once more with feeling

I have an entire category on this blog devoted to musicals. Including this post, I've only written about 20 musicals ... 20 in more than 18 years. It's been more than 10 months since the last one (Swing Time). It makes me wonder why I have a musical category (I think someone requested it).

It's not that I don't like musicals. I placed three of them in my Facebook Fave Fifty list some years ago, with a few others that could be called musicals if we're speaking broadly. But the most recent of those three musicals was 1972. And I haven't watched more than a handful of 21st-century musicals. I watch concert movies, but I'm not sure those count. In my wannabe hippie days in the early 70s, I watched lots of 30s musicals ... was a bit obsessed by them, to be honest. But nowadays? Nope.

But I did watch a musical on November 6, 2001. Liked it a lot. Have watched it since, even going to a theater for an audience-participation midnight showing. You might not call it a musical, but I do. It was an episode from Season 6 of Buffy called "Once More with Feeling".

If you have Hulu, you can watch the episode there. In the meantime, here's the soundtrack, courtesy of Spotify:


the fourth karen sisco award

This is kind of embarrassing.

In 2010, I invented something called ... well, let me just cut-and-paste from the standard opening I've always used:

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.

Last month, I gave the Sixth Karen Sisco Award to High Fidelity, which had just been cancelled after one season.

The problem is, it was actually the seventh Sisco Award.

You see, in 2014, I gave the award to The Bridge, which I said made it the fifth recipient. Check out the post, it's called "The Fifth Annual Karen Sisco Award".

Except it was only the fourth winner, which would have been obvious if I'd read my own post.

Two years later, I gave the award to Agent Carter, which was the real fifth recipient. Except somewhere along the way I'd forgotten all about The Bridge, so I said Agent Carter was the fourth winner.

In 2017, I gave the award to Sweet/Vicious, which was the actual sixth recipient. What was that post called? You guessed it, "The Fifth Karen Sisco Award: Sweet/Vicious".

So, to recap, here are the various Karen Sisco Award winners, correctly listed for a change:

1. Terriers (2010)
2. Lights Out (2011)
3. Luck (2012)
4. The Bridge (2014)
5. Agent Carter (2016)
6. Sweet/Vicious (2017)
7. High Fidelity (2020)

Part of me thinks this makes The Bridge the ultimate Karen Sisco show ... forgetting about it is as Sisco as it gets.

I'd like to be able to suggest you go out and stream The Bridge, but it isn't currently on any of the platforms (you can buy it on disc). Of course it's not available ... if I can't even remember it existed, I can't very well complain about its inaccessibility. Sweet/Vicious is also only available on disc.

Of the others, Hulu has Terriers and High Fidelity, Lights Out is on Amazon Prime, Luck was on HBO so you can find it on one of their outlets, and Agent Carter is hanging out on Disney+. Enjoy your binge watching.


i may destroy you

I've been trying to come to terms with Michaela Coel's astonishing series I May Destroy You, and I've realized I may never get there. Coel turned something from her own life (she was sexually assaulted) into a work of art that is unflinching. I May Destroy You is hard to watch ... Coel is not afraid to show humans at their worst as well as their best, and at times I feared for the future of the human race. But the discomfort you feel when watching the show reflects the very real trauma that Coel, and her fictional character, an author with writer's block named Arabella, have suffered. If we weren't uncomfortable, Coel would have failed.

Arabella's actions over the course of the season are often hard to explain, hard to accept. But, as with the show as a whole, Coel isn't just trying to get the audience to understand what she went through. More to the point, she is working her way through the experience, and yes, she hopes we understand, but she doesn't tailor her writing to please the audience. And there isn't going to be a direct line through which Arabella resolves her feelings, no matter that viewers might prefer that to be the case. She inches towards the finish, two steps forward one step back, and as she struggles, we struggle as well. But since she is willing to show Arabella as not just nice, we are angry with her as often as we are sympathetic. At times, we are angry and sympathetic at the same time.

I was hoping for some resolution at the end ... I don't think I was alone. Coel doesn't exactly resolve anything, but the final episode perfectly establishes why resolution isn't necessarily what Arabella (and thus the show) needs. Arabella goes through a series of what-if scenarios involving her attacker, and I admit, I got vicarious excitement from the scenario where she beat the man to a bloody pulp. But what matters is when Arabella accepts that while she will never erase or forget what happened, she can continue with her life, can finally refuse to be defined by her assault. In what can only be called a delightful turn, she is able to clear her writer's block and finish her book, at which time, we realize the series I May Destroy You reflects the book Arabella writes, and serves the purpose for Coel that it does for Arabella. Coel doesn't give us a by-the-numbers autobiography ... she goes deeper, showing us her emotional journey without needing to exactly match events in her life.

Coel is aided by a fine supporting cast, including Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu as Arabella's best friends. Both characters are as finely drawn as is Arabella, equally balanced between good and not-so-good behavior. Life is complicated in I May Destroy You, as are the characters.

I'm pretty sure I haven't gotten to the bottom of my feelings about the show. But it will be hard to forget it.


the sixth karen sisco award: high fidelity

[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), Luck (2012), Agent Carter (2016), and Sweet/Vicious (2017).

This year's winner is High Fidelity, which has been cancelled after one season (as is the trend these days, it's always possible someone will take if over and movie it to another outlet, but I'm treating it like it's gone). A couple of months ago, I wrote of High Fidelity, "From a Nick Hornby novel to a film with John Cusack, always very guy-oriented. This version benefits greatly from 1) making the main character a woman, and 2) casting Zoë Kravitz in the role. She's the best thing about it, although the supporting cast is appealing, as well. Never quite essential, but often fun to watch."

I doubt it means anything, but I notice the last three award winners were centered on women. High Fidelity had another marker. As Kravitz said on Instagram, "It's cool. At least Hulu has a ton of other shows starring women of color we can watch. Oh wait."

Some people seemed to think it pointless to make Rob, the main character, a woman of color. Merely substituting Kravitz for Cusack/Hornby was too easy. But in this case, as with so much of Hornby's work (and I am a fan), the perspective is very much male, and so Kravitz's Rob had automatic resonance. That she was so good helped, of course. The supporting cast offered a few hopefully-future stars in Da'Vine Joy Randolph and David H. Holmes. Parker Posey appeared in a good episode that had its roots in the novel (and made the cutting-room floor of the movie). Debbie Harry has a fun cameo as a nod to Bruce Springsteen's appearance in the film. And Natasha Lyonne directed an episode.

Without access to Hulu's ratings, I can't say if High Fidelity bombed. There's no apparent reason for why it didn't get a second season. But it should have.

I can't let Zoë leave us with her show cancelled, so here is her appearance earlier in the year on Hot Ones:


perry mason, season one finale

Perry Mason is HBO's remake of the classic Raymond Burr series. I can't be the only person who wondered why this was happening. On the other hand, I tuned in, precisely because it was Perry Mason. Last month I wrote:

Only three episodes have aired, and I can't say I'm impressed, although I haven't given up yet. Good cast, good recreation of 1932 Los Angeles, but thus far, the only reason I can figure that the lead character is named Perry Mason is so we can get excited about his origin story. But it works just as well without being attached to Mason. Tatiana Maslany is great ... no surprise there.

Tonight, the final episode of the season airs, and after seven episodes, I'm a lot more impressed. HBO is apparently impressed, too ... what was going to be a mini-series has now been given a second season.

Most of what I said before is true, only more so. Good cast? I only mentioned Tatiana Maslany (I'm a big fan, of course I mentioned her), but the proverbial everyone is in Perry Mason, all outstanding. There's Matthew Rhys in the title, proving as he did in The Americans that he can do an American accent better than the average Welshman. There's Juliet Rylance (The Knick) as Della Street, who is a lesbian in this version (a good thing for many reasons, not least that it dismisses the tired possibility that Perry and Della will become a woosome twosome in Season Four). Chris Chalk has been in a lot of things I've seen, although I don't remember him ... he's a standout as Paul Drake. The Mexican star Veronica Falcón is Perry's lady friend ... it's refreshing that she is featured in most of the nude scenes, refreshing because HBO usually digs up some young starlet for those scenes, but Falcón is in her 50s (and her scenes with Mason are hot). John Lithgow, Gayle Rankin (Sheila the She-Wolf in GLOW), the ever-present Stephen Root, Lili Taylor ... even Gretchen Mol turns up, although they make us wait forever and her part is small. We can't let Justin Kirk slip by ... he plays Hamilton Burger.

A person can watch Perry Mason without knowledge of the books or the original series, but part of the joy of this first season is watching all the pieces come together so that by the end, they'll all be where we want them. So at the start, Mason is a down-on-his-luck private detective, Della is a secretary but to a different lawyer, Drake is an African-American cop, and Burger is an assistant D.A. (and apparently gay, using the lesbian Street as a beard, although I admit I haven't picked up on this). As we get to the season finale, Mason is a lawyer (how he gets there is pretty silly, but no sillier than the shenanigans Mason always pulled off in the courtroom in the old versions), Della is now Perry's secretary, Drake is clearly one step away from leaving the force to become a private detective for Mason, and Burger is positioned to move into the D.A. job after Mason wins the case and ruins the career of the existing attorney.

Meanwhile, the recreation of 1932 Los Angeles is even better than I said at the time, and Tatiana Maslany delivers in every one of her scenes.

Perry Mason is not yet a great show ... it may never be a great show. But it's a lot better than I anticipated, with room to grow. Although my guess is Maslany's character won't make it to next season.

Just a reminder that Matthew Rhys was also in one of the greatest TV series of all time:

And that at the same time, Tatiana Maslany was winning an Emmy (as Rhys did for The Americans) with one of the great performances of all time:


out of the coma again

In 2003, I had a blog post ("Out of the Coma") about ... well, here's how it began:

There's a news story about a guy who has just awoken from a coma that began on July 13, 1984. Apparently, the guy is talking a blue streak, and he still thinks Ronald Reagan is president. This made me decide to play a game, "What If I Was In A Coma?" The idea here is that everything is still 1984 to me ... the Reagan thingie is the example of what I mean. What needs to be explained to me, to get me up to speed?

I thought to do this again. In this case, I went into a coma in July of 2003, and woke up today. What needs to be explained?

When I went into a coma, George W was president. Since then, we elected our first African-American president. After him, we elected a real-estate mogul who by that time was known in part for his reality TV show, The Apprentice.

Harvey Pekar is dead. But Betty White and Olivia de Havilland are still alive.

When I went into a coma, the Giants had lost the World Series the previous season. Among the team leaders were Barry Bonds, Ray Durham, Marquis Grissom, and Jerome Williams, all African-Americans. While I was in a coma, the Giants miraculously won three World Series. There were no African-Americans on the list of top players on those teams. When I woke up from a coma, I was informed that there was no baseball yet, because of a virus.

Ah yes, the virus. For almost a year, now, the world is living through a pandemic. Lives have changed. When/if I go outside, I'll find that I have to wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from people. Many things will be closed ... shopping is a dangerous thing to do.

The most important political movement is now Black Lives Matter, which covers a lot of ground but which focuses on police brutality against African-Americans. In June of 2020 alone there were several dozen killings by law enforcement officials, including Rayshard Brooks, an African-American murdered in a Wendy's parking lot in Atlanta.

In football, the 49ers were mostly awful for nearly a decade, but they returned to the Super Bowl behind QB Colin Kaepernick. During the 2016 season, Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem as a protest against treatment of black people and people of color. After the season, he was released by the 49ers. He has never been given a job in the NFL since.

You know that American soccer league, MLS? It had 10 teams when I went into a coma. Soon afterwards, the Earthquakes won their second MLS Cup. A couple of years after that, they moved to Houston. A couple of years after that, San Jose was awarded an expansion team. A couple of years ago, the Earthquakes opened their new, soccer-only stadium. You'll notice that MLS is still around, now with 26 teams. Oh yeah, my nephew Sean works for the Toronto team.

When I went into a coma, the #1 song in the country was "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé with Jay-Z. When I woke up, Beyoncé was the biggest music act in the country. The current #1 song is "Rockstar" by DaBaby. Prince died in 2016. While I was in a coma, Bruce Springsteen released 7 new studio albums, went on 7 world tours, had a show on Broadway that ran more than a year, and turned 70. Along the way, he won a few Grammies and a Tony. Danny Federici died in 2008, Clarence Clemons died in 2011. My beloved Sleater-Kinney released one of their greatest albums, went on a "hiatus", and came back a decade later. Before their most recent tour, Janet Weiss (sigh) quit.

Those Oscars you watched a coupla months before you went into a coma? The ones hosted by Steve Martin, where Chicago won Best Picture? The Best Picture at the most recent Oscars was Parasite, the first non-English language film to win the award.

The #1 broadcast TV series was CSI, which ran until 2015. Not sure you knew it back then, but we were entering the time of Peak TV. People "binge" series now. May I recommend the following shows to you, most of which you haven't heard of: The Wire, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Shield, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock, Justified, Terriers, The Americans, Broad City, Fargo, Game of Thrones, Girls, The Leftovers, Mr. Robot, Orange Is the New Black, Rectify, Halt and Catch Fire, Jane the Virgin, The Comeback, The Knick, RubiconTremé, Outlander, GLOW, Vida, The 100, Agents of SHIELD, Better Things, Insecure, Atlanta.

Your family is fine, Steven. Robin is as terrific as you remember. Neal and Sonia are still a great couple, Sara married Ray and had your grandson, Félix, who is about to turn 8. Welcome back.

Oh, and it's possible to become famous via something called YouTube, which was created a couple of years after my coma began. Here's a YouTube show you should binge:

You won't recognize most of those people, but they are all big stars today. And yes, that's Scarlett Johansson, the girl from Ghost World. She is one of the biggest stars in the movie world.


tv catchup, part 4

Outlander. Outlander has pulled off a fairly rare feat: its fifth season was on a part with its first. To my eye, there is a consistency between the various season, such that I can't say off the top of my head which is the best. Outlander continues much as it always has ... its best features (sex, acting, cinematography, music) are still fine, its worst qualities (too frequent use of rape as a plot device, not knowing what to do with black characters once the show gets to America) still problematic. It's not a perfect show, but if nothing else, it shows that Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) remains one of our finest showrunners.

Watchmen. Not only was Watchmen a fascinating revision of the original comic with a sterling cast, it also managed to both illuminate that original and add to it in important ways. Regina King is tops, as usual, but Watchmen is filled with actors giving impressive performances. Even Henry Louis Gates Jr. turns up, playing himself. Watchmen is timely ... its made-up world is like our own in worrisome ways (including the fact that in the world of the show, Robert Redford is president). It's also oddly prescient, in a rather backwards way: while the universe of the show is an alternate one, it hinges on the actual events in Tulsa known as the Black Wall Street Massacre, which has been in the news of late. Apparently this is a mini-series rather than a continuing story, and if one season is all we get, it's enough. But I'd watch a second season, for sure.

Bonus: Perry Mason. Only three episodes have aired, and I can't say I'm impressed, although I haven't given up yet. Good cast, good recreation of 1932 Los Angeles, but thus far, the only reason I can figure that the lead character is named Perry Mason is so we can get excited about his origin story. But it works just as well without being attached to Mason. Tatiana Maslany is great ... no surprise there.


tv catchup, part 3

GLOW. It doesn't get much more surprising than this. GLOW, based on a cheesy rassling show ("Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling") from the 80s, is funny, entertaining, and works as drama, as well. Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin are great as the leads, but the whole cast delivers. There is still one more season to go. This is my favorite clip from the show, even though some guys recorded it off their TV and they commentate. Brie's Zoya the Destroya demonstates a possible match, essentially wrestling with herself.

High Fidelity. From a Nick Hornby novel to a film with John Cusack, always very guy-oriented. This version benefits greatly from 1) making the main character a woman, and 2) casting Zoë Kravitz in the role. She's the best thing about it, although the supporting cast is appealing, as well. Never quite essential, but often fun to watch.

The Plot Against America. Anything David Simon does is worth your attention. Here, he and Ed Burns offer a miniseries based on the Philip Roth novel about an alternate history where Charles Lindbergh becomes president in 1940 and America turns fascist. As you can imagine, it feels familiar in 2020. Great cast, great writing, great world creating.

Vida. A show that was ignored by too many people ... I'd say that was because it was on Starz, but Outlander hasn't had any problem getting our attention (and Outlander should be on this list, I can't believe I forgot it). Vida is a Latinx series created by Tanya Saracho with some impressive new-to-me leads: Melissa Barrera, Mishel Prada, and Ser Anzoategui. It's about Latinx culture, and family, and gentrification, with a queer core. Hopefully, it will be discovered in future years.

I'm realizing I need a Part 4, which will cover Outlander, Watchmen, and anything else I've forgotten.


tv catchup, part 2

Devs. A creation of Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), Devs is just as ambitious and unusual as those films. It looked great (some of it filmed at UC Santa Cruz), the cast was stellar (especially Nick Offerman and Stephen McKinley Henderson), and while it tended to be obscure, that seemed appropriate for a show that was about philosophical truths. It was also slow moving, if that matters to you (I am much more tolerant of slowness in television series, for some reason).

Euphoria. A show that is right up my alley. Wikipedia describes it: "Euphoria follows a group of high school students through their experiences of sex, drugs, friendships, love, identity and trauma." If that doesn't sound like something I'd like, you don't know me very well. Happily, Euphoria is also good, with a terrific Zendaya in the lead and a breakout performance by trans actor Hunter Schafer. Euphoria is a bit overboard on the brutal details of high school ... if a parent of a high-schooler watched this, they'd want to lock their kid in their bedroom until graduation. Like I say, right up my alley.

Gentleman Jack. Not a show that is clearly up my alley, Gentleman Jack is a based-on-fact historical drama set in England in the 1830s. It's created by Sally Wainwright, who also created the terrific and dark Happy Valley. The lead is played by Suranne Jones, who I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of, despite her acting for 25 years. Well, I've heard of her now, and I won't be forgetting her soon.


tv catchup, part 1

For reasons unclear to me, I don't post much about television any more. TV used to be one of the Big Three, along with movies and music. Now, I'm more likely to have a post like this, where I catch up on a bunch of shows by giving them a couple of sentences when they deserve a couple of posts of their own. Here are ten shows, in alphabetical order, in three posts, that I've liked in the past season or so. Assume that if they are listed here, I think they would be worth your time for your next binge.

The 100. The final season is airing now. It has been my favorite show for awhile, although it's always been too much of a mess to be considered great. But it's made it through almost seven seasons, and it still doesn't stink. I still care about the main characters. And it still puts the post in post-apocalypse.

Agents of SHIELD. Honestly, this show has no business being as good as it is. At the beginning, it was like an afterthought in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the further away it got from the MCU, the better the show became. This final season is a delight, as they use time travel as an excuse for some great looks at the past.

Better Things. These things are in alphabetical order, but this is the best of the shows. If you only binge one series from these lists, this is the one. Pamela Adlon is a genius. And this is a great scene that also shows how far "basic cable" has come in the profanity department.