Competition? Yes I Would Love Some
by MOLLY LAMBERT
Situations that are superficially identical can often be completely dissimilar. That's why there are no hard and fast rules that always apply across the board, except the golden rule, and even then you learn pretty fast that treating other people the way you want to be treated is very often the best way to brutally and categorically fuck yourself.
So even though I told Matt Weiner that using anachronistic music was the worst possible idea for Mad Men, I think Boardwalk Empire would benefit tremendously from doing that exact specific thing I expressly told Mad Men not to do ever again. I'm also sorry I initially went so hard on Steve Buscemi's portrayal of Nucky Johnson for not being James Gandolfini or Jon Hamm. Those are good burgers, Walter.
All I could think about during Boardwalk Empire's season finale ending montage was how much better it would have been with some rock music. I might have to resoundtrack it for YouTube just to prove my point. It reminded me of how much I love season closing montages, and how good they always were on The Sopranos.
Boardwalk Empire's closing montage was so visually perfect, but I was distracted by the stupid olde tymey song with its overly literal to the plot lyrics. I just wished they'd gone the full Scorsese/Sopranos and used a fucking Springsteen song or something. I expect too much from things I like, especially art. I always want them to be better.
Like as much as I have complained about the Brian Jonestown Massacre song in the opening credits, and how it's dumb to connect the sixties psychedelic subculture to prohibition, they should totally do more of that. Stop digging so deep in the victrola crates. Hire Lenny Kaye to be the music supervisor before season 2 starts.
Less ragtime, more garage rock, no historically accurate standup comedians ever again. I joke reference the "Golden Years" scene from A Knight's Tale but that scene is AWESOME! And the only memorable part of that movie! Let's face it, sometimes the most "obvious" things are actually also the best ideas! Sometimes! Other times, worst.
David Milch said he figured out pretty quickly that using old tymey western slang would have made all of Deadwood's characters sound like Yosemite Sam. It's true that the period details are what most often yank me out of full Boardwalk Empire immersion. The jokes just aren't funny, and I'd rather they work harder on making the world seem cool than having it be entirely historically accurate.
So is being a showrunner exactly like being a mob boss? Certainly both professions attract a particular kind of volatile personality type. Addictive types with big personalities who express emotions by throwing things at walls. David Simon doesn't even pretend not to be crazy. Plenty of sitcoms are more fucked up than procedurals.
Showrunners like to create an enormous façade of power and respect around themselves, and then try to disguise their private intense vulnerability and terror of failure by slipping it inside monologues in the mouths of the characters that act as their personal avatars, so that if anyone ever calls them out on it they have the caveat that it's just fiction and imaginary creations and what the fuck are you talking about.
Matt Weiner coined "there's no geographical solution to an emotional problem," but Terence Winter coined "remember when is the lowest form of conversation." Both were said by Tony Soprano, eternal symbol of the human ego and all its indestructible trappings, in the last season of the first greatest cable television show of all time.
I felt like both quotes were meant to be Tony repeating something he obviously heard somewhere else (whether from Dr. Melfi or elswhere). Both of them were added instantly to the Bartlett's of my mind, and come up all the time, occasionally in This Recording's tags. What was it like in the Sopranos writers' room when David Chase wasn't talking? Are Winter and Weiner each other's Black Swans?
We define ourselves against the things that we are not, but also very much against all the things we almost are. That is the basis of close friendships but also rivalries, and all the things that fall into the gray area inbetween. There is no doubt in my mind that Winter and Weiner are watching each other's shows, in search of the specific masochistic pain that is seeing something you wish you had done being done well.
Weiner will deny it to his grave, because he is Pete Campbell. But I know he's been watching Boardwalk Empire (because he is Pete Campbell), and that its improvement curve made him seethe like a Ted Chaough despite/because he has had the best show in town for four years, and now he has a genuine challenger. The only other true critical hit cable drama since Mad Men started has been Breaking Bad, and that obviously served as a companion piece to reflect Mad Men and AMC's rise to glory.
Now HBO, who started this gangster shit, has rearisen like a Lucky Luciano/Stringer Bell/Tony Soprano swamp monster. Never forget that Matt Weiner pitched Mad Men to HBO first, and they turned his ass down. And now they are investing everything in Boardwalk Empire in an attempt to compensate for fucking up with Mad Men.
A few more Boardwalk thoughts before I go too much farther off the rails (no promises of a return trip back): I was weirdly excited to see Paz De La Huerta's Lucy again after raving about how the penultimate episode was the best of the season because it was Pazless and olde tyme orgyless. The writing for Omar is the least believable.
Michael Pitt is great, and so so so pretty. I can't wait until whenever he starts fucking Mrs. Schroeder and it turns into the R. Kelly video for Down Low, with Steve Buscemi as Ron Isley (YES). Michael Shannon instills the fear of god in everybody. Gretchen Mol really put it down in the Mary Harron movie about Bettie Page and convinced me that she can act. Everybody loves shattered face assassin guy (aka T-.00005).
Every microworld is equally incestuous and gossip-driven. Round up a group of people in [X] profession and it's a sure bet that they have all fucked or fought (or both!) whether it be porn stars, heart surgeons, or olympic athletes. And they're concerned somebody else is a better cardiovascular specialist, speed skater, or blowjob.
I made a grand statement recently that Boogie Nights is my favorite movie, and realized it was actually true the moment I said it out loud. My other favorite movie is Clueless, and the thing they share (besides Los Angeles based specificity, insanely good dialogue, and multiple perfect set pieces) is amazing ensemble casts.
Ensemble casts para-socially replicate the experience of actual friend groups. Despite all the people you may know, the ones that actually personally matter to you could usually fit in an All My Children scrapbook. I have always felt the most comfortable in gender balanced environments, much more so than the times I have been the only girl in a boys' club or the times when I am one of many girls in an all girls' club.
Ensembles happen to also be a great way to trick men into identifying with female characters. It's possible to idolize and identify with somebody simultaneously. You want to fuck Bruce Springsteen but you also want to BE Bruce Springsteen. Nucky and Mrs. Schroeder both finally stepped down off the pedestals that attracted them to each other in the first place, and faced the reality that they might be into each other on a plane beyond the powers of physical attraction and symbolic representation.
Paul Thomas Anderson's black swan is the Coen Brothers. Darren Aronofosky's black swan is probably David Fincher. Christopher Nolan's is David O. Russell because of the time David O. Russell put him in a headlock for trying to poach Jude Law from I ♥ Huckabees over to The Prestige. Judd Apatow really needs one (HEY JUDD, SUP!)
Kanye's is Jay-Z but there's a whole weird There Will Be Blood father/son x mentoring/competition dynamic there. Beyoncé's is Rihanna (hence "Ring The Alarm"). How do you keep yourself from being Black Swancepted? You can't, and you shouldn't try to. You secretly want worthy competitors. Take comfort in the fact that your rivals and frenemies, much like spiders, are definitely at least as scared of you.
Leonardo DiCaprio has gone on record a few times saying that Boogie Nights is the one movie he was offered that he still regrets not doing, even though Mark Wahlberg is the perfect Dirk Diggler, and Leo would have been a) nowhere near as good at playing somebody so cluelessly stupid as Wahlberg always is (he OWNS hotheaded dumb guy characters) and b) distractingly more famous enough than the rest of the cast so as to ruin the flawless balance of the multi-character based ensemble.
The takeaway is that Leonardo DiCaprio has spent some serious time wishing he were Mark Wahlberg. I can only imagine how much time Wahlberg has spent wishing he were DiCaprio. When will somebody make a Black Swan about dudes? A Fight Club where they actually end up fucking each other? I guess it'll have to be me.
Oh and hey that was a good season ender to Boardwalk Empire. I have a feeling the second season is going to be great and it'll also make for a spectacular next season of Mad Men, because Matt Weiner's going to work that much harder to win.
"Don't Let It Bring You Down" - Annie Lennox (mp3)
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" - Annie Lennox (mp3)
"Put A Little Love In Your Heart" - Annie Lennox & Al Green (mp3)