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Entries in eleanor morrow (59)

Monday
Nov142016

In Which The Affair Remains Ongoing For This Man

What You Know

by ELEANOR MORROW

The Affair
creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi
Showtime

This summer in the Hamptons (think of how many sentences begin this way), two British actors were dining among Americans. In their native countries Damian Lewis and Dominic West can eat in relative peace. In a brunch spot that is known for attracting real actors and Real Housewives, the two mercilessly mocked an ongoing series of photograph seekers. I can't blame them for becoming annoyed at the depravity of an American cultural class which admires them as performers, but hopefully not as people. Don't be too critical of these heady auteurs: the Eton-educated Lewis and West pursue a hard but meaningful policy. They are bad men on the screen, and Stanislavsky demands they be just as disturbed on vacation.

It just got worse and worse for Dominic West's loathsome author, Noah Solloway, on The Affair. It wasn't fully clear how sinister he was until that definitive moment in the Hamptons. Noah is the kind of person who can do ten good things for one bad reason. Last season on The Affair, which is without doubt the most sexually enlightened series ever broadcast on pay cable, he had reached the heights of the literary world, and begun setting up a new life with his lover, Alison (Ruth Wilson). By the end of the season, he was about to do a three-year jaunt in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

During this phenomenal second season, which you should really go back and watch, the center of the show moved to his ex-wife Helen (Maura Tierney). In her vibrant youth, Tierney was a magnetic actress, too vulnerable to be the girl-next-door and too reserved to elicit anything but our admiring sympathy. She has carried this precious balance into middle age. One episode had her on drugs for the duration, and it was so gripping I squeezed all the juice out of an orange I was casually holding.

Divorce proceedings had begun for Helen and Noah, but there seemed to be a possibile reconcilation of sorts when he went to Fishkill Correctional Facility for a crime that she ostensibly committed — running over the brother of Pacey (Joshua Jackson) one foggy night. Three years seemed a bit much for this crime, but I suppose there was negligence involved. In any case, the third season of The Affair has Noah in a full beard, on parole, teaching at a New Jersey college.

Everyone he meets in this new life knows about his past because they read his book. Noah Solloway is the kind of author who writes only from his own experience. This is a necessity, since he only gathers flashes of what other people feel as it relates to himself, and cannot assemble these insights into a larger whole. This is Noah's crippling flaw, and boy does the guy pay for it.

On campus, he meets a comparative literature professor (Irene Jacob) who looks at him the way I look at a croissant. It feels like The Affair creator Sarah Treem could not wait to get Noah Solloway on a college campus, because from Noah's amusing scene meeting with his parole officer in his own classroom, to the traditional parody of a horrid writing workshop, Noah seems satisfyingly out of place among all these normals. Only he could turn the wackiness of higher education into something reassuring.

Treem sets up an exciting enough cliffhanger for the end of the first episode. When The Affair gives us the usual satisfactions of its noir concept, we are pleased enough. Treem is the kind of writer who is good at everything she does, it is only a matter of what she chooses to do.

The Affair's subject matter is so wide-ranging from episode-to-episode that when it finally coheres as a whole, the entire stunning achievement comes suddenly into view. The more imminent pleasures of this New York-based series are to be found in Noah's misanthropic little phone calls to Alison, his chopped but respectful way of speaking to his ex-wife, in the fashion he begs a liquor store owner for forgiveness. Even the most powerful can be reduced to desperation in only an instant.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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.