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.


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


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.