Seven Deadly-Serious Reasons Why I Cannot Give Up TV for Lent

I took one of those BUZZFEED quizzes the other day that’s supposed to tell you what to give up for Lent, thinking it would be kind of funny, but it turned out to touch a bit of a nerve for me. Not that I watch that much TV, but what I do watch, I’m quite passionate about, and it’s a very exciting season in the world of television. I’m not talking about any of that so-called reality crap. Instead, I want to focus on well-scripted, thought-provoking hour-long dramas. The things that are filling the void left by Breaking Bad for me. So here, in no particular order are the series that I am currently watching and simply cannot give up for God or anyone.

1. True Detective – HBO

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Sunday night the finale to this 8-episode season will air. All this time wondering who the Yellow King is, if in fact the Yellow King is the murderer. I can’t just stop watching now. Plus Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are just riveting in these roles. It’s dark and it’s vicious, and totally worth watching.

2. The Americans – FX

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Last season was really good, but when it was over, I wondered how they were going to keep the idea of Russian spies in 1980’s suburbia in play. Well, this season, the whole family is in danger, not just the spy parents. Add in that the daughter is starting to suspect something is up with her mom and dad and you have one taught thriller.

3. Game of Thrones – HBO

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Season 4 starts April 6th, a full two weeks before the end of Lent, and I’ve got to tell you, I freaking LOVE this show. There are so many characters, so many layers. It’s so well-written that I can forget that there are dragons and white walkers, which aren’t usually my thing. But still, those things are intimidating. So many great performances, so many plot twists. I know I could read the books to find out what happens, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise of the show. It’s simply the best thing on television right now. (Well, right now starting April 6th.)

4. Justified

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The best season was the second one, but still, I could watch Timothy Olyphant just walk across the screen all night long. Damn. Oh, oh, oh, and there’s some witty dialogue in there too.

5. Fargo

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I realize this series has yet to air. In fact, it starts on FX on April 15th. But I loved the Coen Brothers movie upon which it is based, and if the series has any kind of the same dark humor as the film, I will be hooked. Also, what a cast!! Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Bob Odenkirk,  Colin Hanks, Oliver Platt, and many more. I can’t wait.

6. Mr. Selfridge

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PBS has been churning out some great TV via the BBC for many years, and for anyone going through withdrawal from Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge provides a fine fix. Jeremy Piven, formerly of HBO’s Entourage plays the title character, who’s part P.T, Barnum, part Don Draper. He’s interesting and all, but the other characters (and there are quite a few) are just as compelling. Miss Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus) is like an Edwardian Peggy Olsen, smart, ambitious and hoping to find a true career. If you haven’t seen Season 1, I highly recommend you catch up before Season 2 premiers March 30th.

7. Mad Men

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Well, I’ve been with Don Draper from the beginning, so it’s too late to give up now, right? Seriously though, the end of Season 6 saw Don setting off in a new direction, and it will be very interesting to see where he ends up. My only complaint is that AMC is breaking up the final season into two mini-seasons, with the first part beginning April 13th. Not sure I like this new trend. It’s as if TV executives saw the marketing potential in splitting Breaking Bad into to two seasons, so now every long-running series will have its final one milked into two. Kind of like how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was cut into two movies, so then so was Twilight: Breaking Dawn, and now Mocking Jay will follow suit. (Don’t get me wrong, Deathly Hallows needed two movies to be done right. Not so sure about the other two.) But I digress. However many episodes they stretch Mad Men into, I will watch every one.

Mad Men teaser trailer on AMC.

And mind you, these are just the dramas. There are a few sit-coms that are worth watching out there too, but I will save them for another post. In any case, the DVR will be working overtime this Spring, and reading books will just have to wait for Summer.

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Text From the Best Husband Ever, and a Few Thoughts on Downton Abbey

Sunday was the Super Bowl, so we DVR’d this week’s episode of Downton Abbey. Yesterday, Manfrengensen sent me this text:

Love you too. Can’t wait for downton abbey tonight! Maggie Smith is a luminary. I could watch her in a reading of wiki entries on bugs!

Gotta say, that man, he’s all romance, baby. Really knows how to smooth-talk (or in this case, smooth-text) his lady. Manfrengensen didn’t watch Season 1, but he has quickly caught on for Season 2.

And of course, Maggie Smith is The Bomb.

I have greatly enjoyed the series in general. Season 2 has been compelling, but I have to wonder if it’s going to go Desperate Housewives on us, like it’s really just an Edwardian soap opera rather than the high-brow drama we believe it to be. Not that it’s not still absolutely delicious, but a few aspects of this week’s installment have me concerned. (And if you have yet to watch, Spoiler Alert.) (Or, if you are reading this from the UK, please do not confirm or deny my suspicions.)

1) The Burned Soldier – long lost cousin/true love of Lady Edith shows up claiming to be the heir, but how can this be proved when Patrick Crawley is supposed to have died on the Titanic? Why hasn’t he come forward earlier? Amnesia. Amnesia? Of course, it’s a real thing, lord knows people suffer amnesia all the time, but you have to admit, it’s also quite the convenient plot device.

Did you see this dress?? To die for.

2) Mrs. Bates is Dead – Mr. Bates has a curious cut on his temple. Will suspicion be cast upon him? Do I see a trial in his future to prove what has surely got to be the inevitable innocence of so empathetic (though still a little shady) a character? Perhaps, but I hope not.

3) Matthew is in a wheelchair – So noble, he won’t allow any woman near him out of his duty to their inevitable futures as breeders and loving spouses. He feels he has nothing to offer them without his body. Both Mary and Livinia love him desperately, but he’s dead inside…but wait…did he just feel something below the waist? We’ll just have to wait and see.

No matter, like many fans, I can’t wait for next week’s installment and am sure to suffer withdrawl when the season ends February 19th.

Fabulous costumes. How I wish we ladies still dressed like this.


Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairiest of them all?

What’s with Nickelodeon’s new line of fairies, Winx? These fairies are even trashier looking than the Disney Tinkerbell ones! Their French-maid length skirts barely cover their high, tight hineys, and they’re wearing knee socks over their knees. Unlike the Tinkerbell fairies of the garden variety, these are like trampy hooker fairies. I would not be at all surprised if it were revealed that one of these fairies had made a sex tape. They make the cartoons of my youth seem so tame in comparison. I mean, Winx make Josie of Josie and the Pussycats look like Meryl Streep in Doubt.

And of course, The Princess knows all about this new show and has been anxiously awaiting its debut.  I need that noise like I need another kid.

I’ll tell you what — the way this summer’s been going, I’m about this close to becoming a screen-free household. But then, where would we be really? The 19th century? What good will that do them?

And sure, I can turn off this show, and forbid it in the household. I can tell her no when she sees the merchandise and wants it. But, I’m just so tired of the fight. We say we want to raise our girls to be strong and independent like boys, but then these are the images they get from the media? (This and Dora, taking them to ice cream fountains and candy mountains, feeding chocolate chip cookies to bugs, etc. Hey girls, would you rather be anorexic or diabetic? It’s one or the other!) There’s just no way around it, not in the twenty-first century.

Seriously though, I cannot tell you how many times my five-year-old daughter has asked me if she “looks fat” in this or that article of clothing. She has already begun to compare her body to others, and that is so unfair for her. Can we at least not make them care about body image until their teens?

Why trampy fairies, though? Why?


The Bigger Picture

So Universal Studios has decided not to convert the latest installment of the Harry Potter franchise in 3-D, which is good news no matter where you stand on 3-D. What passes for 3-D content is often more gimmick than substance, and in most cases, it doesn’t add much more to the film than increased ticket prices, especially in those instances where the 3-D conversion was done after the movie was filmed. Avatar (which was shot in 3-D) was fine, but didn’t the 3-D images kind of distract us from the primarily cheesy dialogue in the movie? Do we really need 3-D TV? Do we really need EVERYTHING to be in 3-D? Does the public really care? Are the effects really worth it?

The whole story reminded me of growing up with my  uncle Tom. Uncle Tom was actually my great-uncle, my mom’s uncle, and my grandmother’s youngest brother. He’d been a go-between in my grandparents’ courtship, running letters between them on a daily basis. He was a bachelor his entire life. After his mother died, he and my great-grandfather moved in with my grandmother, the family’s only daughter. Even though she had her own family, she took them in, and another brother or two came along with the deal as well, although they eventually got married, moved out and had their own families.

This was a time we often forget or discount as old-fashioned, a time when men had certain roles and women had others. He was the kind of man who wouldn’t have been able to fend for himself. Not that he wasn’t a strong man, because he was. He was a god to us kids. But he never would have been able to cook for himself, or iron his own shirts. Maybe he would have learned how, if he had needed to, but he didn’t need to because he could rely on his sister. It was a time when families stuck close together. Afterall, they were first generation Americans. Where were else was he going to go after their mother died?

He worked outside of Philadelphia at the Sun Shipyard as a welder. He worked long hours and came home filthy every day at 5 o’clock, where the dinner my grandmother had cooked was waiting for him on the table. He always had black under his nails, and he had these big, meaty thumbs. He once told us that he had “worked on the bomb”, or I would guess part of its outer shell, which I suppose could have been possible. The whole operation was compartmentalized and so secret. He said they “didn’t know what they had been working on” until after August 6, 1945.

Me in the middle with Uncle Tom on the left and my cousin on the right. 1965

Uncle Tom had three domains. His primary one was a garage he rented in the alley across the street from my grandparents’ house. It was filled with all kinds of things that we always thought of as “real man” related, fishing poles, styrofoam coolers, auto parts, sports equipment, tools and things he would just find and collect. Truth be told, we kids were not allowed to venture far into the garage (tetanus being the primary danger there, I’m sure), but he would take us over to collect the items for our afternoons of play. Sometimes we would play softball, or he’d take us fishing at the state park. We’d go crabbing in the Chesapeake, searching for fossils along its bed (and we’d find some!), or more often, we would just take long walks in the park, which in those days was almost as dense as a forest. And he would point to the surrounding neighborhoods and say, “You see all this? When I was a kid, it was all trees, as far as the eye could see.”

He would open that garage door and the smell would hit us. I can still remember it, though I couldn’t say what it was exactly, nor have I smelled anything like it since. A mixture of motor oil with a pinch of gasoline and a whole lot of fishing residue baking inside the walls of those coolers while enclosed in the hot garage; to us kids, that smell was heaven. That smell meant fun.

His other domains included his bedroom, the threshold of which we rarely crossed. The room was immaculate. The bed was always made with military smoothness, and though it smelled like an old man, it looked relatively untouched, not a doily out of its place. He would sleep late on the weekends, which often drove us crazy waiting for him to come play with us when we visited. My grandmother had this fox stole that looked like several foxes, each biting the tail of the one in front of it. We used to like to leave it outside his door when he was sleeping so that he would step on it when he got up. I can still hear him yelling, “Get those crazy cats out of my way!” putting us in hysterics.

Uncle Tom’s other, and most sacred domain, was the basement where he shaved in the morning looking at his reflection in a small mirror over the utility tub, and changed every evening into the freshly pressed shirts that my grandmother would leave down there for him near her ironing board. We used to have long talks with Uncle Tom in that back room there. He’d be shining his shoes or doing some other man-task while we sat on a hard box full of dark brown Balantine empties (“The champagne of beers!”).

The finished part of the basement was where he kept his chair and his TV, which was always black and white, even though color TVs were readily available in those days. I asked him one time why he didn’t have a color TV, and he responded that it “hurt” his eyes.

That line has always stuck with me, not because I really believe that his eyes hurt, but I do think there was something to what he said. I think that watching TV in black and white helped him and his generation to distinguish the difference between reality and TV, a line that we in the 21st century see getting more and more unclear every day. We live in a society that is currently obsessed, almost terminally distracted by “Reality Television.” I personally find this ironic, because while most Americans watch some form of reality television, almost an equal number, if not more eschew what is ACTUAL reality television, network news. Networks over the last two decades have put less and less money into producing news programs and more and more into the cheap form of “reality TV” and it’s been wildly profitable for them.

But what’s crazy is that it’s not reality. It’s orchestrated and staged for the greatest possible effect. Read any of these blogs about behind the scenes of Kate Plus 8 or any of those shows, and you know that the producers put these characters (and that’s what they are — CHARACTERS) into situations that will produce the best footage, and then they weave that footage in such a way that viewers see the version of reality that is the most sensational.

In addition, we’ve created a society where almost everyone expects to have the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol promised, and once some get it, they cling tenaciously and become such train wrecks that some of us can’t look away. (See: Spencer/Heidi Pratt, John and Kate and the like.) Some of these nobodies who are instantly propelled to arbitrary fame just refuse to go away. But what’s even more disturbing is that so many Americans think they could have a shot at it as well. In the early days, and even into the 70’s and 80’s you needed actual talent to be famous. Now it’s just a competition to see who can be the lowest of the lowest common denominator.

Every kid is a star. Parents talk about their kids’ talents like everyone’s a prodigy. If one girl kicks another in a soccer game, the parents consider suing for what might be a lost career, or a potential scholarship. Couples have multiples, five kids, six kids, one family’s even considering having a 20th child just to stay in the limelight. Doesn’t matter that their 19th child was born prematurely, spewed from a womb too tired to keep it going for another couple of months. Doesn’t matter what effect it will have on the child’s health or quality of life. It’s all about the fame.

And the media celebrates it. The Daily Show talked recently about how the media is like Doug, the dog, in Up, who is easily distracted by squirrels. Their point rang true for me. The media are too easily distracted, and because we are a media-centric society, we follow the lead.

3-D may be part of the never-ending push for reality in entertainment, but is it necessary? Is it like color, or hi-def, or is it just a gimmick? In a world where you don’t have to do anything special to be famous, where “reality TV” personalities are considered “talent” how much further do we really need to go?

I don’t want to sound old-fashioned or anything, but personally, 3-D hurts my eyes.


Mad Men Will Return Aug. 16th

 

Last night I dreamt of this guy:

 

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on the set of the new season of Mad Men.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on the set of the new season of Mad Men.

 

Not that I want the summer to fly by, but I can’t wait ’til August.


One Note about the Tony Awards

I’m sure this is actually part of the new incarnation of Guys and Dolls,  not just an isolated arrangement for the Tonys, but do we really need to American Idolize “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat”?

Not saying it’s not a great performance or a rousing rendition. It’s just that personally I feel that less is more. You can be a great singer without going all diva on us. Sit down. The boat’s rockin’ plenty. Sit down.

I was impressed by his composure with the technical difficulties though.

 


That’s Entertainment?

Last night Manfrengensen and I sat down to watch a little boob tube, and what do you know, boob is what we got. The American Music Awards were on. We tuned in time to see Christina Aguilera performing a medley of her hits, and we couldn’t turn away because it was such a train wreck.  Put aside the lyrics, I can do that, but then what we’re basically looking at, when we watch Christina Aguilera on the American Music awards, is a bad lip syncer wearing Madonna’s old undergarments, prancing around with a lot of flash to disguise the lack of genuine talent. It’s not like the AMA’s weren’t aware that the lip syncing was bad.  The camera kept pulling back to the wide angles because Aguilera’s lip sycing was so obviously fake.  A few times, she even got the lyrics wrong.

I don’t mean to dis Christina Aguilera.  There’s certainly a place for lyrics like I’m a genie in a bottle, you gotta rub me the right way, but if she’s such a great performer, why does she have to lip-sync?  They’re lip-syncing, and then giving awards for it.  Am I going insane? Don’t you think that as audiences we should start to demand an end to the industry-wide practice of lip syncing?.  It’s a con and a crock. It’s what Milli Vanilli was vilified for.  And rightfully so. It isn’t in any way genuine or real.

This wasn’t even an isolated incident.  There are fans out there who pay three figures for tickets to shows where the artist lip syncs!  That’s highway robbery in my book.  It’s a common and disturbing practice.  I really think that as fans, you – we deserve more.

There are thousands of bands out there who are actually writing and performing their own music, and these people can’t get any kind of recognition from the industry because they’re too honest.  They’re too genuine.  They should be the ones who get support, not these American Idol-type hacks. They’re not prancing in underwear singing into what might as well be a hairbrush because it’s really just a pre-recording that who-knows-who really sang.  Face it, for all you know, Christina Aguilera’s voice could actually come from some fat lady with acne and facial hair, but what you see is Christina shaking her pert and ample ta-tas, singing along to the recording.  That’s music?  No.  That’s crazy.

Hell, I can lip sync.  I wouldn’t do it in my underwear in front of an audience, but if that’s all it takes to make millions of dollars and be called an “artist” then frankly, there’s something wrong with the system.

Demand more, people.

 

 

p.s. — Here’s another crazy thing.  In researching those lyrics, I found out that Aguilera also has a Disney version of “Genie in a Bottle,” which I guess changes some of the lyrics.  But the “you gotta rub me the right way” isn’t one of the lines that’s changed.