Must (Not) See TV

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

Ugh... yes that too.

Ugh… yes that too.

I freely admit to all of these offenses.

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

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

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

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

They should really add a pillow app.

They should really add a pillow app.

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

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

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

Aside from never aging, she even managed to clone herself

Aside from never aging, she even managed to clone herself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The eternal question

The eternal question

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

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

Cherishing Valerie

Cherishing Valerie

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

Cosby show in the Obama age?

Cosby show in the Obama age?

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

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

Bring it on!

Bring it on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Come Back or Go Away!

Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 1.33.30 PMSometimes you just want to tell someone or something to go away.  Heels that aren’t high enough (Note: Teenage Chair is still mourning the loss of platform shoes); pork roast dinners (Note #2: It’s not a Jewish thing, just the sight of it makes me rickety); and hair with so much pomade and/or other product that it won’t move in the wind (Note #3 – Okay, perhaps it’s just flowing locks of any kind that I crave).

If you’re in the entertainment biz there is also slightly more serious fare you might want to give the ol’ heave-ho to.   These would include people who get undeserved studio deals because they have no discernable talent other than one to charm and persuade – which if not talent, is at the very least is a great asset to possess in 2014.

Standing around the Writer’s Guild this week discussing the latter subject, one of my peers concluded that these very same people become slaves to their profoundly clueless perception of their severe lack of talent and that this, in turn, gives them the supreme confidence and ability to soldier on and win at the business of show despite what any measurable mathematical calculation of real creative acumen would allow.

For example, this week doyennes of the fashion world became outraged when the sacred cow of magazine covers in their universe – Vogue – graced two people on it who many readers saw as the symbol of everything they don’t want as their style cover couple:

More like.. #enoughalready

More like.. #enoughalready

Granted, this might be a step forward from paper-thin, meal deprived models wearing half of a dress that would only lie right if it were draped on a skeleton in the front of the room of a 10th grade chemistry class.  Still, one can understand Vogue readers collectively rolling their eyes, sighing or yelling ‘Go away’ as they hurl the Kimye issue across the room and accidentally break a window due to the sheer weight of paper from all of the additional ads the duos mere presence undoubtedly caused to be purchased.

Feeling cynically depressed yet?  Well, don’t be.

On the flip side of this, there are just as many times that collectively we are all as likely to shout COMEBACK! (or Come back!) at a talented person or commodity or thing that we love that has been absent from the spotlight for too long or secretly seems to have just disappeared for no reason.  Though writers are clearly on average the most cynically depressing in the creative bunch (Note: You will just have to trust me on this), it is interesting to note that my aforementioned Writers Guild discussion segued into one where myself and my peers also listed many famous and infamous talents who were too long absent and whose new works we longed for or whose past works we still reveled in.  Plus – some of them were even friends, acquaintances AND people YOUNGER than us who were a lot more successful and wealthy.  While that entire group might admittedly evoke some envy, we also concluded that their every achievement cause us to be hopeful, excited and more motivated than ever to delve back into our own work because they show us what is possible in the best-case scenarios as they move us or make us laugh.  They also seem to push the collective consciousness just a teeny bit more into the kind of world we want to live in.  Rather than take a job away from us, they also inspire confidence that, contrary to what my parents and numerous T-Shirts you can buy on Café Press say, Life IS (or can be) Fair – even if it’s only sometimes.

I know this is all certainly true because the best show on television, Mad Men, is once again returning to the airwaves on AMC beginning April 13.

All Aboard!

All Aboard!

Sure, it’s a short seven-episode season 7 in 2014 with the final seven scheduled for the final season 8 to be broadcast sometime in 2015.  But that gives us a full 12-18 months for MM’s creative outcome to percolate in the cultural zeitgeist and raise the collective bar a little more, much in the same way Breaking Bad did the previous two years.  And certainly, we could use that.  I mean, God knows who else besides Kimye Vogue editor Anna Wintour (aka our Miranda Priestly prototype) has planned for future cover models.

Therefore, in the spirit of all this and more, the following are a list of some of the other COME BACKS/COMEBACKS and GO AWAYS we will look forward to, wish for or…sigh…dread might happen or not happen in the foreseeable future.  (Note:  Certainly any one of the occurrences or non-occurrences will add or subtract from our collective cultural zeitgeist only as we each see fit – rendering our national average impossible to figure out.  If for nothing else other than self-preservation, it’s probably safer that way).

1. The Comeback

We cherish you!

We cherish you!

Literally the best industry news all week was that HBO is in serious talks for a 2015 limited series return of the cancelled-too-early comedy, The Comeback, with star Lisa Kudrow, who co-created the show along with producing partner Dan Bucatinsky and director-writer Michael Patrick King almost a decade ago.  The docu-style, meta reality series followed the adventures of Valerie Cherish, a seemingly washed-up sitcom star from the 1980s who gets a shot on TV again playing the small supporting role of the older Aunt Sassy on a new contemporary half hour show where she often finds herself shunted to the side and mistreated in favor of younger and fresher talent.  To make matters worse, poor Valerie has also agreed for cameras to film every moment of her real life as a potential reality television show documenting the process.

Mere words cannot describe the sheer glee we fans of this much-overlooked gem feel now that one of our favorite programs – unfairly cancelled after a mere 13 episodes – has a chance at a comeba….well, you get the idea.   The mess of Valerie Cherish’s life managed to be hilarious, cringe-worthy and uncomfortably, heartbreakingly real almost all at the same time.  I myself sometimes had to turn away from the screen for poor Val, guiltily laughing at the indignities of show business realities she willfully subjected herself to weekly.  Yet, like most of the rest of us, she somehow always got through it all with a pasted-on smile even as invisible tears of sadness and occasional joy ran down her face.  PLEASE COME BACK!!

2. Brackets

Maybe we should bring Nate Silver in.

Maybe we should leave this to Nate Silver.

 What is with this word???  Every year at this time I read the newspaper, watch TV or read/see on the web bracket this or bracket that with an accompanying list of sports teams.  Now even the President is getting into it and we have to listen to all those crazies once again criticizing Barack Obama for spending time on the same type of foolishness that each one of them appears equally into.  Hmmm, next thing you know they’ll be criticizing him for going to the bathroom just like them instead of tending to the biologically defying duties of the Oval Office.  I mean, how dare he???  Plus, I bet Putin doesn’t go to the bathroom.  Clearly.

Which brings us back to the dreaded bracket.  Will someone please write about what the hell they really are and why we should care when gambling is illegal in the U.S.?  Oh wait, really?  Gambling is illegal in most places where the bracket counts?  Yeah, it really is.  Trust me, I know.  Even if I don’t know what the hell the term bracket actually means.

Finally, even if sports had nothing to do with this subject I’d still be annoyed because to me brackets really only evoke images of buying those metal thinga-majigs from Ikea or the hardware store that I nail into the wall and put shelves on, only to have them then fall apart, usually knocking me in the head or on the foot as they do.  Then I have to hire a handyman to fix the whole damn thing and it costs me a lot more money than if the word had never come up in my life.  So either way brackets are almost guaranteed to be a losing proposition. The verdict?  GO AWAY!!

3. Charlie Kaufman

Where are you??

Where are you??

He’s a screenwriter who is my age, been nominated for the Academy Award three times and won once, and has never written any original work I didn’t like and respect.  And I’m not even jealous or envious!  Even his last film, Synecdoche, New York, which he also directed, was quite brilliant in my humble opinion despite its mixed reviews. (Note: I remember literally snorting in contempt as several couples left the movie theatre at the showing I attended – those mental midgets!)

Still, it’s been five years since Mr. Kaufman has had an original screenplay made.  Yes, there have been talks he’s once again going to collaborate with Spike Jonze, who directed his scripts for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (Michel Gondry directed his Oscar-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and that he himself will write and direct a movie called Frank or Francis that has gone in and out of financing.  But so far – zilch.

My guess is our biggest hope lies with a new Kaufman television pilot for FX, How and Why, to star Michael Cera, John Hawkes and Sally Hawkins.  It tells the story of a man who used to be a TV science guy for kids who gets fired and starts a new show in a small town where Michael Cera is his boss and weird supernatural stuff begins to happen (Note: As if the former weren’t enough).  Yes, they had me at Charlie Kaufman but this idea sounds Great. COME BACK!  NOW!!!

4. The New Male Buzz Cut

If he can't pull it off...

If he can’t pull it off…

STOP IT!!  Just STOP IT right now!!!  Especially if you’re over 35.

I’m sorry, call me crazy (and many do) but this is the butt ugliest haircut for guys in the world.  Pretentious, affected, too coiffed and too contrived.  In short, you’re not too cool for the room when you think you’re too cool for the room.  See, Ryan Gosling is not too cool for the room and he doesn’t have the haircut.  He’s just cool.

Oh yeah, you know the one I mean.  Okay, Macklemore looks cool in it but he’s a rapper and he just won a well-deserved Grammy (Note:  Yeah, I’m on team M and not team Yeezus).  But the parade of male celebs who have gone the super buzz route just because their stylists told them to, only to be followed by every other gay guy at the gym and every straight guy who thinks they can have Adam Levine’s love life if they do this same hairdo along with one or several tattoos, is maddening and just plain dead wrong.

Stay away from Leto!

Stay away from Leto!

If you’ve got good hair revel in it cause it won’t last forever.  I say this not out of bitterness, but out of kind-hearted envy and personal experience.  Plus, you will look back at photos 20 years from now and wonder why you were wearing the post-millennial equivalent of a Nehru suit on your head.   GO AWAY!! 

5. Brussel Sprouts vs. Kale & Quinoa

Hello gorgeous

Hello gorgeous

As a child of the sixties and seventies, I grew up thinking vegetables were these soggy sweet, soupy things from a can that were rancid.  In fact, the words Del Monte and Birdseye still literally make me nauseous to this day.

The re-invention of the fresh vegetable as a thing of beauty across America and the many options for its preparation to the masses was one of the only great things to come out of the 1980s, in my mind.  That is, aside from meeting my life partner.  We can thank many people for this, most notably Alice Waters, one of the leaders of the organic food movement and founder/chef extraordinaire from Chez Panisse. (Note:  No, she had nothing to do with the partner and I meeting, but still…)

In tribute to Ms. Waters then, it is with great joy that I wholly endorse a revival of the much ignored but very, very tasty brussel sprout.  Not sure why but they seem to be everywhere these days as the vegetable of choice in restaurants across the country.  They’re good for you (High fiber/low fat) and very easy to make (roast them with a little olive oil and salt ‘n pepper at 450 degrees for 15-20 mins.) and in my mind beat both kale and quinoa into the ground.  Not to say the latter two are bad – just tiresome.  They’re tolerable, even good sometimes, but they’ve become sort of like watching any movie, TV show, commercial or anything else featuring Ashton Kutcher.

7. Hannah Horvath

hateeveryone1

She is Lena Dunham’s alter ego on Girls and I love both the show and the character.  But like any best friend or love partner for life you occasionally need a break.  This is what’s happening these days with Hannah and us.

It’s hard to watch the twenty-something version of yourself at your worst and most insecure slowly destroy your life and every meaningful relationship you’ve ever had scene by scene with that rare combination of extreme narcissism and neediness.  Luckily, there is only half an hour more for this season and Hannah can go away to regroup while we can recall why we are forever grateful to have our twenties decades behind us.  (Note: For those of you who don’t fall into the latter category, our deepest sympathies).  GO AWAY – but only for a while.

8. The Homosexual

Imagine my surprise to read this week in both the NY Times and The Advocate that the word homosexual has been officially deemed an “offensive term” by GLAAD and will be avoided at all costs by the paper of record.  Apparently, this has something to do with the fact that if you take the term gay marriage and call it homosexual marriage it will sound funny – sort of like the equivalent of referring to an African American person as colored in 2014.

Wasn't this enough this week?

Wasn’t this enough this week?

Well, as a gay/homosexual person I am officially confused.  Not in a sexual or lifestyle way – just in an old-fashioned I’m not sure kind of fashion.  And if I’m left scratching my head, I can only image where you must be.  No wonder my transgender friends are up in arms.  Society can barely keep up with the speed in which we’re coming out so you can imagine what it’s like for the keepers of Webster, Wikipedia and Strunk & White.

Here’s my suggestion.  Let’s just call everyone male or female because…Wait, that won’t work either since some people prefer gender non-specifics.  How about human beings?  Too clinical?  What about Mary?  Butch?  Ahh, forget I brought it up.  And you may continue to call me a homosexual  – as long as you’re not Antonin Scalia or Rush Limbaugh – because even if they called me gay I’d know what they really mean.  COME BACK!

9. Super hero movies and 3-D

NO MORE!

NO MORE!

Until you hear otherwise, we here at notesfromachair don’t want to hear anything more about them.    We don’t care that Man of Steel was one of the 10 top grossing movies worldwide in 2013 or that Ironman 3 was….NUMBER #1!???????  

We. Are. Done.  We didn’t see Gravity with those hideous glasses and we still loved it.  We watched Frozen at home and happily sung along to Idina Menzel, not missing a note while the ice in our glass of Diet Coke clinked back and forth.

Yet that same year we were tortured with what seemed like ten and a half hours of a bad Superman reboot that made us long for Christopher Reeve and a multi-million dollar (though nearly unintelligible) cameo from Marlon Brando as his father.  Not to mention the only 12 minutes we saw of our favorite film actor, Robert Downey, Jr. somehow managing to maintain his dignity as he meandered through Iron Man 3.

One day the movie business pendulum will swing the other away and we will hopefully still be able to see and hear. If not, please let us know how it goes.  Until then, do not tell us anything about Man of Steel: Superman vs. Batman.  Isn’t it enough we’re showing you this dumb fake trailer? GO FAR, FAR, AWAY!

10.  24/7 Airplane Travel Disaster Porn

I am planning my first trip to Italy in May and don’t like flying to begin with. So is it too selfish to ask for a moratorium on sensationalizing human airborne tragedy?  My motives for this are not SOLELY selfish, just mostly.    Sheer terror does that to you.  GO AWAY.

11. THE CLINTONS

And we can't stop.. and we don't stop!

And we can’t stop.. and we don’t stop!

Let’s face it, Hillary is running for President in 2016 and will soon be saturating the airwaves.  Bill was dubbed the Explainer-in-chief for the brilliant, powerhouse speech/argument he made at the 2012 Democratic convention that many feel was key in helping win Barack Obama re-election.  Finally, I saw Chelsea Clinton promoting the Clinton Global Initiative this week on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and she is not going anywhere but up.

There is no use voting on this.  They Clintons never went away and they are never going away.  Therefore it makes it impossible for them to come back or to even have a Comeback.  Sometimes life is like that.  And it not only takes hard work, confidence and determination, but real creative talent.  It’s rare but when it happens all the rest can really do is sit back, watch and enjoy the show.  Let’s face it, these days we’ve earned the right to be truly entertained.