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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Monday
Sep262016

In Which We Bring Honor To North Texas Psychology

Butter and Toast

by ETHAN PETERSON

Bull
creators Paul Attanasio & Phil McGraw
CBS

There is a great tradition in the performing arts of gaining or losing muscle for a particular role. De Niro, Clooney and Russell Crowe all put on about fifty pounds to look like a boxer and two CIA agents. What the point was of Phil McGraw finding a handsome actor (Michael Weatherly) to play him and then making him like a slovenly mess wearing those glasses and oversized sweaters, I'll never know. On Bull, Weatherly looks like he showed up at a Halloween Party dressed as Jonah Hill.

In 1990, McGraw was deep in thought about how he could use his PhD in psychology from the University of North Texas to accomplish his major life goal: making a shit ton of money. Bull is based on those heady years when he started CSI, a jury consulting company. Few of the techniques employed by Dr. Joseph Bull could feasibly have been utilized in 1990, since Dr. Bull's staff includes a hacker (daughter of the show's executive producer Paul Attanasio), a stylist hired away from Vogue, and an ex-police officer.

The hacker in question is named Cable McCrory, which should be indicative of the level of realism we are approaching in this depiction of Phil McGraw's life. Paul Attanasio is most famous for making a lot of money by torpedoing the show House into the ground. I'm genuinely sorry if you liked this show, but it was utter garbage completely carried by Hugh Laurie mugging in every scene and half the plots were identical. Also, it was misogynistic and gross, elements that would probably be a lot more faithful to Phil McGraw's real life in Texas than this Bull.

There are a few things you should know about Dr. Joseph Bull. During every episode of Bull, someone emphasizes how much pain he carries around with him, like his pathway to this questionably moral profession/manipulation of the integrity of the justice system was straight from an orphanage in the Sudan. I'm unclear on what pain Phil McGraw carries with him, the troubled childhood that caused him to ambush Britney Spears in a hospital room and hold a press conference and regularly humiliate people on television.

Most of focus in Bull concerns the good doctor's relationship with teenagers. Phil McGraw has always related best to children as subjects, since they are unlikely to question him. Many have never been bullied before, or in so splendid a fashion, and they are a lot more open to his particular brand of babble. McGraw gave up the practice of psychology long ago, if he ever was interested in it at all. He was always more concerned with the application of his training to the field of self-help, which is not only more lucrative, it is filled with charlatans even worse than McGraw himself.

None of this is what makes Bull so wretched. CBS seems to be using the same soft filter on all its dramas, giving the shows a generic, polished look that instead of obscuring the fact they are all shot on similar-looking sets, emphasizes the generic backgrounds and costumes. It is not necessary to have a big budget to make your show appear like it is actually taking place in a locale. I have no clue where Bull occurs: whenever they show local media coverage, an anchor shouts, "The city is captivated tonight by a major trial!" So I guess Bull lives in the city.

Even though Dr. Bull is consistently disrespectful to his clients in order to establish dominance, he abhors anyone else's lack of common decency. It is as if by being a villain he is the only one fully qualified to identify fellow shitheads. It genuinely seems to make him feel better than other people have less integrity than he does; it may be the only thing he can truly subsist on besides butter and toast.

The genius question that Bull asks potential jurors, the one that gives him a personality baseline for his privacy violations into their lives is this: Where do you get a cold? The intimation is that Dr. Bull himself cannot answer this question, or that he never bothers to get one unless it is professionally helpful for him to be a bit under the weather. Dressed in terrible sweaters and wearing glasses that clearly do not fit his face at all, Bull seems incredibly uncomfortable in his own skin.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording.

Friday
Sep232016

In Which We Disappoint Our Blind Brother

Like Mute or Deaf, But Without Sight

by ELEANOR MORROW

Bill (Nick Kroll) really hates his brother Robbie (Adam Scott). When Robbie starts to become interested in a local Jewish woman Rose (Jenny Slate), Bill begins to weigh his many charms in front of her. They go as follows:

1) He can see.

2) He's Jewish also, and weirdly, his brother is not. How did this happen? Who knows, it's a mitzvah.

3) He is also able to watch television and not just listen to audiobooks and exercise. (see 1)

4) He is self-deprecating, which is what every woman wants. "What's wrong with you?" Rose asks him, and Bill is just like, "Everything."

5) He knows another blind guy who can secure them weed.

6) He is portrayed by Nick Kroll, whose new Broadway show Oh, Hello where he and John Mulaney play old Jews, commands upwards of $80 a ticket.

7) Nick Kroll dated Amy Poehler for two years. What was that like? It was filled with cute moments of affection, bonding moments with Amy's two boys with ex-husband Will Arnett.

8) Did I mention he was Jewish and he can see?

Now Amy Poehler dates some goofball who walks around in an Upright Citizens Brigade t-shirt. She and Adam Scott were a pretty unbelievable couple on Parks & Recreation. It seemed like he spent a lot of time trying to please her and she was never really quite there for him. Then Nick Kroll stepped in. Keeping fiction and real life straight has never been my strong suit. All I know is that Adam Scott is happily married, and that he is quite shockingly 43 years old.

My Blind Brother continues Scott's desire to recast himself as a dick in every single independent film he does. In a wonderful movie that Jason Sudeikis ruined last year, Sleeping with Other People, Scott played a disturbing and unfaithful doctor. If he were six inches taller, you get the feeling that Scott would be Richard Gere. But he's just not. Unfortunately, My Blind Brother finds absolutely nothing redeeming about Scott's character, I guess so you don't feel bad that Rose is cheating on him with Nick Kroll.

In one memorable scene, Rose and Bill are having sex on the couch when Robbie walks in full of excitement. He apologizes to both of them for how he has been acting that day, and they slowly put on their clothes. Robbie seems for a moment to catch the scent of sex on the air — how could he not? — but perhaps he prefers to put his suspicions aside. A blind man must make accommodations for the people in his life.

After thinking about it for awhile, My Blind Brother is not very revealing about what it is like to be blind. Despite his lack of sight, Robbie drives a car around in several very dangerous scenes. Somehow he also punches men in the face and knows exactly where Rose's head is when he wants to kiss it. By the end of the film, you are not entirely sure whether he was blind at any point.

Rose's friend Francine (Zoe Kazan) naturally sympathizes with the blind character. Rose tries to get her involved with Bill in order to simplify this messy situation. He is wonderful with Francine, and she takes a liking to him as well. Unfortunately, Francine is only part Jewish, and this is not a very prominent part.

My Blind Brother is not very sensitive to the feelings of any of these people. The film features many prolonged segments where Nick Kroll explains to Jenny Slate how deeply in love she is with him and how they are destined to be together. What exactly does this phenomenal pseudo-couple have in common? Nothing really — it's like this problem where two funny people meet. They think they should be together, because they have such a great time. And why wouldn't they? They're both hilarious.

Unfortunately, the quality of jokes you can make in someone's presence has very little to do with compatibility. My Blind Brother could easily have focused on physical comedy considering the circumstances, but instead director Sophie Goodhart opts for a more mopey, serious vibe. The resulting film is pleasant if a bit slight when it could take on more dramatic weight.

But perhaps that was the right choice: comedians are terrible together. Even the chemistry Slate and Kroll developed during their reality show parodies on Comedy Central's Kroll Show can't save the lack of romance here. Watching them rub their bodies against each other is like watching a woman cuddle with her best gay friend.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

Thursday
Sep222016

In Which The Only People Concerned Know Nothing

Bad People

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Good Place
creator Michael Schur
NBC

There is a moment in NBC's new sitcom The Good Place where Ted Danson lists a bunch of things which are good and bad, and the numerical positive or negative value he has assigned to each. The first positive thing he shows is "eating a sandwich" and the first negative thing he shows is "buys a trashy magazine." That is the initial troubling sign that the people behind The Good Place have as little idea what it means to be a good person as the show's central character, Eleanor (Kristen Bell).

Kristen Bell is undoubtedly a good person, since you would have to be extremely virtuous to marry or even have sex once with Dax Shepard. (His face looks like the protagonist of Ratatouille.) Then she brought joy to so many young people by voicing that girl in Frozen who was absolutely boy crazy until her sexuality was thawed by leaving the chaste castle in which her parents kept her.

Maybe the creators of The Good Place could have just asked Kristen Bell what it means to be good. Everyone in this version of heaven has dedicated their lives to helping others, except for her soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper). Chidi speaks French, although it is translated as English to Eleanor since she does not understand the French language. Chidi was a professor of ethics and moral philosophy, although evidently he was so terrible at academia that he has to remind himself of the basics by reading Kant:

The idea of training Eleanor to be good is repulsive to Chidi, which I suppose also makes him a sort of bad person. Even though Eleanor is the only white person except for a pair of homosexuals who, somewhat inappropriately, enjoy picking up trash (this was not thought out well), she never makes notice of it. Her soulmate is from Senegal, her next-door neighbors are from different parts of Asia and Europe, and Ted Danson is really the only other genuinely white person there. 

The Good Place becomes a weird hymn to white privilege, since Eleanor is transported to these environs without any actual virtue: so it must just be because of her skin color, and maybe her general complexion and appeal. Bell's handsome looks are no longer childlike, and she has become very expressive and soulful as she matures into her thirties. So far, few of her acting opportunities have utilized this new dimension, and The Good Place mainly writes jokes for her that revolve around her not being able to curse.

Sometimes we flash back to Eleanor's live in Phoenix, Arizona. You see, Hollywood writers look down on Arizona because it is nearby and thus an easy target. In Phoenix, Eleanor sold a nasal product that was composed of chalk, even though the FDA would never allow such a thing. This makes Eleanor's real life just as fanciful as her afterlife — it is a clue that you should not think about The Good Place too seriously. Creator Michael Schur emphasizes this when he recently stated in an interview that he started researching religion but gave up because it was too hard and cut into his golf time.

It is not enough that people like Schur not believe in God or any religious concepts: they cannot even be bothered to find out where they come for. Just as valid, they think, is whatever concept for the afterlife that come up with offhand during a pitch meeting. Well, atheists should be allowed their ideas too: what Schur and company have up with is basically hell — an unfunny mess of cliches, jokes stolen from Albert Brooks and physical comedy involving Ted Danson licking the sweat from his armpits. Who would willingly watch such a thing?

The aspect of The Good Place that is most insulting to its viewers is that it has no conception of how racist its ideas even are. The ethnic characters that surround Kristen Bell's Eleanor have no agency or will of their own: they simply exist to make her feel worse or better as the episode demands. The only time these empty shells ever show the slightest bit of agency is when Tahani (Jameela Jamil) decides that she and her Buddhist husband should try to cheer Ted Danson up. Why would he be sad? Danson has more hair now that he did twenty years ago.

Even Bell is afforded nothing but a basic perplexity. She becomes unsympathetic so quickly — she has no other function except to drink and enjoy her time in this new world. She is essentially uncurious and she avoids love or caring as if it these emotions were anathema to her new existence. She and her neighbors cannot be destroyed or harmed by anything in this new place, and yet they run around screaming when they see a group of giraffes stampeding down their streets. The only thing worse than a bad deed is a bad idea.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording.