The Limits of Parenthood’s Reali-Scapsim

In 2012, former Washington Post Celebritology blogger Jen Chaney coined the phrase ‘reali-scapism*’ to describe NBC’s Parenthood:

But what really, truly, above all else, makes me love “Parenthood” is that it’s a perfect piece of what I’ll call reali-scapism: A television show that tackles subjects many of us confront in our own lives — hectic working-parent schedules, playdate politics, the strain of an unemployed spouse, the frustration of not being able to communicate with an autistic child — and dips all of it in just enough escapism to make it enjoyable to watch.

I’m thinking of her post now in light of this frustrating season of Parenthood, where the writers have tended a lot more to the ‘escapism’ part of the phrase, with mostly negative results.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room, the flummoxing irritant that is Sarah Braverman. Her chronic dilettantism has really taken her to new heights this season. Remember that time she was a playwright (with no experience) who managed to get her play produced by a Broadway suit, nabbing the endearingly awkward English teacher Mark Cyr in the process, before dumping his ass for a grizzled, frog-throated Ray Romano (who, yes, has been doing great work this season). Now she has inexplicably become the landlord of an apartment complex, bewitching the likes of a charming doctor who apparently can only afford to live in said shoddy apartment. Her on-a-whim apprenticeship with photographer Hank Rizzoli  has suddenly yielded her a plum gig as an ad photographer. I mean, really? She’s like your arch-nemesis in high school, smiling her way into things you worked hard for. Who knew it was all so easy?

Then there is the overwhelming power duo that is Kristina and Adam Braverman. After a serious, deeply touching cancer scare last season, Kristina runs for mayor, nearly winning (meaning we reach the heights of implausibility before tumbling back down to Mother Earth). Now the duo is starting a charter school. Doesn’t that take a lot of work and years of planning, fundraising and the like? Nope! Turns out it’s really easy to get approved. All you need is Julia Braverman, some quick fade in shots of Braverman speaking rapid fire legalese,  Zachary Knighton looking really impressed and voila–there you have it, charter school!

Yes I understand that to a certain extent, “Parenthood” has always been slightly unrealistic. But one of the key components of the show, the reason why it is so habitually tear-inducing, is because of its fidelity to some sort of world order we, the viewer, recognize.  We watched Kristina almost die last season and we’ve tracked the near dissolution of Zeke and Camille’s marriage. The latter couple’s happiness now is sweet (too sweet, warns AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff forebodingly) because we have witnessed their journey.

A lot of the accomplishments this season simply don’t feel earned. I’d like Sarah Braverman to encounter a significant setback—one that doesn’t involve men. I’d like Kristina and Peter to deal with the very real consequences of having a kid with Aspergers, in a way that doesn’t involve them taking up a hopelessly intense and expensive campaign and implausibly succeeding. There are limits to what one white, photogenic couple can do.

Otherwise, the show is just going to increasingly draw my indifference and derision. Which I don’t want. Bravermans forever!

*Not sure how many legs that phrase ever had

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Shangela: Tokenism in ‘Boy Meets World’

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For reasons  fully understandable to me, though deeply, deeply shameful, I stayed up until 3 in the morning watching old episodes of Boy Meets World.

Actually, I should be more specific.

Some kind soul decided to upload and string together in an old-fashioned, homemade kind of way every significant clip of Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong), Cory Matthew’s troubled best friend, and Angela Moore (Trina McGee-Davis), Shawn’s first major girlfriend. The YouTube clips run 12-14 minutes each, and they are eight parts in total. Official Kxren, the dutiful uploader, explains why there is, as of now, no part 9:

LIFE IS HECTIC AT THE MOMENT, WILL FINISH IT ONCE I GET SOME SPARE TIME. THANKS FOR ALL YOUR COMMENTS AND PATIENCE.

That didn’t do me any good though, so I ended up using Wikipedia as my ad-hoc TV guide and watched the pertinent season 6 and season 7 episodes until I saw the end of their relationship to its forced, unnatural conclusion.

I know exactly why I spent three hours watching Shawn and Angela. It’s the same reason I have occasional, overwhelming longings to watch Something New. But I’ve already done that blog postRead the rest of this entry »


Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls I do adore

At the end of the day, deep in the bottom of my cantankerous heart, I always knew  I would love Girls. I know my subconscious self too well. My occasional hankering for a certain kind of lo-fi white indie aesthetic is simply too strong. A few months ago I gorged myself on the underrated and inexplicably cancelled MTV hipster series I Just Want My Pants Back. I’ve just come off a Kicking and Screaming high.

I watched the pilot episode of Girls a few months ago and hadn’t been particularly impressed. But yesterday I wasn’t feeling well and I was lying on an air mattress (currently the only piece of furniture in a room for which I pay rent much higher than I would if I still lived in HP where the apartments are cheapish and everything shuts down after midnight.) I  needed to vicariously commiserate with fictional underpaid, overeducated, privileged Millenials. So I watched episodes 2-9 of Girls in one glorious sitting yesterday and finished the series today.  Read the rest of this entry »


The future of big-grossing films looks kind of dull: ‘Avengers’ Review

Like Daria, Sassy, and Fiona Apple, liking Joss Whedon says something very particular about a person. You can get a good sense of their political persuasions (liberal), race (white), social status in high school (not especially popular) and profession (something in the arts/writerly way). This is not to say of course that there aren’t conservative black popular business men that haven’t gotten really into Firefly or something, but still, chances are high that if you’re a Joss Whedon fan, you hit at least one of those aforementioned criteria.

I should be a Joss Whedon fan. I should also be able to quote Daria from memory and know the full title of Fiona’s upcoming album. But I can’t do any of those things. I also never got into Buffy. I liked Dr. Horrible Sing-a-long well enough, but that’s because I like singing and acting at the same time.

Basically, I’ve never felt a personal kinship to the lord of nerds. Read the rest of this entry »


A note on ‘The Middle’

I’m trying to do this thing where I watch TV shows that are neither Chuck Lorre bad nor Matt Weiner buzz-worthy. These are the shows that slip through the cracks, shows that are legitimately good but for whatever reason don’t quite have the same sexy swoon plaudits of Modern Family and Mad Men, the two most consistently overhyped shows on TV (or about to be on TV in Mad Men’s case.)

I’ve stated my affinity for The Middle elsewhere on the Internets, namely on Facebook, but attempts to get my cabal of gal pals to watch the show have floundered spectacularly because a) watching movies/TV shows with my friends is seldom a good idea when said friends are giggly, tired and disinclined to believe you when you say, “But it’s actually really good!” and b) I could never find the really good episodes to screen. Read the rest of this entry »


So ‘Smash’ might be onto something

I admit when I first heard about Smash, I was beyond skeptical. The only season of American Idol I watched religiously was season 5. The one with Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, Paris Bennett, Elliot Yamin, and Mandisa.

You may have heard of some of them.

Anyway, looking at that list it’s clear Katharine McPhee is just basic. She’s pretty and her voice is alright but her eyes are flat when she sings and so far, she’s lived the life of a middling public figure. So all the heavy ‘introducing Katherine McPhee’ nonsense, the ‘Beautiful’ cover, the cliched storyline (another Marilyn story, really? really??) made me really reluctant to get with Smash. The worst case scenario was that Smash would suck but become a huge hit anyway, just to spite me. Or it could be really good and hook me in, only to spiral out of control in epic Glee proportions. Read the rest of this entry »


‘Everybody Hates Chris:’ Underrated treasure

BET these days is only good for one thing (not that it has ever really been good at anything): its reruns of Everybody Hates Chris, one of the most underrated shows once on television and a kind of mini-revolutionary take on the black sitcom.

It sounded like a horrible idea at first, Chris Rock, edgy stand-up comic, making a sitcom about growing up in 1980s Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

But the dude knew what he was doing. The single camera sitcom, starring Tyler Williams, as the 13-year-old Chris incarnation and Terry Crews, the fantastic Tichnia Arnold, Tequan Richmond and Imani Hakim as father, mother, younger brother and younger sister respectively, debuted to strong reviews and ratings. Read the rest of this entry »