Archive for the 'TV' Category


The End of The Affair?

Allison (Ruth Wilson) and Noah (Dominic West) on Showtime's The Affair

Allison (Ruth Wilson) and Noah (Dominic West) on Showtime’s The Affair

With half-interest, I watched my DVR’ed season finale of Showtime’s The Affair, which initially aired on Sunday night after a quiet but gripping Homeland season finale. The Affair explores the extramarital relationship between Noah (Dominic West), a schoolteacher and struggling writer, and Allison (Ruth Wilson), a working-class married waitress who is grieving the death of a child. Noah lives with his wife Helen (the always-great Maura Tierney) and their four children in gentrified Brooklyn. The family spends the summer with Helen’s wealthy family in Montauk, a vacation town on Long Island, where Allison has lived all her life. Half of each episode (usually the first half) shows the narrative from Noah’s point of view, while the episode’s other half explores Allison’s subjective experience.

I started watching The Affair because it had received glowing critical notices (West, Wilson, and the overall series have all been nominated for Golden Globes this year). And like Noah and Allison’s uncertain relationship to each other, I’ve had an ambiguous relationship with The Affair ever since. The acting is top-notch, the plot is intriguing, and the shifting-perspectives premise showed promise but has become more problematic with time. As the season progressed, I felt like I was waiting for some big plot twist or revelation to happen that never quite “surfaced” (to use the show’s overt water symbolism). Although I realized that The Affair’s slow-burn momentum was intentional and that the season had been progressively leading up to possible answers to an ongoing murder investigation, maybe I’d gotten so used to series like Homeland, American Horror Story, and 24 that kept you in a constant state of surprise at how clever/shocking/provocative/emotional they could get. So, I kept rationalizing why I should keep watching The Affair: “Something big is going to happen – I just know it.” “I’m already through the second season – might as well finish it.”

A part of me was hoping that The Affair’s season finale would, as with American Horror Story and True Detective, hit the refresh button and be an anthology; next season and each subsequent season could introduce a new couple embarking on a new affair. But with Sunday night’s cliffhanger of a final scene, it looks like we are going to be stuck with Noah and Allison for a while. I just don’t know if I’ll be giving them a second chance or looking for a clean break.


When Weeds Went Tarantino

I’ve been binge-watching the Showtime series Weeds over the past few years. I’m up to season six of this bizarre yet entertaining show about Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker in a Golden Globe-winning performance), a widow who becomes a drug dealer to keep her family afloat. Spoiler alert: The show’s sixth season finds Nancy, her two teenage sons (Silas and Shane), and her brother-in-law (Andy) on the run after Shane has killed the publicist of Nancy’s drug-kingpin husband, Esteban. This season’s criminal plot element and this particular episode (“A Shoe for a Shoe”) have underscored some interesting (possibly intentional?) connections with director Quentin Tarantino.

In an act of retaliation, Shane has been kidnapped by Esteban’s henchmen. In an effort to find Shane, Nancy shoots one of the henchmen, Cesar, with a crossbow in a skee-ball hall of fame museum. In its size and emptiness, the museum resembles the abandoned warehouse in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. In Dogs, criminal Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) ties up and tortures a police officer in the warehouse. Elsewhere in the film, criminals Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) hold guns on each other. Keitel is standing up, while Buscemi is lying down; this is the same formation as Nancy (standing with a weapon) and Cesar (lying down but without a weapon).

Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs

Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs

The Weeds director, Michael Trim, also seems to mirror Reservoir Dog’s famous truck shot, in which we see three of the criminals open a car trunk from the point of view of the cop inside the trunk. Tarantino, who proudly and frequently borrows from other films, also uses trunk shots in his work, including in Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds. In the Weeds episode, we see Nancy open her trunk from the point of view of the crossbow she has stored in there. These trunk shot also seem to pay homage to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and has become pretty standard in other films and television shows, including Breaking Bad’s final season.

The trunk shot from Reservoir Dogs

The trunk shot from Reservoir Dogs

Much of the episode takes place in a diner, another consistent setting throughout many of Tarantino’s films.

The Weeds episode even has a reference to its fellow Showtime series, Dexter, when Silas talks about becoming “a serial killer who kills serial killers.”


Digital Killed the Video Star

Laurence Harvey (in blond hair and moustache) and Lee Remick in The Running Man

So, I have a dirty little secret: I still use a VCR to record and view VHS tapes. In fact, my mother and I are probably the only people on Earth who know how to successfully program a VCR timer in under a minute.

What’s the deal? Don’t get me wrong – I have a DVD player. But I have a collection of about 150 movies spread out over 50 tapes, mostly recorded from Turner Classic Movies. This leads to some really weird combinations. For example, on one tape, I have The Running Man (1963) a Carol Reed-directed thriller about insurance fraud, starring Laurence Harvey, Lee Remick, and Alan Bates; Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning ode to Diane Keaton, Annie Hall (1977); and Moonstruck (1987), the movie for which Cher accepted her Best Actress Oscar looking more underdressed than usual (depending on which meaning you give to “underdressed,” I suppose). On these tapes, I also have lots of Hitchcock, silents, and foreign classics.

The day will come when I’ll have to give up this antiquated set-up because VCRs and VHS tapes will no longer be made. However, buying replacement DVDs for all of these movies on tape would be expensive. And some of the movies are not available on DVD.

What to do? Suggestions welcome.


Becoming Mrs. Big

carrie1Why did Carrie have to get married at the end of the “Sex and the City” movie? The audience understandably has rooted for her for over ten years, especially in her pursuit of Mr. Big. Doesn’t she deserve therefore to end up with Prince Charming?

If Big is the prince, then is Carrie really Cinderella? The movie indicates that she is: the blue heel Big slips on her foot, the fairy tale cartoon Carrie helps Charlotte’s daughter color. As little girls, we are in awe of princesses. Look no further that the Disney princess trend now so prevalent. Is Carrie just an older (and wiser?) manifestation, version, and/or continuation of Cinderella for older (and wiser?) women?

At first, I interpreted the marriage at the movie’s end as nothing but a Hollywood-ized compromise. Would Carrie actually do that, even if it was Big and even if there was no big white wedding? Is she merely a Charlotte in Christian Lacroix clothing? However, if Carrie’s story is truly our version of a fairy tale, it follows that a marriage must be the final act. And yet, that image as the moment of satisfied closure leaves a bad taste in my mouth.





Why Carrie and Company?

carrie-bradshaw-flower1I am that creature that most guys do not want to face: a fan of “Sex and the City.” I love the city, the actresses, the characters, the plots, and the fashion. It is therapy, and buying the complete series on DVD was nothing short of an emotional investment.

Why do its female fans love “Sex and the City”? Do fans look up to Carrie and the ladies as role models in their pursuits of careers, romance, independence, and Manolo’s? Maybe role models aren’t the right words. Maybe their lives are fantasies. They’re just TV characters after all. How can Carrie survive financially day-to-day when she buys Christian Dior instead of paying her credit card bill on time? The series is upfront about this though, but does it condone her behavior? Would we rather Carrie wear jeans and sweatshirts like everyone else, like us? Probably not. Her clothes and accessories are her armor as she goes out into the world.

Personally, I can’t over-analyze too much when watching “Sex and the City” (although that doesn’t stop a slew of media scholars from doing so), or the bubble will burst. We are allowed to fall head over heels for a city where singles dominate and it’s OK, where a martini solves all your problems, where “He’s just not that into you” is the key to enlightenment, and where Samantha lives out our mothers’ feminist principles, if not necessarily their hopes for their daughters.

And that’s why the movie version’s ending fell short for me…


A Long Time Ago, We Used to be Friends…

veronica_mars_-_soundtrack_2006One of my favorite TV series is Veronica Mars, which aired on the CW from 2004 to 2007 and was critically acclaimed but the victim of low ratings, a changing schedule, and lags in airings. Veronica Mars, played by Kristin Bell, is a teen detective at a San Diego-area high school (and later, college), solving both season-long and episode-long crimes, while attempting to maintain relationships with her father, friends, and boyfriends. This isn’t your typical teen show though.

Elements of film noir abound in Veronica Mars, and not just in the use of a detective character. Using first-person voice-over, Veronica is an outsider, shunned by the 09-er’s (the kids from the rich zip code), making her way through the webs of Neptune High and later Hearst College. The series also uses expressionistic mise en scene: off-kilter camera angles, light and shadow, and window blinds and rain painting faces and sets.

However, Veronica is no femme fatale, which gives the series a feminist feel. Aside from the character herself being very independent, plucky (she always has the perfect comeback), and not dressing to impress, the various episodes tackle the Lily Kane murder, the Hearst College campus rapes, and the Castle “good ol’ boys club” in the series finale.

But the important questions are: Logan or Duncan? Logan or Piz?

Veronica Mars Seasons 1 through 3 are on DVD.