I absolutely adore Community, and have since the show’s debut. But it’s always struck me as a little strange that while Community’s study group may have a black ex-jock, a white ex-lawyer, a South Asian aspiring filmmaker, a deranged fraudulent Asian Spanish teacher, and a half-Jewish recovering addict. But it doesn’t have a single real gay person. Sometimes, it’s as if Community is so comfortable in the diversity of its universe that the show’s just skipped beyond a necessary-but-cliche coming-out arc. Troy, the former football player, and Abed, the Aspergerian pop-culture savant, have the most comfortably homosocial friendship on television. They’re close enough—and secure enough in the nature of their relationship—to reenact professions of love from Star Wars, or to reject women who don’t find both of them equally cool. Greendale Dean Pelton is potentially gay, but the show spends more time on his sexual practices—Dalmation fetishes! Lady Gaga costumes! blanket forts!—than his sexual identity.
The one hint that series creator Dan Harmon might have a larger vision in mind came earlier this season when Annie (Alison Brie), egged on by an addled Pierce, moved in to kiss Britta:
In Community’s fractured way, Annie is having the study group’s most typical college experience, and in this season, she’s moved to the show’s center. The first time she gets drunk, Annie fakes a new identity and admits she’s exhausted by her reputation as a striver. Broke, she scrapes for the rent on her apartment above a sex shop in a bad neighborhood. And Annie’s thrown herself into college dating, taking up with a hippie, chasing an older doctor, and kissing Jeff.
I was curious about all of this, so when I got a chance to talk to Alison Brie this afternoon about the show’s next foray into paintball, I asked her whether Annie might explore her sexual orientation further.
“With Annie, to be honest, I could see her getting with a girl,” she told me, emphasizing that. “It seems like it would be out of character for her, but I just like to go back to the fact that she’s young and impressionable and still figuring out who she is and what she wants to. It’s one of her best qualities that though she seems uptight, she’ll try everything….We’re pro gay people on the show. I think the Dean is one of those character that has just been morphing along in this odd fashion, and a lot of it comes from Dan Harmon, and a lot of it comes from Jim Rash in things that he’ll improv. The point of the show is comedy. We’re not trying to take a stand about any of those things. It’s a possibility that more gay stuff could creep in.”
I hope Harmon and company give it a shot. For all the progress television’s making in its depictions of gay characters, shows still struggle to depict characters who are bisexual or questioning their sexuality well. Glee‘s done pretty well with Brittany and Santana’s storylines, but it’s a fairly rare outlier. Community‘s so smart about so many other aspects of friendship, dating, and growing up that I think the show could knock an arc like this out of the park.
It’s profoundly unfortunate that the debate over whether Idris Elba ought to be able to play a Norse god is still going on. Anyone who is surprised at Kenneth Branagh’s casting decision has obviously never watched Much Ado About Nothing, in which Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington play royal brothers, with nary an acknowledgement of the fact that one man is white and the other is black:
My only hope is that this movie helps contribute to a trend of color-neutral casting, of movies where women have black friends who are not Sassy Black Ladies, where young urban professionals hang out with a veritable rainbow of hedge funders, fashion magazine editors, and hipster chefs (professional diversity is a lower-priority cause), where in family gathering shots, there are casually mixed-race couples. We can only hope, right?
I’m watching my way through Kings right now, mostly because one of Yglesias’ commenters asked me to, and I must say it’s outrageously good in the early going. I’ll have more to say about the visuals, theology and dialogue later, but one of the things I like about it is the consistently surprising casting. There’s Jason Antoon as a palace guard! There’s Eamonn Walker, with a dignity that’s almost overwhelming. And there’s Dylan Baker, in a role that’s just absurdly suited to him as a sickly, manipulative industrialist.
Baker’s got a fairly undistinguished resume. He sparred with Hugh Laurie on House recently as a cranky CDC doctor and consults with Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3. He was a cult leader on Ugly Betty, and a murderous crime lab scientist on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. There’s a perpetual sourness to the man, a cast of someone who is disappointed before he ever has the chance to be pleased. I’m always interested in actors who have a distinctive look, one that probably precludes them from exhibiting great emotional range, who can’t be protean in the way true characters tend to be, but who make it, none the less, who corner certain kinds of roles on the basis of a downturned mouth.
Baker’s wonderful as William Cross, a powerful, petulant financier with uncertain motivations for tormenting King Silas (it seems someone close to him was banished, is about where I’m at). One of the things I like about the show is the way things unfold slowly. It’s got a bit of a novelistic sense, not so much in that I think the plot is going to expand, as in motivations, promises, obligations, and old debts don’t get explained immediately: if two characters both know what they’re talking about, the show isn’t going to explicate it all for an audience. It forces us to watch in a serious and sustained fashion, to see if we’re going to catch something we missed, or that we’d very much like to know.
Most documentary filmmakers can’t pull off the things that Michael Moore does, and don’t really try—arguably, Moore’s never really pulled off a movie as raw, funny and as striking revealing as his debut, Roger & Me:
But it’s always interesting to see someone use the cocktail of things that make a Moore movie, among them skepticism of capitalism, ambush interviews, and news footage of powerful people either lying egregiously or inserting their feet deliberately and carefully into their mouths, in a decidedly non-American context, and with a different level of vehemence. Such is the case with Khodorkovsky, a new documentary about Yukos-oligarch-turned-political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky by German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi. It’s an intriguing subject for a documentary, but it also illustrates the limitations of Moore’s tactics.
The story of Khodorkovsky’s rise to vast wealth and his evolution into a democracy and anti-corruption advocate might be too subtle for the weird little touches Tuschi inserts into the movie. Because Khodorkovsky is incarcerated in a Siberian labor camp, he’s represented for most of the movie by black and white cartoons. Sometimes they work to communicate the menace of his pursuit by the Russian government, as in an opening sequence documenting his arrest. And sometimes, they show the film’s purported hero swimming in a pool full of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. That’s an odd way of stating Tuschi’s conflicted feelings about Khodorkovsky, who is, as he says in the movie, “everything my parents warned me about; a neoliberal capitalist with no interest in art.”
Those contradictions are worth teasing out: How much were Khodorkovsky’s democratic initiatives the result of public relations? When did he have his conversion moment and why? And given that Khodorkovsky isn’t a household name in the U.S., it would be worth laying out in clear, stark terms the extent to which Yukos was corrupt, the extent to which it cleaned up, and the clear case for judicial and governmental misconduct in Khodorkovsky’s conviction. It’s also not quite enough to raise government charges that he and Yukos were responsible for several murders, and then have a source tell you they’re pretty sure Khodorkovsky wasn’t responsible. Either you’ve got to make a case for his innocence, or admit the possibility that he committed murder by proxy into the movie’s overall judgement of the man.
Tuschi does both conventional and ambush interviews, but the latter aren’t very effective. Russian sources just shut him down rather than getting caught saying something damning. And of course he never gets close to Putin, though there’s funny footage of a government scheduler saying first that she’s not sure they can schedule an interview for tomorrow, then adding that she’s “not sure about the next year.” Moore’s often very good at nailing small people whose actions have large consequences, who live in their own awkward stew of contradictions. But Putin isn’t really a small person. He’s a dictatorial Stalin apologist who has made Russia remarkably less free, and may yet transform the country into a dictatorship. Showing him lying on camera isn’t really enough, because he’s not really vulnerable to shame or charges of hypocrisy.
When I wrote last week that I said I thought it might be interesting to see a movie about the “relationship between men and their bodies,” I didn’t exactly mean that Stephen Soderberg should go out and make a flick about Channing Tatum’s days as an exotic dancer. That said, Soderberg generally has more ideas than your average director, so if this is a disaster, it will probably be a weird and interesting disaster rather than a garden-variety one. And while I don’t know that Tatum is the guy to embody it (no matter his real-life experience), this is the rare kind of story that can be told about how men turn their attractiveness into a commodity. We tell stories about women trading on their looks all of the time, but we almost never see pop culture men who are less than utterly secure about their looks and what those looks win them.
Alyssa Rosenberg is the Features Editor for ThinkProgress.org. She is a columnist for the XX Factor at Slate, and a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a B.A. in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of Washingtonian.com and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Daily Beast,The New Republic, Esquire.com, The Daily, The American Prospect, and National Journal. Read more.