Friday, February 02, 2007

Thursday night must-see blog

So I'm watching Thursday's TV night and as I'm watching rather than writing about the youtube thing I was going to write about, I start to want to write a little bit about what I'm watching on TV. I start making notes about the programs that I'm watching and before I know it, I have a whole page or two of incomplete notes, and I figure i'll finish those notes and write about them a little more in detail, so I end up with about 6 pages of notes on NBC's TV programs that appeared from 8-10 p.m. last night.
My Name is Earl last night:
My Name is Earl reminds me that one method of comedy is just to make feel-good stories. There’s a highly oversimplified saying that drama is about the failure of man and comedy is about man’s greatness, so logic suggests that comedy can be successful by capitalizing on its realm of human greatness. Not that all comedy is like that. A great deal of comedy revolves around stupid people, and one of the three elements of comedy according to Plato (no, I’m not making that up) was inferiority. Comedy, however, often capitalizes on a feel-good element that I think is underemphasized in reviews of comedy movies. The two best feel-good movies of all time, arguably, are Frank Capra’s “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Capra is primarily known as the inventor of screwball comedy. Adam Sandler, for that matter is also a filmmaker who specializes in feel-good stories. (you kno what, maybe I got the saying all wrong about comedy being about human triumph and drama being about tragedy, but who knows.)

-On My Name is Earl, I can’t help but notice that Catalina, the illegal alien who cleans a hotel,” is quite intelligent and well-spoken. This is a very positive portrayal of a Latin American woman in TV. She’s not just the illegal sassy Latin-American sidekick. In tonight’s episode, Joy is confiding to Catalina about a relationship she had with a store manager of Target or something like that because of the discount she get on audio cassettes. When Catalina asks, “You slept with a guy just because of tape decks?” Joy replies, “Well, it was before CDs were invented.” Then Catalina says, “Wait! Didn’t CDs come out in 198-,” before Joy cuts her off in embarrassment. OK, let’s take a moment to consider this: Catallina knew offhand the exact year in which CDs came out and cross-referenced it to Joy’s age to conclude that she was having sex at a really young age. That’s actually pretty hard.

It’s a really small moment, but it is a great one for the positive portrayal of Hispanic people on screen, made all the more remarkable by the fact that My Name is Earl, like most comedies, is a show all about stupid people: Sublimely dumb people who think Karma was created by Carson Daly, and while Catalina has some of that charming stupidity in her (in one episode she said she thought God was a homeless man with an iguana or something), she’s also intelligent and resourceful and has turned out to amount to more than the sum of her initial character traits.

Right now, Ugly Betty is being celebrated for its positive portrayal of Latin American Immigrants amid the Immigration Debate. America Ferrarra’s character and its symbolic ramifications has been written about everywhere from Time Magazine to Newsweek and she was even honored in the congressional records when a member of the House proposed or created a resolution (I don’t know which) honoring her. But it’s often the small things that make a difference in racial perceptions.

Do you think I’m making too big a deal of a small moment? Well, I’m reminded of the textbook I read for my first film class: “Reel to Reel: Sex, Race, and Class at the Movies.” She writes about a very small moment in a film and how that helped destroy a stereotype: “I imagine all the myriad ways in which conventional representations of black people could be disrupted by experimentation. I am equally moved by that moment in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train when the young Japanese couple arrive in the train station in Memphis only to encounter what appears to be a homeless black man, a drifter, but who turns to them and speaks in Japanese. The interaction takes only a moment, but it deconstructs and expresses so much. It reminds us that appearances are deceiving. It made me think about black men as travelers, about black men who fight in armies around the world. This filmic moment challenges our perceptions of blackness by engaging in a process of defamiliarization (the taking of a familiar image and depicting it in such a way that we look at it differently).”

She even goes on to make a strong parallel to my Ugly Betty-My Name is Earl connection by comparing Jim Jarmusch to Quentin Tarantino, the latter of who got more attention for his supposedly “progressive” work.

OK, for a point-by-point blog, I probably should not have dwelled long on that one point but I felt I needed to right all that to make a complete coherent well-thought-out point.

-Sometimes a watch or clock can ruin a TV show. Avoid looking at a watch at all costs while you’re watching TV. In tonight’s episode Randy confesses her love for Catalina and Catalina appears to reciprocate. They hug and everybody claps. The only problem? It’s 8:15 so I know the show’s not going to end, and 5 seconds later it was confirmed that I was indeed correct.

-I really kind of like the Randy-Catalina relationship and where it’s going. I felt that before this episode they could have had a Jim-and-Pam or Niles-and-Daphne thing, where the tension get stretched out forever even though they’re legally married. I felt the ending of the episode took a back turn, because the first two relationships I previously mentioned went years where the characters weren’t together. These two are already married and had sex, so that reduces the tension significantly. What is there left? The two having good sex? Especially considering the show’s lovable innocentness, this is an unusually wrong move by the show to have two characters jump into bed together as a way to move a plot. Remember when the show played with the audience’s perceptions of what we might’ve thought Randy and Joy did when her kids were gone in season 1, through some cleverly concealed shots?

The Office:

The Office is such a great show because it’s so very, very relatable to the point where I want to live vicariously through the characters. Like an Alexander Payne movie, I’m not thinking

It’s kind of the cornerstone of the Must-See Thursday Night TV experience, and it deserves whatever accolades it’s getting. I’m sure because The Office is at the top of the heap, plenty of people are eager to attack it, because people like to attack whatever’s at the top.

The thing I feel like noting this time is there are usually just a couple brilliant moments on The Office each week, that are just pure comic gold. It’s the kind of comic setup and payoff, that you just have to gaze at the TV screen in awe of the comic minds behind it. Here are this week’s top 5 moments:

-That Dwight asked him about the preference between a brunette and a redhead in front of Pam and Jim. Way to up the sexual tension!

-Her “you’ve gotta have 8 hours of sleep” painfully akward attempt at small-talk with Jim. It was a painfully awkward moment where the usually composed Pam reverted to Michael-like behavior and in this show, lately as Michael is becoming more romantically competent this season as he’s having relationships with that real-estate agent and Jan, it’s good that the show is keeping the usual level of akwardness through other factors.

-She’s supposed to answer phones with her clothes on because they have to use up the whole three hours. The presence of the stripper is hilarious as she was just looming everywhere. Wait, why couldn’t anyone in the room use the stripper? Stanley’s married. Kevin’s engaged but I don’t think that would stop him. Ryan has a girlfriend upstairs who gets jealous of everything. Same with Dwight. Roy and Jim wouldn’t want word getting around that they’re doing stuff with strippers when they want to look like a gentleman with Pam. Oscar’s gay. Hmmmm….what about the warehouse manager, Daryl?

-“That is not the real Ben Franklin, I am 99% sure.” Hillarious. Thank god Jim is back to resorting to playing pranks on Dwight.

-The fact that Michael felt the need to confess to Jan about a lap dance he had not foreseeing that he might actually get in trouble as the office manager for throwing a bachelor party in the warehouse.

OK, let’s talk about what makes The Office really good, what gives it that something extra: The Office is the best portrayal of modern romance I’ve ever seen on TV or the movies. Jim is incredibly cool and cool under pressure as well: look at how he handled that near-disastrous situation Dwight put him in by replying, Blonde. When Roy asked him what kinds of girls he likes in an episode a couple seasons back, he answered single moms. And cool guys like Jim are expected to act cool all the time, but when he’s around Pam, you can visually see his knees turning into butter, and while it was really at a high point last season, it’s gotten more complex with the competition for Pam resulting from Karen, and the fact that Roy is losing weight and starting transforming himself into the fiancĂ© he never had the chance to be. Jim and Pam are a classic love story but there’s now a beautiful sense of ambiguity to their relationship. In each episode, as Jim and Pam are trapped in that ambiguity, and these obstacles get in their way, Jim and Pam and Karen revert more and more like clueless middle schoolers panicking at the prospect of losing their relationship.


I’ve rediscovered Scrubs lately. I casually watched episodes in its first two years, but recently I’ve been looking for something new to watch in syndication, since I’ve seen pretty much every episode of Sienfeld and Friends in syndication, and Scrubs is on all the time on Comedy Central and the Superstation (which I think is TBS). I think because it’s between two great shows, that helps, obviously, and the musical episode which was really great, clinched Scrubs place as a regular on my list of programs to watch.

-They actually have some legitimate anti-war stances and pro-war stances. The arguments of people in this show for and against Iraq could actually be borrowed by politicians in a debate verbatim. Humor is usually about stupid people, but humor is also about something entirely out of the ordinary, and it’s out of the ordinary for characters to be much smarter than we expect them to be. Examples include that bit on Conan O’Brien where Max and Conan exhibit an almost encyclopedic knowledge on topics such as reality tv, Grease the musical and the Winter Olympics in clearly scripted conversations that end in a stare-off or how on Newsradio, it’s revealed somewhere along the way that Andy’s Dick’s character is secretly a licensed dentist who had passions of becoming a really bad reporter. Another example is how in the film Wayne’s World, all of a sudden everyone in this room of rock stars and roadies knows everything in detail about the history of Milwaulkee, Wisconsin and can have an intelligent discussion about it.

-With that monologue that J.D. gives at the end, this show is like My Name is Earl in comedy-by-feeling-good

30 Rock:

I think 30 Rock is doing some things that the other backstage-SNL show on NBC, “Studio 60” is not doing: it does not put us to sleep with characters who are all exactly the same and it’s just more sharply written. At the same time, I kind of do like how “Studio 60” explores the fascinating topic of what goes on backstage, and I wish “30 Rock” would do the same to at least some degree. I feel like focusing on each of the characters a little so that’s where most of my posts will center.

-It’s been a while since I’ve taken European history, but I think this inbreeding thing is actually historically true. How many people know that.

-Who’s the bald guy, exactly? Don’t like him, although he looks moderately appropriate for his environment: The 30 Rock look.

-Judah Friedlander really has the 30 Rock look.

-The 30 Rock look (what I assume they were looking for when they cast this film) is self-deprecation. People who are brilliant humorously but don’t look very good. That’s Tina Fey’s whole comic shtick: make fun of her own lack of good looks. Honestly, though, she’s pretty good-looking and I feel like her whole comedic method is based around some unresolved therapy and self-image issues. She looks great, seriously.

-Alec Baldwin is hilarious as if that didn’t need to be said.

-Despite taking a part that was initially meant for someone else, Jane Krakowski, is really doing reat stuff with her role as Jenna. She’s delightfully quirky and has great comic timing, and she gets a lot of mileage out of her main comic quirk, thinking her sexuality can solve everything. And that also makes her more sexy, too.

-This episode is so solid narratively that it could work as a romantic comedy movie if you stretched it to two hours. Come to think of it, you can make two movies based on this: I could see someone pitching either the Jack-Liz subplot or the Jenna-inbred Prince as a film to a studio and having a decent possibility of getting greenlit.

-Carrying on that last thread, I think that the dynamic between Liz Lemmon and Jack Donaughy (I’m doing this on a non-wireless laptop so I don’t have some easy reference like to look up the correct spelling of the last name so to those annoying people who like to correct spelling errors: deal with it) reminds me of a screwball comedy, which is actually quite impressive. Screwball comedies were a popular form of comedy during the Great Depression. The formula involved pairing people of two different social classes together in an unlikely relationship and the happy ending where the two get together romantically in the end supposedly gave hope to depression audiences that because love could conquer class differences in the film, perhaps their might be hope for their own poverty problems to be worked out through the compassion of the government or the people who had money or whatever else. Screwball comedies went out of style because of the socio-economic conditions that made audiences relate to them, so it’s kind of odd that in the year 2007, they kind of are starting to make that work with Jack and Liz. They are two people seperated by inconquerable class differences.

-Kenneth the Page really wouldn't be interacting with the president of NBC or the members of the show so much, in real life, would he?

Deal of No Deal (there was a commercial for this show):

This show is THE EXACT SAME THING OVER AND OVER. Some guy possibly winning a million dollars WITHOUT ANY SKILLS WHATSOEVER. THEY DON’T NEED ARITHMETIC. Why are we bragging about that? I love how they find new ways to promote it each week: this time a father of 8 is playing our repetitive game! This time a guy from Oklahoma is playing our repetitive game! Tonight Celine Dion is going to say a few words to our contestants before they do the same boring thing!

1 comment:

bentNormal said...

Besides My Name is Earl- here is another Alien that's Illegal that Attacks (humor)