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Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

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Entries in eleanor morrow (46)


In Which If You Want To Be Happy Don't Think

We've Been Hanging Out



creators Brian Elsley and Jamie Brittain

All art about young people comes across as hopelessly naive and bracingly sentimental. Kids changed all that, but it wasn't very good. Harmony Kormine went on to a sterling career as a writer of less comprehensible films, MTV ran Undressed to corner the market in PG-13 pr0n, Larry Clark founded an island in the South Pacific where he could be with whoever he wants, and then E4's Skins tried to fill the role of "telling us all about our young people."

Set in Bristol, the show follows kids through sixth form, when they are 16 and 17 years old. The idea was to follow kids from relatively difficult economic backgrounds, although we might want to rethink those ideas about class. In most ways the men and women of Skins are identical to their upper-class mirror images. Because Skins is one of the most imaginatively conceived shows of this genre, it deserves an American audience, and not in its soon-to-be dumbed down form.

What sorts of children are these? For the most part, they are desperate for love, so transparently pathetic that we forget about the evil things they do. The protagonist of the show's first two seasons, Tony (Nicholas Hoult) is straight out of Cruel Intentions, but hold on, because we never can hate anybody we know everything about. (It's partly why we love our children.) If they make a Barbra Streisand biopic  — scratch that, when they make Barbra Streisand biopic she will come off as completely sympathetic and will most likely be portrayed by Alexa Chung.

The early virtues of the show consisted of its variously successful attempts at an earthy realism. You can't help but imagine that a beer-soaked copy of Less Than Zero was being plagiarised wholesale in writer's meetings, but the resulting blend of regular drug abuse, mental illness, and total alienation from the world is highly entertaining. Rebooting the series every two years was an inspired idea, and also ensures that Skins alumnae can come back to be killed off, or turned into M.I.A. in the case of the minority representative Jal.

It takes a special madness to take the joy out of being a child, but we are accustomed to effecting this as quickly as possible. It is not for the Luddites that we bemoan this worldly process, it is because we are sapping the thrill of discovery from new travellers. Instead of a reason for joy, education is turned into something we resent because of what it takes away from the rest of our lives rather than what it adds to it.

Kids portrayed this in a way acceptable to Roger Ebert, which is itself a kind of violation. There was something deeply disturbing about watching HIV-positive Telly infect the neighborhood, although it's not as horrifying to watch today and in fact feels like a period piece along the lines of Emma or The Bostonians.

The use of birth control on Skins is relegated to those moments when teenage sex is planned in advance, which is to say never.  Condoms feature prominently in only one of the show's episodes, and then only to emphasize that Anwar (Dev Patel) has never had sex. This is perhaps a subtle hint to Britain's youth to keep reproducing at a rate commensurate with that of their Muslim peers. The sex mostly consists of shifting between various sexual positions in a rough manner so as to indicate eagerness. Once, in the first season, eight straight lines of dialogue were "I love you", and it was accurate in every case.

if only your mother from slumdog millionaire could see you now...oh wait Joyless and solemn the boys of Skins are, though the women rarely fare better. The sexist march of lowered expectations is painfully obvious in Michelle (April Pearson) whose greatest desire was to ape her mother's tremendous series of husbands. The men, in contrast, are burdened with all of the unpleasantness and as such are permitted a greater freedom of expression.

The sort of friends you have when you're young are always a sorry lot. A neighborhood is full of them — you simply can't avoid the people you live with, any more than you can avoid having extra-sized ears if you're Katie Holmes. Most entries into this genre turn the neighborhood youth into adults with smaller bodies, and Skins does some of this, including the reading passions of its erudite antihero.

Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do. There's also a hefty dose of afterschool special, proving straights and gays equally enjoy sitting on the green, crying and smoking spliffs. Going to sixth form is pretty much a dream with a lot of free time and your classmate is the guy from Slumdog Millionaire. Without mentioning the contemporary culture (outside of dubstep and heroin injections) more than once, Skins is entirely of this time, where some kind of unpleasant notoriety is always lurking on the periphery.

One of the biggest myths about adolescence is that it is full of important decisions. In fact, adolescence is all about never having to make a decision. Can we even imagine what an alien race would think of us, going from piano lesson to the orthodontist with a frequency unknown outside of this dying planet? More than anything, contemporary day-to-day is fraught with completely variegated experience, an acquired taste for most of us and entirely unknown to those who've never experienced it. The adults of Skins, because they're from the previous generation, can never really understand.

It's actually somewhat funny that a show which insists on portraying the reality behind young lives is so painfully bad at imagining the mystery and purpose of adult ones. Yes, things are rightly more dramatic when experienced for the first time. This is a strong virtue of such moments, distinguishing them from everything else. But it is a weakness to be innocent.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She last wrote in these pages about the HBO series True Blood and The Wire.

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"Good Times Gonna Come" - Aqualung (mp3)

"Sea of Glass" - Tom Middleton (mp3)

"Coconut Skins" - Damien Rice (mp3)


In Which We Are Really Disappointed In David Simon

Dark Legacy


True Blood

creator Alan Ball

It is known to be impossible to write about The Wire. What is there to say about art that claims to be portraying every aspect of life?

There is little space for audience participation in The Wire. Most of The Sopranos ended up being sly jokes and interpretive fun for the viewers; the kind of drama that inspires discussion in order to resolve its dilemmas. Lost required a lot of googling. The Wire required nothing of you. During The Wire, the cops were always complaining that no one got to see their point of view of what things were really like. This was extremely ironic, since the police are the subject and heroes of The Wire, with the drug dealers following shortly behind. Someone also had to win during Stalingrad.

you guys...barbershop quartet??? After watching The Wire in its entirety, there is really only one appropriate response - to look at the Baltimore skyline, and think about why it really had to go down like that, and if Stringer Bell is looking at us all from heaven. My least favorite parts of The Wire are the recurring images of the city, which makes it all the more strange that David Simon would feel the need to make a series composed entirely of just that without changing any of the cast.

Lester got with that hooker, and everything was great, and now this But it's not just the excruciating/compelling Treme that has followed in the large footsteps of serial television's signature achievement. Although The Wire believes it knows everything about its subject (and it may be right), its fake adherence to a convincing portrait of reality masked its storytelling weaknesses. Show a young, African-American kid who doesn't want to be a drug dealer, but is. Demonstrate the untimely death of this person. Sob, rinse, repeat. The Wire got away with this because, hey, that's Baltimore.

how dare you try benko's opening motherfucker As the opening scene of a light fictional documentary about the drug trade, bottoms up. As the opener to the new season of Desperate Housewives, incredibly lazy storytelling. The Wire had its most devoted audience among television writers, many of whom have adopted its techniques and adapted them for other dramatic subjects. But there's a big diffference between pretending something that never really happened, and pretending something that supposedly did.

This can turn out well, as in the groundbreaking way Breaking Bad uses the techniques of fiction and documentary to maintain its crazy diegesis. And it can also turn to complete chaos, which brings us to the long-awaited third season of True Blood. No less than eighty-seven characters are featured this season, an astonishing feat when you realize six major characters died in the run-up to the end of last season. I had strongly hoped Lizzy Caplan would also be dead in Party Down so I wouldn't have to watch her reluctantly make out with Adam Scott for the twentieth straight episode. (They did the same thing with Michael Imperioli to make him seem less gay.)

should you really be taking away from Ken Marino's screen time? The first two seasons of True Blood were slightly altered versions of Charlaine Harris' mediocre Louisiana mysteries. Now that Harris is so rich that she bought Nicolas Cage's home in New Orleans just in case Alan Ball wanted it for a set, she doesn't give two shits about Alan's ideas for changing her books. This is actually well and good, because it took Harris about five minutes (most of it spent looking at True Blood gifs) to come up with the stunningly dreadful plots of these beauties. While the books primarily focus on Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) as the primary locus for all that occurs, she's just a blonde observer on the television show.

Harris' mind-reader Sookie Stackhouse never actually reads minds anymore, but that's OK. She gets a second chance to do vampires the right way this time, now that Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer got married between seasons. Have you ever seen the part in Hannah & Her Sisters where that old guy lectures Barbara Hershey about the Holocaust documentary he watched? Their marriage is like that, but with more tolerance for elective plastic surgery. Bill Compton's facelift made his mug tighter than Eric Northman's stomach.

remember bonanza? keep remembering it for another minute  Besides the protagonist, here is the tentative list of major characters on the show, along with whether they have a convincing accent: Hoyt (no), Jessica (no), Sam (no), Tara (no), Lorena (no), Tara's mom (no), Andy (no), Jason (no), the Queen of Louisiana (no), the Magister (no), Pam (no), Eric (no), the British vampire (no), Bill (no), Arlene (no), Alfre Woodard (no), Bud (no), Terry (no), and Lafayette (yes). And I have not even included any of the werewolves.

you will always be an integral member of 'Newsradio' Khandi  There haven't been this many terrible accents on one television show since...The Wire. Like True Blood, The Wire was more likely to ruin an actor's chances of success in another role than help his chances. The reason for this is simple: casting relative unknowns into major roles has its benefits for the audience, but the realistic and more importantly lengthy presentation means that Bunk Moreland is forever Baltimore's best homicide detective. He's not some musician who used to be married to Khandi Alexander. Likewise, I don't believe that John Goodman knows anything about New Orleans. In fact, I know he doesn't.

then I did Blues Brothers 2000, which was perhaps something of a misstep In this third season, Ball's version of the old story involves (shock!) conflict between vampires and werewolves. This is a really sad way for Stephenie Meyer to discover that she didn't create this dichotomy. The true story is that she just watched Underworld really late at night and assumed it was a very creative dream she was having. This is not to say we can't still enjoy what True Blood has become, more gif than mere show.

Alexander Skarsgard hasn't shown this much of his body since Coachella, and he's about to embark on a tryst with Sookie that will leave them both changed forever. As we know from the sensual and caring sex dream Sam Merlotte had about Bill Compton, after you've digested a vampire's blood, he haunts your dreams, and usually after a solid haunt, he asks for money.

What role is Skarsgard possibly going to be able to play after this show other than the villain in Gus Van Zant's shot-for-shot Die Hard remake? He's going to be Eric Northman forever.

This is why, when The Wire started getting a teensy bit bogged down by its enormous cast of characters, it could have really used a spinoff. Would anyone be disappointed that Omar had moved to West Hollywood and was still robbing drug dealers, only with a more fabulous attitude? After so much promotion that there was actually promotion of the promotion, new viewers of True Blood might be shy to handle 40 protagonists with about two antagonists.

meredith, may I just say - you look GREAT Granted, it's no fun to have shows that relentlessly re-explain their premises. (All discerning people are still wondering if Ellen Pompeo realized they recast her part while she was still on Grey's Anatomy.) It is, however, worse to have a show that is incapable of explaining its original premise. I would need an L Word-style flow chart to keep track of who on the show has drunken vampire blood and can sense their feelings. This week's episode introduced about seven antagonists, none of whom were successful at harming or even unnerving the protagonists.

But whatever, as long as you're going to be campy, and spend half your time making inside jokes to ONTD, you should have Bill Compton ride off on the white stallion of the Queens of Mississippi. And I can't say I don't enjoy it when Bill growls and lights his maker on fire, or that I won't enjoy it when Jason Stackhouse gets bitten by Calvin Norris and turns into a werekitten. If we flashback to Eric Northman saving Anne Frank and killing John Lennon I'm going to have to respectfully switch the hour per week I spend on this show to gardening. True Blood has so much going on, that if you get bored, you can just wait for the next thing.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She last wrote in these pages about Elmore Leonard and Justified.

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"Simian Fever" - Six Finger Satellite (mp3)

"Pulling A Train" - Six Finger Satellite (mp3)

"White Queen to Black Knight" - Six Finger Satellite (mp3)

Loving You Always Omar

ATTORNEY: Mr. Little, how does a man rob drug dealers for eight or nine years and live to tell about it?

OMAR: Day at a time I suppose?


In Which This Also Happened On That Other Show

The Angriest Men in the World



creator Graham Yost

No one can be a hard ass all the time. In Deadwood, Timothy Olyphant did a damn good job of trying. In one of the show's most famous episodes, he lost his son and stayed relatively calm. Now he's on a new show and he doesn't even have a son but he still seems pretty angry.

Deadwood was the greatest western done in the television medium, although both Lonesome Dove and Bonanza had their moments. It was usually described as "dark," and while the various indignities the show detailed including sexually transmitted diseases, the death of young children, the murder of several innocents, and the prostitution of almost everyone, it was an optimistic show for the protagonist, Seth Bullock, and his Jewish partner. Bullock didn't just survive on the frontier, he thrived from the first and became the ethical master of all that surrounded him.

The Honolulu-born Olyphant's face is itself a swarming projectile. Pauline Kael would have loved him. Desperate to make Justified slightly different from his last show — set 100 years earlier — he's grown a washed-out goatee and now scrunches his face up over 50 percent more often. Tim's never been much of an actor, but there's something new inside the ludicrously-named Raylan Givens.

what a fascinating criminal! Of course, Deadwood had the magical advantage of an ensemble cast to die for, with the best ever roles of Ian McShane, Keith Carradine, and scores of other thespians. Raylan Givens is not quite as lucky, although Raymond J. Barry, M.C. Gainey and Nick Searcy might be recognizable to insomniacs. They did bring back W. Earl Brown, who played Al Swearengen's brilliant second-in-command but Keith Carradine probably died the same moment his character on Dexter did, and Ian McShane is probably in a home somewhere. The leftovers pop up on Justified from time to time.

The best writers in television wrote Tim's banter then, now it is supplied by the spiritual descendants of Elmore Leonard, whose story "Fire in the Hole" supplied the inspiration for Justified. Leonard is the type of writer who thinks a person whose name doesn't reflect how they look (think a giant named Tiny) is a worthy substitute for actual perceptiveness. Creator Graham Yost is attempting a weekly return to the kind of moments Leonard was fastidious about creating — a woman in the trunk of a car, a man in a women's dressing room, the love of a good hat.

f. gary gray's questionable 'be cool' Leonard tried to make his cops as entertaining as the criminals he clearly loved better, and Justified has Raylan Givens relate better to people who live in a moral vaccuum than his ostensible colleagues. The portrayals of the criminals are invariably sexist, as was always Elmore Leonard's wont, and they take up a lot of the show's time — Raylan's soap-ish personal problems are sacrificed to the ongoing pursuit of justice, usually for himself or someone he's putting his penis inside of. Raylan is not a very good U.S. marshal, but he does have uncanny accuracy with a sidearm and a passion for passive-aggressive widows.

"you've never heard of The Shield?" Despite the show's predilection for convenient criminal intrigue ("the loan shark with the heart of gold! the real estate agent in with the wrong people!"), it has created three great villains, and all Olyphant has to do is play off of them.

The first of these evil charlatans is Raylan's ex-wife Winona. (She is the only person in Kentucky named Winona without a sense of humor, evidently.) When Raylan unwillingly returned to his ancestral home in the show's premiere, he paid a visit to the house of his ex-wife and her new husband, waiting in the dark with a Miller Lite. She told him he was the angriest man she's ever known and refused to apologize for going with a Jew the second time around. (Didn't this also happen in Hung? Is the new Jewish caricature to seduce midwestern housewives?) Fittingly, Hung's Natalie Zea plays Raylan's ex-wife. She looks like a very respectable blowfish.

Raylan's second enemy is the Crowders, father Bo (M.C. Gainey) and son Boyd (Walter Goggins), paragons of white supremacy. It always feels better after you kill someone if you rip open their shirt and see some kind of tribute to Adolf Hitler, or anything from Twilight. No one knows this better than Raylan, who is constantly waiting to spring into violence no matter how placid the surroundings. White supremacy feels topical again for some reason, and the Crowders are a disturbing mix of religious men and demons.

The last of the villains is Raylan's own father Arlo Givens, a career criminal who spent years in business with drug cartels. The show sets up future episodes in a rather routine fashion, and Raylan's father looms large, as the highlight of the first season so far has been the long con his father and stepmother ran on him. Seeing Raylan so vulnerable reminded me of a bear with an ingrown toenail.

The proliferation of dramas on cable has allowed for some different types of storytelling. Justified wants to be darker than dark, but it's afraid of showing the audience dirt poor Kentucky for fear they won't be able to enjoy the finer things, and men. We are told Raylan is very angry, but we can't see that in him yet. It's early, though, and there are things out there in the dark we can't imagine.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about The United States of Tara.

"Bye Bye Icarus (alternate version)" - Lightspeed Champion (mp3)

"Island (Bedroom demo)" - Lightspeed Champion (mp3)

"Madame Van Damme" - Lightspeed Champion (mp3)

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