I’ll remain skeptical that Arrested Development is actually coming back via 10-odd new episodes produced for an outlet like Netflix or Showtime and a movie until the actors are actually on a set filming somewhere. But if that blessed event does come to pass, I’m curious to see if the family will still be in the same business. In a weird way, the creepiness of the Bluths’ model houses is a marvelous foreshadowing of the dramatically overheated housing market, and the shells of developments depopulated by foreclosures. So will the family be crushed by the downturn? Actually sort of protected by the decline of their business prior to the 2008 crash? The show was always sort of loopily brilliant about politics, so I’m hoping the show comes back if only to see what they’ll do with this new set of circumstances.
This post contains spoilers through the October 2 episode of Boardwalk Empire.
This week’s episode was all about the gap between how people see themselves and how others see them — and when people decide to bridge the gap. Jimmy, Margaret, and Nucky all got understimated tonight. But only one of them made full strategic use of that misunderstanding.
First, Jimmy approaches Arnold Rothstein on behalf of the Commodore to try to cut Nucky out of the liquor business. “Don’t even pretend you’re inclined to be warm towards me. I wouldn’t insult you like that,” Jimmy tells him. “I have great respect for you. Your wisdom. Your achievements.” But instead of responding to the proposal, Arnold assesses Jimmy himself. “You’re better-spoken that I expected…You show up well-dressed, with a silk cravat and a proposal. A year ago you were a brigand in the woods.” Jimmy gives him the most anodyne version of his biography, telling the gangster that “I’m a businessman. A veteran. I just got married. I have a son. He’s four years old.” His smoothness gets him through the meeting and a promise not to be ratted out, but not a deal. And later, it gets him into a discussion of joining the heroin trade, into and out of a card game, and finally, in a cemetery at midnight, surviving a frisking long enough to kill both men. It’s hard to imagine that he won’t be discovered, that his lethality will be, if not a matter of public record, a more broadly-known piece of knowledge than it was previously, which may or may not be to his long-term advantage.
Chalky goes through a similar process when, after his wife visits him in prison, a fellow black inmate begins to harass him. Before that, he’s underestimated by Nucky, who assumes he doesn’t know the meaning of the word precarious. When he’s moved into the man’s cell (“Can’t be mixture of the races,” the warden says, apologetically.), the man beings needling him, first asking Chalky what the name of the book his son sent him is (it’s David Copperfield, but Chalky says it’s Tom Sawyer, revealing he can’t read), then trying to bait him into admitting his illiteracy by asking him what a line says. “That say get your finger out of my face,” Chalky sticks stubbornly to his story. And finally his cellmate pushes Chalky too far. “Bright-skinned bitch you strut around with. The uppity way you try to tell the world you better,” Don complains, “when all you be is another jigaboo in a jail cell.”
We’ve got enough response that I think we’re going to go ahead with Neal Stephenson’s Reamde as our next book club book. Because this was a late decision, let’s start at a slower pace and read through Day 0 for Friday, see how it goes, and then go a bit faster in weeks to come.
By Kate Linnea Welsh
This second episode of The Good Wife is all about perception and the burden of proof, as Lockhart/Gardner defends a mountain climber whose book about his brother’s death accuses another climber of refusing to help his brother and stealing his oxygen tank. When the case is dismissed from an American court, the British plaintiff takes it to a court in England, where the burden of proof in libel cases is reversed — instead of the plaintiff having to prove that he was libeled, the defendant must prove that what he wrote was not libel. The book wasn’t published in England, but the plaintiff himself bought a few copies from Amazon, solely to have grounds to bring the case — and Will, whose sense of right and wrong crops up at interesting times, is outraged and accuses him of “libel tourism.” When evidence from another book is suppressed because of a super-injunction — and previous discussion of it in the press inadmissible because of a super-injunction of the super-injunction — Alicia has Eli’s Twitter ninjas create enough hubbub to make it into a current news story. It’s further proof this show has perhaps a better understanding of social media than any other show on TV. The British lawyer, of course, is outraged: “Where is the respect for our laws when any young thug with a computer and a Twitter account can circumvent a lawful injunction?”
As the British trial progresses via videoconferencing, the culture clash gives the show plenty of space to make points about class and power. When Alicia points out that the plaintiff is rich and the defendant is not, the lawyer immediately scoffs, “Oh, let’s not make this a classist issue, shall we?” And when the same lawyer tries to threaten Will, he suggests that real British strength lies with the struggling commoners rather than the refined aristocracy: after a long monologue disavowing tea and cucumber sandwiches, he concludes with “I’m the England of football hooligans and Jack the Ripper. And this England don’t play nice, and they don’t play fair, and they don’t. Ever. Stop.” (Will’s hilarious response: “When you want to intimidate someone, don’t use so many words. Intimidation isn’t a sonnet.”) Meanwhile, much is made of the fact that Will and Alicia’s cohort on the defense is a solicitor rather than a barrister, and Irish, to boot. The judge deliberately calls him O’Brannon rather than Brannon – making his name sound more Irish than it is – until he decides to show his respect for Brannon’s argument by suddenly getting his name right. When Brannon apologizes to Alicia about his “inbred deference” to “greater rank,” she says she has the same problem but is “trying very hard to change.” It could certainly be argued that trading her powerful husband for her powerful boss is not necessarily the greatest step toward this change, but at least Will’s American Revolution sexual fantasies sound more fun than the fantasy of an intact marriage with Peter.
I’ve been so focused on this fall’s crop of television shows about women that I haven’t spent that much time checking out the roster of shows about How to Man Correctly. The always-excellent Linda Holmes at NPR makes a persuasive argument that for once, television is actually handling men worse than it’s handling women. So if you don’t want to watch How to be a Gentleman but do to think about masculinity, try one of these currently airing shows — or watch them with a new focus.
1. Parks and Recreation: I give this show infinite props for its awesome feminism, but it’s actually a stealthily terrific show about what it means to be a man. From Tom, who thinks the road to happiness lies through the achievement of a particular lifestyle; to Ben who’s trying to prove that he’s worthy of responsibility after a burst of teenage arrogance; to Andy’s maturation from unemployed lump to husband, the show is all about how to be a grown-up man without any resort to extreme violence or Pickup Artist-style womanizing. And that doesn’t even get us to the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness:
The only thing that even comes close is Jack Donaghy’s video for his unborn son. But on 30 Rock, Jack’s really the only man, so there isn’t much of a conversation about masculinity.
2. Breaking Bad: I sort of assume everyone here is watching Breaking Bad already, but in a way, it’s a perfect dramatic counterpoint to Parks and Recreation. Walter White’s journey from decent cancer victim to monstrously pathetic wannabe kingpin is fundamentally steered by a toxic conception of masculinity: that he should be willing to do everything to provide for his family. That rationale’s evolved from a motivation for Walt to cross a previously unthinkable line to an excuse for him to behave terribly. As Skyler, Walter’s wife told him this season, “someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family.”
The bridge is yours. I’m running from pillar to post today, so no links, just my favorite music video for days when I wish there were a lot of me. Also, that I could play drums:
This post contains spoilers through the Oct. 2 episode of Homeland.
My deep and abiding love for the Homeland pilot, which I think is the best pilot of the new season by several orders of magnitude, is already a matter of public record. But I wanted to lay out a couple of questions for discussion:
1. Do we think Carrie is insane? She’s clearly not entirely mentally healthy. From her totally inappropriate advances towards Saul in a moment of desperation, to her disregard for the law, to her somewhat uncomfortable if perhaps justifiable decision to watch the Brodys have sex. But did she really hear what she thought she heard in that Iraqi prison? And is she mistaking nervous habits for signaling? Clearly, figuring out whether Carrie’s seeing clearly or seeing things that aren’t there will be one of the key conflicts of the story. And getting the balance between making her fragile but also more than the sum of her illness will be critical in making her a compelling character rather than just a stereotype.
2. Is the balance the U.S. has on civil liberties and wiretapping right? It seems that Carrie’s right that something’s going on with Nicholas Brody. But she discovered his hand signals by watching publicly available footage of him — not by sending a team she’s paying herself swarming all over his house. The show seems, so far, to be walking another important but tricky line, arguing that you can take threats seriously and pursue leads aggressively without compromising civil liberties and going outside the legal procedures you need to obtain a wiretap. That means you need more people with actual Iraq experience and more respect for their expertise, not more exceptions to the law.
3. Can we sympathize with a traumatized soldier who is also a traitor? We don’t know for sure that Brody is a sleeper agent (though it’s going to be an interesting season if he turns out not to be). Maybe the deepest secret he has is that he was forced to kill his fellow captive, and we’re going to have to see him work through that. But by presenting him as someone who, in addition to maybe betraying his country because he was tortured and brainwashed, cares about that fellow captive’s widow, is relearning how to have sex with his wife, and is building a relationship for the first time with his son, Homeland is giving us a mental workout in exploring the reactions we’re supposed to have for veterans.
There are many ways to cleverly and powerfully expose the limitations and contradictions of ideas and movements you vehemently disagree with in popular culture. It looks like Butter is going to be about as subtle, but much less funny and damning, than, say, Starship Troopers. And with less Neil Patrick Harris:
Butter Clip by teasertrailer
I’m all for making fun of ridiculous beliefs, but I tend to believe that, when possible, you should try to find a way to do so that doesn’t result in you looking like a tremendous, elitist jerk. Reinforcement of your own moral superiority and self-satisfaction is not a particularly admirable motivation. It’s a lot dumber and more dangerous to believe that, say, Social Security is unconstitutional than to care about the outcome of a dopey contest that’s a long-time local tradition.
This post contains spoilers through the Oct. 2 episode of Breaking Bad, “End Times.”
After the tension of the last two episodes, the simultaneous de-escalation and realignments of this episode felt necessary. For the past couple of weeks, it’s been hard for me to see a way for the terrible tension to stretch out for a full season between this one. I still can’t necessarily see the shape of how they’re going to do it, but I now feel like the show can make this story last.
Given how vile Walt’s become, in a way it’s a relief to see him step up to the plate, even if it’s in a sad, suicidal sort of way, telling Skyler, who begs him to find an alternative that “There isn’t. There was. But now there isn’t…Oh, Skyler. Skyler. I have lived under the threat of death for a year now, and because of that, I’ve made choices. I, alone, should suffer the consequences of those choices. And those consequences, they’re coming. No more prolonging the inevitable.” He’s being a man for the first time in ages, and it’s a reminder of why we liked him, why there was this nasty little thrill in rooting for Walter White once upon a time.