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Entries in eleanor morrow (43)

Tuesday
Jul292014

In Which Her Parents Constituted The Final Straw

Paying My Dues for the Journey

by ELEANOR MORROW

They Came Together
dir. David Wain
83 minutes

Joel (Paul Rudd) is an executive at Candy Systems Incorporated, a multi-ventured candy conglomerate. He is in a long-term relationship with a brunette named Tiffany (Cobie Smulders) who struggles to return his affection because of certain depraved incidents in her past.

On the day that Joel plans to propose to Tiffany, he finds her apartment spackled with torn off clothes and accessories on the hardwood floor. He calls out her name and hears sounds in the bedroom. Assuming she is just washing herself noisily in the shower, he attempts an elongated speech to preface his marriage proposal. When he turns around he sees her in the arms of Trevor (Michael Ian Black). His relationship is over.

With this inauspicious beginning commences David Wain's supreme masterpiece, They Came Together. Previously known for tackling lighter topics like the innocent thrills of summer camps or couples retreats, They Came Together marks a departure for Wain. The film is riotously funny, but it is also deeply personal.

On the surface, They Came Together presents like a zany parody of You've Got Mail. Joel's new love interest is Molly (Amy Poehler). Watching Molly swish through her delightful homespun candy shop named Upper Sweet Side makes you realize how much the showrunners on Parks and Recreation dressed and made her up so as not to overshadow Rashida Jones or Aubrey Plaza.

In They Came Together, Poehler's Molly is the utter embodiment of womanhood. Mother of a nine year old son, she meets Joel at a Halloween party where both attend dressed as Ben Franklin.

Joel and Molly don't click at first, but eventually the two New Yorkers discover they share a rare hobby: they like fiction books. "It's the feeling of being transported to another place and time," Molly says at one point. Just as quickly as their romance takes off, Joel has second thoughts when he discovers that Molly's parents are white supremacists. (Did you know that over 30 percent of whites in America believe in white supremacy, and of those 30 percent, over 95 percent of white supremacists are regular viewers of Person of Interest?)

Molly and Joel try to make their relationships with other people work after that. Joel gets back together with Tiffany, who is honest enough to inform him that he should be very suspicious of her motives, and Molly finally accepts the advances of her accountant admirer Eggbert (Ed Helms). He does not particularly share her love of fiction ("I only like to read about things that actually happened," he explains over a burrito) but he does seem pretty devoted to her, even complimenting her on how she plays Charades.

Where They Came Together really shines in its exploration of how Jewish men adapt to dating non-Jewish women. Joel's parents were killed in a tragic accident, and he has had to provide for his younger brother  Jake (Max Greenfield) who now works as a cab driver. His knowledge of the financial reality of the candy industry is the complete opposite of Molly's homespun ways  in her shop, candy is free for all children and dogs.

When Joel's company attempts to put Molly's tiny candy shop out of business, we realize how insane it was in You've Got Mail that Meg Ryan blamed her low sales on bookstore chains that are now themselves filing for bankruptcy. No one has ever properly explained to me why wasting paper is somehow morally superior to reading something on your phone, and I doubt they ever will.

Unlike the out-of-date pieces of shit They Came Together pays tribute to, there is no happy ending here. Molly discovers she has an affinity for prescription painkillers, and the coffee shop that Joel tries to open on the Upper West Side flops within a week. Meaningfully, there is no overly familiar scene where Joel and Molly have sex  it wasn't really about that. It was about the candy, and how you really should not give it away for free.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She last wrote in these pages about Masters of Sex. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

"Not Mine to Love" - Slow Club (mp3)

"The Pieces" - Slow Club (mp3

Tuesday
Jul152014

In Which We Observe Lizzy Caplan In Her Natural Environment

Arching Back

by ELEANOR MORROW

Masters of Sex
creator Michelle Ashford

Lizzy Caplan's fake eyebrows are organisms in themselves. They represent the little amputations that everyone has on Showtime's Masters of Sex. They indicate the very opposite of what seems most probable. It would be most probable for Lizzy's titular boss, William Masters, to be happy with his blonde, pretty wife and new baby boy. Instead, he is miserable: when his son cries, he maliciously places "Bye Bye Love" on the record player. When his mother objects, he sends her back to Ohio.

Masters' own missing pieces are all figments of his imagination. He is not really devoid of anything, since he is a man. Others shamed by the explicit depictions in his revolutionary sex studies are reduced to menial labor and propositioned in bathrooms, but he not only gets his sex study back, he gets a new gig at a hospital with a lewd president (Danny Huston).

It is the wackiest kind of fun to watch Michael Sheen play this man who can emit so little of himself into others without ceasing to function. Masters' spastic attempts at trying to relate to people at all transform into misunderstandings that feature great deal of apprehension on both sides. In the bedroom he is like a tiger, all energy directed towards what he wants. A killing lion is to be envied; isn't William Masters just Aslan in a gynecologist's wardrobe?

The revolution can never completely succeed or fail because of men like Masters, who never forget that they are beasts, and never stop being ashamed of it. It is substantially easier to feel sympathy for someone like that than, say, Alec Baldwin. Don Draper can damn well help being who he is. Masters lacks that basic programming of self-awareness, and never bothers to apologize for not having it.

A friend of mine recently visited St. Louis. She said there was nothing there. Masters of Sex is as far from a love letter to the area as you can imagine. You can ascend, she said, in a tiny little pod that takes you to the top of the city's signature arch. At its zenith, you are still somewhere between the ground and the sky, and you have had to give up so much to reach it.


Lizzy Caplan/Virginia Johnson does not seem to spend very much time with her two children by her first husband. The show seems to share Sheen/Masters' disappointment with the sinister beasts, even though Virginia's kids are adorable and nearly self-sustaining. To feed them she tries selling diet pills, something she obviously would never do.

Children on Masters of Sex are solely an appendage that no one knows what to do with. When one philandering doctor's wife finds out his infidelities, she brings the kids to the hospital so that they can all confront him. (The offending adulterer hides under a desk.) The young ones are always around when you do not want them, and missing or nonexistent when you do.


Virginia breaks up with would-be fiance Ethan on the phone, and Dr. Masters hears her doing it in the next room. Later, Virginia asks if he heard her, as she had intended, and he said that he had, and did not sound pleased by the content of the call. How difficult it is to not hear a judge's sentence and think your fate is not being described as well!

The best part of the entire show is William Masters' home. The doctor has no eye for furnishings himself, and how his wife arranged the space is pleasing to him, but also a disturbing exertion of control. He strains at that, and there is something so lonely about his environment - open spaces in the living area that he feels drawn to not occupy, or move through quickly. Standing in the middle of his own house, he looks as if he might disappear into the wallpaper.


At times people fall out of love. But that is only rarely, if it really was love at the start. Usually what happens is that a misunderstanding of sorts existed. It went uncorrected at the time. The affair went on, resonating like love in each chasm or enclosed place, dwarfed only by innocence and naivete. No one on Masters of Sex can claim to be innocent, so it should not be surprising that these people are so frequently unsure whether or not they are in love.

There is a snake that lived in Nysa that always acted in the same fashion as its prey. If its prey fell in love and cozied up to the snake, the reptile would return the warmth to whatever extent he could. If the prey struck out at him in jest, he responded the same. And finally, when the prey ceased being prey, the snake hid.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Paradise Is You" - La Roux (mp3)

"Cruel Sexuality" - La Roux (mp3)

Tuesday
Apr012014

In Which We Have Fond Memories Of Almost Nothing

Amplification of the Senses

by ELEANOR MORROW

Growing Up Fisher
creator DJ Nash

Is the idea of a blind person doing something with difficulty that other people do with ease somehow amusing to you? If so, you are in for a treat. At one time, it seemed like the only reliable source of blind jokes was the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but Monica has moved on, I have moved on, most blind people presumably have moved on. The one exception is the creators of the situation comedy Growing Up Fisher, who seem to derive great joy from watching Mel Fisher (a way too goofy J.K. Simmons) do such sighted people tasks as standing on a roof in the middle of the night, cutting down a tree, or walking without assistance.

Based on a true story crows the opening chyron of this NBC multi-camera affair. The least plausible part of the entire show is the sex-crazed 11 year old son (Eli Baker) of the blind man constantly asking his dad how he can best get intimate with a woman. The entire arrangement is a bit unorthodox, but perhaps not as orthodox as the fact that Jenna Elfman's face has not aged in any way over the past twenty years.

Joyce Fisher (Elfman) is a lovely woman who the show takes great pains to point out what a pathetic mess she is. Even though she's a charming blonde with a questionable interest in the works of L. Ron Hubbard the only date she can get is with a grocery store clerk. Meanwhile, her blind and ancient husband has his pick of the local women.

He never let the fact that he couldn't see prevent him from doing anything. These words are uttered almost a million times in Growing Up Fisher. Mel's wacky shenanigans seems enough to merit a separation on their own - once, he actually drives a car with his daughter as a passenger but the reason Joyce really ended the relationship was to "find herself." You will not be surprised to learn that the most entertaining/offensive part of the show is young Henry Fisher's Asian best friend, who is named Runyen and is strangely a preteen homosexual caricature. I guess kill two birds with one stone?

The success of certain family oriented comedies like Modern Family and The Middle has increased the demand for the portrayal of children. The breeding kennels on which such child actors are produced have become regrettably depleted. Fred Savage had a certain ethnic flair that is lacking from these roundly nondenominational homes. Since representing any specific background with its own idiosyncrasies would be theoretically alienating to some viewers, everyone is just a WASP.

Growing Up Fisher lapses into a Jason Bateman voiceover at every opportunity, which is exactly what no one ever asked for. Moreover, there is not even any nostalgia being recalled the show basically takes place in the present, which means the disembodied Bateman voice is from the future. Instead of telling us what the world has become decades from hence and what happened to North West, he has to continually inform us about how zany his dad is all the time.

Writing for children is very difficult, and although it is somewhat plausible that an 11 year old could be obsessed with the older girls in his apartment building, it is very unlikely he would know what to do with them should they consent to his plans. Even less realistic is the idea that he would rely on his father for advice every step of the way.

Growing Up Fisher was originally conceived with Parker Posey playing Jenna Elfman's role, and publicity photos were even shot with the two as a couple:

Somehow, this throws everything into further doubt. The same boy's mother could be a striking, tall blonde woman who loves terrible science fiction, or she could be the original Party Girl and nothing else in the world would be any different. It is indeed something of a mystery how a bald lawyer and a blonde woman could father two semitic looking children. I believe that anything that comes out of Parker Posey is wonderful.

Looking back, I sometimes tongue a scone and think of what The Wonder Years was actually about. Like Growing Up Fisher, the voice-over really sucked, the lessons and moralities were incredibly blase and obvious, and the setting was nondescript and Midwestern. What actually made The Wonder Years interesting was that despite the central dullness of American life, events of great tragedy and depth surrounded the mundane: Winnie's brother was KIA in Vietnam, fathers got in financial trouble, couples broke up unexpectedly and the repercussions were completely real.

In comparison, these vapid family sitcoms deal with nothing in the real world that might alienate their audience; Growing Up Fisher feels like sketch comedy in comparison. Now Winnie has a Maxim spread, Dan Laurila was arrested after beating up Dan Hedaya for stealing his look, and Fred Savage straight up murdered that guy.

That's not all that is different today. Children aren't even really children they're just adults-in-training, and the training extends almost interminably, until the day they make television shows about how fucking precocious they were. You shouldn't have let your blind dad fix that satellite dish, buddy. For Christ's sake, Winnie's brother was only a child.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Stranger" - Skrillex (mp3)

"All Is Fair In Love And Brostep" - Skrillex (mp3)