Author Archive

Mad Men and the problem with shallow readings

5 March 2011
by R.A. Porter

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I’ll be trying to rectify that. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not a TV show but a piece of piss-poor criticism that’s inspired me to write.

I finally got around to reading Daniel Mendelsohn’s piece on Mad Men in The New York Review of Books and…well…wow. What a piece of garbage.

My first thought was that Mendelsohn was just trying to be contrary to earn style and courage points. Then I read further. Turns out he’s just an idiot.

Example:

The writers like to trigger “issue”-related subplots by parachuting some new character or event into the action, often an element that has no relation to anything that’s come before. Although much has been made of the show’s treatment of race, the “treatment” is usually little more than a lazy allusion—race never really makes anything happen in the show. There’s a brief subplot at one point about one of the young associates, Paul Kinsey, a Princeton graduate who turns out—how or why, we never learn—to be living with a black supermarket checkout girl in Montclair, New Jersey. A few colleagues express surprise when they meet her at a party, we briefly see the couple heading to a protest march in Mississippi, and that’s pretty much it—we never hear from or about her again.

Actually, Paul’s dalliance “on the dark side” said a lot about race relations in the early ’60s. Here was an ivory tower liberal out to prove his bona fides at any cost, in this case using a young girl to prove to everyone (himself included) how progressive he was. That pretty clearly sums up the “how” and the “why”. As for why we never heard about her again after the trip to Mississippi, that’s because Paul, when confronted with the brutal reality on the ground, came home with his tail between his legs. Of course he didn’t brag about running from the fight: that didn’t fit his personal narrative.

Or…

…Lane Pryce, the buttoned-up British partner who’s been foisted on Sterling Cooper by its newly acquired parent company in London—you know he’s English because he wears waistcoats all the time and uses polysyllabic words a lot…

Actually, I know he’s British from his OxBridge accent and the fact that he’s Richard Harris’s kid. I’m sure Mendelsohn is most familiar with Harris pater as Dumbledore; perhaps when he grows up he can watch some of the movies from before he was able to speak.

Or…

But then, why not have captions when so many scenes feel like cartoon panels? The show’s directorial style is static, airless. Scenes tend to be boxed: actors will be arranged within a frame—sitting in a car, at a desk, on a bed—and then they recite their lines, and that’s that. Characters seldom enter (or leave) the frame while already engaged in some activity, already talking about something—a useful technique (much used in shows like the old Law & Order) which strongly gives the textured sense of the characters’ reality, that they exist outside of the script.

*sigh* Do I really need to explain how the static blocking echoes the rigidity of the culture? How people rarely move in or out of scenes because they are locked in place?

The way that the scene about Lane and his black girlfriend somehow morphs into a scene about an unnatural emotional current between him and his father is typical of another common vice in Mad Men: you often feel that the writers are so pleased with this or that notion that they’ve forgotten the point they’re trying to make. During its first few seasons the show featured a closeted gay character—Sal Romano, the firm’s art director (he also wears vests). At the beginning of the show I thought there was going to be some story line that shed some interesting light on the repressive sexual mores of the time, but apart from a few semicomic suggestions that Sal’s wife is frustrated and that he’s attracted to one of his younger colleagues—and a moment when Don catches him making out with a bellhop when they’re both on a business trip, a revelation that, weirdly, had no repercussions—the little story line that Sal is finally given isn’t really about the closet at all. In the end, he is fired after rebuffing the advances of the firm’s most important client, a tobacco heir who consequently insists to the partners that Sal be fired. (Naturally he gives them a phony reason.) The partners, caving in to their big client, do as he says. But that’s not a story about gayness in the 1960s, about the closet; it’s a story about caving in to power, a story about business ethics.

(Emphasis mine.) Jesus. Fucking. Christ. This ridiculously shallow criticism from someone who a) was paid to write for a real live magazine and b) claimed to have watched the first four seasons in a marathon session.

It was because Don saw Sal making out with the bellhop that he knew he was gay. And, as it was believed of homosexuals at the time that they were perverts with no control over any of their sexual impulses, he fully expected Sal to service Lee Garner, Jr., just like he’d have expected one of the secretaries to do so. Thinking Sal was an independent agent free to choose whom he would and would not engage with never crossed Don’s mind. That is absolutely a story about gayness in the ’60s.

There really should be an intelligence test given before someone can post their opinions.

Friday Night Lights: “East of Dillon”

7 May 2010
by R.A. Porter

fnls4e01Welcome back, Coach!

I have very little and very much to say about this beautiful season four premiere. Let’s see whether my talky or taciturn side wins, shall we?

When we left Dillon, Coach had been screwed out of his position by Joe McCoy’s machinations,1 banished to the newly reopened East Dillon High as both consolation and punishment. Despite promises of large state grants to both schools, the best talent and lion’s share of the money have been diverted to Dillon.

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  1. I’m sure in his eyes, Coach hoisted himself on his own petard by ignoring precious, perfect JD. []

Psych: “Mr. Yin Presents”

10 March 2010
by R.A. Porter


In what I feel is a welcome sign of artistic growth, Psych has taken to ending its half seasons with episodes that raise the stakes for Shawn and Gus, giving Dulé Hill and James Roday opportunities to stretch their acting legs out a bit. This started with the mid-season finale of season three but the creators really set a high bar with last season’s finale, “An Evening With Mr. Yang.” Going back to that rich vein, tonight’s finale gives us the return of Mr. Yang (Ally Sheedy, pictured above) and her unseen partner in crime, Mr. Yin. This time it’s Mr. Yin’s turn to put Shawn and friends to the test.

Roday does triple duty for this episode, starring and helming from a screenplay he co-wrote. Filled with subtle and not-so subtle homages to Hitchcock, this is the prettiest and most ambitious episode of Psych to date. It also has one of the most touching and peculiar scenes I expect to see on TV this year, something that would feel at home in a Wes Anderson film. And yet it retains its sense of fun throughout.

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White Collar: “Out of the Box”

8 March 2010
by R.A. Porter

While I find White Collar to be a decent diversion and continue to watch it each week, it’s failed to make the leap narratively. I’m sticking around because I think Matt Bomer’s got a lot of charm, I love Willy Garson, and I’m a long-time fan of Tim DeKay’s.1 Story-wise, they aren’t treading ground that I haven’t seen on dozens of other shows over the years.

I just don’t care if Neal ever gets back with Kate.2 I’m not sure how much I care about Project Mentor and Fowler and I haven’t found him threatening in the least. Noah Emmerich is a fine actor who can certainly be an intimidating presence and he’s doing what he can with what he’s been given, but there’s just no heat there.

And of course I’m still stinging from the cheap feint over the mid-season cliffhanger.

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  1. Plus, I keep hoping Natalie Morales is going to get a bigger role. []
  2. The fact that Alexandra Daddario is a blank as Kate doesn’t help the character’s cause. Why the hell is Neal smitten with such a non-entity? []

Burn Notice: “Devil You Know”

4 March 2010
by R.A. Porter

Over the last three years, Michael Westen has faced his demons, ghosts from his past, and – in Victor – a cautionary tale of his own future. In tonight’s season finale he meets something far worse: himself.

The monster whose crimes fill Michael’s burn notice has been locked in a dark hole, stripped of his freedom and the credit for his evil acts while Michael has roamed Miami. Simon’s life’s work is Michael’s burden. And Simon wants it all back. To that end he spent millions, double-crossed Gilroy, and broke into the bright light of South Florida to force Michael’s hand.

Guest star Garret Dillahunt brings his usual creepiness to Simon, and by moving with dancer’s grace and standing straight as a statue of Lenin, he imbues Simon with a definite Michael Westen-ness. This monster, more than Victor or Dead Larry or Brennan, is what much of the world sees when it sees Michael.

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Yo Gabba Gabba! Touring

1 October 2009
by R.A. Porter

GROUNDBREAKING CHILDREN’S SERIES YO GABBA GABBA!

KICKS OFF FIRST EVER U.S. TOUR

YO GABBA GABBA! LIVE: THERE’S A PARTY IN MY CITY

ON SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14 IN LOS ANGELES

SPECIAL GUESTS WILL JOIN THE PARTY ON STAGE, ROCKING THEIR FAVORITE ‘DANCEY DANCE’ MOVES

ADVANCE TICKETS FOR AMERICAN EXPRESS® CARDMEMBERS

BEGINNING WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30

PUBLIC ON-SALE BEGINS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9

BEVERLY HILLS, CA & MIAMI, FL — (September 24, 2009) –W!LDBRAIN, the award-winning animation and entertainment company and S2BN Entertainment are proud to announce the launch of YO GABBA GABBA! LIVE:  THERE’S A PARTY IN MY CITY, the first live U.S. touring show for the hit children’s program Yo Gabba Gabba!. The show will feature DJ Lance Rock, and everyone’s favorite cast of characters– Brobee (the little green one), Foofa (the pink flower bubble), Muno (the red Cyclops), Plex (the magic robot), and Toodee (the blue cat-dragon) as well as lots of surprise guests.  The tour comes on the heels of the first YO GABBA GABBA! CD release YO GABBA GABBA! MUSIC IS AWESOME, hitting the shelves nationwide on October 20.

The tour will kick off in Los Angeles on Saturday, November 14, at the Shrine Expo Hall. YO GABBA GABBA! LIVE: THERE’S A PARTY IN MY CITY will also appear at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on Saturday, November 21, and the Rosemont Theatre outside of Chicago on Saturday, December 5.  There will be two shows in each city — in LA and Chicago they will be held at 11 AM and 3 PM and in NY 11 AM and 2PM.

Tickets will be available to American Express Cardmembers from Wednesday, September 30, at 9 AM through Thursday October 8 at 9PM.  There will also be a special pre-sale for Gabba Mail members on Tuesday, October 6th at 10AM EDT.  The public on-sale will begin October 9 at 10AM.  Tickets will be available via Ticketmaster.com and YoGabbaGabba.com.

A one-of-a-kind live event, YO GABBA GABBA! LIVE: THERE’S A PARTY IN MY CITY will feature music, animation, games, singing, dancing, and special musical guests.  Favorites such as “Party in My Tummy” “Hold Still” and “Get the Sillies Out” will be featured in the show. Special guests will also join the party on stage rocking their favorite ‘Dancey Dance’ moves.  Presented using state of the art production elements, YO GABBA GABBA! LIVE: THERE’S A PARTY IN MY CITY will offer audience members of all ages an unparalleled experience.

YO GABBA GABBA! LIVE: THERE’S A PARTY IN MY CITY

Los Angeles, CA

Shrine Expo Hall               Saturday, November 14, 2009 11AM and 3PM

New York, NY

Beacon Theatre Saturday, November 21, 2009 11AM and 2PM

Chicago, IL

Rosemont Theatre Saturday, December 5, 2009 11AM and 3PM

YO GABBA GABBA! premiered on Nick Jr. in August, 2007. Since its debut it has garnered extensive critical acclaim including being hailed as one of the best new television series of 2007 by TIME magazine, winning the BAFTA for International Children’s Programming in 2008 and in 2009 it won the award for best children’s programming from the Television Critics Association.  Currently the number one show in its time period among kids 2-5, YO GABBA GABBA! has also captured a broad appeal among parents, teens and adults who love the program with its contemporary musical appeal and retro feel. The hit show has featured a variety guest stars like Jack Black, Rachel Dratch, Jimmy Eat World, Melora Hardin, Jack McBrayer, Andy Samberg, Amy Sedaris, Amare Stoudemire, Tony Hawk, Elijah Wood and popular bands Sugarland, The Ting Tings, The Shins, MGMT and The Roots.

YO GABBA GABBA! toys, apparel and other merchandise are sold in stores nationwide in the U.S. and have skyrocketed in popularity.  The series is currently shooting its third season in the U.S. and airs in several major international territories, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Latin America, New Zealand, South Africa and the U.K.

Visit www.yogabbagabba.com

Unexpected programming interruption

27 August 2009
by R.A. Porter

indianhead-testpatternI’ve been dealing with a few matters in the real world and they’ve caused me to trim a little of my writing. Here and Sketch War have been the hardest hit of late. Sorry.

I hope to get back on track in the next week or so, catching up on the summer shows I review and prepping us for the fall schedule. I’ll even try backfilling the reviews I’ve skipped but I make no promises about that.

And if you don’t hear from me before Monday with a preview of Greek…suffice it to say TheWife and I have become huge fans, always should have been fans, and have inhaled the first two seasons. The premiere is this coming Monday on ABC Family: don’t miss it.

TNT Adds two episodes of Leverage to summer schedule

18 August 2009
by R.A. Porter

leverage

Good news to fans of the con! More crime-y goodness. More below.

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Mad Men: “Out of Town”

17 August 2009
by R.A. Porter

madmens03e01If season two of Mad Men was about long-term bonds and understandings coming to an end, this season looks to be the chaotic aftermath of that. Under conditions of extreme pressure and energy, novel forms blink into and out of existence, quantum states superimpose, and out of the soup new structures crystallize. This is true of societies and communities in the macro world as much as it is true of particles in the subatomic world. Don is doting husband and father/seducer. Joan is counting down the days till she’s gone/manipulating the office with her usual aplomb. The Brits are in charge/are hopelessly out of their league.

First, let’s get the big mystery out of the way…based on the way Betty’s belly looks I’d say we’ve jumped forward about eight months from the end of season two. Enough time for Don and Betty to have come to yet another in their long string of accommodations, for things at Sterling-Cooper to still be in flux, for Harry1 to be much more important, and for Bert to have acquired a lovely piece of tentacle porn to keep his Rothko company. But just little enough time that we can watch as the new world order begins to emerge.

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  1. ! []

Saving Grace sets date for conclusion

15 August 2009
by R.A. Porter

savinggrace
As much as I love Holly Hunter, I never did get into Saving Grace. However, I know some of my readers are fans and will be saddened by this news.

TNT will conclude the fascinating journey of Oklahoma City Police Det. Grace Hanadarko in 2010, when the network’s groundbreaking original series SAVING GRACE will come to an end. SAVING GRACE will wrap up with a nine-episode run planned for next summer. The provocative drama stars Oscar® winner Holly Hunter (The Piano), who this year received the second of two consecutive Emmy® nominations for her no-holds-barred performance. Hunter also serves as executive producer of SAVING GRACE, along with show creator Nancy Miller (Any Day Now), Gary A. Randall (Any Day Now, Leaving L.A.) and Artie Mandelberg (Leaving L.A., Mr. & Mrs. Smith). For its current summer run, which ends Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 10 p.m. (ET/PT), the show has averaged more than 3.5 million viewers and ranks first in its time period among viewers, households, adults 25-54 and women 25-54.

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