We’ve been on hiatus for a while, but I’ve had a couple of requests to bring the book club back for Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Telegraph Avenue, and since I want to read it myself, I think it’s worth doing. Let’s do Part I for next Friday.
Well, this is discouraging. Lady Gaga’s label has apparently decided that, rather than ordering costumes for the singer’s tour that suit her body, or letting her decide what she looks good and comfortable in, the pop singer needs to lose weight:
Executives at Universal Music Group saw recent pictures of the singer bulging out of her too-tight clothes and were forced to order a better-fitting wardrobe for the remainder her of her world tour, according to a RadarOnline report. “The tight, skimpy outfits weren’t doing anything for Gaga’s new fuller figure, so Universal ordered more flattering and better fitting costumes for the rest of the tour,” a source told the gossip site.
They allegedly told the “Born This Way” singer to lay off her favorite high-calorie foods, pizza and pasta. “Gaga has an incredible appetite for Italian food, which stems largely from her roots. It’s very easy on tour to get hooked on a diet of pizza and pasta because they are comfort foods—and when you are away from home you always long for something that reminds you of where you came from,” the source said. “She loves to eat, but because of her tiny frame it shows if she doesn’t work out as much as normal. Executives told her to quit gorging on her favorite foods.”
Did they like her better when Gaga was talking about being on the so-called Drunk Diet promoted by her then-boyfriend Luc Carl? Are some of the stranger things she’s worn during her time in the public eye actually less attractive than the sight of her with curves? There’s something pretty depressing about an environment where it’s easier for a woman to get away with wearing a dress made of raw meat than a body mass index that’s outside what the corporate definition of acceptable.
End of Watch, Training Day writer David Ayer’s third directorial effort after Harsh Times and Street Kings, is being advertised as a violent, aggressive movie that pits cops against cartels. To a certain extent, it is that: forks are shoved in eyes, cops go toe to toe with gang-bangers, and gold-plated guns are confiscated from vehicles. But those elements of the movie exist mostly to sell a much more subtle and interesting picture, a story about an exceedingly close friendship between two cops that also helps shift police dramas away from the monochromatic relationship between black cops and white cops and between white cops and black communities.
The cops in question are Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), who we meet shortly after they’re cleared in a shooting incident and return to their work patrolling the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Rather than being detectives or the leaders of special squads, Brian and Mike are beat cops, a designation that means most of what they have to do is mosey around in their police cruiser in between minor bouts of community management and small acts of heroism—Mike fights a cantankerous older gang banger who’s been harassing his mailman to get the man to stop and charges into a burning building to rescue two young children, with Brian right behind him. Their stops in various Los Angeles homes veer between humor and horror, from the fisticuffs to the discovery of illegal immigrants locked in a back room. But their conversations, frequently about women, are the best part of the movie.
Mike is married to Gabby, his high school girlfriend, who he credits with marching him off to the police academy in the first place. And while he jokes with Brian that what Brian really needs is to find someone who will cook and won’t sleep with his friends and occasionally makes fun of Brian for complaining about being single and sexually successful, Mike clearly loves his wife, telling Brian “I don’t want to be with anyone else.” Brian has more direction and education than his partner does: a former Marine, when we meet him, he’s taking an elective film class as part of his pre-law courses. And his discontent with his dating life stems from a desire for a real connection. “First date: dinner and a respectful kiss,” Brian tells Mike. “Second date: dinner and full carnal knowledge. Third date: dinner and awkward silences when I try to talk about anything of merit.” End of Watch may be a tough-guy movie, but it’s one that argues that strength and tenderness aren’t incompatible, and that really loving a woman is more fun and more honorable than suffering through the company of one you couldn’t possibly respect.
Normally, I would pay absolutely no attention to anything Paris Hilton says, except that her anti-gay meltdown yesterday and her apology today are a perfect example of how the media’s learned to process offense. The hotel heiress found herself in headlines again after a New York taxi driver clandestinely taped her speaking with a friend in a cab, in itself a totally gross thing to do, no matter how gross whatever he captured is. And the exchange between Hilton and her friend is both unattractive and ignorant:
“Say I log into Grindr, someone that’s on Grindr can be in that building and it tells you all the locations of where they are and you can be like, ‘Yo, you wanna fuck?’ and he might be on like, the sixth floor,” the friend explains. “Ewww. Eww. To get fucked?” Hilton replies. “Gay guys are the horniest people in the world. They’re disgusting. Dude, most of them probably have AIDS.” “I would be so scared if I were a gay guy,” she adds. “You’ll like, die of AIDS.”
Of course, she’s apologized immediately, releasing a statement through GLAAD:
As anyone close to me knows, I always have been and always will be a huge supporter of the gay community. I am so sorry and so upset that I caused pain to my gay friends, fans and their families with the comments heard this morning. I was having this private conversation with a friend of mine who is gay and our conversation was in no way towards the entire gay community. It is the last thing that I would ever want to do and I cannot put into words how much I wish I could take back every word.HIV/AIDS can hurt anyone, gay and straight, men and women. It’s something I take very seriously and should not have been thrown around in conversation. Gay people are the strongest and most inspiring people I know.
Everyone involved here benefits. Hilton gets herself back in the headlines, and doing something that makes her look comparatively classy: apologizing and praising the resiliency of gay people is an upgrade from getting thrown out of Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for smoking pot, or turned away from Japan for drug convictions. GLAAD gets its position as the arbiter of publicly (or in this case, privacy-violated ) expressed speech about LGBT people and its role as a redemption engine reaffirmed. And anyone who falls into the category of people who still care about Paris Hilton’s opinion and felt harmed by her speech gets reassured she doesn’t actually mean it. I suppose it’s a good thing that these mechanisms exist. I just wish the standards for making amends were higher, and produced more meaningful results than publicist-brokered apology statements. If we’re going to make famous people go through the motions of bringing their attitudes in line with what’s publicly acceptable, we might as well get more meaningful commitments or donations of time and energy out of them than that.
This post contains spoilers through the first episode of the fifth season of Parks and Recreation.
Parks and Recreation, for two seasons in a row, has made significant transitions. First, the show moved into campaign mode last season, getting Leslie on the stump and out of the Parks Department. Now, she’s working out of City Council, but we haven’t seen her there yet. First, she’s stopping in Washington, getting a sense of what it means to be a small, Pawneean fish in the big pond of Washington, DC, and Ron, left at home in Pawnee, is figuring out what it means to lead the Parks Department without Leslie there to act as a buffer for him. And in both cases, they have to confront their fears of inadequacy.
Leslie’s initially enthusiastic about visting the Nation’s Capitol. “Romantic reunions! Government meetings! Self-guided museum tours! Am I living the dream? I don’t know. Did I mention that I just walked past a food truck and bought myself a waffle sundae?” she declares cheerily as she and Andy begin their sight-seeing tour. But she quickly becomes anxious when confronted with her relative position in Washington. First, the federal official Leslie planned to meet with about funding to clean up Pawnee’s river isn’t available to talk to her, and there’s a huge stack of applications that have arrived ahead of hers. “There’s a CD inside that plays the sound of a babbling river and I was going to play that while I gave my presentation,” she tells his secretary mournfully. The woman promises to make sure Leslie’s application gets special attention—once Leslie reminds her which Pawnee she represents.
But it gets worse when she sees how easily Ben has adjusted to Washington. He’s got hot female friends who work for the Pentagon and Senators, and who tell Leslie things like “Local government is so important. My grandmother’s on the city council in her town. Gives her a reason to leave the house.” Whether he’s being polite or professional, Ben introduces Leslie to Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe as “my friend,” rather than “as my girlfriend.” He means it to be kind, telling Leslie later “I thought you’d enjoy meetings numbers 4 and 26 on Leslie’s list of amazing women.” But Leslie’s rattled, undermining herself with the Senators, apologizing for boring them, telling the women Pawnee’s “got tons of problems. We’re overrun with raccoons and obese toddlers.” One of the things that’s always been fun about Pawnee is its slight absurdity, from its cults to its gay penguins. But that eccentricity seems petty in Washington, and Leslie is worried about how she’ll keep her boyfriend’s interest when “Ben’s life is full of senators and briefings and super-PACs. I can’t even get a meeting with some bureaucrat.” Washington may be a stupid swamp town, but it’s a stupid swamp town where Leslie’s hopes and dreams rest, and it’s hard to watch her feel so small.
And back home, it’s hard to watch Ron try to compete with the memory of Leslie as he takes over the employee appreciation barbecue. With her absent, Ron’s relapsing into the kind of rigidity and antagonism that characterized him at the beginning of the series. Not only does he eliminate all the things that his employees love the most about the barbecue, including Leslie’s Parks and Dolls “one-woman show about Parks rules and regulations,” and the gazpacho-off in favor of reorienting the barbecue towards meat, he brings a pig whose “given Christian name” is Tom to the event and intends to slaughter it. “Not enough people have looked their dinner in the eye and considered the circle of life,” he declares.
But rather than bringing around everyone to his point of view, Ron gets increasingly frustrated by the Parks Department’s skepticism of his worldview. Rather than being excited, Chris’s face falls when he realizes what Ron intends to do to Tom the Pig. A park ranger rejects the permit Ron wrote for himself, telling him killing Tom is “against three laws and like a dozen health codes.” Ron’s voice strains dangerously when he tells the Parks staff to water down the beer he brought for the picnic so children can drink it. Ron’s gotten the best of Chris recently, especially when he took home the women’s studies professor Chris had a crush on. But it falls to Chris here to explain to Ron what he’s done wrong at the barbecue. “The point of the barbecue was to thank the department,” he says, not unkindly. “You chose to stay here, which is fine. But if you’re going to lead the department, you occasionally have to lead the department. And I say this as one of your closest colleagues and dearest friends.”
After both their bad days, Leslie and Ron find different ways to step up to the plate. Leslie realizes that she can use the city that overwhelms her to her advantage back home, promising before a press gaggle to make weekly cleanups of the river her office hours. And Ron roasts up Tom the Pig, but not before telling Jerry and his other staffers “Your work is appreciated. Have some corn.” Leslie’s facing challenges bigger than Ron is. But Ron still has a lot of adapting to do with her gone.
Awards are always a terribly flawed way of determining what makes for good popular culture. Limits on the number of nominees lock deserving contenders out of their categories. Differences between the people who watch television shows or movies and the people in the pool assigned to judge them can produce some truly baffling biases and decisions. And winning doesn’t automatically transform a show’s prospects of staying on the air or an actor’s chance of getting good work in the future. But all of those caveats aside, it can be hugely satisfying to see a small show get the recognition you assume it’ll be denied, or an actor break barriers. And if you want better television, here are the shows and performances you should root for get whatever boost it’s possible to wring out of the Emmys on Sunday.
The Big Bang Theory
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Who Should Win: Girls
Why: There are a lot of legacy shows on this list, and some very notable omissions, particularly Parks and Recreation, which had a much stronger season than its network counterpart 30 Rock. Given that, I have to root for Girls, one of the few comedies to arrive on television knowing exactly what it was and what its strengths were, even if during its run, creator Lena Dunham had to confront some of its more notable weaknesses and absences, particularly when it came to race. Flawed though it may be, those of us rooting for more personal, low-budget shows—and who would like to see folks of color get the opportunities Dunham and Louis C.K. have—should hope for Girls to take home the statuette over more commercial favorites like The Big Bang Theory.
Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory
Larry David as Himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm
Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan in House of Lies
Louis C.K. as Louie in Louie
Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock
Jon Cryer as Alan Harper in Two and a Half Men
Who Should Win: Louis C.K. or Don Cheadle
Why: It’s impossible to compare C.K.’s exploration of wounded and uncertain middle-aged masculinity and Cheadle’s turn as a hyped-up management consultant struggling to raise his potentially transgender son with tenderness and consideration. House of Lies is an inconsistent mess in comparison to the jewel-like Louie. But C.K. isn’t exactly lacking in recognition. And Cheadle’s playing a character who’s more distant from his real self than C.K. Plus, a black actor hasn’t won the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Emmy since Robert Guillaume for Benson in 1985.
I’ve mentioned this on Twitter, though perhaps not on the blog: Asawin Suebsaeng, Mother Jones’ movie guy and I, are now doing a weekly podcast. Fittingly, because we spend a lot of time violently disagreeing, it’s called A Movie And An Argument With Alyssa and Swin. This week, because I was off Rosh Hashanah-ing rather than going to the critics’ screening of The Master, I’m offering up Swin’s disappointment as a placeholder for my feelings, which I will attempt to ascertain, along with my feelings about Dredd, this weekend. Also, for those of you who have been wondering how I feel about this season of Boardwalk Empire, details therein: