the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘Television’

what’s so great about Mad Men?

In humor, life, media, observations, writing on March 3, 2012 at 7:28 am


NO!  I’m sorry.  I’m trying to be more open about things. I’ve only seen one complete episode and a handful of others I couldn’t finish because I could not get into a show about corporate dudes of yore who look like modern-day hipsters.  I’m sure there’s a lot more going on.  I’m sure that people think this show is great television for some reason I am missing.  I don’t get the appeal of skinny ties and suit pants, personally.  (I get a lot of that with the hipsters walking around SF.)  I also don’t get the appeal of people who drink all the time and make their living selling shit, either.  But I can’t imagine it’s the profession of the protagonist that would turn me off.  I like Braking Bad, and that’s about a meth dealer.

In my younger days, I would belabor this question–even more than I do now.  I would seriously wonder why it is that I missed the boat.  To a certain point, I still think there are explainable/empirical reasons why people like the things they do, and though it’s ridiculous to admit this, I still kind of hope that if someone can explain their likes, I’ll get it and join.  At the root of this, if you haven’t figured it out, is insecurity.  I feel like odd-man out, and I don’t want to be odd.  It’s all just a little too-high school except that the stakes are higher than the fear of not being in the cool group.

Here’s a question that arises for me: what if the real mad man is me?  And by mad, I actually mean, untalented.  What if my lack of seeing the greatness of a supposedly great show is is a sign that when it comes to greatness as a storyteller, I got the short end of the stick?

I’m 40.  It took me most of my 20s to discover that writing was something that made me feel good.  It took my 30’s for me to decide and to admit to myself that I wanted to make storytelling a career.  I’m a late bloomer. I accept that–most days, I try to.  But at the end of the day, am I kidding myself?  Am I on the path and I just need to keep at this until the day I hit with something?  OR, am I the writer’s equivalent of the community theater actor?  That guy who loves to do his craft but who ends his days doing King Lear at the Elks Club.  No way to know.  So I keep on writing.  But it’s hard. (How’s that for wisdom?)

I’ve decided that writing is kind of like love.  You throw yourself where your heart leads.  You have to go on and love even if you don’t know for sure that that love will pan out.  No guarantees, right?  Hate that.  Hate it Hate it. Hate it.  Not as much as I hate Mad Men, but it’s close.


I’m American: Loving & Hating Downton Abby…

In life, media, politics, Uncategorized on March 2, 2012 at 6:55 am

I’m late to the party, which is not unusual for me. As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I’m a Libra, which means I have to feel like I have come to my own decisions about popular things.  I’m actually the type of person that will judge a show or book or what have you, by association.  If everyone loves something, I am suspicious.  I’m not a hipster–let’s not go there.  It’s not that I care if something is popular.  It’s that I like to think I’ve come to something through my own tastes and not by popular pressure.  Can you say, dumb?

A couple days ago, I had a day to hang out my wife, which is nice and all too unusual.  We decided to stay in and watch Netflix, and Downton Abbey presented itself as a good choice of something to do.  We ended up watching the first season that day–7 glorious hours of glorious British people–well, not so glorious, actually.  I have a natural aversion to this kind of show.  The show itself, the writing and the acting are great, but watching the class stuff drives me to distraction.  Might the butler be fired for having once been an actor?  Can a lawyer eat and talk to his family member if that family member inherited a huge home?  Should a spoiled daughter let herself love a lawyer who works and actually knows what a weekend is?  These are the questions that must be answered over seven hours of well written TV.

At one level, I want to say, “cool.” I want to think that drama, like most things, is relative to the person who is experiencing it.  So, if the biggest problem one has to face is whether or not to marry for love or for convenience, well I guess that’s drama.  I also guess that for the people who lived in that period, the idea of class movement was as strange as electricity was.  That’s what I find most problematic abut the show.  I don’t subscribe to the conservative position that America is class-less and that everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  That’s a little naive.  But on the other hand, I grew up poor and went to Harvard on a scholarship.  My wife’s family is certainly more affluent than mine, but they accepted me not because of my family’s pedigree but because of who I am.  Class in society is real, and maybe the idea that all people have a shot to better themselves is a myth.  But to say that is not to dismiss the power of the myth.  Stories matter.  And when I watch Downton Abbey, or hell, if I travel in Europe, which I did last year, I prefer to accept this American myth, and to work to help others put the truth to it.

This leads me to Girl Walk All Day, a multi-part music video with music from Girl Talk, the DJ.  It’s not that this video gets at class, but I think it gets at something that is really American, or at least, really New York.  Watch this thing and you see a few things right off: New Yorkers are not bothered by crazy people dancing around them–just another freak in the City.  ALSO, New Yorkers are just one big hodge podge.  We are not perfect here.  And there is certainly a lot of racism and classicism to be had here, but Girl Walk All Day coud not have happened in any other country.  It’s messy and its huge and it’s US.

Here’s the link


Girl Walk All Day

Being Human–the show and the action

In life, media, observations on February 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

love these guys

I love Being Human, the show and the state of being, though I’m going to talk here about the former. I should say I liked the ScyFy version when I first discovered it a few weeks back and then yesterday, I discovered the British )original) version and I LOVE it more. I’ve been meaning to write about the show (the American version) for a couple weeks now. When I first saw an episode, I was hopeful the way a kid hopes he’ll get X at Xmas. I like finding a good show, which is not always easy nowadays, but Being Human, with its fantastical premise of a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf living in the same flat trying to get on like the rest of us, makes the stakes go up for me.

It might be a phase I’m going through as a reader/watcher of TV, it’s certainly more than a phase as a writer, but increasingly, I want a story to be a tale, by which I mean, I want it to take me on a flight of fancy and whimsy. Stories about “regular” people going through “regular” times are fine. I’d like to think if the story is compelling, then I will be compelled. The Wire is still my favorite show, which aside from a documentary on Baltimore, you probably aren’t going to find stories that are more realistic than the ones presented there. So, ok, I think I’m open to all kinds of stories. But still, there’s something about the fantastical show (not to be confused with fantasy, though that can be fine)–a narrative style that seems to be coming into vogue with Grimm on NBC and ABC’s Once Upon a Time–that excites me and, most times, then depresses me after I see the show in question. I haven’t seen Grimm yet, but Once Upon a Time is proof that network TV can take a great idea and dumb it down into intellectual dust. It’s precious and funny at just the right test-marketed moments.

I can hear my old roommate’s Alabama drawl right now reminding me that I shouldn’t expect so much from a network show–he also reminded me of this when we went to see blockbuster movies. Call me dumb, but I still hold out hope that you can tell an original story and have fun AND get people to come see it. Maybe I live in a fantastic land–it’s possible I guess. That might be why I get so upset at the stupid fantastical show–more angry than I get at the stupid cop show or inane sitcom. As a citizen of Fantastical-land, I don’t like my peeps being misrepresented by stupid-heads who don’t have a fantastical bone in their bodies.

So what do I think of Being Human on ScyFy?

these guys are good, too, but...

I think it’s good. I think it has an interesting premise and the acting is solid. For the most part, you can believe that the actors are what they play and, more to the point of the show, that they wish they were just ordinary, just human. That said, there are certain cliches the ScyFy version falls into that its British counterpart does not. And it’s these differences that get at what I hope for in a story. The American version tries a little too hard to make us understand that being a monster is not so different from what we all experience day-to-day. The vampire is lonely and hungers (literally) for companionship that he can’t have because he might end up chomping on some innocent person’s neck. We get it. The show goes out of its way to demonstrate that this is like what any drug addict would go through–the addiction to blood is ruining any chance of his having a relationship. I get it. Blood is a drug. Vampires are addicts. Addicts also exist in the real world. I might even know of some or at least I’ve seen some on regular TV, thus, this character is not so foreign and, by extension, not so fantastical and, sadly, a lot safer and a lot lamer. Consider that on a recent episode, the vampire is in need, suffering from his need, and meanwhile, some poppy-song is playing as we see the montage of his suffering. It’s like Gray’s Anatomy or Private Practice with monsters.

Boo! or is it Booh? I guess it’s both in this case.

Look, I am different from a vampire. I imagine you are, too. I am not immortal. I do not need to drink blood. Do you? Send me a comment if you do because I really want to know.

I wish the writers of the ScyFy version would just tell their story and let me feel for the characters where they are, not where I am or could be potentially if I were to be bitten on the neck by some ghoul. That’s what the British version does so well. The writers on that show seem to know that people like good stories even when they are about people different than themselves. As someone who increasingly loves the tall-tale, the fairy tale, the fable as a form, I don’t need the writer to make me empathize by force. I don’t know diddly-squat about the Baltimore drug trade, but I was moved by the stories in The Wire all the same. Likewise, I don’t know what it’s like to live like a monster, but tell me his story so I can. Maybe I will identify with things about the character, and maybe I won’t, which in a way would be better. I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of stories like trips. I don’t want to go somewhere I know all the customs already. I want to go places where I see new things. Stories, apart from entertaining, are ways for us to learn and amplify our appreciation of others like trips are. That’s why stories are so important–all of them. Even fantastical stories, as long as they are well told, can teach us to be… yes, more human.

why do i keep forgetting how much TV in the morning sucks…

In humor, life, media, observations, politics, writing on January 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Most days I don’t think about it. I go about my business blissfully unaware, and that must be why I always forget how dumb I think cable news is. My wife is a baker and on Mondays and Tuesdays she gets up extra early to go in and help her mentor who teaches a class downtown. I love that she’s so devoted to her craft and to Chef Betsy, who is this feisty and amazing artist/artisan. Because it is so early and because public transport kind of sucks at that time of day, I get up and drive my wife. If I plan things well, then I pack my stuff up and after dropping her, I go to a Starbucks where I do my writing business as I struggle through a crap-fest espresso.  By the way, I recently noticed a disturbing sign hidden in a corner of the store that says something about something called Acrylamide and cancer and the coffee they are serving me, which is disturbing, but I’ll get to that on a future post (if I survive).

This morning, I did not play my cards right. My teaching work is kicking up a notch now that holidays are done, and I’m editing down a short movie, which is also disturbing, but not in the cancer-disturbing way, which I will also discuss on a future post. So this morning, I come home, exhausted. My head feels heavier and bigger than it already is (I have a giant head) and I can’t really focus. I sit in front of the TV and think to myself that it would be nice to catch up on some news. What’s going on in the world? I ask myself. Like so many of us, I live in a bubble of my own making, insulated and out of touch.  Sad sad sad, right?

I turn on the TV, which is set to Comedy Central from the night before because when push comes to shove, The Daily Show is probably better than most TV news when it comes to telling you about the world. I know this at night, but after a night of insufficient sleep, I forget. Of course, Comedy Central at 6 am is not about smart TV; it’s about selling stuff. This morning’s infomercial was called “Raising Your Brazilian Butt” What? Really? What does that mean? Do we all have Brazilian butts even if we are not Brazilian? And even if I can accept that? How does one lift a butt?

I did not stick it out to find out. When I changed the channel,  a woman was speaking into the camera, which occasionally cut to a couple before-and-after pictures of this her butt in a bikini. Hey, I will say this much for the ad: there was a difference. Butts can be lifted, I guess. Whether or not this woman had a Brazilian butt, however, is still a question in my mind.

I turned to MSNBC because I used to watch some of their afternoon shows before I became saturated with the liberal equivalent of Fox, which isn’t an equivalent at all.

Like Jon Stewart says, Liberals, join me at Camera 2: we are not good at one-sided arguments. We just come off as lame and reactionary. For all our attempts, it’s obvious we aren’t that confident in our positions–and rightfully so. We are Liberals. And Liberalism is all about flexibility and change, which means you can’t go around yelling how correct you are. My Conservative Brethren, you are good at hunkering down and not moving easily. That’s also good. That’s who you are. Let’s all keep our roles in check, shall we?

Anyway, the show on MSNBC was all about Florida, at least it was when the channel wasn’t playing commercials.  (The were none about butts, but many were about toilet paper, which is related.) Also related to butts was the the show I tuned in to, which is called The Morning Rundown and which is crap. Does irony live? Well it does on MSNBC because after watching that thing for ten minutes, I was feeling rundown. I know that’s an easy one, but really, the only name that would be better would be the Morning Beatdown, because the word, “beat” has so many connotations that fit the occasion: as in, I was beaten down by the faux-earnestness of the show. 2. I felt that most of things said were a form of mental masturbation. 3. I was so bored, I was starting to think about actually masturbating.

I know, TMI. I’ll stop there.

Chuck Todd, the host, of MSNBC used to be the numbers-guy, the go-to guy for number-crunching analysis. I never really got the feeling that he was a numbers guy for real, though. It always felt like I was watching a weather man throwing out facts that no one aside from an expert would really be able to process. An expert would also know why Mr. Todd wasn’t saying anything worth saying, but I am no expert. I just sense his lack of expertise.

Now, Mr. Todd has his own show, which also feels like I’m watching a weatherman except now the weatherman is front and center.  There are some biases at play for me, I’ll admit. Watching Mr. Todd try to fill an hour with his pretense at seriousness is not easy, but there’s also the fact that my wife has filled me with distrust for goatees.  I have a beard and goatee, and usually,  I like goatees. But there is something about Mr. Todd’s facial hair that makes me see my wife’s point. I won’t say what my wife says about goatees, but her descriptions of them has a sexual component and not in a good way, and I have already gone down that path once on this post, so I will stop.

CNN was no better. Andrea Mitchell, who I grew up watching on the news, has her own show. I will admit that I have a little crush on Ms. Mitchell. What can I say? She’s smart and I like her voice. She’s a lot better than Mr. Todd, but CNN has more commercials, I think. And though I can buy Ms. Mitchell’s non-goateed earnestness, the show is all talking heads spouting their talking points. There is no journalism. No attempts at giving viewers facts and letting us figure things out. There are Democratic strategists and Republican strategists and former strategists and all they can do is say what’s expected: Romney is the odds-on favorite. Obama is raising a lot of money. Super-PACs are bad. They are good. Blah blah blah.

andrea, oh andrea, please stop the lamers from speaking...

If you’re wondering if I turned to FOX, I didn’t. I know I should be fair. But if you watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report enough, you get a feeling that Fox and Friends is offensive–less so for its political approach, which is what it is, but for the silliness that ensues when the hosts speak. Chuck Todd is also silly, but his political positions are less clearly stated and I’m trying to root for his facial hair. The FOX team has no facial hair and a lot of unserious conservative guests, so  I just can’t go there.

I know I shouldn’t get mad about cable news. I’m like Charlie Brown hoping and hoping that cable news will not take away the football at the last moment. But like Charlie, I’m a Libra (yes the Peanuts have signs), which means I’m ever the optimist. I eventually turned off the TV, had some breakfast, and trimmed by beard and gave thanks for it and for the day ahead.

Being Defeated By a Blank Screen and a Flashing Cursor…

In humor, life, media, observations, teaching & education, writers & books, writing on December 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

It might be a sign of our virtual times, but I’m getting a beat-down by nothingness. Specifically, the nothingness of a blank screen on my scriptwriting software. How the hell does that happen? It’s been a week, and I keep managing to do anything but write my spec script. Jesus, what is wrong with me? I know what I have to write. I have the plot lines all mapped out, and I’ve even gone over them with a professional writer who gave me the OK.

(The fact that I feel the need to mention this is part of the problem. Why do I even need that someone else gave me the ok?)

I gotta say that getting a pummeling by a blinking cursor is a humbling experience. It reminds me of some of my GED students who are tough as all get-out and yet are complete mush-pots in the way that they won’t even try a new math problem without me sitting there and giving them permission. Maybe, it’s about guts. Maybe some people are just more brave about trying new things than other people. But I suspect things run deeper–for both me and my students. The young people who come to me lack confidence in the smarts-department. I don’t know why that is–probably no one ever stopped to tell them they were capable, which is a crime but it is what it is. For me as a writer, I can’t exactly cry a river. It’s not like I’ve had crazy success, but I have had some support from generous readers and teachers. That said, I do have something in common with my students: we all are fearful of trying because we fear failure.

As a teacher, I’ve gotten into some arguments with my colleagues who also work with GED kids because their way around that fear has been to not push the students too hard–the thinking here is that if you don’t push students too hard, they will eventually try on their own. My thinking is that we should push the living shit out of them (in a nice and gentle and nurturing way) because the world doesn’t wait around. The difference is that I try to be there for my kids and to let them know that it’s not only ok to try, it’s ok to fail–whatever fail means.  I will be there for them so that they can get up and try again and keep trying until they hit the mark.

Well, those who can, do and those who can’t, …GOD, I hope that saying is wrong. I know that what keeps me from actually putting words to paper–unless those words are a blog entry explaining with other words on the page that have nothing to do with the words that would appear on my script–is a fear of failing. I can’t handle the pressure because the pressure I have building up on me isn’t just about the damn script. Just like my kids who are freaking out about adding fractions, it’s not the thing in front of us that holds us back. For them, it might be their pasts full of bad teachers and crappy learning environments. For me, it’s my screwed-up sense of the future. I turned 40 a couple months back, and before that, I never once was much about looking back. But now, trying to get myself to try to write a spec script, all I can think about is the fact that I’m trying to do something that most other people do when they are in their 20s. That I will have to put up with the odd looks and TSK’s. It’s dumb. It’s futile. And I know full well that I’m only pushing back the inevitable because at this rate, I’m going to be 41 and trying to write my first script, which is one year worse than my current situation. I tell my kids the same when they tell me that their little brothers in the fourth grade are learning fractions. They don’t admit it because they’re too tough, but I know they’re basically saying they’re stupid, or at least they feel like that. I tell them that they’re learning at their time, the right time for them and that they shouldn’t compare themselves.

Good thing they don’t read this bog. But then again, what’s that saying again? People who can, do, and teachers? What is it they do or don’t do. I forget.  I must really be getting old.

EXCLUSIVE: Jess Cagle on the Launch of ‘The EW Interview’

In media, observations on September 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm







EXCLUSIVE: Jess Cagle on the Launch of ‘The EW Interview’.


Pretty good interview, though the reporter looks a little pasty and a little hungry–as in Jon Stewart’s brains would be great with some fava beans and chianti.

AMC cancels ‘Rubicon’

In media on November 14, 2010 at 11:43 pm
Sarah Palin in Savannah, Georgia, Dec 1, 2008 ...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s sad, but true.  I guess life goes on.  Even if Sundays won’t be as interesting going forward.  I guess there’s always Sarah Palin‘s show to get me by.
Below is an article that appeared on

rubiconImage Credit: AMCBad news for Rubicon fans (however many — or few – there may be out there): AMC announced today that it will not be renewing the original series for a second season. The drama first premiered on the cable network on Aug. 1 and was from Warner Horizon TV.

Rubicon gave us an opportunity to tell a rich and compelling story, and we’re proud of the series,” the network said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision, but we are grateful  to have had the opportunity to work with such a phenomenally talented and dedicated team.”

The drama starred James Badge Dale, Arliss Howard and Miranda Richardson.

I love AMC’s Rubicon–you should, too!!

In media, observations on October 18, 2010 at 12:11 am

I couldn’t get to my TV during its regular showing tonight, and not having a DVD recording device, I went online and just got through a bootleg version of the last episode. Maybe I’m like those Soprano fans who went nuts because of that show’s arguably clipped ending, but whereas I was ok with that show going out as it did because in the end, I just didn’t care, with Rubicon, I am left wondering if my bootleg version cut off the end of the season finale. Does it really end on the roof with no resolution? Say it isn’t so!! It’s just a little too disappointing.

I guess I have to admit it’s a good sign. I don’t watch much TV, and I don’t like Sunday nights for the usual reasons, but at least for the last twelve weeks, there’s been Rubicon. Along the way, there have been a few clunky notes in the writing. The relationship with Andy seemed odd and untrue to who Will is, the Star Chamber scene in the finale, last week’s use of Roman history that not-so-subtly- explains the title. But there’s so much great stuff that I don’t much care about little blips. What I do care about and what I truly hope is that AMC shows some loyalty and stands their ground. The mighty Caesar of ratings might get the show in the end, but the cast, like Cato, should be allowed to stand its ground until the bitter end.

%d bloggers like this: