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Entries in eleanor morrow (58)

Thursday
Nov032016

In Which We Smoke Crack Out Of Lady Mary's Lightbulb

Imitation of Life

by ELEANOR MORROW

Good Behavior
creators Chad Hodge and Blake Crouch
TNT

Atlanta
creator Donald Glover
FX

Michelle Dockery is tired of being cast as Lady Mary. She has range, you understand, the kind of range you can only fully fathom when you see her smoking crack out of a light bulb. In Good Behavior, Letty Dobesh is a con artist and recent parolee who was imprisoned for child endangerment. Her black son lives with her mother, who does not allow her to come into a few feet of the boy. She waves at him from a window and sobs a bit.

Buying crack is no treat either. In the south, you apparently have to buy crack from a trucker holding a gun. At least he did not point the gun at Lady Mary. I started to wonder at some point during this drug deal why she didn't just ask Pitbull for the crack? Or Flo Rida? Miami can't have been that far.

It is open season on the American South, and North Carolina writer Blake Crouch returns to series television after two mediocre seasons of his post-apocalyptic jaunt, Wayward Pines. Fox was no longer interested in working with Crouch, whose books do not have a large enough audience to draw television viewers and whose concepts remain overly conventionable.

His most marketable project were the stories based around this female con artist. Good Behavior is the least gritty show about a crack addict you can imagine. When Letty Dobesh does not call her parole officer back, he is super understanding. When she does not show up for a mandatory meeting because she is repurposing aspects of her hotel room to smoke crack cocaine out of, he's like, "Get me next time."

Letty is stealing jewelry from a hotel room (never stay in a hotel if you can help it) and she hides in a closet while two men discuss the killing of a woman. Instead of just moving in with her life, Dockery throws on a blonde wig and picks up one of the men at the hotel bar, pretending to be a school teacher. This is not the North Carolina I know and love.

Dockery's forehead is intense in this show – since she has to wear so many wigs, bangs are an impossibility. Where she gets the money for these wigs is an open question. She has sex with the murderer for some reason – it is never explained why. The next morning she wakes up while he is in the shower, drives to the house where he is going to commit a crime to prevent it. It is a good thing there is a loaded shotgun in the house, since she has no plan other than that.

The South looks no better in Atlanta, Donald Glover's FX series about being poor after dropping out of Princeton. Earn (Glover) manages his cousin Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles, who he alternately admires and is disgusted by. He has a child with Van (Zazie Beetz) who alternately admires and is disgusted by him.

There are tons of things in Atlanta which are rarely seen in television. Glover's character eschews his previous roles as a sunny jokester and is the most depressive, depressing protagonist on television. One episode finds Van and Earn at a Juneteenth party hosted by a white optometrist and his African-African wife. The praise and condescension afforded Earn at the event is confusing to both of them. The reception of Atlanta by mostly white critics pretty much parallels the white host telling Earn, "You've never been to Africa! You have to go!"

Diet racism, as I believe it is now called, is amusing to satirize. It tends to feel like empty calories after awhile, but mostly Earn is in his own distinct world – white people are only background noise to him. Atlanta simultaneously makes white people feel a lot better about themselves for watching it, and creates its own distinct version of being black in America. You would think these two things would be in conflict with each other, but Atlanta takes place at such a wonderful, deliberate pace that conclusions and inferences have to wait for the entire story to be told – not simply an abrogated part.

This way of storytelling is so much more enjoyable than having scene-after-scene thrown in our face. We learn everything about Letty Dobesh in forty minutes. After ten episodes with Donald Glover's moody alter-ego, we still wonder.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.


Tuesday
Oct182016

In Which There Is A Secret Loathing For The One She's With

Not In Love

by ELEANOR MORROW

Divorce
creator Sharon Horgan
HBO

Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) is very upset in her marriage with Mr. Robert Big (Thomas Haden Church). She explains that when she comes home early from work and she sees Bob's car in the driveway, her heart sinks. She says that she wants to save her life while it still means something to her. The next morning Bob Big shows up in her bedroom and asks to give her an orgasm. "I'm going to lick your vagina and tongue dart your anus," he explains while she begs him to stop.

Subsequently, Mr. Big suggests counseling. "We've been to counseling," Carrie explains. She no longer does very much writing, although she still asks rhetorical questions out loud and never receives an answer. Carrie now has a twelve year-old daughter who she rags on a lot about brushing her teeth, and a teenaged son who takes the school bus, I guess because they don't want him driving a car. Carrie used to love New York City but now she only sees it from the distance.

In a bit of shock, it turns out that Carrie wants to be in a love relationship with Julian (Jemaine Clement) who makes the most phenomenal granola. He orders a pizza for her. Sure, he seems little unconventional, but he is able to bring her to orgasm. When she tells him that she is getting a divorce, he says he is surprised. "You have kids," he says. "I still have kids," she responds. "We can't even watch TV together because he repeats the jokes right after he hears them." He loses his appetite for the pizza shortly thereafter.

It seems like even after matrimony, Carrie's relationships with men are still basically surface-level. She has many of the economic goals she wanted to reach when she was a hot single in Manhattan, but she is still unhappy. "When did it start to go off the tracks in your mind?" he asks. Given a lack of other options, she has sex with her husband one last time. He is on top, kissing her forehead.

When Carrie's friend Samantha finally tried to pursue a committed, monogamous relationship, it unraveled apart rather quickly. She tried to give him a three-way for his birthday, and she became really jealous that he looked so good for an older man. He ended up cheating on her and she forgave him, a couple times I think. She seems to have learned nothing from this.

When Mr. Big finds out about his wife's affair, he locks his wife out of their house. It's neat how Horgan begins her story in the deep of winter, making Long Island feel like a real place at times. Haden Church is a pretty ugly villain as Mr. Big, but you can totally believe that he would become a paunchy suburban father with no discernible personality of his own.

Parker herself looks almost exactly like she did so many years ago. Her haircut is a lot better, and she is a lot more believable when it comes to being a vulnerable woman in late middle age. Her sweaters look so soft, and while Divorce tries to tell us that she is really an unhappy person, we get the opposite impression from her general mien and how she carries herself. She rarely fidgets or sighs, she just is.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

Friday
Oct142016

In Which We Despise Time Travel As A First Principle

Stop Time

by ELEANOR MORROW

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.