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Entries in eleanor morrow (57)

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.

Thursday
Sep152016

In Which We Decide To Become An Actress Living In Los Angeles

Afternoon Audition

by ELEANOR MORROW

Loosely Exactly Nicole
creators Christian Lander & Christine Zander
MTV

Better Things
creators Louis CK & Pamela Adlon
FX

Every single person faces the prospect of reincarnation. When we emerge into our second lives, we live either in Van Nuys or Silverlake and go to endless, disappointing auditions. Such is the subject of two new television series, FX's Better Things and MTV's Loosely Exactly Nicole.

The latter features a ubiquitous presence on MTV of late, comedian Nicole Byer. It is not hard to figure out why the network is so high on her, since Byer is probably the most charismatic performer they have by leaps and bounds. Loosely Exactly Nicole details her life with roommate Devin (Jacob Wysocki), a massive gay man who has a natural rivalry with Nicole's other best friend Veronica (fellow standup Jen D'Angelo).

The three of them spend a very serious amount of time talking about men, but it is all talk: even though Nicole's boyfriend Derrick (Kevin Bigley) features on occasion, he is more just a stationary penis for Nicole to ride during the evenings. During the day, she is a nanny for a Taiwanese kid (Ian Chen), who she takes to her auditions if it seems absolutely necessary.

Loosely Exactly Nicole is the first show to make life in Los Angeles seem the least bit bearable. At times the production seems like it occurs in a series of parking lots; even the scenic park where Devin goes to reunite with a standard-looking white guy from his past looks like dogshit. This seems a conscious choice to make Nicole stand out even more from the world around her. It turns this MTV series into an inspiration, aspirational project for young people: simply by being fabulous you can ascend above your shitty surroundings, wherever they may be.

Nicole goes on various tinder dates since her thing with Derrick is more of a friends-with-benefits type situation. On one such meet-up, the white man informs her not to get another drink unless she plans to sleep with him. (He had spent too much money this week.) This is the most agency any straight white man shows on Loosely Exactly Nicole; this species is basically a blank canvas for Devin, Veronica and Nicole to project themselves onto at intervals.

Despite a relatively memorable physical form, Byer is so much more of a chameleon than you would think. One episode has her changing hairstyles, and it takes this small cosmetic change to show off what astonishing range she truly has as an actress. The writing on Loosely Exactly Nicole never lets her down: it is consistently hysterical. Watching Amy Schumer after watching this turns Amy into a parody of itself, since all of Byer's sex commentary is so much dirtier and true-to-life. It will be very difficult for a stronger comedy to emerge from this fall season of television.

Better Things, the apology project from Louis CK after he masturbated in front of all those women, does not benefit from this comparison. Pamela Adlon plays herself as Sam, a Los Angeles-based voice and television actress who unlike Nicole Byer lives in a beautiful home with her wonderful children. It is pretty unclear why Adlon is so unhappy. If she actually had to lead Nicole Byer's life, my guess is that she would drown herself in the La Brea tar pits.

It made sense when Louie was whiny and annoying since the theme of his show was what an entitled prick he was to everyone in his life, at all times. Adlon has a similar perspective on her life, except we are supposed to sympathize with her completely. Louie was also painfully short on actual love stories and geniune connections with people. Better Things features Pamela Adlon obssessing over a guy from her past who texts her that he is thinking about her:

This eerie anxiety when the ellipsis indicate the other party is typing on their iPhone is the kind of soft touch Adlon & CK bring to some of Better Things' more intimate moments. The show falters the most when brings Adlon into broader, showbiz comedy, like a scene where Bradley Whitford performs fake cunnilingus on her. That sketch falls so flat that it makes me wonder whether the half-hour format really suits what they were trying to do here.

Better Things is so much less interesting when Adlon not-so-hilariously fuming at the clerk in a drugstore or complaining about the teacher of her children. Sam's three daughters are very young, with her oldest, Max (Mikey Madison), just entering her teen years. Max asks her mother to get her pot, a suggestion which is met with complete disdain and utter rejection, even though it is honestly didn't seem that crazy 20 years ago, let alone now, for a kid whose mother is an actress living in this house:

Adlon's actual ex-husband lives in Germany and does not have much of a relationship with his children. We get some sense of how isolating that is for her, and yet the real Pamela Adlon seems like so much more of a happy person than Sam. When it is most predictable, Better Things feels like a televised spin-off of Bad Moms, even though Adlon does not really do anything very questionable with or around her children. She is mostly just sad, depressed and exhausted. It is maybe not the best sign for a comedy that it is most compelling without the jokes.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.