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Entries in eleanor morrow (47)


In Which We Get You When You're Vulnerable

All We Want To Do Is Please You


Mad Men

creator Matthew Weiner

The idea that life itself is best treated as an artistic canvas is nothing new. Byron was the most syphilitic of artists who embraced this idea, but it has Christian beginnings, too, the concept of acting like someone else, someone who's not you, for the benefit of others and for the pleasure of God. The most recent example of this phenomenon is Don Draper, and we are just along for the ride.

Don learns different lessons from his experiences than the public at large. He heads out on a date with Roger's wife's friend Bethany (True Blood's Anna Camp) and envies her backstage work in the theatre; he even tells her it's exciting! Don harbors a secret weird jealousy for what most of us laugh at, and this is the key to understanding this most loathsome of men. And Don is horrible. They have toned it down a lot by making him seem nice to his kids and whores, but he's about as pleasant as a burned roast.

Don's belief is that he can step into the role of the consumer like no other. He regularly sews and gets out his shinebox like he's nostalgic for the Depression. Romanticizing the past is a common American problem, and since Don hates his past, all he has are the gestures and the skills of poverty. What was the good life for him? When he forever ruined his kids' elementary school teacher for other men?

Draper is unique in that he really has no golden time to look back on. We've never seen the halcyon days after the Drapers were first married (although NB Weiner that'd be a good way to get January Jones a scene where she's not on her back). Years in Korea weren't exactly full of self-empowerment for the young Dick Whitman. Don has nothing to go back to, so he gets his magnetism from living continuously in the present. This modern impulse was first noticed in primitive Neanderthal tribes, once they figured out how to pay for sex.

Three thousand years later (give or take), the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is riding in miniature on the dark side of Don Draper's testicles. Where are all the bright shining lights in this company? What about that dude who got his story published in The New Yorker? If they debut Fred Armisen as a love interest for his real life wife, or if Maya Rudolph appears on this show in any fashion, I will call the police.

On the plus side, it's amazing Christina Hendricks found the time to act between photoshoots and interviews and Wal-Mart openings and making her homely husband eat cat food. When Mad Men's characters stop changing and become static, they lose their significance in the drama. In the case of Pete Campbell, that's not nice, that's just a nice sweater. Hopefully now that Pete's wife is a regular on Community, he can start a fledging romance with Draper's housekeeper Celia, who is amazingly the only non-white character on the show.

In better news, Peggy will finally get the love triangle we're all waiting for. Yes, the Church of Scientology has permitted the first male-female-male fictional love triangle in thetan history since Keeping the Faith, and Peggy's inability to decide between two foppish nerds beginning to carry her purse will likely result in her putting them both before Don and letting Satan sort it all out. Gosh bail for fighting over a ham was high in those days!

It would entertain me to no end if Peggy went through the entire plotline of Goodfellas, including hiding her cross in front of her in-laws and leaving Pete Campbell to die in the desert. Four seasons of watching her toady to Don are enough. If you can sell jai alai, you can sell anything. Don is about to have a new level of clientele; let's just hope he's done with Conrad Hilton because Lost already answered the question, "Who is Paris Hilton's father?" (Daniel Faraday.) 

Mad Men unwittingly has taken on a new protagonist, which indicates he's probably two short episodes away from stepping in front of a bus. After undermining Don last season, Henry is ostensibly in love with Betty Draper, and he shows it by only permitting sex when his anus can casually rest on the car's gearshift. You can tell where his affection for Mrs. Draper is headed by the look in his eyes. He resembles Jack Nicholson about to flee the scene of an accident.

Henry's decision about whether to keep Betty Draper around takes on a new significance. It is a test of Don's world view. If Henry can't back up his big talk about wanting to be with Betty, then it doesn't matter whether anyone else can. Betty left the biggest bullshitter in the world, but he's not so bad if she left him for a bigger one.

Like Don's bizarre date with Bethany Van Nuys, advertising started being condescending rather than airy and pleasant at some point, and the industry met with better results because of it. "It's not even an advertisement until the last thirty seconds," Don tells the charming vet who couldn't think of a better headline than 'A Man From a Town With No Name.'

I have a list of people he could have called for that story, and it begins and ends with the guy his wife had sex with in a restaurant bathroom last season. Don was shocked that all he had to do was treat an Advertising Age reporter with one leg like he does the rest of the people in his life: as if they were something he had to wipe off his shoe.

Since the beginning of time, people have secretly loved to be talked down to. Have you ever read the Ten Commandments? They sit at approximately the same artistic standard as Jeff Koons and John Slattery's acting: utterly insulting to anyone who knows about art or portraying a powerful advertising executive as he was forty years ago.

The client becomes the child because it is the client on who the advertising must succeed for the agency to get paid. A bit of random publicity for two Jewish woman fighting over the last ham isn't exactly a Super Bowl commercial — the intended effect was on the client, who told Peggy that "it's a shame someone had to get hurt, but if it means people are buying more of our wonderful hams..." Yet the idea of pleasing the client first is woefully inefficient. Why spend time seeing whether you can convince the person already predisposed to the product?

This is akin to a revelation for Don. He becomes violently angry at his swimsuit clients because they live in the past. Don Draper of course hates their aversion to convince others to buy their products, and he calls them "prudes" as if he was on his way to Point Pleasant in a one piece. Don's advertisement has no chance of pleasing the client, but he's a more artistic manipulator than that. When sales don't rise, they'll know where to turn. And if they slap him a little on the cheek during sex, he'll charge half-price.

Don is changing the game by treating the client, and the man who married his wife, and his protege, and his prostitute, and a Broadway extra/Steve Newlin's wife, and Roger Sterling himself as children. His own children he already made into accessories. And why should you expect a child to turn into an adult if you haven't taught her how?

That would require thinking ahead, and Don is more like his daughter Sally than anyone else on Mad Men. When he kisses the girl hello at the beginning of the most boring weekend of anyone's life, Sally flinches. His kiss is the acknowledgment of what's happened to all of them, and she brushes it off as quickly as her father.  The reality of the past is no more than an imposition on the freedom of the present.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find her work here. She last wrote in these pages about the UK show Skins. She tumbls here.

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"All Hail Dracula!" - Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (mp3)

"Stuart Gets Lost Dans Le Metro" - Someone Still Love You Boris Yeltsin (mp3)

"Critical Drain" - Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (mp3)


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?

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