#ThrowbackThursday — “Tish’a b’Av Thoughts 2013”

It comes around every year, so I’ll probably repost this every year.

Original post was a Facebook Note from July 16th, 2013.

 

Tish’a b’Av Thoughts 2013

Tish’a b’Av is not a day of action. There are no extensive Judaic rituals like a seder to conduct or a bundle of plants to wave around or a rickety booth to construct in your backyard.

It’s not a day of prayer, either. There are a few specific prayers, the kinot, that are particular to Tish’a b’Av, but there are nowhere near as many things to say as there are on Yom Kippur, and no one is expected to spend the entire day in the synagogue with a prayerbook.

It’s not a day of atonement. We’re not asking for forgiveness and absolution and a fresh start.

The only way I can think to sum up this day is that it’s a day of, “Just be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.”*

It’s a day of wallowing. You’re ideally not supposed to do anything that will distract you from that, at least for the first half of the day. You’re not supposed to eat, you’re not supposed to watch TV, you’re not supposed to read, I’m not supposed to be writing this. You’re not even supposed to study Torah until after chatzot (midday).

It’s a day of mourning, and a day of regret, and a day of guilt. Very Jewish.

I have never been any good at feeling the things I am supposed to feel. I’m pretty good at doing the things I’m supposed to do, because I can usually come up with my own reasons to do them. But I’m bad at believing what I’m supposed to believe, and feeling what I’m supposed to feel.

Supposedly, God does not command your feelings. I remember in school when we got up to the “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God” verse in the shema, and the teacher raised the question, “How can God command anyone to love him?”

I don’t remember what answer she gave, which means that I must have found it completely unsatisfying, because I remember satisfying answers while unsatisfying ones evaporate from my memory, leaving the questions stronger than ever. (She probably said something like, “Doing all the commandments will lead to love of God, so it’s not a separate commandment, just a natural result” and no, that is not how it works.)

But the fact that this is a question means there’s the idea that God doesn’t command our feelings, only our actions.

But aside from what God technically commands, it’s undeniable that the Jewish calendar has demands on your feelings. Be happy on these days! Be sad on these days! Be introspective! Be celebratory! Be depressed! Be grateful! We have holidays for all of them, sometimes well spread out, sometimes smushed together like a bad mood swing.

Some people have the mental discipline to direct their thoughts and feelings toward all of these at the right times of year, and are able to take advantage of this varied spectrum of emotional experience. Me? Nope. I tend to get bitter and cynical when faced with “BE HAPPY NOW” and feel upbeat when everyone around me starts doing the sad thing.

I’m an emotional contrarian. I’m bad at feelings.

And I’m especially bad at guilt.

Because the fact is that I am a bad Jew, a Jew who doesn’t believe properly, who doesn’t care enough about Jewish things, doesn’t have enough tolerance for people who don’t think like me, and if there is a Messiah, I may very well be one of those people who is preventing him from coming, because I am just not good enough for that, and am bringing the rest of you down with me and my unworthiness. Because we Jews are all a team, and my failure somehow radiates out to impact all of us.

And I could feel guilty about that. I could let it own me, let it crush me, let it weigh on me every minute of every day.

It used to. It used to be this constant horrible presence in my life, berating me, hammering me, until I reached a point where I realized, “Yo, guilt! It’s either you, or me.” And I chose me, and over time, I uprooted and cast out every last shred of guilt I could find.

Guilt is not something I have been able to find a balance for. In order to function, I need it gone. Completely. I understand that guilt in moderation is a healthy thing, ensures that you’re not a sociopath, but I can’t handle it, so I’ve walled it out. I can recognize my mistakes, I can think to myself, “I shouldn’t have done that,” or, “That was wrong,” and I usually do my best to apologize and make it up to the person I’ve wronged, but I can’t feel bad about it anymore, not for more than a second or two, with very rare exceptions. I don’t have any real, sincere regrets. About anything.

I have tremendous respect for people who have a capacity for guilt. I respect people who can feel their mistakes, people who have deep regrets, and live with them every day without letting them take over. Guilt destroys me, and I am frankly too afraid to let any of it back in, because I know what it does to me.

So even on this day of guilt, for better or worse, I sit behind my walls and refuse to feel my wrongness.

 

 

*President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing

 

 

 

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REVIEW — Murder One, “Chapter One” (Pilot Episode)

 

I feel like I should start this review with an apology to the sponsor, Yair Rosenberg, because he was one of the very first to donate to my GoFundMe page and request a review, and yet I pushed it off until literally the next year. (Full disclosure: Yair is my brother so I can get away with stuff like that. Also, you should follow him on Twitter; I hear he’s funny sometimes. And he has a slight jewfro, which is always a plus.)

 

So, Murder One. Yair discovered this on Hulu (where it still currently resides, lurking) when I was in high school, and recommended it to me then. I in fact did watch several episodes and enjoyed them, but then somehow never followed through on the rest, and eventually I remembered almost nothing about it except my impression that there was an impressive lack of eye candy, which to me meant that it was clearly a really serious show with serious capital-A Acting, because the only people who can get away with not being eye candy on TV or in movies are capital-A Actors, like, I dunno, the guys in this show. (And comedians.)

 

Legit, that’s all I remembered. That and Stanley Tucci being in it. And Dylan Baker, better known to my brain as “that guy from other stuff.”

 

And upon rewatching, it turns out my recollection was kind of wrong? About the lack of eye candy, I mean. True, most of it is female — Kate Harper from The West Wing! Patricia Clarkson and her glorious hair! The older sister model! Other female defense attorney whose name I can’t remember! — but there is also that cute male defense attorney in the opening shot (clearly placed there strategically to keep shallow viewers like me from changing the channel in anticipation that he’ll be onscreen more) and now that I am older and wiser, I better appreciate Stanley Tucci as the attractive male specimen that he is, even with the balding hairstyle they let him have here.

 

Dat face.

 

I am also older and wiser in that I now have a much greater appreciation of why this is such a fantastic show, or at least a fantastic start to one. Because while I remember liking it the first time I watched it, I almost definitely did not evaluate it in the same terms that I did when I watched it earlier this week, and didn’t necessarily grasp what makes it so remarkable to present-day me.

 

And that boils down to: This is a pilot episode without a villain.

 

I have a weakness for fiction like that. A lot of my fiction doesn’t have villains, just people coming at life from different angles and making choices that are reasonable to them and clashing with each other because that is just the human condition. I just find it so much more compelling than your typical good vs. evil smackdown fights.

 

I’m sure this show will eventually have a villain (someone has to be the murderer, right?) but as of this episode, every character is likeable and sympathetic in some way (with one possible exception, which I’ll get to). The major ones that we’ve seen clearly have flaws, but they seem to have good sides too, and you understand them and you want to trust them, which is of course a great thing to have in a whodunit, which is, I presume, what this show will unfold into.

 

For instance, we have:

 

The main lawyer, Teddy — (Eye candy rating: 4ish out of 10) He has the unenviable, sometimes unscrupulous job of defending people who are varying degrees of guilty. And he does it really well, getting his clients off the hook even if they really did commit the crime they’re accused of *cough* Neil Avedon *cough* and probably don’t deserve to get off so easy. But he does have principles! The opening couple of acts reveal them to us — he has a line, a breaking point at which he will drop a client, and it’s pretty satisfying to see. He also has a wife and a daughter, and we see how gentle and caring he is with them. And of course, there’s this marvelous monologue he gives to a heckler in the bar, which is clearly the moral core of the show:

 

Do you think anyone in this bar believes you’ve got a full head of hair? We all know that’s a comb-over. But till you get so obnoxious you forfeit your right to civil treatment, no one here points it out. Think of the trial system like that. We know accused people aren’t always innocent. Maybe not even usually innocent. And even though we know that, we treat people like they’re innocent till they’ve had their shot in court. It makes us better people, it civilizes us to treat them that way. Civility is important. That’s why no one in here called you a self-deceiving fool till you opened your drunken mouth.”

 

 

The main detective, Polson — (Eye candy rating: 6/10, mostly for those baby blue eyes) This is a role that probably could have been done a lot more villainously had Dylan Baker chosen to play it that way. He could easily have decided to play Polson much more antagonistically with his tone and body language, and I’m glad he didn’t. He’s just a guy doing his job; he’s not trying to be hugely judgmental or frame an innocent person, but he has leads that he needs to follow up on and uncomfortable questions he needs to ask, and clearly has some hunches that he’s following. He makes a couple of smug remarks to Teddy about how he’s sure the suspect is involved “up to his hips” (which later proves to be true), but aside from that, he doesn’t seem to relish the unpleasantness of this case and what it’s doing to the people involved, so I like the guy.

 

The prime suspect, Stanley Tucci — (Eye candy rating: 8/10) You want to believe this guy didn’t do it. You really, really want to. Tucci just does such a great job seeming so sincere and upset, that even though you know he’s committed serial infidelity, and that he’s constantly withholding information from Teddy throughout the episode, you really really want to believe that he would never have killed anybody, much less a 15-year-old girl who viewed him a surrogate father figure. You want to believe he has his reasons for withholding whatever he’s withholding. You want to trust him. I REALLY HOPE HE DIDN’T DO IT, OKAY.

 

The victim’s sister — (Eye candy rating: 9/10) This is another instance of a character who we know has done things that are objectively objectionable — she’s having an affair with Tucci’s character, a married man — but since we see how much she cared about her sister when she breaks down at the photo identification, and given that we know she essentially had to raise her sister (perhaps resorting to prostitution at one point) because their parents are not in the picture, her character remains very sympathetic.

 

The suspect’s wife — (Eye candy rating: 7/10 because I love short hair) She only gets one brief scene in this episode and I don’t know if we’ll see her much later, but she had one very telling choice to make: whether or not to appear beside Teddy at the press briefing he’s holding in defense of her husband, Stanley Tucci. He’s not asking her to speak, just to be present and visible to imply support for her husband. She’s clearly very upset, because she knows her husband was having an affair with the victim’s older sister and that this will likely be public knowledge soon, and she appears to be on the fence about whether to show up at the briefing or not. Teddy pleads his case, and we see that she understands that not showing her support at this juncture will make Stanley Tucci look guilty, not just of infidelity, but of the girl’s murder, and as upset as she is, she doesn’t think he’s a murderer, and has the heart not to sabotage his case, even though it’s difficult for her to play the dutiful wife. I thought that was a very interesting character note, and I hope we see more of her.

 

 

The aforementioned one possible exception to this panoply of sympathetic characters is

 

Neil Avedon — (Eye candy rating: 8/10 for looks, 1/10 for personality) He is clearly a douchepants. And obviously not very trustworthy, judging from that scene where we see him pull out the puppy-dog face when we know he is anything but remorseful for the stunt he pulled (killing a swan, I think?). But the show thus far is painting him as douchey, not as evil. Mostly harmless, in the words of Ford Prefect. But is that a misdirect? Could that swan murder be foreshadowing a human murder? Could be! I HOPE IT’S HIM, GUYS.

 

There are also a bunch of minor characters like the other attorneys on Teddy’s team, and the subplot involving them vying to be second chair on the case does a good job establishing their personalities. And again, none of them do anything underhanded or vicious or anything like that. They behave passionately but professionally. These are likeable people, and I like that.

 

All in all, I think this was a great pilot. It’s very rare for a show to be able to introduce a complicated storyline AND a full cast of characters and get them all established this clearly, this quickly. I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of this.

 

 

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The Newsroom — Season 1 Review

I started off my very first post by saying, “I have so many preconceived notions about this show I have never watched. LET ME SHOW THEM TO YOU.”

I then listed my preconceived notions, and now I’m going to go through that list and back each one up with evidence from the show, now that I’ve actually watched it.

“First, the good:

1)   It’s an Aaron Sorkin show. To me, this means super slick, rapid-fire dialogue that makes you feel smarter for having heard it, even if you only partially understood it. Sorkin shows know how to build drama, create moral dilemmas, and crack incredibly funny jokes. I loved Sorkin’s previous shows: Sports Night, The West Wing, and even Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which I don’t think anyone else liked even though Bradley Whitford has the most adorable dimples on the planet. I loved his movies: A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and Moneyball, although there was way too much silence in that movie to have been written by Sorkin alone (he co-wrote it).

Um, that was kind of my only thing on the list.”

This show did not live up to the previous standards set by other Sorkin works. I chalk this up mainly to the fact that in this show, he consistently shied away from actually discussing the issues he was claiming to be discussing. In The West Wing, at least from the few seasons I’ve seen, the show was not afraid to have an issue or political scenario hashed out in excruciating detail in long, in-depth scenes. It did not muddy the waters with relationship drama that completely overshadows the hardcore issues being addressed. And it was not afraid to have the characters be very smart and well-meaning but occasionally wrong at the same time. The Newsroom is afraid to depict any of the characters as being wrong; they are constantly self-justifying, and the show backs them up by having everything always work out just right. As I pointed out in my review of “Bullies,” the only moment on the show that lived up to that standard was the interview with Sutton Wall, where Will was being self-righteous and narrow-minded and had his head handed to him, like he deserved. And I can’t even give Sorkin credit for that because as I mentioned in that post, Sutton Wall is basically using the exact words of Robert Traynham.

“The bad:

1)   My brother’s a journalist and he hates this show, because it’s about a news team covering actual historic events, but the writer of the show has the benefit of hindsight, which any actual reporters at the time did not have. Which is obviously irksome to a journalist in a similar way that Grey’s Anatomy is irritating to doctors — it’s unrealistic and creates distorted perceptions of the profession. I personally enjoy Grey’s Anatomy most of the time, because I am not a doctor. I’m not a journalist either, so I’m pretty sure this won’t bother me the same way it bothers my brother.”

I’m still not a journalist, but I can absolutely see how this show is incredibly unfair to journalists, due to the hindsight factor. Yes, ideally, no one should have reported Gabrielle Giffords to be dead when she wasn’t, but telling us that and berating all the news networks that got it wrong is not very impressive when you’re making your show two years after the fact. We all know that the coverage of the Boston Bombing was abysmal, but it got sorted out eventually and there were a few news outlets that got it right the first time, just like with Gabrielle Giffords, so it’s really not the huge deal the show makes it out to be. (Except the Post identifying the wrong suspects. That could have ended badly, but fortunately it didn’t. Most shoddy coverage has no lasting effects, however. Hence not a big deal.) Also, the recapper at the Huffington Post points out that Will’s mission statement is hardly any different from other actual current cable newspeople. The show bothers me intensely with its inflated sense of its own importance and uniqueness.

2)   “Also because of hindsight, my brother tells me, the show gets preachy and sanctimonious, because of what the writer, Sorkin, thinks ought to have happened regarding these actual real-world events being depicted. I can handle a little preachiness (all Sorkin shows are a bit preachy and message-oriented), but too much gets on my nerves.”

Holy lord, was this show preachy. It’s like Sorkin doesn’t trust anyone to put any pieces together themselves; he has to spell it out for you. I cannot tell you how much I prefer the Daily Show’s strategy of pulling up a clip or a soundbyte and letting the viewer realize for him or herself why that politician or other newsmaker was being absurd or hypocritical or just stupid. A lot of people apparently liked Will’s whole spiel in the finale about the Tea Party being the American Taliban, but I felt like it was so over-the-top and condescending that I could not stop rolling my eyes at it.

3)   “Since The Social Network, Sorkin has kind of become a target for ridicule and criticism regarding his portrayals of female characters. In fact, the AfterElton recaps that I skimmed when the show was on the air sometimes had headlines like, “The 5 Worst Lady Blunders From Last Night’s ‘Newsroom,’” which contained lines like: “Aaron Sorkin‘s way of establishing [this female character’s] flaws are condescending and unbelievable.” I am not in the business of mind reading and I have no idea if Sorkin is an especially sexist man. I’d like to believe he isn’t. He has a daughter. Female characters on The West Wing like CJ Cregg and Ainsley Hayes were quite awesome. But is it possible for character portrayals to be sexist even if the writer himself is not sexist? I think yes, personally. If female characters are consistently more irritating/incompetent/shrill/underdeveloped/overly sexualized than the men, then that’s a sexist portrayal of women (I know, we have a lot of demands for our fictional representation; deal with it). This can be the case even if the writer doesn’t personally hate or disrespect women. I’ll probably be more sensitive to this while watching The Newsroom than I would be otherwise, since I know about this controversy.”

Well, the women in this show were pretty uniformly awful. But you know what? So were the men. It’s hard to call the show anti-women when it’s actually a lot worse than that — it’s anti-human. All the major characters suck, regardless of gender. They are all ruled by their love lives, they are all repeating the same patterns over and over, they are all maddeningly self-righteous, they are all often or at least occasionally professionally incompetent, and see my previous post for more detail on this. But yes, we never got to see a single woman come up with a great, innovative solution to a problem. Men are given professional supremacy throughout the show, even though Mac is supposedly in a position of authority and expertise.

4)   “I’ve heard that the villains in the show are often one-dimensional straw men, and Professor Dunphy’s comments in class reinforced that idea. I know that sometimes it’s very satisfying to root against a totally evil villain and watch him fall, but I really enjoyed the nuanced and often sympathetic opposition portrayed in The West Wing and thought it made the show feel more honest and rich.”

Simply put, the show needed more Sutton Walls. The Tea Party is the easiest target anywhere, and watching it being blasted week after week was not at all dramatically satisfying. I wanted more of the other side, and I understand that in the case of the Tea Party, there may not be another side, but then I want to know the reasoning of the people who are voting for them. An episode about THAT would have been interesting. As would an episode with a different target. What made The West Wing so great was that the issues changed every week and the opposition changed and nothing ever felt like a retread of what had already been done; each episode found something new and fascinating to explore. The opposition almost always had viewpoints worth hearing that would make you look at things just a little differently. I sometimes find it hard to believe that this show gets wrong everything that The West Wing got right.

I have one last major criticism that I only developed after watching the show for a while, and I summed it up in my Episode 8 review like this:

“And then there’s the show’s blatant hypocrisy and double standards about what is worth watching — evidently it’s okay for the SHOW to be melodramatic and focused on petty relationship struggles, because that’s “entertainment,” but the news is obviously different because the news shouldn’t be entertainment. What the show fails to grasp is that it’s undermining its own message by using the same emotionally manipulative techniques that it accuses the news of using. It’s saying higher standards are important, and then proceeds to scrape the bottom of the barrel with tawdry relationship drama, as if it doesn’t trust the viewers to keep watching unless it pulls all those lowbrow tricks out of its bag. Result is that I feel cheated and condescended to, and wish the show would just be more intelligent and more interesting without trying to play to the lowest common denominator.”

The hypocrisy also includes the fact that the show claims to condemn fear-mongering, yet it simultaneously calls the Tea Party things like “the American Taliban” and manufactures a secret source from inside the NSA to warn us about the government’s invasive and violating practices of wiretapping and interception of private communications and how this will spell the end of the civilization as we know it. Textbook fear-mongering. You can’t have it both ways.

I think these are all fundamental issues with the show, and the reasons I will not be watching next season.

Final Rating for the season: 2.5/5

The Newsroom — Character Evaluation Post

I’ve been dreading this assignment all semester long, because apparently I’m supposed to write 500 words on one single character from The Newsroom, when one of my major gripes about the show is that I don’t like the characters and that they don’t change in significant ways and just repeat themselves over and over again to the point where they are utterly predictable. You know, that whole definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? That’s basically every character. Until maybe the season finale when a couple of them tried something different just because someone must have sent them a memo that it was the season finale and they should stop pulling the same old crap.

 

I can just picture it:

 

Network executive: “Y’know what we were thinking would be great? If you could have these characters behave in a way we haven’t seen before. Like, have an arc. Make progress.”

Aaron Sorkin: “Like what?”

Exec: “Well, you could have Maggie stop being an annoying wide-eyed idiot who’s in denial about her feelings for Jim and have her break up with Don for good this time?”

Sorkin: “Hmmm. I see what you’re saying. Maybe the denial part could change a bit. But we can’t have her break up with Don. She’s far too insecure to leave a man, and besides, we need to have that in place for next season or I might have to come up with an entirely new storyline for her.”

Exec: “Ah. Flawless reasoning. Well, maybe then you could have Jim stop being such a sad sack and actually try to move on with his life?”

Sorkin: “No, don’t you understand? Sad sackiness is Jim’s entire appeal. He has like nothing else going for him. Ladies love sad sacks. Take that away and he’ll be just another boring dude.”

Exec: “Well, I’m sure you know what the ladies like; far be it from us to question that. So never mind Jim and Maggie. How about Mac? Do you think maybe you could have her work on getting her meltdowns under control?”

Sorkin: “But that’s what makes her relatable to the viewers. No one can empathize with a coolly professional, endlessly competent woman — it’s all her constant screw-ups that earn sympathy, and her hysterics are adorable.”

Exec: “But do you really think it’s realistic that a person so prone to hysterics in stressful situations would have been able to earn two Peabody awards for work in Afghanistan?”

Sorkin: “Hmm, what did you say? Sorry, I was counting my money.”

Exec: “Maybe her hysterics are a manifestation of PTSD. That could be explored, right? In therapy? You like putting characters in therapy, right? Will MacAvoy in this show, Josh Lyman on The West Wing. . .”

Sorkin: “I suppose. Maybe next season. But Mac in therapy would take time away from Will’s therapy screen-time, and Will’s the main character so we can’t have that.”

Exec: “But it would be a great excuse to have more David Krumholtz on the show!”

Sorkin: “Can’t argue with that. Ladies love David Krumholtz.”

 

 

Basically, the only character that seemed to have a substantial arc was Will. Two basic arcs, personal and professional.

Professionally, he started off in the first two minutes of the show being blandly inoffensive, then exploded and we saw his true opinions on the state of American journalism, then was convinced by Mac to become a crusader for the Greater Good of News. This held true for the entire season, where every episode was essentially more of the same of this idea of Better News, whether that meant bashing the Tea Party or insulting people for watching trashy reality TV, until the season finale, where Will was forced to doubt the effectiveness of his actions for this cause. That lasted about half the episode before he returned with renewed conviction. The finale also contrives to show him that he is having his desired effect by bringing back a character from the beginning of the show who has now been inspired and fundamentally changed because of Will’s proselytizing. So this arc was designed to test Will’s beliefs and reaffirm them. Kind of like high school was for me, not a transformative experience but more of a, “Yup, I was right all along. Glad I never have to go through THAT again.”

Personally, he started off insisting that whatever he and Mac had in the past was completely and utterly over and that he hates her to the point of taking a pay cut in order to ensure that he can fire her any time he wants, although it is obvious to the viewers that he will never fire her and that he has unresolved feelings for her that he sucks at dealing with because he’s a repressed, arrogant jerk who will never admit to weakness, and forgiveness is weakness. Will thrives on self-righteous anger. I am of the opinion that if no one in the world ever did anything wrong or stupid again, Will would implode for sheer lack of anyone to lambaste and feel superior to. I can’t say I don’t understand that — life is easier when you feel like you have a better handle on the world than the people around you — but it’s not pleasant or entertaining to watch, at least not in the way it’s been portrayed here.

Will makes incremental progress on his relationship with Mac throughout the season, progress that is so incremental that it often seems completely frustratingly absent. It’s clearest when Will confronts his psychiatrist, David Krumholtz, toward the end of the season and demands, “Why can’t I forgive her?” At that point, he had heard enough apologies and been around Mac long enough to know that he still has feelings for her and she still has feelings for him and that they might still be able to have a relationship, and part of him wants to forgive her, but he can’t. And by the end of the season, it’s unclear if he has still not forgiven her or if he is simply too proud to tell her.

So sad, y’all. And yet I completely lack sympathy for Will. I’ve talked about this with my brother and we can’t figure out if it’s the writing or the acting — is the character just so fundamentally obnoxious that no matter what Jeff Daniels does as an actor, he can’t make him sympathetic? Or is Daniels’ completely warmth-less performance partially to blame? Or maybe it’s because I just can’t stand Mac and can’t root for anyone to be with her.

 

The crux of the matter remains this: as with the rest of the show, the characterization contains a lot of interesting ideas. Sorkin is an incredibly talented, smart, articulate, witty guy — let that be stated for the record. But in this show, his ideas, in plot and character, never cohere into a satisfying and entertaining whole. As Alan Sepinwall of HitFix.com puts it: “I understand wanting to believe in the message here. I just wish I didn’t dislike so many of the messengers.”

REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 9 — “The Blackout, Part 2: Mock Debate”

At last, the eagerly anticipated conclusion to last week’s episode! (And by “eagerly anticipated,” I mean not. At all.) Let’s see if our intrepid crew will continue to be forced to report the news in ways they don’t like, and if I will magically start to care…

 

—   Quick recap: A) Will’s hired Mac’s ex to write a story about the show. B) the network is pressuring the show to report more tragedy porn, and they’re going along with it because they want to be able to do a mock debate later and they need to be in good standing with the network or they might not get the chance. C) Charlie has a Secret Contact at the NSA who says the world is ending because the government has too much power. D) Anthony Wiener scandal is in full swing (no pun intended). E) Before they had a chance to tape a tragedy porn show, the power went out, hence “blackout.”

—   Power is still out.

—   Mac is being sappy and speechy about how this was GOD’S PLAN because he doesn’t want them to report on Casey Anthony and Anthony Wiener, and getting all crazed and excited about making the show with a desk and a couple of microphones and BEING A TEAM AGAIN, and then the power goes back on. Boo hoo.

—   Jim says to the crew during taping, “hey, you don’t have to watch this,” but obviously everybody WANTS to watch it. It’s like what they say about gossip: it’s something nobody claims to like, but everybody enjoys.

—   Sloan is still upset about the tabloid stories taking time away from her reporting on the biggest economic crisis of her lifetime, even though I still don’t have a handle on what that is, and since it already happened and the world seems to still be functioning, I don’t really care.

—   Neal still wants to do that story on internet trolls, because that’s somehow more newsworthy than tragedy porn, and asks Sloan’s permission to slander her online in order to build his troll credibility. She says yes, because she thinks it’s a good story too, wonder of wonders.

—    Convo between Mac and Brian-the-reporter-ex about Will being lonely. Don’t care. If he is, he deserves it because he did it to himself.

—   Will has flowers in his office, Mac pays them entirely too much attention. Yawn.

—   Mock debate practice. I’m failing to see why anyone other than SNL would think this is a good idea.

—   Jim’s ex-girlfriend and Maggie’s roommate Lisa, a fictional character, was magically Casey Anthony’s classmate in high school. I’m sure her insights would be super informative, seeing as she’s FICTIONAL. This is totes realistic. Ugh, I wish the show would just make up everything instead of shoe-horning fictional people into real world situations. That’s why The West Wing worked better.

—   Maggie and Jim are harassing Lisa at her workplace. Classy. Jim pulls the “we have no choice this is super important” card and Lisa finally gives in.

—   Jim awkwardly tries to ask Lisa out again. Stop it, Jim. She’s way too good for you.

—   Don dates around when he and Maggie break up, but doesn’t tell any of the women about the existence of the other. Don, I hate guys like you. Go away.

—   Cut to Will in his therapist’s office. Yay David Krumholtz! I don’t care about Will or his issues with betrayal but YAY DAVID KRUMHOLTZ.

—   Yes, Will, you are right, blaming the cheat-ee instead of the cheater is not the right way to go. But the show is making it sound like it is. Stupid show.

—   Will can’t understand why he can’t seem to forgive Mac for cheating on him. Therapist Krumholtz says it was because it was betrayal, and Will is super sensitive to betrayal.

—   Neal tells Sloan all the various ways he slandered her while trolling economics threads, and she’s glad someone is working on new stories. THIS IS NOT NEWS, SLOAN. Maybe it is to Sorkin because he’s kind of new at the internet thing, but this is tiny and unimportant and silly.

—   Jim’s research on Secret Contact Dude turns up sordid stuff about the guy, hurting his credibility.

—   Maggie and Mac agree that it doesn’t matter what Lisa says on the air as long as she actually shows up, so they’re gonna ask really lame questions.

—   SO PROUD of Lisa for continuing to reject Jim. Guy did not want you, he doesn’t deserve you, keep him in his place. You rock, girl.

—   Uh oh, Lisa’s on the air speaking out for the reasonableness of abortion in cases when the mother doesn’t want the child and can’t raise it. Apparently people are super sensitive about this and everyone is covering their faces in horror.

—   Someone threw a brick through her shop window. Would that really happen in New York? Down south, sure. But we’re pretty liberal here, right? I’m not gonna question it. Could totally happen in some neighborhoods, I suppose.

—   Showcase of the Mock Debate format. Seems all right, although I’d think a real debate with the actual candidates would be more accurate.

—   The boss guy doesn’t seem happy with it, though…

—   He thinks the format is just embarrassing to the candidates and refuses to allow it. All that tragedy porn coverage for nothing.

—   Oooh, now he says he wants the old Will MacAvoy, not the guy Mac turned him into. That’s gonna push some buttons.

—   Will apologizes to everyone for losing the debate.

—   Mac defends Will to Brian-the-reporter-ex by saying he’s better than Brian because he’s never sure about anything, he STRUGGLES with things, and then slapstick humor Will-can’t-put-on-pants joke comes to back her up. But no, Mac, Will is just as obnoxiously self-assured and self-righteous as Brian is. Maybe he has a few things he doubts, but I would never say he’s not sure about ANYTHING.

—   Mac is turning into a hysteric. Again. Ugh.

—   They’re finally doing the show how they want — ignoring the big attention-grabbing stories and leading with Sloan and the Debt Ceiling. Wonder if we’ll actually get to see her explain it.

—   Neal hasn’t gotten troll credibility. Sloan jokingly says, “too bad you’re not the guy who left the death threat for Will,” and now we know what Neal’s next move is gonna be.

—   Mac looks out at everyone and sees they’re all happy and getting along. This is making her sad for some reason?

—   And now she’s giving Jim horrible advice about refusing to move on and instead going after people who’ve rejected him.

—   Jim shows up at Lisa and Maggie’s apartment. I think we’re supposed to think he’s going to ask Lisa again, but I bet he asks Maggie, right there in front of Don.

—   And Lisa answers the door and Jim clearly wants to talk to Maggie, but Lisa — NO NO STOP IT LISA YOU WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG DON’T GIVE IN NOW — thinks he’s there for her and has decided to say yes, and kisses him and leads him out even though GAH he obviously doesn’t want that anymore.

—   Don is the only one with half a brain in this scene who realizes Jim wanted Maggie. And now he’s going to come clean about the other women and hopefully they’ll break up for good.

—   Neal is pretending to be the hacker who posted Will’s death threat, and one of the other trolls says it wasn’t Neal because it was HIM. Saw that coming a mile away.

—   And Will is on relationship advice websites reading about trust while melancholy music plays.

 

 

Final Thoughts:

 

I have very little to say about this episode that isn’t in the above live-blog. The episode just doesn’t come together as a unit. Sure, there’s a linear storyline involving the compromising of values in order to get the debate, and ultimately not getting the debate, and going back to reporting the news the way they want to. And there are little B plots and C plots about trolls and the Secret Contact.

But then there’s all the non-plot stuff, the relationship drama, which could really be happening in any episode, regardless of the plot, because there is nothing particularly plot-related about the development of these love triangles. And there is no unifying theme between any of the disparate events of the story. It just feels like a bunch of random stuff that happens to be happening to these same people. Say what you may about cheesy Grey’s Anatomy voiceovers — at least they manage to pull everything together and make you feel like you watched a well-constructed whole instead of just a mess.

And of course, having another Mackenzie freakout does nothing to help the cause. And nope, we didn’t get to see Sloan explain about the debt ceiling. Why am I not surprised.

 

Rating: 2.5/5

REVIEW: House of Cards — Episodes 1 and 2

I’ve just been assigned to binge-watch and blog about House of Cards for my media class. I know a few things about the context of this series, but nothing at all about the show itself. What do I mean?

What I know is . . .

1)   It’s a Netflix original series. Developed and made by Netflix, released on the site all at once, not as a week-by-week thing. Presumably if it’s successful enough, it may start a new trend. Only time will tell.

2)   It has Kevin Spacey, who I like very much, despite not having seen most of his movies. The ones I have seen, I’ve liked him in a lot, so his name is pretty big draw for me.

. . . and that’s it. I don’t know the plot or the premise or any of the character names or professions or ANYTHING. I have not looked at the posters (note from the future: I only googled that picture above when I’d finished writing up this post), and deliberately not read any descriptions, even the little summaries on Netflix. From the title, I presume there will be lies and deceit, but I don’t know what they’ll be lying about or who “they” are. A grand mystery, y’all.

I’ve got permission to blog these in 2-episode chunks, so I sat down with Netflix, my older brother, plus some sushi, and we let it roll.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

Newsroom and Aaron Sorkin, pay attention. This is how you make a show with unlikable characters. You have them be completely, unapologetically evil with no illusions about who they are or what they want. It stops them from being preachy and insufferable, and causes viewers to see brief moments of compassion as cracks in the armor, leaving them to wonder if the characters’ consciences will ever catch up to them, or if they will get away with all their nefarious shenanigans without having to face any consequences or remorse. THAT is so much more compelling than watching people who claim moral superiority and then week after week fail to achieve it.

SPECIFICS:

—   It’s a political show, set in Congress in Washington DC.

—   It’s the anti-West Wing. Instead of a bunch of brilliant, charismatic idealists struggling against the machine to make things better, it’s about a brilliant, charismatic megalomaniac who embraces the machine and uses it to satisfy his own thirst for power.

—   Kevin Spacey plays said megalomaniac, Frank Underwood, a bigwig senator with a lot of political clout, who craves more power and disdains all the little people (aka other congresspeople) around him, seeing them only as pawns he must manipulate to serve his purposes. When the newly-elected president goes back on his word and does not appoint Frank to be Secretary of State, Frank throws all allegiances to the dogs and decides to achieve power however he can, backstabbing and manipulating whoever is in his way.

—   His wife is played by Robin Wright, and she is a regular stone-cold Lady Macbeth. They deserve each other and get along quite well. She runs a charity called Clean Water Initiative and has no qualms about firing half the staff and her partner when she decides to take the organization in “a different direction.” Not sure what that direction is or why she’s doing it, but it can’t be good.

—   Kate Mara, who I’ve liked from 24 and Jack and Bobby (hmm, I guess she likes those politically-fraught shows about fictional presidencies), is a blogger/reporter struggling to be taken seriously, and she finagles her way into getting Frank to be her top secret inside source. This is a mutually beneficial relationship, as he gets to leak information to the press in order to sabotage the presidency and other congresspeople, including the president’s new choice for Secretary of State (who is dismissed and Frank’s handpicked choice gets the job instead), and the reporter gets credibility and publicity.

—   There’s Pete, the congressman who exemplifies all the worst sordid stereotypes about corrupt politicians: he drinks, smokes pot, snorts cocaine, hires hookers, sleeps with his secretaries, cheats on his girlfriend — you name it, he does it. But all this blackmail material puts him entirely at Frank’s mercy, and he becomes essentially Frank’s lackey, called in to do his dirty work.

I can’t say I like any of these characters as people. But they are a fascinating portrait of evil and vice and weakness, and they make you wonder how empty they can truly be, how far their deceptions and machinations can go, or if they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and it’s only a matter of time before their schemes really will collapse like the titular house of cards.

Rating: 4/5

Image source

REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 6 — “Bullies”

So this review might wind up shorter than the average, since I’m supposed to be cleaning for Passover but instead I’m watching a TV show I don’t even like, because it’s homework. Oh well. Hopefully my mom won’t yell at me too much.

 

—   Will just forgot his own name on the air. I’m only laughing because it’s about time His Pompousness got taken down a peg.

—   Will is in therapy. Good for him. All the characters in this show need to be in therapy, but at least it’s a start.

—   He’s been paying for appointments every Wednesday for four years even though he never shows up. Well, that’s just lovely for all of us poor folk to hear.

—   Turns out his therapist died a couple years ago, and his son took over, and Will didn’t have a clue. Awkwardddd.

—   Yay for therapist calling Will on his crap. About time someone did.

—   Wait, there was a death threat? When did that happen? And what took so long? (I only partially mean “What took so long for someone to want to kill Will” — I also mean, why did they wait until 8 minutes into the episode to reveal it? Suspense? It doesn’t feel like a big reveal; it just feels like I missed an episode or something.)

—   Now flashback to explain, because everyone knows a non-linear storyline is always better than a linear one. ALWAYS.

—   Will wants commenters on the website to de-anon. Dude, have you HEARD of the internet? It doesn’t WORK like that.

—   Oh, great, more old news. This time about the community center that was being built in lower Manhattan, more commonly referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” even though it wasn’t actually a mosque and wasn’t actually at Ground Zero. Look, I get that this was a big deal way back when. But nobody cares about it now. The most recent article I found (December 9th 2012) says that the place is struggling with funding and may be converted to condominiums.

—   Okay, that was kind of satisfying, smacking down that lady’s arguments about “creeping Islam” and calling her out on her hypocrisy by pointing out all the garbage people have done in the name of Christianity.

—   And there’s the death threat. They know his address. That’s always creepy.

—   Other storyline: coverage of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Sloan speaks Japanese. Of course she does — since we know nothing about her, they can keep giving her a bajillion superpowers and we’ll just swallow it.

—   More displays of Maggie’s professional incompetence. Since it’s been a couple of episodes since we’ve had some of those.

—   Don forgot to get someone to replace his anchor on his show, and now is recruiting Sloan at the last minute. Equal opportunity incompetence! Huzzah!

—   Sloan gets her chance to be deeply unprofessional, asking Will’s new bodyguard if she can touch his pecs.

—   Will just called her an accomplice to drug dealing, because she doesn’t throttle her guests until they give her answers on the air. Is it her job to get people to incriminate themselves and possibly lose their jobs?

—   At least he recognizes in hindsight that that was a stupid thing to say.

—   Oh, no. Sloan’s interrogating the Japanese spokesperson herself, ignoring the translator, and now she’s revealing what he told her off the record, how the radiation levels are higher than they’re admitting.

—   Charlie’s right — Sloan’s gonna have a heck of a time ever getting anyone to talk to her off the record again.

—   Poor Sloan; she looks like me when I’m trying not to cry. But yo, basic rules of journalism . . . off the record = OFF THE RECORD.

—   Don lifts her chin up, instead of saying “chin up.” Are they gonna become a thing, now? Finally break up Don and Maggie for good? Please god yes. I don’t actually care about either couple, but something new would be better.

—   Will has daddy issues and a tragic backstory! Why am I not surprised? That’s just such a cheap way to gain sympathy. Sorry, Sorkin; it’s blatantly manipulative.

—   The therapist IS David Krumholtz! Pretty pretty Jew boy. Love the curls. (That’s been bugging me the whole episode; I’ve never seen him in a serious role so I wasn’t sure it was him.) Wonder if he’s also supposed to be cleaning for Passover right now 😛

—   Don sees Jim and Maggie laughing. Jealous Don Alert!

—   And Mackenzie just discovered that Will almost took a job in LA, which she thinks means he was going to ditch her, so she’s yelling at him. I bet he was going to propose, and I bet he’s still got the ring to prove it.

—   Yup, there it is. Naturally he keeps it in the office instead of at home, because that would make SENSE.

—   Oh, he was lying about the ring. He just got it to screw with Mac. Figures.

—   The spokesperson who talked to Sloan off the record just lost his job. Could have seen that coming.

—   Sloan rejects Mac’s offer to help. Which is smart, because I don’t think we’ve ever actually seen Mac solve a single problem.

—   This interview with Sutton Wall is the most compelling scene in the entire series so far, because for once, the people who disagree with Will aren’t being portrayed as evil or stupid — Wall (a fictional black, gay, former deputy chief of staff to the widely renowned homophobic senator Rick Santorum, inspired by the real-life Robert Traynham) gets to stand up for himself and make a nuanced, passionate argument that is contrary to Will’s. This is a lot more like West Wing Sorkin than Newsroom Sorkin.

—   Will acknowledges that he bullied Wall. And this is obviously what’s causing him to lose sleep.

—   Don asks Sloan of all people if Maggie’s interested in Jim?? Sloan and Maggie barely interact! Also, that’s a continuity fail, because I’m pretty sure most of Don’s actions in the series so far have been motivated by the fact that he already figured out that Maggie’s interested in Jim.

—   They can fix the whole Sloan mess if she goes on the air and lies about what happened. Moral of the story: It’s never okay to lie to the public, except when it is.

—   Ha, the insomnia was actually caused by the bacon sandwiches Will eats before bed. Therapist tricked him into opening up. Not sure that’s legal, but this is TV therapy.

 

 

Final Thoughts:

The gimmicky flashback nature of the episode was weird at first, but I got used to it, though I think maybe it should have started with Will in the therapist’s office or waiting room, so that it would be obvious we were entering in the middle of the story and that when the death threat was revealed, it wouldn’t seem so jarring and make me feel like I should rewind and see if I’d missed something.

The jokes in this show by and large still fail to make me laugh. But I enjoyed David Krumholtz as the therapist, and I’m glad to see that IMDB shows that he’ll be in more episodes.

Overall, this episode was very focused on Will and is essentially a character study about what he likes, dislikes, and what gets under his skin and why. I suppose it’s not bad as far as character studies go, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more if I actually liked Will to start with and so this wouldn’t feel like a last-ditch attempt to get me to like him. (He’s tortured! He’s conflicted! Love him!) I can’t think of a single character on the show that I like enough to hear all about their psychological demons. None of them interest me enough.

 

Rating: 3/5