Dec 29, 2009

Life is a Beach: Laguna Beach, S1, Ep. 3 "Fast Cars & Fast Women"

If you haven't already, head to MTV and watch "Fast Cars & Fast Women," the third episode of Laguna Beach. When you're done, come back and comment on the full recap, featured below!

Fine in 09: Movies

No new releases made my Top 5 in 09. That's because I finally took American Film last semester, and got a chance to see movies made before 1990 (besides The Godfather, The Deer Hunter, and the other classics my dad calls me into the living room to watch, no matter the time of day he discovers them on cable).

The Long Goodbye: An unconventional approach to the film noir, set against the neon hues of 1970's Los Angeles. A gorgeous movie complete with femme fatale, gangsters, topless hippies, beach parties, loads of drugs, and random acts of violence. It's also the tale of an honorable man struggling to live by a seemingly outdated code in a world that's spiraled down into free-wheeling hedonism.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller: An unconventional Western, and the second Robert Altman entry on my list; his work blew me away. A cold, wet, dirty Northwestern town gets a little action when McCabe and Mrs. Miller set up the most pleasant whorehouse in film history. Altman refuses to judge his characters, and demands you do the same. A tragic love story, as well as an artful, unpretentious examination of community living.

Dec 28, 2009

All of this has happened before.

After watching "The Attic," the latest Dollhouse episode, I've come to a few conclusions about Joss Whedon. First, he loves The Matrix. "The Attic" wins the title of Most Obvious Whedon Matrix Homage: Adelle sends Echo, Victor, and Sierra into a computer program where they meet an old man who explains the plot, while their bodies reside in creepy, shrink-wrapped, goo-filled coffins* (I know). "The Attic" not only highlighted Joss' Neo boner, however, but also awakened me to numerous plot/thematic elements that have recurred throughout his body of work.

Dec 27, 2009

Fine in 09: Music

If you regularly visit this space, you know I enjoy music as much as the next pop-culture enthusiast, but rarely write about it. I like the music on my iPod because it sounds pleasant to me, not because I can eloquently explain its importance. Thus, I give you my five favorite downloads of 2009:

"Raindrops" (Basement Jaxx)
"U.R.A. Fever" (The Kills)
"Alejandro" (Lady Gaga)
"Can You Tell" (Ra Ra Riot)
"Samson" (Regina Spektor)

According to this list, I like: alternative bands on the "yes, please" side of pop/electronic (see also: MGMT, Passion Pit, Phoenix), songs featured on Gossip Girl ("U.R.A. Fever" brilliantly characterized Serena in "All About My Brother"), Top 40 Female Solo Artists, alternative bands who use string instruments (see also: The Airborne Toxic Event), and Female Solo Artists Who Play the Piano (see also: Adele, Imogen Heap).

Of this year's entries, I have the most to say about Lady Gaga. If you've seen the "LoveGame," video you probably thought (as I did) "How original, another Madonna impersonator dressing like a cop and making out with a woman." We've seen that desperate sort of self-objectification before; it's tired. If you've seen the "Bad Romance," video, however, you probably thought (as I did) "Holy shit!" That video is a beautiful, distorted Dr. Suess story boiling over with Dark Phoenix rage. For those four minutes alone, I am glad I gave Lady Gaga a second chance.

Dec 19, 2009

The Mean Seasons.

Colin the Pig: It's time, Rose Red. The crisis is here. Now is the moment. They need you to step in and avert a tragedy.

Rose Red: And I need you to please for once shut the hell up!

Fine in 09: TV

Instead of listing my five favorite TV shows, I've listed my five favorite TV characters of the past year. Working with individual characters expands the playing field, and makes things much more interesting/fun.

April (In Treatment): It will be a shame when Alison Pill doesn't win an Emmy for her work on this show. The structure of In Treatment (each episode covers one half-hour therapy session) demands the actors do little besides talk to each other. The writers also presented Pill with a defensive, stubborn character, unwilling to tell Paul (and the audience) directly the troubling details of her life (much less her cancer diagnosis). By season's end, April stopped therapy in order to focus on her physical health (to Paul's disappointment) but her renewed will to live was a triumph worth celebrating.

Cameron (Modern Family): The funniest character of the 09-10 season, Cameron's quiet confidence allows him to hilariously comment on the insanity of his boyfriend's family ("There's a fish that carries its babies around in its mouth. That fish would take one look at Mitchel's relationship with his mother and say, 'that's messed up.'"). He loves football, clowning, Diana Ross, and debuted his adopted daughter to "The Circle of Life," but he'll also kick your ass for messing with his loved ones.

Dr. Claire Saunders (Dollhouse): Amy Acker has only appeared once during Dollhouse's second season, but she left a lasting impression. Her character (a disfigured Doll programmed to serve as the in-house physician) raised fascinating moral ambiguities regarding the Dollhouse's work. Does a programmed persona deserve the chance to live once that personality inhabits a real person? Clarie's ongoing search for self (are any of her thoughts/feelings authentic, or just part of a computer program?) made her the most compelling character on the show.

Don Draper (Mad Men): Yes, he's an asshole, a horrible husband, a cheat, has a temper, regularly ignores his children, and tends to bail on people when the going gets tough. The show works because sometimes you don't want to root for Don. When he dismisses Sal with the homophobic "you people," or yells at Peggy to relieve his own stress, we'd really like to punch him in the face. The writers aren't afraid to show us Don's dark side, making his victories (the moments he connects with his kids or recognizes his co-workers' talents, his brilliant plotting in the finale) all the more memorable. Plus, the man exhales charisma.

Rachel Barry (Glee): She's annoying, overly ambitious, self-centered, and occasionally lacks basic social graces, but don't ever forget that Rachel Barry cares. She cares about her team, even if that team includes people like Quinn (and Kurt), who spend their time making her miserable. She cares about rising above and performing to the best of her ability. Rachel isn't afraid to stand on stage and sing like the world is ending. She might "want everything too much," but that doesn't stop her from pursuing her goals with a relentless (occasionally manic) vigor.

Honorable Mentions: Peggy Olsen (Mad Men), Kurt Hummel and Quinn Fabray (Glee), and Adelle Dewitt (Dollhouse).

Dec 16, 2009

Life is a Beach: Laguna Beach, S1, Ep. 2 "The Bonfire"

If you haven't already, head to MTV and watch "The Bonfire," the second episode of Laguna Beach. When you're done, come back and comment on the full recap, featured below!

Fine in 09: Books

Below, you'll find my five favorite books of 2009 ("of 2009" meaning I read them this year; most of my recent reads were published previously). Choosing just five was painful, but I'm pleased with the final outcome.

The Corrections
(Jonanthan Franzen): "The strength of The Corrections is Franzen's ability to completely actualize all five of his chief protagonists, and weave their narratives together into a seamless tapestry . . . All five of the Lamberts are selfish, annoying assholes who make horrible decisions at the expense of their family members, yet you can't help but love them . . . It's just a really impressive thing to watch an author juggle so many people and so many plots and make it look effortless."

Lit (Mary Karr): " . . . Karr has delivered a story so brave and honest you want to call her up and thank her for it . . . This is the story of one woman's struggle to let go of her self-hatred and become a person capable of love. That she enters the narrative plagued by inner demons proves an understatement, that she emerges from it a whole person suggests a miracle."

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro): "Reading this book is like taking your heart out of your chest, caressing it lovingly for a few hours, and then unceremoniously smashing it to pieces. On the surface, it's such a quiet, delicate thing . . . [Kathy] diverts our attention away from pressing existential matters toward smaller moments of emotional intimacy. It's only after you've finished the novel that you realize those moments pack a more forceful punch than any discussion of clones and organ donations."

The Tenderness of Wolves (Stef Penney): "Stef Penney strikes the perfect balance between intricately complex plotting and strong character work. The entire cast exists in three dimensions . . . Mrs. Ross, in particular, is a triumph. The plot (which begins as a murder mystery) grabs your attention, but the characters are the real reason for sticking around."

Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri): Easily my favorite book of 2009. Lahiri describes with an uncanny ease the indescribable intricacies of everyday life. The way you feel about your parents, your lovers, your siblings - she captures those feelings with a precision that escapes the best of us. Reading this book was "like sitting quietly on a cloud" (on Christmas morning) (while wearing your favorite pair of flannel pajamas and sipping a cup of hot chocolate). I'm lucky to have read it.

Honorable Mentions: Less Than Zero (Brett Easton Ellis) and Call Me by Your Name (Andre Aciman).

Song for you.



Because Rachel Barry rules.

Dec 14, 2009

TV time.

Dollhouse "A Love Supreme": Can Alan Tudyk guest star every week? He's made Alpha into the Dollhouse version of the Joker - chaotic, unreliable, and menacing, yet also fun, dashing, and poignant. He brings an immediate sense of danger to any story. He also makes a good foil for Echo; while Alpha succumbs to his multiple personalities, Echo fights to control hers, thus maintaining a sense of autonomy. I like the idea that Echo (originally intended as a blank, Active persona) has developed into a functioning person (even if she's merely a composite of all the people she's been), and that it was Alpha who ignited her "awakening." It explains why Echo is more "special" than the other Dolls - they didn't experience a composite event, so they haven't been triggered. When Echo tells Adelle "I'm like [Alpha]" we understand her unique role in the series' mythology, and thus why we're supposed to care about her.

Glee: I loved "Sectionals" upon initial viewing, but the further I stray, the more cracks I see in the pavement. The Will/Emma final moment didn't work for me. Will hasn't done anything to deserve Emma's affection; he's still kind of a douche, and incredibly patronizing toward everyone around him (the kids, Terri etc.). It might have something to do with Matthew Morrison's acting choices, but I regularly want to punch him in the face. That explains why my Sue affection has only grown. The more she demoralizes him, the happier I am (her comment about his lesbian hair = priceless). I want her to metaphorically beat Will to a pulp, I just don't want it to happen at the kids' expense. Nothing beats Rachel performing "Don't Rain On My Parade." It's the perfect song for her because it will always rain on Rachel's parade. She admittedly wants "everything too much." People who want that badly, who try that hard, get penalized for their passion - it hurts harder when they fall, and the Glee kids are no exception. As Will says, "sometimes being special sucks," and that's a lot more compelling than two adults in their early-thirties acting out their latent Dawson Leery/Joey Potter fantasies.

To Emily Blunt.

Thanks for being the best thing about Sunshine Cleaning (a movie I wanted to like a lot more than I did). I believed in Norah more than I anyone else; you managed to make a complete person out of a character sketch. I wish they had given you a better ending (road trip of self-discovery = lame). Was Norah a lesbian? I get that no one wanted to SPELL IT OUT, but you can't let a girl eat sexy candy off your neck and then not talk about it. You did good work, but you deserve better material.

Beccamendations.

My apologies for disappearing last week. I didn't plan a hiatus, but life demanded one nonetheless. I hope you all had a pleasant weekend.

During my absence, I discovered Beccamendations a blog written by my friend Becca Marsh. I met Becca at Columbia, where her impeccable grammar helped to redeem my early attempts at copy-writing. She also loves Jacob Clifton, so you know she has good taste. Her Glee recaps (Gleecaps!) are a pure delight in which she defends Terri Shuester's life choices and Finn Hudson's dancing ability with equal vigor (go read them, I'll wait). I particularly enjoyed her analysis of the Shuester marriage:

"He's not the man he thought he would be, and that's why he's here. He never left town, never became a star, never had an audience worth bragging about. He never got that special thing that everyone coveted – unless you count Terri. She's still the head cheerleader in his mind, beautiful, pristine, forever young. She's the high school triumph he managed to hold on to, but a trophy by any other name is still a trophy . . . This marriage works because he doesn't feel good about himself."

Dec 5, 2009

Life is a Beach: Laguna Beach, S1, Ep. 1 "A Black & White Affair"

If you haven't already, get yourself to MTV and watch "A Black & White Affair," the first episode of Laguna Beach. When you're done, come back and comment on the full recap, featured below!

Dec 4, 2009

TV time.

The City: Is anything more awesome than a fleet of synchronized town cars dispensing brightly-clad, bossy fashion ladies like a platoon of real-life Miranda Priestlys? I also loved Erin's refusal to leave Olivia and Joe Zee alone on-camera; she was busting into their scenes like a tornado ravaging a small mid-western town. A good episode, but not a great finale. It lacked any sense of closure, and the cliffhangers didn't work (we already know Whitney debuted a collection at fashion week, and who cares if Olivia leaves Elle?). Kelly Cutrone line of the night: "You really want to stand there like Lucy and Ethel in some kind of bad Stephen King film?" I don't even know what that means. Also: does Roxie own a shirt that covers her bra? She must have the most revealing professional wardrobe in existence.

Glee: I'm relieved to have the pregnancy conspiracy revealed, but Will and Terri's confrontation demanded a complete shift in style and tone. A well-played scene, but I like to feel happy at the end of a Glee episode, not depressed. That's probably an immature response ("it's different, so I don't like it"), but it's hard to feel good about an episode that also revealed the depths of Rachel's insecurity and mania. That girl lives on the edge of completely batshit crazy, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I did love Quinn blackmailing Sue, and Sue's reluctant admiration of it.

The Hills: Kristin and Justin's "first appearence" at the reunion special was a joke. Kristin couldn't have looked more uncomfortable; she refused to look at Justin, or answer any questions about their "relationship." Dear producers: Kristin Cavallari rocks. Stop feeding her premeditated storylines, and let her do her thing. Her "thing" includes being massively appealing and a natural source of entertainment. The reunion proved an utter waste of time (besides Holly admitting that she still likes to get wasted). If Heidi and Spencer aren't going to show up, at least don't make every other castmember talk about whether or not they'd make good parents.

Song for you.



Also: the latest piece of Lady Gaga perfection.

Yay!

Yesterday, the New York Times named Mary Karr's Lit one of the 10 Best Books of 2009! Seeing as I work for her publisher, and recently finished the book, this was an especially exciting announcement.

While perusing the reviews for this year's list, I also stumbled upon Jonathan Lethem's piece on Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs. I haven't read much of either author, but this quote perfectly expresses my own frustration with most September 11 fiction:

"The book is also set in the autumn of 2001, a fact Moore has the patience to barely deploy for 200 pages, and then only with a deft sleight of hand that will make readers reflect on the ways so many other treatments of this (unfinished) passage in American life have resembled heart surgery performed with a croquet mallet."

Well said, Mr. Lethem.

Dec 1, 2009

It's a long December.

(We'll get to these crazy kids in a minute)

Hi! Welcome to December at (Title Pending). It's been a while since I've done a status report, and I have some exciting plans in the works for this lovely, little space, so today I'm taking a break from regularly scheduled programming to address some of the changes you'll soon encounter.

In the sidebar, you'll discover my December playlist. Every month, I'll post a new playlist, composed of fourteen songs arranged in a specific order I find pleasing. This month, I journey back a year to bring you the sweet sounds of Leona Lewis, and the early efforts of Lady Gaga. These fourteen songs represent my favorite downloads of 2008; highlights include "Sometime Around Midnight" and "Time to Pretend."

Over Thanksgiving, Colleen asked me what was up with the posts comprised of quotes from comics/books ("Are they about your feelings or something?"). The quote posts do not have anything to do with my feelings, they're simply quotes I like from things I've read. I find that format works well with comics, since I can include a juxtaposing image. The X-Men posts have been an homage to Grant Morrison's New X-Men, while the Fables posts feature a highlight from the most recent issue.

Join the party: if you're a regular reader (thanks!), leave a comment. I'd like to get a sense of the readership: who are you, what features do you like/dislike? Are there shows I should be watching, books I should be reading? I'm totally down for constructive criticism.

NEW FEATURE: You guys, I'm so excited about this. The City and The Hills wrap tonight, and Glee goes on hiatus in a few weeks, meaning my TV roster is about to drop down to Modern Family and the remainder of Dollhouse. Instead of scouring my cable box for shiny, new offerings, however, I've found something better. Effective this Saturday, join me for a new, weekly feature: Life Is a Beach. That's right, I'm going to recap Laguna Beach Season One. I can't wait! Just look at Lo's hair in the above photograph. I can't think of a better way to brighten a New York winter.

Whether you're a new reader, or an old reader, get ready for more books, movies, comics, music, and MTV It Girls at (Title Pending). I had a blast writing the first 70 posts, here's to the next 70 (or 700). I hope you'll join me.

Nov 27, 2009

Into the Wardrobe.

"A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air. Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well. She looked back over her shoulder and there, between the dark tree-trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe . . . 'I can always get back if anything goes wrong,' thought Lucy."

See you all in December.

TV time.

The City: Is next week really the season finale? Tuesday's episode dropped any lingering personal life plots to focus solely on the girls at work. Instead of more boy drama, we get Whitney arranging a photo shoot for her fashion line, and Erin relying (once again) on Olivia for help with the Today Show. I don't buy Kelly Cutrone's mistrust of Roxie, it's a fairly obvious play for drama the show doesn't need. Whitney and Roxie make fine TV having friendly cake fights. Erin and Olivia's storyline, on the other hand, has started to drag. Erin doesn't like Olivia because Olivia gets to associate herself with Elle without having to actually work there, unlike Erin who busts her ass and knows what she's doing. Olivia is clearly not an Assistant Accessories Editor, she's a socialite getting to play one on TV, and that's the real source of Erin's hostility toward her.

Glee: Hooray for Tina finally getting showcased! She did well with "True Colors." I quite liked that performance, with the cast sitting on stools wearing bright, solid colored t-shirts like a Gap ad from 1994. I also liked "Imagine" (though it was kind of rude for our kids to interrupt the other school's performance). The myriad pregnancy stories needed to conclude yesterday. Dianna Agron as Quinn has continuously impressed me, but at this point, I'd just like everyone to know that Puck is her baby's father, and that Terri isn't pregnant. I'm also not a fan of Kurt turning into a scheming asshole, what with him embarrassing Rachel in order to get Finn's attention. The plotting didn't do it for me this week, thankfully the music did.

The Hills: Probably the worst episode in the history of this show. It's like no one involved can be bothered to care about the relative credibility anymore. Kristin looks horribly bored, as though she just realized she signed her public image over to a team of producers who are desperate for ratings, and capable of paying her rent as long as she and Stacie make out. I mean, when Audrina (of all people!) is bailing on your reality show because it doesn't "depict her real life," you know you've got problems. Instead of inserting Kristin into this world, and then stepping back and letting her develop relationships and rivalries on her own, the producers have story-boarded her entire "character" arc. If she had any sense, the above photo would feature her calling her agent, asking him/her to get her the hell out of there.

Obsessed.



If Jakob Karr doesn't win this season of So You Think You Can Dance, I am going to pissed (further evidence: this).

Lit

I came to Lit having never heard of Mary Karr before I started working at her publishing house. I picked up this book because I heard her name around the office, not because of a desire to read her flavor of memoir. To be honest, as I started to follow Karr on her journey toward sobriety, I wondered if there wasn't something a little self-indulgent about the form, something a little gross about tossing you and your family's innards out into the world for everyone to see. Sure, Karr delivers an entertaining story, meticulously crafted, and in one of the most original voices I've ever read (my one nitpick: her tendency to end sentences with a preposition), but I still felt like a stranger had just approached me on the street wearing underwear over their pants. It felt inappropriate.

(Remember how I said I was a big fan of people getting over themselves? Remind me of that the next time I write off an entire literary genre, particularly one that's given us everything from St. Augustine's Confessions to Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, as "inappropriate.")

By the time I finished the book, I was, of course, eating my words, since Karr has delivered a story so brave and honest you want to call her up and thank her for it (instead, I hugged my mom). This is the story of one woman's struggle to let go of her self-hatred and become a person capable of love. That she enters the narrative plagued by inner demons proves an understatement, that she emerges from it a whole person suggests a miracle. Her story triggered in me a reaction I can only describe as religious.

That Karr dares to write about religion reveals her courage. How many literary writers in contemporary America would write about their conversion to Catholicism? It's easy to view anyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ as a cartoon character willing to vote for Sarah Palin. That kind of thinking is easy, but also lazy. If Lit does anything, it teaches us that thinking, progressive individuals can find hope, comfort, and love in the arms of the Church. Over and over, Karr recounts her wariness of religion, and her refusal to bend a knee in prayer. She's as skeptical and agnostic as anyone, until a suicide attempt leads her elsewhere. That "elsewhere" ends up being a quiet space filled with peace and acceptance, a sacred place where the adversarial voices are wiped away. Reading Lit brought me to a not dissimilar place, and for that, I am grateful.

The Life and Times of Clark Kent.

"There's so little time left now. So many things I still haven't done. I need this day. The time-traveler Samson told me I'd complete 12 legendary super challenges before my death. And by my reckoning I've only accomplished five. Time to get serious."

I hope you all had a super Thanksgiving.

Nov 26, 2009

Blurgh, argh!

Remember how I said I was done with Dollhouse? I lied. As soon as I canceled my season pass, Joss Whedon and Co. had to write an episode that a) featured very little Echo (and no Ballard) and b) made excellent use of the supporting cast, particularly Sierra, Victor, and Topher. I've said it before: this show only interests me when the story focuses on the moral ambiguities of the Dollhouse's existence. When the writers drop the Missions of the Week and start asking the hard questions, the viewers always win.

"Belonging" asks what happens when one of the Dolls never made the conscious decision to enter the Dollhouse. As speculated, Sierra never chose to become an Active, but was instead enslaved by a high paying client, who manipulated the staff into believing they were doing her a service. The show also becomes more believable whenever the writers acknowledge the Dollhouse's dark underbelly. That's what they did here, and the result is the best episode since "Epitaph One." It helps that Dichen Lachman works wonders as Sierra. She somehow makes her default Active persona ten times more intriguing and sympathetic than Eliza Dushku.

Franz Kranz (Topher) also hit a home run, as Topher begins to question the morality of his occupation (programming the Actives with their various personalities). His actions in this episode indicate he may possess some moral compass, even though Adelle tells him he views the Dolls as "toys." Since we know the knowledge of what he's done will eventually drive him insane, his growing moral awareness makes him a tragic figure, as opposed to a grossly unaware one. Against my better judgement, I think I'm in this for the long haul (it actually won't be that long, since the series is ending in December). Even if we only get one or two more episodes as good as "Belonging," the journey will have been worth it.

Song for you.



I used to knock Lady Gaga for being a typical attention whore. She initially came across like a desperately insecure college freshmen, the kind of girl that glued feathers to her eyes and had threesomes in order to prove how much she didn't care (that girl really just wanted to wear jeans and bang a lacrosse player). These days, however, she has taken her particular brand of "out there" to a whole new level, and I am loving it. Instead of "look how different I am/please like me!" she's saying "I feel kind of weird and wild all the time/it's totally okay if you feel that way too."

Nov 21, 2009

TV time.

The City: While The Hills has started to feel dated and forced, the adventures of Whitney, Roxie and company feel fresh and authentic. It helps that Whitney and Roxie are actually friends, and that Whitney really is trying to start a fashion line. The major fault of this show's Los Angeles counterpart was the producers' decision not to acknowledge the cast's celebrity status on camera. Here, Whitney doesn't have to pretend she works at People's Revolution, since Kelly really is helping her launch a career as a designer. Furthermore, Whitney has improved leaps and bounds in her role as the series' star. Her obvious disdain for her pretentious blind date, and the look on her face when Zach (Roxie's date) showed up to the bar with six other girls, were priceless, and the kind of moments she hasn't allowed herself before now. She's finally started to let her personality show, and that has made all the difference.

Glee: "Ballad" was easily my least favorite episode to date. On the plus side, I loved Brittany's throwaway moment of hilarity ("I bet the duck is in the hat"), and Matthew Morrison is probably the only cast member who can match Lea Michele vocally (leading to their beautiful rendition of "Endless Love"). My major concern with "Ballad" was the horrendous characterization of nearly every female character. I found Will's performance of "Young Girl/Don't Stand So Close To Me" utterly insulting, as if his magic singing penis could actually reduce both Rachel and Emma to complete doe-eyed idiocy. His "all these girls are so fragile and crazy" comments didn't help either; they just made him look like a douche. The constant use of the word "crazy" to describe any woman with either strong emotions, or a mind of her own, was gross. For a show that's usually forward-thinking, this was a major step back. Welcome to 2009, Glee writers, you can no longer shrug off a woman's point of view as hormonal hysterics.

The Hills
: Is Kristin thinner now than during her Laguna Beach days? I can't get over how long her neck looks. Anyway, popular culture continues to dismantle the feminist movement piece by piece, as Heidi plots to stop taking her birth control in order to "surprise" Spencer with a baby. Her seduction methods include cooking him pasta and dressing like a hooker. This storyline is so obviously fake it's a joke. You can practically see Heidi reading off the cue cards as she teases Spencer with promises of "dessert." On top of that mess, Kristin and Jayde proceed to spend the episode flouncing around L.A. calling the other "crazy" to whoever will listen (or is getting paid to pretend like they care). Though Canadian Jayde telling Kristin to "go back where [she] came from" (um, Malibu?) was an unintentional highlight.

Modern Family: I didn't laugh out loud this week, what the hell? This might be another show I stop writing about, since I never have much to say about it besides "it's good." It's hard to write about a comedy without simply listing the things I found funny; there's not as much to analyze besides whether or not the jokes worked. In that vein, my favorite part of the episode was Alex convincing Luke that Jay was terminally ill. That girl loves to fuck around with her siblings, with consistently hilarious results.

Nov 16, 2009

Season of the Witch.

Ozma: She left without warning. No hint of her intentions, no word on how long she might be away . . . what Frou Totenkinder has done constitutes abandonment of her post, in a time of extreme danger . . . the Dark One has made it clear . . . that he is our enemy, and desires our destruction.

Then We Came to the End

It probably didn't help that I started reading this book at the same time I got assigned to my first cubicle. Anyone who has ever worked in an office will recognize members of the cast: the gossip nobody likes (Karen), the storyteller everybody likes (Benny), the second-in-command everybody hates (Joe), the unappreciated hidden talent (Jim), the not-so-secret illicit lovers (Amber and Larry), the aloof boss (Lynn) etc. Ferris' characters get coffee, talk shit, slack off, go to lunch, make photocopies, and generally live generic, uneventful lives. In hindsight, I can understand Ferris' reasons for writing the first third of the book the way he did, but initially, the act of reading Then We Came to the End made me feel like a character in Then We Came to the End, as though I also led a directionless life lacking in substance and excitement.

Everything changed when I reached the Lynn Mason interlude. For the first time, Ferris takes you inside the mind of his most isolated character. The rest of the cast lives in awe/fear of her; the rumor of her cancer spreads from scene to scene. Unlike the rest of the cast, however, we come to know Lynn. She hates hospitals, and has an on/off relationship with a lawyer named Martin. She lives alone and likes The Simpsons. The night before she was scheduled to have a mastectomy, she went to the mall and tried on underwear. She drank wine. She drove to Martin's office, but didn't go inside. She lived a full, devastatingly real life.

With that realization, the book's opening makes perfect sense. All of Ferris' characters live devastatingly real lives to which their coworkers seldom have access. With Lynn's interlude, Ferris raises the stakes. I wanted to shake Joe for even considering not asking Lynn about her illness. Suddenly, I cared. And then, right when I became invested, right when I knew every one's first names, Tom Mota showed up dressed in a clown costume. As soon as you start to take Ferris seriously, he reminds you not to take him too seriously. He reminds you to have fun, and you do. When I reached The End, I'd ridden an emotional roller coaster. It ended up being one hell of a ride.

Nov 11, 2009

I love these people so much.

Tonight's installment was maybe the best Glee yet (its only competition would be the Kristin Chenoweth episode, which isn't a fair fight, since that one had . . . Kristin Chenoweth). From the moment Brittany explained that recipes confused her (I am loving poor, stupid Brittany. Between the recipe comment, raising her left instead of her right hand, and her genuine friendship with Becky, she stole the show), I knew I was in for a treat. "Wheels" had humor, pathos, deft characterization, great music, and best of all, no Terri Schuester or Ken/Emma weirdness.

Highlights included: Kurt and his dad, Kurt singing "Defying Gravity," and Kurt in general. I'm so appreciative of the writing staff's delicate handling of this character. It's not very often a prime time show portrays gay teens as anything other than an After School Special or Jack McFarland. I'm really glad Kurt's dad stuck around after the "Single Ladies" episode; their complicated, respectful, loving relationship is easily turning into one of the series' emotional centerpieces.

I also found Sue's story a fair presentation of the issues it raised. I worried the writers were going to make her a bigger monster, but thankfully, they didn't. She actually raised some relevant points. When does acknowledging a student's difference stop being accommodating and start being patronizing? I thought Will could have toned down the "this is so hard for Artie" comments. Artie was eventually able to voice his own concerns, and the other students were willing to listen; we didn't need Will slow clapping every time Artie opened his mouth.

Finally, I'm loving the Love Square (Rachel, Finn, Quinn, and Puck). They all have moments of unpleasantness, but at the end of the day, each of them cares about the other three. Quinn and Puck's food fight was adorable; the actors have great chemistry. As for Rachel, she's my favorite character (I'm just as surprised as you). The girl tries her hardest, every time, and puts the team first when needed. Lea Michele's (phenomenal) voice helps too. Just a great episode all around, regardless of "Defying Gravity" (which made me cry as soon as Kurt started getting nervous about the high note). Good show, Glee, good show.

Song(s) for you.



Now, for something a little different:

Leighton Meester sings as well as she acts. Her version of "Bette Davis Eyes" is a delight, but sadly I can't find it on YouTube.

Cheryl Cole is a judge on The X-Factor, England's American Idol. "Fight For This Love" is her solo debut; give it a chance, it gets better as it goes.

Lady Gaga's video for "Bad Romance" is totally, beautifully insane.

Nov 9, 2009

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce!

My seven favorite characters from the Mad Men finale:

Roger Sterling: Roger is an asshole, but he's also suave, capable, and the most well-connected man on the show. I knew he wouldn't throw Bert and Don to the wolves, but I was glad he made them work for his participation.

Lane Pryce: "Happy Christmas!" indeed. I'm glad Lane didn't end up as Don's Money Minded Season Three Rival (see also: Duck Phillips, Season Two), but an eventual co-conspirator and partner in Don, Roger, and Bert's new agency. He's the newest addition to the cast, and the character we know the least; I'm interested to see where the writers take him.

Joan Harris: I yelled out loud when she walked into the office (my roommates' response "Are you all right?"). Glad to see the best entrance of the night go to the most deserving character. None of the higher-ups would be anywhere without Joan's savvy and absolute competence.

Sally Draper: The Draper divorce was definitely not one of the most awesome things in this episode, but Sally calling out both her parents on their bullshit was excellent. Her line to Don ("You say things and you don't mean them") was right on target, as was her realization that Betty had a lot more to do with the separation than she was willing to admit.

Trudy Campbell: "There's every kind of sandwich in there. And a cake!" Who knew Trudy would be my favorite spouse of the season? She can totally come for cocktails with me and Joan.

Don Draper and Peggy Olsen: I love them both so much. They really are the only characters that understand each other, and Don's admittance that he desperately needs Peggy around was a wonderful touch (and well over-due after all the shit he's given her). His speech about being a person whose life unexpectedly, fundamentally changed was a shot to the heart. I could watch Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss have quiet conversation scenes all day. So good to see the best/most interesting relationship on the show get the attention it merits.

Let's hope the new status quo launches the series into the 60's proper with continued badass shenanigans from our favorite advertising executives. My Season Four wish list also includes: Sal. See you next summer, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; I miss you too much already.

Nov 4, 2009

The Prime of Mr. Erik Lehnsherr.

Magneto: I'll show you a world where there is no strife . . . where no one has to hide in the shadows, quaking at the sound of jets overhead. And you'll turn to me and finally you'll say . . . 'It's really so much nicer without them, isn't it, Erik?'

Ernst: Nobody likes what you're doing, Magneto. It's boring and old-fashioned. Martha says it's all coming to an end and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Magneto: To stand the Earth on its head is hardly the work of an afternoon!

Ernst: Well, Martha says you waited too long. You should have stayed as Mister Xorn - now you're going to die.

Nov 3, 2009

I miss this.

Today is one of those perfect fall days that make my heart ache with memory. It's not too hot, it's not too cold. As a rower, you don't expect this weather in November. In November, you expect snow. Some days though, it's nice. You wear shorts, maybe a long-sleeve t-shirt. The sun feels good on your face. The air is still, quiet. The water barely moves. The coxswain doesn't yell too loud; the fall season is over. Days like today are gravy, dessert; they're another day you don't climb onto an erg and prepare to die. Days like today are nice.

Today, I wish I was back at Holy Cross, putting the boat in the water on Lake Quinsig. Bratton would be talking about farts or facial hair, making us laugh. Adam would be wearing sunglasses, even when the dark comes early, changing his clothes over and over between every piece, leading by example. Erick might crack a smile, briefly, before setting his mind to the task at hand, reminding us of our purpose. We would probably be waiting for Jimmy, speeding down 290 on his way from ROTC, stretching himself thin to stay a part of our little family.

Today would be one of those days I look around and feel love for my teammates, my brothers, for the boat, and the water, the feeling of the eight us pushing and pulling together, as one. Today, we would take the rating from an 18 to a 36 and stomp the shit out of our competition. We would get off the water flushed and tired and at peace. Today, we would be reminded of why we fight, why we log the long hours, why we sacrifice so much for each other. Today would be a good day.

Oct 30, 2009

Homework.

I'm heading home tonight. After two months in New York, I can't wait to smell the ocean, eat Mom's cooking, and sleep all day. I need a restful/sober weekend, you guys. October was fun, but damn, I'm tired. I wish you all a Halloween complete with sugar-highs, ridiculous costumes, and whatever form of general debauchery your heart desires. Stay safe, and have fun; I'll be back on Monday. In the meantime, check out the following if you find yourself with too much free time this weekend:

Jacob Clifton's latest Gossip Girl recap. In which he addresses the girl power/gay power Serena stuff I always talk about, except he's a genius and quotes classic literature. Give the guy a few pages, and you'll be hooked. He's the most underrated writer in America.

The Tomato Nation 2009 Contest is coming to a close this weekend. It's not too late to donate money towards a variety of educational initiatives via DonorsChoose. A really amazing effort from Sarah Bunting and her readers. Even if you can't afford to donate, dig through her archives, her tough love advice column is informative and hilarious.

Interested in British pop music and/or comic books? If Destroyed, Still True is a smart pop culture blog from across the pond. Paul O'Brien inspired my own X-Men fandom.

Lastly, What's Alan Watching? is a couch potato's dream. Sepinwall provides in-depth analysis of any show worth talking about; his Mad Men posts are fantastic. Get caught up for Sunday's episode in between costume donning and candy scarfing. I'll be playing my parents' new Wii (in my pajamas) (at 4 pm) (yay!).

Oct 29, 2009

Song for you.



This one goes out to Lis. Happy almost weekend everybody.

TV time.

I'm a few weeks behind on Mad Men. I keep hearing that it's gotten totally awesome/insane, so I probably won't comment on it until I'm caught up. No new Glee this week either.

The City: Only five episodes into the new season, and I might love this show more than The Hills. Someone at MTV must have taught Whitney how to be the new Lauren because she is flashing endearing charm all over the place. It's moments like her and Roxie doing the "Single Ladies" dance while getting ready for the night (remember how like, fifty percent of Laguna Beach was the girls talking in front of the mirror?) that make this work. Erin's continued competence at her job, Roxie's wild child/best friend persona, and the genius of Kelly Cutrone are icing on the cake. I'd also love to figure out what Olivia did to the people at MTV because they must hate her. The girl cannot catch a break, no matter how many times they shoot her looking pretty while walking down the hall at Elle.

The Hills: Does Drunk Holly remind anyone else of themselves/most of their friends circa Saturday night? According to Heidi and Spencer, most of the people I know would have drinking problems. Now, maybe Holly really does hit the bottle too hard, but they need to show her doing something besides dancing if they're going to convince me she needs rehab. And Stephanie "rehab changed my life" Pratt might want to eat those words in light of her new DUI. My problem with this show is that the three primary leads (Kristin, Audrina, and Heidi) never interact. If the show is going to ditch the girls' work lives in favor of bitch fights and boy drama, you would think they'd find three stars who could actually stand to share a room.

Modern Family: A pretty sloppy episode with the occasional hilarious highlights. It's the little things like Jay changing costumes between scenes for no apparent reason that brought this one down. And Clare's closing monologue was way too sugar-coated. As usual, I loved everything Mitchell/Cam. Mitchell bumping Lily's head (in her Diana Ross wig) was hysterical.

Oct 28, 2009

I Am Jean Grey.

Jean Grey: Scott . . . I had to watch it all changing . . . had to let him go because of what love says . . . the Phoenix burns and disinfects and dies to return . . . I feel so scared and weird, Logan . . . don't leave me.

Phoenix: Live Scott, live. All I ever did was die on you.

My so-called life.

I recently alluded to changes in my status quo; allow me to explain. For two weeks, I interned at a boutique literary agency. There, I read all kinds of things, mostly manuscripts and query letters. Piece of advice: if you're going to query your New Literary Novel, spell the agent's name right. Last week, I got a full-time job working as the assistant here. Today's my third day. My responsibilities include writing for their blog; you can now read more from me here. I'm liking it a great deal so far.

In other news, if you live in Maine, do the country a favor and vote to legalize gay marriage. My home parish apparently took an extra collection last week to raise money in opposition. Nothing says "God is love" like asking your parishoners, mid-service, to donate money in support of state enforced discrimination. Let's give Catholicism a hand! Seriously, I could write another 10,000 words about this, but I won't. It's common sense. Gay marriage isn't anybody's business except for the couple in the relationship. No one is trying to gay-marry the Pope.

Oct 27, 2009

Defying gravity.

A few days ago, I exclaimed via Twitter my excitement that Rachel and Kurt are singing "Defying Gravity" on the next episode of Glee. It's probably obvious that I'd be excited about my favorite song (inspired by my favorite book) being sung on one of my favorite TV shows. That's a lot of favorite crammed into 3-5 minutes. It's something to dork out about, but it's also something to consider seriously in light of the times in which we live.

"Defying Gravity" is one of those songs that excites a bodily reaction. Your heart starts pumping, you get chills, you cry. The first time I heard it, I got an adrenaline rush like I would get at the starting line of a 2k crew race. It's a fucking powerful song. It's the story of a woman coming into her own, specifically, the moment Elphaba Thropp realizes she's a total fucking bad ass, that the Wizard of Oz is full of shit, and that she can doing something about it. It's about a little green girl deciding she's not afraid anymore, that the room she's lived in all her life is a room of her own making, and that all she has to do is step outside. It's about realizing you're beautiful, powerful, perfect.

You could also say it's a story about Emma Frost relinquishing her diamond form, stepping out into the world, and burning like the Phoenix we all are. There's a reason I quote Wicked and Jacob Clifton's Gossip Girl recaps and Grant Morrison's New X-Men all the time. If I had my way, every teenage girl and gay boy would read them. America loves telling teenage girls and gay boys that they belong in dark rooms, that their sexuality is something dangerous and scary. Girls get pregnant, queers get AIDS, and anyone who thinks otherwise is deranged. Kids everywhere internalize that shit. They bottle it up, and learn to fear their own bodies. They stay little green girls in dark rooms, when really they are a Phoenix.

Things are changing, though. Just last week Puck asked Rachel if she wanted to make out and she shrugged and said "okay." Things are changing, one "Never gonna bring me down," at a time. That said, make sure to tune in to the next episode of Glee because one teenage girl and one teenage gay boy are going to tell us a story. It's a story we've already heard, but I think it bears repeating. Those kids need us now more than ever. Let's burn.

Oct 26, 2009

Never Let Me Go

Reading this book is like taking your heart out of your chest, caressing it lovingly for a few hours, and then unceremoniously smashing it to pieces. On the surface, it's such a quiet, delicate thing; Kathy repeatedly brushes against the big questions of her strange existence, yet rarely directly engages them. When she, or the other characters, dare to speak plainly about Hailsham, we feel as unsettled and bewildered as she does. Time and again, she diverts our attention away from pressing existential matters toward smaller moments of emotional intimacy. It's only after you've finished the novel that you realize those moments pack a more forceful punch than any discussion of clones and organ donations.

This book most reminded me of Brave New World in the way it depicts an alternate timeline to which we can both relate and feel completely separate. We identify with Kathy's struggle to be a good friend to both Tommy and Ruth, yet we struggle to understand the characters' resigned acceptance of their fate. To us, Kathy appears detached or even uninterested in matters of extreme importance (what exactly being a donor means, the truth about Hailsham), but to her, it's just the way her life works. The difficult parts of her life have to do with her friends and sex and love relationships, just like everyone else.

I found Ishiguro's presentation of sex refreshing. When Kathy talks about the moments when she wants sex so badly she'd do it with anyone, we feel uncomfortable because we don't talk like that. Ruth teaches Kathy to feel ashamed of her urges, but in the end reveals she feels similarly. I wish this book was taught in high school, so teenagers would understand that everyone feels weird and wild about sex. It's just a part of growing up. That's what this book is really about, growing up, becoming a person, learning to love. The "possibles" and carers are just the setting for one of the most moving stories I've read in a long time. Ultimately, Ishiguro leaves you feeling like Kathy in that field, tears running down your face, wishing the people you care most about (in this case, our beloved narrator) would never let you go.

March of the Witch Hunters.

The Magic Mirror: You've managed to make an enemy of Bufkin, the monkey. Once he decided he needed to destroy you, you were basically doomed.

Baba Yaga: I've never heard of such a creature. What are his powers?

The Magic Mirror: He reads. He reads everything.

Oct 12, 2009

TV time.

Dollhouse and The Office are no longer Mandatory Viewing. Dollhouse showed so much promise with "Epitaph One," but now it's back to Echo's Mission of the Week. I don't find Echo interesting, so count me out until they start focusing on the larger mythology again and/or Amy Acker returns. As for The Office, it's still a great show, but my interest has waned. When I couldn't bring myself to watch Jim and Pam get married, I knew it was time to say goodbye. Unless the writers can find a new status quo, like they did with the Michael Scott Paper Company episodes, I probably won't be back to Dunder Mifflin for a while.

The City: Ditching the Hills style narration and focus on love relationships has done wonders for this show. Whitney is massively more appealing as a nice girl trying to make her way in the fashion industry than she was as Jay's doe-eyed girlfriend, plus Roxie and Erin = awesome. Is it just me, or does Olivia seem kind of downtrodden this season?

Glee: Too much Terri, but I loved everyone else, particularly Rachel. Her reaching out to Quinn ("the kids in glee won't judge you") was a great moment; Lea Michele has grown exponentially as an actress. I also loved her extra-hyper introduction to the girls' mash-up (" . . . and also ANGELS!") and morning routine. If Emma marries Ken, I'm going to be sad.

The Hills: Audrina doesn't like Kristen because Kristen has more charisma in her pinkie finger than Audrina does in her entire person, so Audrina is funneling her rage into all this "girl code" bullshit, since she can't acknowledge the cast's celebrity status on camera. Also, why is it that even with Lauren gone, Heidi and Spencer don't interact with anyone but themselves?

Mad Men: A fantastic episode, if only for the show's willingness to portray its characters acting horribly. Don must be on a mission to personally destroy every favorable member of the cast (though Peggy seems to have gotten over her tongue lashing a few weeks back). Poor Sal seems to be a recurring response this year; my stomach lurched when Don muttered "you people." I hope we see more of Carla soon, and mark me down as unenthusiastic about Don's new affair and Betty's character in general.

Modern Family: The funniest show on TV. Just watch it.

Oct 6, 2009

Song for you.



My love for Kristin Chenoweth knows no bounds.

How I Became a Famous Novelist

It takes a lot for me to laugh out loud at a book, but Steve Hely had me on page two with "Sometimes I'd wake up wearing my jeans. I wore jeans daily because jeans can double as a napkin."

That line describes narrator Pete Tarslaw perfectly. Pete is a lovable loser, the kind of jackass you like to have around because his antics are so damn entertaining. The plot involves Pete writing an admittedly hack best-selling novel, all the while waving his middle finger at a publishing industry he views as a pathetic joke. Of course, the joke is really on Pete, as he's forced to learn a few deserved life lessons, but not before Hely has some fun of his own examining the state of The Writer in contemporary America.

It's true that lots of former English majors consider the best-seller list to be generic crap. Commercial fiction is not always well-written, but people still like to read it. It's writers like Dan Brown who keep publishing houses alive and capable of supporting less popular, award-winner types. Hely understands this fact, and would very much like the literary elite to get over themselves. I liked this book because I'm a big fan of people getting over themselves, even if I'm prone to being a book snob myself.

My favorite part was Pete's visit to an MFA program in Montana. Hely's description of the creative writing classroom was perfect, down to the professor lauding "Ray Carver and Rick Yates." I read Short Cuts and Revolutionary Road because my (totally awesome) professor, Melissa Falcon, waxed poetic about their greatness (both books are kick ass, and got made into movies, I might add). How I Became a Famous Novelist may poke fun at those brave souls taking a stab at the writing life, but at the end of the day, Hely's obvious affection for these people and their efforts far outweighs his narrator's cynicism.

Nice work, MTV.

If my Ode to Kristin Cavallari didn't tip you off, I'm a big fan of the MTV It Girls. Now, The Hills has been consistently awesome since Heidi ditched Lauren for Spencer, but the first season of The City left me cold. Whitney Port is a nice enough girl, but she's also kind of quiet, and the show lacked a truly outrageous supporting cast to start the drama for her.

So, imagine my surprise when I caught the premiere of The City last week, and discovered a series revamped and ready to kick ass. Gone are all the boring models and rocker boyfriends, replaced by the combined awesomeness of Erin Kaplan and Roxy Olin. You guys, I am so excited about these two. First of all, Erin appears to have a real job that she's actually good at. This, I support; I could watch her boss around Olivia Palermo all day.

Even more awesome than Erin, however, is Roxy, who is clearly down to fuck with Whitney's life for our entertainment. Not only did she stomp into Kelly Cutrone's offices proclaiming she's not a "bitch," just a "straight shooter," but she also laughed at Whitney's bedazzled flower pot. The best part is that she's actually likeable, and it's clear she and Whitney get along. Whitney has always needed a best friend who encourages her to do things like throw loud parties; she showed more personality in her three scenes with Roxy than she ever did with Lauren. Against my previous misgivings, put me down for a season pass.

The Importance of Being Scott Summers.

Jean Grey: Scott, you're my favorite superhero.

Scott Summers: So anyway, this bad guy, En Sabah Nur, wound up worming his way into my thoughts . . . even when I threw him off I couldn't stop thinking all this awful stuff . . . I mean, people like Jean and the Professor just shrug this kind of thing off like it's some sort of occupational hazard . . . It's hard to talk to them.

Emma Frost: So all you're saying is that some mind monster put a lot of dirty thoughts in your head, and you're embarrassed in case your telepathic wife sees what you're really thinking about her? Oh Scott, how ordinary!

Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name took a while to win me over. The first hundred-or-so pages are torturous; Elio pines for Oliver yet doubts his feelings are reciprocated, while we wait for the the pair to admit their attraction to one another. Elio endlessly nourishing his crush gets tiresome and frustrating, but that's exactly how Elio feels.

You could argue that Aciman has taken Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" plot (forbidden gay romance followed by years of unrequited longing) and replaced her Wyoming cowboys with jet-setting Jewish intellectuals. Accusing Aciman of such heavy borrowing, however, proves lazy reading. Call Me by Your Name touches upon many of the same issues "Brokeback" addresses, but it does so in a more languid, less angst-ridden manner. Elio eventually gets over Oliver; both men go on to live successful lives, while keeping a place in their heart for the other. Elio's father even acknowledges and understands their affair. It's a softer presentation of homosexuality, a luxury the characters can afford due to their class and political leanings.

The best writing occurs after the men consummate their relationship. You expect to find Elio overjoyed, instead, he feels nothing but revulsion for what he's just done, abandoning Oliver for a date with a female friend. That kind of sexual confusion, and desperate need to plug back into heterosexual society, felt very real, and exemplifies the honest, complicated nature of Aciman's work. This was another pleasant surprise.

Sep 29, 2009

The "bitch" is back.

If you couldn't tell, I'm looking forward to the return of The Hills and Kristin Cavallari's Reign of Chaos. Lauren Conrad navigated her later seasons on the show with a degree of class and maturity lacking in her cast mates, but if you think about it, she spent her entire Hills tenure playing the Wronged Girl. People started rumors about her, yelled at her, dumped her, and dated her ex-boyfriends, and as such, she lived a dramatic life. If it weren't for the crimes committed against her, I don't know if any of us would find her all that interesting.

Kristin has been many things, but never a victim. You can tell she's having the time of her life messing with Audrina Partridge because at the end of the day, she could care less. She is playing a role just as much as Heidi and Spencer; her charm, however, lies in the way she does it. If Heidi and Spencer try their hardest to make their rehearsed breakfast conversations appear genuine (and fail miserably), then Kristin effortlessly engages in pool party drama, winking at us all the while. She knows we know that The Hills is as heavily produced as any scripted show, but she also knows that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it.

Now, I like Lauren Conrad, and I think she has her shit together. I enjoyed watching her grow up on national television. I mean, she gave us "He's a sucky person!" and "You know what you did!" I'm glad she found success, and I'm glad she said goodbye to a show she clearly tired of doing. I'm even more glad, however, to have Kristin Cavallari back in my life. If Lauren taught us how to deal with being Wronged, then Kristin is here to teach us how not to get Wronged in the first place.

Song for you.

Sep 28, 2009

TV time.

Thanks to the cable I got last week, I've been able to catch up on all my favorite shows. You can check the sidebar to see what I'm watching; the roster is pretty much complete, except for The Hills which returns on Tuesday. Going forward, I don't intend to blog about every episode of every show. While I enjoy shows like The Office, I don't have something new to say about them every week. So we're all on the same page, here's a quick look at recent viewing:

Dollhouse: The premiere, "Vows," was good, thanks again to the genius of Amy Acker. The Echo/Ballard storyline was fine, and we learned Echo retains something of her multiple personalities, but Dr. Saunders' identity issues were easily the highlight. I don't really care about an undercover FBI agent; I do care about a woman coming to grips with the idea that her persona is an invented personality inhabiting the body of a stranger. Less B-movie explosions, more tortured soul-searching, please.

Mad Men: I'm two episodes behind on this one. "Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency" was a great showcase for Christina Hendricks. I'm sure Joan will be back at some point; I just hope she doesn't go away for too long. Tonight's "Seven Twenty-Three," on the other hand, was tough. Between Peggy sleeping with Duck (ugh), Don acting like a total dick to both Peggy and Betty, and Betty having another near-affair, no one was acting admirably. The evening's Gold Star goes to Bert Cooper for demonstrating he's a total fucking badass, not just some funny, old guy who walks around in socks. Still the best show on television, but I'd like to be able to root for at least one of the main characters, you know?

Modern Family: Watch it. Go to Hulu, or ABC, and watch it. It's well made and amusing for the first 17 minutes or so, but the last five minutes will make you laugh until you cry.

The Office: Like I said in my comments on last season's finale, these people are old friends. Watching this show is like wearing your favorite pair of jeans that are starting to get worn, but that just makes you love them all the more. This season's first two episodes were standard Office fare, but that doesn't mean they weren't wonderful. I'm interested to see what will happen with Jim and Michael as co-managers (I'm a little skeptical).

Sep 25, 2009

Don't stop believing (in "Glee").

I almost gave up on Glee after the "Acafellas" episode (episode 3, for those keeping count). The show was just all over the place, so many characters with so little depth, not enough laugh-out-loud humor, and musical numbers nowhere near the excellence of "Don't Stop Believin'." I thought, maybe the pilot was the best this show could do, maybe Glee already peaked. But, then I watched Wednesday's episode, and I'm back to being hooked.

"Preggers" had everything I want from Glee: musicality, dark humor, a pinch of drama, and recognizable humanity. It was funny, it was fun, and it had heart. The teenage cast is finally starting to stand out - Kurt, Tina, Quinn, Puck, Mercedes, and Finn have all emerged as distinctive personalities. Rachel, of course, was already distinctive, but I realized on Wednesday that you're supposed to think she's just as annoying as her peers do. The adult cast, meanwhile, has always been strong; Will, Sue, and Emma were the best things about the first three episodes.

My favorite "Preggers" moments were the football team doing the "Single Ladies" dance, Kurt's conversation with his dad, Tina's solo, Terri and Quinn's confrontation, and Sue's closing monologue. Next week looks even better with Kristin Chenowith and the cast singing "Somebody to Love" (download it on iTunes, it's phenomenal). Bravo Glee, you've made a believer out of me.

Song for you.

The Corrections

The Corrections is a big, sprawling, epic mess of a novel. When I say "mess," I don't mean lazy, or cluttered, or in dire need of editing. Jonathan Franzen carefully crafts every plot turn, every character reversal, in such an intricate, subtle way, that you don't realize the extent of his machinations until you put down all 500+ pages and think "holy shit, it all makes sense." I use the word "mess" to imply that these people, the Lambert family, are a total fucking mess.

The strength of The Corrections is Franzen's ability to completely actualize all five of his chief protagonists, and weave their narratives together into a seamless tapestry. We start with Chip, then shift to Gary, then Alfred and Enid, then Denise, then everyone takes turns leading as the story smashes toward it's climax. All five of the Lamberts are selfish, annoying assholes who make horrible decisions at the expense of their family members, yet you can't help but love them. You love Alfred for his desperate attempts to manage his Parkinson's, even while he emotionally distances his family. You love Denise for her tenacity and sense of duty, even as she sleeps with a married man (and his wife). You love Enid for her desperate hope that she can have all the things she wants (her family's love, financial security), even as she refuses to admit her life is falling apart.

Each section builds upon the others. In Chip's, we experience Denise as a know-it-all, uber-successful career woman who intimidates her older brother, yet in her section we realize she's barely got herself together. It's just a really impressive thing to watch an author juggle so many people and so many plots and make it look effortless. This book deserves all the praise and accolades it's received. This is what novels are supposed to be.

Sep 23, 2009

Coming soon . . .

. . . lots of fun things. It's late, and I'm tired, so this post is really just a placeholder until tomorrow, at which point I'll be refreshed, recharged, and ready to go. We got wireless/cable at my apartment today, so I can finally start posting regularly. Some things you have to look forward to:
  1. My thoughts on last week's Mad Men, Glee, and The Office.

  2. My reaction to The Corrections (it feels like forever since I've written about a book, mainly because I didn't give Unaccustomed Earth the space it deserves, and because The Corrections is an awesome sprawl of a narrative that took some time to get through).

  3. This idea keeps rattling around in my head: Gossip Girl's Serena/Blair, Wicked's Elphaba/Glinda, and New X-Men's Jean/Emma are all telling the same story. Serena, Elphaba, and Jean burn with crazy Phoenix powers, thus rejecting the social systems they're born into, while Blair, Glinda, and Emma rock the system hardcore because they're too scared/don't know any better*.

*Of course, Elphaba and Jean both end up dead. The Wicked Witch has to die at the end of The Wizard of Oz and Phoenix is too powerful a character to keep around in a superhero team book. According to this model, Serena's ultimate fate will prove tragic, yet I'm inclined to believe Josh Schwartz has something a little more optimistic in mind. We'll see.

Song for you.

I was originally going to make Kid Sister's "Right Hand Hi" a "Yay or Nay?" but then I found myself singing it in the shower this afternoon, and realized she's here to stay.

Sep 20, 2009

The Witching Hour.

Frau Totenkinder: Ozma was right. It's a time for ending.
A time for dramatic and terrible change.

Sep 19, 2009

September issues.

I had the pleasure of seeing The September Issue last night, and it was fantastic. Respectful, fair, it was a truly balanced portrayal of these women and the work they do. It wasn't a portrait of Mean Girl bitchiness, or a snicker at the seriousness with which these people take their jobs. For Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, and all the rest, fashion is about art, it's about turning fantasy into reality. That's what they do, and they're damn good at it.

A lot of reviewers have hailed Coddington as the film's true star, and she definitely opens herself more to the cameras than some of her co-workers, but I think there's a reason the film begins and ends with Anna Wintour. She keeps us at arms length, but with a twinkle in her eye and a knowing mystique to her aura. We don't really want to know what she's thinking because then the mystery would be gone. I found her charming, in an utterly terrifying way.

Some housecleaning:
  • I'm getting cable/Internet on Tuesday (!) so expect more talk about television. I'm going to catch up on Glee and The Office next week, since I don't feel like buying them on iTunes. I might check out Community too. Plus, The Hills returns in ten days, and I'm interested to see what the show looks like post-Lauren (my prediction: Kristin talks shit about/starts fights with everyone, while looking totally bored/completely amused).

  • Last week's Mad Men ("The Fog") was good, but not one of my favorites. I like January Jones a lot, but Betty is far from my favorite character, and I really dislike when the script uses the episode title in such a pointed, obvious way ("It was all a fog"). The Peggy/Don scene was terrific though, thanks to the never ending brilliance of Elizabeth Moss and Jon Hamm. I can't say enough about those two.