Browsed by
Month: August 2021

Glee, Another “Old” TV Show to Review

Glee, Another “Old” TV Show to Review

Some time back we were watching Smallville, and I noted in my mini-review that the family might move on to the popular television show Glee next. We did binge-watch the first season some time ago, but didn’t go any further. I guess we weren’t pulled in. We watched it on Netflix. The girl and her boys had already watched the series when the boys were young; they were interested in rewatching it and in catching me up on it. I’m always way behind on my pop culture consumption.

Here is my take on the show.

Glee revolves around a high school glee club and their competition with other better-funded and more talented glee clubs in other high schools, as well as their competition for status and funding with the more prestigious cheerleader club in their own school. If you don’t know what a glee club is, it’s a musical or choir group.

In this case, the club is co-ed and performs musical numbers with a significant amount of dance choreography, which are way more sophisticated than what you would expect a high school glee club to be able to pull off. You don’t even see them rehearse much! They kind of cheated with the casting; the star student of the show, Lea Michele, was a child actress on Broadway. As is typical for these kinds of TV shows, the cast of students is a bit older than high school age. This all leads to a very unrealistic portrayal of an extra-curricular activity, but if you think of this show as basically a musical, then it’s fine for it to be unrealistic.

Glee might also be unrealistic in how it portrays the rest of the high school experience; at least, that was my impression. The show covers typical high school concerns like bullying, cliques, overbearing parenting, teenage sex – but in over the top ways. I couldn’t help but wonder, “is that really what high school is like now?” I think it’s meant to be parody to some extent, but as I haven’t been in high school since the 1980s, I guess I could be wrong. I do think it captures one Millennial generation theme well: it emphasizes diversity and inclusivity, and the students always choose what is best for the group in the end.

Meanwhile the Gen-X teachers and staff are caught up in their own drama, and struggling to find their footing in their personal and professional lives. A career in high school education isn’t exactly glamorous or fulfilling, as it is portrayed. The one Boomer on the cast (Jane Lynch was born in 1960 so I’m giving her that) portrays the domineering cheerleader coach, and she is driven to the point of insanity. Again, one wonders, “could a teacher really get away with that?” She does have her redeeming qualities, however, which we discover as the season progresses.

The show aired from 2009-2015, which puts it squarely in this Crisis Era, and means that these characters are all in the second wave of their respective generations. In other words, the characters would have been born in the 1990s, since they are teens in 2009. The actors, however, are first wave Millennials, born in the 1980s. It’s odd, but it does allow the show to explore more mature themes.

Sadly, Glee’s cast seems to be cursed; no fewer than three cast members have died in the past decade, with one of them surrounded by scandal. Is it really a curse, or just bad luck? I guess that’s the same thing. It’s not enough of a taint to stop me from wanting to watch the show, which is what happened to me with regard to the scandal around the Smallville cast.

The Millennial generation is now on the cusp of middle age, so it is not surprising that tragedies befalling their individual members have accumulated. Things do seem less sunny for them now. But I’ll try to conclude this little review on a more positive note.

With it’s thrilling musical numbers, and fun energy, Glee is enjoyable even though its characters and plot are unrealistic. It’s like a relic of a not so distant past when there was more optimism surrounding the prospects of the young generation. Just think of it as a musical when you watch it, and hope, like I do, for a happy ending.

A Noir Sitcom

A Noir Sitcom

← My partner and I recently watched the first season of this intriguing show. We were drawn to it because it stars Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek, which is one of the best television shows ever made (I haven’t blogged about it before, but there you have it). Her new show is called Kevin Can F**k Himself, and is available on AMC+ streaming for all you cord cutters. Why she always ends up on shows with curse words in the title, I couldn’t tell you.

Kevin Can F**k Himself is a dark comedy and a parody of sitcoms that runs with the premise that a clichéd sitcom marriage is actually highly toxic. The wife and lead role, played by Murphy (b. 1986), is trapped in a living hell she is desperate to escape. The titular husband is played by Eric Petersen; I couldn’t pinpoint his birth year but I believe he is on the Generation-X/Millennial cusp.

The show uses an unusual contrivance to contrast “sitcom life” with “real life.” It takes some getting used to but I think the creators pull it off. It has good writing and excellent performances by the leads, as well as by Mary Hollis Inboden (b. 1986) in the supporting role of next door neighbor buddy.

Traditionally, sitcom television is “comedy of errors” humor deriving from misunderstandings/poor communication. Someone overhears something, misconstrues the meaning, and hijinks ensue. By the end of the episode everything is cleared up and back to normal (status quo ante). The characters are typically two-dimensional and stereotyped, foils for one another and fodder for repeated jokes.

In Kevin Can F Himself these tropes are twisted and the consequences become tragic. Kevin’s lack of communication skills and simplistic personality are a nightmare for his wife, Allison, who somehow is unable to break out of her own responsive patterns when she is in his presence. Miscommunication isn’t a fount of humor, it’s the corrosive destroyer of a marriage.

The characters are Millennials (technically geriatric Millennials), and the show explores themes that resonate with their generation’s experience. In particular: the relative immaturity of men relative to women, the difficulty of forming satisfactory relationships, and the lack of economic opportunity for the working class. As staples of sitcoms about married, suburban life in a gentler past, these themes might have provoked light humor, suitable for a laugh track. But for Millennials in the throes of late stage capitalism, these problems of the middle class have mounted to the point of being unbearable, and the humor has become dark in turn.

Kevin Can F**k Himself thus ends up blending genres. It’s a sitcom that bleeds into a noir show more in keeping with the times. Unlike what usually happens in a sitcom, it does not return to status quo ante at the end of each episode, but has an ongoing, developing story arc. Whether the show is a tragedy or a comedy actually depends on the final outcome, which hasn’t yet been determined. Season 1 left us with a major plot twist, and I’m hoping that the show gets renewed for another season. It’s an out-of-the-box creative effort that deserves a longer run.

Subreddit of the Week: insaneparents

Subreddit of the Week: insaneparents

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the movie The Shining.

You may have seen the meme that Independence Day 2021 was the 100th anniversary of a famous fictional event: the 1921 July 4th Ball pictured at the end of The Shining. The event is depicted in a photograph that mysteriously features a younger version of Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance. In celebration of this anniversary, our family decided to watch the movie on the night of July 4th, even though we’ve all seen it multiple times, it being an excellent and iconic example of the horror genre.

The highlights of the film are Nicholson’s creepy, expressive performance, and the tense, suspense-building score which is artfully synchronized to the action. The camera work is great, too, and the film shows how much emotion can be generated just from pacing and music, with slow buildups to cathartic release. The strings slowly rise, and then the axe suddenly falls, and the viewer’s heart skips a beat. But frankly, the film is a little light on story, of which there is much more in Stephen King’s book. The sequel movie from 2019, Dr. Sleep, drawing more story from the novel which it adapts, is a supernatural horror action adventure with a much richer plot.

In The Shining, Jack’s son Danny is played by Danny Lloyd, who does a decent enough job of portraying a harried Gen X kid dealing with less than ideal parenting, not to mention bizarre otherworldly events. Here’s the scene from the end of the film where he escapes his deranged father. Note his inventive survival skills. That really marks him as a Gen Xer.

When I watched this scene, I couldn’t help but imagine how it would look as a post on the subreddit /r/insaneparents. Something like, “when I was a kid, maybe about 10, my Dad chased me through a snow-covered hedge maze with an axe – he really wanted to kill me, I’m not joking – but through some misdirection and careful hiding I managed to escape him. Never saw him again after that, I actually think he might have died that night. Can’t say that I miss him, but I will say that the experience really made me who I am today…”

If you don’t know about this subreddit, it is basically a place where people go to share the bizarre and unwholesome parenting behavior they have experienced. I imagine that most of it is Millennials calling out their Boomer and Gen-X parents; one can never be sure since reddit is mostly people posting anonymously. It is possible that older posters are bringing up their long ago childhood experiences, or that Homelanders (the post-Millennials currently in their early teens) are already sharing their own victim of parenting horror stories.

I imagine that this is mostly a subreddit for Millennials not only because reddit itself was founded by Millennials, but also because Millennials are champions of Internet reviews. It all ties into Millennials’ collective peer personality, which seeks rational consensus on the best choice. Here’s a post on LinkedIn that shows what I mean. More and more, choice in the marketplace is driven by communal decision making, rather than personal preference.

As this generation has risen into adulthood, they have helped drive the proliferation of reviews on commercial web sites like Amazon and on web directories which also function as review sites, such as Yelp. As students in higher education, they have access to resources to rate and review their educators – why shouldn’t they know ahead of time if a professor’s class is worth taking, or be able to give their feedback after taking a class? In a way, the subreddit /r/insaneparents is just a site for reviews – albeit anonymous ones – of parents.

Parenting, I believe, is the hardest job in the world. Everyone is expected to do it, but the only training anyone gets is a bad example. Since not everyone makes the strongest parenting choices, you get a subreddit like /r/insaneparents. So parents out there, do try to raise your children well, or you just might end up getting a bad review on the Internet.

War For The Planet Of The Covidiots

War For The Planet Of The Covidiots

‘The war has changed’ blares a Washington Post headline, referring to an internal CDC document reassessing messaging about the coronavirus in light of the new delta variant. What’s changed is that the prevalence of a mutated strain of the virus, which can spread even among the vaccinated, means it might make sense for masks to come back on and for people to start practicing social distancing again. But how well can the CDC influence people’s behavior, with the deep levels of mistrust in our society, and the fact that the CDC’s messaging has shifted around over the course of the pandemic? Never mind that the message changing actually makes sense, given that the science also changes, because we are dealing with a novel coronavirus.

Now look what’s happened to the prospect of herd immunity. As this cartoon by Kevin Kallaugher implies, there was just too much vaccine resistance to get to the levels that could have prevented the spread of this variant. And with the mad rush to “return to normal,” it’s probably too late.

So we don’t just have a war against a disease. We have a war against impatience. A war against ignorance. I’ve already blogged about what a shame it is that the pandemic became politicized. That was probably unavoidable, given that everything gets politicized these days. But political affiliation isn’t the only thing dividing the vaccinated from the unvaccinated. Race, income, and education level are also factors. The implosion of trust in our society has been very costly.

If GOP leaders would just get on board with a vaccination program, it would go a long way towards increasing vaccination rates and getting us to the other side of the war. Instead, we have to wait for the Republican con job to exhaust itself. Eventually the marks will all clue in, even if they have to sneak their vaccinations in behind their friends’ backs. You know, to save face. It’s truly pathetic.

I hope that we are in the winding down phase of this Crisis, and that the war will soon be won. From my vantage point, not leaving home much, it’s hard to tell if we’re in the darkest hour, or in the denouement. I think I’ll just be staying under lockdown and keeping my mask on for a bit, ’cause this ain’t over yet.