I am a Red Sox fan, but when it comes to feats like Mariano Rivera’s setting a new major league record for saves, attention must be paid. I actually saw Trevor Hoffman, the previous possessor of that milestone, throw a perfect inning in Baltimore, nine pitches, nine strikes, three outs. It was glorious. And the Thursday before Labor Day, I saw Rivera absolutely destroy my Red Sox on the mound. That he’s done all this with essentially one pitch that no one’s ever managed to figure out is a testament to the great and profound mysteries of baseball.
I’ll have much more detailed write-ups of each of these shows as they air, but as I wrote in The Atlantic today, looking at the Bridesmaids-inspired female-centric comedies, the big trends for fall seem to be women competing against each other, particularly along Betty-and-Vernonica-like blonde and brunette lines and the Bernie Madoff’s influence on New York:
There’s something odd and unfortunate about the tendency of sitcoms to pitch women against each other—even when there aren’t the affections of a boy like Archie Andrews at stake. In CBS’s 2 Broke Girls, which premieres tonight at 9:30, brunette Max (a tart and wonderful Kat Dennings) is immediately suspicious of Caroline (Beth Behrs), a former socialite who lost her fortune when her father’s Ponzi scheme collapsed and takes a job at the same Brooklyn diner where Max works. A gentler version of that dynamic is at work in NBC’s family comedy Up All Night, where new mother Reagan (Christina Applegate) tries to defend her right to family time against the demands of her boss and friend, talk show host Ava (Maya Rudolph, the only woman of color in a leading role in any of these shows). And in Apartment 23, which will debut on ABC later this fall, June (Dreama Walker), who moves to New York only to have her job vanish in yet another Madoff-like collapse, ends up rooming with the cartoonishly manipulative Chloe (the always wonderful Krysten Ritter).
In each case, some of the tension between each pair dissipates by the end of the first episode. But it remains frustrating that the most common way to generate dynamic friction between women in pop culture is to start with a win-lose scenario, where only one woman can end up in control of her time, a choice New York apartment, or a deeply scuzzy diner in an up-and-coming neighborhood. If the stakes were higher, the competitions might seem justified, but there’s something depressingly recession-sized about these conflicts, and the faster these shows move on to interesting and fraught collaborations rather than battles over scraps, the better.
I’m really curious to see how these shows evolve beyond their early episodes — there’s a lot of potential in the set-ups for all of these shows to say something interesting about the desirability of marriage, about friendships between men and women, and about a reduced, recession-era New York. Whether they capitalize remains an open question.
I haven’t started reading DC’s New 52 titles yet (because I read so fast, I don’t tend to read comics before they’re anthologized because the price paid to time spent reading is frustrating otherwise), but some of my friends are running a campaign to ask DC to reconsider the changes they’ve made to the character of Amanda Waller. Namely, the decision to turn her from a plus-sized administrator whose clothes were as practical as her attitude into a federal sex kitten. Before her transformation, my friend Elana Brooklyn writes, “She is the only middle-aged, African-American, woman of size in comics. Actually she is one of the few characters who is any one of those things. What is gained by representing even fewer types of people in comics? What is gained by diluting her iconic presence?”
Some folks have suggested that the graphic redesign’s meant to create continuity between the character as she appears in Smallville, where she’s played by Pam Grier in a look that’s somewhere between classic Amanda Waller and new Amanda Waller, and Green Lantern, where Angela Bassett has the role. But even if that’s the rationale, it doesn’t answer the question of what DC gains by making that overall shift in the canon. It’s not like it would have been hard to find a woman in Hollywood who looks like classic Waller to play her — C.C.H. Pounder did the voice work for the character in the 2009 Superman/Batman: Public Enemies cartoon, so why not cast her in the movie and preserve a tiny bit of body-image diversity?
I was thinking about all of this while I was reading Bronwyn Kienapple’s meditation on the sexualization of female cosplayers at conventions and a first time attendee. There’s no question that, as she writes, “I take no issue with wearing revealing clothing, which for many women is an expression of confidence and a celebration of physical beauty, whatever its form.” But not everyone takes the same road to feeling sexy, or strong, or confident — if I ever cosplay, I’ll likely be Kara Thrace in tank tops and tattoos. And any move to narrow the range bodies and clothing choices available to use as templates means a narrowing of choices available to cosplayers who are already more diverse than the characters they emulate. It’s not that cosplayers are making a choice to dramatically ratchet up the sexual atmosphere at conventions, it’s that there’s a high correlation between sexualized representations of women and fidelity to source material. And that’s not just problematic — it’s boring. The more female characters converge on a single body type, the fewer kinds of stories you can tell about self-image and self-presentation on the page, and the fewer angles you can explore off it.
During last night’s Emmy liveblog, Libby said something that clarified my frustration with the fact that Louie didn’t win anything (in addition to the fact that I feel like I’ll never get to see Louis C.K. make an awards-show speech): “Louie is changing the landscape of television and entertainment as we know it,” she typed. “I know that I should just be grateful that I get to experience his amazing work and that the Emmys even know he exists. But what would we be if we didn’t keep hoping for something better?”
It’s great to see directors like Martin Scorsese wanting to work in television, I feel like Boardwalk Empire always had an advantage in that HBO spent $5 million on its core set and between $20 and $30 million on the pilot. You really have to try hard to make a show that looks bad for that amount of money, or to actively hire actors who don’t have chemistry. It’s much, much harder to do that for $250,000. C.K. has to be on all the time, he always has to hit his marks on the writing, his personal connections are what pull in interesting guest stars. It’s like gymnasts getting points for the difficulty of the routine.
And in a world of declining cable subscriptions and an irreversible push towards multi-platform viewing, I’d guess that scripted television is probably going to have to either get cheaper, or become a lusher spectacle supported by extremely high overseas syndication prices. Shows will have to go the Louie route on one extreme or the Game of Thrones route on the other. And there are more gorgeous, expensive scripted shows (it’ll be interesting to see if network viewers and international deals come out in numbers that will support Terra Nova) than there are extremely cheap, extremely smart ones right now. It’s just as important to recognize the innovators in the latter category than the former, especially if they’re the ones who eventually save us from the networks’ cost-savings love affairs with reality television.
I was joking about beer commercials on Twitter while watching football on Sunday, suggesting that my occasional indulgence in a Miller Lite is probably going to mess with my gender since it is apparently such a powerful masculinity supplement, when Matthew Henderson notified me of the existence of a complete abomination: Chick Beer. Of course it’s pink. Of course it’s a light beer. And apparently, the makers went that route because “One day, we were in our local store looking for an interesting beer to take home, and thought ‘Isn’t it strange that out of hundreds of beers, none are designed to appeal directly to women? In fact, most are clearly marketed to men.’”
But that seems like a marketing problem, not a product problem. If women are already drinking a quarter of the beer sold in the United States despite advertising that almost exclusively harps on the relationship between beer choice and gender with occasional forays into the relationship between beer choice and class, that actually suggests women need very little convincing to drink fermented beverages. It would be pretty easy to run more ads like Coors’ Love Train series, which are seen through the eyes of a man, but have women in roles other than nagging girlfriends or sexy bartenders, and that sell refreshment as much as gender reaffirmation:
Then, there are the witty wordless Corona ads where women get to enjoy their beer on their own:
Or pay their boyfriends back for ogling other women with a wordless squirt of a lime. But I guess if you were going to cut full-on ladycentric beer ads, even if you air them during shows with predominantly female audiences, a man might accidentally catch wind of them and run screaming in the direction of a more masculine beverage like, I don’t know, scotch, or something. In the hive mind of the marketing industry, dudes are fragile creatures. But that doesn’t mean that if it’s not pink, I can’t drink.
The bridge is yours.
-ABC is developing two Jekyll and Hyde shows, but which will be Jekyll and which will be Hyde and will the network disappear into a hall of mirrors?
-A comprehensive look at the ways George Lucas has tinkered with Star Wars.
-I’m totally on board with this Emmy hosting proposal.
-The Rocky Horror Picture Show is too risque for Atlanta.
-Tropes Community has yet to appropriate: psychosexual thriller.
When I’m not outsourcing my thoughts about entertainment technology to Tim Carmody, I’m outsourcing them to Tim Lee, who is baffled by what Netflix’s decision to split its DVD service and streaming video service:
The DVD-rental option gave Netflix a crucial fallback position at the negotiating table. Because Netflix has a complete catalog of movies available for rent by DVD, they don’t need any specific title in streaming format. So they could cut deals with the content creators that offered them reasonable terms, and stick with DVD rentals for the rest. That’s a little bit inconvenient for customers, but it’s better than agreeing to terms that would force Netflix to jack up its prices.
And, of course, the total size of Netflix’s user base strengthens its bargaining position as well. There are many customers like us who primarily subscribe to Netflix for the DVDs, but we’re willing to pay a bit extra for the streaming option. A Netflix with 20 million customers—DVD and streaming—is going to be able to make bigger bids for streaming content than a streaming-only company with 10 million customers.
The other Tim agrees. One thing I’d be very curious to see a discussion of is how the Postal Service’s current woes were impacting the Netflix business model. What happens if the Postal Service stops Saturday delivery? Losing 17 percent of your delivery days isn’t minor. Or what happens if delivery suddenly gets considerably more expensive in a way that would have forced Netflix to significantly increase the prices for DVD delivery, at a time when ISPs are complaining about the amount of bandwidth eaten up by Netflix users? I’m not saying this move makes sense for Netflix ability to negotiate better content deals, or that consumers ought to be happy about it, but is there a possibility that Netflix is heading off a bigger infrastructure problem by spinning off half of the business?
As someone who both grew up on Cape Cod League baseball and would love to see more women in the executive ranks of professional sports, I was particularly interested to read Jane Leavy’s Grantland piece on the women who run and act as general managers for the Cape League. Unfortunately, the piece spends a lot of time on the idea that if these older women worked in big-league ball, their priorities would be about things like banning hip-hop, migratory circles around the pitchers’ mound, and smokeless tobacco (I’d be fine with that last item), reaching perhaps the most interesting thing about the Cape League only towards the end:
Over the years Mrs. E has hosted give or take 160 players. In her view, parents are a clear and present danger to their offspring. One year looking over the roster for the coming season, she told her manager, “You’ve talked to the fathers of three sons and all three have the second coming of Christ living at home. How is that possible?”
She snorts. “We oughta hire only orphans to play the game.” If that proves impossible, Mrs. E suggests an all-out ban on living vicariously through your children. “After five years in The Show, they can look up their parents,” she said.
Jim Collins gets at this a bit in The Last Best League, his 2004 book where he follows a group of players through a Cape League season. But as much as the Cape League is a showcase and developing ground for major league talent, they also preach what’s essentially an anachronistic set of values. The players work side jobs. They stay in Cape Cod families’ extra bedrooms. They sign autographs and sell 50-50 raffle tickets during games. That kind of humility and service to fans isn’t a skill set that they’ll need in the majors, or at least not at the same intensity. Professional athletes who don’t want to be seen as terrible human beings at least make the motions at fan service and charity work, but the alignment and priorities are just totally different, and I’d love to see someone explore at greater length how long the Cape League’s character-building structure can last, and what kinds of pressures it’s come under at an age when stars are anointed at younger and younger ages, and made increasingly aware of other people’s perceptions of their own worth by their parents and agents.
In any case, for as long as it’s seen as a necessary stop on the road to the majors for elite college athletes, the Cape Cod League will remain a delight. Leavy’s totally correct to single out Orleans, though the Brewster home field is a wonderful combination of high school field and major-league promise.
This post contains spoilers through the Sept. 18 episode of Breaking Bad. And are they ever spoilers.
Before I get to the more general discussion of this week’s episode, can I just say one word? Wow.
OK, let’s proceed. Breaking Bad is a lot like life as most of us experience it: mostly drab, intercut with occasional vivid, almost hallucinatory moments of extreme emotion. And this episode was at the extremes of both of those tendencies as Walt, his sheets stuck to his face by blood from his fight with Jesse, forgets Walter Junior’s birthday and fakes his way through a confession of gambling; Skyler has it out with Ted after her attempt to finance his way out of IRS debt goes horribly wrong; and then, holy God, in a bravura sequence, Gus assassinates the entire cartel — and maybe takes himself out in the process.
I’m assuming at this point that Walt’s cancer is back. After getting his PT Cruiser, the world’s biggest disappointment after the sports car Walt burned to the ground, Walter Junior drives over to his father’s condo and threatens to call 911 if he won’t answer the door. Father and son have a depressing sleepover (including a season-one flashback to Walt’s tighty-whities) after which Walt attempts to make things better by talking to Walter Junior about his experiences with his own father. “There was nothing in him,” he says of the man he knows only through others’ reminiscences. “Anyway. That is the only real memory that I have of my father. I don’t want you to think of me the way I was last night. I don’t want that to be the memory you have of me when I’m gone.” It’s hard to imagine that Walt would get this contemplative unless he was seriously considering his own end.
In an awful moment, though, Walter Junior tells his father that “The bad way to remember you would be the way you’ve been this whole last year. At least last night you were real, you know?” Except it’s hard to believe that Walt’s tears the night before were genuine contrition for the way he’s messed things up with Jesse. We know Walt deserves everything he’s getting. But I don’t know that Walt does.