TV postsMonday February 13, 2017
The Boys of 'Girls': Why Feminist Filmmakers ♥ Men
Season 1, Jessa's wedding. The horror, the horror.
I've got a piece up on Salon about the male characters in women-helmed TV shows and movies, including “Girls,” “Enough Said,” “Laggies” and “Obvious Child,” and how the women in these stories are often awful, while the men are often supportive. I called the piece:
“You Like Us! You Really Like Us!”
The positive portrayal of men from Lena Dunham and female filmmakers
Someone at Salon called the piece:
“You Like Us! You Really Like Us!”: On “Girls” men get better treatment than they deserve
I guess they wanted to work “Girls” into the title.
At the end of the piece, I speculate that the titular characters of “Girls” might finally be maturing. Are they? The first episode premiered last night. Thoughts:
- Hannah is in a better spot. She published an article in The New York Times and received another goofy assignment, which she went after with her usual brand of laziness and quirkiness.
- Marnie backslid. With Desi. Eww. I imagine people around the country screaming “Noooooo!” at their TV sets.
- Why was Marnie so happy reading Hannah's piece, btw? In it, she calls Jessa her “best friend.” Would Marnie really let that go by?
- How do Adam and Jessa live? Is he still working? He's backsliding as well. He's much less interesting with Jessa than he was with Hannah. She's draining the artist out of him.
- I didn't buy Ray and Shosh's breakfast conversation about Paul Krugman. Put it this way: It was definitely a pre-Trump convo. And even then, it seemed cheaper/snarkier than Ray, and “Girls,” would normally allow.
Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017)
This is one of the most iconic shots of my childhood. I used to see it every Saturday night between “M*A*S*H” and “The Bob Newhart Show,” which were themselves bookended by “All in the Family” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” Lineups don't get any better than that.
“M*A*S*H,” I think, went onto other nights (Tuesday?), but “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I believe, stayed on Saturdays. Mary did move, though—from that beautiful apartment around Lake of the Isles to the ugly Cedar Square West by the university. I was bummed about that. I was a young, overly sensitive kid in a divorced household and I didn't like change. Plus the new place had no character. No sunken living room. I remember complaining about all this to my father—“Why would she move?”—who told me some part of how the world works. Mary moved, he said, because the real woman who owned that house around Lake of the Isles was tired of all the tourists snapping photos and refused to sign a deal with MTM Productions. Or maybe it was because she saboutaged things when they needed to film exterior shots. Right? Didn't she put up “Impeach Nixon” signs or something? Either way, it was sobering to me: how conflicts in the real world upset the fictional one. Were we safe nowhere? (Answer: no.)
Anyway, Lake of the Isles woman notwithstanding, we loved her. We took great pride in her and in the show. Most national storylines took place in other cities—New York, D.C., L.A., Mayberry—and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” tried its damnedest to get the whole Minneapolis vibe right: snow, Vikings, snow. I know the show was revolutionary in being about a single, 30s career woman at a time when feminism, or women's lib, was just beginning to rise, but it was also revolutionary in setting its story in a city in the heartland. And it was our city. That opening? When she's walking around the lakes, and on Nicollet Mall, and by Donaldson's (now defunct), and shopping at Lund's, and washing her car in the Fran Tarekenton jersey? God, that made me happy. Still does.
A lot of the show went over my head. The feminist angle, for example. I didn't get that this was a unique thing. I was born into the change, so I had to learn later what we'd changed from. I didn't get that Mary was supposed to be the attractive one and Rhoda the dumpy one, the yang to Mary's ying, since I always thought Valerie Harper was prettier. Rhoda had a line, looking at, I believe, a piece of candy, and saying, despondently, “I don't know why I'm putting this in my mouth. I should just apply it directly to my hips.” I didn't get the joke, or why that was a bad thing. Aren't curvey hips good? Some guys, led by Sir Mix-a-Lot, would still argue with Rhoda's thinking here, but the fact that it was voiced on a TV show was revolutionary.
I remember another line that confused me as a young Vikings fan. It was an episode in which Mary hires a female sportscaster, a former swimmer named B.J. (Caren Kaye), and Lou gives her the tip that the Vikings might be trading Fran Tarkenton. She acts all excited but when she and Mary are alone, she asks, “This Fran Tarkenton—who is she?” That's the joke. The part I didn't get was why Lou would be excited by the news. Trade Fran? Are you crazy?
Of course the “Chuckles the Clown” episode was the famous one. I still think about it now and again. A little song, a little dance. A little seltzer down the pants. The older I get, the truer that feels.
Was she the first “Where are the good men?” woman on TV? Not that Mary would say that. Too polite. Too Minnesota Nice. But that was the running gag: the ways in which this dysfunctional workplace somehow worked; the ways in which this super-functional, super-attractive woman could never hook up. There was always a problematic reveal. One guy was too short, another too whatever. I remember she dated this super-attractive guy, a skiier, and Mary had to come to terms with her own shallowness in being with him since they had nothing in common. One evening, she tried to find that common ground and asked about his favorite movie. He said, “The Man Who Skiied Down Everest,” she wistfully said hers was “Gone with the Wind,” and he responded, after a pause, “Don't believe I've heard of that one.” Even I got that joke.
Her real relationships were the work ones, particularly after Rhoda left for her own show. After that, the visitors to Mary's apartment were colleagues. Or this week's bad date.
That last episode. The group hug. Why were they disbanding? Oh, right. A new owner came in, saw the horrible ratings, felt the problem was either in front of or behind the camera, and against all logic, concluded that the worst anchorman in the world, Ted Baxter, was fine, and fired everyone else. That's more brilliant than I realized then. I probably thought it was an anomaly rather than the way of the world. Let's face it, we just elected a malicious Ted Baxter president of the United States. A little more seltzer down our pants.
The point of Mary was that she wasn't that. She kept trying, kept smiling. She made life worth the seltzer. With each glance and every little movement.
Bat-tastic Quiz: Who are Col. Gumm's Minions?
Notice anything about the screenshot below?
Yes, it's taken from the old 1960s “Batman” series. And yes, it's from the second-season episodes where the Green Hornet and Kato guest star. The episodes aren't great, to be honest. A tonal thing. Batman and Robin are obviously satirizing the superhero genre, but GH and Kato play it straight. Even odder is that Britt Reid (and Kato) shows up in Gotham City at the same time as The Green Hornet (and Kato), yet no one suspects Reid of being the Hornet; they suspect him of being Batman, and charge Bruce Wayne with being the Hornet. Even as a kid I thought that was stupid. You mean they switch cities every night? C'mon, people.
But none of that is why I'm asking about the screenshot. Think actors. For example:
- Though you can't see him (his face is covered by the “N” in “VAN”), the criminal ringleader in this episode, Col, Gumm, surely one of the lamest Batman villains, is played by Roger C. Carmel, who, around the same time, played Harcourt Fenton Mudd in two memorable episodes of “Star Trek.” Was there a lot of crossover between “Batman” and “Star Trek”? I'm sure someone's looked into it. Yes, someone has.
But again, not that. I'm really talking about the two guys on the right. Recognize them?
- The one closest to us, the blonde, is Seymour Cassel, who, a year later, would co-star in John Cassevettes' film “Faces,” and become an indie favorite forever after. He's been in everything from “Coogan's Bluff” to “The Last Tycoon” to “Tin Men” to “Honeymoon in Vegas” to “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic.” He's 81 and still making movies.
- And the other guy? That's Alex Rocco. In just five years, he'll have one of the more famous cinematic deaths as Moe Greene in “The Godfather.” Rocco will also have a long career. He died last year.
I like the moment before the moment. Of course the biggest such moment is the episode's ASSISTANT VISITING HERO. Very soon he'd been one of the biggest movie stars in the world, assistant to no one.
Abe Vigoda (1921-2016)
Fish sleeps with the fishes.
Let me tell you a story I've told probably a dozen times. It was Dec. 1990, I believe, and I was in a car with my sister and our friend Josh Karp, driving from Minneapolis to Chicago for New Year's Eve. Josh was from that area. Suburbs, I believe. It was the first house I'd ever been in that had heated floors.
Anyway, on the way down, we played many a game of “20 Questions.” Josh and I are adept at pop cultural crap so we were doing well, and my sister was struggling to keep up. But then she figured out someone that we couldn't figure out: an actor ... white, male, no longer alive ... who had been on a TV show in the 1970s. He'd had his own TV show but he was better known for a different TV show. His show had even been a spinoff of the first one, but his wasn't that successful. We're racking our brains. We're asking other questions. Movies? Other occupations? Sports? Politics? Karen is giddy with triumph. Finally, as we pull into the driveway of the house with the heated floors, we give up and Karen announces the answer with pride: Abe Vigoda.
Josh and I simultaneously: “Abe Vigoda's not dead!”
We hit her with it every once in a while, even though a lot of others have made the same mistake; even though People magazine was the first to do so.
Today, on Facebook, she posted the Times' obit (probably in the can since Dec. 1990), and wrote: “Erik, Josh: See, I was right.”
I first knew Abe Vigoda as Fish, of course, on “Barney Miller,” an underrated sitcom of the 1970s that I absolutely loved. For years, I remember, it was voted by cops as the most realistic portrayal of police work on TV (until “Hill Street Blues” came along). Back then, Vigoda looked impossibly old, but when the show began in 1974, he was actually my age now: 53. I'm the age of Fish.
He was also two years removed from the role that turned around his (up to that point, mostly stage) career: Sal Tessio, the Corleone insider that betrays them and pays for it. I still see him with that tight smile, trying one last time to wriggle free. “Tell Mike, it was only business. I always liked him.”
Does anyone know how he landed that role? Who cast him and why? Shortly thereafter he played Don Talusso in “The Don is Dead,” and John Dellanzia in an episode of “Newman's Law.” But despite how large “The Godfather” looms, I'll always think of him as Det. Fish of the 12th precinct. That episode where Wojo brought in the brownies laced with hashish? “The old guy--bang zoom!” And then Fish's later sad realization: “The first time in years I felt good ... and it has to be illegal.”
I finally just read the Times' obit and I'm getting a little teary-eyed now, more than I should be. An amazing life that had no business connecting with so many others, but did. If I had all the time in the world, I would check out his entire ouevre. But we don't have all the time in the world. Not even Abe Vigoda.
The Problems with 'Jessica Jones'
It's a not-bad superhero show. Krysten Ritter is good in it, while both Mike Colter (Luke Cage) and David Tenant (Kilgrave) are superb. I liked the first episode with the shock ending. I also like the villain's superpower. Mind-control is a nice change of pace. It seems truly evil, more evil than brute strength. Even when it's used for good in that one episode, there's something horrifying in it that you don't feel when someone is merely being punched in the face. “It's clobberin' time!” seems sweet in comparison.
But I kept shaking my head. I kept pausing to complain to Patricia. (Yeah, I'm that guy.) I kept going, “Really? That's your plan, Jessica Jones? To beat the shit out of Kilgrave on camera so he'll use his mind-control powers on you? And this will somehow be admissible evidence in the ultimate exoneration of Hope Shlottman? ” Even better was was when she put Kilgrave's parents into an isolation chamber with him and watched all hell break loose. No one saw that one coming. No one except everyone except Jessica Jones.
These are my main problems with the show:
- If someone has Kilgrave's powers, and you're out to stop him, you don't have subplots. It's all you'd do.
- Because what if he wakes up to the true nature of his power? What if he decides to walk into the White House? That's some scary shit. Instead, he's content to shut up a noisy crowd at a cafe. (Great scene, btw.)
In other words, she's not bright and he's unimaginative. Not a good combo.
In tonight's episode: Jessica tries to get herself incarcerated for life in a supermax prison!