Deep thoughts from Aaron Sorkin

Standard

A few months ago, while driving back to DC from my parents house, I was listening to an Aaron Sorkin interview on a recent episode of The West Wing Weekly.  As always, Aaron charmed me, however there was one line I’ve been pondering ever since.

I’d say a very broad theme in all of the television that I’ve written is that it’s alright to be alone in a big city if you can find family at work.    (1:01)

The statement is so simple, but it resonated with me so much that I had to  replay the line multiple times before I was ready to move on.  In some ways, it made me uncomfortable.  I could spend hours digging into how this thought has impacted my decisions (or lack of decisions) over the last 5 years.   I  could use it to explain why a politics-hating girl (no longer!) fell in love with The West Wing four years ago.  I could also dig into why workplace shows can be so successful (or bomb miserably).  I could  destroy this statement arguing that it is necessary to find “family” outside of work for a truly fulfilling life.   Instead, I just want to leave it here and let you think on it.  For me, it’s a good example of how small pieces of pop culture enrich my life by forcing me to think more deeply about my own life.  Does it have an impact on you?  Is it true?  Is it painful?  Does it make you smile anyway?  Or does it simply just make you wish Aaron Sorkin hadn’t given up on television?

Advertisements

Back on the couch

Standard

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about my interests.  I’ve spent the last 5 years in a city I never wanted to be in and in a job I thought was temporary.  While I don’t have any intention of making specific changes any time soon, I am looking to push myself to go back to some of my hobbies (if that’s what you can call them).   Which brings me to a promise I made myself yesterday: To write more about what I watch.

I love that I love indulging in TV.  I used to be embarrassed by my TV habits and my ability to waste away an entire day binge-ing on something ridiculous.  Lately, I’ve found that it’s probably one of the few things that keeps me sane among all the stress in life. There is very little that makes me happier than disappearing into a fictional world, even if it’s been pretty miserably designed.  A majority of my life has been spent idolizing those who get to work in TV.  From my weird fascination with our local TV critic (I so miss Larry Bonko’s regular columns) to following the TCA’s religiously while stuck in Williamsburg for multiple summers — I’ve wanted to be in it.  Truthfully, my professional skill set doesn’t really align with anything you’d find in TV (Feel free to prove me wrong and send me job postings for professional technical puzzle solvers in that world), but I really do dream about it.  So, I’ve decided to revive my blog to bring some purpose to my bingeing.   So — here’s to insightful posts on mostly-bad TV.  Cheers!

 

Coming up:  My thoughts on the teen soaps of 2017 aka how Rachel can still find herself horribly entertained by 22 year olds pretending to be 16.

Ground Beef and Love Stories

Standard

I just finished reading a young adult love story.  It was one of those typical girl-meets-gorgeous-boy in high school tormented type of love stories.  For all intents and purposes, I loved the book (check it out– Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins).  It was beautifully written especially in comparison to some of the other YA novels I have read this year.  The protagonist is insightful, and you find yourself sympathetic for the scenario in which she finds herself.  Despite all this, I think I finally realized why I like to claim that “I hate love stories”.  

I first realized that I hated love stories when I read The Notebook.  It is a book that is almost entirely focused on the love story, and I hated that there isn’t anything more to tell.  I know I am greatly simplifying what is a pretty well-received novel, but I am just giving you my opinion.  I need more than just your average love story.

Now do not get me wrong, I love a good romance.  In fact, I was the middle/high school girl who watched every sappy teenage romantic tv show, and I re-watched all those squeal-worthy episodes until the VHS that I taped them on no longer played.  However, there is something so different from that long-form, weekly, episodic format of a teen television show.  Plus, there were always drugs, psychotics, and alcohol to add some other types of drama into the mix. I may say that I love Dawson’s Creek for the Pacey and Joey romance, BUT, I really get hooked from the other drama, the friendships, and the banter.

Which brings me to “love story” novels.  In some of the lucky cases, these stories detail a romance in a smart way.  The reader can jump into head of the protagonist and feel the giddiness of that budding crush or the frustration of the brick wall that is his more beautiful girlfriend.  These things are great, especially when written well, but when you get sucked into things easily it can become not so great.

This leads me to Anna and the French Kiss.  I loved it.  From the moment I started, I was hooked with the witty narration.  Anna is a teenager, so she is not overly wise or self-aware, but she does have some great observations.  However, despite the fact that I have almost a decade on Anna, I find myself swept into her drama.  I feel the butterflies and the jealousy, and I want to put the book down.  But then she has that moment with her perfect guy, and I am glued.  But of course, it’s only a moment of almost-perfection, and then the roller coaster begins again.  And that’s what love stories do to me.  They tease, and they taunt, and the relief of a happy ending is just that, it’s an ending.  At which point, the book is over and I realize it was all fiction, and I put myself through the meat grinder for a moment of happily-ever-after.   

Is it just me or am I just realizing something that others have realized for years?  And will I keep reading these so-called love stories?  I know at least one of those questions is a definitive “yes”.

Before Binge-Watching Had A Name

Standard

So I must apologize for so  abandoning this blog for than a few months.  I got totally wrapped up in life and didn’t have the chance to come up with ideas and post.  Here’s my first foray back into pop culture blogging.

Binge watching.  It seems like it’s a trend these days.  Magazines are writing about it, podcasters are talking about it, and it’s just all around a real term now.  With the growth of Netflix and other online streaming services, and even earlier, the creation of TV on DVD, it seems like people are not only watching new shows, they are catching up on old shows.  But even with the lack of a term– binge watching was around in my life long before Netflix.

My first binge watching experience was at the age of 5.  My babysitter hooked me onto Saved By The Bell, and I discovered it was on from 5 PM-7 PM every.single.day.   Every day I would come home  from kindergarten and spend 2 hours in front of the TV watching Saved By The Bell.  I knew every episode.  I made my friends “play” Saved By The Bell on the playground.  At that point, the parents realized that TV was dangerous and I had to cut down.  Nevertheless, I think 2 hours a day counts a binge watching.

The binge watching died down until I made it to middle school.  There was the Boy Meets World and the Charmed phases there.  Again, multiple hours of TV available on cable TV for my enjoyment.  At that point, I had also acquired my own VCR, so I took to taping any episode I couldn’t watch in person.  I think I still have video cassettes with episodes of both of those shows and more…

My biggest binge-watching theme was that I always felt like I was just a little bit too far behind the times when I watched it.  For example, Saved By The Bell aired new episodes when I was barely a baby.  Boy Meets World annoyed me when it was on TGIF (how can a show about a boy POSSIBLY be back to back with my beloved Two of A Kind?).  The biggest just-miss of my life?  Dawson’s Creek.  I literally got into Dawson’s Creek the summer AFTER it went off the air.  I had even had episodes of it on my tv when I just didn’t get around to turning the TV off after whatever else I was watching.  It was at that point that I realized I was meant to be about 5 years older.

The theme of “catching on too late” continued throughout high school and on.  Beverly Hills 90210 made me say I should have been 10 years older (at least), I played PI with Veronica Mars only after it died on The CW.  I tried Friday Night Lights only after I learned my way around Texas (finishing the show only a few weeks after the last season aired on NBC).  The West Wing became a thing years after Jed Bartlett left the presidency.  The concept of binge watching wasn’t there for some of those– and others were encouraged by DVD’s and online streaming services.  Nevertheless, the world caught on too, and binge watching became a thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not claiming to have started a trend.  That being said, I do believe my habits came way before the majority of the rest of the binge-watching world.  And I don’t blame the world for copying me.  In fact, I think I’m kind of grateful that the world decided to follow me– now I don’t have to feel nearly as crazy for my previous actions.

So I think binge watching is here to stay.  We can indulge in the good, the bad, and the laughable.  That being said, don’t forget the new shows out there.  If we all kept binge-watching the old stuff, we’d never have any new stuff to binge-watch ten years later….

Parenthood: When Simple Makes Great TV

Standard

Parenthood defies the trends of our era’s television.  While other shows are using elaborate period settings, fancy stunts or special effects, or mind-bending plots, Parenthood tells stories with emotion.  No other show on television consistently causes its audience to spend hours with tissues simply from the emotions the characters are portraying.  I am often in tears by simply listening to two characters argue.  The show makes me laugh, makes me cry, and always leaves me thinking.  I think its simplicity is what makes it one of the best shows currently on television.  

I am no stranger to the family dramas.  I grew up watching 7th Heaven, Gilmore Girls, and the rest of the WB family (along with TGIF and anything else appropriate for children out there).  That being said, every other family show seems to have some kind of gimmick. That is aside from Parenthood– unless you consider fabulous acting to be a gimmick.  The background is simple.  Parenthood is the story of one large family– a set of parents with four grown children, and each of the children with their own families and lives.  Story lines are so simple.  They have ranged from everything from a school election to getting into college to “mom’s dating a new guy”.  Yes, there is the occasional shocker, but again, it is always addressed with such realism, you cannot help but feel that the Bravermans are a real family living right next door.

I owe much of the brilliance behind Parenthood to the style of Jason Katims.  We saw it once with Friday Night Lights (and FNL fans get the excitement of seeing some of their favorite back on the screen in Parenthood), also a beautiful show wrought with emotion but bathed in simplicity.  He knows how to make acting feel raw and real.   I am unsure if it is purposeful or due to the actors, but one of my favorite things about Parenthood is how you can see similarity in mannerisms between mother and daughters.  Even when they are not in a scene together, the two older mother/daughter pairs of Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman and Monica Potter and Sarah Ramos share similarities in speech and emotion.  It is unbelievable to watch how Whitman’s character Amber reacts to an upsetting situation in the same rambling way that Graham’s character does so.  They do not even have to look alike to recognize that they are mother and daughter.  I can say the same exact thing for Sarah Ramos and Monica Potter.  The acting is brilliant, the directing is beautiful, and they play their emotion with such a raw realism that I can see myself responding identically to how the characters act in any given situation.

There are definitely story lines in the show I could do without.  For how brilliant (I may be using that word too much) Lauren Graham is, much of her romantic plot lines seem a little to average for a show with such heart.  There are many characters that annoy me, yet that is more of a strength than a flaw.  When Max Braverman, a preteen with Asperger’s played beautifully by Max Burkholder (can someone nominate that kid for an Emmy please?) responds selfishly to his father (played by Peter Krause) when he refuses to take care of the puppy he asked for, you want to scream at him, especially considering Krause’s character is overwhelmed by trying to manage a house while his wife is ill.  At the same time, Max is supposed to be annoying, so you can recognize how difficult Adam (Peter Krause) and Christina (Monica Potter) have it.  

Again, the only words I can use to better explain Parenthood are “simple” and “raw”.  In every show, you see the simple moments of cooking breakfast, running through hallways, and falling asleep.  The kids do homework, the parents are cranky, and the grandparents are a little kooky.  The Bravermans are anything but a perfect family, yet the love portrayed throughout the family, makes any viewer wish they could be a part of that crazy clan.  There is no need for some crazy shocking cliffhanger because even small news can play cliffhanger in their world.  It is refreshing to see television that can entertain with simplicity.  When today’s film and tv are filled with special effects and enormous plots, simplicity is hard to find and oftentimes without simplicity, real emotion is harder to find.  Parenthood brings us both, makes us cry, and reminds us that sometimes simple can be the most beautiful.   

 

 

 

 

Following an artist: A review of Liberal Arts and thoughts on actor-following

Standard

I finally rented Liberal Arts.  For those who have not seen or heard of it, this is a film written by Josh Radnor, known to most as Ted Mosby on the popular show How I Met Your Mother.  I have been a fan of Josh since watching How I Met Your Mother, and while I may have spent some time appreciating the similarities in our Jewish upbringings, I did actually appreciate him as an actor.  

As a brief review, Liberal Arts, is an indie film that encompasses the themes of growing up, the pros and cons of academia, and losing oneself into fiction.  Any bookworm, liberal arts graduate, or immortal child can appreciate this film.  The main character, Jesse, played by Josh Radnor, is a college admissions officer who finds himself back at his alma mater to celebrate the retirement of one of his favorite professors.  While back at school (appropriately filmed at the same Liberal Arts college Radnor attended), he forges a connection with an undergraduate and finds himself reflecting back on his college days.  The most beautiful part of the film was how the collection of characters provided different viewpoints into the world of a liberal arts campus.  There were multiple perspectives of professor, student, graduate, and outsider.  It made for a whole picture and a way to challenge ones philosophies on life and growing up.  On top of all of that, the film brought to focus the power of literature and art and how those things can both forge connections and shut you out from the rest of the world.  While it was not always a comfortable film to watch and there were many times I highly disagreed with the approach or characterization of individuals, I did find the film to be enlightened and fulfilling.

Which leads me back to the original point- is it okay to be following an artist as I do?  Oftentimes I find myself so wrapped up in an individual that I will seek out any work they engage in.  Take Joshua Jackson for example.  I only started watching Fringe because his name was attached.  Ironically, after getting hooked on Fringe, I fell in love with JJ Abrams and swore to watch anything he made.  The cast of How I Met Your Mother (including Radnor) are such highly talented individuals that I have followed them as well.  Many times, a familiar actor is all it takes for me to see a film, despite the reviews.  

So, when is too much?  I am not sure I will ever have an answer to that question.  I sat through all the episodes of 666 Park Avenue because I have followed Dave Annable since Reunion and Brothers and Sisters (and Robert Buckley in One Tree Hill was another incentive), but was it really worth my time?  The books were fun and soapy, but the show was roughly developed and weird.  So why do I keep doing it?  The world of TV is so small that as my basket of artists grow, I find myself drawn to too much, and then you can never stop.  That being said… sometimes actor-following leads you to an enlightened piece of work that can shape your view.  And while I am not sure I would call St. Elmo’s Fire completely enlightened, following Rob Lowe led me to that film, which led me to what I consider to be a most defining film for a 20-something living in Washington DC.

Pop culture: is it art, entertainment, or something else?

Standard

Before the Oscar nominations were announced, I made it a goal to see all the best-picture nominations.  While I still think that would be a good thing to do, I’ve started questioning that decision.  Here is the thing: there are two of those films I have absolutely no desire to see.  I know I will not be entertained, and I’m not sure I want to sit through the value of the art.  Therefore, it leads me to wonder– what do I value in culture?

Before I started college, I considered “great” TV and film to be highly sappy, poorly made, but happy-feeling media.  While occasionally I found value in a great novel or classic film, there was something about the feel-good teen dramas that just made sense to me.  For example, I had a four year love affair with One Tree Hill.  I loved the ability to escape into a world that seemed real enough to exist, but not quite real enough to make it my own world.  And One Tree Hill was not the only show to fall into that category.  Since then, I have found myself indulging more in what I’d consider to be “great” art within those categories.  This year, the best things I have enjoyed have included Silver Linings Playbook, The West Wing (a few years too late), Parenthood, and Argo.  The list goes on, and my taste clearly continues to get better.  But even now, I can still allow myself to indulge in my old appreciations and still be equally as giddy when the right moment hits.  Leading me to wonder: should pop culture be escapism, should it be art, should it do both, or should it do something else?

Lately, I have found appreciation in the pieces that make me think.  I still love the idea of escapism, but today, I struggle with escaping in the world of a teen soap, unless it was one I previously adored.  I have another theory though.  My method of escapism was used when I spent my life in an academic setting.  I read for class, I did homework, and I studied nonstop.  Television and film were my way of getting away from that life, but now, in a life with more time, less academia, and more real life, perhaps I need the media that will allow me to analyze and challenge myself the way I did constantly in an academic setting.  

So back to the Oscar nominated films: why quit?  Because I still am behind.  I could see the top nominated films of 2013, but I would still be missing the majority of the other best picture nominees from the other years.  And honestly, do we really think 2013 is beating the past?  Why not sacrifice the two films I do not want to see with 10 films I should have seen long ago?  Why sit through something I know I will not like.  I highly doubt either of those films will become one of the defining films of the generation– so why pay the money and why spend the time?