Sunday, July 15, 2018

Barren

I watched the pilot of Sacha Baron Cohen's new show Who Is America? which premieres tonight on Showtime.  I didn't expect to like it and my expectations were fulfilled.

I have a basic problem with Cohen's act.  He does what he does well, but I find it hard to laugh.  He creates a character, fools others into believing it, and then makes them look foolish. He did this 20 years ago as Ali G, and most famously in his movie Borat.  This latest show has him trying out different characters for each bit (and generally being unrecognizable--I'll give him points for that).

The half-hour pilot has four bits.  Cohen starts by interviewing Bernie Sanders--he asks why can't everyone be in the 1% (actually, a deep question, not that Bernie or Cohen are interested in the implications).  He later shocks a Republican couple who have him to dinner with his stories as an NPR liberal who has his daughter menstruate on the American flag.

He then pretends to be an ex-con who makes feces art, quite interesting to a woman who's a gallery consultant.  Finally, he's an Israeli ex-commando who convinces a lot of Republicans and NRA types to support a program that will put guns into the hands of kindergarteners.

Ironically, I'm guessing a lot of people will be unhappy because he mocks both right and left.  At present we're inundated with political satire, but these shows generally have a consistent point of view (and almost all the same point of view) so the audience knows what it's getting, and can safely laugh at those it doesn't like.

But that's not the problem I have.  In general, I don't enjoy watching someone embarrassing real people, or putting them in a spot.  It's not quite as bad when it's done to a major public figure, since they're used to the limelight and can take it.  But even then, it doesn't usually strike me as particularly funny.

So that's Who Is America? (which, of course, doesn't tell us much about America, not that anyone should be watching it for that reason).

The show has already gotten a lot of publicity for an upcoming interview with Dick Cheney where he signs a waterboarding kit.  It's also made Sarah Palin angry because, she claims, she was duped by Cohen disguised as a disabled vet.

Since I won't be watching future episodes, guess I won't find out how these bits turned out.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Don't Make A Habit Of It

Today is Pandemonium Day. It's a celebration of chaos and disorder.  It was created, apparently, to help people who are stuck in a rut--time to try something different, throw caution to the wind.

I would guess that the younger you are, the more you enjoy a little pandemonium. (The word, by the way, comes from Milton's Paradise Lost.)  In fact, when you're just a little kid, pandemonium comes naturally.

As most people get older, they prefer calm, and a sense of order.  Are these the people Pandemonium Day is meant for?

Life often has one trying to establish order among the chaos--some might even claim that's the definition of life.  But have humans done such a good job regimenting things that we need a little less structure?

We do tend to fall into ruts, no doubt.  But isn't this a good thing?  We couldn't function if everything was novel.  You need to get used to things to get through the day.

Speaking of which, how can we have a regular day each year dedicated to anarchy?  Sounds too much like a ritual for it to be true pandemonium.

Friday, July 13, 2018

TV Pats Itself On The Back

It's hard to write about the Emmys, because there are too many.  Too many nominees, too many shows and people to nominate.  Who has time to see even half of them?

Here's a list of the main awards, as announced yesterday, each category followed by comments.

Drama Series
“The Handmaid’s Tale”
“Game of Thrones”
“This Is Us”
“The Crown”
“The Americans”
“Stranger Things”
“Westworld”
 
No surprises here. Seven nominees, and every one expected.  There was no room for a surprise, like Counterpart or Ozark.  I'd have preferred they didn't nominate Westworld to show they're paying attention, but that wasn't going to happen.  The one I'm missing most here is the updated Twin Peaks, though that was probably too bizarre to make it.  And notice no Homeland--old regulars do fall out of favor.
 
Comedy Series
“Atlanta” (FX)
“Barry” (HBO)
“Black-ish” (ABC)
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO)
“GLOW” (Netflix)
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
“Silicon Valley” (HBO)
“The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
 
Just as in drama, only one choice from the networks. It's a bit more noticeable here, with eight nominees and favorites like Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory missing.   For that matter, the reboots of Will & Grace and Roseanne aren't here (the latter was controversial, but I don't think either would have made it in any case). But Curb Your Enthusiasm is still around.  Some other snubs include Orange Is The New Black (which I stopped watching a couple seasons ago, so I guess I agree), the new Arrested Development and the newly controversial Transparent. It's good to see GLOW here, and I like Silicon Valley, even if it wasn't the strongest season.  Atlanta (which is odd enough it should be in its own category) was a certainty for the list.  Barry was an interesting choice, but the one show I miss most from this list is The Good Place.
 
Limited Series
“The Alienist”
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
“Genius: Picasso”
“Godless”
“Patrick Melrose”
 
How limited are these shows?  I didn't watch any.
 
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Jason Bateman (“Ozark”)
Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”)
Ed Harris (“Westworld”)
Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”)
Milo Ventimiglia (“This Is Us”)
Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”)
 
Same two guys from This Is Us as last year--guess there wasn't room for a third.  Bateman a bit of a surprise.  Harris and Wright are talented actors, but I don't think either should be here.  Some wanted Liev Schreiber.  Maybe the biggest surprise is no Kit Harrington (who I assume would be in the running for Lead Actor) considering Game Of Thrones has won so many Emmys.  Might also have expected one for J. K. Simmons since he's become an Oscar winner and Emmy voters love to reward movie stars. By far the biggest oversight was Kyle McLachlan's phenomenal performance(s) in Twin Peaks.
 
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Claire Foy (“The Crown”)
Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”)
Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve”)
Keri Russell (“The Americans”)
Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld”)
 
No big surprises, though I don't watch most of these shows.  Some snubs.  In particular, Mandy Moore in This Is Us who had a big scene when hee husband died.  And Chrissy Metz, too. Is the bloom already off the Us rose?  Also, no Emilia Clarke.  I guess relatives sleeping together (once again) on Game Of Thrones turned people off.
 
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Donald Glover (“Atlanta”)
Bill Hader (“Barry”)
Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”)
William H. Macy (“Shameless”)
Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”)
Ted Danson (“The Good Place”)
 
Though a number of these don't excite me, still, pretty much the expected choices.  Both Glover and David produce and write their shows (and though David is memorable, is he much of an actor?).  Good to see Danson getting some attention.  Notice no one here who got caught in the MeToo movement.  And no one nominated playing a character named Sheldon.
 
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Pamela Adlon (“Better Things”)
Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”)
Allison Janney (“Mom”)
Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”)
Issa Rae (“Insecure”)
 
No big surprises here.  Based just on the pilot of the first season, I'd like to see Rachel Brosnahan win.  Biggest snub here is Alison Brie of GLOW--her series is nominated, why not her?
 
Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Antonio Banderas (“Genius: Picasso”)
Darren Criss (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”)
Benedict Cumberbatch (“Patrick Melrose”)
Jeff Daniels (“The Looming Tower”)
John Legend (“Jesus Christ Superstar”)
Jesse Plemons (“USS Callister”)
 
Most of these I didn't see.  Intriguing that John Legend is nominated--is it because TV voters love stars of any kind?  Hey, couldn't they have nominted Al Pacino as Paterno--that's quite a snub.  It's be cool to see Jesse Plemons win--his imitation of Captain Kirk (and the basic creepiness behind much of Kirk) cracked me up.
 
Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Laura Dern (“The Tale”)
Jessica Biel (“The Sinner”)
Michelle Dockery (“Godless”)
Edie Falco (“The Menendez Murders”)
Regina King (“Seven Seconds”)
Sarah Paulson (“American Horror Story: Cult”)
 
Once again, didn't see most of these, though Dern was pretty good in The Tale.  (And if Jesse Plemons is nominated for "USS Callister," where's Cristin Milioti from same?)
 
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (“Game of Thrones”)
Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”)
Joseph Fiennes (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
David Harbour (“Stranger Things”)
Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland”)
Matt Smith (“The Crown”)
 
Finally some GOT names--the two most obvious, in fact (though they're leads, aren't they?).  Harbour is good, but how come the boys, who make Stranger Things what it is, get nothing?  Patinkin is always great as Berenson--isn't it time he won an Emmy for the role? 

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Alexis Bledel (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”)
Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”)
Vanessa Kirby (“The Crown”)
Thandie Newton (“Westworld”)
Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Lot of Handmaids here.  Too bad I don't get Hulu.  Millie Bobby Brown does a decent job, but while the show centers around her, does she give the most memorable performance in the series--how many times do we have to see her nose bleed?  (And I know she's a kid, but isn't she the lead?)  Good to see Lena Headey, even if her character has had better seasons--she still hasn't won an Emmy yet, and there won't be many more chances.  I would have liked to see Julia Garner from Ozark here.
 
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Louie Anderson (“Baskets”)
Alec Baldwin (“Saturday Night Live”)
Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)
Brian Tyree Henry (“Atlanta”)

Tony Shalhoub (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Kenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”)
Henry Winkler (“Barry”)

Good to see Winkler here--probably the most memorable performance in Barry (and he's never won an Emmy).  Thompson and (non-cast member) Baldwin from SNL--it's weird to see sketch performers against people playing regular roles in a series (though Baldwin only pays one role on the show these days).  The one I'd most like to see win is Brian Tyree Henry, who was even better in the second season of Atlanta than the first.  (And I'm sure some people are asking where's Lakeith Stanfield from the same show).  I guess John Goodman is a snub, though how much was Roseanne expecting?

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Zazie Beetz (“Atlanta”)
Alex Borstein (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”)
Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”)
Leslie Jones (“Saturday Night Live”)
Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”)
Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne”)
Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”)

Three gals from SNL (including Jones, who's a presence, but has a history of screwing up her lines more than anyone).  Roseanne finally gets a nomination (though Metcalf has done better stuff, including her previous work on the show).  Will & Grace also gets some notice.  And, with the Brie Snub, it's good to see Gilpin from GLOW getting some notice--it was almost as much her season as Brie's (and her story was more consistent).  Though no Sarah Goldberg from Barry.  Not famous enough?  Some thought Jessica Walter would get a nomination for Arrested Development because Jeffrey Tambor shouted at her.
 
Guest Actor in a Drama Series
F. Murray Abraham (“Homeland”)
Cameron Britton (“Mindhunter”)
Matthew Goode (“The Crown”)
Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”)
Gerald McRaney (“This Is Us”)
Jimmi Simpson (“Westworld”)
 
Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Viola Davis (“Scandal”)
Kelly Jenrette (The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Cherry Jones (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Diana Rigg (“Game of Thrones”)
Cicely Tyson (“How to Get Away With Murder”)
Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
 
Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
Sterling K. Brown (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”)
Bryan Cranston (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”)
Donald Glover (“Saturday Night Live”)
Bill Hader (“Saturday Night Live”)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”)
Katt Williams (“Atlanta”)
 
Guest Actress in a Comedy Series 
Tina Fey (“Saturday Night Live”)
Tiffany Haddish (“Saturday Night Live”)
Jane Lynch (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Maya Rudolph (“The Good Place”)
Molly Shannon (“Will & Grace”)
Wanda Sykes (“Black-ish”)
 
Not going to comment on all the guest appearance nominees except to note it's a chance for names who have won awards elsewhere to pick up an easy Emmy.  Also, hey look, yet another nomination this year for Donald Glover, Bill Hader and Sterling K. Brown.
 
Reality Competition
“The Amazing Race”
“American Ninja Warrior”
“Project Runway”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
“Top Chef”
“The Voice”
 
My life is so much better since I stopped watching Reality Shows.
 
Variety Sketch Series
“Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
“Portlandia” (IFC)
“Drunk History” (Comedy Central)
“Tracey Ullman’s Show” (HBO)
“At Home with Amy Sedaris” (TruTV)
“I Love You, America” (Hulu)
 
SNL is more famous than the rest of these shows put together.
 
Variety Talk Series
“The Daily Show With Trevor Noah”
“Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Late Show with James Corden
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
 
Notice anything about these six shows?  They're all anti-Trump-all-the-time. What a startling lack of diversity.  And there wasn't even room to include Late Night With Seth Meyers and (major snub) Real Time With Bill Maher.
 
Television Movie
Fahrenheit 451” (HBO)
“Flint” (Lifetime)
“Paterno” (HBO)
“The Tale” (HBO)
“Black Mirror: USS Callister” (Netflix)
 
An episode of Black Mirror is considered a TV movie. Probably makes it easier to get nominations, so they must be happy.  By the way, I liked "Callister" a lot, but my favorite of the season was probably "Metalhead"--it interests me that this episode seems to be rated the worst of the season by fans.
 
Structured Reality Program
“Antiques Roadshow” (PBS)
“Fixer Upper” (HGTV)
“Lip Sync Battle” (Paramount)
“Queer Eye” (Netflix)
“Shark Tank” (ABC)
“Who Do You Think You Are?” (TLC)
 
Unstructured Reality Program
“Born This Way” (A&E)
“Deadliest Catch” (Discovery)
“Intervention” (A&E)
“Naked and Afraid” (Discovery Channel)
“RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked” (VH1)
“United Shades of America With W. Kamau Bell” (CNN)
 
There are so many reality shows out there they now have different categories for them.  But aren't those nominated for "Unstructured" kind of insulted?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

CM

Fleetwood Mac--at least the superstar version of the band--was built on three pillars, a trio of singer/songwriters who gave them their distinctive sound: Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and our birthday girl Christine McVie.

She was born Christine Perfect--what a great name.  She was singing and playing keyboards for a band, Chicken Shack, when she met and married Fleetwood Mac's John McVie (he's the "Mac"), and joined her husband's band in 1970.  The group was reasonably successful until they added Nicks and Buckingham in 1975 and shot into the stratosphere.

So happy 75th, Christine.










Wednesday, July 11, 2018

In N Out

Some are talking about Ilya Somin's post "The Hereditary Aristocracy of Citizenship."  The thesis is simple.  Just as there once was an unjust aristocracy based on bloodline, so today is there unfairness in that some win the lottery by being born in the right place while others, simply by accident of birth, aren't so lucky.

There's something to this, but I don't see any easy solution.  The two things that can be done are kicking people out of a country who don't deserve to be there, and letting people in who do.

Citizenship, even if conferred automatically on the worthy and unworthy alike, creates a certain cohesion, and it would be tricky to strip citizenship and remove people from a country in large numbers. Politically and logistically, it would be tremendously difficult.  And even if you believe it in theory, it would be such a dangerous weapon in the hands of partisans and those with prejudices that it would likely lead to monstrous moral decisions (and I think has, historically speaking).

So there's the other side, immigration.  Why shouldn't others be allowed to enjoy the bounty some get by being born?  Maybe they should, but how would it work?  Can anyone move anywhere they want to?  Maybe that would be fair, but, once again, the logistics seem almost impossible.

So, assuming we will continue to have borders, then we'll have to have rules.  And then the rules should be based on what works best.  Though is it what works best for the country or for the world?  Perhaps we want to help the world, but then mightn't the self-sacrificing "good" countries have more problems while the more "selfish" countries prosper?  Then where will we want to move?

Or must we set up a one-world government where everyone can pass easily back and forth as they wish.  Again, this might be nice, but we'd be at great risk of this government becoming too powerful and not following the most altruistic path, even if they have the best intentions.

There's always a lottery at birth.  (In fact, just to be born you had to beat out millions of others trying to fertilize that egg.)  There's being born in the present and not the past when they couldn't cure a lot of disease.  There's being born a human and not, say, a worm.  (I have no idea how happy worms are--perhaps it's not a good deal for humans.)  And if science advances into science fiction, maybe Somin would think it our moral duty to make sure no one is, effectively, born in the past, or as a worm.

But in today's world as it is, how obvious is it that some countries are better than others?  And if it is, isn't a good solution to convince less successful countries to adopt the systems of the more successful.  Along the way, we'll keep having many different laboratories to keep trying various experiments, and the average drags up along the way.  This might work better than people abandoning their countries and going to the "good" ones.

Maybe we should have fairly open borders, but we still have to set up rules, and decide just how open they should be.  And if Somin believes a lot of immigration is good for a country, as he seems to, just say it, recognizing that's a separate argument from the aristocracy of citizenship.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Spoilers

For much of the 20th century, Broadway plays had three acts.  Part of the key to an effective production was good curtains--acts one and two had to end with a bang, leaving you wondering what will happen next.  And, of course, the last curtain better be memorable, since that's what you leave the audience with.

I was thinking of some of the more famous final curtains.  Tea And Sympathy, for instance, where the wife of the housemaster decides to sleep with a bullied student, saying "Years from now, when you speak of this, and you will, be kind."

There's The Bad Seed, where the mother realizes her little daughter Rhoda is a psychopathic murderer, so she overdoses the child with sleeping pills and then shoots herself.  The final scene is in the hospital where we discover Rhoda has survived and is free to kill again.

Then there's The Front Page, where newspaper editor Walter Burns is trying to hold on to star reporter Hildy Johnson, though Hildy is planning to run off with his fiancée.  After the main action, dealing with an escaped prisoner, has ended, Walter appears to accept Hildy's decision. He even gives Hildy his watch, which has the inscription "To the Best Newspaperman I know." After Hildy leaves, Walter calls an employee, telling him to send a wire to the police chief at a city in Indiana.

Tell him to meet the twelve-forty out of Chicago--New York Central--are arrest Hildy Johnson and bring him back here.  Wire him a full description.  The son of a bitch stole my watch!

All very effective moments, though it occurred to me none of these made the films  The last sort of did, since the first version of The Front Page came out in 1931, before the Production Code was heavily enforced.  But even then, when Adolphe Menjou speaks the famous line, there's a sound effect necessary to drown out "son of a bitch."  (The excellent remake, His Girl Friday, changes Hildy's sex, and so becomes a romance where Walter and Hildy end up together, thus making the line inappropriate.)

The film version of Tea And Sympathy kept the line, but since what the woman did was considered immoral by the Production Code, there's an epilogue set ten years later where it's made clear what they did was wrong.

Then there's The Bad Seed.  You can't have a psychopathic murderer get away with it.  So the mother survives while Rhoda, believe it or not, is struck by lightning.  And then, for good measure, the child who plays the role gets spanked during the credits.

Hollywood sure knew how to ruin everyone's fun.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Loved

I just finished the third season of Love, a Netflix TV series about the up-and-down relationship of Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust).  The show was created by Rust, Judd Apatow and Lesley Arfin.

It's a comedy, certainly, but not especially jokey--it's got plenty of funny moments, but is willing to get dramatic when it wants to.  Mickey and Gus are flawed but intriguing people.  They live in Los Angeles, both working on the fringes of show business--Mickey produces a radio show and Gus works as a teacher to the child actors on a TV drama.

Season three was the last, and also the best.  The previous seasons had the characters meeting, flirting and falling in and out of love.  This season allowed them to be more a regular pair, and dive deeper into their relationship, while at the same time featuring episodes where they were on their own, dealing with other problems.  The ending was hopeful, though after all we've seen it's hard to know how stable this relationship will be.

I haven't re-watched the past seasons, but it seemed the supporting players came to the fore this season, especially Claudia O'Doherty as Mickey's roommate, Bertie, who's stuck in a relationship with the problematic Randy.  I haven't seen O'Doherty, an Australian actress, in too much else, but maybe she's ready to star in her own show.

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