Television

Daily Meme: Fans of War Shoot at Straw Men

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech at West Point outlining his vision for the use of American power in the future. So how did people react? The consensus on the right was that Obama's speech was a litany of arguments against straw men. "In rebutting his many critics, Obama would be more persuasive if [he] seriously engaged their arguments instead of rebutting arguments that no one is making in the real world," wrote Max Boot at Commentary . "Once again, the president caricatures the views of his critics rather than addressing them fairly," wrote Elliot Abrams , whose continued influence within conservative foreign policy circles is an inspiration to convicted criminals everywhere looking for a second chance. The conservative critics weren't completely wrong—Obama may have overstated their lust for American military action in his speech. But if he exaggerated, it wasn't by much, and many Republicans reacted by once again criticizing the President's insufficient enthusiasm for...

Daily Meme: Is Same-Sex Marriage Unstoppable?

Marriage is all over the headlines these days. First, an anniversary: Earlier this week, Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd celebrated ten years of legal marriage . In May 2004, after a years-long legal battle, they were the first and only people in line at City Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ready to to receive a marriage license. At the time, they were worried that a protester would shoot them. Now, gay marriage is legal in 19 states, including the entire Northeast. Court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage have been coming fast and furious. The latest state to jump on the gay-marriage bandwagon is Pennsylvania; on Tuesday, a judge once endorsed by Rick Santorum struck down the state's ban on same-sex unions . On Monday, another federal judge ruled Oregon's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional . The landscape has changed so quickly that some commentators are wondering whether the movement is "unstoppable." Americans are more and more likely to favor legalizing gay marriage: A...

Why Grayson Would Make Perfect Opponent to Gowdy on Benghazi Committee

AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File
Florida Rep. Alan Grayson at a 2009 congressional hearing. ( AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File ) T he work of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Talk Points—as the new committee to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, would be more accurately named—began in earnest Friday, as the seven Republican members met for the first time with Speaker John Boehner, and then among themselves. In protest of Republican rules granting Chairman Trey Gowdy unilateral subpoena power, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has yet to appoint minority members. Democrats received no guarantee they will be allowed access to interview witnesses before public testimony is given. Regardless of Democratic participation, there is no doubt this committee is, in Nancy Pelosi’s words , a “political stunt”—simply the latest attempt by Republicans to convert tragedy into scandal. The process will undoubtedly waste millions of dollars and thousands of hours, ultimately to reach the...

Jack Bauer Lives Another Day. The Question Is: 'Why?'

Daniel Smith/FOX
Daniel Smith/FOX T he most notorious television series of the Bush-Cheney years is coming back to Fox on Monday. In 24: Live Another Day , rogue anti-terrorist agent (and poster boy for the efficacy of torture) Jack Bauer, after running amok and blowing away Russia's foreign minister four years ago, is still a wanted man. Played, as ever, by Kiefer Sutherland — who's gotten so mulish in the role that he might as well be towing a farm cart with his teeth — Jack is modeling a hoodie in London when new President James Heller (William Devane) comes to town to dicker with the British Prime Minister (Stephen Fry) over the lease of an island base that's apparently needed to keep those fun U.S. drones annihilating our Middle Eastern enemies, a priority our transatlantic chums are bewilderingly unthrilled about enabling. As it happens, Heller isn't crazy about drones either — of course not, civilized guy he is. But "the ugly truth," he says, "is that what we do has worked." Since pretty much...

I'm Over "Mad Men"

A TV series can only toy with profundity—and not deliver—for so long before the whole thing starts to feel like a shell game.

Courtesy of AMC Networks
Courtesy of AMC Networks W e're only two weeks into Mad Men 's ultra-long goodbye—the final season's second half won't even air until 2015, meaning we could all be sporting Duck Dynasty beards by the time Part Deux rolls around—and I'm already noticing how sick I am of deciphering the runes in Don Draper's morose face. Can it be that Jon Hamm is getting as bored with playing Matthew Weiner's study in Existential Anguish 101 as I am by watching him? Hard to tell, but you'd hardly blame the actor if a certain fatigue has set in: "Okay, Jon, let's try a take where you squint pensively into the distance first and wince second for a change." A character can only be an enigma for so long before you start to wonder whether "enigma" got its start in life as the Greek word for "dullard." And a TV series can only toy with profundity for so long before the whole thing starts to feel like a shell game. (Just ask anyone sucked in by Lost. ) When all else fails, Mad Men can always fall back on...

Stephen Colbert Isn't the Only One With a Fictional Character

Flickr/Reid Rosenberg
So Stephen Colbert will be replacing David Letterman when Letterman retires next year, and you'll be shocked to learn that at least one conservative is spitting mad about it. "CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America," said Rush Limbaugh . "No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservative values—now it's just wide out in the open." Funny, I thought Hollywood's assault on traditional American values was pretty overt already. But this is actually fitting, because I'll bet Limbaugh couldn't care less who's on CBS at 11:30. But Colbert's a liberal, so Limbaugh has to pretend to be angry about it. In other words, he's reacting exactly the way Stephen Colbert's character would. Now it's true that Colbert based his character not on Limbaugh but (mostly) on Bill O'Reilly. And like Colbert, O'Reilly is himself playing a character named Bill O'Reilly, the only difference being that the Bill O'Reilly character is just a slight...

As Good As It Gets for Oscar

AP Images/Jordan Strauss
AP Images/Jordan Strauss B y now everyone knows that—as my colleague Tom Carson pointed out last week—Oscar history is strewn with verdicts so absurd as to legitimately raise the question of why anyone cares, unless you find the Academy Awards irresistible for the way they’ve become part of Hollywood lore. You don’t have to go back as far as the notorious examples that Tom cited of Oliver or Around the World in Eighty Days upending the not-even-nominated 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Searchers in 1968 and 1956 respectively; there are examples more recent—2012, for instance. That was the year when sense gave way to vigilante justice and the actors’ bloc of the Oscar electorate, a Mercedes McCambridge glint in its eye, led the Academy in stringing up any nominee they could find who wasn’t Ben Affleck, rewarding Argo for Affleck’s omission from the Best Director cut in what turned out to be the snub of his dreams. Unhip as it is to point out, the Oscars were getting sharper and more...

Johnny Who?

AP Images/NBC/Lloyd Bishop
AP Images/NBC/Lloyd Bishop T he story goes that Johnny Carson, who hosted NBC’s The Tonight Show for count-’em 30 years—from 1962 to 1992—loved vacationing abroad because no one outside the United States knew who the hell he was. That certainly wasn’t the case here at home. In his heyday, basically the entire time he had the job, Carson wasn’t famous the way, for instance, Jane Fonda is famous. He was famous like Bayer aspirin or, to the more troubled members of his audience, Jim Beam. Outdoing even that plummily narcissistic Polonius, CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite, he was 20th-century American life’s most reassuring constant. Once he was done, he vanished from public view as if he’d been television’s Lawrence of Arabia, just with fewer hang-ups about revolutionizing a vast wasteland. Impervious to the latest fashion because he was so alert to it, Carson could always be counted on to deliver the goods. In his case, those were chiefly a reassurance that nothing could be too wrong...

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole of NYC’s Lena Dunham Obsession

Vogue Magazine
Flickr J ust as twentysomethings aren’t the ones writing about millennials ( that would be Ross Douthat ), Lena Dunham’s contemporaries aren’t the demographic that considers Girls its television muse. No, that would be over-twentysomething men, who make up over 20 percent of the show’s viewership and a perhaps even healthier percentage of the bylines featuring name drops of Dunham in the New York media ( this would also be Ross Douthat). Everyone who’s been having heart palpitations over Hannah Horvath’s desire to be a voice of a generation seems to have missed the New York old guard’s intention of making her the voice of the whole damn city. Since 2001, The New York Times has published over 300 articles mentioning Dunham, about 99 percent of which have been written in the past four years. And, except for the early days, right when Tiny Furniture became a thing and Girls screeners became zeitgeist incarnate, she’s hardly ever the subject matter. Any story with a wisp of beard, a hint...

CNN Losing Interest in News

Flickr/Gregor Smith
CNN has been having problems for some time, with anemic ratings and something of an identity crisis. In a world where people can get news of the moment from a million places, just what is the network that pioneered cable news for ? Not that the network doesn't still make plenty of money (it does), but unlike Fox and MSNBC, CNN hasn't seemed to have been able to figure out what its model is. In an interview with Capital New York, CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who has been on the job less than a year, said what the network needs is "more shows and less newscasts," in order to grab "viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E." It all adds up to "an attitude and a take." As easy as this is to mock, I think they should go for it. Because really, would our democracy suffer if, say, we only got one hour a day of Wolf Blitzer's vaguely befuddled "take" on the news instead of the current two hours? Let's take a look at the current CNN schedule . After the...

Why Lara Logan Won't Lose Her Job

In case you haven't heard, CBS News is in a bit (but only a bit) of hot water over a story 60 Minutes recently aired about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. It centered on a breathless account from a security contractor, who just happened to have written a book about it being published by a conservative imprint of a publishing house owned by CBS (that's synergy, baby). He told of the harrowing events of that night, including his own heroism and the spinelessness of the big shots who sit in their cushy offices while men of action like him do what must be done and get hung out to dry. The only problem was, he appears to be a liar who fabricated much of what 60 Minutes relayed in the story, which was reported by Lara Logan. After insisting for weeks that everything in its story checked out, CBS finally conceded that the contractor, one Dylan Davies, was lying to them and through them to their audience. On Sunday night, Logan delivered an extraordinarily half-assed on-air...

The False Glow of Remembered Childhood

Wait a minute - are you saying that my perspective on this might be colored by the fact that I'm ten years old? No way!
Three years ago, John Boehner was doing an interview when he lamented, perhaps with a tear peeking its way through the corner of his eye, that Democrats "are snuffing out the America that I grew up in." As Michael Tomasky noted at the time, the America Boehner grew up in (the 1950s) featured things like strong private-sector unions, a 90 percent top income-tax rate, enormous public-works projects, and a moderate Republican party, presumably all things Boehner wouldn't like, not to mention Jim Crow, terrible discrimination against women and gay people ... you get the point. But of course, "the America that I grew up in" is a place that exists only in the imagination— everyone's imagination. This is from an interview in Salon the other day with Adam Goldberg, creator of The Goldbergs , an ABC sitcom set in the 1980s: Why do you think audiences will be interested in a family show specifically set in the 1980s? I think the '80s works for a TV show because it's the last time the world was...

Dick Cheney Still Thinks He Was a Character on "24"

One of these two is not a real person.
Dick Cheney felt moved to write an entire book about the heart troubles he's had over the years, which I can understand. After all, we all find our particular maladies fascinating. What I don't get is why anybody else would care, since we don't tend to find other people's maladies interesting in the least. If you'd let me, I'd love nothing more than to blather on about my various knee injuries, but since I'm not RGIII, I have the sense to know that you really don't give a crap. Nevertheless, there's apparently an interesting tidbit or two in Cheney's book, including this reported by CBS News, which may validate what you already thought about him: Cheney had [his defibrillator] replaced in 2007 and his doctor, cardiologist Jonathan Reiner, with whom he wrote the book, had the device's wireless function disabled so a terrorist couldn't send his heart a fatal shock. Some years later, Cheney was watching an episode of the SHOWTIME hit "Homeland," in which that terrorist scenario was woven...

Why Liberals Love TV's Fictional Conservatives

AP Images/ABC/Eric McCandless
AP Images/ABC/Eric McCandless When the third season of Scandal premieres tonight, you can bet I’m going to be glued to my set (and Twitter feed) like millions of other Americans. Shonda Rhimes creates mighty good, sexy, nail-biting, oh-my-sweet-God-that-didn’t-just-happen TV. But, good liberal that I am, I can’t help feeling that my love of ABC’s hit show should be attended by some guilt. No, not because what Rhimes calls “fluffier” entertainment is inherently inferior; I don’t feel guilty about it in that sense. But instead because beneath plotlines like that of black political fixer Olivia Pope’s interracial love with the white president and a gay White House Chief of Staff raising a baby with his husband, Scandal is, in essence, the story of an allegedly apolitical (amoral?) woman who routinely abets an illegitimate conservative administration, complete with a radical Evangelical vice-president a heartbeat away from being president. Rhimes and Co. have me rooting for these people...

Breaking Bad's Endgame

AP Images/Doug Hyun
AP Images/Doug Hyun T he Breaking Bad Backlash begins 60 hours from now and, if you listen very hard, you can hear the stirrings already, through the fever pitch of the phenomenon that the show has become and the nearly desperate anticipation surrounding this Sunday’s series finale. Mere ratings can’t capture an intensity that’s beyond quantifying by even (or especially) a stickler for precision like high-school-chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-maestro Walter White; no conclusion since The Sopranos ’ infamous cut to black has attracted this much zealous attention. If you haven’t seen a single episode of the show, odds are you know nearly as much about it as you do about shows of which you’ve witnessed every single inconsequential second, because for the last month the unhinged around you won’t shut the hell up about it. It would be kind of cool, and maybe even healthy, to start the backlash here but I can’t, because I’m convinced that White, as played by Bryan Cranston, is the greatest...

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