13 reasons why

[Spoilers aplenty]

To get the basics out of the way (and if you are reading this, you know the basics, so this isn’t really a spoiler), 13 Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker, a high-school student and recent suicide who left behind a box of cassette tapes that she recorded just before she killed herself. Each side consists of Hannah singling out someone who is in some way one of the 13 reasons. There are seven tapes ... the B-side of the seventh tape is blank, because she only needs 13 sides to tell the story. The subject of the first tape gets the box of tapes and listens to them all, after which they give the box to the subject of the second tape, who etc etc until all thirteen subjects have heard all of the tapes. The person who has the box throughout the series is Clay Jensen, and as he listens to the tapes (one per episode ... yes, there are 13 episodes to the series), we get flashbacks to the events on the tapes.

The performances are solid from top to bottom, but two actors are most important. Dylan Minnette plays Clay, and he is equal measures sympathetic and irritating, which is entirely appropriate for the part. The should-be-star-making role of Hannah goes to a newcomer from Australia, Katherine Langford, and she is the best thing about the show.

13 Reasons Why does a great job of showing the endless trauma of attending high school, where awful big things happen occasionally, but where mostly awful little things happen every single day. If you aren’t one of the cool kids, you’re screwed. Many of us got through high school by becoming part of a subculture of non-cool kids. But there are always those who are both non-cool and friendless ... it barely matters if the kid is actually cool and actually has friends, if they don’t recognize those facts ... and their high school lives are abysmal. Hannah is new to the school, and almost immediately she gets slut-shamed, from which she never regains a positive status among her peers. She has some friends, but she tends to push them away, usually because those friends are unthinking and do things that hurt Hannah (these things being the focus of each individual tape recording). 13 Reasons Why shows how cliques work in high school, and how reputations are made. It does this is a mostly realistic way.

Knowing how the story ends creates an ever-growing tension as we watch the episodes. Hannah’s life is crumbling before our eyes, but in the flashbacks, the kids don’t realize their part in how Hannah’s life ends ... to them, it’s just high school. Eventually, events shatter the composure of some of the kids ... auto accidents, physical assaults, things that can’t be ignored. But only Hannah, the author of her story as she records the tapes, takes in the accumulation that threatens to ruin her.

The implication is that Hannah commits suicide for the 13 reasons, and in the context of the series, this is believable. Some have criticized the show, though, for blaming events, when many suicides come from a place of deep depression that might be chemical rather than social. Hannah is increasingly disturbed, and she becomes crucially sensitive to how others treat her, but there is never a suggestion that she might have a chemical imbalance that could be alleviated via drug therapy. No, Hannah’s suicide grows entirely out of those 13 reasons, all of which are about how she is treated by others. (This also leads to a final “message” that we all just need to treat each other with more kind attention.)

The decision of how to show the most horrible events in the story are powerful, and I don’t think there’s any reason to dismiss the approach the show takes, although some will find it too hard to watch these scenes (which is partly the point). There are two rapes, and while the first is mostly in the dark, the second is much more visible. Director Jessica Yu (she did two episodes ... other directors include Tom McCarthy, Helen Shaver, Gregg Araki, and Carl Franklin) shows just enough visual context that we know what is happening, but she spends almost the entire scene on the girl’s face. We see the trauma, and we see on her face the terrible way she becomes an empty shell. Far from being exploitive, the scene is sickening and upsetting.

Hannah’s suicide is also unbearable. In that episode (directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez), we see the final hours of Hannah’s life, and then we watch the final minutes. Many have complained that the actual suicide (via slit wrists) is so graphic it could serve as a how-to for troubled viewers. But the people behind 13 Reasons Why specifically wanted to avoid the usual presentation where we see the suicidal person about to commit the act, then cut to someone discovering the act after the fact. They wanted to show the ugliness of suicide. They insisted that the audience was repulsed. I have seen a few comments claiming that 13 Reasons Why romanticizes suicide. Well, the actual suicide is the least-romantic act imaginable.

There is, in fact, very little romanticizing being done throughout the series. We are always aware of the effect of the accumulation of events on Hannah’s psyche, and at no time do we think, gee, I wish I was Hannah.

While the series is on Netflix, I strongly advise against binge watching it. It would be emotionally overwhelming, for one thing, and each episode deserves processing before moving on to the next. The series is too long, and at times it is repetitive, but it’s a bit like the way Clay listens to every tape from start to finish. You’ll want to do the same with 13 Reasons Why.

I want to single out a couple of actors. Justin Prentice does such a great job of playing a rich, privileged jock that you always want to slap the smirk off his face when he shows up. And then there is Wilson Cruz, who first came to our attention in My So-Called Life as Rickie Vasquez. Cruz appears as a lawyer in a handful of episodes in 13 Reasons Why, and between the ever-lasting love his fans have for Cruz, and the obvious connections between his first series and this one, it is delightful to see him. (His character is named “Vasquez”, which has led some to imagine it’s just Rickie, grown up with a new first name.)

Finally, I have read a few people saying 13 Reasons Why promotes revenge. This supposedly even makes suicide more appealing, since Hannah gets “revenge” by exposing everyone in her tapes. Again, there is nothing in this show that makes me wish I had led Hannah’s deeply sad life. (People looking for a revenge drama might check out the fine vigilante show, Sweet/Vicious.)


film fatales #26: to walk invisible (sally wainwright, 2016)

Not sure how to tag this ... Wainwright made it for the BBC and it aired in the States on PBS, but it’s a film, not a series. She works in television, having given us the excellent series Happy Valley. As is often the case, To Walk Invisible has one person I’ve heard of (Jonathan Pryce) and a cast of excellent actors who are unknown to me (although a few of them were also in Happy Valley). One other similarity to that earlier series: To Walk Invisible takes place in Yorkshire, as did the series, and I can barely understand what people are saying (friends from South England once told me they needed subtitles to understand Happy Valley).

To Walk Invisible tells the story of the Brontë family in the late 1840s, when the sisters first published novels under male pseudonyms. (Pryce played their father.) Their tormented addict brother Branwell is also an important part of the story, although given the time constraints (it lasts two hours), he takes up perhaps too much time. In fact, To Walk Invisible might have benefitted from at least one more episode, as events feel rushed throughout.

The focus is almost entirely on the sisters’ lives. You’re left to fill in the narratives for Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights on your own, which may be for the best, since I imagine anyone who wants to watch a story of the sisters will have already read the novels. To some extent, the novels come out of nowhere in To Walk Invisible, at least as specific individual works. The film shows how the sisters had to fight the sentiments of the time, reflected most clearly in their use of pseudonyms to hide their gender. And we are led to believe that they are excellent writers, especially Charlotte. But while their skills are made evident, and while their struggles to be recognized are a central theme of the movie, there is little reference to the fact that these weren’t just any novels, but were Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

In one respect, this is a good thing, because To Walk Invisible avoids the common fault of biographical stories that “explain” a book like Jane Eyre by showing examples of the author’s life that supposedly informed their creation, as if they lacked the imagination to come up with the work on their own. So we don’t get a scene of Charlotte seeing a woman in an attic. But it does seem odd that Charlotte could have been writing any old novel, given the lack of interest shown in the actual book she produced.

To Walk Invisible looks great, and sounds great if you can handle the accents. The acting is top-notch. There’s too much Branwell, and it’s too short overall. But as is, it’s a worthy accomplishment. 8/10.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)


legion, season one

On the one hand, it’s easy to describe Legion. It takes part in the Marvel X-Men universe, and is something of an origin story for “Legion”, a lesser-known X-Men character who is the son of Professor X. Legion, known as David Haller, was diagnosed as schizophrenic when he was young, and his actions do little to dissuade us from that diagnosis. But it turns out he has mutant powers, which, since no one really understands them, leaves him extremely confused.

So far, this is simple. The cast is an interesting blend of people you know from various projects. Dan Stevens, who plays David, was Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. There’s Rachel Keller, who made a name for herself on the second season of Fargo, which, like Legion, comes from Noah Hawley. Jean Smart, who has been around for a long time, agreed to join the cast without knowing anything about it, because she loved working on Fargo so much. Aubrey Plaza is Aubrey Plaza, but there are so many parts to her character that she expands the definition of an Aubrey Plaza character. (And since I love Aubrey Plaza without ever actually watching her in anything other than talk shows, I’m glad she’s finally in something I like.) There’s Bill Irwin, who founded the Pickle Family Circus, and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords.

All of this sounds quirky, but it doesn’t prepare you for what turns up on the screen. Because Hawley spends much of his time inside the head of David Haller, who, it is safe to say, is the ultimate in Unreliable Narrator, since he isn’t ever sure what’s happening in his head, or if it’s actually outside of his head. He can’t be reliable even if he wants to. Hawley dumps us in the middle of this ... he doesn’t really explain what’s going on with any clarity until the next-to-last episode of the season, which means we spend six episodes asking each other, “what the fuck?” Legion is as trippy as any show you’ve ever seen, and while there are good reasons for that, you have to allow yourself to be confused.

There is a lot of strong acting on the show ... if you’re expecting Matthew Crawley 2.0, you’re in for a surprise. And the look of the show perfectly matches the themes and the “reality” of this alternate world. It’s a pleasure to watch, even if/when you are clueless about what you are watching. And maybe it’s because I love Fargo the TV series so much, but I spent the entire season of Legion assuming that Noah Hawley knew what he was doing, so instead of my usual frustration at obscurity, I gave myself over to his vision.

I am nowhere near fluent in the X-Men universe, so I can say with confidence that such knowledge is not required to enjoy Legion. And if you don't like superhero sagas, trust me, this isn't like the ones you're familiar with. If you think the world has gone downhill since the 60s, when trippy visuals were the norm, you will love Legion. Just be warned that there are few shows as weird as this one. A-.


humans

It was about a year and a half after the end of Season One when Season Two of Humans arrived in the States. While the story isn’t particularly complicated, it does feature lots of characters, and I confess I began the new season not quite remembering all that had come before. After Season One, I wrote:

An English series about a time in the future when robots in human form work as servants for humans. ... It features the usual batch of English actors I’ve never heard of, all doing good jobs, with special kudos to Gemma Chan as one of the “synths”. Oh yeah, William Hurt shows up. Humans is a good combination of social commentary and personal experiences ... I wouldn’t say it breaks new ground, but it does well with the old ground. It’s certainly intelligent enough to maintain interest for another season.

Hurt’s character died late in Season One, but he is replaced in S2, in fame and stature if not in the narrative, by Carrie-Anne Moss. This means there is still one actor in Humans that I’ve actually heard of. Of course, by this point, I know the returning characters, and they are still doing good jobs, with Gemma Chan still worthy of singling out. I’d also toss in Emily Berrington and Ruth Bradley. It may be more than coincidental that all three actresses play synths ... they make more of an impression than the human characters.

Humans benefits from short seasons. There have only been 16 episodes so far, just the right amount to fit the amount of story and characterization Humans offers. I said before that it doesn’t break new ground, and that holds in the new season, as well. The show is well-done, but it doesn’t stray too far from other robots-in-society stories we’ve known. While the synths are shown sympathetically, after two seasons the title of the show still holds ... ultimately we’re watching from the perspective of the humans.

I’m not trying to damn Humans with faint praise. I like the show quite a bit. But it’s just another show about humans and machines that can’t quite live up to the greatness that was Battlestar Galactica. And while the straightforward presentation is helpful to clods like me who have trouble keeping up, it comes across as rather mundane compared to shows like Sense8 and Legion. B+.


way out: "side show"

In early 1961, CBS needed a show to quickly fill a time slot left open by a failed series hosted by Jackie Gleason. The new show was called Way Out ... CBS had The Twilight Zone running at the time ... it consisted of half-hour episodes peeking into fantasy and sci-fi tales. The host was Roald Dahl, later famous for, among other things, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl would introduce each episode, similar to what Rod Serling was doing on Twilight Zone. (Boris Karloff filled this function with Thriller, as did Alfred Hitchcock on his series.)

The first episode of Way Out, “William and Mary”, based on a story by Dahl, tells of a man with terminal cancer who agrees to an experiment where his brain is connected to an artificial heart after his death. It works ... the man also retains one eye so he can see. He sends a note to his widowed wife, explaining what has happened. She takes him home with her, and proceeds to flaunt actions in front of him that he disapproved of when he was alive.

Reviews were good. Ratings were OK on the coasts, not so much in the rest of the country. Way Out was cancelled after 14 episodes.

There was one episode of Way Out that has stuck with me for 55+ years. This is where I offer my usual caveats about the limitations of memory. We’re talking about an episode of a short-lived television show that aired in 1961 (June 30 for the episode in question). We’re talking a time long before On Demand and video recorders and the Internet. Unless a show was very popular (I Love Lucy, for instance), reruns weren’t always shown. It is likely that the only time anyone was able to watch that episode was the night that it aired.

So, to place myself in the time period, on June 30, 1961, I was 8 years old, having turned 8 ten days earlier. It would have been near the beginning of summer vacation between 3rd and 4th grade. I was, in short, very young. I’m surprised my parents let me stay up to watch Way Out, which aired Friday nights at 9:30 ... perhaps this was because it was summer vacation.

The episode was called “Side Show”. There were a few actors that remain at least a little familiar: Myron McCormick, who was in what seemed like every TV series back then (he died in 1962); Murray Hamilton, a “hey, it’s that guy” playing a character named Harold Potter (J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be born for another four years ... hmmm, this would make a good plot on a fantasy series); Doris Roberts, then in her mid-30s, who 35 years later would begin a long run as a regular on Everybody Loves Raymond. The plot is about a carnival act run by McCormick that features an “electronic woman”, who seems normal except she has a light bulb where her head should be.

Reading that now, I think, “this would have worked better as a radio drama”, where the ludicrous image of the light bulb head wouldn’t be actual, but only a fantasy of my mind. But the truth is, the only thing about that episode I have remembered since I was 8 years old is that damn light bulb. It haunted me at the time. In later years, the memory of it haunted me. And in more recent times, it still gnaws at my mind, because it was still one of the few things that were unavailable for re-visiting. There was a copy in some TV museum on the East Coast, and a few of the other episodes turned up on YouTube, but “Side Show” remained only a memory.

Until I was looking for something else on YouTube last night and found out that a year or so ago, someone had added a few Way Out episodes. Including “Side Show”.

It’s a weird thing, revisiting a past that has been just beyond your reach for decades.

I was surprised there was an actual plot to the episode. Because all I’d remembered was the light bulb.


the 100

The 100 is a show about communities. It’s about a lot of other things ... it tends to attach itself rather easily to current affairs, even though it takes place sometime in the 22nd century. It is as ambitious in its own way as the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, and if I don’t think The 100 is as good, that I would even mention them together is important. But at its core, The 100 is about the various communities that have formed over time, and the ways in which loyalties are compromised. The most obvious community is the titular Hundred, also known as The Delinquents, criminals (by the standards of the day, they are all adolescents) who are sent to Earth 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse has made the planet uninhabitable. (The few survivors end up in a space station, The Ark.) The Ark’s life support system was failing, and The 100 were sent to find out if the Earth had become habitable.

At this point, I’ve described a series that fits into the general concept of The CW, a network known for aiming at an audience of young adults. The first thing that happens on The 100 is that the adolescents are separated from the adults (who include the best-known actors on the series, like Isaiah Washington, Paige Turco, and Henry Ian Cusick). They are able to survive on Earth, but they quickly lose contact with The Ark, leaving them in charge of their lives and their civilization.

While The Delinquents are an umbrella community, factions form immediately. We also learn of other communities (clans) comprised of the offspring of survivors of the apocalypse. These various communities are not specifically fluid ... it is difficult to move from one community to another. But within the communities, things are very fluid, with friends becoming enemies, people rising (or falling) to the occasion, and people dying (this happens a lot on The 100). The result is reminiscent of a soap opera, in that relationships between individuals are central to the show’s appeal, but a soap opera with apocalypse as the backdrop.

I’ve detailed this in order to describe why I love The 100, despite its many faults. I care about the characters, not just as individuals, but as community members. The apocalyptic setting heightens every action, and there are times when “the problems of these little people don’t amount to a hill of beans”. But by insisting not only on the daily battle against the apocalypse (which would make a dark show even darker) but also on the desire to maintain some semblance of humanity (which offers what little hope you can find in The 100), the series resonates far more deeply than might be expected.

And on the rare occasions when people change affiliations, it can be heart-breaking.

I may be focusing on the group, but the one-on-one relationships are also crucial, perhaps more crucial than I am suggesting. There is plenty of material for shippers who want certain characters to get together romantically. The 100 mostly steers away from this, but possibilities exist. That some of the most intense relationships are between people crossing community boundaries only makes those boundaries more clear (and, to some extent, more damaging). So one of the most interesting character arcs belongs to Octavia, a Delinquent who goes from near-airhead to a fierce warrior, falling in love with a “Grounder”, adopting another Grounder as a mentor, and thus constantly having to evaluate her loyalties in ways other characters can dismiss.

In the midst of all this, one relationship stands out, between Clarke, a Delinquent, and the most central character in a large cast, and Lexa, a Grounder commander. The world of The 100 is one where the great variety of sexual preferences is taken for granted ... after an apocalypse, there isn’t time to worry about who is sleeping with whom. Lexa is a lesbian, and Clarke is bisexual. They are leaders of their respective communities, and while their respect for each other grows, their commitment to their people means betrayal is always a possibility. The chemistry between Eliza Taylor (Clarke) and Alycia Debnam-Carey (Lexa) was palpable, and many fans shipped “Clexa”. Some of the most poignant scenes in the series are when Clarke and Lexa come together for the common good, with each step also bringing their relationship closer. When they finally slept together, Clexa fans rejoiced.

And then came the “Bury Your Gays” trope. Right after they have sex, Lexa is killed. The outrage from fans, especially in the LGBTQ community, was instant and enormous. Clexa became a symbol of existing problems with representations of gay characters, with many fans resolving to never watch The 100 again.

I wrote about this after last season’s finale:

Tonight's season finale proved that the creators of The 100 know quite well how to properly send off a beloved character. If the send off we got tonight had occurred in, say, Episode 307, I'm guessing the uproar would have been reduced, or even absent. That those creators felt perfectly happy saving this send off for the finale, while participating in a trope that lost them a significant part of their viewership, is remarkably clueless at best.

I love The 100, and I loved most of the season finale. I really loved that send off. But it pisses me off the way it was mishandled. It's like a combination of when Tara died on Buffy, and when Friday Night Lights was derailed by that stupid murder subplot in Season Two. For many people, Episode 307 made The 100 beyond redemption. I'm still here, just as I stuck with Buffy until the end. But part of me wishes I'd just skipped all the episodes between 307 and the two-part finale.

I also thank Jason Rothenberg for creating the character of Lexa in the first place. (She wasn’t in the books.) Rothenberg finally seems to understand why the method of Lexa's death outraged so many. It's not about giving in to your audience, it's about understanding the place of your work in a broader social context. The 100 does not exist in a vacuum.

I understand that every character on The 100 is one scene away from dying (well, I doubt they'll ever kill off Clarke). I understand that Alycia Debnam-Carey was leaving for Fear the Walking Dead. I don't object to the decision to kill off Lexa. It's the way it was done that's the problem, and while I'm beyond happy that Clexa got their final moment, and that Lexa went out a badass, I would have been just as "happy" if it happened in Episode 307. Better put, the emotional damage of Lexa's death would have been tied directly to her final moments as a warrior and a lover, instead of being Just Another Dead Lesbian. Her death would have carried more dramatic weight within the context of the show.

Ironically, Lexa’s death led to arguably the most emotional scene in the show’s history, 9 episodes later in the season finale.

It would be interesting if Rothenberg had concocted this finale after seeing the reaction to Lexa’s death, but in fact, they were filming the finale when the first episode of the season aired. So Rothenberg always had this great finish in mind.

And, after her death, he assured people that Lexa’s presence would not be forgotten. He has held to that, not only in the above scene, but also in the first episode of Season 4, when Clarke told her mother that she loved Lexa.

Ultimately, The 100 ranks high on my list of current shows. But it ranks even higher on how much I look forward to it. Is it as good as The Americans, to use one example? Not even close. But I can’t wait for next week.


sweet/vicious season one

Jennifer Kaytin Robinson was an actress trying to find her way into the business. Her IMDB page lists two acting appearances, a short in 2007 and a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t feature in 2010. In 2014, Robinson, then 26, sold the script for what became Sweet/Vicious. In this world where showrunners reign supreme, it’s interesting to note that Robinson, who created the show and wrote four of the ten episodes, but who had mostly uncredited work behind the scenes, is generally considered the face of the show. Sweet/Vicious is hers.

The series looks cheap. One of the leads, Eliza Bennett, seems to be known a bit in England, but she hadn’t done a whole lot for American audiences. Her co-star, Taylor Dearden, doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (she shares this oversight with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson). She was in a few shorts, and one web series (also shorts). Her primary claim to fame seems to be that she is Bryan Cranston’s daughter. The show takes place at a fictional college, so most of the main characters are in their early-20s ... the actors are relatively close to the ages they play, so the fact that I didn’t recognize a single one of them may just mean I’m 63 years old. The point is, Sweet/Vicious is a first-time series by a writer in her late-20s, that shows on MTV, with no “stars” in the cast. You are forgiven if you’ve never heard of it.

Sweet/Vicious is easy to summarize, for anyone who is thinking of checking it out. The problem is, the summary tells you nothing about the execution. (This can be said of many works, of course.) I haven’t recommended it to anyone, even though it just finished its first season, if for no other reason than it is built around the kinds of triggers that many people will understandably avoid. For the set-up of Sweet/Vicious is that a rape survivor and her friend become vigilantes, fighting against those who assault women.

And it’s not always a serious drama.

I can not speak for survivors. I can say that Robinson is very careful about the series, that she consciously set out to create a show about women who are broken but also powerful. While the show has its lighter moments, those never come when the subject is assault.

This all sounds cheesy, if not offensive. It is not the latter (it is sometimes cheesy). Two regular young women become ninja vigilantes on an MTV show ... does anyone hear that and think, oh, I have to watch that?

And not everything works. Some episodes are better than others. Some character arcs are more compelling than others. But the performances of these unknown-to-me actors are always on target. And gradually, the show grows on you, the characters grow on you, and you start looking forward to each week’s episode, even though you still have a hard time explaining the show, and so you don’t recommend it.

So this: Sweet/Vicious is an audacious show about a topic that is hidden far too often. It is never exploitative. And while it always returns to the story of survivors, it isn’t particularly preachy.

What effect does it have on the audience? It’s just one person, but I found this anonymous post from a survivor compelling:

The first episode took me close to 4 hours to watch. The second episode, the third… 2 hours. The fourth and the fifth… just an hour and a half. The sixth – I couldn’t finish. The sixth I stopped after Jules confronted her rapist. And I broke down in a puddle of tears – wanting to hug her and hold her and tell her I understood. That I was there for her.

The same way I wanted someone to be there for me....

Sweet/Vicious is one of the most important shows on television nowadays. It’s hard to watch, sure. But it’s those moments – those few hours a week where I watch someone take their life back,  that make me feel less alone. That make me feel as if it’s okay to move forward and heal.

Sweet/Vicious helps me move towards healing. There is no time frame on that. It’s done in moments.

And every week – I have another moment that moves me closer to little parts of me feeling again.

Sweet/Vicious is apparently getting terrible ratings, the worst of any scripted MTV shows. It does do very well in other forms of viewing, like streaming or On Demand. As of this writing, it has not been renewed. Robinson says she has ideas about the next two seasons, if there are more seasons.

The trailer:

And a very intense scene where Jules confronts her attacker:


what i've been reading

Fuck you, members of the media.

Fuck your constant pursuit of ratings, of quarterly profits, of giving this tinpot cumdumpster a platform with which he can influence a large part of our country

Fuck you for buying into the idea that racism should be afforded an equal platform with equality, for calling a Nazi anything other than a Nazi.

-- Chris Kluwe, “Fuck You, Donald Trump

 

Hugh Laurie, winning for his work in “The Night Manager,” joked that he assumed this would be the last Golden Globes because “I don’t mean to be gloomy. It’s just that it has Hollywood, Foreign and Press in the title. And I think to some Republicans, even Association is slightly sketchy.” The point about the press is taken, and taken with thanks, but this formulation — which Streep repeated and made worse by prefacing it to say “You, and all of us in this room, really belong to the most vilified segment of American society right now” — has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that some of the richest and most influential people in the world are victims.

-- Alyssa Rosenberg, “In the Trump era, artists can be Jimmy Fallon or Donald Glover. Choose wisely.

 

“Why can’t you give him the benefit of the doubt…,” [Kellyanne] Conway asked, to which, [Chris] Cuomo answered “because he’s making a disgusting gesture on video about Serge.”

-- Ken Meyer, “Conway Asks: Why Do You Believe What Trump Says ‘Rather Than What’s in His Heart?

 

If happiness comes when you find something you are good at, and then you do it, then I guess Preston Epps was a very happy man. After "Bongo Rock" hit #14 on the charts, Epps locked in with the following songs, in alphabetical order: "Baja Bongos," "Blue Bongo," "Bongo Bongo Bongo," "Bongo Hop," "Bongo in the Congo," "Bongo Party," "Bongo Shuffle," "Bongo, Bong, Bongo," "Bongola," "Bongos in Paradise," "Bongos in Pastel," "Gully Bongo," "Hully Gully Bongo," "Prest Bongos Under Glass," "Stormy Bongo," and "Surfin' Bongos." None of them made the charts, with the exception of "Bongo Bongo Bongo," which made it to #78.

-- Steven Rubio’s Online Life, January 9, 2009


tv 2016: final notes

You won’t find a Top Ten here, but I did want one more post to summarize all of those previous posts.

I don’t have a #1, nor do I have a #2. But my two favorite shows of 2016 are The Americans and Rectify. The latter in particular is ready for streaming, as it finished its run last week.

The following are shows that would make a Top Ten (or whatever) if I did such a thing. They aren’t as good as the top two, but good enough (the ones in bold are particular favorites):

Atlanta, Fleabag, Happy Valley, Jane the Virgin, Mr. Robot, Orange Is the New Black, Outlander, Penny Dreadful, Shameless, Soundbreaking, Stranger Things.

That's 13 shows, and none of them were on HBO. It's not that HBO is no longer the home of good TV, but they aren't the only place to find things in 2016. Netflix had the most shows among the 13, with 3.

Special mention goes to The 100. This was a series with great promise, and I don’t think it has squandered it all (some have given up). I look forward to the upcoming season as much as I do any other show. But they made a crucial, tin-eared mistake midway through last season, and while the end of the season did a bit to mend things, the screw-up made the fix bittersweet at best.

This video is the epitome of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched through Season 3 but intend to at some time, do not watch this video. This observation is completely unscientific: the video below has 53,262 as I type this. A similar fan reaction video for Season 3 Episode 7 has three times as many views. (Among other problems with this conclusion, there are multiple reaction videos for both scenes). It should also be noted that after Season 3 Episode 7, many hardcore fans were vehement in claiming they would never watch again. So it is quite possible that many people who would have locked in to the following scene were no longer watching.


return of the karen sisco award

[The introduction is largely copied from previous years.]

In 2010, I started a new tradition. I called it the Karen Sisco Award, named after the short-lived television series starring Carla Gugino. Sisco was the character played by Jennifer Lopez in the film Out of Sight, and the series, which also featured Robert Forster and Bill Duke, was on ABC. They made ten episodes, showed seven, and cancelled it. Gugino was ridiculously hot (no surprise there) and the series, based on an Elmore Leonard character, got about as close as anyone did to Leonard’s style until Justified came along.

When I posted an R.I.P. to the show, my son commented, “Every year there is a new favorite Daddy-O show that gets cancelled mid-season. … You have some sort of fixation with doomed shows, did it start with Crime Story or does it come from your upbringing?” (In fairness, Crime Story lasted two seasons.) The Karen Sisco Award exists to honor those doomed shows.

Previous winners were Terriers (2010), Lights Out (2011), and Luck (2012).

And then I stopped. There weren’t any proper candidates in 2013. I attributed this in part to the emergence of mini-series that were always intended to have a short run. To take a recent example, The Night Of on HBO was always only going to last for one short season. Shows like this could not be Sisco-ed, because they never stuck around long enough.

I have not given a Karen Sisco Award since 2012. But I think I’m going to pull it out of the closet again in 2016, while breaking one of the rules of the award.

Peggy Carter is one of the bazillion characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She first appeared in 2011 in the film Captain America: The First Avenger. (In comic books, I believe the character dates back to the 1960s.) An aging Carter makes brief appearances in two other MCU films, and then, in 2015, she got her own TV series, Agent Carter. The first season was shown during a mid-season break for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and lasted just eight episodes. It received good reviews, and returned for a second season, also during a break for Agents of SHIELD, in 2016. This time there were ten episodes, bringing the total to eighteen. Critics still liked it, but ratings were low, and Agent Carter was cancelled after those eighteen episodes.

Agent Carter had some similarities to Karen Sisco, far more than previous winners of the award did. The title character first appeared in (comic) books and then movies. Gugino, who I called “ridiculously hot”, was in her early-30s during Karen Sisco ... Hayley Atwell, who played the title character in Agent Carter, was in her early-30s and, yes, is an eye-popping knockout.

Agent Carter was never a great show, but Atwell was perfect, the show moved along nicely. As is often the case, Maureen Ryan got it, placing Agent Carter among her Top 20 shows for 2016:

Some cancellations you just never get over (“Enlightened,” sob), and this is one of them. “Agent Carter” was a lovely concoction of action-adventure, superhero aspirations and retro delightfulness, and it hit its stride in its second season. Hayley Atwell was always perfect as Peggy Carter, but the show’s supporting cast and storytelling was even more fun in Season Two. This was a show that did everything right and got cancelled anyway, and I’m still sad, partly because I think many people assume it’s easy to create something this joyful and jaunty — but of course, it requires as much or more craft and creativity as bleak and doom-laden fare.

Agent Carter was one of those shows with a small viewership that was nonetheless extremely loyal. It’s all the worse because Atwell quickly signed on for another series, Conviction, which stunk and has already been cancelled. (Come to think of it, 2016 was a bad year for popular characters moving to other shows ... see Lexa/Alycia Debnam-Carey and Fear the Walking Dead.) Agent Carter wasn’t quite doomed in the way of the previous Sisco Award winners ... Terriers should have gotten another season, but at least the final episode gave some closure, same with Lights Out, and Luck lacked everything its title suggested. Meanwhile, Agent Carter got two seasons, even if they were truncated half-seasons. Still, no series in recent years has so much reminded me of why I came up with the Karen Sisco Award in the first place.

And so, the fourth winner of the Karen Sisco Award goes to Agent Carter.