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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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In Which No One Took This News Better Than Billy Bob

Ally McShame


creators David E. Kelley & Jonathan Shapiro
Amazon Studios

Crisis in Six Scenes
creator Woody Allen
Amazon Studios

Were you wondering how white people were handling this difficult and emotional period in American history? I was, so I watched a lot of Chris Wallace and sobbed briefly during Blackish. Those queries were not answered satisfactorily, but at some point when Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) is hammering his blonde client missionary-style as he pursues a wrongful death case against a conglomerate called Borns Technology, I felt the merest inkling of a familiar phenomenon: white guilt.

Thornton can't even enjoy the golden haze that surrounds the immediate aftermath of intimacy with a woman twenty years his junior. He hops on his computer and researches his enemies. He has to do something, anything, but he does not know what. When he finds out his latest conquest has googled him, he is embarrassed, ashamed and a little excited.

Thornton is a magnificent and subtle actor, and he is a lot less believably crotchety than usual in Goliath. White hair and a shit goatee has turned him into this vague version of a decent human being. There are only so many actors who can switch from light/hearted to emotionally serious in a single moment, and this elasticity tends to overwhelm its most charismatic proponents: (Cruise, Hanks, Gosling). Thornton's timing in contrast is completely impeccable — no one is better than he at playing utter basics.

The rest of the cast of Goliath is just as exquisite. William Hurt is in god-tier mode as Donald Cooperman, the legal titan behind McBride's former firm. Mario Bello always deserved more from this industry and as McBride's ex-wife you get the idea of an entire history that can't be unpacked in just one episode. Olivia Thirlby and Molly Parker are equally amusing as high-powered corporate attorneys.

David E. Kelley's typical chatty dialogue is everpresent here, but what's missing is the extensive backstory he always felt forced to attach to every single character. Goliath never tiptoes around or struggles – it proceeds forward like a bullet-train, never letting a single joke outstay its welcome. It is the best thing Amazon has ever done, and thankfully no one wants to go more than a season. There is nothing to hold off on — this is so clearly a one-shot that Kelley can afford to pace things more like film than television. His efforts at movies were always underappreciated. Buried among a spate of mediocre offerings, it would be a shame if the superb Goliath meets a similar fate.

In contrast, Woody Allen's Crisis in Six Scenes has a far better concept with substantially lesser results. Allen's projects are always hit-or-miss depending on what side of the bed he woke up that day. Crisis in Six Scenes has a lot in it that you would think can't go wrong: Elaine May as Woody's good-natured therapist wife, Miley Cyrus as their houseguest. Every performance in Crisis in Six Scenes is just on the verge of being amusing without ever getting there.

Set at the end of the turbulent 1960s, Allen actually has a lot to say about how white people react to events in the world around us. Crisis in Six Scenes feels like an incisive cultural essay penned by a fourteen year old. Seen in retrospect, Allen's humorous jokes about the Vietnam War and his view of arts and culture seem far more mean-spirited than usual. It is like he is trying to show off a certain edge in a new medium and doesn't realize he is working with a blunt knife.

Amazon has struggled to compete with the original programming efforts of Netflix, but they have substantial advantages over their competition going forward. Netflix has a ten billion dollar debt just based around the money they owe on licenses for television series they don't own. Almost half of that is due next year, which means the size of the Netflix library is about to rapidly decline; it is already down substantially from what it once was.

Amazon has a lot more money with which to fight this battle. The direction they are taking now: avoiding niche shows in favor of projects that are more likely to appeal to the wealthy, white clientele that orders other products from them through the Amazon Prime service. Both Goliath and Crisis in Six Scenes fit this new bourgeois aesthetic, which makes it somewhat humorous that both shows are about underdogs. 

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.


In Which We Despise Time Travel As A First Principle

Stop Time


Despite being a noted historian and a professor at a major university, Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) has the following reaction to the news that time travel exists and is possible: "Who would be foolish enough to invent something so dangerous?" When she thinks about it for slightly longer, she bails and heads out to her car. Ten minutes later she is heading straight back in time without signing any kind of contract or talking to her lawyer. It is the middle of the night.

Timeless was created by Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan. Given the events of the past fifteen years, I think we can look back in time and realize that maybe The Shield was substantially worse than anyone actually thought. The handcam aesthetic was pretty stupid, and Shawn Ryan probably has no talent at all given the awful shows he has been working on since then. When Lucy and her buddies, a scientist and soldier, head off to the location of the Hindenburg disaster, the camera shakes like they're going through a tunnel on a train.

Abigail Spencer attempts to save this utter disaster entirely through her own charisma. On the completely weird, boring, pointless and brilliant telethon the Sundance Channel called Rectify, she played the sister of a man exonerated of a murder he may or may not have committed. She slept with his lawyer, and was generally an imperfect person that reminded us all of someone we might know.

I can't help but feel bad for Spencer as she utters lines like, "Having President Lincoln as a father...what is that like for you?" In every single scene, Spencer brings the whole of her self into this thankless role, and she turns what should be a canceled pilot into something semi-watchable by selling absolutely everything as the most significant historical thing she has ever had the privilege to witness.

Let me get back to time travel, because it is the fucking drizzling shits. There have been one or two semi-decent novels about time travel. In the end, they were all magnificent disappointments, because their conclusion was, someone changed history. Whoop-de-doo. Is history so wonderful that the slightest alteration is going to make a difference to anyone? Maybe we can go back in time and allow Obama to run for a third term. Anything we do is going to be an improvement.

But no, Lucy's handlers explain, try not to change anything! We don't know what will happen. Like three people in a day could somehow alter the entire direction of the world. Admittedly, Lucy's knowledge of the Hindenburg disaster is impressive given that this seems like a minor historical episode. By the end of the show's pilot, Lucy is whining about fate like a Sunday School student and apologizing that her companion, a soldier named Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter) lost his wife.

When she returns home after her first time travel excursion, Lucy finds out that her mother no longer has cancer and that her sister never existed. Instead of celebrating, she whines briefly before heading back to the time of Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

Jack Finney wrote Time and Again in 1970. I am sorry if you liked this book, but read it again today, because god is it dreadful. At least there was some serious historical versimilitude in there. Timeless all takes place on a soundstage.

One scene really transcended the line from dull to seriously offensive. The scientist that Lucy and Wyatt have as their companion is an African-American man named Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett). In post-Civil War America he exhorts all the other black people he meets to "head North" (they presumably did not know there was slavery in the South) and that "it gets better." Yes, those wonderful years after the Civil War.

How tone deaf do you have to be to write something with this much garbage? You wrote a series about American history without knowing a single  thing about it. More to the point, Timeless concerns itself exclusively with American history — like there is no other existence outside of the one in this country which could possibly matter to the world. This USA-centrism is not only narratively impotent, it is immoral and dangerous for children and adults.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which Tim Burton Never Gave Us A Chance

I Know Why The Caged Bird


Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
dir. Tim Burton
127 minutes

When asked why all of the children in his new film Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children were white, Tim Burton answered that he finds it more insulting when diversity is needlessly shoehorned in. After all, the main villain here is Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), although he is a shapeshifter. Given that time travel is possible here through "loops" which are locations that enable passage to a specific time in the 20th century, it is likely Mr. Barron just found out about Samuel L. Jackson and wanted to look like him. So no worries – no actual individuals of color had to be inserted into this pale ménage.

Joseph Epstein had a essay earlier this year about the lunatic of one idea – how some people see the world through one lense which distinguishes everything they do. These simple-minded folk are led by Tim Burton, who is the lunatic of one aesthetic. Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children builds to a climactic battle at a carnival, where monsters called Hollows attack the white children. To defend themselves, a boy named Enoch (Finley MacMillan), animates a group of skeletons to battle them. It looked almost exactly like a scene from The Nightmare Before Christmas, which Burton did not even direct. Everything else in the production design of this movie seems remarkably familiar.

Earlier, Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield), or as he is referred to about 700 times in the movie by the gentile children, "Jake", finds his grandfather (Terence Stamp) dead, his eyes torn out. Instead of being horrified or even mildly disturbed by what he has found, Jake decides to solve the murder. About twenty minutes of flashbacks follows with young Jake learning about his grandfather's adventures during World War II. When he presents this information to his class at school, everyone laughs in his face and his parents tell him that his grandfather is a liar. He feels very alone.

Jake and his father Franklin (Chris O'Dowd) journey to Wales so that the boy can prove to himself that his grandfather's stories were hot bullshit. Despite the fact that this movie cost $110 million, none of it was actually shot in Wales. You can tell, because this part of the movie looks far from glorious; more like a depressing beach town in the Tampa area.

When Jake meets all of these children, they each demonstrate their powers for him. Leading this white menagerie is Miss Peregrine herself (Eva Green). Disappointingly, Miss Peregrine declines the opportunity to become a romantic option for Jake, and turns into a falcon at times. Despite being a magnificent bird of prey, she only uses this form to hide.

Jake seems vaguely upset about the rejection, and sets his sights on a woman more his own age. Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell) most recently dated Jake's grandfather which is pretty screwed up if you ask me. Perhaps understandably, she is very reluctant to kiss him.

Emma's powers are massive: not only is her lithe body lighter than air, but she can also swim for hours just by manipulating air bubbles. The rest of the group feature powers of differing utility. One is strong, another likes bees, another is invisible. Another girl can start fires (hint: anyone can), while two of the children are Gorgons who wear masks to prevent turning everyone to stone. The moment when they take them off still makes me want to cry.

Burton is great at this kind of casual horror. Thank God for that, since he seems terribly bored with every other aspect of this script by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass). All of the children are kept pre-adolescent with no more agency than five year-olds. Miss Peregrine has had no adults in the vicinity for the half-century she has been reliving the same day, waiting for Jake to arrive. I suppose she is asexual, but maybe in her bird form she meets other falcons. I chose not to input the words "how do falcons have sex?" into google, but it is good to know it is there.

In many ways, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children feels woefully dated. Its character development is sub-Avatar level, and boy does it take its sweet time. Ultimately, in a film that should contain a lot of mystery and wonder for its magical world, everything about the fantasy aspects of the film seems woefully normal.

The most wild elements are actually the moments when the narrative interacts with historical truth. Burton specifically doesn't want to go there — the Nazis bomb the home into oblivion, which is why Miss Peregrine keeps reliving that one day before the violence. But unlike in Pan's Labyrinth, for example, no one talks about the war, or the world around them in the movie. It is all just background noise for magic tricks.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.