Archive for the ‘ Television ’ Category

Scattered Words about Football

One thing I didn’t see too much of in the first week of this season: hard hits and stretchers. I hope this is a trend that will continue. There are times I think the NFL being dubbed the “No Fun League” makes perfect sense, and officials can be too strict or too arbitrary about how they enforce player safety regulations. I hate seeing a great defense getting dinged for 15 yards because someone fell in the QB a second after he made a pass.

But I still saw plenty of sacks, aggressive pass rush, and tough coverage in the secondary. I just didn’t see those bone-jarring hits that I’ve enjoyed less and less lately. By the end of last season, it sometimes seemed like the cart was coming out at least once every game. Then I’d see the last play on replay and my stomach would turn. Heads whipping around at unnatural angles, legs bowing and then folding as two or three more players join a tackle.

Oh, it’s great when one player demolishes another and they both get up fine. I used to love watching receivers go up to make a catch, knowing they were going to get crushed for it. But I can’t enjoy that anymore, knowing how often guys don’t bounce right back. Knowing that even if they do, football still can do lasting, invisible damage.

Football is working toward a different balance now, and I’m willing to put up with hiccups along the way. Is the game worse for it? So far, I don’t think so, despite glitches. Turns out that I love the strategy of football and the finesse of good play, and don’t really need the hard hits. The ordinary everyday violence of the sport is good enough for me.

See Our Ad in Golf Digest

Cialis has weird ads. A camera gazes through a filter so sickly green that it’s like watching from inside a Jameson bottle, and then rugged men solve manly problem ruggedly. But the strangest things is that each ad exhorts you to see their ad in Golf Digest, which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that Golf Digest enjoys the limpest readership in the world.

Super-Duper Tastelessly Cold

Coors has realized they have a major problem, and that some Coors drinkers might accidentally someday taste their Coors Light. So they’ve introduced a revolutionary new piece of technology, the “Cold Bar” that shows when your beer goes from “Cold” to “Super Cold”. This leaves Bud Light with nowhere to go but “manning up” with nitrogen-cooling.

Da Bears

I had written-off the Bears this season. This was going to be a Packers – Lions fight for the division, and the Bears were going to enter into the freefall that usually accompanies a contract extension for Lovie Smith.

So the Bears’ merciless beating of the Atlanta Falcons has me cautiously optimistic about our chances of taking the division again. At the same time, the Packers look even better than they did last season, and Jay Cutler is still making risky passes that could totally kill any momentum the Bears have. It’s going to be an exciting season, I think, but the Bears have a long way to go before being a conference contender.

Perhaps the most terrifying thing I saw, however, was Tom Brady and the Patriots. Rodgers had a tougher opponent, but I didn’t expect Brady and his receivers to be looking so good. And it’s not just a matter of one or two targets. He has an offensive arsenal to choose from. Branch, Welker, Gronkowski, Ochocinco. A good QB can be neutralized by a rush and a good coverage, but how do you rush someone with that many weapons, and how do you cover them all?

Batman and Metaphor

The first movie I streamed from Netflix was the outstanding Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It has aged well, a perfect example of what the team behind The Animated Series were capable of doing when freed from the half-hour format and content restrictions. A mobster gets killed in the first scene, which absolutely never happens in the TV show, and what follows is increasingly violent and disturbing. Mark Hamill’s Joker was never more hilarious and creepy, striking the right note of whimsical sadism. Couple that with a villain who was a frightening inversion of Batman himself, and some sharp dialogue between Bruce Wayne and his love interest, Andrea Beaumont, and you have the recipe for what remains perhaps the best Batman film yet.

That moved me to revisit The Animated Series that I loved so fiercely growing up. I recently finished the first set and, while it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as Phantasm, there are quite a few episodes that remain standouts. More importantly, within the confines of a children’s show, they employ a surprisingly clever metaphors to draw out parallels between the lives of the show’s young audience and the action on the screen.

Two-Face’s origin story, for instance,is wonderfully told. We meet Harvey Dent at the height of his powers: charismatic and incorruptible, he is coasting to an easy re-election and closing in on Rupert Thorne, a Gotham crime boss. But Harvey starts showing flashes of volcanic, uncontrollable rage. His friend Bruce urges him to get counseling, which he does, but Harvey continues to become more secretive about his problems.

In the counseling session, we learn that Harvey has always had a bad, unpleasant temperament. But rather than deal with that and master it, he suppressed it. He just wouldn’t allow himself to show or feel any anger. He created a persona, Big Bad Harve, who became the recipient of all his negative feelings. And now, with growing pressures and responsibilities, that coping mechanism is breaking-down. His desperation to conceal his weaknesses, as a child and now as an adult, ultimately leads him to the tragic encounter that births Two-Face.

A lot of kids’ shows condescend. They adopt the attitude, common among grown-ups, that there are a multitude of things that children just don’t understand or can’t quite cope with hearing about. They use fairytale dichotomies between good and evil, or they present the world as a place of lighthearted, Tom Sawyer-esque mischief.

Occasionally, Batman: TAS broke through this barrier and started dealing with difficult subjects and complicated feelings that a lot of children might not fully understand, but which would still have been relevant to them. “See No Evil” is one such episode.

“See No Evil” starts with a little girl, asleep in her room, being visited by an invisible friend, “Mojo.” Mojo has a kind voice and the affection between the girl and her friend is obvious, but it’s still unsettling. Mojo is bringing her treasures, like valuable jewelry, and he promises next time he’ll bring her a pearl necklace. The gifts are inappropriate for a girl age, and there is the question of where they are coming from. It goes unanswered. Mojo tucks her in and leaves.

But of course, “Mojo” is actually the girl’s father, a petty criminal who has managed to steal an experimental cloaking device. And the reason he has to visit the girl in secret is because he and his ex-wife are bitterly estranged. At another point in the episode, he runs into her at a store and tries to force a reconciliation. But the entire scene goes horribly wrong, and it ends with her running toward her car, shouting, “Why can’t you just disappear?”

“See No Evil” is really about divorce and custody. An man has been erased from his family, and he finds a plot device that makes that disappearance a literal one. He uses that power to insinuate himself back into his daughter’s life. The daughter, meanwhile, must learn that there are reasons her mother wanted to keep this man out of their lives. The show never suggests this man does not love his daughter. It merely lets him reveal that his love is unhealthy and possessive.

The real standout in the first set is “Beware the Gray Ghost”, which is basically a meta-story about Batman, his creators, and his fans. The Gray Ghost was a Batman-like TV superhero during Bruce Wayne’s childhood. We get an absolutely heart-breaking black-and-white flashback of Bruce, sitting on the floor in front of his father, clutching a Gray Ghost doll while the show plays on TV. The music theme that accompanies The Gray Ghost is brassy and heroic, a Silver Age motif employed in stark contrast to the darker modernism of Shirley Walker’s typical Batman: TAS score.

Gotham is struck by a series of crimes that strongly resemble old episodes of The Gray Ghost, and Batman becomes convinced the show holds the secret. There is only one problem: the show (like many children’s shows from the 50′s and 60′s) was destroyed after it went off the air. No copies of it exist. So Batman must track down the actor made famous by the role:  Simon Trent.

And of course Trent is voiced by none other than Adam West, and we find that Trent has become a washed-up actor. We witness a desperate phone call to his agent as he runs out of rent money, begging for work. His agent is apologetic, but explains that all anyone remembers him for is The Gray Ghost. Trent says, “But I’m an actor. I can play other parts.”

“Beware the Gray Ghost” is a great story about the other side of the dream factory, and how our fictional heroes live in memory long after the cameras stop rolling. Batman: The Animated Series, invited kids to contemplate their own relationship to Batman, and how he would look to them as adults. It invited them to think about the people who make it, and whether there is anything real underneath the illusion. It gave comforting answers and a Hollywood ending, but I can only admire a show that respected children enough to raise the questions.

Either I Get a Dodge, or I Murder You

There were a lot of bad commercials during the Superbowl last night, but only one really brought me up short: the Dodge Charger ad, “Man’s Last Stand”.

I think the advertiser was looking to evoke an, “I hear you, brother,” reaction from the men in the audience, but frankly this ad was scary. There is a seething undercurrent of violence and hatred to this monologue, reinforced by the dead and crumpled faces of the self-appointed victims. Especially the last guy, who looks like his face is about to start twitching with suppressed rage.

Listening to this monologue, I get the feeling that “Man’s Last Stand” isn’t going to be a toy car. The narrator’s spiritual sickness is past the formidable healing powers of the Dodge Charger. He’s going to drive his car to the gun shop, fill a gym bag with weapons and ammo, and then he’s going to start settling the score with his wife, his employer, and anyone else who has made him feel like an emasculated nonentity.

Admittedly, this is a dark reading of the material, but in the last year or so I have reached the conclusion that angry, frustrated men scare the shit out of me. There are only so many senseless shooting sprees and mass murders one can hear about before you reach the conclusion that male disaffection might be a serious problem. It seems to be at the root of a lot of heinous behavior.

The saddest part of this ad might be the specific grievances themselves. The men in the audience are supposed to identify with the narrator as he bitterly reads these lines.

  • I will shave. I will clean the sink after I shave.
  • I will say yes when you want me to say yes. I will be quiet when you don’t want to hear me say no.
  • I will take your call. I will listen to your opinion of my friends.
  • I will be civil to your mother.
  • I will put the seat down.
  • I will separate the recycling.
  • I will carry your lip balm.
  • I will put my underwear in the basket.

The horror, the horror! How does a man face the black day in which he is expected not only to shave, but to clean the sink after he is finished, and to make certain that his soiled underwear aren’t left lying around the house?

This is deeply entitled misery. In my world, these are minimal courtesies that you should expect to perform as a matter of course, and the notion of taking umbrage at them is laughable. Yet this ad confesses that the barest minimum of respect and cooperation is too much to ask, and it expects me to lean close to the screen and whisper, “Yeah, it drives me crazy, too.” Sorry, no, you’re being a wimp and, far more than a car, you need to man the fuck up.

Finally, there is the completely misplaced blame in this commercial. The ad is a litany of  extremely petty indignities and self-pity for the man’s lowly lot in life, the woman is at fault, and the solution is to buy a Dodge Charger. I get it, the ad exists to sell me something, but this is a really self-defeating approach to that goal. Because it’s the Dodge Charger that’s going to make you miserable, not the woman who asks you to sort the recycling.

To quote my old friend Tyler Durden, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”

This commercial ends with the Charger roaring down an empty stretch of highway, but c’mon, we know the truth. The Charger becomes, in gridlock, just another car ferrying you from the hell of your morning to the hell of your workday. You can’t quit the job that makes you miserable because now you’ve got more payments to make. God forbid you every try and let that engine out to play, because some equally frustrated cop will pull you over and force you to go through the tedious, Good-morning-officer-what’s-your-hurry tango. Then he’ll take twenty minutes to write a $125 dollar ticket and tell you what a favor he’s doing you by knocking three miles an hour off your violation and he’ll pretend that any of this has to do with road safety. Then you’ll get to pay higher insurance rates on the car that’s already dead weight on your monthly budget, and your relationship will be further strained with the woman who reluctantly agreed to get you your car and who still can’t quite understand why you need it in the first place and why you’re so angry, because instead of talking to her about it, you bought a car.

Ambivalently Ambivalent about Glee

My partner and I were really enjoying Glee until one of us, I don’t remember who, pointed out that it seemed to be a bit misogynist. Now that’s practically all we can see.

We were slow on the uptake because the show seems upbeat. It’s like Star Trek in that major issues are often resolved in the last few minutes of every episode, except that the solution is always, “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” It’s an MGM musical for our times, where every character becomes the best version of him or herself the moment the music begins to play. It might be even more uplifting, because between songs these are not Fred Astaires or Judy Garlands. The teachers and students of Glee are the sad lost souls of the Heartland living out Springsteen lyrics while dancing to Broadway melodies.

I love this premise, but Glee’s handling of sexuality and gender leaves a bitter aftertaste. Underneath the charm lurk a bunch of nasty archetypes I hoped TV had outgrown.

Let’s start with Kurt, the gay high school student, because he is the canary in Glee’s coal mine. In the episode where he comes out to his father, we find him re-enacting the “Single Ladies” music video with two girlfriends in his basement. While I get that the show is always eager to find excuses for its characters to bust a move, must the only openly gay boy in the show spend his leisure hours working on choreography?

At the end of the episode, he comes out to his father, who is totally unfazed. He has always known his son is gay, he explains, because when Kurt was three, the only thing he wanted for his birthday was “a pair of sensible heels.”

In a later episode, when there is a girls vs. boys competition in the Glee Club, Kurt assumes he is on the girls’ team. He is incensed that Mr. Schuester directs him back to the boys’ side of the room, and later betrays them to the girls, explaining that his allegiance is still with them.

An episode or so after that, he ends up with a Slushie all over his face. His response is to turn to his girlfriends and say, “I need a facial, STAT!” They all duck into the ladies’ room together.

In addition to the fact that none of these gags are actually funny, they are also indulging in cheap, inaccurate stereotyping. The gay boy considers himself a girl. He loves cross dressing. He just wants to sing and dance with his only friends, the girls. Caring for his delicate skin is the most important task in his life.

One thing that I have never seen with my gay friends is gender confusion. They don’t think, “I like boys, so I’m a girl.” They are men who are interested in other men. They might make jokes about how they are preternaturally good dressers, but they aren’t actually spending hours trying on women’s shoes or exfoliating.

What really pisses me off here is that Glee is trying to pass itself off as a modern show that embraces the values of tolerance and understanding, but then turns around and others the only gay kid in the show. It’s completely backhanded.

It’s the insidiousness of the female characters, however, that’s most disturbing. The show revolves around two love triangles. The first is that of the teacher, Mr. Schuester, who is in a loveless marriage to Terri, while he and Emily, the school guidance counselor, pine for one another. The second is that of Finn, the quarterback and the lead male singer in the Glee Club, who is dating the head cheerleader, Quinn, while he and the best female singer in Glee Club, Rachel, pine for one another.

To recap:

  • Will and Terri = Married.
  • Will and Emily = In Love
  • Finn and Quinn = Dating, expecting a baby
  • Finn and Rachel = In Love

Will and Finn are the good guys of the series, a pair of kind-hearted Lost Boys who have been ensnared by treacherous women and are being kept from the happiness they deserve with the Good Girls. Will’s psychotic, manipulative wife is faking a pregnancy in order to preserve their marriage. Finn’s girlfriend, Quinn, is pregnant and has decided to keep the baby.

Naturally, Quinn is lying to Finn. She’s telling Finn that it’s his baby when it is not. She cheated on him with his best friend. In fact, she and Finn have not even had sex.  He thinks that because he ejaculated while sitting in a hot tub with her, she somehow got pregnant. Finn is too naive and ignorant to know that’s impossible.

(It’s worth mentioning that the friend is absolved of any real wrongdoing here. He goes on being the lovable reprobate who is guilty about what happened with Quinn, but nothing more. Quinn is the betrayer here. He’s just following his horn-dog instincts. This is almost identical to the way Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s other big hit, Nip/Tuck, handled the relationship between Christian Troy and David MacNamara. Christian and David’s friendship trumped any reprehensible thing Christian might do because, hey, you can’t blame a man for screwing.)

Meanwhile, Will’s wife is claiming to be pregnant and is using a small cushion to fake a bulge. Will does not think it’s odd that he hasn’t seen or touched Terri’s stomach in months, and Terri has cut a deal with Quinn to take her baby when it is born. Quinn will go on with her life, and Terri will produce the baby that will save her marriage.

Terri dodges a bullet by using her stupid, cow-like sister to blackmail the OB/GYN into cooperating. Terri’s sister has been cranking out babies, “each one dumber than the last,” and she threatens to sue the doctor and ruin his reputation. The doctor goes along with Terri’s deception.

Notice a pattern here? We have two good, decent men who have been ensnared by a mysterious reproductive system they do not understand, and women who use their uteruses to trap them and ruin their lives. One of the women is aided by her sister, who speaks with a rural accent and craps out kids.

Ah, but if only Finn could get with Rachel and Will could get with Emily! These are the good women of Glee, who are above all defined by their adoration for the show’s male protagonists. Rachel is a sweet, loyal, generous girl who is unpopular despite talent and beauty (welcome to TV high school). Emily, on the other hand, is an awkward guidance counselor with a phobia of being touched or otherwise experiencing contact with another person. Ball of neuroses that she is, however, she finds a horse-whisperer in Will. She, too, is loyal, selfless, and honest.

To summarize the lesson:

  • Bad Women use sex and childbearing to ruin men’s lives.
  • Good Women are loyal and selflessly supportive.

Which leaves one last character to consider: Will’s nemesis Sue, the cheerleading coach.

Sue is unquestionably the strongest, toughest, and funniest female character in the show. The only thing she values is winning, at everything, and right now she sees the Glee Club and its charismatic coach as a threat to her primacy as the only winner in a high school full of losers. Worse, the Glee Club actually threatens her cheerleading team, as it is pulling cheerleaders into its orbit. Cheerleading is no longer the only thing her her girls’ lives. So Sue must destroy Will and his little club, using ever more nefarious and hilarious means.

Unfortunately, Sue is also not a Real Woman.

We know this because she is always wearing a track suit and has her hair cut very short, giving her an androgynous look. She bites out her words like a Lee Marvin character. There is no one and nothing in her life. In contrast to Quinn, who is always in a cheerleading outfit, and Rachel, who is usually in some variant of the Sexy Schoolgirl outfit, Sue stands out as the one sexless character in the show.

For one episode she mellowed, appearing to be on the cusp of turning into a good person. We saw her dancing and laughing with Will. The reason? She had developed a crush. She was suddenly (and unrealistically) in love, and it changed everything. Naturally, about 3/4 of the way through the episode, the relationship collapsed. She caught him with another woman, and the relationship ended. Prior to this, it’s worth noting that she had mistakenly bought a zoot suit for a dance date, not understanding that the men wore the zoot suits.

Immediately thereafter, Sue went back to being a vindictive bitch. A man briefly feminized her, transforming her into a sympathetic character, but when he spurned her she reverted to being the harsh androygne.

My problem with Glee is that it’s a decent show that uses heteronormative stereotypes for cheap laughs and as plot elements. There is not a single character that really cuts against the grain of gender roles, despite all the “quirky oddballs”  in the cast. It’s a show that is so charming, you may not notice that its sexual politics are disgraceful. But they are, and once you spot them, they color every scene and every line of dialogue. The show is still enjoyable, but there’s something rotten at the heart of it that always leaves me uncomfortable as the credits roll.