Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Piper groped

“Orange Is The New Black” is Netflix’s fifth, and best attempt at original programming, (“House of Cards,” and “Arrested Development” were reboots). The show exercises a restraint that Jenji Kohan’s “Weeds” often did not, flirting with kitsch without veering headlong down its awkward path. OITNB’s story lines are emotionally steeped, sympathetic and sentimental in the best way.

Naturally, many will perceive the show as intended for a female audience, but what makes the show so engrossing to me as a white male is just that individual connection. Here we are, immersed in a world unlike what we know, or have even seen portrayed, of prison life. The thing most prison movies and TV shows have in common is the construction of exchange that replaces the infrastructure of the outside world. In the male prison this construction is the commerce of ego and status. Dominant sexual relationships, religious demagoguery, brute supremacy and tribal affiliations according to race or gang membership. Hostility toward the other forms the marketplace. All this violence establishes man as animal, clinging to hyper-masculinity as a form of survival. But for the women of Litchfield, it’s compassion, loyalty, love—their utter humanness, rather than toughness that allows them to survive.

The inmates arrange themselves into cliques but the overlap seems far more substantial. There are fights and there is intimidation but we see little serious physical damage. The ultimate punishment is a form of shunning. While the institution itself has the power to isolate difficult prisoners, the prisoners themselves have a way of isolating as a form of governance. Piper is denied food after insulting the chef. The denial of nutrition is only part of the punishment; without the ability to break bread with the others, she has been denied a powerful social ritual and therefore, diminished to solitude and rejection.

As in “Weeds,” all the central characters are women and men are relegated to foolish or sinister caricatures. While I found that somewhat useless and annoying on “Weeds,” (one guy teaches his pubescent nephew to masturbate using a banana peal) it functions in this far more sincere world as hyperbole, reminding us of the very absence of macho-mentality that we are used to among prisoners. Much of this comes courtesy of Piper’s bourgeois-journalist beau Larry (Jason Biggs), who cashes in on his struggles with an inmate fiance; Officer Caputo (Nick Sandow) who is interested primarily with climbing the institutional ladder; and the magnificently sleazy “Pornstache” Mendez (played superbly by Pablo Shreiber). The distillation of males to only their weakest qualities, though exaggerated, provides a nice foil, the prison serving as an institutional microcosm of females literally imprisoned in a male-controlled world.

Rather than read the differences between XX and XY lockups as some deterministic commentary of female/male nature on the whole, I think it much more fitting to consider that characteristics like compassion and camaraderie are not limited to females. Despite the advent of great change, we continue to live in a world dominated by aggressive white males, the most influential of whom are intent on defending a medieval state of oligarchy, warfare and oppression. Whether or not those are distinctively male phenomena, they form our history and it’s engrained. A more female world won’t change that, only a more diverse one can do that.

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Lebron James and his headband against fellow hair loss victim Manu Ginobili

The NBA Finals have ended following a seven-game seesaw that saw the Miami Heat come out on top and Lebron James add a few support beams to his legacy. In the dramatic final two games we saw the full-range of the game’s most iconic figure. He struggled, he pouted, he pressed. He was uncharacteristically bad in the first half of game six but after losing a head band, he regained his dominant form hitting a clutch three down the stretch en route to an overtime victory. In defiance of the more superstitious observers who speculated he may ditch the accessory forever, the headband was back for game 7. Lebron played his best game of the series, leading Miami to its second straight title, and collected another MVP trophy, headband and all. I guess every king needs his crown if only to hide a receding hairline.

I’m so glad its finally over. The NBA season seems ridiculously long, and I only started watching a month ago. I can’t blame anyone but myself for wasting so much time watching these silly series featuring the Bulls, Clippers, Nets, Pacers and Grizzlies (where do they play again? Knoxville?) as if one of these inferiors might actually shock the world and find a way to ultimately win a whole SERIES against Miami. Upsets like that never happen. There were plenty of good games, sure, but in retrospect, the thing to do would have been to set a timer and only turn the TV on for the last five minutes of each game. Jesus, if I see that Chris Paul/Cliff Paul twin commercial one more time I’m going to throw a hamburger at a baby.

What is a “good game” in basketball anyway? It could be back and forth for the first forty minutes with crisp passing, solid defense and flawless execution on both sides, but when one team pulls ahead and maintains their lead in the closing minutes, they usually get credit for having dominated and the casual viewer feels cheated. On the other hand, there are sloppy games that have huge, bipolar swings just because one or the other team goes catatonic and keeps turning the ball over and jacking up stupid shots. Suddenly, one guy starts hitting threes and all of a sudden the game is tied with twenty seconds left and it’s all about momentum and when and whether or not to intentionally foul. These, of course, are the most fun to watch, practically BECAUSE they are poorly played in the technical sense.

Good lord, I got to the point where I was planning my life around these damn games. I actually rescheduled an appointment Tuesday night at the mechanic’s. My car wouldn’t lock. I risked being robbed blind just because I wanted to see if Danny Green would come back and hit twenty 3s in game 6 and make Lebron cry or do that thing where he chews his jersey.

So finally the time of year has come when sports take a vacation as long as you aren’t super into July baseball, the WNBA, World Cup qualifiers, and oh…the rest of the Stanley Cup, (if you happen to be a Canadiaphile). How wonderful it will be to have my evenings free. I’ll finally have a chance to knock the dust off the novel I started in September and watch that Netflix disc that’s been sitting on top of the DVD player since the days when people still used Netflix to watch DVDs, or maybe I’ll pay the bills, run the vacuum, clip my toenails.

Have a good summer sports world. I’ll see you September 9.badass Philly Eagle

Doors, Death and Betrayal

Posted: April 16, 2013 in Television
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“What does it all MEAN?”

Thoughts on the first three episodes of Mad Men season 6

It takes a shoeshine kit to finally bring Roger Sterling to tears. This after his mother’s funeral which is punctuated by the presence of an ex-wife’s new husband, Don’s drunken vomiting and a big ask from his daughter—a loan for a business venture. The shot is framed with only Sterling’s cotton white head visible as his face is buried in his hands. His body is positioned, not in a centered close-up, but to the side of the frame while in the center of he shot is the closed door to his sun-drenched office.

Doors, as Sterling frames them earlier in therapy, seem like opportunity. They appear throughout life waiting to be entered but when you walk through them, you find they only lead to more doors. In fact, Sterling is a character who chases his desires to a fault only to be disappointed but we must ask ourselves if this might have something to do with the fact that his doorways are far larger and more easily accessible than the doorways of everyone else. His existential dilemma may likely stem from a scene in an earlier season in which he references his tendency to point out the fact that it’s his name on the side of the building. “But I didn’t put it there,” he says, “I inherited it.”

Of course, Sterling is only now joining Don in the world of self-validation. As Matthew Weiner has said in the season preview, Don seems drawn to death for the potential of rebirth. In fact, Don has proven a character constantly looking for rebirth, but what makes the current portrayal different is the obsession with death itself. This is reflected in his work for the Hawaii resort, but, I think, more significantly in his drunken curiosity regarding the near-death of the doorman and later in the conversation he has with his surgeon neighbor. Again, doors play a crucial role. It’s as the elevator doors are closing that he asks the doorman what it was like. It’s at the back door where he and the neighbor have their somber conversation about what it’s like to hold another man’s life in your hands; all the while, Don studying the door frame as if to step out into the snow would be to step into another world. Though obsessed, he’s scared.

This leaves the business of Don’s affair with the surgeon’s wife, which at first glance seems an act of suicide considering they are only a few floors from Megan. But I think we can understand this relationship as an attempt to inhabit the closeness to death about which he is so curious (we also saw him reading his lover’s copy of Dante’s Inferno); but is sex as far as he’s willing to venture? Laying in bed with her, he says something like “this only happens here,” and points to his head. Later when he and the surgeon’s wife find themselves alone at dinner there is an overload. He has seen her and Megan together, and she’s told him that she likes Megan; little does he know, Megan has shared the intimate secret of her miscarriage with her before even telling Don. All this leads to what appears to be an establishment that the relationship can only exist on the surface. When it gets real, it only distracts from the fantasy.

Faithfulness also comes into play with Campbell who, unlike Don has been definitively busted and must contend with a far more determined wife. He is a character who we can expect to turn his failure in marriage into open hostility to all those unlucky enough to encounter him. Meanwhile, we can only hope to see more of Trudy. The show needs a wife with some conviction.

Far outside the betrayal of marriage, we have Peggy who we see facing difficulty with her staff as she summons the demanding perfectionism she learned from Don. The difference between them is her compassion for those working beneath her. Though she is disappointed with their work, she is equally distressed as the messenger of their failure and immediately identifies with them (“I had your job once, I know what it’s like). This later transforms into a subconscious sort of guilt. How could she make such a huge mistake as to share confidential information from her old firm with her boss? I think this is plea and symptom of Peggy’s deep need for approval. I predict we will see just how far this need goes when this slip up forces her into an inevitable confrontation with Don and the old gang.