Television

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...

Louis CK's Big Win

Louie's third season on F/X explores the territory of the sitcom man. 

(Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)
Louis CK’s Emmy win Sunday for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy cemented his rise from relative obscurity to America’s most cherished comic voice. The win for the episode “Pregnant,” which aired last year as part of his critically acclaimed F/X series, Louie, topped other beloved shows like Parks and Recreation and Community . The Emmy also came just a few days after the final episode of a three-part series called “Late Show,” which exemplified what Louie does best: take tired themes from other, more traditional comedies, like middle age or relations between the sexes and spin them so they feel more real, more human, and subsequently funnier. With these episodes, CK faced down the familiar terrain of American men's fear of maturity but ended up in a very different place than most sitcoms. The three-part episode involved a complex story line in which Louie, the fictionalized alter ego of CK who is also a stand-up comedian, is offered a chance to audition to replace David Letterman as...

Way Down in the Hole

Every era has its great narrative art form, stories delivered via the au courant medium that simultaneously show us the small characters of individuals and the vast social panoramas that limn their decisions and lives. The Anglo-Saxons and ancient Greeks had epic poetry, its tropes, rhythms, and assonances perfect for delivery via roving troubador or bard. Urban Greeks and Elizabethans saw the peaks of their cultures’ theatrical drama, where everyone from the aristocracy to the masses gathered for social and moral insight peppered with bawdy jokes. Nineteenth-century England had its sweeping novels, ranging from Austen to ; the 1970s gave us Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Nashville, and their kin . We are living in the age of the great television series. From Hill Street Blues to The Sopranos , from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Rome , I know I’m not the only one who’s more eager to find out what’s happening with “my” characters and plotlines than to go see some cinematic blockbuster. (I might...

Bowties Are Cool, but So Are Kickass Female Characters

How women are portrayed in the BBC's Doctor Who

(AP Photo/ Donald Traill)
(AP Photo/ Donald Traill) Actors Matt Smith and Karen Gillian are seen on location filming "Doctor Who" in New York on Wednesday, April 11, 2012. F or fans of the BBC’s reboot of the long-running sci-fi series Doctor Who , the beginning of season seven this September has a lot on offer so far: The Doctor in full badass hero form, a new potential sexy genius Companion, dinosaurs on spaceships, and Daleks, the villains that have been fan favorites since nearly the beginning of the series. The show, which had its first impossibly long run from 1963 to 1989, got a reboot in 2005. The new version, while retaining the goofy time-travel plots and the monster-of-the-week elements, has a 21st-century spin. In the years between the first and second series, comic-book movies had become summer blockbusters. Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had shown that superheroes and spaceships could make for critically acclaimed television. The new Doctor Who positions itself in this world of...

First Night of the DNC: A TV & Twitter Review

Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology. (CNN political commentator Erick Erickson got roundly swatted for tweeting, "First night of the Vagina Monologues in Charlotte going as expected.") Whoa. Way to respect your lady viewers! But he was right about this: The Dems were indeed standing up for the ladies’ power over their own bodies and paychecks. Up on stage, the speeches were just on fire...

Hooray for Hollywood?

Flickr/The City Project
The article of the day is Jon Chait's piece in New York addressing the question of Hollywood's liberalism. To simplify it a bit, Chait argues that conservatives are basically right in their belief that Hollywood liberals are warping our minds with left-wing propaganda, though they seem to have all but stopped bothering to complain about it. I find it hard to disagree with the first part of Chait's premise: Hollywood is, indeed, dominated by liberals. There are a few high-profile conservatives there (Bruce Willis, Tom Selleck, Clint Eastwood), but they're a small minority. It's not hard to figure out why. Any industry that is made up of creative people is going to be dominated by liberals. Most novelists are liberals too. I'm sure most graphic artists are liberals. There's a whole lot of psychological research demonstrating that liberals tend to be more tolerant of ambiguity, open to experience, and interested in change than conservatives, while conservatives tend to be more...

Breaking Bad TV Expectations

Skyler White and other anti-hero wives have been doused in haterade lately instead of getting the sympathy they deserve.

(AP Photo/AMC, Ursula Coyote)
Breaking Bad’s Skyler White should be taking her place as one of the most beloved TV characters of all time. Performed with vanity-free honesty by Anna Gunn, Skyler, wife of the show’s protagonist Walter White, has gone through a lot the past three seasons: discovering her husband’s secret meth business, agreeing to cover it up with him, and eventually realizing that she’s stuck in a domestic violence situation with no clear path to escape. Despite all this, the character has shown remarkable fortitude and cunning that often equals her husband’s, as if she were a better version of Walter, equipped with the compassion and humility he lacks. So why do the fans hate her so much? That fans hate Skyler isn’t up for debate. In a recent poll during the show’s online scrolling service Story Sync, 55 percent of fans disagreed with Skyler’s assertion that she’s Walt’s “hostage” and not his wife, even though in the very episode before he made a speech where he explained to her that he controls...

The Incongruous Olympics

Will the Olympics be a break from Europe and England's problems, or make them more vivid?

(Photo courtesy of www.london2012.com)
Try as I might—which is, OK, not very hard—I'm having a tough time getting jazzed for the Olympics this year. I get the feeling I'm not the only one. The locals are reportedly grumpy already about the mobs of untrained tourists futzing up London commuters' very own Olympic event, which is predictable enough. But then Mitt Romney got into the act. Giving us a preview of his smooth idea of international diplomacy—I guess he has been talking to John Bolton—he wondered on his arrival in town whether the Brits really had it in them to properly "celebrate" the games. Being accused of not knowing how to party by Mitt Romney has to sting. A man who now has a brand-new reason to root for Obama, David Cameron frostily guaranteed that Britain would "deliver," not exactly the most rambunctious of verbs. Even so, I wondered whether, for once in his life, Mitt had a point. Starting with the games' Bizarro World mascots—Wenlock and Mandeville, a pair of one-eyed Pixar rejects destined to give...

Sorkin's Newsroom

So Aaron Sorkin is redoing The West Wing , but this time in a newsroom. The West Wing redid the Clinton administration, but better, with everyone making the right decisions for the right reasons despite their charming and lovable personal failings. In the same way, HBO's Newsroom gives us a set of high-minded, hyper-educated, East Coast elite liberals (in some cases disguised as Republicans, snort ) play-acting their way through the past two years, but—with the benefit of hindsight—presenting it the way it should have been given to us the first time around. The BP oil spill is recognized instantly as a major crisis, and is announced as such, with no one worrying about being sued. Arizona's immigration bill is instantly recognized as a civil-liberties disaster. The Koch Brothers' takeover and bankrolling of the high-minded original Tea Party, dragging the Republican Party far to the right, is made headline news every single night. (Someone over there has been reading AlterNet's Adele...

Can Broadcasters Use Dirty Words? Court says, “#$%& If We Know”

(AP Photo/E. Pablo Kosmicki/file)
Thursday was First Amendment day at the Supreme Court. But the Court ducked the chance to decide what is literally its most visible case of the term—the “dirty words on broadcast TV” case. Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations , was on its second trip to the show. Seven justices delivered an opinion that sheds no light at all on the interesting issue—whether the government may ban “fleeting expletives” on broadcast TV. Briefly, the case concerned a new FCC rule subjecting broadcasters to fines if their shows included even brief, or “fleeting” uses of dirty words or nudity. In 1978, the Court held that the FCC could discipline broadcasters for transmitting sustained “indecent” speech—in this case, George Carlin’s magnificently profane 12-minute “Filthy Words” monologue—during daylight and early evening hours, when children might hear it. Since that decision, decency groups have badgered the FCC to tighten the rules on dirty words. Not until the George W. Bush...

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