Friday, January 27, 2023

Other People’s Money (1991): Capitalism At Its Most Depraved

THIS FILM IS FREE ON YOUTUBE!

Directed by Norman Jewison, Other People’s Money centers around a corporate battle for ownership of a family-owned factory that’s said to be supporting a small town’s employment needs.

Gregory Peck (what a treat that a 1940s screen icon gets such a meaty role in 1991!) plays supposed blue-collar champion Andrew Jorgensen.

His opponent, Larry the Liquidator, is Danny DeVito gleefully playing the same notes of depravity that you see as Frank in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Only he doesn’t live in filth and squalor but in a shamefully extravagant hotel suite with a staff that includes 17 lawyers. While the film is an attempt to live up to the corporate-damning messaging of the 1987 film Wall Street, this film is as much about the singular oddity of Larry that Devito establishes with such a grandiose sense of hedonism. He’s a ruthless ball of lust and greed with no filter.

I’d like to pause to talk about how I first came across this film:

In elementary school, my parents were restrictive about my TV and I used to sneak into my nanny/housekeeper’s bedroom when she went away on the weekends. But she had a broken TV and I only got one or two channels that came in clear. One was a syndicated Paramount channel that had either become or was in the process of becoming rebranded as UPN.

My ideal watching would have been TGIF-type fare or cartoons but by the time I got there after Sunday School, so my only option Paramount at the Movies. I vaguely remember Raising the Titanic, Love Potion Number 9, Arthur, Fitzwilly, The Ref, and Cyrano (the Steve Martin version. Because it was the 90s and I had no streaming options, it was all uninteresting, but I just enjoyed because being in front of the screen for an extra couple hours.

But Other People’s Money got my attention. In an early scene, Danny Devito’s character Larry the Liquidator, invites the opposing side’s corporate attorney (Andrew Jorgensen’s step-daughter, Kate, played by Penelope Ann Miller) for a business dinner and is simultaneously excited about burying her as he is about romancing her. As she gives up and leaves, the following dialogue takes place:

Lawrence: Wait, wait, wait! I got a proposition for you. You come up. We have a nice dinner. We make passionate love the rest of the night loses. The first one who comes first loses.

Kate: Loses what?

Lawrence: The deal.

Kate: [Disgusted] I think you’re serious… How do you propose we write this up?

Lawrence: Delicately. Under the heading of, “Easy Come, Easy Go.”…come on what have you got to lose your virginity. I could lose millions?

Kate: So what happens if we come together?

Lawrence: (pauses) I never thought about that.

Kate: Well, think about it honey.

Lawrence: Don’t go! I haven’t played my violin yet.

I first heard this dialogue when I was around 10 years old and I had little to no idea what sex was. I found these words highly confusing, and a little disturbing.

I wasn’t in full-fledged puberty yet, but I was in the process of realizing that girls weren’t icky and the beautiful Penelope Anne Miller was certainly helping me get there at the time. But it was something to the stylized dialogue that hooked me.

Watching it through adult eyes the other day, I can attest that the film’s uniquely charged dialogue between the two is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

When Larry offers to play the violin for her in the last exchange, for example, he means it. He wakes her up the middle of the night (inapprops!) and serenades her with his (extremely) amateur violin playing.

This is a man who spends the first 20 seconds of the meeting having locker room talk with himself, about how hot the woman in his presence is. At the same time, there’s a romantic side that exists side-by-side with his baseline female objectification. He buys her flowers and makes gestures to the point that it’s believable that underneath all the dirtiness, his heart isn’t set on a one-night stand but on a longer partner.

The only reason that his treatment of Kate isn’t appalling, is that she finds his advances amusing. Although a woman in this era shouldn’t have to endure all this sexism, there’s a very clear indication that she knows how to set boundaries for herself and hit back. In one of the strangest moments of the movie, she reacts to one of his catcalls by ordering him to look down at his penis and lecture it on being respectful to women. Yes, this is a thing that actually happens, and yes I had no idea what it meant as a 10-year-old.

(1) Other People’s Money — “Presence of a Lady” — Penelope Ann Miller x Danny DeVito — YouTube

Although the play from which this film was adapted charted a romance between the two, the casting of Danny DeVito — a balding man at least fifteen years Miller’s senior — had the creators wisely leaving the two somewhere between platonic and up-in-the-air.

Still, this is very much in the mold of a screwball comedy, and there’s definitely flirtatious energy in the air. In their constant battle of one-upmanship, Kate gets downright salacious when she’s got the edge. When she’s calling to deliver the news to him after she’s successfully filed an injunction against him, she looks like she’s on a phone sex line.

And then there’s the battle over the steel mill.

Norman Jewison has a history of socially conscious films like The Hurricane and In the Heat of the Night. He is clearly trying to say something important.

Larry’s characterization borrows from the film’s spiritual cousins Wall Street and Glengarry Glen Ross which all require a great corporate villain to slap us out of our entrenched love affair with capitalism.

The problem here is that Andrew Jorgensen is a dinosaur of an executive whose sense of integrity has little basis in the economic reality of the situation. His narrative arc is one of tragedy, and the eventual survival of his company has nothing to do with him.

In other words, he’s up against an amoral monster, but he’s not the hero of this story either. There’s definitely some thematic muddling going on here if it’s framed as a David v Goliath story considering David is such an idiot. Then again, one might call Kate the David but what’s the point of trying to lionize Jorgensen or even include him?

Perhaps, it’s the big speech at the end, which is one of the few things the film is remembered for.

50 Greatest Film Quotes of All Time | Orrin Konheim on Patreon

Check this out:

LARRY THE LIQUIDATOR I VIDEO — YouTube

The text:
Lawrence Garfield: Amen. And amen. And amen. You have to forgive me. I’m not familiar with the local custom. Where I come from, you always say “Amen” after you hear a prayer. Because that’s what you just heard — a prayer. Where I come from, that particular prayer is called “The Prayer for the Dead.” You just heard The Prayer for the Dead, my fellow stockholders, and you didn’t say, “Amen.” This company is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered, and a miracle occurred, and the yen did this, and the dollar did that, and the infrastructure did the other thing, we would still be dead. You know why? Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence. We’re dead alright. We’re just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure. You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future. “Ah, but we can’t,” goes the prayer. “We can’t because we have responsibility, a responsibility to our employees, to our community. What will happen to them?” I got two words for that: Who cares? Care about them? Why? They didn’t care about you. They sucked you dry. You have no responsibility to them. For the last ten years this company bled your money. Did this community ever say, “We know times are tough. We’ll lower taxes, reduce water and sewer.” Check it out: You’re paying twice what you did ten years ago. And our devoted employees, who have taken no increases for the past three years, are still making twice what they made ten years ago; and our stock — one-sixth what it was ten years ago. Who cares? I’ll tell you. Me. I’m not your best friend. I’m your only friend. I don’t make anything? I’m making you money. And lest we forget, that’s the only reason any of you became stockholders in the first place. You want to make money! You don’t care if they manufacture wire and cable, fried chicken, or grow tangerines! You want to make money! I’m the only friend you’ve got. I’m making you money. Take the money. Invest it somewhere else. Maybe, maybe you’ll get lucky and it’ll be used productively. And if it is, you’ll create new jobs and provide a service for the economy and, God forbid, even make a few bucks for yourselves. And if anybody asks, tell ’em ya gave at the plant. And by the way, it pleases me that I am called “Larry the Liquidator.” You know why, fellow stockholders? Because at my funeral, you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a few bucks in your pocket. Now that’s a funeral worth having!

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Yes, Ryan is the best character on the Office

Let's be honest. Even if Jim is the centerpiece of the show, Ryan is the best character on the show. 



He starts out as a truer version of Jim than Jim himself: A guy who resists the idea of Office as found family because he's too cool for it. See, Jim is not fully aware that he's a schlub who's adulted into an unglamorous 9-5 job. Jim's eventual courtship, romance, and marriage of Pam, parallels and, I'd argue is interchangeable with, Jim's marriage to the 9-5 job and the traditional trappings of adulthood. Ironically, this plays with audience loyalties quite a bit because we are rooting for Jim and Pam, but I don't think we're rooting for a cool guy like Jim to find his tribe at a paper company with guys like Kevin, Stanley, and Phyllis (this evolves). With his eye rolls at the camera, his ironic friending of Steve Carell (which turns real), Jim acts like he's too good for everyone and out of touch with what he is becoming.
In the early seasons, Ryan walks the walk of someone who really is too cool for Dunder-Mifflin. He cares as little as possible, even when he's being sexually harassed by Steve. I know there are dislikeable aspects to the character like hints of misogyny (in one episode, he refers to Pam as a 6), detachment from reality (he makes up a trip to Thailand), being a trust fund baby (he lives with his parents into adulthood), but none of that comes up in the first two seasons of The Office. He's almost a complete blank slate to us.
And when it comes time to do something to improve his station in life, he takes it whereas Jim falters. This is where Ryan gets really exciting because he flies too close to the sun and then fails. From then on Ryan rides high and low but he's never truly a part of Dunder-Mifflin family, which is why he's kind of a version of Jim if Jim never met Pam (and Pam is a script creation: a stand-in for the idea of Jim being domesticated by his job).
I think it's also important to note that the things we are expected to dislike about Ryan during the time when he runs Dunder-Mifflin's regional office are seen through the eyes of Jim. He has hints of misogyny but is it really accurate that he showed a horrible side of himself by asking out Pam. The show framed it as a jerk thing to do because he interfered with Jim and Pam (the central relationship of the Office). He also comes down hard on Jim for fooling around, but that's exactly what Jim does.
If you rewatch the Ryan is the boss arc after watching the whole series, things will read differently to you. In later seasons, Ryan seems pretty shallow with women (he is looking for a quick hook-up with Erin and not dating, and instantly stops wanting Kelly after he steals her from Darryl) and he is capable of laziness, but we don't really know these things in Season 3. We know he's hesitant to commit to Kelly but Kelly is also very clingy. In this way, I think Ryan is kind of a Rorshach test. He's not fully painted in when he's impacting the plot most.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Top Ten TV Villains of 2022

 As a staff writer at TV Fanatic, I contributed to the list of 2022’s Villains We Love To Hate — TV Fanatic. Check out that list!

My entries were:

Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews), Dropout, Hulu-In this docudrama of the Stanford-educated fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, Sunny is the idle millionaire who initially forms a friendship with Elizabeth as an 18-year-old studying abroad in China. As the relationship veers from age-inappropriate to worthy of many more red lights, Sunny starts to gradually take control of Elizabeth’s better instincts as a CEO. Docudramas are at their best when they frame true stories in novel ways. In this version, Elizabeth Holmes (who, yes, is still responsible for her crimes) as a proverbial Othello to Sunny’s Iago figure. Like all the best villains, there’s a dash of sympathy to the character at the start — he’s lonely; he’s sold his life invention so his best years are behind him — before his crimes start to catch up with him.

Adult Misty (Christina Ricci) Yellowjackets, Showtime-Full disclosure: The show’s inaugural season hasn’t revealed enough to determine whether Misty is the big villain in the present-day. But that’s ok: Misty has done enough bad deeds in the show’s B-plots to qualify her. And holy cow, is she pretty ingenious when it comes to evil doing. In a show as dark as Yellowjackets, Misty is a playful enough personality to balance out the resigned trauma of Shauna or the unsolved anger of Natalie. Without Misty’s presence, it would be a completely different show.

Frederick Gideon (Kevin Durand), Locke and Key, Netflix-I’m having trouble believing, I put this on my Honorable Mentions list last year, because there is a lot of ham and the actors play the level of danger pretty broadly. Kevin Durand, however, must not have gotten the memo when he signed up for the part of back-from-the-dead Revolutionary War general (from the other side) Frederick Gideon. This dude is appropriately dastardly for a man who already hated his American counterparts pre-resurrection; is currently possessed by demons; and has access to modern technology. His presence also comes with small doses of fish-out-of-water humor as he learns about cars and the rules of libraries for the first time.




Lupe (Regina Orozco), Acapulco, Apple Plus: If you’re working at the lavish Las Colinas resort and want a boss who will go easy on you, then you don’t want Lupe. And don’t even think about trying to date her niece! From her tyrannical hold on the lost and found to her low tolerance for fun on the job, Lupe isn’t easy for the laundromat workers under her domain, but she’s a riot for the viewers at home. But she’s full of surprises: She delivers a show-stopping number during the Christmas episode.

Some other entries I would add:
General Eleanor Wright (Linda Hamilton), Resident Alien, Syfy-General Wright is pretty easygoing with torture and various other forms of cruelty in order to meet her goals. On the other hand, she’s pretty consistent the way a diligent civil servant is. So you at least know what you’re getting with her.




Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried), Dropout, Hulu-Sure Sunny steals a lot of scenes, but this is Elizabeth’s show. As I said above, a docudrama is about framing a story a certain way. In this eminently watchable version, Holmes is initially portrayed as someone caught in a white lie. “So what if our tech isn’t 100% yet? We’ll figure it out sooner or later,” she assumes. Is it a bad gamble or a malicious act? That’s for the audience to figure out.

Anna Delvy (Julie Garner), Inventing Anna, Netflix-Along with The Dropout, Inventing Anna was another docudrama about a woman with a complex relationship with the truth. But this show wasn’t so much about psychoanalyzing the latest headline-making criminal. Rather, Anna was just a batty meme (exhibit A: Chloe Finneman’s delicious SNL parody) and the story was more about her sly journalist counterpart (Anna Chlumsky) was going to get the story out of her. Though not a dynamic character, Delvy was a pretty entertaining villain. Also, a pretty zeitgeisty one in an era when certain politicians have turned personal narrative into something so plastic.



Quentin (Tom Hollander), White Lotus, HBO-He’s got panache. He’s got refinement. And it’s so nice that he’s just openly gay in contrast to the villains who encoded with effeminate tendencies during the more censored eras of Hollywood. But here’s why I really love him: He’s dumb as a rock as an assassin abettor, and that’s plenty entertaining. Think about it. If not for the fact that Greg entrusted him with such a fool-proof plan and Portia wasn’t so dense, his endless monologuing and extremely direct targeting of Portia would have caught most people off guard pretty instantly.

John Kreese (Martin Kove), Cobra Kai, Netflix-I mean, duh. This guy falls more toward the bottom of the list because he’s quite cartoonish in his motivations. I’m sure there’s a good drinking game to be had for how many times he launches into each of his awful monologues (i.e. “everything I did was to make you stronger blah blah blah”). But on the upside, he actually is pretty scary. Our capacity to care whether the good guys won was significantly lower in Season 6 when Kreese was in prison, so that’s a good indication. It didn’t help that one of the faux sophisticated Terry Silver’s methods of terror was trying to sow seeds of discord by (not making this up) inviting the LaRussos to a fund-raiser and then making Danny look stupid by being nicer to his wife than to him.




Satan (Leslie Bibb), God’s Favorite Idiot, Netflix-In this office comedy set at the potential dawn of the apocalypse, Leslie Bibb plays a Satan with a sexy Halloween costume kind of vibe. Comparable to Elizabeth Hurley in the 2000 Rom-Com flick The Bedazzled, Bibb is practically breaking the fourth wall to telegraph to the audience how much fun she’s having here.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Best TV Ensembles of 2022

 I contributed a couple entries to this TV Fanatic crowd-sourced article about best ensembles on TV.

My top pick: Reboot (Hulu)

Reboot is about the coexistence of different generations of artists. In that vein, who could be better epitomize that clash than Paul Reiser and Rachel Bloom as an estranged father and daughter entrusted with co-running a sitcom?

Reiser is an old-school 90s sitcom star with a comic delivery that borrows a little from Borscht Belt comedy. Rachel Bloom made her way to TV fame as the star and co-creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend via YouTube stardom that turned musical theater conventions on their head.

The pair is complemented by a writing room that echoes Bloom’s Gen Z approach to artistic merit with Riser’s Borscht Belt big laughs approach, and the combination is hilarious.

Meanwhile on the show’s set, Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer, Johnny Knoxville (who thought of that casting choice?), and Calum Worthy play a quartet of has-been actors who form a found family with healthy doses of comedy and heart.

Other picks:
Ghosts (CBS): The eight actors who play the ghosts weren’t particularly hot on casting lists before this show. In an ideal world, they should be now. Each member of the octet provides such pitch-perfect character beats to create this great whirlwind of humor. It’s like your favorite comedic duo expanded by six with the rat-a-tat banter still operating like clockwork. Of course, credit goes to Sam (Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar) for bringing the heart and grounding the plots. (I also wrote about Ghosts here)

Star Trek Picard (Paramount Plus): Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd, and Santiago Cabrera bring a sense of visceral edge that I’ve never seen in Star Trek before. Pill’s displays an antsy-ness at being in space that seems pretty logical for most humans, but somehow Star Trek has never shown that side of the 24th century populance before. It makes sense: Star Trek: The Next Generation was designed to appeal to a broad audience in the 1980s so the actors weren’t aiming for high drama, but when the TNG cast is introduced they also are up to that higher bar.

Yellowjackets (Showtime): The show centers around a plane crash involving a teenage soccer in the 90s, and the way the survivors are traumatized all the way through their adulthoods. How fitting that the show cast three of the most promising ingenues of the 90s as the roles of the four main survivors: Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci and Juliette Lewis. All three have long been underrated actresses and deserve to be attached to one of the hit shows on television. But that’s half the battle: The show also succeeds in casting matching teenage versions of these characters with all their drama.

Winning Time (HBO)-When you have two Oscar winners in your cast (Adrien Brody and Sally Field) and neither of them are central characters, then you’ve got a pretty deep talent pool. This docudrama about the Lakers 1980 championship features John C. Reilly in one of the most complex roles of his storied career as larger-than-life team owner Jerry Buss. Quincy Isaiah shines here in his first screen credit playing Magic Johnson as a bright-eyed superstar that’s still in the incubation phase. His main rival for the starting position is Norm Nixon played with swagger by the real-life figure’s son, DeVaughn. Surrounding them are a murderer’s row of character actors in Jerry West, Hadley Robinson, Jason Segel (did not see that coming), Tracey Letts, and the aforementioned Brody alongside Field who makes a strong impression with little screen time.

Ramy (Hulu): Ramy Yousef just plays a less self-assured version of himself, but there’s so much idiosyncrasy in the characters around him that this show deserves a place. Watching this show and not knowing the names of all the actors is a good reminder of the scarcity of Middle-Eastern actors with name recognition. Ramy’s parents are played by Amr Waked (Syriana, Salmon Fishing in Yemen) and Hiam Abbass (The Visitor) who have both done enough good work to be names among more astute American audiences, but everyone on this show deserves a brighter future. It also helps that the show format gives characters like Dena (May Calamaway), Uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli), and Ahmed (Dave Marheje) an episode in the spotlight or two.

The White Lotus (HBO)-This one is going to pop up on a lot of my lists because you can't make a TV series that works on so many layers without doing so many things right. This show has Lost/Arrested Development levels of Easter Egg placement and you better believe that the actors are in on the intricacies of each character. The show's brightest star is Emmy-winner Jennifer Coolidge but deserves a lot of credit for finding a new tone of deadpan for Aubrey Plaza, and making spaces for the largely unknown-to-American-audiences Italian newbies.




Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Top Ten Character Arcs in TV in 2022

 

10 Best Character Arcs on TV in 2022

I contributed a number of entries to TV Fanatic where I am currently writing:

Tori Nichols (Peyton List) Cobra Kai, Netflix-Tori caught the audience’s attention the first day when she walks into Cobra Kai and challenges anyone in her way to a battle royale. In 2002, she became a capable anti-hero that provides a welcome counterpart to Samantha’s privilege. Although we expected to cheer an eventual Samantha win at the tournament this year, it felt unexpectedly right to see Tori triumph at the end of the day (Even if there was a technicality involved).

Gordon (Paul Reiser), Reboot (Hulu): The best thing about Gordon is that he isn’t that much different from where he was at the start of the season. He makes insensitive jokes and doesn’t appear to have changed his ideas of what’s funny or what isn’t. But, he has formed a genuine relationship with his daughter and a genuine appreciation of the people he works with. With that, every insensitive joke he makes has a little more good intent behind it.

Al (Adhir Kalyan), United States of Al (CBS)-South Asian characters on TV are typically either ambassadors of cool (the personas of Kumail Nanjiani or Utkarsh Ambudkar) or sheltered nerds. Adhir Kalyan first became known through the 2007 TV series Aliens in America as an exchange student who was doomed to high school nerdom the moment he entered the school in his traditional South Asian garment. Most of Kalyan’s roles have been like that, but Al is a wonderful exception as he has started to change and (more importantly) assimilate to the better opportunities of his culture. He even gets a make-out buddy (Jayma Mays) and squares things better with his non-traditional love interest (Azita Ghanizada).

If I were to round out the list to a clean top 10, I would say:
Craig (Craig Robinson), Killing It (Peacock:) Learning to stop chasing some bourgeoisie vision of success is empowering (If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be writing these words). And learning to appreciate a good person (Claudia O’Doherty) for her faults and strengths takes a lot of growth as well.

Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz: (Jacob Bertrand), Cobra Kai (Netflix): It’s not just Tori that was a tournament winner that no one predicted. It’s also an ending we didn’t know we wanted until it happened.

Emma (Cristin Milioti), The Resort (Peacock): A determinator of a character, nothing will stop Emma from finding out what happened to these two random strangers 15 years ago. But she learns about herself and her marriage in the process. Sort of like that hackneyed “the treasure was friendship all along” trope, but tonally the show managed to work out Emma’s arc.

John Hunchman (John Hodgeman), Dicktown (FX): The stunted Encyclopedia Brown John Hunchman finally earns an iota of self-respect when he solves a 20-year-old high school case. The second season of Dicktown was more serialized than the first and it worked y to John’s favor.

D’Arcy Bloom (Alice Wetterlund), Resident Alien (SyFy): The idea of watching a Winter Olympian try to retain her former glory is always an interesting arc. It’s also a great anti-ship: Her relationship with Elliott didn’t work because she’s not there yet, but her efforts towards intimacy count for their own sake. It’s also unclear if a Season 1 version of D’Arcy would have apologized to Kate.

Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), The White Lotus (HBO): A lot of fellow fans of this show saw Portia as suffering from some sort of character defect for rejecting the vanilla Albie in favor of the bad boy. But, come on, she needed to go over to the dark side a little before valuing him properly. And what a wild episode it was: Surely more than the ennui-laden zoomer wished for when she wanted to feel alive.

George Shultz (Sam Waterson), Dropout (Hulu): Having unfortunately lived in the US during the last six years, it’s easy to see how evil is perpetuated by powerful people not wanting to admit they’re wrong. I’m not familiar enough with the real-life story of Elizabeth Holmes to know what George Shultz actually did but the idea of him is nice and we need to know more. And he’s pretty damn effective in Sam Waterson’s hands

Sunday, December 11, 2022

What I'm Watching December Edition: Derry Girls, Inside Job, Alaska Daily, Bumper Goes to Berlin, Shantaram

 

Inside Job (Netflix)-Created by one of the writers of Rick and Morty, this is an animated office comedy in a place akin to Section 31, where a group of rogue agents keeps the lid on all the conspiracies that control the universe. The cast of characters includes a half-marcho-general-half-dolphin and an anthropomorphized mushroom spore. The series centers around the main character, Regan (Lizzy Caplan), who has Asperger’s, so score one for representation, and her dad is a bitter mad scientist akin (a little gentler than Rick, though).

This season’s plots have been getting more efficient, and Regan gets a boyfriend, which shakes things up a little.

Derry Girls (BBC4 -à Netflix)-Slowly moving my way through the seven-episode arc of the show’s final season, I started this month with the episode where things changed majorly in a teeny melodrama way: [Cue the orchestral swelling] Two characters kiss! And since there’s only one guy in the group, you can only guess that one of them is James, and it’s neither his cousin, Michelle, nor the lesbian character, Claire, who does the mouth tango with him. Plus, Orla might be classified as mentally deficient, making seduction problematic. Uh oh! Considering none of this sexual tension was telegraphed in advance, I’m not loving this.

Almost reading my mind verbatim, Michelle comments that it would change the group dynamics a lot if they started dating, and it might not be a good plot direction. The two pause their romance, which is an excellent direction considering it’s refreshingly counter to every other teen show.

The next episode is one of the best this series has ever done. It takes place at a class reunion for the parents of Claire, Orla, and Erin, plus all the characters of that generation. Also, Erin’s grandpa is thrown in for good measure, and the mature adult's lot get into the same shenanigans they chide their children for being unable to avoid. The theme: Some things never change.

In the penultimate episode of the series, the Erin-James romantic tension is hand-waved, and the quintet goes on one of their trademark disaster episodes that exemplifies Murphy’s Law.

The show might not be the most adventurous, but it can change gears well.


Alaska Daily (ABC)-As a journalist for over a decade, it’s thrilling to see a show the heroic and exciting side of journalism. Hilary Swank stars as a tough-as-nails reporter who’s exiled to Alaska. There’s a lot of excellent scenery porn and a healthy dose of small-town charm here.

The show almost gets journalism right, but journalists aren’t cops, and there are clear lines over how much you can press a subject that the show could articulate better. But there is a truth that if you can get facts under most circumstances, they’re fair game. So suck it, naysayers! Also, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests can be a bureaucratic nightmare.

To understand the show’s shortcomings is to also understand the constraints of network TV, where the cop/rogue doctor/hotshot lawyer is the most common archetype. Network TV viewers want a black-and-white rootable character.

Bumper Goes to Berlin (Peacock)-Of all the Pitch Perfect characters, I’d put Fat Amy and Chloe ahead of Bumper in terms of people I would have wanted to see in a spin-off. Would anyone really have Bumper as number one?

Still, the show kind of works. It’s silly and low-stakes enough that it’s popcorn watchable. Sarah Hyland (the vapid child on Modern Family) plays a plucky people-pleaser who balances out the cast well, and Flula Borg is a great comic talent. Part of me wonders if they set the whole thing in Germany because they wanted to build the project around Flula Borg.

The show captures the same themes that made the Pitch Perfect film a hit: Arrested development, a false sense of being elite, and people who take singing too seriously.

 

Shantaram (Apple TV)-This epic tells the story of an escaped Australian convict who gets caught up in the criminal underworld of Bombay. Only he can’t make a very good criminal because he seems too morally upright. In fact, he got in prison in the first place because he stopped mid-robbery to attempt triage on a cop trying to stop him.

Eventually, Lin (at least at the point where I am in this story) settles into an Indian village as a makeshift medic because the town needs him. He believes he has a moral debt because a fire happened on his watch, and he could not save a victim.

Lin’s story to find of finding redemption and do good in a lawless society echoes the narrative arcs of Buddha and Jesus. The symbolism is a bit more obvious when you consider that the title of the series takes its name from what the Hindu villagers give him: "Man of God's peace."

But if this is an elaborate religious allegory, it’s a very gritty and sexy one. Charlie Hunnam sports a man bun and a rugged build and always delivers smoldering looks to the camera. Similarly, there is a confident femme fatale (Antonio Desplat) and a prostitute (Elektra Kilbey) who ratchet up the heat. Although it was shot in Thailand during COVID, this is one of the most visually ambitious TV series I’ve ever seen in terms of exotic on-location shooting.

Inside Job (Netflix)-Created by one of the writers of Rick and Morty, this is an animated office comedy in a place akin to Section 31, where a group of rogue agents keeps the lid on all the conspiracies that control the universe. The cast of characters includes a half-marcho-general-half-dolphin and an anthropomorphized mushroom spore. The series centers around the main character, Regan (Lizzy Caplan), who has Asperger’s, so score one for representation, and her dad is a bitter mad scientist akin (a little gentler than Rick, though).

This season’s plots have been getting more efficient, and Regan gets a boyfriend, which shakes things up a little.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Why would we feel bad about Holland beating us at the World Cup?

 

Is there really anything to be upset about that the Netherlands beat the US in the second round of the World Cup by a 3–1 score?

First, off, let’s separate the winning-or-death mentality that dominates our sports landscape from reality: Soccer is a sport with a highly varied set of outcomes every time the whistle blows.

As all-time leading US World Cup scorer Landon Donovan put it when the United States got eliminated in the second round of the 2010 World Cup: “I’m proud of what we did here. Soccer’s a cruel sport.”

The U.S. finished ahead of a couple world powerhouses by making the second round and scored a goal against the Netherlands which isn’t easy to do. The squad was one of only five teams to have no losses through three world cup games. I know this glass-half-full approach doesn’t vibe with American sports fans but welcome to soccer. The upper echelons are already filled by established powers so your odds of making it late in the World Cup if you’re not Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Portugal or Holland are never going to be that good.

If anything, it’s humbling and that’s what I love about Soccer. It’s the great equalizer among socio-economic powers: We are the most militarily powerful country in the world and we have been eliminated from the World Cup twice by a Sub-Saharan African country (Ghana in 2006 and 2010) that’s squarely in the third world. There’s nothing more humbling than losing to a country with a GDP per person (average yearly salary) of $2,445.30. And it’s hard to not appreciate such parity even when you’re on the losing end of it.

But even if we did win, so what? Unlike Ghana or the Netherlands, we don’t need World Cup victories to make us feel strong as a country and if we do, then we have some serious inferiority complex issues as the number one economy of the world and the harbinger of democracy for the last 100 years (yes, I know we’ve been slipping as leaders of the World since, ahem, 2016) BUT this American sports exceptionalism mentality has been going on long before that.

What’s more striking is that soccer isn’t even a sport we’re good at. If ticket sales for the Big 4 (Football, Baseball, Hockey, Basketball) are any indication, soccer is fifth in the batting order in a best-case scenario. So how arrogant do we have to expect to do well against other countries who prioritize this sport far higher? Why do we feel the need to win at everything?

I understand the idea of rooting for your country if it appears in a game, but I completely understand why Holland would be likely to beat us in most scenarios and I am nothing but happy for them.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Top Twenty Cast Members Screwed Over by Saturday Night Live

 Top 20 Cast Members screwed over by SNL:

1. Michaela Watkins (Midseason 2008- 1/2 seasons): So many memorable characters in half a season and that's the thanks she gets?
2. Luke Null (2017 1 season): If you're going to hire a musical guitarist and not use them once on the guitar, what's the point of the experience for either party?
3. Paul Britain (2010 1 1/2 seasons)-Wtf? Firing him midseason for almost no reason (I believe it was budget concerns) and then putting out a false press release that it was an amicable split?
4. Gilbert Gottfried (1980)-Gottfried said that the writers hated him and maybe it was a two-way street of antagonism, but he never got to show off his signature comic style. Shouldn't the writers have to bend to the star?
5. Casey Wilson-(midseason 2007-2008 1 1/2 seasons)-According to sources, the SNL producers wanted her to lose weight and she didn't lose enough. The consensus was that she was capable but not a stand-out by most counts, but if the rumors are true, that's the cruelest thing SNL has done.
6. Laura Holt (2020 1 season)-Give the woman a break! She came on during a 20-member cast which was the biggest cast in history at the time (just five years prior, the cast size was 15). Yes, there's a sink-or-swim mentality, but her lack of screen time could have been excused considering the heightened level of competition from an uber-bloated cast.
7-8-9. Brooks Whelan, John Milhiser, Noelle Wells (2013 1 season)-
This trio had the bad luck of being hired when the audience started to care about the racial make-up of the cast. Reports from Brooks echo the fact that they were shut out of the writing process quite a bit (maybe also due to cast overcrowding?). But come on, it's not their fault that they're white.
10. Michael O'Donoghue (1975 less than one season in opening credits with an asterisk)-I see fan art and memes about the original seven cast members all the time. This guy will forever be linked with the history of the additional cast to die-hard fans, but he deserves to be remembered in casual pop culture way as an original cast member. He was in the very first sketch that aired in show history. He had his name in the credits for much of the first season, so he should properly be called an original cast member.
11. Anne Riseley (1980 1/2 season)-She was just as capable a cast member as the ones who were able to withstand the mass firing of 1981.
12. Norm MacDonald (1994 4 seasons)-Yes, he got to stay far longer than anyone else on this list but there is the issue of him being kicked out due to blatant backstage politics
13. Tim Robinson (2012 1 season)-A more than capable player who got his own show, and a place in the writing room after he was demoted from stage performer. Still, we already know just how much potential he has. SNL really needed him during the mid-2010s.
14. Nancy Wall (1995 1 season)-Pretty much everyone from the 1995 cast got a fair shake. In hindsight, it seems foolish not to have given David Koechner a second season now that we've seen his versatility. Back then, he was mostly playing obnoxious and brusque characters. Nancy Walls, on the other hand, held down the fort for the ladies along with Molly Shannon and Cheri Oteri. There were usually only three women prior to 2000 and she was a massive improvement over the more one-note female characters in the first half of the decade (Melanie Hutsell, for example). Unfortunately, she's now mostly known as Mrs. Steve Carell who guested for a few episodes of The Office
15. Jerry Minor (2000 1 season)-Introduced along with Maya Rudolph and Tina Fey and a year before Seth and Amy, Jerry Minor proved a very gifted utility man who got crowded out by a much larger cast. They should have still recognized his talent.
16. Damon Wayans-(1985 1/2 season)-Fired on the spot over an ad-lib. A little cruel, no? Fortunately, he did get to host in 1995.
17, 18. Laurie Metcalfe and Emily Prager (midseason 1981, 1 episode)-They were supposed to work the back half of the midseason but the writer's strike took over one episode into their reign, so these are the two shortest cast members in SNL history. Laurie Metcalfe did eventually get famous from Roseanne.
19. Jon Rudnitsky (2015, 1 season)-A capable sketch player who could make sketches funny (like Nasty Jack with Miley Cyrus or Space Pants with Peter Dinklage). I could have seen his fate going the other way
20. Randy Quaid (1985, 1 season)-A genuinely funny cast member who's time was cut short in a reboot. With Oscar nominations and a film career, he seemed overly qualified for SNL anyway.

Other candidates:
Janeane Garofolo (half a season starting with 1994) and Chris Elliott (the full 1994-1995 season) were both really unhappy on the show, but they got ample opportunities to blame the show while they were there which is a privilege few other cast members have enjoyed. Jeaneane was let out of her contract so that's kind of a win in my book.
Shane Gillis (2017) Some have argued that he should have been suspended or put on some indeterminate leave while they saw whether his character improved or he could do an apology tour, but he was never a cast member so not up for consideration