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.  

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. 

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.  

And Best Supporting Zinger Goes To...

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Right, 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.

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)

Take 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, the mere continued existence of David Simon's NOLA-set drama has become cause for derision. Seduced away by Mad Men and Breaking Bad's trashier appeal—kidding, kidding, and yet not—the Emmys haven't been kind, with just two nominations for Treme's first season and bupkus from then on. Since the 2010 premiere, viewership has dwindled by roughly half, settling in at some 500,000 diehards: pretty piss-poor numbers, even by cable standards. Forgive me if it sometimes feels as if around 250,000 of them live within a 10-mile radius of me.

Redneckognize

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

Promotional photo from TLC

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

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.

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.

Bowties Are Cool, but So Are Kickass Female Characters

How women are portrayed in the BBC's Doctor Who

(AP Photo/ Donald Traill)

For 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 geek chic.

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.

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 conscientious and drawn to hierarchy and order (Prospect alum Chris Mooney details all this in his book The Republican Brain; there's a short version here). In other words, artists are going to be more liberal. Conservatives may not like it, but that's how it is and how it's probably always going to be.

The next question is what values are communicated by the products those liberals produce, and whether we have a problem with them...

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?

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.

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.

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. 

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