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Archive for March, 2011

Platonic can be ideal

 

I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts for the next installment of my Sports Night retrospective, which I think will begin to tackle the will-they/won’t-they/but-it’s-TV-so-of-fucking-course-they-will relationship between Dana and Casey. It’s a dynamic that never worked for me, and one reason why is that it felt so forced. The show tells us that Dana and Casey have been friends for 15 years, but never gives a second’s thought to the notion that being great friends could be enough.

It irks me how often TV shows imply that a close relationship between a male and a female can’t be valid or satisfying unless it leads to romantic entanglement, or sexual tension. I’m watching Friday Night Lights for the first time, and I was thinking about this while watching that show’s handling of Tyra and Landry in season two. (SPOILERS AHEAD after the jump.)

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Categories: Pop Culture, TV

Sports Night Revisited, Episodes 8-11: Drama is easy, dramedy is hard

 

Season 1, Episodes 8-11: “Thespis,” “The Quality of Mercy At 29K,” “Shoe Money Tonight,” “The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee Tech”

 

When a friend of mine first started watching The West Wing, he remarked to me that he was surprised how funny it was. For a lofty political drama – which frequently discussed economic crises, capital punishment, and nuclear disarmament – it devoted a great percentage of its screen time to comedic scenes and side plots. The West Wing, winner of four straight Emmys for Oustanding Dramatic Series, was also one of the funniest prime time shows of its era.

This approach was hardly unheard-of; a number of contemporary dramas also mixed in a heaping helping of humor, including Gilmore GirlsBuffy The Vampire Slayer, and Veronica Mars. Indeed, most dramatic series try to leaven the weekly tension with a quip here, a comic-relief secondary character there. And, for the most part, audiences accept and expect this.

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Categories: Pop Culture, TV

Half-baked thoughts: Are we repeating the mistakes of the Jazz Age?

Because people (and especially journalists) innately seek points of reference from the past in order to understand the present, the administration of Barack Obama has naturally drawn plenty of comparisons to former presidents and eras. Are we living through a revival of FDR’s New Deal, or the pessimism of the Carter years? Is the president an heir to Bill Clinton’s frequently base-infuriating triangulation, or Ronald Reagan’s knack for using an ideological facade to govern from a position of compromise? Or is he, y’know, Mecha-StalinHitler?

One comparison I haven’t heard often is with the era of Woodrow Wilson and his Republican successors (Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover). I’ve been reading William E. Leuchtenburg’s “The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-32” recently, and keep finding myself startled at how relevant the descriptions of the 1910s and ’20s feel to today. The parallels I’m seeing are not so much between Wilson and Obama (though a few of those, some more superficial than others, certainly exist) as they are between the political and social climates of the respective eras.

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Sports Night Revisited, Episodes 5-7: The best of times, the worst of times for Sorkin’s leading women

Season 1, Episodes 5-7: “Mary Pat Shelby,” “The Head Coach, Dinner and The Morning Mail,” “Dear Louise…”

As far as Internet truisms go, “Aaron Sorkin can’t write women,” is right up there with “Never start a land war in Asia.”

I haven’t always understood this criticism; I see it more clearly on the fringes of his work. You can tell Sorkin wants to write powerful, independent women with strengths and foibles and motivations. He has an idea of what they’re supposed to look like. It’s just that a lot of times, the traits he’s trying to imbue get lost in translation. At worst, this results in the caricaturish Lt. Cdr. JoAnn Galloway in A Few Good Men, who comes across as shrill and over-matched at nearly every turn (at least based on Demi Moore’s portrayal in the film version; I’ve never seen any stage productions). On the other hand, Annette Bening’s formidable lobbyist-cum-presidential-paramour in The American President is well-rounded and engaging, with entirely believable moments of strength and weakness. (Of course, it’s fair to ask how much of the disparity here is due to the relative acting talents of Moore and Bening.)

Sports Night makes a conscious effort to present two female characters in positions of authority. As, respectively, the producer and senior associate producer of Sports Night, Dana Whitaker and Natalie Hurley are drawn as smart, successful women in the traditionally male-centric world of sports journalism. The challenges faced by women in this particular profession (no less today than in 1998, sadly) are arguably greater than in any other consumer industry. Those challenges form the wellspring of the main story in “Mary Pat Shelby,” a story which continues – and is disappointingly squandered – in “The Head Coach, Dinner and The Morning Mail.”

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Categories: Pop Culture, TV