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Entries in eleanor morrow (42)

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)

Tuesday
Jul022013

In Which We Murder The Green Man

Day Ronovan

by ELEANOR MORROW

Ray Donovan
creator Ann Biderman

Showtime

Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) resides in Los Angeles with his wife, his son and his daughter. It took me roughly the entire pilot episode of the show to properly describe RD, but finally I found the right word: he is unhappy. It takes the entire sixty minutes to realize this, because Ray possesses many things other people desire: financial wealth, an active sex life with a narcoleptic woman a few years older than his daughter, the ability to impose his will on absolutely anyone.

One night after his wife tells him not to come home he ends up at his downtown apartment. He starts thinking about his past - later in the episode he tells his wife, "Whatever you can imagine, it was ten times worse." His sister killed herself by leaping from a great height. His brothers are an alcoholic and a overmedicated diabetic respectively; both are completely destroyed by whatever Ray through as well, coming out somewhat better for the wear.

Ray is a fixer of sorts. It's a lopsided match to run him up against the type of people he finds in the show's premiere - the garden variety L.A. asshole who populates the corners of their own pool tables. Stalkers, egomaniacal executives with three dogs they never pet, self-obsessed movie stars. These predictable antagonists simply do not provide a fair fight, and that Ray liberally uses violence to handle these frivolous people must on some level be his addiction, since the meagreness of the individuals themselves does not require it.

Ray Donovan tries to be a comedy in the same way The Sopranos was, but even when it lends a lightheartedness to the stories - a dead coke whore! a movie star who loves transvestites! - it never actually makes you laugh. Part of this is the script, a dreary and directionless affair by show creator Ann Biderman that contrasts Day Ronovan's life with the activities of his father (Jon Voight) who has recently been paroled from a Massachusetts prison.

The problem is also in Schreiber's face. While Gandolfini wrought so much out of a litany of facial expressions, tics and sighs, Schreiber must pretend to be relatively unaffected by the lightness of the world that surrounds him - otherwise he would be made inconsequential as well.

Schreiber breaks this veneer only once in the show's pilot, when he confesses to his Jewish mentor Ezra (Elliott Gould). (The irony of an Irish Catholic confessing to a Jew is a bit too on the nose as well.) "He's the reason we have all this," Ray tells his wife in a rare moment of honesty. It is the only thing that reminds us Ray could not really exist without others, and that he can barely live without the ones who are gone.

Jon Voight tries to play the role of Ray's father with great aplomb. He snorts cocaine with his alcoholic son and an African-American prostitute; he murders members of the clergy like it's something a man his age would have the energy to enjoy. I have to admit that Voight is in fantastic shape for age, most likely due to his preemptive vasectomy.

Assembled in one gym near the end of the episode, the family feigns having some kind of relationship with each other, but the all male coterie seems to flail without women. Voight is as poor a cinematic father as he is a real life one, appraising his sons like an alligator observes a swimming child. Ray grabs his and threatens him - for the fifth time in a single hour-long episode, he has told someone that he will kill them if they come near someone that he loves.

The real issue here is that there is no place for a moral tough guy in modern day Los Angeles. If Ray is an asshole - and the show works overtime to prevent you from realizing that he is a tremendous one - then why do we care if he suffers? If Ray is a criminal, then his internal machinations are useless. But if he is moral, if he does have some kind of inner compass he is working to realign, then his penchant for violence and adultery becomes even more unforgivable. He should move to Iceland.

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. She last wrote in these pages about her friend Sheila.

"Hello" - Schuyler Fisk (mp3)

"Sunshine" - Schuyler Fisk (mp3)