “Transparent”

 

LEAD ACTOR, COMEDY

Emmy Winner? Yes, that's me.

Emmy Winner? Yes, that’s me.

Anthony Anderson, “black-ish”

Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”

Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”

Will Forte, “The Last Man On Earth”

Louis C.K., “Louie”

William H. Macy, “Shameless”

Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

There are few sure things in an entertainment awards show but Jeffrey Tambor’s win for his performance as said patriarch in “Transparent” is about as close you you’ll get. Whatever one’s possible gripes with the series, Tambor’s work is exceptional. Go back and watch him on “The Larry Sanders Show” and figure out how it could be the same person. Besides, the industry loves when a character actor finally gets the breakout role they always deserved.

Winner: Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

 

LEAD ACTRESS, COMEDY

A truly meta moment

A truly meta moment

Lisa Kudrow, “The Comeback”

Lily Tomlin, “Grace And Frankie”

Amy Schumer, “Inside Amy Schumer”

Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”

Amy Poehler, “Parks And Recreation”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”

There is only one person deserving of the award in this category – Lisa Kudrow in “The Comeback.” In fact, it is one of the best female performances I’ve ever seen in a comedy series – equal parts hilarious, cringe worthy, heart-breaking, sad and joyful. The odds are that Julia Louis-Dreyfuss will win for the 80th time (Note: Yes, she’s won 80 times, you go figure) or the beloved Amy Poehler will get it for her last season on “Parks and Recreation.” Still…

Winner: Lisa Kudrow “The Comeback” (because I say so).

SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY

Real life win

Real life win

Andre Braugher, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”

Adam Driver, “Girls”

Keegan-Michael Key, “Key & Peele”

Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”

Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Tony Hale, “Veep”

There is no stopping “Veep” in certain categories. All of these guys do excellent work but there is something about Tony Hale’s performance that woos Emmy voters. Possible spoilers are Andre Braugher or Titus Burgess for “Brooklyn” or “Kimmy.” Still, who in Hollywood will resist the aide to a delusional, clueless egomaniac?

Winner: Tony Hale “Veep”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY

Can you deny the Notorious RBG?

Can you deny the Notorious RBG?

Mayim Bialik, “The Big Bang Theory”

Niecy Nash, “Getting On”

Julie Bowen, “Modern Family”

Allison Janney, “Mom”

Kate McKinnon “Saturday Night Live”

Gaby Hoffmann, “Transparent”

Jane Krakowski, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”

Again, the supporting category is awash with great work. How much would I love to see Kate McKinnon pick it up for her rapping version of my Aunt Ruth (Bader Ginsburg). Quite a lot. But this town often ignores me. It’s going to be Allison Janney in “Mom.” Truth be told, she’s great playing the alcoholic mother of Anna Farris. And besides, she only has 75 Emmy statuettes for “West Wing.” She needs another.

Winner: Allison Janney “Mom”

WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik for Episodes, “Episode 409” from Showtime

Will Forte for The Last Man On Earth, “Alive In Tucson” (Pilot) from FOX

Louis C.K. for Louie, “Bobby’s House” from FX Networks

Alec Berg for Silicon Valley, “Two Days Of The Condor” from HBO

Jill Soloway for Transparent, “Pilot” from Amazon Instant Video

Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche for Veep, “Election Night” from HBO.

It’s really hard to compete with a well-written television pilot because it has to be a great episode and has the added degree of difficulty of introducing you to the characters and the world of the series. “Transparent” feels like a lock given it is unlike any comedy series ever on the small screen and it comes from a streaming service. Still, the writing award is, for some reason, often seen as a consolation prize for a show that is bypassed in other areas. Nevertheless —

Winner: Jill Soloway “Transparent”

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

Cmon guys... THIS HAPPENED!

Cmon guys… THIS HAPPENED!

“Better Call Saul”

“Downton Abbey”

“Game of Thrones”

“Homeland”

“House of Cards”

“Mad Men”

“Orange is the New Black”

A REALLY tough one. Many people I really respect swear this was THE season of “Game of Thrones.” More importantly, it led the pack this year with 24 Emmy nominations. So you can pencil it in on your own ballot. I’m going with the last season of the best-written show on television – “Mad Men.” Screw the rest of the field. And the Academy if they don’t vote my way.

Winner: “Mad Men”

LEAD ACTRESS, DRAMA

You know Cookie will be throwing shade no matter what

You know Cookie will be throwing shade no matter what

Taraji P. Henson, “Empire”

Claire Danes, “Homeland”

Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder”

Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”

Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men”

Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

The best roles for women have for some time been on television. This is an impossible category of excellence. But it’s going to be Viola Davis. Brilliant, frightening, frail and bold. It should also be noted that an African American woman has never one in this category. Yeah, it’s true.

Winner: Viola Davis “How to Get Away with Murder”

SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA

No nomination? Was it the moustache?

No nomination? Was it the moustache?

Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”

Ben Mendelsohn, “Bloodline”

Jim Carter, “Downton Abbey”

Peter Dinklage, “Game Of Thrones”

Alan Cumming, “The Good Wife”

Michael Kelly, “House Of Cards”

My spies tell me this it will be Jonathan Banks in “Better Call Saul.” Loved him playing the same character in “Breaking Bad.” It’s not unprecedented to get recognition the second time around. Baby boomers will instantly remember Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman winning for their work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” only to go on to great acclaim in solo series bearing their characters’ names (Note: Okay, “Rhoda” and “Phyllis”). Banks doesn’t have his own show but lucky for “Saul” he’s on someone else’s.

Winner: Jonathan Banks “Better Call Saul”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA

Holloway-Harris for the win

Holloway-Harris, your Emmy is calling.

Joanne Froggatt, “Downton Abbey”

Lena Headey, “Game Of Thrones”

Emilia Clarke, “Game Of Thrones”

Christine Baranski, “The Good Wife”

Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men”

Uzo Aduba, “Orange Is The New Black”

It is a fact that no series regular on seven seasons of “Mad Men” has ever won the Emmy. Really? Yes. That’s why it seems as if the much deserved Christina Hendricks will pull it out of this really close competition. Also, because I’m willing it. If you have reservations, Uzo Aduba is a close second. But remember, Joan always gets exactly what she wants in the end.

Winner: Christina Hendricks “Mad Men”

WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES

Leonard for the win!

Thanks Leonard!

Joshua Brand for The Americans, “Do Mail Robots Dream Of Electric Sheep?” from FX Networks

Gordon Smith for Better Call Saul, “Five-O” from AMC

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for Game Of Thrones, “Mother’s Mercy” from HBO

Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner for Mad Men, “Lost Horizon” from AMC

Matthew Weiner for Mad Men, “Person To Person” from AMC

It could easily be “Game of Thrones” – that’s what the smart money says. But, uh, no. The final moment of “Mad Men” is yet another image in the annals of TV history, even for those non-fans of the show. Yes, I’m biased. But what else is new.

Winner: Matt Weiner, “Mad Men” “Person to Person”

LIMITED SERIES

Is the Chair hitting the bullseye?

Is the Chair hitting the bullseye?

“American Crime”

“American Horror Story: Freak Show”

“The Honorable Woman”

“Olive Kitteridge”

“Wolf Hall”

This is tricky. Long-form, limited and mini-series categories tend to reward the unexpected.   It could easily go to any of the five but I think it will be “Olive Kitteridge” because you’ve seldom seen a less sympathetic yet compelling dramatic female character on television that is not a vampire, lawyer, stuck in medieval times or a sex goddess. She’s just a plain woman who is really, really difficult. That’s tough to do and make compelling over several nights.

Winner: “Olive Kitteridge”

LEAD ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

Timothy Hutton, “American Crime”

Ricky Gervais, “Derek Special”

Adrien Brody, “Houdini”

David Oyelowo, “Nightingale”

Richard Jenkins, “Olive Kitteridge”

Mark Rylance, “Wolf Hall”

I’ve had to do reading on this one since I’ve only seen a few of the nominees. The overwhelming consensus is…

Winner: David Oyelowo “Nightingale”

LEAD ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

Wore denim to win her Tony #badassforlife

Wore denim to win her Tony #badassforlife

Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”

Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story”

Queen Latifah, “Bessie”

Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Honorable Woman”

Frances McDormand, “Olive Kitteridge”

Emma Thompson, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street”

The winner should be Frances McDormand and hell, I’ll be honest, I’d bribe voters to make it so just to hear another one of her outrageously honest acceptance speeches. If you don’t know what I mean, pray that she wins. Though don’t be shocked if either Queen Latifah or Maggie Gyllenhall snatches it away at the last minute. But also pray they don’t.

Winner: Frances McDormand “Olive Kitteridge”

SUPPORTING ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

No arguments here!

No arguments here!

Richard Cabral, “American Crime”

Denis O’Hare, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

Finn Wittrock, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

Michael Kenneth Williams, “Bessie”

Bill Murray, “Olive Kitteridge”

Damian Lewis, “Wolf Hall”

Everyone seems to believe it’s going to be Bill Murray and having watched “Olive” I would not be disappointed. But I’m going out on a limb here and say any straight actor who can pull off playing a repressed gay effete homicidal killer named Dandy and not come off as an inaccurate and/or offensive stereotype deserves this award and more. Not to mention, he was hilariously awful.

Winner: Finn Wittrock “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE

For the Emmys.. two heads may be better than one

For the Emmys.. two heads may be better than one

Regina King, “American Crime”

Sarah Paulson, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

Angela Bassett, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

Kathy Bates, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

Mo’Nique, “Bessie”

Zoe Kazan, “Olive Kitteridge”

In the spirit of the above, any actress who can play conjoined twins and not only believably evoke two very separate personalities but endure all of the green screen and body doubles she undoubtedly had to contend with needs this statuette. Not to mention, Sarah Paulson has been one of the unsung heroes of each season of “American Horror” and has never gotten the award.

Winner: Sarah Paulson “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

REALITY-COMPETITION SERIES

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“The Amazing Race”

“Dancing With The Stars”

“Project Runway”

“So You Think You Can Dance”

“Top Chef”

“The Voice”

How do you resist this category? I have no idea. So here’s the thing – “The Amazing Race” usually wins though 2 years ago “The Voice” deservedly stole it away. Fine, then considers most of the voters are in the industry and in their hearts become insecure again once they make the bolder choice, let’s go back to –

Winner: “The Amazing Race”

VARIETY TALK SERIES

Really Chairy?

Really Chairy?

“The Colbert Report”

“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”

“Jimmy Kimmel Live”

“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”

“Late Show With David Letterman”

“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”

All the usual suspects – which is why I believe the freshest and least usual will win. John Oliver is not only funny and smart but the unlikeliest of hosts to not only be able to substitute for Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” while he was away directing a movie but to front his own once a week comic news commentary on HBO – not Comedy Central.

Winner: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”

VARIETY SKETCH SERIES

All Hail Amy!

All Hail Amy!

“Drunk History”

“Inside Amy Schumer”

“Key & Peele”

“Portlandia”

“Saturday Night Live”

I’m only including this category for one reason. To give my vote to our much deserved comic gal of the moment –

Winner: “Inside Amy Schumer”

TELEVISION MOVIE

“Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case”

“Bessie”

“Grace of Monaco”

“Hello Ladies: The Movie”

“Killing Jesus”

“Nightingale”

Should the television movie and limited series (which are often movies in several parts) be separated in different categories? Oh, who knows. Well, it’s not going to be “Grace of Monaco,” that much is for sure. The Academy has traditionally always loved a good Agatha Christie – which is why my vote goes to the Bessie Smith biopic. Queen Latifah playing the bisexual blues singer, a topless scene of her sitting at her makeup table and Mo’Nique playing her best frenemy Ma Rainey – are you surprised this gets my vote???

Winner: “Bessie”

… and you didn’t think I forgot…

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LEAD ACTOR, DRAMA

Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”

Kyle Chandler, “Bloodline”

Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”

Jeff Daniels, “The Newsroom”

Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”

Uh, seriously?

WINNER: JON HAMM!! “Mad Men”

(Note: He’s been nominated all 7 years of the series and has never won for breathing life into one of television’s most complex and iconic characters – Don Draper. This is the voting morons’ last chance to make good. And THEY WILL).

DONT WORRY! IT WILL HAPPEN!

DONT WORRY! IT WILL HAPPEN!

And no – I didn’t include the directing categories. The list got too long and writers too often get dropped in favor of directors on these lists.   Don’t feel bad. The directors have a much more powerful union and better residuals.

Okay – will check back after it airs. And remember:

JON HAMM = DRINK!!!!

 

Terrible Tongues?

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The first time I heard my voice on a tape recorder I thought to myself:

Oh my God, I sound like one of those guys!

Yeah, you know the ones.

I must have been about 11 or 12 and I can’t remember the circumstance. All I can remember is thinking:

You better lower your voice.

Forget about when I was in college and saw myself on videotape (Note: Yeah, videotape) for the first time and realized:

You’ve got to use your hands less!

Well, two decades of psychotherapy and several more decades later, here I am once again – just like I was back then – waving my hands all around, speaking in a nasally, sometimes humorously campy, pseudo intellectual tone for all the word to see. Exactly like I was back then. And they say life comes full circle.

Do I sound gay? Well, certainly.

Duh.

Duh.

Self-acceptance can take decades, a lifetime or well, 12 lifetimes – meaning that if you don’t believe in God, reincarnation or _____ it will never happen. Of course, there are people with normal families who grow up very well-adjusted and seem to have always known and liked who they were. I met one once back in 1968. But perhaps that was more about the sixties.

There is a documentary at movie theatres, streaming and on demand called Do I Sound Gay? that examines the issue of boys who discover they are homosexual and almost simultaneously realize, often to their great shock the first time they really hear themselves speak, that their voices reveal them as such. Its filmmaker David Thorpe uses himself as the primary subject and does a fine job opening up his life and insecurities to us as a way to examine this particularly universal sociological issue. I mean, even if you are not gay, who among us loves how they sound or even sounds like who they think they really are?

Sounding gay in theatres now

Sounding gay in theatres now

Still, the question of do I sound gay sounds positively quaint these days. I mean, who really cares anymore? If one truly wants to reflect on who we are in the context of the times we live in, the real inquiry to make is:

Do I sound crazy?

Or rather, it should be –

Do they sound crazy?

Because chances are if you’re thinking you sound insane you are most probably as normal as the rest of us. Talk about damning with faint praise.

Of course, I write this when we’ve just gotten news that yet another person shot up another group of unsuspecting people in a movie theatre. (Note: Currently, it’s three dead with at least 7 more injured).   Who knew people were that angry? I was going to say – older White people – in light of this latest movie theatre massacre but this had to be adjusted in light of the joker-haired younger white guy who was just found guilty of shooting up many more people three years ago at a multiplex in Colorado. Not to mention the other young white guy who killed elementary school kids in Connecticut. Which leaves out the Muslim shooters of late, who prefer military bases – but that sounds racist and unnecessarily profiling a whole race of people. Though truly, if I were Muslim and living in America I’d be angry, too. Though, like the gay kid I was in the seventies, I’d certainly be afraid to show it.

A caveat for Fox News Watchers: No one here is saying Muslims have the right to shoot up military bases. I can’t even…

"Don't even get me startedddd!"

“Don’t even get me startedddd!”

Donald Trump seems to be the public face of white rage these days. Which is ironic because what the hell does he have to be angry about? We have to listen to HIM. Not to mention, he’s got a job. Sort of. And he’s rich. So he says. Happily married. So it appears. And to a woman much more beautiful than himself. So it appears. On the surface. One supposes he must possess some sort of inner beauty we can’t see. Or, at the very least, is a master of disguises.

Well, we all know how to disguise ourselves when the need arises, don’t we? Sometimes it’s by force of habit – like when you sound gay and don’t want to – and on other occasions it’s when you’re running for president and want to be the one who gets the most votes. So you go into your shtick – whatever you decide that will be – and show the world who you are and how great that can be for them – especially if they choose you to lead.

Our latest cartoon character #2016

Our latest cartoon character #2016

Chris Christie’s the plain-talking working class guy who doesn’t, ahem, mince words. The kind of person you could imagine eating a hot dog next to you at a football or baseball game (Note: No, I am not going for a wiener joke of any kind here). Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum sell themselves with down home, family values religion, Hillary Clinton as the smartest, most experienced woman in the world (Note: I’d have to combine Rachel Maddow and Angelina Jolie to come up with those two attributes in one person) and Bernie Sanders as the commie high school history teacher who you remember fondly as the one individual who told you it was okay to stick your finger into the face of the establishment – preferably the middle one.

There are more candidates and more images but you get the picture.

Trainwreck is one of the top comedies at the box-office at the moment and, among other things, it features the birth of our latest and most certainly and hilariously insurgent new movie star of the moment, Amy Schumer. Not only did Ms. Schumer write the perfect vehicle for herself –- as a slightly foul-mouthed girl who will gladly have sex with you and get you to enjoy it, or just enjoy watching her do it or you even if you don’t want to –- she did it while snidely inverting the cliché male/female tropes of romantic comedy. The guys in her world are all too sensitive and obsess about whether Amy likes them. This is just as Amy and her female friends spend their time bedding every possible male in sight they deem even barely sheet worthy providing they can have them out of their apartment (or leave theirs) by the time the sun comes up the next morning.

You heard right, Lebron!

You heard right, Lebron!

It’s nice to hear a new female star speaking to us masses with a new voice – even if that voice is an old one for her. Or even if it is an exaggeration of who Ms. Schumer really is. Certainly, we will never know for sure unless we all get to sit down in a room with her….and even then…

Still, my favorite Trainwreck character had to be the essentially unrecognizable Tilda Swinton in a small supporting role where she plays the sleaziest magazine editor in N.Y. All spray-tanned, with a blonde-streaked wig, too much blue eye makeup and nail polish and so reed thin that she’d go appropriately unnoticed at even the hottest A-list, gossip-dripping party of the moment (Note: I never know where those are exactly) she is really the ONLY character that seems truly representative of where we are in July 2015. She’s dishonest, smart, crazy, gets to fire anyone she wants at will without suffering ill consequences and yet will surprise everyone when she shows up all in black at a funeral to mourn an employee’s dead relative.   Is it all for show? Does it have nothing to do with who she really is? Who cares? She consistently speaks in double talk and gets rewarded for it and criticizes everyone else for sounding weak yet manages to run her own mini-empire without ever breaking a sweat. Not to mention, she doesn’t seem to ever need food. Even when she is munching down a sandwich at her desk right before you eyes in the middle of the day.

Who are you? Who, Who, Who, Who????

Who are you? Who, Who, Who, Who????

Incidentally, her name is Dianna and she speaks with an indeterminate foreign accent – which means that in some form she’s an immigrant. One wonders if she’s legal, is taking the job of some American and is sane enough to even carry a gun? Our minds would boggle if we got the real answers. The only thing we need to know is that she uses her voice to get everything she wants when she wants it. Whether it’s gay or vaguely authentic – well, that never even enters the picture.

12 Chairs

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There were only two good things about spending seven tortuous days on jury duty last week.

  1. My fellow jurors – a perky group of twelve very smart people aged somewhere between 24 and, well, 60something, whose combined skin colors would have qualified us for a very snappy We Are the World video decades ago or, at the very least, a 1990s Benetton ad
  2. The fact that we awarded a 37 year-old working class guy with four kids  $600,000 in damages to be paid by his insurance company because three years ago they refused to pay the lousy $5000 they contractually owed him for the medical bills he accrued from an accident he didn’t even cause.

Yes, I know the company will appeal and that Carlos (not his real name, though he is Hispanic – a salient fact to be addressed later on) won’t get anywhere near that amount of money since…

a. The company will appeal

b. He will have to pay taxes on whatever money he does get, and

c. He will have to give a percentage of the money to his attorney.

Still, whatever is left will be a huge sum to Carlos – a man guilty of nothing more than getting hit by a fellow truck driver while he was driving his kids home from school and paying his premiums on time to this same insurance company every month for the last 13 years.  He is also a man who, up until Obamacare passed, could not afford health insurance but did make sure he paid extra for special medical coverage on his auto policy that insured some payment of medical bills to himself and the passengers in his car in case of an unforeseen accident.

I have spent a lifetime cleverly avoiding serving on a jury and for good reason.  It’s a tedious process mired in technicalities and legalese that interrupts your life and seems to seldom result in a verdict that sticks or that couldn’t have been decided just as well by someone else with more time on their hands than you. Plus, let’s face it – I’m a bit selfish.  Who wants to trudge an hour downtown every day and sit in a room full of people you don’t know when you could be…working at your job? Surfing the web?  Talking to your friends?  Eating? Venting?  Or perhaps even having ________?

Perhaps I should have tried the Liz Lemon method?

Perhaps I should have tried the Liz Lemon method?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to rush out a year from now and try to sign up again.  And honestly, I can’t even promise that I won’t try to postpone or get out of it some other way in the future if I do get that dreaded summons in the mail.  But I will forever realize from now on that in some tiny way our justice system does still occasionally work and will perhaps be persuaded to stand up for it a little bit more in the future.  That might not seem like a big deal to you but given the current wave of nationwide cynicism and weariness, particularly my own, about whether our system of government still works at all – or even a little – it is something well worth noting – and feeling.

Maybe my opinion is turning around

Maybe my opinion is turning around

I will not bore you with the minutiae of this case, mostly because I don’t think even a newly minted flag waver such as myself could live through it a second time without wanting to stab hot pokers into the sides of my head (and yours). But I do want to provide a few salient points of what a case could look like in the event you get called and think nothing you do will matter.  However, first some words about …

My Fellow Jurors: TWELVE NOT ANGRY MEN

Postcard from the Edge

Postcard from the Edge

There were actually eight women and four men, none of who were angry though one of us – that would be me – could probably be referred to as crabby.  And not only were we not pissed off but we were all smart, which goes against everything I’d ever heard about jury service.  Those urban legends go something like this:  They’ll never choose you once they know you went to college, they hate people who have strong opinions, they stay away from anyone with professional jobs and, most certainly, anyone having to do with show business – and, finally – they’ll never, EVER take a mouthy gay Jew from New York like you. (Note: The latter refers solely to moi, and is patently, and particularly, untrue).

Luckily, I never let it get that far

Luckily, I never let it get that far

Of course, none of the above is true.  Our group was comprised of two marketing executives, a high school principal, two college professors, a tech executive, an ad/media buyer, several social workers, a television producer and a student of criminology, among others.  And in thinking about it afterwards I also realized we were about as racially diverse as any ad promoting the justice system could hope for:  White, African American, Indian, Hispanic, Asian and probably one or two I left out. We didn’t get into religion but, well, this is wise not only for jury service but at any public gathering or, well, anything at all.

LISTENERS AND NOTE TAKERS

This was an especially complicated civil case involving endless health insurance claims, fraud and tedious power point presentations.  Quite often I felt as if I were back in high school chemistry class or lost in a loop of Ben Stein outtakes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but with a body double miming his own lines instead of the ones written by John Hughes.  Yet whenever my mind would wander I’d look around and see everyone else taking copious notes on the steno pads the court provided, trying to follow every word that I’d almost given up on.  They also maintained the required poker faces throughout while I often grimaced and rolled my eyes at some of the witnesses or arguments I deemed idiotic as if I were Lucy Ricardo being told she couldn’t afford to buy the new dress she wanted or didn’t have enough talent to be in show business.

Me... almost the whole time

Me… almost the whole time

CLEVER FUNSTERS

I like to think of myself as a resourceful, fun guy and maybe I am sometimes.  Still, this group more than kept up and, often, surpassed me.  I was particularly in awe that they all figured out days before I did that you could enter through the doorway on Grand Ave. and be three blocks closer to the parking garage as well as only one floor away from our courtroom instead of entering on Hill St., as I did, where you had to walk up and down numerous hilly (hee hee) streets in the hot afternoon and morning as well as travel up six additional stories in order to get to our designated location.

The Chair was a temporary cast member

The Chair was a temporary cast member

Not to mention, they all had much better initial excuses to get out of serving than I did.  My fave was the guy who cited reading Thomas Piketty’s current NY Times bestseller,  Capital in the Twenty-First Century, as a reason for his bias against the corporate greed of the insurance industry.  A clever plea for elimination on a case where a behemoth corporation was being sued by the little guy but it didn’t work.  No excuses did.  All the lawyers seemed concerned with was that a juror would agree to “try and be fair.”  How do you adamantly refuse under oath to try to be fair without the fear of being cited for contempt of court?  #Youcant.

And finally, and most importantly, towards the end of what was becoming an endless trial of infinite facts, a bunch of these same compatriots came onboard with me when for diversion, during our breaks, I started a game called “redress the attorney.”  It came to my attention that the cheap dark beige and green suits some of the not bad-looking lawyers were wearing did nothing for them and I began to suggest copious color palettes that might help the matter.

Just call me Juror Gunn

Just call me Juror Gunn

Rather than this seeming like a “gay thing” a whole group of these said compatriots volunteered to play along and in the course of a few days we were able to re-outfit the entire courtroom in bold blues, maroons, grays and blacks.  In fact, we actually pondered whether to tell the attorneys what we came up with at the end of the trial and where to shop, particularly after we found out their individual fees were – $400 per hour. #BloomingdalesMensDept or #AtLeastTheory.

THE CASE

bringing the hammer down

bringing the hammer down

It’s not as much fun to write about this though it probably is more important.  The reason is that most of us do not have a chance if an insurance company decides for whatever reason not to pay your claim.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. Few of us want to spend three years suing and giving depositions but THEY (nee the insurance guys and gals) are happy to.
  2. Very few of us keep records of every piece of paper and phone conversation we’ve ever had with one of THEIR representatives but THEY keep EVERYTHING. (Note: I am now an expert witness to that fact and have the residual brain freeze to prove it).
  3. No one, except perhaps Siri, remembers every name, date and location of every medical test and treatment they’ve ever been given and, certainly neither she nor even your own medical professional can properly justify each treatment you’ve ever received or are entitled to be reimbursed by under the terms of the fine print of THEIR contract.  But you’d better believe THEY can and most certainly WILL.

Which brings us back to the case.  In a nutshell, here’s what happened to Carlos.

One early afternoon three years ago he had picked up his kids, all under 12 at the time, from a bunch of different schools and was driving home in the slow lane of the freeway, minding his own business, when a very large truck hit the driver’s side of his car twice and caused him to two times bounce off against the rails of the roadway.  Luckily, only the car was hurt initially.

Predictably, Carlos just wanted to go back to work and ignore whatever pains he began having several days later but then, when his oldest daughter began experiencing some discomfort he was told by a buddy to contact an attorney he successfully used and sue the other driver.  Carlos was inclined to do this because his own insurance company had lied to him and told him he was not entitled to be reimbursed by them for any doctor bills resulting from the accident even though he indeed was. (Note:  They later claimed this was merely their own “clerical” mistake that went on for several months).

How it all started

How it all started

In any event, his 12 year-old daughter received treatment and his insurance company (THEY)  finally paid her bills, albeit at a reduced rate.  But Carlos, whose doctor-ordered MRI revealed he had a disc bulge, was refused payment for his claims by his insurance company (aka THEM).  What followed were months and then years of:

– Accusations that Carlos’ attorney was trying to hide settlement money he received from a successful lawsuit suit with the other driver (Note: Legally his insurance company (aka THEY) still MUST PAY for his medical bills regardless of money received from elsewhere).

– Charges that Carlos went to a dubious medical clinic because one of its many co-owners had previously been accused, but never convicted, of medical fraud, and…

– Implications, then later assertions, that Carlos’ reputable Century City attorney was really a scammer whose entire career consisted of going after insurance carriers and their shady dealings and, hence, could not be trusted to ever reveal the entire truth to said company (aka THEM) about anything.

Of course, none of this admittedly had anything to do with Carlos personally and he was at no time accused by his insurer (THEM) of lying.  However, because his insurance reps (THEY again) were suspicious of the lawyer and medical facility he happened on to, Carlos, his four children and his wife (who was not in the car at the time of the accident but signed forms as the guardian of his children) were put on a permanent watch list in the state of California of people who have been investigated for insurance fraud – a list from which none of their names can EVER be removed.

Seriously?

Seriously?

Never mind that all of his children were years away from driving.  For the rest of their lives, as well as the lives of their parents, all of these names will bounce back whenever any of them applies for insurance of any kind and they will in turn be put in a special pile of high risk insurers where, well….it’s not so cheap or easy to get covered.  Not for now and not in the unforeseeable future.  It’s sort of like that awful boss who always remembers that one mistake you didn’t make that cost him money or the kid who keeps bringing up the time you peed in your pants during elementary school even though it was really just water that squirted on you when you were trying to take a drink from a faulty fountain on a particularly hot day.

I’m sure I left stuff out but that’s it in a nutshell.  No, I didn’t mention the female thirtysomething insurance special investigator who used to work at a gym prior to her six-month training course as an S.I.. for THEM and her penchant for wandering unannounced into medical facilities with her camera expecting to take pictures and interview doctors and technicians about their professional practices while she taped everything they said.  Nor did I speak about the expert THEY put on the witness stand who said that THEIR investigation of Carlos’ claim was one of the best he’d seen in two decades of work despite the fact that said company (THEY again) readily admitted that for two full months after he filed his claim Carlos was consistently told by THEM he was NOT entitled to the medical coverage he had indeed paid for.

Okay, so– what do you do about a case like this?  I mean, I certainly don’t spend as much time on my own medical forms though God knows I (and you) clearly should.

Well, you consider all the points made, look at your notes and try to boil it down to who filed the case and why.  For me, it was much like working on a complicated screenplay or story of any kind where, at the end of the day, it’s really all about your main character and what he or she wants.

Renaming the Jury Room the Writers' Room

Renaming the Jury Room the Writers’ Room

When you throw out all the superfluous, brain-breaking information it was all about Carlos (our main character) and whether he deserved to have his medical bills paid under the terms of what he had inarguably purchased. And when boiled down to that the verdict became crystal clear.  Not only for me but for 11 of the 12 jurors.   This is known as a clear decision in a civil trial such as this where you only need a two-thirds majority on one side to render a verdict.

(Note:  Our lone holdout never faulted Carlos but didn’t believe his lawyer had proven enough of his case according to the law, a subjective conclusion but certainly understandable considering the law is not too specific on how much proof is enough).

So we rule in favor of Carlos and agree he gets his medical bills and attorney fees paid for by THEM.  The question remaining is – what amount, if any, are we willing to reward him on the third part of the suit – unspecified damages for mental distress.  Well, at this point my instinct is to give a large cash reward to each and every juror who has had to listen to three years of the tedious hell of millions of insurance claims but clearly that is not an option.  So — how do you put a dollar value on distress without becoming what my grandmother used to say, a schnorrer (Yiddish for a sponger or beggar for money). Well, luckily, the day was over and we’d have the night to think about it before deciding the next morning because by then all of us in the deliberation room were totally farshtunken (Yiddish for rotting)

My parting gift to all of the jurors

My parting gift to all of the jurors

That evening, after venting endlessly to myself since legally I was still forbidden to discuss the case with anyone, including the Significant Other, I thought a lot about Carlos, his four children and his wife and I couldn’t help but wonder: if he and his family had gone to one of the more upscale L.A. doctors I have access to – the ones who went to the fancier schools and have offices in better zip codes where they cater to patients like me who can afford to pay as they go and then fight for reimbursement on another day –would they have been treated the way that they were?  Then I began to wonder even further: if he had my name rather than one of Hispanic origin (or even the title of Chair) would even that have made the difference?

Well, we’ll never know, will we?  But I certainly have feelings about it.  As do you.  Still, a legal case is not about feelings, it’s about facts.  Then suddenly –  it hit me.

What is the price of being put on a lifelong fraud list when you never committed fraud and never even came close to doing so?  What is the cost to Carlos and his wife, both in their thirties, and moreover, what is the lifelong cost to their four children – all minors who right now don’t have their own insurance policies but will have this accusation dogging them for their rest of their lives?

I concoct my own financial rewards formula that night and consider if I’ve lost my mind when I total the dollar amount.  I then share my reasoning with my fellow jurors the following day (with a mea culpa that though I might now be crazy, even crazy people like me can be committed to what they think is right and that I came up with the only alternative I could, short of revolution, that seemed truly fair).

so-sane-i-just-blew-your-mind

To my great surprise, not only did every color of the rainbow in our little Benetton ad agree but the amount of what they believed were distress damages to Carlos and his family began to increase – greatly – meaning, by A LOT – the more we discuss.

Eventually we decide to throw out the highest figure ($6,000,000!) and the lowest ($100,000) and each of us begin to compromise in either direction. Hence the $600,000 number.  Maybe it sounded like a lot when I started writing this but now, somehow, it doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

In any event, we get back into court and the judge announces the verdict.   Carlos’ attorney, who is today thankfully finally wearing the black suit instead of the beige one (Note: Did he hear me?) jumps back in shock when he hears the damages figure.  The attorney forthe insurance company (aka THEM) – that, fyi, had record profits in excess of $1.3 billion last year – as well as its rep, are floored.   As for Carlos, one of my fellow jurors told me she later saw him quietly sitting outside the courtroom, trying to hide several tears forming around the corners of his eyes.

Yeah, sometimes this is how justice works.  I’m going to try to and remember that, not to mention the shortcut you can take to get into the courthouse.  Though I won’t need the latter for at least a year, and hopefully never.  If I play my cards right.  Which I don’t do nearly enough.