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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A tale of two black guys

This is a story about two men. Two black men. They are both tall. They are both straight. One lives in TV LA, the other lives in TV Chicago.

This is Brad.

This is Winston.

Brad, played by Damon Wayans Jr on ABC’s Happy Endings, an improv-heavy ensemble comedy about six friends in Chicago with lots of that quick, pop culture riffing that has become the tone de jour since 30 Rock and Community, is a metrosexual  with a pair of great, pearly white teeth and a hot, ultra type-A white wife Jane (Eliza Coupe).

Winston, played by Larmone Morris on Fox’s New Girl, an improv-lite ensemble comedy about three men and one girl living in a loft in LA with the will they/won’t they non-tension of imminent copulation always, perpetually on the horizon, is a black man who played basketball in Latvia for some time. He likes the musical Wicked. That’s about it for Winston. Read the rest of this entry »


Shangela: Tokenism in ‘Boy Meets World’

*

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 »


A note

I worry about this generation sometimes. I really do. I’m afraid we live in an America where the greatness of Barbra Streisand is not fully understood or fully appreciated. There are people my age and younger who only know her as Ben Stiller’s ultra-Jewish mother-in-law in Meet the Parents or as the woman that Rachel from Glee keeps going on about. This worries me, because Barbra Streisand  is the second greatest popular music vocalist of our time.* (The first, if you’re curious is, Aretha Franklin.) Do you know that Barbra Stresiand is the best-selling female vocalist ever? Did you know that?  Forget Yentl. Forget Ordinary People, that overrated piece of schmaltz, forget A Star is Born. Forget the EGOT.

Just start with the voice.

Watch this. I know it’s obvious, but it’s the best demonstration of Barbra’s breathtaking agility.  Read the rest of this entry »


The dangers of false advertising: ‘Young Adult’ review

I broke my self-imposed Young Adult review embargo only a few days after the film came out late last year, but I still didn’t expect the prevailing sentiment from most reviews (much darker than intimated in trailer!) to be so, well, spot-on when I watched the film for the first time yesterday.

I was sooooo excited to watch this film when the trailer first came out. Wry humor, funky music, Patrick Wilson, Charlize Theron acting like a class-A-biotch in one of those classic-beautiful-movie-star-who-gives-off-inexplicable-bitchy-vibes-outbitches-herself-in-larger-than-life-film-role.

But my oh my, what a textbook case of false advertising! Lo and behold Young Adult is not a comedy. I did not laugh once. I winced a lot. I felt kind of sad. And then I rolled my eyes.  Read 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 »


School’s out forever! A ‘Kicking and Screaming’ review

Ive seen Kicking and Screaming pop up on my sister’s Netflix account for some time now, but I always thought it was that Will Ferrell movie from 2005. My mom rented it from Blockbuster (remember that?) when we were 14 or 15 and we watched it during one of our requisite family nights. To my recollection there was no egregious sex scene to make watching the film in front of my parents and then seven-year-old brother especially difficult. And it wasn’t like Tyler Perry get-me-out-of-this-nightmare awful. So I guess that’s  a recommendation…

Anyway, I didn’t realize that Kicking & Screaming and Kicking and Screaming are two different movies. Kicking and Screaming is the film debut of Noah Baumbach, director of The Squid and the Whale, a movie that really affected me, even though my family is nothing like his. The Squid and the Whale is one of those films I might actually have to chalk up some money and rent on Amazon Prime, because it was that good. Jeff Daniels, man! Jesse Eisenberg–what tenacity the man has to play someone with such misplaced arrogance.  That the film was largely autobiographical made me feel a strange sort of pity for Baumbach. Read the rest of this entry »