For those of you who may be interested, I recently started a tinyletter email newsletter with the questionable title, “Netflix and Phil.” I’m sending out semi-weekly short essays on TV, film, books, and pork chops. Subscribe if this is relevant to your interests!
Netflix and Phil
Girls was the first series that Dear Television ever covered. It lost its way a little bit, but I returned this week, five seasons in, to write about maybe the best set of episodes the show has ever produced.
“But Girls is where this started for us, and so, as we come to the end of a triumphant fifth season and look to the upcoming final run of this show, I have been looking back at our own relationship to it. Because it is a relationship. I was just lecturing a roomful of undergraduates — who are in the midst of watching The Wire for my intro media studies course — sounding half-crazed, I think, about how television series like these are important if only because they constitute an actual part of our lives. Because of their seriality, because of the attention they demand, because of the commitment we give to the best of them, they end up constituting an element, however small, of the way we live our lives day to day — and that’s whether we watch week to week or binge to catch up. More so than most other art forms, TV is the one we integrate into our existence.”
“400 Blowies: Girls‘ Coming of Age, Finally”
Before we get into this week’s writing: I’m starting an email newsletter! It’ll feature links to my work, links to other writing I admire, but, more specifically, it’ll feature essays about TV and a range of other subjects that don’t make it into the pages of DearTV. If you’re interested, subscribe here. The first installment ought to hit the stands next week.
Meanwhile, in this week’s Dear Television, I wrote about The Americans, Showtime’s hammy Billions, and how unusual it is for series of this era to think about marital fidelity.
“It’s easy to show why the relationship between a faithful partner and a cheating partner is complex. It’s much more difficult to show why and how a marriage is complex if nobody is cuckolding anybody else. There are ways of being faithful that are more interesting than the well-trod plot points of a marriage undone by infidelity. And there are other ways to be unfaithful that don’t involve hookers or handsome young men at the country club. Don’t get me wrong, Billions isn’t going to win any Peabody Awards, but it’s managed to become one of the most vital — or at least imaginative — shows about marriage on TV.”
“High Fidelity: The Marriages of Billions and The Americans“
I wrote, with Lili Loofbourow, about the series finale of FX’s extraordinary historical drama, American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson. Specifically, I wrote about how specific this unusual show was to its medium:
“For all of the echoing of Victorian historicity that one may find in The People v. OJ Simpson, it is so very very much a television series. More than that even, it is so very very much a work of audiovisual media. Ask even a casual viewer to name something distinctive about this show. What will they notice? Maybe they’ll notice the occasionally heretical sound cues. ‘Fight the Power’ as the jury protests. ‘Sabotage’ during the Bronco chase. The non-triumphant half of ‘Feeling Good’ as Clark and Darden exit stage left. They might be nauseated or exhilarated by the constant movement of Murphy’s whip-panning, crash-zooming camera. They might — as Sarah and I did when the show first premiered — remark upon the electrical zap of recognizable nineties actors playing recognizable nineties icons. They might even notice the way this show creates drama, suspense even, by inverting the resonance of the cliffhanger to play with our anticipation of things we already know will happen. These cues connote some of the “slight historicity” that Dames attributes to the show’s Victorian inheritance, but they are unmistakably televisual (or, at least, cinematic) sparks.”
“The Making of OJ Simpson”
I haven’t updated here in a little while, so, without any further ado, here’s what I’ve been up to:
At The Los Angeles Review of Books, Sarah Mesle and I had another series of conversations for Dear Television. First, we wrote about this year’s Academy Awards (“I feel like basically everything that happened last night happened under the shadow of Magic Mike XXL’s across-the-washboard snubbing.”).
Then, we wrote about WGN’s terrific new series Underground (“The question for this show is how it’s able to tell its own story without being viewed as a compendium of responses to a limited set of iconic representations.”) Sarah is going to continue writing weekly about Underground with UVA Associate Professor of English—and friend of DearTV—Lisa Woolfork.
This past week, however, I started weekly coverage of FX’s miraculously good The Americans with Lili Loofbourow. (“Especially last season…we were invited to see Philip’s waffling, his forlorn looks, as triumphant. We were invited to see the minimal gains he made toward human empathy as worthy of praise, worthy of hope. The Americans has been convincing us to believe in the resilience of Philip’s smothered integrity from the very first episode, and so we give him credit for baby steps.”) Follow along!
Finally, the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report ran a wonderful story on LSU’s nascent “Screen Arts” BA program, a project I’ve been working on for the past two years.
For the past two years, I’ve organized a faculty/student Oscar debate for the LSU Film & Media Arts Program. (In year two, we started including snubs as well as nominees.) This year, we’ll have talks on all the Best Picture nominees as well as Straight Outta Compton, Carol, and Creed. This is the ad I made for it. (I like doing the publicity myself.)
Sarah Mesle and I wrote about the season premiere of Broad City for Dear Television at the LA Review of Books:
“So, this is a show about friendship and closeness, but much of it happens at a distance. Abbi and Ilana are so often apart, for all that we think of them as inseparably together. The split screen jokes that mirror their independent lives, that show them doing the same things in tandem, that show them somehow sharing pizza and chocolates, that show them on the phone — this is maybe the best Skype show of all time — these all add up to a kind of massive, choreographed eye-roll about the idea that Facebook Is Making Us Lonely, Google Is Making Us Stupid, Snapchat Is Making Us Smelly, Social Media, in general, is Tearing Us Apart. Not Abbi and Ilana! When this show is moving — and it’s sometimes moving — it’s moving because of the depth, or layering, of this friendship that might otherwise appear to be shallow.”
“Broad City’s Third Coming”
Sarah Mesle and I are back again, this time writing about Super Bowl 50 as a television spectacle.
“At the same time, maybe the best, or most responsible emblem, for the contemporary NFL isn’t the undeterrable hero, shaking off tacklers, bouncing up after a hit with a smile and a dab. Maybe Peyton Manning, the battered sack of bones crawling his way toward one final bittersweet victory like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, best represents our compromised, blood and mud spatted NFL. And just as Leo will inevitably pull down the Oscar for which everyone will tell you he is due, we’re here talking about Peyton going out on top. Chicken parm, you taste so good!”
Sarah Mesle and I wrote for Dear Television about FX’s new American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson, which is really extraordinarily good TV:
“The OJ trial is the adolescence of our media culture. The Kardashian kids may be a tangential part of this grand drama, but their presence brings it into our present in a real way. Of all of these famous characters, these budding selfie artists are the ones we still know. Their spectatorship of these events — even for contemporary viewers who aren’t as neatly in the demographical bullseye as I am — transforms in a gnarly way into our spectatorship, present and past. Some people have called out these scenes for the way in which they score cheap points off of that family. But I don’t think it’s really about them; I think it’s about us. Their foibles are ours magnified, their experience of this history is ours, more intense, but no less mediated. In this limited circumstance, are we not Kardashians, too?”
“Are We Not Kardashians?”
After a bit of a hiatus, I’m back writing for Dear Television at the Los Angeles Review of Books, this time with Sarah Mesle on the return of The X-Files.
“Our Lady of Sorrows”