Saturday, February 26, 2011

CINEBLOGGO: "14e Arrondissement" (Paris, Je T'Aime)

Alright, so I’ve been trying to launch CINEBLOGGO, a new weekly feature wherein I review movies every Saturday.  It’s seriously taken me forever to get around to this, but today’s the kickoff!  I’m gonna make this happen!  I’m going to broaden my horizons and get out of TV Land (my happy place, not the television network... although I do find Green Acres amusing) and into Movieville!

Now, I’m not a film snob, nor do I profess to have superior taste in movies.  (Seriously.  I own two copies of Titanic.)  CINEBLOGGO will not be the most erudite reflections on capital-F Films.  But I will probably always talk about what worked and what didn’t in the context of the movie, as well as my favorite and least favorite parts.  What’s this blog without a little bit of rhapsodizing and critique?

So, without further ado, I give you the first installment of CINEBLOGGO!  And since I’m sneaky and I never do a cannonball into the pool without sticking a toe in first, I’m cheating and devoting the first review to a short film.  I’ve fooled you, people of Earth!

14e ARRONDISSEMENT (PARIS, JE T’AIME, dir by Alexander Payne)

Paris, Je T’aime, for those unawares, is a feature-length film comprising sixteen short films, all containing different characters and stories, helmed by sixteen different directors, and devoted to each of the sixteen neighborhoods, or arrondissements, of Paris.  Basically, it reads as a love letter to the city. 

"14e Arrondissement," directed by Alexander Payne, finishes the film and tells the story of a rather plain and unassuming American woman, Carol, who comes to Paris and reflects on her experiences through a narration in butchered French.  It’s meant to cement the film’s ode to Paris, with the quiet content of an American falling in love with the city, but I actually love it for being nestled squarely in the genre of tragicomedy.

Tragicomedy’s not a difficult thing to figure out - it’s kind of an awkward mashup of two very straightforward words.  But the use of tragicomedy is actually a delicate construction, and will almost always win my heart in any fictional setting.  It’s the beautiful merging of two opposites to create an overall effect - it’s bittersweet chocolate; it’s making her your heart swell so much it tears at the edges; it’s the pain and content of losing your yesterdays; it’s dipping a french fry in your Wendy’s frosty to mix the salty and the sweet and the hot and the cold.

It might be my favorite thing on this planet.  (I do that french fry thing, by the way.  If you haven’t tried it, you should.  I hope you have a Wendy’s nearby!)

I’m easily getting off track here.  Let’s talk about Carol, shall we?  Carol is the hero of this piece, an awkward American tourist in Paris.  She’s middle-aged, dresses out of style, owns two dogs, wears a fanny pack, and this is her first time in Europe.  She tries to speak French to the locals and they answer in English.  (Which, by the way, has happened to me and it definitely sucks.  And may I please say, with as much humility as possible, that my French accent is way better than Carol’s.)

Basically, Carol is laughable.  The film never lets us forget that, because she narrates the whole thing in perhaps the worst French accent ever spoken.  She mispronounces words left and right, and confuses Simon Bolivar with Simone Beauvoir.  She’s kind of pathetic: a single middle-aged woman traipsing by herself through Paris, the City of Love.

But the wonderful thing about “14e Arrondissement” is that Carol is not just a folly.  She’d be a fool if she weren’t self-aware, but she is.  She tugs at our hearts when she sits alone in a busy restaurant and talks about not having the expectation of falling in love in this city.  She chips away at our hearts when she reflects on the untimely deaths of her sister and mother.  And she flat out breaks us when she stands on the Eiffel Tower and feels like a fool for wanting to share the experience with her ex-boyfriend Dave, who she hasn’t spoken to in 11 years and who is currently married with three children.

Oh, Carol.  By this point in the movie, I just want to hug this lady and never let her go.  This is a woman who technically is a little silly, technically a little sad, but at the end of the day, she chooses to be happy.  Perhaps it’s the limited French skills, but she speaks plainly and clearly about her existence.  She communicates simplicity, and happiness. 

Her face, however, shows us that something is lingering beneath the facade - a longing, perhaps, or a sense of loss.  She is reflective, and self-aware.  We can infer that she’s had her heart broken, and that maybe her life didn’t pan out the way she expected it would.  But she’s happy.  She chooses to be happy.  To go and experience Europe for the first time, even though she’s lonely and this isn’t the ideal way to vacation in Paris.

“14e Arrondissement” concludes with Carol sitting in a public park, surrounded by people and eating a sandwich.  And suddenly, she is overcome with emotion.

Sitting there, alone in a foreign country, far from my job, and all the people I knew, a feeling came over me.  As if I recalled something, something that I had never known and for which I had been waiting.  But I didn’t know what it was.  Maybe it was something I had forgotten.  Or something I had missed my whole life.  I can only tell you that at the same time I felt joy and sadness.  But not a great sadness.  Because I felt alive.  Yes.  Alive.

Much like we do, Carol feels joy, and sadness.  She is the epitome of a tragicomic character, and what’s even better is that she experiences the mixed emotions that come along with it, within the narrative.  In the span of about six minutes, we chuckle at this lady’s external folly, then feel empathy towards her internal sadness, and wind up feeling just as sad and happy and peaceful as she does in that park in Paris.  It’s such a beautiful synchronicity of character, audience, and journey that I challenge you not to love this lady, or this short film, as a result.

Now go try the Frosty Fry.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Parks and Recreation Recap: "Indianapolis" and Friendships

So, Parks and Recreation is pretty amazing these days.  It's always so lovely to see a show work its way out of an initial struggle and into its own little groove - and Parks is the perfect example of this.  It started out as kind of a ragtag group of oddball characters who almost grated against one another in their differences, but has evolved into a charming little comedy with synchronized, goofy characters who you can't help but root for.  

But perhaps more than anything else, Parks and Recreation has cornered the market on refreshing character interactions that sidestep the typical tropes you find on television.  And they were all on display in last night's episode.

Leslie and Ron

So, the basic premise of the episode was that Leslie and Ron had to take a trip to Indianapolis together to receive a commendation for their Parks Department, which gave us the delicious treat of seeing them interact.  Seriously, how perfect is the dynamic between these two?  Leslie cares so much, and Ron cares so little, and yet somehow they make that work.  There's no ill will over workload or responsibility or even just general annoyance that Leslie wants to stop and see Indiana's second-largest rocking chair.  It's refreshing, and lovely.  What could be a maddening push-and-pull between two very different coworkers has morphed into a mutual respect, and shared love of breakfast food.  

Leslie and Ann

Okay, so I personally believe that on paper, this friendship shouldn't work.  Ann and Leslie are complete opposites in a way that should probably derail their onscreen interactions.  There's a very basic comedy construct here: Leslie says something doofy, then we get a classic "WTF" reaction shot from Ann.  The show used to do this more, and as a result, their relationship used to feel flat.  Plus, it was totally wasting Rashida Jones' talent - all too often does she play the proverbial straight man, and I'm growing weary of it.

But in a lovely stroke of genius, the Parks showrunners tweaked Ann and Leslie's friendship to be basically one of the best female friendships on television.  And it was simple: they just made the characters love one another, plainly and honestly.  How great is that?  No gimmicks, no typicalities, no overused comedic tropes about two-handed comedy.  It's simultaneously made the twosome ridiculously endearing, and provided the opportunity for Rashida Jones to show off a little more individual comedic finesse, and for that I am supremely glad.

Last night's fare found Leslie trying to find out if her best friend was being cheated on - clumsily trying to show support no matter the outcome by telling Ann that if he isn't two-timing, then she and Chris are great together, but if he is, she's going to kill him.  It's this sort of fumbling adorableness and acceptance from Ann that helps keep the Leslie character out of caricature and strongly planted in winning charm.  

So many other shows would take the opportunity to create animosity between Ann and Leslie, but Parks and Recreation firmly plants them together as a team, and it's refreshing.  It takes a lot to shake the foundation of their friendship, and when it happens, the characters never forget their friendship in spite of any external ordeals.  "Indianapolis" gave us Leslie supporting Ann through her surprise break-up, and ditching her work conference to help Ann drink away her troubles.  

Ben and Tom

Here are another twosome who should probably either bicker like children or have nothing to talk about.  Tom is effervescent, outgoing, and flattering; Ben is socially awkward and grounded in reality - they have absolutely no common ground.  But they came together last night when Tom invited Ben to Pawnee's local club The Snakehole for a party thrown by perfume mogul Dennis Feinstein.  Tom wanted to debut his signature scent, Tommy Fresh, but Feinstein basically squashed Tom's dream and his self-confidence hit rock bottom.

This allowed for Ben to step up and support Tom, even though they aren't really cut from the same cloth.  Ben stated, "I like Tom," and it's as simple as that.  The Parks and Recreation showrunners aren't afraid to make their characters like one another, and that fearlessness makes a world of difference in character dynamic.  I felt so badly for Tom last night, and the choice for Ben to show solidarity and douse Feinstein's car in the rank-smelling Tommy Fresh made me cheer.

April and Andy

So, April and Andy are Parks and Recreation's original will-they-or-won't-they couple.  Now, will-they-or-won't-theys are tricky, and so far Parks has done a commendable job in sidestepping all the typical ways to keep them apart.  In fact, April and Andy finally got together last week, and it wasn't even a season finale!  Well done.  But it begged the question: what happens now?

In "Indianapolis," Andy struggled with the idea that he can't really financially provide for his lady, as much as he would like to.  She deserves a treasure chest full of scarves!  I would like to point out that most typical comedies would take this idea and use it to create conflict in the relationship - thereby dividing the twosome and prolonging the drama.  The guy would never admit it out of pride, and the girl would sense something was wrong, and then they'd fight over the miscommunication, make up and then boom - episode over!  Lather, rinse, repeat.  I was nervous that Parks was going to go this route, and have April be unforgiving of Andy's low-to-no-income status.

But instead, April didn't bat an eye at the admission, and challenged Andy to a competition to see who could get the most free food, drinks, and money out of the patrons at The Snakehole - only to give it all back at the end (except the toilet paper).  Oh my goodness, but how adorable were they in their shenanigans?  That's the true appeal of April and Andy - that they simply enjoy each other's company.  Guess what?  They like each other.

And that's the true lynchpin of Parks and Recreation's success.  Yes, they have good actors, and good writing, and good jokes.  But the choice for these people to be tied together not by simply their workplace but by mutual friendship and respect is what makes the show so refreshing to watch.  It's become a darling, upbeat, winning little comedy.  "Indianapolis" was firing on all cylinders in this respect, and I immensely enjoyed the half-hour.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

So You're Not Married - Who the F*** Cares?

It's not all that often that I don't blog about pop culture - or mainly, the state of my television screen.  But this morning, I found myself reading through an article written by Tracy McMillan at The Huffington Post, and the responding article from CNN's Jessica Ravitz.  You'll notice that these are two lady writers.  So, naturally, the articles are about - you guessed it! - getting married.

Tracy McMillan's piece is titled "Why You're Not Married," wherein she proceeds to list six reasons: either you're a bitch, you're shallow, you're a slut, you're a liar, you're selfish, or you're not good enough.  What's unfortunate is that she raises a lot of good points about marriage within the article, but she's framed them using these somewhat demeaning accusations and so the message is kind of lost amidst the insults.  

Consequently, Jessica Ravitz responds mostly to these charges, and defends that sometimes women aren't married because life gets in the way - and that's okay.

But I really can't say I fall on either side of this argument, because, ladies, why is the goal to get married anyways?  It's ridiculous.  This is not an issue of why some women just can't seem to snag a man.  This is an issue of the expectations we're placing on ourselves because society has a long-standing history of telling us we only need to get married and have babies to be fulfilled human beings. 

Even if the constant nagging from our parents about giving them grandchildren weren't evidence enough, we have hundreds of movies that seem to tell us that the journey ends with finding True Love.  How many romantic comedies - and dramas - have a female lead who is unhappy, and unfulfilled, until she is able to find the Love of a Good Man?  It doesn't matter if she's got a successful job or a happy social life; the message is that There Is Always Something Missing.  Her character arc is about finding love and being happy.  Onscreen, they go hand-in-hand.

It is true that there are also many movies in which men are subjected to this trope - hell, all of "How I Met Your Mother" is about Ted's search for Mrs. Right (if you'll excuse me for citing a TV show in this particular instance).  But the difference here is that there are so many other types of leading roles for men.  Men can be action heroes, anti-heroes, romantic leads, loveable cads, loveable clowns, conflicted villains, depraved villains, wise-cracking charmers, or world-weary sages.  

But if you are a lady and want to be the lead in a movie, you better damn well be ready for the last scene to involve a significant other and some sort of smooching.  

Should we blame Shakespeare for this?  Comedies end in marriage!  Or should we blame the history of gender roles that have kept a women's sphere limited to her home, husband, and children?  

It's probably best not to blame anything, truthfully.  Because there's nothing really productive about that, and also that would mean that perhaps I'm not married because I'm a bitch and I'm selfish.

But the point I'm trying to make here is that unlike in the movies, marriage is not the last scene.  It shouldn't be a goal to work towards.  It's 100% okay to want to get married, don't get me wrong.  But ideally, shouldn't you want to get married to another person?  A physical, tangible person?  The idea of wanting to get married just for marriage's sake worries me.  It's putting all your eggs in one basket (forgive the pun) and putting your future happiness in the hands of some unknown dude or lady who may or may not be able to live up to the standard.

You know that line in Jerry Maguire?  No, not "show me the money," or "you had me at hello" - although both are ridiculously quotable.  No, I'm talking about "you complete me."  "You complete me" is a lovely storytelling device because it tells your audience they should be rooting for this couple to succeed.  It's simple and straightforward and charming and it works when you've got the narrative all planned out.  

But in real life?  "You complete me" is probably a bad idea.  I had a teacher once who, in response to this, said, "Complete yourself, and find someone else who will complement your completion."  It's seriously one of the best pieces of advice I could have ever received.

Because life is not one long walk down the aisle while you're waiting for someone to stand up at the altar.  Be happy now.  Don't wait for someone to come along and do it for you.  Because chances are they'll tire of trying to make you happy when you won't do it yourself and then you'll be in a spiral of low self-esteem.  It won't be pretty.

I don't mean to diminish the power of love or holy matrimony.  If you're married and you love it, that's great!  It takes a lot of work to be married and I wholly respect anyone - man or woman - who puts forth that effort for the sake of their relationship.  I'm really not trying to knock the wind out of anyone's sails.  

But I do mean to point out that society and the media put way too much needless emphasis on the Ideal of Marriage, to the detriment of many a young lady just trying to find her way in life.  You know what?  Marriage may not fulfill you, and that's okay.  Loving another human being and promising to be with them until last breath is a beautiful thing, and if that makes you happy, that's wonderful.  But it's really not the only option, and truthfully, it's not for everyone.

Contrary to pop culture belief, fulfillment is not just a ring on your finger and a long white dress.  It's not the end of the story.  It'd be nice to get this message out there through the media, frankly, with movies where women can also be action heroes, anti-heroes, romantic leads, loveable cads, loveable clowns, conflicted villains, depraved villains, wise-cracking charmers, or world-weary sages.  But until then, we're weighed down with this misconception about what it takes for a woman to be happy.  

If you're not married, don't fret.  I promise, there's nothing wrong with you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

America's Next Top Model: Cycle 16 Starts Tonight!

And, bless her, Tyra has given us this little gem:

I really can't do much else but laugh and shake my head when I watch this video.  Tyra's never gonna let us forget who the real star of this show is, is she?  But, I have to hand it to her - those were some pretty spot-on impressions of the girls that usually traipse through the auditions.  And I always appreciate when a show is aware of its own reputation, especially when that reputation is one of insanity. 

So, another cycle of crazy begins tonight, and I must say, I'm excited.  Granted, my interest has been renewed in this aging show ever since I started up a Fantasy Top Model league with my sister and brother-in-law.  A little competition on the side makes everything more exciting - especially considering I've had the winning model for the past three seasons*.  Holler!  

I haven't drafted my team yet, but I'll let you guys know who I've picked and how they're doing.  I'm perennially nervous I'm going to break my streak.  But I'm determined to win, or my name isn't Angora Nylandra Tapatia Michaels**!

*Okay, this is a technicality for Ann's win, because Ann was a floater and didn't belong to anyone's team.  So, the runner-up was Chelsey, who happened to be my girl.  I still count it, thankyouverymuch!  And Krista and Nicole were certifiably on my team in the seasons previous.

** It isn't. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The RBI Report: "Blame It On The Alcohol"

What I learned from "Blame It On The Alcohol":

1. The entire Glee cast is ridiculously attractive.
2. Apparently drinking is bad for you, or something.

Okay, okay, I'm just kidding.  (But not about #1.  Seriously, how are they all - ALL OF THEM - so damn good-looking?  Truly baffling.)

"Blame It On The Alcohol," written by Ian Brennan, directed by Eric Stoltz.

So, "Blame It On The Alcohol" could have been awful.  An episode devoted to teenage drinking seemed sure to promise some sort of embarrassing binge and then they'd all sing about it and we'd get hammered (no pun intended) with a heavy-handed message at the end of the episode about the perils of alcohol.  But, it turned out to be a solid episode in design and execution, and a pretty joyous episode in the details.  And for that, I am extremely relieved, because, if you recall, I was not feeling last week's turnout.  

As far as I'm concerned, the episode had three great strengths going for it - the first of which was a careful hand at directing.  Welcome back, Eric Stoltz!  Mr. Stoltz first blessed us with "Duets," and he's done the show another solid with tonight's fare.  Each of the characters and their relationships was paid attention to, through purposeful reaction shots and subtle camera blocking.  Sometimes it was used for empathy, like with Quinn looking melancholy at Sam and Santana's burgeoning makeout sessions, but it was also used for comedy - who did not absolutely fall in love with the shot of Real Rachel Berry stepping in front of Portrait Rachel Berry, perfectly framed?  Oh, it was euphoric.  

Eric Stoltz also steered the episode away from being trite and schmaltzy with its pro-sobriety message.  The show could have easily painted themselves into a corner here - underage drinking is not really something you want to make light of on a television show aimed at a younger audience.  But Mr. Stoltz's direction was able to deliver the message without being too on-the-nose, something other Glee directors could learn a thing or two about.  (I'm looking at you, Ryan Murphy!) 

Take, for example, the scene between Coach Beiste and Will after their night at the bar.  Shannon basically sums up the message, saying that adults can't stop kids from drinking.  The only thing you can do is make them aware of the risks, give them some tips for safety, and hope they make the right decision.  Cue that tinkly piano music that lets us know we're watching something that should tug at our heartstrings, and then... she laughs.  It's the perfect way to exit us from Saccharineville, especially with two drunk people talking.  She laughs, and we're back to normal, in terms of tone.  I applaud you, Eric Stoltz.  Please come back again.

Of course, I can't give all the credit to the director - Ian Brennan also handled the writerly execution rather well.  The hour was evenly divided up between drunken frivolity (I'll get to that in a minute) and some rather intriguing discussion.  Rather than make the whole episode a two-dimensional debate of "Is Drinking Good?  Check YES or NO," Ian deftly crafted interesting discourse out of the consequences that these particular characters faced as a result of their drinking.  Smart, no?

For example, we got Blaine dealing with his possible bisexuality after his drunken kiss with Rachel.  His resulting conversation with Kurt was pretty fascinating, and I have to give points to Blaine for trumping Kurt with the "not being liked for who you are" argument.  Then, there was the conversation between Kurt and Burt, where Kurt called his dad out on the double standard of his reaction to the idea of Blaine sleeping over at their house.  Then, there was the debate between Rachel and Kurt over whether or not Blaine could be attracted to Rachel, and the conversation between Will and Shannon over the concept of adults preaching against alcohol while they themselves drink.

By my count, that's four pretty thought-provoking discussions that all spoke to the episode's keyword (DRINKING!) without being two-dimensional in their manifestation.  And the resulting thread became something that spoke to self-awareness and self-education, and responsibility for your own actions.  Kurt advocated for Burt to educate himself on the trials of same-sex relationships, and Blaine's storyline put forth the idea that it's important to know oneself completely.  These two points fed smoothly into the actual drinking message, which was one of being educated and aware of the consequences.  How mature!

Speaking of mature, can I just give a round of applause for the handling of Kurt and Rachel's conflict over Blaine's sexuality?  This could have turned into the Bitchiest Bitchfest of Self-Centered Proportions - complete with a side of misunderstanding, but instead the two characters communicated honestly, demostrated their competition simply, and nobody did any yelling or slung insults!  This was lovely.  I was nervous that Kurt and Rachel's relationship would implode over this bit of drama, but the writers chose for them to handle everything maturely and I'm so relieved.

Even the setup for the episode wasn't terribly clunky, with Rachel deciding she needed to "live life" to be able to write a successful original song for Regionals - which, with some urging from Puck, translated into the need to party.  I bought it.

In all, I think it was one of Ian Brennan's more sophisticated undertakings - which is remarkable, considering that this was the man who used to give us episodes that stated the theme about twenty-five times from start to finish.  (Remember "Funk?"  Of course you do.  Funk funk funk funky funk funk.)

The third success of the episode was just the hilarity of seeing the Glee kids drunk.  I was prepared for so much secondhand embarrassment but in reality everybody was just so damn funny that I wanted that party to last the whole episode.  Everything amused me, from Rachel calling Quinn "GURLFRAND," hitting on Mike (and Tina subsequently separating them, ha!) and thinking that Blaine's last name is "Warbler," to Santana being a hysterical drunk and calling Will "Count Boozy Von Drunk-a-Ton."  It was almost as good as Sue calling him the Alcoholic Teen Vomit Fetishist.  Oh, and Figgins pronouncing Ke$ha as "Kee-dollar-sign-ha" and proclaiming her signature hit "Tik and also Tok!"  I laughed a hell of a lot in this episode, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit it took getting teenagers drunk to make it so.

But, all the messages were in place by the end, and the Glee Club successfully communicated the anti-alcohol message to the rest of the school, even if it was by example.  No good came of anybody's drinking in this episode - even Will's.  That drunk-dial was seriously embarrassing.  And speaking to the students, who on earth would want to get barfed on like that?  Eurgh, that crap that came out of Brittany's mouth looked like house paint.  Not gonna lie: I covered my eyes. 

And, points to Will for mentioning that high school kids drinking is, indeed, illegal - at least in the US.  I feel like so many television shows portray underage drinking as troublesome and problematic, but rarely is it actually communicated that it's straight-up against the law.  And the show even tackled this notion, and the dilemma that arises from drinking being glorified in its portrayal in the media.

When it was all said and done, the kids signed pledges to stay booze-free, and Will decided to do the same - I will say that it was laid on a little thick through this finishing scene, but I'm not going to complain.  Glee needs to keep the PTC off their back and if it involves Santana using the phrase "cool beans," well, so be it.

All in all, this was a rather successful episode.  It was in parts hilarious and thought-provoking, and all of it was handled with sophistication - surprising, given the fact that the characters were wasted for a solid part of the hour.  I was expecting far less from an episode titled "Blame It On the Alcohol," and was pleasantly surprised with the results.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: A (Can Hemo dance forever, please?)
Dialogue: A+
Plot: A

Characterization: A
Episode MVP: Can I give a three-way tie between Rachel Berry, Shannon Beiste, and Blaine Anderson?  Or can I just give it to everybody?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Love Lucy: In Rare Praise of its Lady Parts

I was raised on I Love Lucy.  I know all about how it revolutionized the way television was filmed, and how it was the first modern sitcom.  I know about how it was shocking that Lucy McGillicuddy would be married to a Cuban, and how it was too scandalous to say the word "pregnant" on TV and so they had to say "enceinte" instead.  And most of all, I know that it is a damn funny television show, even today.

All of these things are kind of embedded into my brain about the legacy of the show, and for the most part, they are the headlining characteristics that move it into iconic territory.

But it occurred to me, recently, that "I Love Lucy" is not often praised in the realm of feminism.  Why is this?  The fact of the matter is that "I Love Lucy" put a kickass female lead on our screens before we even knew what a kickass female lead was.

It's true that television has been kinder than movies when it comes to female main characters.  We're spoiled by Mary Tyler Moore and Liz Lemon and Buffy Summers and Murphy Brown and countless other leading ladies who have carved out a niche for themselves in feminist television history.  But Lucy Ricardo was the first, and it seems like she rarely gets credit for that.  

Let's take a look: the basic premise of "I Love Lucy" is Lucy, herself.  She is the main character - all of the action revolves around her.  Yes, she is a housewife, but the show is not about the home she keeps - rather, it's about the ways in which she tries to break out of it and into show business.  She has hare-brained schemes and she makes a fool of herself.  She dresses up like men, statues, clowns, Superman, sexy women, toothless women - you name it, she's imitated it.  While she is often the subject of folly, she's never the butt of any jokes.  She wisecracks as well as slapsticks.  

She is a loving wife, and although her relationship is not perfect, her husband loves her.  She has a healthy female friendship.  Hell, a national television event was made of her becoming a mother.  But she is not just those things.  She has opinions, and holds just as much influence in her marriage as Ricky does.  She successfully embodied all of the realistic spheres of a women's life without making any overt statements, one way or the other, about a "woman's place," or making her seem two-dimensional as a character.

Some might argue that the show repeatedly denies Lucy entrance into show business or the workplace, and in doing so, puts for the message that she should stay at home to be a housewife.  However, I find this to be a somewhat unforgiving interpretation.  A character doesn't have to be progressive or outwardly feminist in order for the show to have a positive role model for women.  These days, it seems that the fight against gender roles manifests itself in direct rebellion - we see a lot of female characters who fight physically, or speak out against sexism, or who simply make decisions with a far more progressive point of view.  Don't get me wrong; I love all of those characters.  But most of them are a product of their times, in the years during and following women's liberation, where female roles are reacting to what was traditionally expected of them.

By the same token, we could expect that Lucy Ricardo would be a complete product of her own times - a housewife, a homemaker, with wants and desires limited by the walls of her family life.  But the fact of the matter is that Lucy is not.  She is presented to us as being ambitious, and hard-working, and she usually manages to find a way to achieve her goals despite the obstacles.  Even if she's still making dinner for Ricky at the end of the episode, the idea that she has hopes and dreams bigger than homemaking - and even manages to accomplish some of them from time to time - is enough for me.

Besides, where would the comedy come from if we just let Lucy run free at Ricky's club?  That's no fun at all.  The basic premise of the show is that Lucy's ambitions often cannot be tamed, and at the end of the day, Ricky still loves her.  I'm pretty sure that's a solid pro-lady message right there.

It does seem, though, that this message in particular gets lost amidst the praise for Lucille Ball being a fearless and comedic force, and Desi Arnaz being a genius of television business and production.  But perhaps that's the true feminism of "I Love Lucy."  Lucy Ricardo defies her own context by being a well-rounded female character - a housewife at that - who is allowed to make mistakes, and be smart, and goofy, and loveable - and everyone just goes with it.  Because she's funny as hell.  No one says, "Lucille Ball is funny, for a woman," or, "Lucy Ricardo is funny - for a housewife."

"I Love Lucy" stands today as one of the most hilarious television shows ever, and it just happens to have a great female lead.  Of course, for the purpose of this piece, I do want to shed some light on the fact that Lucy Ricardo is indeed a positive portrayal of a strong female role, largely because no one else seems to.  But the idea that "I Love Lucy" is remembered for its main character being a comedic genius, and not for its main character being a woman, just reinforces my love for the show, and Lucille Ball.  Defying the standards of feminism is actually a pretty feminist thing to do.  

Originally, I was going to call this article "Lucille Ballsy," but decided against it because it sounded crass.  But now I'm thinking that perhaps it would have in fact been the best way to honor the sheer awesomeness of one of the funniest comedians - not comediennes - we've ever known.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"The Comeback," Part Two

I admit, I spent much of last night spitting fire over the sloppy execution in "The Comeback" and so my recap was not particularly well-thought-out.  But it's a new day, and I'm trying to temper my rage issues - so I come bearing more clear-minded thoughts on Glee's latest.

Honestly, the emotional manipulation and destruction of characterization would be bad enough, except the mud icing on this crap cake was that the whole thing was just poorly written.  The episode was supposed to center around the theme of various characters experiencing a "comeback" - among them Sue, Rachel, Will, and Sam.  But were there any actual valid comebacks on our screens last night?  I think not.  And therein lies the problem.  That fact invalidates nearly everything about "The Comeback" and renders it basically the most pointless episode ever.  

Let's break it down:


Okay, so Sue was depressed over losing Nationals and wanted to find a way to rebound to her old self.  This would be valid if we had seen her in a slump for more than oh, thirty seconds.  She wasn’t in “Silly Love Songs” at all, and so we’re just meant to assume she’s been in a rough spot - why?  Because she told us.  Hey writers!  SHOW, DON’T TELL.  I believe I learned that in the eighth grade.

Sue’s “comeback” was pretty much an illusion.  And do we even want her to be bouncing back to her old ways?  She’s out to destroy Glee Club again, which was barely enough conflict to get us through the first thirteen episodes of the show.  Sue scheming to ruin the Glee Club is old hat - and no duck is going to come out of it and surprise us with something new.  Wake me up when the writers come up with fresh conflict and a better use for Sue Sylvester, whose role as villain is becoming more and more threadbare.

Furthermore, the manner in which Sue achieved her “comeback” made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Emma suggested Will help her by letting her participate in Glee club activities, then Will took her to a children’s hospital to in effect let Jane Lynch take over for Sue Sylvester for a few minutes, and then Sue decided to coach Aural Intensity because she “[has] the music in [her].”  Uh, no.  Sue wants to destroy Glee club.  And, if she wanted to coach Aural Intensity, that should have just been her initial action.  You know how often these character make decisions like that without any reasoning whatsoever?  All too often - we’ve come to expect it.  There was absolutely no need for Sue to spend the whole episode “finding the music” when her true objective was just to find another way to take down McKinley’s Glee club.  Logical progression - where are you?

And, while we’re on the topic, why on earth wouldn’t Sue have some choice words for her three former Cheerios whose last-minute lack of participation cost her the Nationals trophy?  Why wouldn’t there be any fallout from that?  And hey, maybe that’s actually a real reason to have a vendetta against the Glee club this time!  You know, that would have been interesting!   But it wouldn’t have involved a trip to the pediatric ward, so never mind then.


Our poor dear Rachel has been dangled in and out of “coming back” for what feels like weeks now.  But she sang “Firework” last week, and now she’s raring to go!  So she devises a plan for her comeback - paying Brittany to set a Rachel Berry Style trend.  Naturally, this backfires disastrously, and it was almost sad to see it happen.  Rachel is quickly turning into a sad clown - admittedly, an adorably fierce sad clown with amazing vocals - but a sad clown nonetheless.  It’d be one thing if the leg warmers and animal sweaters didn’t catch on, but they did, because of Brittany.  So it’s indicated that it’s not the woolly sweaters and knee socks that are the problem - it’s Rachel herself. 

I’m sorry, was this character supposed to be experiencing a comeback this week?  No, she just got torn down instead, and the only thing that would make us believe she’s having a comeback is because Finn told us so, in a deus ex machina moment of epic proportions.  SHOW.  SHOW, DON’T TELL.  And what the episode showed us was that even though Rachel does appear to have some semblance of friendship in the Glee club, at the end of the day, no one looks at her and sees a firework.  She’s still invisible.  How sad.

It’s nice to see Rachel behaving more or less like her old self, but I’m tired of the character being abused by the writers to make her the butt of the other characters’ random discontent.  Having a character “comeback” does not mean undoing any sort of progress and returning the arc to where it was in the very first episode. 


So, Will set up the episode’s premise, and, while simultaneously reminding us that he teaches Spanish at McKinley High, delivered a voiceover in which he declared himself back to his usual self.

And then nothing else happened with him the entire episode.  He just yelled at Sue, took her to the children’s hospital, and watched Glee club performances.  Sounds about average to me.  Nice comeback, Will. 


I’m not even sure we were meant to count Sam in the theme of this episode, but for the sake of being thorough, I’ll give it a shot.  I’m assuming that Sam would need to be bouncing back from the humiliation of being cheated on in last week’s episode.  Remember, in “Silly Love Songs,” he told Quinn he’s pretty but he ain’t dumb and we all loved him a little bit for that?

Well, this week, it turns out he’s both pretty and dumb.  Because all those founded suspicions he had last week flew right out the window and he is now running a close race with Finn Hudson for the championship title of Most Gullible Boy Ever.

It’d be a comeback for Sam if he broke up with Quinn in the first five minutes, and then proceeded to rub it in her face with Santana for the majority of the episode.  But instead, the writers just dragged him through Sad-and-Desperate-ville and we just felt bad for the poor sorry bastard.  Sam’s delusions all fell through at episode’s end, thanks to some deus ex machina truth-telling by Santana, and any semblance of him having a comeback went straight out the window.

I just have no idea how you could try to build an episode around the theme of a comeback and then not make it pertain to any of the characters in any meaningful way.  It just reeks of bad writing and characterization.  I’m dead serious when I say that Glee is more puppet show than television show these days.  And it’s bumming me out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The RBI Report: "The Comeback"

I really feel the need to preface this recap with an apology.  I spent most of the episode raging at Ryan Murphy, and I don't want that to translate here.  I want to stay fairly positive, but this is really the closest I've ever been to completely giving up the show.  I know, I know: drama queen, party of one!  But maybe I can explain myself.  To the RBI Report!

"The Comeback," written by Ryan Murphy and directed by Bradley Buecker. 

Honestly, I don't even know what the purpose of this episode was.  We had to sit through forty-five minutes of Finn and Quinn lamely covering up their kiss only to have Sam break up with Quinn anyways.  We had Rachel trying to stage a "comeback" only to discover that she is actually incapable of getting anyone in the school on her side.  We had Sue trying to drive a wedge between Rachel and Mercedes, only to see the forced conflict just fizzled out.  We were going to get a new song from Regionals out of this episode, but instead Rachel's just going to write her own instead.

The only things that really came out of the episode were the Sam-Santana partnering, and Sue's decision to coach Aural Intensity.  Sue's was the only true "comeback," and honestly, it wasn't even really a character comeback - just a plot comeback from the events of two episodes ago.  

So what really happened in this episode?  Ryan Murphy was at the helm, and there were some pretty classic hallmarks of Mr. Murphy tattooed over much of the execution of the storylines.  The main issue I'm going to attempt to tackle tonight is the idea that RM often offers up a pretty package but in actuality his writing choices are not exactly tethered to anything meaningful about the characters.  This usually results in his episodes coming off a bit schmaltzy, like after school specials.  

What, pray, was the point of taking a field trip to the children's hospital?  Yes, it tugged at my heartstrings, but from a storytelling perspective, that moment was completely unearned.  It was emotional manipulation, point blank.  It'd be like making a character walk around with a puppy all the time just to make them likeable.  Nobody hates puppies!  No matter that it makes absolutely no sense that anyone would carry around a puppy all the time!

I realize that by fussing at the inclusion of a touching singalong with terminally-ill children, I'm setting myself up to look like a heartless old cynic.  But I just can't get over how heavy-handed it was.  Was it supposed to make us like Will again?  That scene wasn't about Will, so I vote no.  Was it supposed to make Sue a good guy again?  Even if it was, she still spent the whole episode scheming against the Glee club and throwing students into lockers - and wound up with a master plan to coach Aural Intensity against New Directions.  The Sue Sylvester at the end of the episode was no different than the Sue Sylvester at the beginning, fundamentally.  She just has a target again.

Ryan also suffers the problem of on-the-nose storytelling.  It's gotten to the point where these characters aren't even characters anymore - they're just puppets.  Each of them does exactly what needs to be done to prop up the episode's premise or message, no matter how they've behaved in the past.  Quinn, the girl that came to regret telling a major lie born out of cowardice, pulled the wool over Sam's eyes in the first five minutes.  And Finn, the boy that was hurt so badly by that very lie, was quick to jump in on the ruse.  Why, exactly?  This is grounded in nothing meaningful.

We didn't even get to see them make the choice to cover up their kiss.  We could have maybe seen them feel badly, and choose to lie and protect Sam's feelings.  Maybe we could have felt for them a little bit.  But no - they just didn't want to get caught.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.  I don't know why the writers are choosing to execute this storyline this way, but it's some seriously neglectful storytelling.  It's just villainizing Finn and Quinn and making Sam look pathetic.  Seriously, how sad was Sam's voiceover about Quinn being the best thing that happened to him since he transferred to McKinley?  

Furthermore, Will and Sue spent the entire episode spouting dialogue about Glee club that sounds more like it's just the writers delivering messages directly to the audience (and please, forgive me for not citing specific examples here).  The show is not a prop for the showrunner's agenda; it's just not.  This is television.  Tell me a story, and tell it well.  That's all I'm asking.  It's lovely to be socially aware, but you can't build a two-story structure without having a ground floor first.  Bricks fall on your head, guys.

And it'd be different if the show were consistent with its messages.  I'm not going to complain when a television show realizes that it has the capacity to create social change.  But you better be damn sure you're sending all the right messages, then.  And rarely does Glee hit all those marks effectively.  They're putting concrete in the air expecting to build a second level without anything underneath it.

An example of shoddy messaging: the writers seem to be suffering under the delusion that all it takes to get a girl to like you is to sing to her.  The boys on this show spew generalities about how their girls are in a post-Valentine's slump, or how they're unhappy with their boys and something must be done to win them back!  So they all flee to their songbooks, get up and perform, and lo!  It works!  Just like it's worked every other time!  All it takes is a boy singing a song to make the girl troubles go away.  Fight vapidity with vapidity, right?  Boys are rockstars!  Girls love rockstars!

I know they're teenagers; I do.  And I know that I am in fact, not a teenager, but rather a cranky twenty-something who just wants to watch TV in peace without anybody bugging her.  But I am beginning to really loathe the way this show presents its female characters.  Quinn chose Sam over Finn in this episode not because her moral compass kicked in, but because she thought Bieber was a turn-on.  JUSTIN BIEBER IS NOT A VALID REASON FOR CHARACTER CHOICE.  I just can't even fathom that without wanting to throw something out the window; I just can't.  What a way to completely disrespect your characters.

Can they all just have a little more substance, please?  I know it's possible.  The writers are capable of putting their characters in meaningful situations, in an honest way - and the fact that this is indeed true makes it all the more frustrating when it doesn't come to fruition.

I don't expect Glee to be perfect.  I know that my opinions are not necessarily the opinions of other viewers.  But dammit, I know when a story is being told poorly, and what's worse is when I don't know the reasons why.

Things I did like: that Mercedes and Rachel's diva-off ended in an unexpected truce!  I mean, there was zero conflict there, but I stand by the fact that I will never complain when any of these characters are friends.  I also loved the continuation of the Puck and Lauren interaction - he's on his way to touching her boobs, but he risks losing a hand!  And, getting to see Rachel have scenes with her classmates was also a welcome change, even if I'm beginning to suspect that the club's treatment of Rachel is something that will get better and worse again infinitely.  "Sing" was a pretty great musical number, and I'm loving the wardrobe department for cooking up a plaid tracksuit for Sue to wear.  Also, I loved the random - and repeated! - Finn and Tina interaction.  More of that, please.

Unfortunately, these little things were not enough for me to outweigh the episode's negatives, and so I find myself sitting here trying to organize my rantings into something remotely comprehensible.  Thanks for bearing with me.  Here's hoping next week's episode won't make me so grumpy! 

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B
Dance Numbers: B
Dialogue: B
Plot: D

Characterization: D
Episode MVP: Should I just give this to Lauren again...?


Monday, February 14, 2011

10 Things: Television Couples

Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day, no one!  And to those of you who don't actually watch 30 Rock, Happy Valentine's Day!  Instead of getting bitter and vitriolic about real-life love on this sugary sweet day, let's instead celebrate some of our favorite fictional couples, shall we?

So, without further ado, I give you my ten personal favorite Television Couples.

X. Alex and Haddie, Parenthood

Is this a little too new a pairing for me to give my love to?  Perhaps.  But hell if they are not a really adorable, sweet, honest young couple.  It's complicated because she's 16 and he's 19 and he's a recovering alcoholic but they want to be together so badly I can't help but love them.  I respect the show for touching on the fact that they are an interracial couple, but by no means does it direct their storylines.  I will pretty much root for them until the end.

IX. Buffy and Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Oh, the dysfunction of Buffy and Spike is paramount.  Some people prefer Buffy and Angel, but there is so much material in Buffy and Spike's relationship that I lean more towards them.  Even though they had their ups and downs, by the end of the series there was a true sense of solidarity and mutual understanding between them.  Seriously, that speech?  Oh, my wounded heart.

VIII. Brittany and Santana, Glee

Are they really a couple?  Not right now.  Do I care?  Not at all.  These two were designed to be their own little unit, and I love them for it.  The show's kind of gotten a little wander-y in their romantic development, but it's all there.  There is no Santana without Brittany, and no Brittany without Santana.  They both know that dolphins are just gay sharks.

VII. Sun and Jin, Lost

So there came a point on Lost when really all I cared about were a handful of the couples, all of which you will find on this list (sorry).  Sun and Jin started out as such a stereotypical representation of a Korean couple, and turned out to be the most loving, honest, heartbreaking relationship.  I won't spoil anything, but you know the moment in Season 6?  If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about.  Well, when I was watching that, I bawled like I have never bawled at anything fictional ever before.

VI. Eric and Donna, That 70s Show

It's been forever since I watched this series, and unfortunately it was affected a lot by many of its cast members prematurely left the show, but Eric and Donna remain as one of my favorite TV couples.  I mean, I cannot hate on any couple who sing and dance to ABBA in their driveway.  I just can't.

V. Chandler and Monica, Friends

I really just love that Chandler and Monica weren't a planned couple on the show (it was originally supposed to be Joey and Monica) and yet they turned out to be so perfect together.  They didn't have all the fanfare of Ross and Rachel, and I loved them so much more because of it.    

IV. Sawyer and Juliet, Lost

Sawyer and Juliet were so unexpected yet so lovely.  They were kind of thrown together amidst really crazy circumstances, and stood by one another through thick and thin.  A pairing of equals, he always had her back and she always had his.  Their reconnection in the Lost series finale is pretty much the only thing I truly loved about that episode - they have my heart completely.  

III. Jim and Pam, The Office

I defy anyone to watch the early seasons of The Office and just not absolutely fall in love with these two.  I really can't describe them in any way other than just... adorable.  Because of the show's documentary style, we only get to see a few Jim and Pam moments here and there, making them all the sweeter.  Watching their relationship progress from office flirtation to marriage and a baby has been one of the show's core appeals.

II. Desmond and Penny, Lost

Penny and Desmond have so little screentime together, and yet they functioned quite honestly as the beating heart of the show's later seasons.  They were separated for so long, by time, and distance, and disapproving families, and bad timing.  Wishing desperately for their reunion fueled many of the fan's interest when the storylines were spiraling into complication, mine included.  The scene at the end of "The Constant" remains perhaps the best the show ever put on our screens, and every single YouTube version has disabled embedding, so if you want to watch it, go here.

I.  Cory and Topanga, Boy Meets World

Okay, if you were born in the 80s and this isn't one of your favorite couples, then I daresay you've just never seen an episode.  True, the show sometimes strays into schmaltzy territory, but the fact of the matter is that this teenage relationship was treated with all the conflict and gravitas of any mature, adult relationship on any other show not part of ABC's TGIF lineup.  They endured moving away from one another, dealing with issues of both fidelity and commitment, questioning the nature of marriage, and learning how to be adults - together.  For that, I have the utmost respect for the relationship and how it was portrayed.  And also, I grew up with it.  I'm a little biased.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!  Instead of focusing on your real-life relationships - or lack thereof! - just watch the ones on TV.  They're better, anyways.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The RBI Report: "Silly Love Songs"

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make.  

I really loved this episode.  After "Duets," it might be favorite of the season.  Was I expecting this?  Not at all.  But nonetheless, "Silly Love Songs" worked its way into my heart fairly easily.  Let's break it down, shall we?

"Silly Love Songs," written by Ryan Murphy and directed by Tate Donovan.

I won't lie; a Glee Valentine's Day episode had me nervous.  This show swaps romantic partners more frequently than Emma Pillsbury washes her hands.  What on earth would a Valentine's episode bring us?  I was scared - especially when the show referenced its own "love pentagon" before the episode even began.

But truthfully, I was rather impressed with it.  Each of the relationships presented was progressed purposefully and effectively, and much of what went down either interested me, intrigued me, or just flat-out made me laugh - in a good way. 

How much do I love Puck and Lauren?  These two have officially won my heart.  I love that the writers decided to turn their dynamic on its ear.  Even though it was Lauren who initiated the interest, she was not impressed by Puckzilla.  She can't get those three minutes back!  So now it's Puck who's doing the pursuing.  How great is that?  And can we get a round of applause for Lauren Zizes?  She is quickly becoming the show's ultimate truth-teller.  She was honest with Puck, but not cruel.  She was vulnerable, self-confident, hilarious, and intelligent.  The writers did a great job making her a three-dimensional character.  And seeing Puck be so earnest and engaged in anything that's not criminal activity is just darling. 

More than that, their storyline was handled so charmingly.  It made me sad that she stood him up and that he made out with that waitress with Daddy Issues, but I totally understand why things happened that way.  I love that Lauren wants something serious and communicated that.  And that Puck is willing to step up!  Their interactions in the last scene at Breadstix were so adorable.  Oh, swoon.  I am officially hanging on their every action.

Another couple to get some attention tonight were Kurt and Blaine.  I have to say, the one thing that has kept me from being truly engaged in the Kurt/Blaine storyline is the fact that Blaine has been pretty two-dimensional.  We saw him only through Kurt's eyes - as a private school stud, only the object of our affections.  Well, that changed tonight, and I loved it.

Of course, Blaine having a crush that he didn't identify at first made me immediately suspicious of the fact that it wasn't Kurt.  And it wasn't - which, I maintain, was a good thing.  How boring would it be if Kurt liked Blaine and then Blaine liked Kurt and then they sang about it and everybody was happy?  It'd be damn cute, but it's certainly more interesting to have Blaine's eye on someone else - even if that boy's hair was questionably coiffed.  

Essentially, "Silly Love Songs" took Blaine and made him Kurt for an episode.  He was hopelessly devoted to the idea of serenading the object of his affection, and wasn't really aware of the potentially embarrassing social implications.  It was darling to see Blaine so insecure, and it was even more darling to see him admit it to Kurt.  I love when Glee pulls the rug out from under us and acknowledges the fact that singing to people is not always a realistic solution.  They do live in Ohio, after all, and I've loved every moment that the show has reminded us of that.  (Remember the "Sectionals" judging panel and how much they didn't give a crap?  Love it.)  But most of all, I love that Kurt was honest with Blaine about his own feelings, without being obsessive about the situation.  I am officially on board with their dynamic and am curious to see what will happen next.

Okay, we're rounding the corner into the areas where I'm not quite as quick to get all gushy: addressing the issue of Finn and Quinn, and Santana.  These three were provided a lot of material this episode, and I'm on the fence with how a lot of it was carried out.  

Of course, I was bracing myself for the rekindling of the Finn/Quinn romance.  I was not on board with how it played out in last week's episode, and I feared that their dynamic would match it this week.  The reality of the situation?  Well, I'm torn.  To be honest, I found the scene in the auditorium fascinating.  Finn and Quinn having a conversation about the definitions and implications of cheating?  Enthralled, party of one!  

And I love even more that Quinn is not quite getting dragged through the mud here.  She's not delusional about the situation - unlike Finn, I would say.  She pointed out to him the double standard about Finn's previous history with being cheated on, and questioned the somewhat naive (in my opinion) idea that loving someone stops you from cheating.  Even though I may grouse sometimes about the material Quinn's given, I must stop and be grateful for the fact that she's turned out to be something of an old soul.  She was looking at records in this episode!  And she's intelligent and a bit world-weary and she usually knows what's up.  I was relieved to see that "Silly Love Songs" didn't take that away from her.

As for Finn, well... I go around and around on this debate.  I think a reconnection with Quinn is an interesting development to explore.  The idea that these two are communicating in something of an adult way about the nature of love and relationships piques my interest.  There's a lot of things these two should be saying to each other about their past.  But the only word I can use to describe the execution is... confused.  The writers are making Finn confused, which I think makes the writers confused, which in turn makes me confused.  It's frustrating.  I don't really jive with Finn's self-congratulation about the football triumph (and clearly, Mercedes doesn't either - ha!) and I'm not sure what the show was trying to prove with their sappy piano-music moment where Finn gave Rachel her leftover Christmas (not Hanukkah) present, or with his silence when asked if he felt fireworks when kissing Rachel.

I also feel the need to address Santana's participation in this episode, and the question of concept vs. execution.  I think, in general, the writers have the right idea with Santana.  While Mercedes showed that she's okay not having a significant other (go girl!), I think Santana is perhaps secretly the opposite.  It's not necessarily that Santana wants a boyfriend or girlfriend, but I think she desperately wants to be loved.  Hell if she's going to admit it, but I think it's true.  Highlighting her destructive behavior in the Valentine's Day episode is not a coincidence.  Ms. Lopez has issues of self-worth and being loved, and I love that about her.  It seems clear to me that the writers know that - most of the time.

But I'm not sure they're developing it in the best way possible.  They're trying to move Santana forward by having the other characters bring her down a peg, and having her desperately make attempts at ruining other people's relationships.  I don't think either is really necessary.  I don't think the group lashing out at Santana was unjustified, nor do I think it out of character that Santana would try to ruin Puck and Lauren and Finn and Quinn.  But I do think the writers needed to add a scene to make it all cohesive.

To paraphrase Blaine from earlier in this episode - I think we need to get Santana alone.  And not with Brittany, as much as I love to see them together.  Santana needs to be treated with an ounce of empathy, and I don't think the over-the-top sobbing-in-the-hallway scene quite cut the mustard.  Every moment with Santana, including that scene, was played for comedy, when in reality it should have been a little more balanced.  I wanted a scene where we see a vulnerable, honest Santana, where we might get a glimpse into what's going on underneath her armor.  I want it to be abundantly clear that Santana Lopez wants more than anything to be loved, even if she'll never admit it.  I don't care of she cries in a mirror a la Rachel Berry - it would make me feel a solid ton of sympathy for her, and that's important.  I don't think the writers are correct in the assessment that Santana just likes to tell people when they suck.  

Santana has some serious, deep-seated issues with self-worth.  And what better way to lash out at love than to destroy it in others?  The writers have danced around this interpretation (see: boob job) and I think that if they just confronted it directly, the character and the show would be much better for it.  Santana doesn't have to stop being a bitch.  But we have to understand why she is, and bonus points if the other characters on the show make the effort to do the same.  That little bit of empathy is really what is lacking in Santana's current development, and the sooner we get Santana alone, the sooner we'll achieve that.

Even despite that little puzzle piece missing, I really loved this episode.  Even the peripheral interactions were spectacular.  Can I give Tina Cohen-Chang the biggest hug in the world for cry-singing "My Funny Valentine?"  Oh, my goodness.  I couldn't stop laughing.  And Mike and Artie doing "PYT" was nothing short of awesome.  I'm fairly certain Harry Shum Jr. and Kevin McHale were designed to team up and sing/dance Michael Jackson.  Although - quibble alert! - I don't think it should have been in slow-motion.  Bet Kevin had a fun time trying to lip-sync in slow-motion when they were shooting it.  I just don't think it was necessary to go all slow for the entire part in the hallway.  But that's a tiny directing complaint.  (I'm also going to take this moment to file a quibble about the actual fireworks they showed when Finn and Quinn kissed.  Necessary?  Eh.)

And, I truly, truly hope that The Original Rachel Berry is back for good.  I don't like seeing her fawning over a relationship - any relationship.  I think Rachel Berry/Bedazzled Hairbrush/Mirror might be my OT3.  And how much did I love that she had friends this episode?  Oh, the sleepover scene was a thing of beauty.  Mercedes delivered some kickass truths to Rachel and Kurt about being boy-crazy, and then they snuggled.  Perfection.  Almost as perfect as Santana using the phrases, "A'fores I end you," and "That's a capital idea!"  Oh, and her joke about her mono becoming stereo!  Oh my goodness.  A verbally adroit Santana Lopez wins my heart 10 out of 10 times.

All in all, I really enjoyed this episode.  The dialogue was sharp, witty, and honest.  The major developments happened naturally, and they all were anchored in character interactions.  That's all I ever really want when I watch Glee.  Well, that, and good musical numbers.  And dance numbers.  Okay fine; I'm really greedy when it comes to this show.  But I know that the show is capable of these things, despite some of their more recent efforts, and I'm so happy that "Silly Love Songs" delivered.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: A
Dialogue: A+
Plot: A
Episode MVP: Lauren Zizes.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The RBI Report: "The Sue Sylvester Bowl Shuffle"

Welcome back, guys!  Glee has finally returned to our TV screens after a very long hiatus - and with a lot of fanfare.  Of course, what with the show having the post-Super Bowl slot, I was bracing myself for an immediate display of something heterosexual males would like.  And lo!  In the first thirty seconds: there were scantily-clad cheerleaders, BMX bikes, and fire!  Let's hope some of the Super Bowl viewers stuck around for the spectacle, eh?  To the RBI Report!

"The Sue Sylvester Bowl Shuffle," written by Ian Brennan, directed by Brad Falchuk.

As a natural extension of the post-Super Bowl eye-catching, the episode also featured the McKinley High football team, and the inherent friction that comes with co-existing alongside Glee Club.  In an effort to assuage the tension between football and Glee, Coach Beiste and Mr. Schue (in a lovely extension of their friendship) forced the two teams to combine and perform the halftime number together.

Let's look at the three main characters who were focused on this evening: Finn, Quinn, and Karofsky.  Their inclusion in this is pretty straightforward.  Finn and Quinn are the "leaders" of the original Glee-resistant popular kids, and Karofsky is heading up the Next Generation, if you will.  And so the show presents them with... the Choice.  They can choose football/cheerleading, or they can choose Glee.  Now, inherently, Puck, Mike, Sam, Santana, and Brittany get lumped in with these three.  Technically, they have these choices too.  But the show cares more about Finn and Quinn because they are portrayed as the leaders of their little units and so we know nothing about why the others choose the way they do.

And that's what's frustrating about this whole choosing business - all of the kids have chosen Glee at one point or another.  I ranted for a whole week about how the writers needed to cool it with presenting the decision between football and Glee to Finn, only to have him fail at first.  The good news about this episode is that Finn passed.  The bad news is that Quinn, Santana, and Brittany didn't - and got the treatment usually reserved for Mr. Hudson himself.  

Of course, the Cheerios had to choose between Glee and cheerleading, because, naturally, Sue Sylvester is making them.  Understandable.  I do take issue with how the show chose to portray the decision-making, though.  We got that great scene in the bathroom where Quinn, Santana, and Brittany deliberate a little bit - which was fantastic because a) it was giving us a glimpse into their brains, and b) it gave us actual evidence of the Unholy Trinity operating as something of a unit again.  It was like a zombie double rainbow!  My conclusion from this scene was, "Oh, surely they'll stick with Glee!  Glee was there for Quinn when no one else was!  Glee is the best part of Santana's day!  Brittany loves to dance!"  

Imagine my consternation when the outcome was actually the opposite.  Grumble.

Yes, being on the Cheerios makes you cool, but by having those ladies choose the Cheerios, the writers were blatantly ignoring some serious canonical evidence that would suggest they might choose otherwise - much like Finn in previous episodes.  And that's unfair to the character(s).  And what's worse, to me, is how the writers decided to include Finn himself in this little charade: he's the one that saves the day.  He waltzes up to the erstwhile Cheerio-Glee hybrids and with only the power of his good-natured persuasion, convinces them to change their minds.

You know who should have made those decisions?  Quinn, Santana, and Brittany.  Their characters would be so much stronger for it.  And having Finn tsk-tsk them just makes him look like a hypocrite for having gotten all preachy about a mistake he's made before - and more than once.  To me, this was the biggest failing of the episode, and what's worse, it seems as though it were included simply to pave the way for a Finn/Quinn reunion, somewhat ineffectively.  I would have been fine with a Fuinn reunion if they didn't destroy a bunch of characterization along the way - and look, Quinn's getting all uncharacteristically swoony because the writers are misusing Finn, who in turn gets his own de-characterization as a result.  Oh, show.  It's times like these when I see right through you and I do not like what I'm looking at.

That being said - much of the rest of the episode was rather successful.  I don't wish to seem complainy.  How much did I love the Glee ladies playing football?  A+ choice on the slow-mo walk-up, Mr. Falchuk.  And, A++ for giving Tina the chance to run with the ball.  I wanted so badly for the girls to actually play, and I loved that it was Tina who went for it.  That was excellent, but then nerve-wracking because then they went all serious and made me think she'd gotten hurt, which is NOT COOL.  But that may just be the after effects of my poor heart having to see the look on Mike's face in that scene.  I can't decide if I love or hate the writers for being so damn emotionally manipulative there.

What else?  I loved to see that Rachel, Kurt, Mercedes, and Blaine are spending time together outside of school.  "Need You Now" was beautiful and lovely, and how much do I love that Coach Beiste teared up and sang along?  Puck was a solid A+ this episode, between going after Azimio with his guitar, patching things up with Finn, and his rather kickass speech to the football team at half time.  He will Tik-Tok your face!  And how hilarious was Rachel Berry this episode?  Her pure enthusiasm for helping the football team, combined with her refusal to work with homophobes, topped by her flat-out aggression in a brawl/football situation - Ms. Berry was on pointe, I must say.  And, the obligatory comment - "Thriller/Heads Will Roll" was indeed pretty awesome, and the sooner we can get Kevin's and Naya's voices actually overlapping, the happier I will be! 

Barring the Cheerios, Finn had some pretty solid interactions with other classmates - Puck and Karofsky in particular.  I like to see the Puck-Finn breakdown mend itself, even if the rift never really went anywhere after "Sectionals," because, hey, I'm never going to say no to friendship on this show.  And, I'm finding this Finn-Karofsky dynamic interesting because surely (so then, hopefully) it will come into play when the Kurt-Karofsky business comes to a head.  Karofsky was making such lovely progress this episode, and then he got all freaked out again.  Sigh.  Looking forward to more development with him.  The dramatic irony of knowing his secret really does add an extra interesting layer to almost every action he takes onscreen, and I'm definitely intrigued to see where the writers are taking him. 

Let's talk about Dalton for a bit.  So, the Warblers... sang?  Yeah, that's pretty much all those guys do, isn't it?  I took note of two things in this mostly useless (but still fun) scene - firstly, that Kurt got hardly any coverage in the shots, which makes me wonder if it was purposeful.  He's finally blended in there!  He's just another one of the backup singers, which tugs at my heart a little bit.  Secondly, why isn't there any conflict at Dalton?  I know that the showrunners want to portray it as this very ideal place of learning for Kurt, but I personally think that Dalton could stand to have a wee bit of conflict in their halls.  And there's some already available, which I literally just mentioned - their whole glee club is just a cappella singers backing up Blaine on the lead.  Wouldn't that breed some resentment?  I get that RIB want to show off Darren and have some (pretty kickass) a cappella numbers, but... within the show, I want a little bit of conflict there.  It could be interesting, and I think it would be pretty realistic.  But hey, that's a minor quibble.

I should probably speak as well about Sue Sylvester's rampage for "catastrophic success" and how the show frames it within its narrative, but I fear this is getting too long - so, it'll be a post for another day.  Go figure that I write two epic posts about Finn and Quinn over the hiatus, and who should take center stage in the first episode back?  It's why this recap is filled with my reactions to those parts - I'm hyper-aware to how the writers deliver Finn and Quinn's characterization, and unfortunately, in this episode, it was slightly left of target.

All things considered, I think many of the episode's details were handled accurately and successfully, but that the show got too caught up in its own mythology of popularity vs. Glee and as a result missed out on what could have been some pretty great character moments, particularly for Glee's Cheerios.  And, we'll see where this Finn-Quinn business is leading next episode, and if I will indeed have another mini-tantrum, a la Sue Sylvester, in which I throw my notebook across the room... 

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A+
Dance Numbers: A+
Dialogue: A
Plot: C
Episode MVP: Noah Puckerman.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Blogger's Thank You

On December 7th, the credits rolled on "A Very Glee Christmas," and I thought, "Well, there goes my readership until February.  Nobody's gonna stick around while Glee's on hiatus."

As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong.  January gave me the most hits I've ever had in a month, without a single new episode aired.  Three days into February had as many pageviews as the entire month of November.  And the most frequently searched term that leads to the site is "dr she bloggo" - people have even actually Googled the exact titles of things I've written.

It's insane.  I cannot sufficiently express my bewilderment, nor my gratitude.

I started this blog in March of 2010 and frankly I didn't even really know what I was going to do with it.  I just picked a ridiculous pun for a name and rolled with it.  The site attracted less than five pageviews a day - mostly friends, bless them.  Summer came, and I took a break out of sheer apathy.  But then I decided that when television started up again in the fall I would have another go at this blogging business, and really put in the effort.  So I blogged, sending my words into the Internet ether with little hope that people would read them. 

Then, on October 18th, everything changed.  You see, I wrote a little article on the Glee GQ cover.  My blog exploded that day, and I'm still scratching my head as to how it happened.  The piece got linked (and argued about, natch) on LiveJournal, and Facebook, and Tumblr, and Twitter, and random forums, and, and some local news site in Dallas (the last of which, by the way, ignored everything I said about sexism and only focused on the ONE paragraph where I said it was a LITTLE BIT racist).  Suddenly I went from 700 pageviews in the whole month of September to 3,000 in ONE DAY in October.  All because of a single article.

Since then, my readership has certainly calmed down, but it has also steadily grown.  This progression has been fascinating and surreal to witness.  I am by no means a big Internet presence, but I have somehow inadvertently carved out a little niche for myself in the Glee community especially, and for someone who just started doing this because she wanted to write more... well, it's just unreal.

The amount of positive feedback I've gotten from you wonderful people has been lovely, and I hope you stick around as we get ready to begin a new batch of episodes together.  If you haven't already, you can find me on Twitter, as well as Tumblr, which is a fairly recent development.  Feel free to let me know what you'd like to see more of here at the blog, or just say hi.  I don't really consider myself solely a Glee blog, but that's where I've gotten the most readership, so it's felt right in honoring that.  Plus, the damn show makes me endlessly rambly so I'm never in a want for content.  But I digress.

Again, thank you for reading.  The amount of words I put up on this little corner of the Internet is just ridiculous, and the fact that people take time out of their lives to read them and even discuss them means very much to me.

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