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Orange Is The New Best Show!

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I just finished watching the first season of Orange Is the New Black, and man oh man, how I wish I had more of it to watch right this minute! The second season is about to begin, but I can’t watch livestream because my free WiFi connection isn’t good enough: videos stop running at some point, or else they bumble through to the end, stopping and starting every few minutes. Thus, I waited until it came out on DVD to see the entire first season; now I’ll have to wait for the second.

I’m not going to give any summaries or recaps here, but there will no doubt be “spoilers.” To tell you the truth I’m a little sick of this spoiler warning bullshit—which I’ll expound upon at some other time.

Like Regina Specter’s song in the opening of the show says, “Remember their faces,” and I vividly remember every one of them . These characters are so well-drawn, their stories so compelling, they’ve become embedded deep in the neurons of my brain. I suppose I’ll just have to subsist on memories for how ever many months it takes…and in the meantime, I have a few opinions about the goings-on.

Q: What makes this show so terrific?

A: It’s about women. Women’s lives, one hundred percent and more real than any so-called reality show.

Big REd

Big REd

Example: A group of prisoners sit in a circle hatching plans so Daya can have her baby without revealing that the father is one of the guards, who she’s in love with. Big Red, Bitch-Goddess of the Prison Kitchen, solemnly advises Daya in a thick Russian accent (I’m paraphrasing here), “Think carefully: every decision you make now is going to affect your family for a long time. Welcome to motherhood.” That just about slayed me.

Chapman Piper Chapman, the main character, sleep-walks through life, as everyone accuses her of doing, letting whatever happens to her happen, taking no responsibility for any of it. She doesn’t seem to realize that words have consequences, that when she tells Healy, her prison counselor, to go fuck himself, he’ll turn on her in the most vicious way he can conjure up. It’s only beginning to dawn on her that you can get into all kinds of trouble saying the wrong things in prison; for instance, if you tell a seriously disturbed religious fanatic her beliefs are a crock of shit, she will seek revenge. In the last episode Chapman gave lip service to accepting responsibility for the crime that got her into jail, but her words sounded hollow and unconvincing. She still blames Alex, her ex-lover and partner in crime, who did indeed turn her in to get less time herself.

AlexI adore Alex, and I can’t stand Piper for causing her so much heartache. Cruelly she abandoned Alex on the heels of her mother’s sudden death, with Alex begging Piper to just accompany her to the funeral. Piper walked out and slammed the door, muttering some nonsense about her needs. When the series begins, her affair with Alex is long since over and she’s engaged to a nebish of a man who understands even less of how the world works  than she does. Larry, who looks exactly like the preppie writer wanna-be he is, uses Piper’s situation as a stepping-stone to a career: he writes an article for the New York Times about his experience of her imprisonment. Not content with the attention he gets, he pushes the envelope by chatting about it on Urban Tales, a fictive NPR show emceed by one Murray Kind, a shoo-in for Ira Glass of This Orange New BlackAmerican Life. Jenji Kohan, who adapted Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is The New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison, for the Netflix series, told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that Urban Tales is a take on This American Life, and she’s an Ira Glass fan. So why didn’t Ira himself play the role? ‘I asked Ira if he would do it and he politely declined,’ Kohan said.

Not only does Larry appropriate Piper’s story for his own benefit, he tells tales out of prison about the other inmates, who despise Piper for the things she said about them. He’s clueless about where she is and with whom, and that he could seriously hurt her with his idle chatter. As for the sleep-walking Piper, she barely confronts him on it, and never tells him straight out to knock it off: she still wants to marry the creep! In their last phone conversation, when I wanted her to rip him a new pair, verbally at least, she sobbed pitifully when he broke off their engagement. Little does she realize, the jerk did her a favor.

But she can’t go back to her hot lesbian lover: Alex won’t allow Piper near her anymore, and at the conclusion of Season One Piper is completely and utterly alone. As much as I’ve come to dislike her, I did feel sorry for her. None of the inmates want to be her friend; some even despise her. Her counselor, Mr. Healy, simply walks away laughing while the crazed religious fanatic goes at Piper with a razor. The only thing Piper has going for her is remembering the street-fighting techniques the black girls taught to her gratis—and she uses them. As the show ends Piper is smashing Ms. Jesus to a bloody pulp, and we’re left wondering if the nutcase survives the beating.

Well, I can hardly wait for Season Two, though after that ending I’m afraid it’ll start out with Piper in solitary, aka the SHU: oftentimes I just can’t watch scenes of solitary confinement. It terrifies me, and I empathize too much with the prisoner to watch what she goes through. I braved Piper’s first trip to the SHU, and the fact that it didn’t bother me inordinately is an indication it wasn’t that intense, unlike true stories I’ve read, or the portrayal, in his biopic, of Reuben (Hurricane) Carter’s time in isolation. I’m not criticizing Orange on this; I’m glad it wasn’t unbearable, since I don’t want to have to skip one single minute of Orange Is The New Black. Ever.

 

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Endings: Breaking Bad: Spoilers

Walt & Jesse

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! STOP NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF BREAKING BAD!

We could probably count on the fingers of one hand how many long-running TV shows ended in a way that we found satisfying. Seinfeld comes to mind. M.A.S.H. Nothing else at the moment, though I’m sure there must be more, if few and far between. I mean, remember The Sopranos? Thus, when a show does deliver the goods in that last crucial episode, after flawlessly leading up to it with four or five intense programs, it seems like quite an achievement.

The ending of Breaking Bad left me completely, and fully satisfied. I’m not wondering what happened to this character or where did that one go, or why did that idiot do what he did. My one and only complaint is that Hank died, but since Jesse was allowed to live I guess I can forgive Vince Gilligan and Company. Besides, the sacrifice of Hank‘s character was integral to what followed.

Hank and Jesse were the only characters I really liked on BB….and maybe the eccentric lawyer Sol, who made a clean getaway, even if he is stuck in Omaha flipping burgers. Everyone else was either psycho—I loved it when Jesse called Todd and Jack’s gang a bunch of psycho fucks—or whining nags like Skyler and

Betsy Brandt as Marie Shrader (Photo: Imdb)

Betsy Brandt as Marie Shrader (Photo: Imdb)

son Flynn; good god, how those two worked my last nerve! Marie was no prize either, though in the final episode Betsy Brandt finally did some real acting.

Aside from the main climactic events, there were a few elegant touches executed only the way BB can do these things: for instance, the gun-on-a-turntable Walter rigs up to give those psycho fucks what they so richly deserved. The creation of that gadget brought us full circle in terms of Walter’s character, as he harkens back to the genius chemistry teacher we were introduced to in 2008. While he was setting up this contraption, I hadn’t a clue WTF he was going to do with it, and completely forgot it even existed…until the moment when Walt pushed the button that swung open the trunk of his car. Out came Robo-Gun, spinning like the turntable of a record player, firing off bullets instead of doo-wop. Within a few minutes, maybe even less, every psycho fuck but Todd and Jack lay dead and bleeding on the floor. Jesse got the gratification of choking Todd, the sociopath who physically tortured him, while Walt cut short Jack’s last drag on a cigarette the old-fashioned way, with a manual blast to the head.

By the time the cops arrived Walter was dead. Jesse refused to kill him for about the hundredth time in their complex father-son relationship, but it turned out he was shot by his own invention. No doubt he knew it might happen—but Walt’s been living on borrowed time already, and probably preferred to die now rather than endure a trial and prison, only to die of cancer during or shortly thereafter.

Anna Gunn as Skyler White (Photo: Imdb)

Anna Gunn as Skyler White (Photo: Imdb)

At least Walt made his confession before dying. Earlier he goes to see Skyler and begins by saying “Everything I did…” but she cuts him off, a great relief to her and to me, who could not bear one more bullshit declaration that he cooked meth and killed people “for my family,” the word so weighted in this context I could vomit. But Walt surprises her, and us: he tells the truth this time. “I liked it,” he said. “I was good at it. I felt alive.” It’s not like we didn’t know it, but still, I wanted to applaud: the guy came to terms before meeting his maker, if that is indeed what’s in store for him (and the rest of us).

Satisfying ending or not, saying farewell, even to characters I loathed, is just too sad.  The older I get the more I lose, and the more I see that’s one of  life’s big lessons. It’s why the Buddhists practice non-attachment: “When you ain’t got nothing you got nothin’ to lose.” But if I cry every time a show I love ends, imagine what it’s like when I lose real people or things. I don’t have to imagine…it’s happened enough already. Focussing some of life’s sadness on a show I loved is convenient. Satisfying.

Goodbye Heisenberg, you psycho fuck!

Bryan Cranston as Walter White (Photo: Imdb)

Bryan Cranston as Walter White (Photo: Imdb)

Marc Maron’s Meteoric Rise

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 centerpiecewide(Photo: In SF Chronicle,  from IFC)

His new book is selling like hotcakes. His sitcom’s on its third episode, and while reviews are mixed, they lean towards positive. He shows up on the coolest tv shows—Bill Maher, Conan O’Brien, Louis C.K. Bit parts in movies. Mentions in the New Yorker. He MC’s comedy shows in clubs all over the country. And through it all he pumps out, twice a week, the thing that got him all this love and attention to begin with:WTF, his podcast interview show. I’m talking about Marc Maron, a guy who–after a quarter century slogging around in the basement of the entertainment industry—staged a meteoric rise to celebrity status–and in “only” two years!

I’m a bit hesitant to write about Maron, since I worry that he thinks I’m stalking him. I’ve written about him two or three times and to him at least as many. I’ve tossed out phrases like, “I’m in love with him/you.” He doesn’t know that’s just the way I am. Don’t be paranoid, Maron: I have a grip on reality, and I am not, repeat, NOT stalking you. I don’t have secret plans for us. I’m not Sandra Bernhardt and I don’t see you as Jerry Lewis. We are too much alike to even stand being together more than ten minutes. I could never be with someone like myself and I doubt you could either. And that’s just for starters.

Okay, I got that out of the way, now I can breathe. Time to get to the review. If that’s what this is.

Sandra Bernhard in King of Comedy (Photo: movietone.com)

Sandra Bernhard in King of Comedy (Photo: movietone.com)

Maron’s early podcasts coincided with my discovery, and I guess the start, of the podcast phenom. Maron’s WTF soon rose to the top of my list—as it did on iTunes. There are some decent podcasts out there, but also a lotta crap. The guys who tried to copy Maron—not the impressionistic ones, like Maron in Space, but the interviewers—aren’t as good as he is. Nobody converses like Maron. Nobody gets a guest to open up as much; in fact there’ve been a few that come to the garage, home of the broadcast, to get something deep out of their guts: one even admitted as much.

Also, I haven’t heard or seen that much contemporary comedy, and had no idea it could be like Maron’s: real, gloomy, neurotic–and yet genuinely funny. Sort of like Woody Allen only more intense. Hipper. Maron will tell a story to break your heart for the confused little kid who was Marc at 8 or 4 or 11, and then while your heart’s cracking into a zillion pieces, you’re laughing. You wonder, Am I a sadist? He must’ve told the same story dozens of times to get to the point of telling it without weeping himself. That’s called therapy. Maron calls it comedy. Why quibble about semantics?

Also appealing is Maron’s history, a Cinderella story that was a turtle-paced career crawl without a goal line in sight. If any readers out there are, as Maron was, and I still am, slogging around in the basement of your chosen art form in dogged obscurity, Maron is living proof that there’s always hope—genuine hope. His is the artistic variation of that corny refrain known as The American Dream: My brilliant talent will be recognized! I will get rich and famous! I’ll never have to worry about money or work again! Everybody will love me! From Maron’s words and behavior I gather he hasn’t got that last part down yet; maybe he never will. But he is in a relationship with a woman 20 years his junior who wants to have a baby with him. So she isn’t everybody—but you don’t need everybody when you have The Real Thing from one person.

Photo: Catster.com

Photo: Catster.com

All right already, let’s do this thing. Let’s write a review instead of masturbating all over the page. Get it together, Sheiner! You’re being self-indulgent! The truth is, I’m intimidated by the many, many writers far more clever than I who are doing Maron all over the Internet these days.

Eureka! I already said what I have to say. Ergo, here are a few pieces of other people’s reviews with a bit of  commentary:

At least two reviewers said Maron follows “in the footsteps of Louis C.K. and Larry David.”—Here I most vehemently take umbrage. If Maron was a lot like Larry David I wouldn’t be watching or listenting to him, much less singing his praises. David did a great job with Seinfeld, of course—but I could not watch that man’s own show. His character  (and possibly the man himself?) was so hateful, so toxic towards the human race, I just couldn’t stand it. Even in situations where I thought he was in the right I just couldn’t work up sympathy for him. Maron might be neurotic and curmudgeonly—but as one reviewer said about him:

“…his humor has a moral core — not just an irritable one — which leads him to kindness enough.—Robert Lloyd, The LA Times

Salon compares Maron’s sitcom to his podcast and finds it wanting:

“But Maron’s self-help tendencies have already found their best format: Maron’s podcast, where Maron’s own honest self-explorations encourage everyone who joins him in his garage to do the same, while also curtailing Maron’s endless self-infatuation. “Maron” is a little bit like the podcast without the guests, which is too much Maron. … the fact that “Maron” is also a near miss {is} almost poignant — but at least it will make great fodder for a future podcast.”–Willa Paskin

While I agree that WTF is a better platform for Maron, I cut him a little more slack. The show isn’t a “near miss” – at least not yet. How could it be? There’ve been, what? 3 episodes aired so far? Give the guy a break! It might get better. Besides, it’s not so bad now—it’s television.

Oh shit,did I mention the cats? I forgot to mention the cats! Gotta say it: Boomer Lives! 

The book: Attempting Normal

The sitcom: On IFC, 10 p.m. FridayProduct Details

The podcast: WTF

Live appearances: Schedule on WTF website

Preventative Mastectomy

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Angelina Jolie wallpaper

Angelina Jolie wallpaper

So what do we think of Angelina Jolie’s preventive mastectomy, and of the procedure in general? Right from the get-go I want to say that I honestly do not  judge Jolie or any other woman who decides on this course of action, nor do any of us have the right to do so. It’s entirely up to each woman to do what she thinks best for herself–which doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. Or maybe it’s not actually an opinion, it’s more about what I might do in the same situation.

When I first heard about preventive mastectomy a few years ago I was horrified–especially since some women were having it who didn’t know what their chances of getting breast cancer were. Maybe their mother had it, or even an aunt or female ancestor further back. That seemed to me the height of paranoia, even female self-hatred. Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer in 2007, however, so Angelina got herself  tested. She has an 87% chance of getting breast cancer. Eighty-Seven Fucking Percent. PLUS, a 50% chance of getting ovarian cancer. Lousy odds.

From what I’ve read in comments and op-eds, women are doing most of the talking, and the majority are cheering Angelina on, congratulating her courage and noting the depth of her demonstrated motherly devotion. She deserves the cheering, and the public kudos for undergoing such a radical procedure that’s left her without breasts for the next half of her life. Jolie’s fairly young–37–which is a huge factor when making this kind of decision, but it can probably work in either direction, I would think. At my age, for instance–67–I wouldn’t do it. What for? We’re all gonna die of something. Were I 37, though, I don’t know if I would have made the decision to live without my breasts. Then again, 87%…Still…

Whoa, it’s so fucking hard!

I’m wondering how this is going to affect Angelina’s life. Will she lose out on any acting roles because of it?

English: Gwyneth Paltrow at Sensuous launching...

Gwyneth Paltrow 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

People magazine recently featured Gwyneth Paltrow on their cover, captioned as The Most Beautiful Woman In the World. I did a double-take, on line at the supermarket, and then I laughed out loud. Gwyneth Paltrow? My sister once described her as “bland,” comparing her to Marilyn Monroe. I think Paltrow is kinda cute…but The Most Beautiful? Shit, I remember when Liz Taylor held that distinction–but she deserved it. If you ask me–and nobody has–Angelina Jolie deserves the moniker today. Maybe Michelle Pfeiffer, but I suppose she’s too old (and come to think of it, Liz was considered beautiful in her 60s). Gwyneth Paltrow? The Most?

 

I’ve gotten off track here, but I do have a point. If the Hollywood power mongers think GP is more gorgeous than AJ, what will they think of a breastless AJ? Does that sound awful? Am I a bad person for thinking and/or saying that? I can’t be the only one to whom these thoughts occur. I honestly do think Angelina is just as gorgeous post-op–after all, I was never privy to her breasts! But knowing the ways of the world and the people in it, I strongly suspect these issues are, at the very least, on people’s minds.

I knew a woman who had breast cancer that wasn’t diagnosed until it had reached Stage 4. Everyone expected her to die soon. Ultimately she had a bone marrow transplant of her own bone marrow–and she lived another ten years, so she was around until her kids grew up, more or less. It makes me wonder: Couldn’t someone with a strong chance of getting breast cancer get checked every six months or more and have the mastectomies if and when those fucker cells do invade her body? Just askin’.

Anything you don't need, Lenny?

Anything you don’t need, Lenny?

I keep remembering a scene in Law & Order where Anita (S. Epatha Merkerson) patiently explains to Lenny (Jerry Orbach) that the articles he skips “on your way to the sports section” are kept in her night table drawer. He and partner Ray (Benjamin Bratt) scoff at the idea of a woman hesitating about surgery when it can save their life. She aims a deadly glare at Lenny and asks, ” Oh yeah? Can you think of a part of your body you might wanna keep?”

I can. Angelina, you are in my heart and mind a lot these days. With all the people thinking about you, feeling for you, talking about you, your vibe on Planet Earth must be so powerful, this might be a good time to do something daring, something risky…oh, yeah…you already did. Good luck baby girl. In my book YOU  are The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, bar none.

Big Blue Eyes

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Garry Moore, quintessential 50s TV emcee. Photo: Wikipedia

Garry Moore, quintessential 50s TV emcee. Photo: Wikipedia

Some time around 1950, my mother sent away for free tickets to some corny daytime television show. I don’t recall what it was, only that it wasn’t a soap opera or game show. The emcee, to whom I was rude, blunt, and contemptuous, might have been Garry Moore. The sponsor I vividly remember: Chef Boy-ar-Dee. At

Chef Boyardeethe end of the program each mother-child pair marched across the stage, shook the emcee’s hand, and received a can of ravioli. This ceremony was televised, was part of the programming.

When it was our turn, the emcee smiled at me and cooed, “Where’d you get those big blue eyes?” Four years old, I thought he was an idiot. “I was born with them!” I said, silently conveying the tag, “Stupid!” He was taken aback, but luckily we had to keep moving so the next kid could get a can of ravioli.

My little playmate Barry was home in his Bronx apartment watching TV and sucking his thumb. When I came on camera he shrieked, “That’s my Marcy!” Or so his mother told me. I guess he didn’t notice my bitchiness—or maybe he was used to it. Or maybe it made perfect sense to Barry that I called a grownup on his bullshit: of course I was born with my blue eyes—where else would I have gotten them? For years I’d tell this story for laughs, proud of my youthful honesty. Now, having reached an age where I know who I am and how I got here, I see that my behavior came from a personality in development, one that I cultivated and honed and carried with me into the future. It was not a personality likely to generate success in most areas of life.

The evidence was on my quarterly report card: in first grade, when they only gave out “S” for Satisfactory or “U” for Un, straight S’s ran down and across for every subject but one: “Works well with Others.” Unsatisfactory! Marcy does not work well with others! These days a parent who saw a report card like that would rush their kid to the nearest shrink. My parents ignored it.

Cartoon: Dane Anthony

Cartoon: Dane Anthony

 

This wasn’t really unusual; in fact, it would’ve been considered odd if they had consulted a shrink. That’s the way my generation’s parents were: they pushed us out the door in the morning and expected us back by supper. We were to do our homework without their help, do well in school, wash our face and comb our hair. They were nothing like today’s “helicopter” parents.

The other day I heard someone roughly my age on a podcast, talking about the parenting style of the generation who raised us, who raised me. It might’ve been Marc Maron, who I listen to a lot, but he’s younger. Whoever it was, he joked that our parents won World War II, saving us from living in a Hitleresque world

Photo: "Life Under Nazism" at from Center for Holocaust & Gender Studies/http://www.chgs.umn.edu/histories/documentary/nazilife/index.html

Photo: “Life Under Nazism” from Center for Holocaust& Gender Studies/http://www.chgs.umn.edu/histories/documentary/nazilife/index.html

under Nazism; now what more could we possibly want from them? The guy he was talking to said he didn’t think our generation could’ve done it, that we could not have won the war. He had a point.

Still. I’m not the only one who was raised by a system of benign neglect (or worse). I’m not the only one struggling not to be bitter, who genuinely wants to stop blaming my parents for my problems. I’m not the only baby boomer who would like to be able to forgive them.

Dead or alive, they deserve no less.