Television

Mad 21st Century Men

The world of Mad Men still feels familiar despite the show's long hiatus.

(AP Photo/Rex Features)
I’ll have to work this in quickly before it becomes a cliché, but despite the show's title, female characters have eclipsed male characters in audience sympathies on Mad Men. Identity is the show’s primary concern, putting the rapidly changing gender roles of the '60s at the center of its plot developments. And, the face showrunner Matthew Weiner gave post-'60s America is a female one. One thing seems certain to pass, despite the show’s unpredictability: Peggy Olson will eventually eclipse Don Draper, her mentor. Feminist viewers take delight in watching Peggy and some of the other female characters endure and overcome sexist treatment in no small part because we don’t have to put up with that kind of overt misogyny anymore. We cringe when a male character tells Joan to her face that he thinks of her as a “madam from a Shanghai whorehouse” who is “walking around like you’re trying to get raped.” Then we get to revel when Peggy stands up to the offender, and feel gratitude for the real...

Six Seasons and a Movie!

Community finally comes back on the air tonight to finish up its third season, and it's kind of a big deal for the show's rabid fans.

(Flickr/reway2007)
Community returns tonight after NBC unceremoniously put it on hiatus halfway through its third season, and it's a television event you would have had a hard time not knowing about if you spend any time online. While few expected the low-rated cult hit to see a fourth season, fans at least felt they needed closure, and far more for this show than for other single-camera critical darlings like it, such as 30 Rock or possibly even Arrested Development . Why? Because despite its well-deserved reputation for kooky, abstract humor, Community has some of the best-developed characters on television. More importantly, they’re characters who have evolved and changed as people, giving the audience a deep need to see how our beloved study group at Greendale Community College finally ends up. Ever since Arrested Development ushered in the era of single-camera sitcoms that get more critical ink than viewers, the form has tried to distinguish itself from the traditional three-camera soundstage...

A Homeric D'oh

The Simpsons celebrates a television milestone but where has all the edge gone?

(Flickr/wallyg)
Watching The Simpson s now is like watching the movie version of the Broadway show based on John Waters’ classic Hairspray . The form is the same, but the spirit just isn’t there. When the 500th episode of the show aired Sunday night, I couldn’t be bothered to care. The main problem is that the show jumped the shark more than a decade ago and, while it still manages to pop off plenty of laugh lines, it lacks the satirical heart that made it truly groundbreaking when it made its debut 23 years ago. The Simpsons first aired when I was in the seventh grade, and like much of the country, I fell in love with the characters and embraced it with the same enthusiasm that I had shown for other, more wholesome programs like The Cosby Show . Certainly, The Simpsons felt rougher around the edges, darker, and definitely more controversial than previous sitcoms. Homer frequently leapt on Bart and choked him in rage. Marge was stupid, and Lisa misunderstood. Still, the show adhered to the sitcom...

The Clinton Experience

A new PBS documentary puts Bill Clinton’s flawed presidency into measured perspective.

(Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)
H ow can you make the story of Bill Clinton and his presidency read like anything other than a rollicking escapade? Easy: Turn it into a PBS documentary. Clinton , which debuts tonight, is a two-part, nearly four-hour installment of the American Experience series that at first seems doomed to flatten the story of the 42nd president—a man of endless appetites and unquenchable ambition who rose from a troubled home in small-town Arkansas to become one of the most talented and disappointing political figures we’ve known. The polite, muted quality of the PBS documentary form makes a strange fit for its penis-brained, mercurial, and brilliant subject—the string music, the hushed narration of Campbell Scott, the all-too-steady chronological march. In the end, though, the form redeems itself, at least partly. Clinton is well worth watching. Its stately predictability gives us a chance to look back at the mad Clinton years, take a breath, and make some small sense of its craziness. There is,...

Is Aspirin a Contraceptive?

Nope. He was saying: Ladies, keep your legs shut. 

Honestly, the last couple of weeks, I've started to wonder: Is the Republican Party committed to a full-employment program for pundits focused on gender and sexuality? Every day, my jaw and the floor have had yet another encounter. Yesterday there was Foster Friess , the Santorum backer, saying that "aspirin between the knees" prevented pregnancy. I don't know about you, but I had to check to find out what the heck he was talking about . Was he saying you can use aspirin as a spermicide? As a post-coital douche? Nope. Apparently it was an old joke, before my time (and I'm old), that if a woman tried to hold an aspirin between her knees, she couldn't open her legs wide enough for some boy to get in. Wow. My mother just told me—this must have been back in, oh, 1973—that for people who needed it, Planned Parenthood could be very helpful. Turned out that I was just realizing I didn't need it, but I appreciated her vote of support. And somehow I never got to say anything about Fox...

Comedian In Chief

Public Policy Polling has been a boon for political journalists over the past few years, partially for their extensive and accurate numbers—they were the only ones noting the rise of Rick Santorum in Minnesota last week—but also for their sense of humor. In addition to surveying the major political races, PPP tackles the all-important topics such as which NFL player is more popular than all of the presidential candidates (Tim Tebow of course ) or how Stephen Colbert would perform in the South Carolina Republican primary. When the latter question produced a 5 percent result for Colbert—putting the comedian ahead of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman—he rolled out a joke candidacy that culminated with a joint rally with Herman Cain in Charleston. Now it seems that PPP has found another celebrity who registers a solid base of support. Rosanne Barr, who recently announced that she would be seeking the nomination of the Green Party, drew 6 percent of the vote when PPP polled the national...

Caliente Comedy

Network television is ramping up diversity this season by headlining comedies with Latinos. 

This year is shaping up to be a breakout one for Latinos on network television. CBS’s launch of Rob, Rob Schneider’s show about a non-Latino who marries a Mexican American woman after knowing her for six weeks and then has to win over her family, is the first Latino family sitcom on network television since George Lopez was canceled in 2007. Rob premiered last month to 13.5 million viewers , giving CBS its best ratings in that time slot since 2010. It’s part of a trend of increasing Latino visibility on television. Last week, Latin pop singer Ricky Martin also guest-starred on Fox’s hit musical comedy-drama Glee . The bilingual episode included a speech on Latino stereotypes by Santana (Naya Rivera), and the show’s creators offered Martin a return role as David Martinez, the new Spanish teacher, before the episode even aired. One can credit ABC’s ensemble comedy Modern Family, now in its third season, for jump-starting the trend. Featuring Sofia Vergara as Gloria, the patriarch’s...

A Super Bowl for the People

Led by Madonna’s halftime act, this year’s telecast included something for everyone.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Somehow Madonna pulled off an amazing feat during the Super Bowl: bringing gay culture and aggressive female sexuality into the heart of masculinity’s holiest of days without anyone seeming to care. While the cheerleading segment was embarrassingly silly, I otherwise have to disagree with Tom Carson’s assessment that the Super Bowl’s narrative was Clint Eastwood versus Madonna, with Clint winning. I’m more in the camp of Tom’s friend who said, “It was Clint AND Madonna.” Madonna was hauled onto the field by an army of half-naked men in gladiator costumes and then sang “Vogue,” a song about a dance style invented and nourished in gay nightclubs. Madonna even rolled out “Like A Prayer”, a number that used to bait conservatives with its provocative blend of sexual and religious themes. Yet, the only offended response from the guardians of moral purity the Monday after the show was half-hearted complaining that hip-hop performer M.I.A., who joined Madonna and rapper Nicky Minaj onstage,...

Sonia Sotomayor's Radical Judicial Activism

(Sesame Street)
This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill requiring TV access to Supreme Court arguments. Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t waiting: She made her debut on Sesame Street this week. Though she and Maria were just trying to enjoy “un cafecito,” they were interrupted by Baby Bear, who demanded a judgment in his case against Goldie Locks, who had (as the record has long reflected) broken his tiny chair during a most flagrant trespass quare clausum fregit . Sotomayor listened to the twin arguments and suggested that Goldilocks take her personal glue, fix the chair, and “then the two of you can live happily ever after.” Now this is all very well, but what sort of example does it set for the young? Isn’t it the worst sort of unprincipled activism? Why did she not turn to the wisdom of the Founders? Not long ago I was sternly lectured by Professor Michael Ramsey of the University of San Diego for an irreverent post about Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in United States v. Jones...

... And Still More Marriage Equality

It might be February, but wedding bells sure are in the air this week. Yesterday, Washington's state legislature passed a marriage bill that Governor Chris Gregoire has said she will sign. It will probably be battled at the ballot box, but I told you this week what I think about that—and the marriage-equality forces think that they're ready to hold the victory among voters. So instead of celebrating that victory, I'm going to pass along a moment of sadness. Robin Tyler has been an out-and-proud lesbian activist for decades, making things happen around the country. She and her wife were the first to marry in Los Angeles, during the brief period when California allowed marriages. And so she's made a small splash with the announcement that she and her wife will be getting divorced after 18 years together. They weren't really the "poster girls for the cause" that the news media wanted them to be. Tyler explains her position well: We didn't want to get married to be perfect. We are human,...

Stop the Damsel in Distress Act

Parks and Recreation's once-funny and subversive lead character turns into an anti-feminist cliché.

AP Images/Chris Haston
If you’re looking to get into the pants of a feminist, wonkish liberal, make sure to work Parks and Recreation into your sweet nothings. The hit NBC show's main character, Leslie Knope—a hyper-competent assistant parks director played by Saturday Night Live -alumna Amy Poehler—is one of those rare female comic characters who is allowed dignity along with competence. The sitcom is a love letter to the hard-working government bureaucrats who keep our streets clean and our communities safe only to find their work repeatedly bashed by pandering Republicans looking to score points against so-called big government. Unfortunately, everything that has made the show a winner with the smart set hasn’t resulted in ratings high enough to justify keeping it on the air. Watching the fourth season, I’ve come to fear that, in a last-ditch attempt to save the show, the writers are selling out their vision of a sweet-but-subversive sitcom and saddling Leslie with romantic story lines that buy into the...

Cynthia Nixon Clears It All Up

Poor Cynthia Nixon ! I can only imagine what kind of re-education camp she's been sent to since a week and a half ago, when she declared that she chooses to be gay. Yesterday, she issued a clarifying statement saying that: to the extent that anyone wishes to interpret my words in a strictly legal context I would like to clarify: While I don't often use the word, the technically precise term for my orientation is bisexual. I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have 'chosen' is to be in a gay relationship. As I said in the Times and will say again here, I do, however, believe that most members of our community—as well as the majority of heterosexuals—cannot and do not choose the gender of the persons with whom they seek to have intimate relationships because, unlike me, they are only attracted to one sex. It's worth reading the full statement. It struck me as slightly cranky in tone, as if written with some resentment that she would have to repeat what she said in...

I Fought PBS and PBS Won

Downton Abbey gives the network a bona fide guilty pleasure.

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
Maybe I should have heeded Joe Strummer's obscene warning back in 1980. "He who fucks nuns/Will later join the church," the Clash's front man sang biliously on London Calling— and here I am 32 years later, watching Downton Abbey. I guess Joe had my number all along. No doubt, this betrayal of my Jacobin youth won't seem excessively poignant to too many of you. That's not least because you're probably hooked on Downton Abbey yourself, but indulge me. When I was starting out as a TV reviewer—lured, like so many bright-eyed naifs, by the promise of groupies, big bucks, and high living— Village Voice readers soon got used to my heartlessness about PBS: "Off with those three little heads!" I once merrily wrote. More than anything else, public broadcasting's wan mania for importing high-toned Brit taradiddle got my goat, a prejudice dating back to my restless puberty. The original Forsyte Saga, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Brideshead Revisited —the PBS versions of the Rosetta Stone, in...

The Winner Is...Romney's Debate Coach

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
We learned so many things during Thursday night’s GOP debate in Jacksonville. Callista Gingrich would be a swell first lady because she plays the French horn and loves the arts. If you’re a Palestinian-American, don’t bother asking a Republican candidate in Florida to acknowledge your humanity, or even your existence. Immigration policy is really all about undocumented grandmothers. Rick Santorum used to go to church with the governor of Puerto Rico. And Ron Paul is itching to take on the other candidates in a 25-mile bike ride in the heat of Texas. The last debate before the Florida primary was, even by the standards of the 18 debates that preceded it, a stunningly vapid event—thanks largely to the preponderance of The View -level questions that moderator Wolf Blitzer and Jacksonville audience members asked. (Let’s not bother with Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, poverty or income inequality; we must know why the candidates think their spouses would make the best first ladies!) But the...

The Inside Track

Luck, HBO’s horse-racing series, is about the other American pastime: gaming the system.

 

E arly in the new HBO series Luck , a gangster’s chauffeur-cum-bodyguard, Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina), goes to L.A.’s Santa Anita racetrack with his boss, Chester “Ace” Bern-stein (Dustin Hoffman), and makes a bet on a long shot. When the horse comes in, Gus clutches his winning ticket and says happily: “Don’t ever let anyone tell you this isn’t a great fucking country.” I wouldn’t dream of it. But I will point out that Gus doesn’t win his bet because he’s been shrewd or even lucky. He wins because he’s gotten an inside tip from a dodgy trainer, a fact that, in the exhilaration of victory, he either forgets or takes for granted. Such is the slippery world of Luck , a program that aspires to capture not only the rich splendor of horse racing but this country in all its star-spangled dreams and delusions. This is no less than you’d expect of a show created by writer David Milch and co-produced by director Michael Mann, guys nobody would ever accuse of thinking small. While Mann has...

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