Television

You Can't Lip-Synch a Hip Shake

Beyoncé's new documentary Life Is But a Dream marks a brief pit stop during her rise to world domination.

AP Photo/ David Drapkin
AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn If you're as stubbornly naive as I used to be, you probably think that following up a performance of the National Anthem at Barack Obama's second inaugural with one sizzler of a Super Bowl halftime show would be exposure enough for anyone. A pop-cult twofer that unprecedented might tempt even the most driven of superstars to rest on her laurels until, say, early March. So it's a relief to learn that Beyoncé Knowles—known throughout the Milky Way, of course, as plain and simple Beyoncé—has her head screwed on right: "I don't want to never be satisfied. I don't think that's a healthy way to live." Honest, that's how she feels. If you're so minded, you can see and hear her say so in Beyoncé: Life Is But A Dream, airing on HBO on Saturday. She's credited as both "director" and executive producer, and adding "star" would be redundant at a level to invite the gods' mirth. Her 90-minute self-portrait hits cable under a month after she serenaded Obama's swearing-in, and...

An Addictive, Imperfect House of Cards

AP Photo/Netflix, Melinda Sue Gordon
AP Photo/Netflix, Melinda Sue Gordon S o help me, I almost gave up on House of Cards. After zipping through the first three or four episodes of Netflix's new 13-part, Americanized remake of the 1990 BBC miniseries about political intrigue, I figured I'd seen enough to cook up a reasonably brainy-sounding takedown, starting with how some of the supposedly sophisticated power plays executed by Kevin Spacey as scheming House Majority Whip Frank Underwood—a Democrat from South Carolina, and how likely is that in 2013?—would have left Machiavelli yawning at their crudeness in eighth grade. The idea that a single planted piece by a junior reporter could instantly vault someone into front-running contention for the job of Secretary of State had me groaning, and so on. Then I realized I wanted to keep watching, which was annoying. Especially given today's ever increasing surfeit of programming options—gee, thanks for getting into the original-content game, Netflix—critics trying to keep up...

Liberal Idealism, With a Healthy Dash of Satire

It may not be getting the same buzz as Girls, but Enlightened is growing nicely into its second season.

In case you don't know, Enlightened— co-created by its star, Laura Dern, with fellow cast member Mike White, and in its second season as of last week—is the show that currently airs right after Lena Dunham's Girls on HBO Sunday nights. To say it hasn't gotten as much attention as Girls is to riot in understatement, as Gore Vidal used to say. But without getting into which one is, how you say, better—these two tales of self-realization couldn't be more different—I have to admit that Enlightened interests me more these days. The main reason is that it's branching out into new areas in a way Girls hasn't so far. No matter how acute Girls is about the problems and attitudes of 24-year-old hipsters, they're still a fairly hermetic bunch of 24-year-old hipsters. Partly because she's one herself, a miniaturist like Dunham is hardly likely to think that giving their concerns any wider social applicability is part of her creative task. She thinks they're resonant for their own sake, after all...

Did Jodie Foster Just Come Out?

Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP
On Sunday night, as Jodie Foster accepted her Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes, made an awkward and extremely peculiar speech. No one seems to be entirely sure what she was saying. Was she retiring from acting? Was she coming out even though she didn’t actually say she’s a lesbian—and even though she’s made out-ish comments and gestures in the past? Here are the parts that suggested coming out most clearly: So I'm here being all confessional and I guess I just have the sudden urge to say something that I've never really been able to air in public, so a declaration that I'm a little nervous about. But maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now, huh Jennifer? Um, but uh, you know, I'm just gonna put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I'm gonna need your support on this — I am single. Yes I am, I am single. No, I'm kidding. But I mean I'm not really kidding, but I am kind of kidding…. I hope you’re not disappointed that there won’...

Media Violence versus Real Violence

In the days since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on violent movies and video games (in particular, for some reason, Natural Born Killers , a film that came out 19 years ago and was a critique of the media's obsession with violence), a number of people in the entertainment industry have been asked about whether their products contribute to real-world violence, and they've seemed extremely uncomfortable answering the question. They seem to have no idea what the answer might be. As it happens, this is a question that has been studied extensively, although the research is a bit ambiguous and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worthwhile to go over just what evidence there is for the assertion. So if you're a Hollywood big shot, read on so you'll have some idea what to say next time the question comes up. But before we get to that, I was prompted to write this by seeing this interview Quentin Tarantino did with the UK's Channel 4. When the...

To Stop Rape Culture, Ring the Bell

Very few men are rapists . Very few men are abusers. Or stalkers. Predators are the minority. The vast majority of men are decent people who want to do the right thing. What would it take to shift from a rape culture to a respect culture, and end violence against women? You have to involve the decent men. You have to let them know they are our allies, not our enemies. You have to let them know what they can do to help—to interrupt violence, to help spread new norms—without having to call themselves feminists or become full-on activists. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about some such efforts in the United States. Bystander-intervention efforts, in which groups train young men and women in what it takes to derail a situation that could lead to rape. Today I spoke with Mallika Dutt, founder of the binational organization Breakthrough, which works in both the U.S. and India to build a respect culture and prevent all kinds of violence against women—one by one, at the local, personal level,...

More Downton Abbey, Less Grand Theft Auto? Not Gonna Happen.

AP Photo/Joe Skipper
Last week, my sort-of opposite number at ThinkProgress.org—culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg, who also writes for The Atlantic and Slate —posted the kind of prescriptive think piece about Our Violent Culture that makes old geezers like me heave a hefty sigh as we finger our own dog-eared membership cards in the vast left-wing conspiracy. Just for the record, I should say that a) Rosenberg and I don't know each other at all, and b) she's someone whose work I enjoy and often glean dandy insights from, not least because our sensibilities and guiding premises are so different. If she's not at her best writing prescriptions, so what? That isn't really a critic's job in the first place. Even so, the assumptions in play in “ How To Change Our Culture's Reliance on Violence ” struck me as wrongheaded enough to deserve a hoot or two. To begin where Rosenberg ends, here's the clunker of a line I groaned at most: "It's time to retrain viewers in how to interpret violence.. . " She goes on to...

Zero Dark Thirty: Homeland's Prequel?

In both cultural depictions, September 11 is a wound that never heals.

Courtesy of Showtime
Courtesy of Showtime A scene from Homeland , with Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin K athryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty opens to blackness and the sound of a conversation that we immediately know is real. Trapped on a high floor of a tall building engulfed by fire, a young woman says, “I’m going to die,” while the emergency responder at the other end of the phone tries to reassure her otherwise. “I’m going to die, I’m going to die,” she keeps repeating, her voice already becoming unmoored from her few years on this earth and pitched at some impossible place between hysteria and resignation. The emergency operator keeps promising help; both women understand it will never come. We understand as well because this is the 11th of September 2001. When the call disconnects, we hear the operator mutter under her breath, “Oh my God,” and nothing in the movie that follows will be as wrenching as these few seconds in the dark; the next two and three-quarter hours are haunted by this prologue that...

The Situation Goes West

(AP Photo/MTV)
Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, is not pleased with Hollywood. In particular, Manchin is upset with MTV, which is replacing the cancelled Jersey Shore with another sober anthropological exploration of youth culture in a unique sociocultural milieu. This time it's Manchin's home state, and the show is called Buckwild . As you might imagine, like their peers in the Garden State, the cast members of Buckwild look to be doing little to burnish their state's image; instead they'll be getting drunk, hooking up, fighting, and generally making fools of themselves, albeit in a characteristically West Virginian way (there's a preview for the show here ). You can understand why Manchin wouldn't be a fan, but why should it be a politician's concern? Well, if Manchin doesn't defend West Virginia's good name, who will? "As a U.S. Senator," he said , "I am repulsed at this business venture, where some Americans are making money off of the poor decisions of our youth." You might...

Hell No, Elmo!

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Earlier this week, I said that I just don’t care about General David Petraeus’s affair. I’ve since heard political writers explaining that the affair itself may be immaterial; what matters was that Petraeus was compromising intelligence, granting line-crossing levels of access to someone unknown to the CIA. That may be so. But no matter how giddily silly the whole thing has become—what with the threatened good friend and the shirtless anti-Obama FBI agent (why are men “shirtless” and not “topless”?)—I don’t care about the affair itself: consensual adults, and all that. But the Elmo puppeteer story does bother me. In case you missed it, Kevin Clash is a six-foot-tall African-American man, now 52, who does the voice of the Sesame Street icon. Earlier this week, word came out that a young man, now 23, accused Clash of getting involved with him when the accuser was 16 years old—under the age of consent. Sesame Street put Clash on a leave of absence while it investigated. The accuser has...

My Kingdom for a Fox!

Shakespearean tragedy unfolded in the conservative media nerve center as Obama's victory was announced, while a wealth of exhausted pundits dominated the rest of cable news.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski) A couple sits on chairs in a near-empty room to watch Fox News commentator Karl Rove on a big-screen television during a Republican Party election night gathering in the club level of Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. A s you celebrate, try to spare a tear or a sigh for Megyn Kelly, forevermore the forlorn Cordelia of Fox News's 2012 election-night coverage. At least Mitt Romney's annoying delay in accepting that his plutocratic keister had been taken to the cleaners occurred behind closed doors. Its flirtations with realism or the opposite were entombed behind the bland garage door we call Mitt's forehead by the time the GOP's newest scapegoat finally emerged to give a really-pretty-OK concession speech. Not so Republican mastermind emeritus Karl Rove's denials of the obvious, which went on and on on live TV well after his own network had called Ohio for Obama and pretty much thrown in the towel. Technically...

It’s Just Unbelievable to Be Freed

(AP Photo/Joel Page, File)
I regularly get all giddy and Tiggerish about how far lesbians and gay man have come from the bad old days of, say, the late 1970s when I came out. Back then, most of the mainstream didn’t quite notice we were human. I do remember the moment I first realized that I wanted to kiss a girl, and my stomach fell out of me with fear: I didn’t want to be one of them. It’s hard to convey to you all how different things are and how far we’ve come. I’ve been thinking about this because, on her Bloggingheads show last week, Sarah Posner asked me whether, ten years ago, I would have imagined we’d be as far along as we are on marriage. Ten years ago, yes. In 2002, it was pretty clear what path we were on. But in the 1970s, marriage was simply beyond conceivable. If you want some evidence, you can find it in an old All in the Family episode in which Edith loses her beloved cousin Liz —and learns that the cousin’s “roommate” was in fact her partner. I looked back at it recently when Dan Savage...

And Best Supporting Zinger Goes To...

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, October 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida. R ight, so the 2012 presidential debates are done with at last—triggering, as predictably as natural disasters produce fundamentalist sermons, a stew of grousing in Wonkland about their shallowness, triviality, and failure to articulate much of substance about whatever issues made the cut. Everybody had a laundry list of topics that never got broached at all (global warming and torture were just two of the big ones). But from my unwonky perspective, complaints of this nature reflect an either earnest or wilful inability to recognize the nature of the beast. All that counts—to the electorate, to the campaigns, and even to the outcome on November 6, which means to history—is whether they were good TV. If that sounds cynical, I don't mean it to be. I'm a pop critic,...

NOLA Contendere

Treme's viewers may be dwindling in its third season, but this New Orleans resident still finds more than enough to like in a show that keeps finding new ways to love its milieu.

(AP Photo/Joe Giblin)
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Actress Lucia Micarelli is seen between takes on the set of the HBO televisions series 'Treme' at the Chicky Wah Wah Lounge in New Orleans. T ake it from me that being a New Orleanian hasn't been all beer nuts and candy this autumn. On October 1, despite screeches of futile outrage from us peons and crustier protests by civic leaders that ended in Burghers of Calais- style woebegoneness, the Times-Picayune shrank on schedule to three editions per week, leading one wag to dub the reduced version the Times-Methadone and forcing many to the back-alley indignity of resorting to the Baton Rouge Advocate for their old-school daily fix. Our vaunted (and reviled) football team is 1-4 going into its bye week, making the huzzahs for Drew Brees's ongoing string of broken records sound increasingly like, well, broken records. Adding insult to injury, nobody outside the city limits likes Treme anymore. That's an exaggeration, of course. But in some pop-cult wheelhouses,...

Redneckognize

The lives of TLC's newest reality stars are more complicated than you want them to be.

Promotional photo from TLC
The cable show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo opens with a shot of the Shannon-Thompson clan—the mom, June, stands in front of her small south Georgia house with her four daughters, Anna, Jessica, Lauryn, and Alana, and her boyfriend of eight years, Mike—interrupted by June farting. “Mama!” the girls scream. It serves as a good illustration of June’s philosophy as a mom. “I raise my girls to be who they are,” she says later on in the show. She repeats, often: “You like us or you don’t like us. We just don’t care.” Much of the chatter about the show has revolved around the challenge June throws down in the show's premiere: Like us or don’t. Plenty of critics are horrified; more can’t look away. It’s clear what the producers want viewers to think about the show: They assume that we’re going to sneer at it, at least a little bit. The tenth episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo ended the first half of its season last week, but the seven-year-old Alana was already a star before the show’s debut in...

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