an awesome way to watch TV

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

So...Mad Men Kinda Sucks Now, Right?

There was a time when I could not WAIT for a new episode of Mad Men.  I used to have a ritual, back when I smoked tobacco, where I would fix myself a nice cocktail and maybe get some fancy Trader Joe's snacks and I'd and drink and smoke along with the characters, happily indulging while a guy got his foot run over by a lawnmower and Sally masturbated and Betty was the worst and Don wrote a letter about quitting tobacco that changed everything.  But I quit smoking tobacco over two years ago, while Don Draper's still going at it.  Don's resolutely continued habit seems to be a clear symbol of his inability to change, even when everyone is his life is telling him he should; even when he wants to.

After having watched the first four episodes of this season, after having been bludgeoned over the head by the "HISTORY IS FUCKING DOOMED TO REPEAT ITSELF AND PEOPLE DON'T REALLY CHANGE" theme that has so obviously become the through-line of the show...I am bored.  Like, legitimately bored.  Why do I need to watch Don unable to control himself AGAIN and cheating on his wife AGAIN and smoking too much AGAIN and treating all women like whores AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN?  I don't.  People who don't take proper agency over their own lives are either very lazy or very stupid or both, and any way about it they don't make interesting characters.  There's a Tumblr dedicated to Dan Harmon called "Having Changed" - so-called because Harmon's characters tend to take a Joseph Campell-esque hero's journey and return from whence they came, having changed.  It's compelling and gives more weight to the characters and their motivations, providing the show has an adequate sense of continuity.  On Mad Men it feels like, sure, we're following the characters down this path, but most of them are actively trying not to grow, stubbornly clutching at the old ways of doing things even as the old ways are crumbling to dust in their hands.

Yes, I know that this isn't true of everyone.  There is some interesting work being done with Dawn and Stan and bratty teenage Sally.  There are a lot of characters on the show, and not all of them are static.  But the Mad Men sun rises and falls with Don, and the plain truth is he's just no fun to watch any more.  He's even sadder and more pathetic then when he was living in an alcoholic stupor in his depressing man cave, because he's had an opportunity to learn from his mistakes and move forward, but totally didn't.  That is a choice that the writers made, and ultimately I think it was a terrible one.  What are we going to see happen over the next season and a half?  Worse and worse things until the show finally ends in a way that is both tragic and enigmatic.  But just because a show is a drama doesn't mean that it has to be depressing, and just because a character is flawed doesn't mean that he has to slowly destroy his entire life until the audience is left feeling empty and wasted.

Believe me, I read enough blogs to know that the show has changed in very deliberate ways - as we've moved into the late sixties, we've seen the old guard from Sterling Cooper struggle with the changing world.  We've seen the presentation of the show become brighter, brasher, and more on the surface.  But purposeful or no, these changes have caused Mad Men to lose the subtlety that was its trademark.  Everything is big, crazy and dramatic these days; the writing is more predictable and, like I said, the themes and symbolism are bashed over the viewer's head instead of being allowed to gradually and delicately reveal themselves.  It's still a beautiful show to watch, of course - the aesthetics have always been top-notch, but they've gone from A reason to watch the show to THE reason.  And I will keep watching, if only to finish what I've started, but Mad Men has definitely lost its top-ranked spot on my personal list of favorites - honestly, it lost it last year when Joan became a prostitute because didn't you know ALL WOMEN ARE WHORES?  Ugh.  I don't know why Matt Weiner decided to take his show on this repetitive, circular path of hopelessness, but I can't fathom it ending in any truly satisfying way.  I suppose you could say that after Lost, I've got some trust issues (even though I don't mind the ending of Lost, but the writers did not do what they said they were going to do and wasted a lot of time on stupid things) but I think that's only fair.  Don't build your show up to be so grand and then expect that people will stick by you when it becomes lazy and pedestrian!  I know that a lot of you will disagree; I know there are aspects of the show that I haven't even touched upon.  It's impossible to write a post on Mad Men and talk about EVERYTHING without it being a goddamn research paper.  But it's important to evaluate things we once loved because sometimes, when we stop to really think about it, we'll find that we don't love them quite as much any more.

Image via nydailynews

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert, My Grandmother, & Me

Ten minutes ago, I went on Twitter to post a link to that Game Of Thrones piece.  And I found out that Roger Ebert passed away.  And now I'm back, typing through the tears because Ebert was a man who changed film criticism forever, who defined perseverance and passion for a craft, and who was a universally loved voice of good and reason in a world that is sorely lacking in both.  But part of my emotion comes from a much more personal place.

My grandmother died in 2006.  She had been diagnosed with cancer three years earlier, and, then 17 and out of high school, I moved to Los Angeles to take care of her and my partially-blind grandfather as she went through chemo.  It was a time that I'll always be thankful for, because she got to know me as an almost-adult, and we had so many moments together that I now cherish constantly.  My grandmother, who I called Mimi, grew up in LA.  We shared many characteristics - a strong, opinionated personality; a love of art and history and books and singing and travel and food and gin; some big-ass titties - but what connected us when I was a child, and what continued to bring us joy as I grew up, was our passion for film.

My parents and sister were never as interested in movies and television as I was, so when I visited my grandparents, not only did I get to watch CABLE (and The Disney Channel, which was a premium channel back then), but they took me to movies.  We would make a whole day of it - beginning by browsing through the LA Times to see what was playing and read the reviews.  I grew up in a small, isolated town where the movie choice was limited and often delayed, and I still remember the rush of turning page after page and being able to choose from all the newest, coolest releases.  But the reviews were always part of it.  We would read the newspaper reviews, but we would also be sure to watch that week's Siskel & Ebert.

I admit that as a kid, I would get frustrated by film critics.  Especially in my middle school teenybopper days, the critics were always panning the movies I loved the most.  But Siskel & Ebert wouldn't dismiss something just because it wasn't "high art".  They reviewed movies on their merit, and gave honest and balanced critiques.  Often they disagreed, and that was okay!  Watching the show with my grandmother, I learned how to have conviction in my opinions and express them in a positive way.  Mimi and I would see a movie and discuss it afterwards, sometimes thinking completely opposite things, but I always came away from those conversations feeling both like I had been heard, and that I had learned something.

My relationship with Mimi wasn't always easy; we were both so strong-willed, and she had a knack for being tactless, especially when it came to comments about my weight (a projection of her own weight issues, but still hurtful nonetheless).  She wasn't as funny or easygoing as my grandfather, but as I grew up I came to appreciate her for who she was instead of who she wasn't.  She didn't like that I got a tattoo on my 18th birthday, or that I pierced my tongue (and my neck, and my collarbone, and my eyebrows), but she made it clear that it didn't make her love me less.  She didn't approve of how much cleavage I wanted to show, but she bought me the low-cut shirts I wanted anyway.  We had established that we could disagree and still get along - that there were lessons to be learned in our differing opinions.  Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert taught us how to be honest with each other without creating enmity.

When Mimi died, after two years in remission during which she was able to travel and go to movies and do the things she loved, I know she was proud of me.  The last time I saw her I knew it was the last time, and we were able to say goodbye.  I read her some of my poetry and we talked about some of our favorite memories and then just sat together until it was time for me to leave.  I looked into her eyes and felt all the love and acceptance between us.  Her death was peaceful, and the years we had together had been a gift, and at the time although I was very sad, I didn't feel the loss as acutely as I might have.

But now I am an adult.  And it's been almost ten years since I lived with my grandparents and we went to see The Manchurian Candidate, the last movie we saw in the theaters together.  We both thought Liev Schreiber was great but that it couldn't possibly live up to the original.  And now I write about film and television, and now I'm going to graduate school to study film criticism, and I'll be studying at UCLA, her alma mater.  And I think about Mimi all the time these days because I miss her so much and want to talk to her about all of it.  I know how happy she would be with who I've become, I know she'd be so proud of me but I want to hear her say it and I want to see the look in her eyes when I tell her how much she's shaped my future, how she helped me become the strong and passionate and capable woman that I am today.  And I think that in many ways, every piece I write is a letter to her - a way to have those conversations like we used to, and to keep her with me as close as I can.

And now Roger Ebert has died, after his own fight with cancer, after his own years of survival that were a gift to all of us.  I don't believe in heaven, but I do believe that the good that we put into the world is what lives on after we die.  I hope that I can carry on Roger's spirit in my work, a spirit that calls for joy and honesty and humor and THOUGHT, and I know he'd be happy that a part of him now resides in my heart, along with Mimi.  The company and the conversation couldn't be better.

GAME OF THRONES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hey, I'm back!  I've spent the last month traveling a fair amount to have a ton of sex with my friend (who, coincidentally, looks like Jon Snow) because I am a genius and have mastered what neither Ashton Kutcher or Justin Timberlake could.  Also, I got into grad school!  So I've been celebrating and not watching too much of the television.  I'll be moving to LA in August to get a Masters in Cinema and Media Studies from UCLA, and until then I'll try to keep up with the ol' Hedgepig blog a little better because once school starts my writing will be heading in a whole other direction.  I'll probably end up posting more since I'll be writing so much anyway, but who knows what'll happen.  So stay tuned!  Exciting changes ahead.

Speaking of things that are ahead...winter is coming!  Winter is almost here!  As everyone on the internet already knows, the third season of Game Of Thrones premiered on Sunday, and it was FUCKING AWESOME.  Weirdly, for me (because I love A Song Of Ice And Fire with all of my heart and I love Peter Dinklage just as much. Holy shit he's so goddamn hot.  I had a dream last night where I got to make out with him and YES JOEY YOU CAN HEAT UP YOUR COFFEE ON MY LOINS because they are ABLAZE.), I hadn't watched most of the second season until Sunday, when I luxuriated in a full-on GoT marathon after returning home from my spring break sexcation.  And...dude.  That show.  It's just The Best! Like, I'm not sure how it could be better.  Well, Lena Headly's eyebrows are horrible and SO distracting, but that's it.  That's the only thing I'd change.

I'm a big stickler for adaptations remaining true to their books, but I also recognize that film is a different medium and so some changes are necessary.  The Harry Potter movies (at least 1, 2, 5, and particularly 6) are a perfect example of movies that made tons of unnecessary changes with huge adverse impacts on plot and characterization (don't even get me started on Harry not being under Petrificus Totalis when Dumbledore dies because I will get angry and you'll be like, "Lauren, I agree with you, stop ranting" but I WON'T because it's The Stupidest Thing Ever and it completely destroys the meticulously constructed storyline UGH ok sorry I'm done now).  However, Game Of Thrones pulls its adaptation off with greater skill and dexterity than even Lord Of The Rings.  With George R. R. Martin involved with the show, he seems to be using it as an opportunity to expand on stories and characters that weren't completely fulfilled in the first two books (which he wrote almost 20 years ago).  The episodes, for the most part, remain very true to the books, but when they diverge it never feels forced or constrained.  Rather, the show allows new perspectives and reimaginings without razing what was already written.