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


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 »


The Dark Knight Snoozes

Christopher Nolan desperately needs a sense of humor.

The Dark Knight Rises is so grim, so self-serious, that at some point halfway through the 2 hour and 40 minute slog, I just started laughing.

In no particular order, my thoughts:

-Increasingly, I’m beginning to realize and (appreciate) how much Heath Ledger made The Dark Knight watchable. Sure Bane has a weird voice and his neck is freakishly thick, but as a villain there’s not much that makes him compelling. I am not a comic book diehard, so I don’t know if that’s Nolan’s fault or the people that originally wrote Bane’s character. One thing’s for sure though, Heath Ledger’s Joker freaked the hell out of me because there was no backstory, no explication for his wanton, anarchic need for violence. That’s what was chilling. That and the bad clown makeup.  Read the rest of this entry »


Mo’ Better is best

My first exposure to a Spike Lee joint came courtesy of my 11th grade US history class. Actually it wasn’t a class, it was an after school AP review session for all the cool kids who fancied themselves smart and edumacated (sic). The teacher who taught the session was very popular among a certain subset of intelligent social justice types, about half of whom now appear to be in Teach for America. (You did good Mr. D.)

Anyway, we watched Bamboozled, which is not–it’s safe to say– one of Lee’s finest moments. All of his worst tendencies are on display. His heavy-handedness. His lack of focus. Bad acting. (Lawd have mercy–Damon Wayans’s white voice!) It’s supposed to be a satire but the film is relentlessly humorless.

I judged Mr. Lee so hard after watching Bamboozled. It certainly didn’t help that it seemed like Lee was always taking something too far, like a bitter old uncle. But I guess it’s to his credit that I’ve always gotten an avuncular vibe from him. He cares about black people. He’s very earnest in that way.

The problem is sometimes that unbridled passion can make his films too absurd. Jungle Fever and She’s Gotta Have It, had that effect on me. Do the Right Thing I’ve tried and failed to finish. Malcolm X I’ll conquer when I have three solid hours to spare. (UPDATE: Conquered it. It’s up there.) Read the rest of this entry »


I want to be Nora Ephron*

Today, I went to a mega mixer. It was one of those awkward events where you stand in a room full of other media type people, half of them wearing nametags, half of them not and you make eye contact with someone and then force yourself to shake hands and  ask, ‘what do you do?’ and ‘where do you live?’ all while trying to pull down your dress so it doesn’t bunch up awkwardly at your midsection.

Anyway, someone asked me for the hundredth time what my ideal beat would be and I gave off the usual prattle about pop culture, feature writing blah blah blah.

It was only after learning of Nora Ephron’s passing today, that I realized, with sudden clarity, that I basically want to be Nora Ephron.

She’s exactly the kind of writer I’d like to be. Funny, engaging, famous but not too famous, smart without being flashy, self-deprecating in a way that seems honest. She wrote for all the major publications in her hey day and scripted two of my favorite-comfort-rom-coms of all time, You’ve Got Mail  and When Harry Met Sally. When I was going through my hardcore-must-read-every-piece-of-long-form-journalism-ever-written-phase, I stumbled upon her now famous breast essay, and then read a few of the pieces she wrote in New York magazine. Good stuff, man, good stuff.

Condolences to the family.

*with some James Baldwin-esque righteous racial anger stuff though too.


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 »