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 »

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 »

‘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 »

White Noise

Be young, be white, an obvious member of the creative underclass, make a movie, get some buzz, make another movie, cast your famous artist mom, your sister, a fetching Brit, a cruel hipster–and  boom! A New Yorker profile, a Marie Claire  shoutout, mucho love at Vulture, an HBO pilot with Judd Apatow, a film collaboration with Scott Rudin! That’s what happens when good fortune shines on you, or rather when older white women and younger white women and a few men watch a mumblecore movie that takes them back to those postcollegiate years, when  life was hard and purposeless, and you let a strange, unfunny man sleep in your mother’s Tribeca loft and you continually straddle the line between bad acting and mumblecore acting.  Read the rest of this entry »

Please watch ‘Breaking Bad’

Lost was winter break of my first year.

How I Met Your Mother was winter break of my second year.

And this winter break was all about Breaking Bad. 

It goes without saying (and yet I will say it) that Breaking Bad is easily–no question–the best of this sporadic ensemble of television shows. Heck, Grantland even argues that it’s the greatest drama in television history, and it just might be. Read the rest of this entry »

Paean* to Vanessa Huxtable

Let’s be honest. Sitcom children are the worst. (See: Full House). They never look like their parents. They overact. They underact. They say stupid things. Sitcom children are usually very cute though, so their flaws are tolerated. (Except in the rare, horrible cases when they are neither cute nor good actors. See: the Olsen twins). Even Emmy-nominated Rudy Huxtable, who was so cute someone made this creepy music video of her on YouTube, is not immune.

But then there’s Vanessa.

Denise was cool. Rudy was cute. Theo was charming. But Vanessa was the best. Sure she lacked Denise’s eccentricity, Rudy’s cuteness, and Theo’s charisma. But her utter ordinariness is what makes her compelling. As embodied by Tempesst Bledsoe, she was the most realistic Cosby child on one of the most idealistic TV shows ever.  Read the rest of this entry »