I wrote a short piece for Slate on comedy, cruelty, plastic surgery, and the hilarious, semi-tragic Late Period of the late Joan Rivers.
“The central irony of Rivers’ face, as it’s evolved over the years, is that the more artificial and mask-like her appearance became, the fewer and fewer shits she seemed to give about what anybody thought of her. Writing about Rivers’ face work, Roger Ebert said, ‘I think it’s wrong for most people. But show business is cruel and eats its old, and you do what you have to do.’ To think of her surgeries as necessary, as tithes demanded and paid, is to get a vivid reminder of what Hollywood does even to women who are not sex symbols.”
“The Fall and Rise of Joan Rivers”
I’m back at “Dear Television” in The Los Angeles Review of Books with a piece on one of my favorite new shows of the summer, The Leftovers, and the somewhat ambivalent way it’s been received:
“A few weeks ago, Kelly Braffett, Vulture’s recapper for the show, wrote, simply, ‘Not enough is happening on this series.’ And, indeed, this is the point. Tom Perrotta characterized the fallout from the Sudden Departure in his novel thusly: ‘Nothing happened.’ The thing that happened already happened. It’s over. That’s not what this show is about.”
“Get Lost: Why You Should Be Watching The Leftovers“
So, I’ve broken my summer hiatus for good with this piece for Slate on one of my favorite movies, The Big Chill:
“The temptation is to see The Big Chill as a drama of privileged poses or a comedy of inside jokes, but we are surrounded, in popular culture, with increasingly diverse ethnographies of small groups and epics of small stakes. The Big Chill can’t and doesn’t speak for everybody, but isn’t that the point?”
(For what it’s worth, the original title of this piece was “Chill Wave,” which is, I think, a pretty cool title.)
“The Big Chill and the Quarter-Life Crisis Film”
I’m on a bit of a hiatus from online writing this month while I’m traveling to visit family and do some research, but, this week, Meredith Blake of The Los Angeles Times was nice enough to interview me for a post-Emmy nomination think piece. But even better is that she quoted me right next to Diane Lockhart herself, Christine Baranski! For the win.
I’ll be back soon with new Dear Television and a few other projects.
I wrote about the Mad Men midseason finale for “Dear Television” at The Los Angeles Review of Books. Essay contains references to carousels, family tables, sausages, Ida Blankenship, and the way that this joyful, hilarious episode filled me with dread:
“So, to recap, in four seasons, Don’s argument on behalf of advertising has gone from There’s something missing in the world that you’re uniquely able to provide to You need something to do to occupy your time until you die on your couch. The content of the ads is immaterial, it’s the structure and ritual that keeps these people alive. After a certain point, it doesn’t matter who you work for: stopping is the enemy.”
“She’s an Astronaut”
I wrote a review of The Maya Rudolph Show for The Los Angeles Review of Books that covers topics as wide-ranging as Rudolph’s Prince cover band, the ubiquity of Fred Armisen, and nostalgia for Saturday Night Live:
“Jimmy plays more characters than Jay, Seth is maybe a little more buttoned-down than Conan, and Colbert will likely create a more welcoming space for guests than Dave, but these are all tonal shifts, not structural ones. Pope Francis seems like a way chiller bro than Pope Benedict, but he’s still exorcising people, he’s still cracking down on feminist nuns, the Catholic Church is still the Catholic Church, and The Tonight Show is still The Tonight Show. The new guard may feel new, but the thing they’re guarding is basically unchanged.
So, perhaps as a safety valve for any revolutionary energy NBC might have sitting around unused, perhaps to atone for a total makeover between 11:30 and 1:30 that included not a single woman or person of color outside of the house band, or perhaps simply because Lorne Michaels gets what Lorne Michaels wants these days, we have The Maya Rudolph Show.”
“Saturday Night Lost: On Maya Rudolph and SNL Nostalgia”
I wrote about all the motherless children of Mad Men‘s “The Runaways” for Dear Television at The Los Angeles Review of Books:
“Nothing is new, there is no rebirth, the frontier is a dream, the second wife is the same as the first, the new agency is the same as the old agency, Bobby’s nightmares are the same as his sister’s. Don told both Peggy and Lane about how easy it is to start over. Has it been easy for them? There’s no future, just a bunch of cowboys, prophets, and children playing in the yard, out of sight of their mothers.”
“Only Mothers Left Alive”