Things I Watched That No One I Know Remembers

I had a memory today of watching David Letterman in the mid-80s, and he had given a shoestring budget to a bunch of actors to make a movie. One of the beneficiaries of his not-quite-largess was (I think) Bette Midler, who made a movie called Laurie Has A Story, starring Laurie Metcalf – she was at a dinner party and had a story to tell. I remember it being great, and I immediately wanted to see more of Laurie Metcalf. Thankfully, Roseanne was looming in the wings. Did anyone else see that?

ETA: Sometimes I try to find some of these things on the internet and I am rebuffed, but I found it on YouTube, although it says it was on SNL, not David Letterman (strange how clearly I remember it being David Letterman!)  And perhaps it was Katherine O’Hara was the director, not Bette Midler. Perhaps I’m mixing up two different memories?

Watching: L.A. Complex

When I was a teenager, everyone I knew watched soap operas. I was resistant. I was pretty high brow and pretentious as a teenager, so I liked to *not* do/watch/read/listen to what everyone else was doing/watching/reading/listening to.

When my first daughter was born, I often had stretches of time where she was nursing or sleeping and I had nothing to do…well, that’s not true, I had plenty to do, it was just all boring and unpleasant tasks, like laundry and vacuuming and dusting and washing dishes. So I would turn the TV and got trapped in the world of soap operas, specifically, Another World and Santa Barbara. Cass and Frankie! Julia and Mason! I got sucked in.

Obviously, I am no longer high brow or pretentious (most of the time – I do love a challenging piece of literary fiction every now and then), and so I decided that after watching all of Dawson’s Creek (I’m sure I’ll write about that sometime #teamPacey), my next soapy show would be L.A. Complex.

L.A. Complex is about young hopefuls trying to make it in show business, sometimes by whatever means necessary (I’m talking to you, Alicia Lowe!) It is set in L.A. but it could not be more Canadian, and I am a lover of all things Canadian (anyone else watch every episode of Superstar? Radio Free Roscoe? The Grand Duchess of Canadian soap operas, Degrassi (in all its forms)?

Sidebar: Several episodes of L.A. Complex were co-executive produced by Stefan Brogran, (aka my favorite character from Degrassi High, aka Snake).

We meet our main cast: Abby is a singer/actress (or maybe actress/singer) who is young, in L.A. illegally, and having a rough time of it. Played by Cassie Steele of Degrassi: The Next Generation fame. Raquel is an actress who has had some success and is frequently recognized, but is struggling to keep building on a career that has slowed down. Nick is a wannabe stand-up comedian who is extremely terrible at stand-up comedy, but a sweet guy and he’s funny, he just hasn’t figured out how to do it on stage yet. Tariq is a musician/wannabe producer who is working as an intern with a powerful musical figure, Dynasty, and having a sexy affair with the extremely closeted and very angry/violent rapper, Kaldrick King. Conor is not Canadian, and has been cast as the lead on a medical drama, but clearly has some serious demons lurking under the surface since he seems determined to sabotage himself at every step. Alicia is a dancer, and a really good one, who is tired of working so hard and not getting booked, so she does what so many before her have done: porn.

Some great soap opera fodder here! And no one is ever sorry for hurting someone else, they can only be sorey. The show only lasted 2 short seasons, so I hope they wrap up some of the storylines by the end!

ETA: World’s collide! Was watching the first episode of season 2 of L.A. Complex and up pops Brett Dier, aka, Michael Cordero from Jane the Virgin! I love finding earlier roles of actors I like.

Jane the Virgin

This is a post I did not plan to write, but I am right now watching the last episode of season 2 of Jane the Virgin. The wedding! Michael saying his vows in Spanish! So sweet! I don’t care so much about Bruno Mars, I was hoping for Charo. I’m still waiting for something terrible to happen to Michael, although I’m guessing they won’t kill him so they can keep the love triangle going.

ETA: Damn. Damn! Maybe I was wrong. That looked like a kill shot, for sure! I didn’t like Michael at first, but I grew to care about him. Maybe Rogelio’s love for Michael made me see him in a different light. Don’t kill Michael, show!

I was not planning to watch this show, ever, but I’m so glad I did. Gina Rodriguez is a firecracker, wonderful actress. I love the relationship between the Villanueva women. And Rogelio is my favorite character on TV right now (except possibly Rebecca and Paula on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).

Episode 4: Favorite Episodes (part 1)

What are your favorite episodes of any TV show? I was inspired to write about this because Sarah Silverman tweeted that Seinfeld’s Chinese Restaurant show was a perfect half-hour. I do think Chinese Restaurant was a seminal Seinfeld episode, and was the start of the show becoming a “water cooler” show. My personal favorite episode of Seinfeld, though, is The Contest in season 4, which is the one where they bet on who can refrain from being master of their domain the longest.

For some series, it’s hard to choose a favorite. One of my top 10 shows is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I waffle on which episode is my favorite. Once More, With Feeling is an easy choice, because I adore it and will re-watch it a million more times before I die, but it was such a special episode that I almost consider it as a separate entity. I have an ever-changing list of favorite episodes of Buffy, which includes Welcome to the Hellmouth, School Hard, Hush, What’s My Line (parts 1 and 2), Surprise, Innocence,  Band Candy, Earshot, Doppelgangland….you see what I mean. It’s like I have 30 babies that I adore and cannot possibly pick a favorite.

But some shows, be they mediocre or outstanding shows, have an episode that stands above the rest. Here are some of those, in no particular order (all my own opinion, which of course you are welcome to disagree with):

Better Off Ted: Racial Sensitivity
This episode played off of a real incident, where facial recognition software did not recognize people of color in photographs. Veridian Dynamics has installed facial recognition software, and Lem cannot get into or out of the lab. The software is used not just for access to rooms, but also to detect when someone wants to drink from a water fountain. Ted notifies Veronica of the problem and she takes it upstairs, and their attempts to fix the problem make everything worse. It is hilarious and satirical and has lots of Phil and Lem.
Favorite quote:
Lem (with gusto): Yes, I might!

The IT Crowd: The Work Outing
A co-worker asks Jen to see a play with him, but she isn’t sure whether he wanted to go on a date with her or he was gay and wanted to just be friends, so Roy and Moss go with her. The musical does not help clear things up (it’s called Gay! A Gay Musical), but Philip, the co-worker, keeps sending mixed signals to Jen. Hilarity ensues and the closing button just seals the deal for me.
Favorite quote:
Jen: Why else would he ask me out?
Moss: Well, don’t take this the wrong way, but could he have thought you were a man?

Second favorite quote:
Roy: I’m disabled!

Just Shoot Me: Slow Donnie
The greatness of this episode is due to the perfect casting of David Cross as Eliot’s younger brother Donnie, who fell out of a tree in high school and has been “slow” ever since. Donnie is not what he appears to  be, though, which makes this episode great.
Favorite quote:
Donnie: (singing) chicken pot, chicken pot, chicken pot pie!

Second favorite quote:
Donnie: (sing-song voice) Donnie has secret. Promise not to tell anybody?
Maya: I promise.
Donnie: You swear? Cross your heart?
Maya: Cross my heart.
Donnie: On a stalk of bible books?
Maya: I swear.
Donnie: (normal voice) Okay, here’s the thing. I’m not really slow. I just faked falling off that tree, and now they wait on me hand and foot. It is the sweetest scam in the world.

….TO BE CONTINUED!

 

 

 

Episode 3: Canceled

Yesterday, several shows got the bad news that they were axed. I watched Agent Carter but never made it to the second season, so that kind of sucks. I watched Castle because of lingering adoration of Nathan Fillion from Firefly, but stopped after a few years. The show that really kills me this time around is The Grinder.

I had no intention of watching The Grinder, but I was on Twitter one day and saw Mike Schur (under his Twitter name Ken Tremendous) make a comment about Grinder reaching the level of performance art, and with his credentials on The Office and Parks & Rec, I felt I owed it to myself to check it out. What I found was a comedy that is unlike any other I’ve seen so far – it had a level of meta that was beyond Community, even.

It is available on Hulu, and I recommend it tremendously. I wouldn’t have thought that Rob Lowe and Fred Savage would work as brothers, but they did. The show didn’t have a long enough run to make best use of Mary Elizabeth Ellis, but she was fantastic in what she did on the show. The kids were great, even. It also had one of my favorite actresses, Natalie Morales, who I first encountered on the ABC Family show The Middleman. BTW, if you have never watched The Middleman, you should. It was a show that I resisted because ABC Family advertising was so overbearing, but I was home one summer evening all by myself and decided to try it out, and it was awesome.

Adieu, canceled shows. May those of you with the appropriate number of episodes enjoy syndication payments; may those of you who haven’t hit that number find the vehicle that will get you there in the near future.

 

Episode 2: Great Pilots

My last post was about pilots and how bad they are because of all the required exposition. I want to talk about GREAT pilots. Last night, I was not sleeping, because I was trying to recall some of my favorite first episodes of TV shows.

The first one I thought of was the pilot episode of the brilliant but short-lived series Pushing Daisies, charmingly called (as appropriate for the show) “Pie-lette”

digby

The show has a narrator, which effectively outsources the exposition to someone who will always be expositing (and beautifully performed by Jim Dale). We are introduced to a rather complicated idea: the Pie Maker, Ned, has the power to bring the dead back to life with his touch. If he touches them again, they die again, forever. If he doesn’t touch them again within a minute, they can stay alive (until and unless he touches them again, forever), but something else of the same approximate size will die. Ned loves Chuck, aka Charlotte Charles, aka The Lonely Tourist, and when she is murdered, he cannot resist the urge to touch her, and he cannot make himself touch her again. So we have the essential tragedy – he a loves a woman he can never touch. Not to mention his dog! Despite the tragedy, there is a lot of joy, love and humor in Pushing Daisies….not to mention the occasional song, which is something I adore in a TV show.

To complicate things, Ned is loved by Olive, and he also assists a private detective, Emerson Cod, by touching murder victims to find out who killed them. He touches them again within a minute, so here we have another incredible moral weight on the Pie Maker – he kills people, essentially. (Sidebar: Bryan Fuller, creator of Pushing Daisies, also created Dead Like Me and Hannibal. I’d love to do a tally of how many people he has killed on TV shows. Both Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me have at least one death per episode; Hannibal has a slightly lower body count but most deaths are presented in stunning  tableaus which are both horrifying and beautiful, but I’ll talk about Hannibal another time.)

The Pie-lette does its job perfectly. We meet all the main characters and learn their relationships to one another. We experience the heightened magical reality of this world – the saturated colors of C’oeur d’Coeurs, where Ned and Chuck grew up; we get the playful language with all the repetitive structure (C’oeur d’Coeurs, Boutique Travel Travel Boutique, etc.). We understand the underlying tragedy of a love that is requited but cannot be acted upon.

Sadly, the writer’s strike (which gave us Dr. Horrible, so I can’t get too mad) interfered with the show – it was doing well in the ratings prior to the strike but never came back after the strike – meant that the story was only 3 seasons and the story was truncated because of that. But the “Pie-lette” is just about as perfect as a pilot can be.

 

Episode 1: Pilot

Pilot episodes are usually not the greatest. Pilots (unless the network is brave) tend to be exposition heavy – lots of telling rather than showing.  So they can be clunky – characters are introduced by someone calling them by their full name, or explaining to another character who the person of interest is, in full detail.

So, allow me to exposit. I am a TV aficianado. When I was a kid, we had 4 channels on a clear day: NBC (channel 30), ABC (channel 8), CBS (channel 3) and PBS (channel 24). On weekdays, we were allowed to watch PBS: Sesame Street, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, The Electric Company, sometimes Zoom.  They were educational, for sure: from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, I learned about empathy; from The Electric Company, I learned when to use an apostrophe S (with apostrophe S, you don’t have to guess, you know it belongs to me); Sesame Street had muppets, so nothing bad there.

The day we got cable (sometime in 1984), I got to stay home from school to let the installer in, and as soon as he was gone, I put on HBO (I fell in love with Matt Dillon that day in Tex, and I couldn’t even tell you what the movie was about); then we put it on MTV and gorged.

We’ve come a long, long way since the 80’s and the traditional sitcom filmed in front of a live audience. HBO, Showtime, AMC, IFC, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon….we have a multitude of options for TV watching, and the level of excellence is high. Truly, it is the golden age of television!

While there a lot of sites that talk about popular TV shows, but my preference in TV shows tends toward the critically acclaimed but struggling for ratings or cancelled too soon. I love sketch comedy (but not SNL) and shows about competitive dancing that do not feature celebrity contestants. Teen soap operas, I’m there. Supernatural teen soap operas….HELL YES. Shows where people break into song  (that aren’t Glee or The Voice or American Idol)? Absolutely. I will be talking about all these shows, and maybe some movies and books, too. Thus ends the exposition!

P.S. I’m writing this on Chromebook so I can’t change the picture. I will do better.