an awesome way to watch TV

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Emily Valentine Problem

every once in a while, a character comes along who is simply so odious that even a sympathetic back story can't keep me from hating them. this phenomenon could theoretically be called the Abby Morgan problem, but even Abby Morgan (Dawson's Creek) had a few minor redeeming qualities.

for those of you who don't seek out old TV shows from the 80's and 90's, Emily Valentine was a recurring character in the early seasons of 90210. she was troubled and had spiky platinum hair and Brandon like, felt a crazy love connection to her until she took him to a club and forcibly drugged him with something ecstasy-ish called U4EA. then, after he ends it because of said drugging she goes even more batshit insane and starts stalking Brandon and gets paint on his favorite shirt and threatens to kill herself and him and ruins the gang's spirit float and eventually lights a big fire. although they give her a resolution in the next season where she's clean and going to Scotland to study whales - i still hate sober Emily Valentine just as much.

and sure, a character like that can make for some good TV...and maybe i just really have something against that actress (this post was inspired by her playing an equally crazy and insufferable character named Quincy of all things on an episode of 21 Jump Street). but what The Emily Valentine Problem boils down to is this: if a character is so fucking awful/obnoxious/sociopathic as to turn the viewer off, it becomes clear that the writers are simply forcing this character into the situation to create drama and the reactions of the other characters start to ring false. in real life, people wouldn't put up with Emily Valentine; they would call the police, lock her out and tell her she's a crazy bitch. however, The Emily Valentine Problem can be resolved using one of several tried-and-true methods.

Friday, July 30, 2010

there's something about Pacey

i mean, that's the thing. there really is just something about Pacey. and bless Joshua Jackson for (a) realizing that and (b) not taking himself too seriously. oh, Josh. didn't you know that this would simply make me fall deeper in love with you? or perhaps that was your intention all along?

i really wish i could have been there to let him know that i've devoted my life to Pacey - that my adulthood has been shaped by his amazing character. i could have made Team Pacey tees! i would have stayed to listen to his fan fiction. and OMG the shirts! if you're going to Pacey-Con you gotta have the right shirts (i actually thought that guy who yells, "you're great on Fringe!" was saying "you're great on Friends!" because his shirt is SO early Chandler.).

i could probably write Pacey For Dummies.

for realsies though, Pacey is legitimately one of my favorite characters of all time. (if you want to read more about my thoughts/love for Pacey & The Creek, go here) i certainly think he's one of the best and most nuanced romantic leads on television. i definitely think he could kick Dawson's ass. and as for Joshua Jackson, like my friend said after watching this: +10 cool points to him. i think Funny or Die provides a great forum for celebrities to make fun of themselves while celebrating the people who love their work...but Josh, did you have to do it so well that you just made me fall in love so hard all over again? i can't compete with Helen of Troy, man.

in the meantime, Fringe is crazy awesome, and JJ does a stellar job (acting, as well as being sexy) on it. it's summertime...go catch up before the new season starts!

Image via Gawker

Monday, July 26, 2010

Let's Talk About Huge

I am always looking for new shows to watch, especially in the summer (although, i have to say, what with Mad Men and Persons Unknown and Psych and Entourage and Royal Pains and Weeds coming up pretty soon, things haven't been too bad.). And this is the summer I fell in love with Huge.

The premise of Huge is: fat teenagers at fat camp. And at first I was a little apprehensive, but then I learned that it's created by the woman who did My So-Called Life and her daughter, so - ABC Family indeed (Huge airs at 9pm Mondays on that channel). Then I watched the pilot episode, and was blown away.

Like with many ensemble shows, There is a theoretical main character (TMC), but I've found that in many of these cases (How I Met Your Mother, Party Down, Community) the focus quickly equals out and the primary and secondary characters reach equal footing. Huge is like that. Ian (the Isaac lookalike played by Ari Stidham) is everything I could ask for in an awkward, shy, painfully un-confident leading man. Chloe (Ashley Holliday) is like any number of girls I know - and the relationship between Chloe and Amber is all-too-familiar for me. Alastair (Harvey Guillen) is so endearing it makes my insides crumple. Becca (Raven Goodwin) is quietly fierce. Trent (Stefan Van Ray) is hot and broken. Piznarski (which, excuse me, was Piz from VMars' name first) (Jacob Wysocki) is like any number of boys I know, using humor as a shield. And the two TMCs fit into this ensemble perfectly, leaving enough space for everyone to shine.

The first TMC is a girl named Will, played by Nikki Blonsky from the Hairspray remake I refused to see, and she is fat and angry and she's not gonna take it anymore. She's been shipped off to fat camp by her terrible-sounding absentee parents, but here's the kicker: she loves her body and doesn't want to lose weight. Which is awesome - but it doesn't mean that she doesn't have her own insecurities, or that her militant fat pride doesn't have negative consequences for herself and others. Also, she has blue streaks in her hair (that are clearly not clip-ons like Tina's on Glee) which let us know that she hates the system.

The second TMC is Amber, a blonde girl who could be described as curvy or chubby with a pretty bad case of societal pressure-induced body dysmorphic disorder. Amber is played by Hayley Hasselhoff, David's daughter, and all I could think when I realized that a few minutes ago is damn, that girl has already been through some shit. How many times has she had to call 911 for her dad? Too fucking many. Anyway, Amber is the skinniest one at camp, which makes her popular, hated, and envied. The boys all vie for her, but Amber is crushing hard on George, the cute teenage athletic leader, who clearly likes her back although she can't see it through all her self-loathing. In another scene a few episodes in, Amber runs into a group of kids from the neighboring tennis camp, and is able to pass for one of them.

The intersection of these two characters has brought up some very personal stuff for me, because I've been both of them. I have loved and been proud of my fat; I have hated my body and felt inferior to skinny girls. I have been the outspoken teenager who wants to believe her body is sexy but needs external validation, and I know what it's like to pass, and the surprise and relief that comes when you realize that people can think your body is normal and maybe even desirable.

I have also gone to camp. full disclosure: I love shows about camp. Camp (i went to Camp Celo, a very unique farm/hiking camp in the Black Mountains of North Carolina) was a huge part of my formative years, both as a camper and then as an assistant counselor during high school. I don't know if anyone remembers Bug Juice ("Bug juice, it doesn't come in a jar! Bug juice comes from who you are!" Anyone???), which was possibly the first reality show aimed at kids; it followed a group of pre-teens at a real camp, and I think it was on the Disney Channel. Anyway, I was obsessed. I also loved Salute Your Shorts, Camp Nowhere, Happy Campers (a movie that a guy I actually worked at camp with was in), Camp, The Parent Trap, Addams Family Values...I could go on. There is something about the concentrated relationships that occur when you're in a very intimate situation for a limited period of time that make for compelling stories and rich character studies. Plus, camp is just the best.

I was also a fat girl at camp - that's me on the right at age 16. I've always been the kind of fat that's in between being normal and being f-a-t fat, and eventually it got balanced out by my big boobs. I've got confidence, but like the kids on Huge, I was always afraid that to a guy, a skinny girl would be preferable to my curves. And sometimes she was, and that hurt, but I eventually found that there was always someone who wanted me, and that the douchebags who didn't weren't worth my time anyhow. Camp actually helped me learn to love my body, what with skinny dipping with guys & girls of all shapes & sizes and shirtless sessions and strip poker and inner tubing and playing "Jump, Shake Your Booty" in the rain and trading hookup partners like crazy. And sometimes - and by sometimes, I mean always - it was hard to go back to the real world, where everyone doesn't understand, accept, and love everyone else for who they are.

I miss camp.

So, after the first episode I basically fell head over heels for Huge. This is a show that speaks to me in a very strong way and, as i've found browsing the internet, has touched a lot of people. However, just by reading the YouTube comments on the preview shows how much fat phobia not only exists but is in many cases excused by society. Especially when it comes to hating on fat women. You know that scene in Juno when Steve Rendazzo makes fun of her and she talks about how it's because all jocks secretly want weird goth librarians? I think that's really at the heart of fat women phobia: because people have been conditioned to believe fat people aren't attractive, when they're attracted to them they feel ashamed. They blame that shame on the fat people for being attractive and socially subversive. Makes sense to me.

So I commend Huge for giving a pretty accurate portrayal of what it's like to be fat and confident; fat and self-loathing; fat and socially awkward; fat and athletic; fat and pretty; fat and poor; fat and weird; fat and sensitive....all in a world that celebrates thinness and is constantly telling fat people that there is something wrong with them and they need to change - in a location that basically tells them that to not lose weight equals failure. I also think Huge's characterizations of the complex camp director, Dr. Dorothy Rand (Gina Torres) and the Janice Dickenson-meets-Tracy Anderson athletic director (Tia Texada) provide accurate portrayals of the relationship that us fatties often have with the people (who may or may not care about them) who are trying to get them healthy (or skinny - they are not the same thing).

I think a lot of people won't watch this show because they believe that it's only for fat people. but it's far, far, more than that - it's about how difficult relationships, self-control, and honesty can be, at any size. it's about learning about who you really are so other people can't take it away if they try to bring you down. I think, in essence, it's about learning to be happy in a world where so much is out of our control. Plus, it's pretty fucking funny and completely entertaining.

So...ABC Family, who knew? Not what I would have expected. But seriously, go watch it - give it a chance and I know you'll love it...and I want to know my all-time favorite camp show is gonna be around next summer!

worth the wait

so: Mad Men happened. it happened so hard that i had to cut short a perfectly nice date in order to come home, make myself a drink, and do a little chainsmoking as i enveloped myself in the premiere.

i'm not going to be doing straight recaps here, if that's what you're looking for you should go to TLo (which, incidentally, is where this screengrab is from), because they do some of the best recaps ever (and amazing posts on the fashions in the show). i'm just going to be doing a little rundown of things that stood out to me. i will try not to be too spoiler-y.

- Peggy's new hair! omg, what an improvement. certainly a step up from her Swedish gay kitchen 'do, and with volume comes a whole new level of confidence. i am loving fun, citified, on-top-of-her-game Peggy!

- and while we're on that line, let's hear it for Pete Campbell, who seems to have mostly hung up his douche hat. he works easily with Peggy, and it is (and has always been) my hope that they'll start some torrid affair. Peggy's bland boyfriend Mark (oh, Karl, i thought you were buried under those palm trees with Rousseau? that's what Miles said.) is...bland. i know, i know, Pete raped that girl and he's been pretty much insufferable for three seasons - but it's because he's like the rest of them, broken and fucked up. i've always believed that with the right circumstances and a fair amount of introspection he could turn himself around. so...go Pete!

- where is Paul Kinsey? i miss my Paul.

- Joan has an office and an incredible blue dress that i want NOW - or at least when i become a librarian.

- can we all just agree that Betty is THE WORST? and like, i know what my grandma was like in the sixties, and she wasn't the best. but Betty - flat out refuses to acknowledge that she might be less than perfect and so when something goes wrong, she blames Don or the kids. i love those kids, though - and i think it's great that Bobby's getting more of a personality now. it'd be nice to see Don taking them out in the city, though...he's clearly better with them than Betty, but still needs work. which brings us to......

- Sad Don is sad. the last scene of the show was so uplifting because we finally saw Don taking control over his own life, but it was really difficult to watch him shuffling around his sad, dark apartment, sadly sitting in the dark waiting for Betty & Henry, and having his sad Thanksgiving prostitute over. and i know it was super symbolic that he wants her to slap him while they're having sex, and i'm supposed to think about his pain, and his loneliness, and how he doesn't believe he deserves any of this - but really i was just turned on.

and...that's all i got for this week. man, i can't wait for the meantime, i'm gonna go re-watch last season.

Image via TLo

Friday, July 23, 2010

it's a mad mad mad mad Mad Men world

with the season 4 premiere almost upon us (Sunday @ 10pm on AMC), i felt it appropriate that the first real post be devoted to what may be the best all-around show in the history of television. it's hard for me to put into words what really connects with me besides the obvious, but i'm going to try. bullet points, don't fail me now.

What Makes Mad Men Awesome:

- so rarely on the small screen does so much hotness coincide with such good, consistent acting. seriously, think about some of the more lauded dramas. House? Hugh Laurie is good, but the show is hopelessly formulaic and i kind of hate everyone else, especially after they killed off Kal Penn so he could go work for Obama. The Sopranos? good acting, not so much hotness. Lost? TONS of hotness, but inconsistent acting with demerits taken for Emilie deRavin and Matthew Fox pre-season 6. but Mad Men - has some of the most beautiful people in the world, and they can all act their asses off. Rich Sommer (Harry Crane): yummy with or without glasses. Michael Gladis (Paul Kinsey) has a great baritone and can wear facial hair like nobody's business. January Jones (Betty Draper) is cute if you're into that skinny blonde Grace Kelly thing. Christina Hendricks (Joan Harris nee Holloway): SWOON. Jon Hamm (Don Draper): double swoon into a melted puddle of impure thoughts. it is really unbelievable how fucking hot Jon Hamm is - in fact, we might want to be careful, he could be an alien sent to earth to subtly enslave us with his otherworldly good looks. just sayin'. and, oh yeah, and he's an awesome actor, be it drama or comedy. put them together, and you have magic:

if that clip doesn't make you want to (a) watch Mad Men or (b) get yourself out of that skirt, then stop reading now. there's no hope for you.

- the show is so visually stunning i can't take my eyes off it. even if we move beyond the carnal eye candy to the costuming and set design - the attention to detail, in relation to both the time period and the characters themselves, is astounding. this show is literally a feast for the eyes, and i hate that phrase so you know it's true. and it's not just the set design, but the lighting, and the directing, and really just the way everything is put together perfectly to create just the right tone. but so much of this has been said before, what i really want to get to is the emotion of the show.

- that leads us first to the writing, which is, to put it succinctly, powerful. it is smart without being pretentious, symbolic without being heavy-handed, and doesn't contradict itself (one of my major pet peeves). the writing allows for natural pauses and silences and allows for the actors to carry a scene on a single glance (see Joan at the end of that scene where her drunk husband tells her to turn off the light). no one part of the show is trying to outshine any other; they all work together so harmoniously that it's nearly a miracle.

- the beautiful people and the top-notch acting and the perfectly accurate production values all come together to present this authentic experience that bores to the heart of who we are and what makes us that way. the story of Don Draper is at once familiar and unknown; we are used to successful men not always being what they seem, yet despite his deceitful behavior we love Don Draper. we root for him, because he is lost. he is so utterly lost to himself and he is unable to reach out for help. yet he knows other people so well - he understands the human spirit - and thus is insanely excellent at his job. where these two sides of him, the confident ad man and the lonely, poor, lost, and broken little boy intersect is where the emotional sparks fly.

take this clip. this is, for me, the essence of what compels me to watch Mad Men. there are many more stories, many great characters, and the way the story flows within historical events is remarkable. i love Peggy, and Joan, and Sal, and Betty and Sally and even Pete Campbell - and might be talking a bit about their characters and inner turmoils as this new season unfolds and more and more is brought to light (i'm especially excited for Joan's husband to go off and die already). but the powerful reality of pain and repressed yet universal emotions that exist in Don Draper is what brings me back, and it's what i'm left thinking about once the episode's ended.

well, that...and doing Jon Hamm. and then smoking a cigarette. or ten. followed by a gin martini. best night ever, y/y?

Jon says yes.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Welcome To The Time Suck

Hello, brand-new internet world! I decided to start this blog when, after years of co-running two awesome glands with my friend Kate, I realized that I needed to branch out on my own, and create a blog that's a little more focused. This is that blog.

We're going to be talking mostly television, but I can't promise that some other weird shit won't creep in, 'cause that's just how I roll. Odds are it'll be related to television somehow, and the reasons for that will become clear quite soon.

So I was racking my brain, trying to think of something to put for the first post, something to draw you in. And then, just like the time I turned around and that kid Quin accidentally threw a kickball at my face, it hit me.

I am all the time trying to get my friends, family, coworkers, and various strangers to watch the shows I think are good. If no one watches a show, it gets cancelled, so in essence it's a pretty selfish act. However, even the friends to whom I've introduced their favorite show often seem reticent when i've got a new suggestion. It's possible that this entire blog is simply to convince Michaela and Isaac et. al. that my taste is impeccable (and to back it up with some valid criticism that can be super-hard when I'm high and someone blindsides me with, "What's so great about Mad Men?" and apparently "Everything!" isn't a sufficient answer.), but I'm hoping it's going to get a little bigger than that.

The credibility that comes with being a critic of any kind is established not only with good, well-supported writing, but also with knowing what the fuck you're talking about. I will now proceed to prove that I know what the fuck I'm talking about.

Below is a list of every TV series of which I've watched the entirety, meaning: every episode. Believe me, there are plenty more shows of which I've only seen part. Some of the series below (many of the Law & Orders) I fell asleep to like a nice, justice-y lullaby, but I honestly don't think that discounts having seen 20 seasons of a show. Man, do I know my procedural crime dramas. Anyhow, this is going to get pretty depressing for me in a minute as I figure out just how much time I've spent in a serious relationship with my laptop, but know this: I'm doing it for you. There is a lot of crap out there, and it's my job to keep you from wasting your time watching it. So now that i'm revealing my deep, dark, ugly obsession to you...from here on out, you're going to have to trust me.

(Series with at least 60% viewed multiple times will be marked with an *; series still making new episodes get a +)

30 Rock+
Ally McBeal
Arrested Development* (at least 6x)
The Big Bang Theory+
The Big C
Boardwalk Empire+
Bob's Burgers+
Bored To Death+
Britain's Next Top Model+
Cold Case+
Dawson's Creek* (at least 5x)
Dead Like Me
Detroit 1-8-7
Downton Abbey+
Flight of the Conchords*
Freaks & Geeks*
Gossip Girl+
Head Case
How I Met Your Mother*+
In Treatment
The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret
Law & Order
Law & Order: SVU*+
Law & Order: CI*+
Lie To Me
Mad Men*+
Modern Family+
Mr. Sunshine
News Radio
Northern Exposure
The Office*+
Parks & Recreation+
Party Down*
Persons Unknown+
Project Runway+
Project Runway Canada+
Pushing Daisies
Queer As Folk
Raising Hope+
The Riches
Rock of Love
Royal Pains+
RuPaul's Drag Race+
Scrubs (although i stopped watching before they switched to ABC, i still think it counts. that shit got awful.)
Sex & The City
Six Feet Under
The Sopranos (technically - I skipped the last few episodes because I stopped caring.)
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip*
Ugly Betty
The Unusuals*
Veronica Mars*
The West Wing

Are you now prepared to bow down before me in deference to my vast wealth of knowledge? No? Well, at least you can listen, and be glad that you're not me because honestly...even I know that list is a little sick. However, the truth is that I really, really, really love television as an art form, and I like writing about it almost as much. So - come take this blogging adventure with me and celebrate your own guilty television loves. Because you wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same...and I'll tell you the best shows to get the best fix.

In the words of the eloquent Tobias Funke: let the great experiment begin!