Posts Tagged 'television'

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentle Readers

My dearest readers, this is it. Tonight’s the night Christian parents across the world will lie to their offspring about a stranger breaking into their homes to leave merchandise provided by large corporations, and soon Christmas will be over. Which means we’ve also reached the final chapter of our Hallmark journey. And so, without further ado… The Christmas Parade.

AnnaLynne McCord is Hayley, a correspondent on a New York City morning show. Hayley isn’t too into the Christmas spirit, but she is concerned about the upcoming break so that she and her longtime fiancé, high-powered investment dude Jason, can finally squeeze in some time to plan their wedding. Imagine her humiliation, then, when she’s stunned on air by a scoop about the new fling of a rising starlet: AND IT’S JASON. That conveniently inconveniently timed cad!

Fleeing to the country in her Mini Cooper, Hayley gets distracted by multiple calls/texts from Jason and runs her car into a fence. (Women drivers, am I right?) The cranky old man who owns said fence wants to call the police, even though she offers to immediately pay for the damage. Taking her offer of a blank check as a bribe, he reveals that he’s the local judge, and tells her to show up in his chambers tomorrow.

Thank god there’s a hot good Samaritan on hand for this disaster. He calls a tow truck for her, and she tries to check into the nearest hotel and make the best of it. But, being the Christmas season, there’s no room at the inn, and she’s directed to the one vacancy in town at a bed & breakfast. You know they’re not like city folk there, because they have a GRAMOPHONE.

Then comes the second convenient man-related shocker of the day: the good Samaritan runs the B & B! His name is Beck. I don’t know why. Also THERE’S NO WI-FI OR TV! (Hayley actually seems really chill about this, so I don’t even know why we’re establishing this country bumpkin vs. city girl dynamic. But we’ll get back to that.)

Hayley’s producer is pissed at her, and wants her back in the city for their big Christmas special. It’s not so great, then, when the cranky judge sentences her to 25 hours of community service before court closes for the year (in five days!) for using a cell while driving. She protests and maintains her innocence — those were INCOMING texts!!! — but when he threatens a jury trial, she agrees to do the time.

Her service hours can be fulfilled by helping Beck build a parade float with some kids at the local community center. (I guess there are no actual unfortunate people in Connecticut.) Hayley becomes interested in Beck’s story about how the center was started by a philanthropist ten years ago, but is going to be sold by the city council if he and the kids can’t raise $15,000 by the new year for their own down payment. And wouldn’t you know, they can get exactly that much if they win top prize for their parade float. (Fifteen fucking grand?? Shit, let me join that contest! I’ll let someone ride on my damn back for all of December for that much money.)

Thanks to the court clerk’s Twitter account, Hayley’s story ends up on “ZMT” (which is NOT TMZ, Hallmark’s lawyers assure me.) Now knowing where she is, Jason shows up to plead forgiveness. But she kicks him to the curb. Get out of here, city boy! Hayley’s busy discovering Beck’s secret painting studio and how he gave up a scholarship to the Sorbonne to care for this dying father!

Christmas Parade

Hayley, too, has secrets to share, like why she isn’t a fan of Christmas. She recounts a sad childhood memory of being made fun of for a second-hand bike after she’d begged her mom to get her a new one, how crushed her mom was about it, and how guilty she felt for not realizing her family couldn’t really afford gifts that year. That’s why she’s pissed that Christmas is about “making people want things that they can’t afford.” This is your spoiled city girl, movie? You’re not doing it right.

Saintly Hayley also turns down the mayor’s skeezy offer to reduce her service hours if she mentions local businesses in her broadcast, instead turning to Beck’s mother Wendy, who works for the local paper, to do an interview with her so she can take the narrative of her situation into her own hands. Of course what Wendy really wants is to help Hayley rediscover the Christmas spirit! She insists that Christmas is about looooooove. And is there anyone Hayley might find herself loving these days? Maybe someone she’s had a PAINT FIGHT with recently???

Complications with the Parade Float Insta-Cash Plan arise when the mayor tells Beck that someone else made an offer for the property, and Beck should just give up. But the offer comes from Hyperion Enterprises — Jason’s company! So Hayley rushes back to NYC to beg him to stop the sale if he actually loves her. Though he dismisses the situation as “another one of her little human interest stories,” he also says he’ll figure out how to drop the deal.

Beck is ecstatic over the dropped bid, but the merrymaking is short-lived, since the mayor soon calls and says another investment group stepped in. The city is determined to turn the building into commercial space, the kids are sad, etc etc. But Beck makes a big speech about trying to win the parade anyway. Shit, I’m sure y’all can think of something to do with fifteen grand even if the center closes. Keep the money and hold your meetings at someone’s barn!

Community service hours finished and back in the city prepping for the Christmas special she’s hosting, Hayley’s struck with an idea in the middle of a meeting. Include the parade in the special!! Surely then the mayor will see how important this is to the community. She convinces the suits to change the theme to “From Manhattan to Main Street” and get in touch with the little people this year. What a gal.

Meanwhile, following his “good deed,” Jason is still trying to get Hayley back. He wants her to go on a Christmas trip on a Dubai billionaire’s yacht with him (sounds pretty good to me), but then she sees a call on his phone and figures out that the “new company” that stepped in to buy the community center is a subsidiary of Hyperion, and Jason’s been lying all along. HIT THE ROAD AGAIN, JACK. And take your yacht with you! (sob)

When the night of the parade finally arrives, Hayley ends up having to step in and play Mrs. Clause, with Beck as Santa, of course. Aren’t they adorable? Then, as soon as she goes on live TV and talks about the community center, offers for donations start to pour in from all over the country! (I thought this was a local show, but whatever.) They thwart the mayor, who’s been in cahoots with Jason and planning to rig the parade anyway, by setting up a Kickstarter and raising $264,000 in like an hour. I shit you not. I’m not sure if Hallmark’s lawyers checked with Kickstarter about setting up this unrealistic expectation.

Then Hayley and Beck kiss in their Clause outfits. She’s got that spirit back, y’all! Goodnight!

Okay, so here’s the thing about any level of rom-com… even though you know they’re going to get together in the end, the fun part is the conflict on the road there. Sooooooo notice anything missing with The Christmas Parade? Besides a single moment when he has to tell her the B & B has no wi-fi, Hayley and Beck are 100% on the same page the whole time. It’s super tame even for Hallmark, but otherwise, a perfectly serviceable bit of holiday nonsense.

Let me segue and take a brief moment to sum up a separate issue I’ve touched on throughout this series of posts. Usually Hallmark at least makes a small acknowledgement that not everyone in North America is a white Christian. Yes, a few of this year’s main characters have a black pal who perpetually exists next to the phone, someone they can call to commiserate about their romantic life. But last year, the season kicked off with Snow Bride, a film based around half-Taiwanese actress Katrina Law, and the year before included the (quite enjoyable) Joey Lawrence vehicle Hitched for the Holidays, in which his Christian, Italian-American character falls for a Jewish girl, and the cultural differences, while used for comedy, aren’t at all framed as the actual obstacle keeping their romance from blooming. These are very, very minor whiffs toward diversity, yet Hallmark couldn’t even handle that much this year. Disappointing.

Perhaps my critique of Hallmark’s heteronormative whiteness (combined with my scathing critique of A Cookie Cutter Christmas) has burned this bridge forever, but I still hope someday I get to pitch some ideas to them. (Or they can just read the ones I’ve already posted on my Twitter account…) I think these light, cheesy romances can be really good when done right, and I would write one of those scripts with nothing but gratitude and joy.

Final scorecard:

*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 4/12 films
*male lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 2/12
*female lead gets fired: 4/12
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 3/12
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/12
*romantic tree decorating scene: 7/12
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 5/12
*dead parents: 7/12


The cookie crumbles.

A complaint often made by people who don’t enjoy rom-coms is that the predictable outcome of the couple getting together in the end takes away all the excitement. The counter-argument is that the journey is the fun part, watching the characters face obstacles and develop their love along the way. Stories aren’t just about endings, and even knowing a happy ending lies down the road, all sorts of high stakes can crop up before we get there.

That said, I really wish that someone had told the makers of A Cookie Cutter Christmas that there is only so much drama that can be squeezed out of a fucking cookie-baking competition.

I mean, we’re not even talking some kind of national, televised, big cash prize, Chopped-style competition. This is a few elementary school teachers in an auditorium. And our main character, Christie, isn’t someone who’s harbored dreams all her life of a triumphant career in baking. She’s bad at baking and hasn’t given two shits about that fact until now. So what makes her want to dedicate herself to going for what little glory there is to be won in this one-horse bake-off?

Hot Single Dad, of course.

Come to Mama, hot single dad!

Come to Mama, hot single dad!

James has just moved to town with his daughter, Lily, who is still getting over the death of her mother. Not only is he oh-so-sensitive and concerned about her, but he’s also just opened what he calls the Center of Hope, a charity meant to feed and clothe the poor. (Fun fact: I have seen this exact actor play a single dad who runs a homeless charity in another, completely separate cable Christmas movie, though I believe that one was an ABC Family joint. Talk about specific typecasting.) All the lady teachers immediately have their eye on him — including Christie’s biggest rival, Penny, who teaches just across the hall.

This rivalry runs deep because Christie and Penny were once friends, way back in their own elementary school days, but their friendship crumbled after an epic battle over a rendition of “Silent Night” in the school pageant. Ever since, they’ve been nothing but competitive with each other, still obsessing over that moment that split them apart. I’m not saying that two female characters can’t be positioned as rivals or enemies, but this has more than a little bit of a “bitches be crazy” edge to it that I could definitely do without.

As Christie begins helping Lily after school so she can catch up with the rest of the class, she and James develop a bit of an interest in each other. It’s revealed that he is a fantastic cook and baker, so he starts helping her develop her baking skills. He teaches her about mixing sweet and salty, ooh la la. He feeds her caramel from a spoon and her moaning is about the closest a Hallmark movie ever gets to showing an orgasm.

But here’s the crucial element to all this — no matter how much basic help she gets learning to bake, whatever actual recipes Christie uses in the competition, she must develop herself.

Yes, I did say “recipes,” plural. Did you think we were just building up to one big Cookie Event at the end of the movie?

Four times. Four times we have to watch her get up on the auditorium stage and make a thing and then watch Alan Thicke taste it and judge it. I can only assume they blew the whole budget on this cookie-making set and wanted to get their fucking money’s worth.

You will not be shocked that the final round of this death march to cookie triumph pits Christie and Penny against each other. By this time, James and Christie are really falling for each other — which means Penny must sabotage her enemy! She steals a recipe card from James’s house and plants it with Christie’s things, making it look like Christie is both cheating in the competition and merely using James for his peppermint drop expertise, which repulses him to his very charitable core. How can he ever love a liar?? (Ignore the part where SHE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW YOU BAKED AT FIRST, DUDE.)

Luckily, along the way, Christie has been questioning her competitive streak. Is it all worth it? Was she perhaps to blame for some of the “Silent Night” debacle all those years ago? She reaches out to Penny and suggests their students sing the song together in this year’s pageant, thus healing old wounds and making Penny feel guilty enough to confess her sin to James. He runs to Christie and apologizes, they kiss in front of a Christmas tree, and we all rejoice that she’s going to spend the rest of her life with this guy who seems like he’d divorce you if you so much as fibbed about putting a dent in the car’s fender with a shopping cart.

Perhaps it’s clear that I did not enjoy A Cookie Cutter Christmas as much as I did the first two films of this Hallmark season. Besides the tedium of the cookie drama, catty lady feuds are not my favorite thing, and while Erin Krakow as Christie is alright, David Haydn-Jones as James is bland as hell, somehow playing every scene as if he’s lost his glasses and can’t quite make out whoever’s in front of him. Plus, after watching movies involving a cowboy and a firefighter, a hero whose job mostly involves standing near piles of folded winter coats just isn’t that exciting. Sorry, charity. You’re boring.

I’m not going to tell you when this one is on again.

(Sidenote! The esteemed Linda Holmes at NPR is also a Hallmark fan and has a fun piece about the movies up today.)

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 3/3 films
*female lead gets fired: 1/3
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 1/3
*romantic ice skating scene: 1/3
*romantic tree decorating scene: 1/3
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 2/3
*dead parents: 2/3

On the ninth life of Christmas, my true love gave to meeee….

I’m sure that when Brandon Routh was posing for multiple magazine covers in his Superman costume in 2006, he thought it would be at least a couple more decades before he joined the land of made-for-cable movies. So I hope it doesn’t sound like an insult when I say that he’s kind of made for this thing. I mean, he could live inside of the opening scene of The Nine Lives of Christmas, in which he is Zach, a perfect specimen of a firefighter who nonetheless feels awkward posing for the annual charity holiday calendar. So humble! So hot!

Except, maybe Zach’s not so humble after all. We get a little twist with this character, who, in one way, is a noble man of the people, saving lives and whatnot, but who also is kind of annoying, as he resists settling into any sort of adult life by 1) dating models he knows he has no future with, and 2) living only in houses that he’s fixing up to sell for profit before moving on to the next one. Will a lovely lady who can repair his damage come along in time for Christmas?

Our Lady of Confirmed Bachelor Saving goes by the name of Marilee (say it out loud) White (yes, she is). We meet her as she’s falling asleep in veterinary school, which she’s paying her way through by working at a pet store after putting off her education for years to take care of her little sister following the death of their parents. So selfless! So sweet! But her friends and family are concerned that she’s working too hard and needs to get out and, you know, meet a guy like a NORMAL WOMAN GEEEEZ, even though she insists she’s not interested in addressing her love life until she’s done with school. Now we have two leads who are both resistant to the idea of a romantic relationship. How’s that gonna go?

This is, of course, where the cat comes in.

Ambrose is a scrappy orange kitty with a newly dead owner who’s got his eye on Zach’s house to make his new home. He’s not going to take no for an answer, even when Zach protests out loud to him that a cat is just too big of a commitment, can’t he understand?? Ambrose just rolls over to show his tummy, because he doesn’t give a fuck.

Animal-lover Marilee also has a cat, a fluffy gray one named Queenie that she must keep hidden from her cranky landlord. (Here’s where we start anticipating not just a human romance, but a cat romance, because thinking of cats and dogs as if they are human is just The American Way.)

And so the first moment of contact between our leads happens in the cat food aisle. The romance! The fantasy! The embarrassment when Zach notices that all Marilee has in her cart is a giant tub of mint chocolate chip! This is surely a humiliation she will never recover from… or will she??


Now, our man Zach’s model girlfriend, Blair, is sorta terrible. But we know she’s really truly EVIL when she wants to get rid of Ambrose just as Zach is starting to warm to the little guy. Turns out Blair’s father owns the pet store where Marilee works and where Blair figures they can dump Ambrose. During the ensuing interaction, Marilee displeases Blair so much that she convinces her dad to fire her. NICE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT, BLAIR AND BLAIR’S DAD.

Zach, feeling guilty, then tries to save Marilee from getting evicted when her landlord inevitably discovers her secret cat, pulling out his fireman badge (???) and interrogating the landlord about fire codes. Though his tactics don’t work, of course any woman would be thrilled to see a beautiful man attempting to abuse his power to be her knight in shining armor. And now Marilee is jobless and homeless kind of because of him… so Zach insists she stay in his fixer-upper house with him until she gets back on her feet. OoooooOOOOOOoooooh.

And thank god she does move in with him, because until now this “Christmas” movie has actually been woefully short on any sort of Christmas theme. But now! There’s a tree to be bought! There are Christmas memories to be shared while decorating it! And Marilee, previously only mooning over Zach’s “brown eyes,” (yep, those are for sure his only lust-worthy attributes) starts to see the wounded, sensitive dude who hasn’t let go of his angry childhood. And Zach starts to admire her because she… paints the living room.

I wish I was making that part up, but as if in a Key & Peele sketch, these two square-jawed white people bond over one of them mixing two different white paints to paint the living room the perfect shade of warm, inviting white. Marilee’s paint-mixing skills are EASILY the lamest hidden rom-com talent of all time, but I guess the Paint Whisperer was what Zach was waiting for all along. He soon gives in to his desire and kisses her under the mistletoe (admittedly, a pretty hot kiss), but then retreats again like the nonsense, sad-man,  love-just-ain’t-for-me goof that he is.

As is so often the case, it’s only when he nearly loses Marilee that Zach gets his shit together. After she invites him to a fancy Christmas party her sister is going to, and he panics and says he has to work, she ends up seeing him at THE SAME PARTY with a beautiful blonde. Soon it becomes clear that he was just promoting the fireman calendar we’ve all forgotten about by now, but first we get a refreshing moment of heroine self-awareness on Marilee’s part as she vent-cries to a friend: “I’m not even dating him; he doesn’t owe me anything.” True! But he totally does love you anyway, my dear, so as soon as she moves out and he realizes what he’s thrown away, he crashes her Christmas Day Pet Adoption Event in his chariot firetruck. In no time at all, they’re making out in front of a lot of confused people and animals.

And most importantly of all, AMBROSE AND QUEENIE REUNITE! May they sit haunch-to-haunch on the credenza judging their lame owners forever.

The Nine Lives of Christmas could’ve used a few more Christmastime set pieces, but the ease and comic timing of the two leads carries everything along very pleasantly. (Both Kimberly Sustad and Brandon Routh could easily anchor a big screen rom-com if such things were made anymore.) The film made me ask ask myself: where’s my magical cat to set me up with a handsome, perfect guy? Oh yeah, I don’t do pets. Another reason why I’ll die alone.

Though the actions of Ambrose influence the movements of the two main characters, thankfully the “magic animal” element is actually underplayed. Even if it wasn’t, I would still much rather watch this cat than the frequent Hallmark staple of a weird Santa-Claus-lookin’ guy named “Kris” or “Nick” hanging out around corners tapping his nose and giggling mischievously as he makes the lady fall into the guy’s arms or something. THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS TO FIX US SINGLE PEOPLE’S LOVE LIVES, HALLMARK. AT LEAST CATS FUCKING EXIST.

The Nine Lives of Christmas airs again Friday November 14th at 8pm.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 2/2 films
*female lead gets fired: 1/2
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 1/2
*romantic ice skating scene: 1/2
*romantic tree decorating scene: 1/2
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 2/2
*dead parents: 1/2

Countdown to Christmas!

The Hallmark Channel Countdown to Christmas is so important that there is actually a Countdown to the Countdown, with reminders throughout October of how close we’re getting to the momentous occasion. Immediately after Halloween, the Christmas movie marathons begin, with new entries every weekend until mid-December. I have a deep affection for many of these somewhat silly, sometimes charming, occasionally very funny movies. So did the first entry of the year start things off right? Let’s recap!

one starry christmas

Within the first 60 seconds of One Starry Christmas, here’s what we know: we’re in Chicago, our protagonist is named Holly (there is a development exec at Hallmark whose sole job is to insist female leads in their Christmas movies be named Holly), she’s fun because she rides a red scooter but also smart because she takes a call from an important professor, and she has a fancy boyfriend.

Of course, fancy boyfriend is obviously The Wrong Dude. We know this not just because he’s wearing a suit while she’s in jeans and a jaunty sweater, but because he bought a FAKE CHRISTMAS TREE. A FAKE WHITE PRE-DECORATED CHRISTMAS TREE. Because he LIKED it. What an ASSHOLE.

As if we don’t hate this dude enough, now he has to be away on business in New York City for Christmas. Which he calls “just a day on the calendar.” Then he kicks a puppy wearing a Santa hat (in our minds, because what a fucking Scrooge).

GOOD NEWS, THOUGH! Even though Holly is scared to fly (“She’ll never fly, not even on Santa’s sleigh!”), and only has a scooter, she decides to take a Greyhound bus to NYC to surprise Wrong Dude, and also her parents because they conveniently live there. Can you guess who she’s going to meet on the bus?

If you said Mr. Right, you get a sugar cookie.

Mr. Right is a cowboy named Luke Shetland. He’s literally cradling his saddle, which is named Dale, after Dale Evans. He talks about the joy of those eight seconds riding a bull. He finds out Holly just got her doctorate in astronomy and starts calling her “Doc.” He’s flipping adorable. HE DOESN’T HAVE A CELL PHONE BECAUSE HE’S A COUNTRY BOY AND SO SO REEEEAL.

Now, if you are on a Greyhound bus in a movie there is a 99% chance it will break down. I’m surprised they don’t sue or something. But it’s okay because while the bus is broken down, Luke plays “Silent Night” on his harmonica and they gaze at the stars and talk about their lives and start to fall in loooooove though she would NEVER ADMIT IT to herself just yet, because she is a nice girl and she totally has a boyfriend.

Holly calls Wrong Dude because the bus is seriously dead, but that cad can’t drive the six hours each way to pick her up because he has a big meeting the next morning WHAT A JERK. Luckily, Cowboy rents a truck (which is by no means a better idea than making someone drive so far to get you) and he and Holly roll into NYC together, where she then invites him to have dinner at her parents’ house. Did I mention that Mom already thinks Wrong Dude is the Wrong Dude? She’s about to insist that Cowboy stay with them, and invite his COWBOY BROTHER (two times the cowboys!!) to join them for Christmas Eve. Otherwise they have to go stay in Jersey, what a horror show.

Now we’re all set up for the good stuff: an hour of Wrong Dude being jealous but also BUSY WITH WORK like such a JERK while Holly and Cowboy have big city adventures: he teaches her to ride a horse in Central Park; she teaches him to ice skate (no men in Hallmark movies can ice skate, which results in pleasing scenes of them falling down, reversing a common rom-com trope). It all culminates in the gang attending the big Christmas Eve party for Wrong Dude’s client, where jealousy overflows as Cowboy wins hearts teaching everyone to line dance. (Yes.) Wrong Dude jumps on stage, takes the mic, and proposes to Holly in front of the crowd. She’s on the spot and says yes so as not to embarrass him in front of his client, breaking poor Cowboy’s golden American heart.

Luckily, Holly’s not an idiot. She knows that the proposal was preemptive and manipulative and she calls him on it. But, breaking up with the Wrong Dude doesn’t automatically mean running into Cowboy’s arms… because he’s taken the proposal as his cue to leave. After a patented Hallmark movie heart-to-heart with Dad, Holly wishes on a star for him to come back (as an astronomer this is a totally normal thing to do). AND HE DOES! IN SLO-MO! RIDING A HORSE AND CLUTCHING A WHITE BOUQUET! They kiss and we know that they will spend forever together even though they’ve known each other for literally two days.

All in all, One Starry Christmas is a strong opener for this Hallmark season. The leads are cute and the lady is neither dumped NOR fired (in fact, she wins a prestigious award from the female astronomer who inspired her to pursue science). It strings together an impressive number of staple holiday movie and rom-com scenes while still feeling reasonably fresh, as it indulges in a few weirder moments like letting the cowboy brother sing a full love song over dinner as Holly’s parents dance. For all the broad strokes, the characters are well-drawn, with even one-offs like the hoodie-wearing CEO at the Christmas party given a bit of off-beat personality. The acting is good enough to keep things flowing well during even the most predictable moments, maintaining the sincerity that’s crucial to making a Hallmark romance work.

Frankly, this is just a nice little movie. One Starry Christmas stars Sarah Carter and Damon Runyon and airs again Saturday November 8th at noon, and on Christmas Day.

Up next week: The Nine Lives of Christmas, starring Brandon Routh and a cat. Remember when he was Superman? Yeah.

Five Things I’d Like to See in the 2013 Emmy Nominations

Epic Game of Thrones-ness in Best Supporting Actress in a Drama

Because TV is so much more friendly for women actors than movies are, you could fill at least twenty slots in this category, if not more. And half of that could be women from Game of Thrones. I want Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark) and Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) in the mix, for sure, and wouldn’t mind if the other four slots were taken up by Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell), and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen).

Frankly, it’s just silly that Peter Dinklage is the only actor from the show who’s ever been nominated for their role. I DEMAND GAME OF THRONES LADIES BE RECOGNIZED!

(Looking at the official Emmy ballot, I actually don’t see Christie or Williams anywhere on the list as options. I refuse to amend my wishes based on this lunacy.)

David Lynch as Best Guest Actor in a Comedy

Because that arc on Louie is simply one of the best things I’ve ever seen. And while we’re at it, can Louie get a Best Comedy Series nomination, already?

Writing and acting nominations for Enlightened

Especially writing. If “The Ghost Is Seen” doesn’t get nominated, there is no justice. (There are other truly great episodes in season two, but that’s the only one on the ballot.)

Everything on this show was pretty much perfect. Laura Dern and Mike White should both be in the acting categories, and the series deserves direction and technical recognition, as well. It still hurts that there won’t be a third season, but let’s hope for acknowledgement for the stellar work we did get to see.

Portia de Rossi for Lead Actress in a Comedy

Lindsey has always been the most underrated character on Arrested Development, and I was delighted to see her have such a central role in season four. Portia de Rossi does incredible work getting us to root for Lindsey even when she’s at her most selfish and ridiculous. She’s just brilliantly funny. (And before you ask, yes, this is the category she’s submitted in, not supporting. As it should be.)

Call the Midwife surprise writing nomination

This is the longest long shot of long shots, but the second season finale of Call the Midwife, “Episode 8,” is on the ballot for drama writing, and I would LOVE to see it somehow sneak into the nominations. This is a beautiful show overall, but this particular episode made me SOB SOB SOB tears of joy, which is a testament to the stunning work that’s been done in building up the characters and relationships over only 15 episodes’ worth of content.

In your dream scenario, what would you like to see show up in the nominations tomorrow?

Things I forgot about Mad Men

I recently re-watched the first four seasons of Mad Men in preparation for its long-awaited return. As is often the case with re-watching things after years, there was some shit I totally did not remember. Just to name a few examples, I had forgotten:

*…that Ken Cosgrove was just as sleazy as the other guys at first. He might be the worst of the lot in season one, actually! He improves somewhat by season three, but not that impressively. Perhaps getting abandoned by the gang when they slink away to form Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce humbled him and made him a new man, because by the time he re-joins everyone partway through season four, he’s become the nice, respectful guy I remembered.

*…just how fucking awful Pete Campbell’s family is—which explains a lot about that mean, manipulative side of him that sometimes comes out. Pete’s father was downright cruel to him, and the episode where he dies is fascinating because of it. Also, I’d blocked out the level of Pete’s lameness to Trudy at first. Their relationship seems to have grown stronger as each of them has matured into adulthood, and I hope we see more of them together in season five.

*…about the scene in season one where Pete punches Ken for making jokes about Peggy gaining weight! Someone make me gif of just the moment right when Pete throws the sucker punch and the moment when they sheepishly shake hands after the tussle. Please. I’ll love you forever.

*…that Betty wasn’t such a bad mom at first. She didn’t know how to be a “good mom” by our contemporary standards, but to start out she was hardly the monster she’d become known as by the end of season four. Her coldness and anger increases slowly as her naïveté fades and frustration builds about the life she’s trapped in and who her husband is. We start out feeling sorry for her, like one might a naïve child, and as she grows into a petulant teen, that turns to dislike. Will we see her mature from here?

*…that Paul and Joan had a thing! How did he pull that off? Oh my, that woman needs a man who is worthy of her. (Also, I don’t miss Paul.)

*…about some of the awful things Don does to Betty even outside of the neverending philandering. Leaving to pick up Sally’s birthday cake and never coming back, thus humiliating Betty with their friends? Blaming and slut-shaming her for nothing when Roger was drunk and hit on her? Ugh, Don. Even the 1960s aren’t an excuse for that sort of behavior. (And these moments represent more reasons why I’m usually on Team Defending Betty.)

*…that LEE GARNER, JR.—so critical to SCDP proceedings in season four—was the client who hit on Sal and got him fired for rejecting the advances! Why in my head did I think it had been some throwaway character? Crazy. (I do miss Sal. Going through his demise again was tough.)

*…that Peggy’s gratingly sassy Manhattan-working-girl roommate was played by Carla Gallo! I love her. She needs a sitcom deal, for something truly funny and weird, immediately. Maybe I will write something and send it to her…

Anyway, more thoughts about Mad Men: The Journey So Far can be heard in the first episode of the new podcast from Damsels in Discussion, Mad Femmes. Please give it a listen; it’s very funny. (Also NSFW, unless your office doesn’t mind chatter about blowjobs. Le scandale!)

Happy season five premiere this Sunday!

Some thoughts on Top Chef and sexism

I think the judging on Top Chef is sexist.

Some people might disagree with me. Because of the nature of the contest, it’s hard to make the “sexist” call for individual challenges. Any number of things can go wrong for any chef on any day, and the general taste preferences of each judge inevitably come into play. This is part of the appeal of the show: the general unpredictable nature of it. But the overall picture of who is coming out on top in the end demonstrates that something is not right; some other factor besides the element of chance is coming into play.

Allow me to crunch some numbers. Counting those chefs who appeared on the season eight All-Stars edition twice, and skipping the massive two-part “cook your way in” episode that opened this most recent season, Top Chef has had 68 female and 74 male contestants over the course of nine seasons. That’s about 47.9% women at the starting line, where the contestants have already been vetted to the point where we are meant to believe each has an equal chance of winning the season, even though some may be more experienced than others. Yet, only eight out of 27 of the coveted “top three” spots to end each season have been filled by women—about 29.6%. And only one woman has ever won. 11.1%.

(It should be noted that for that season where a woman won, season four, the commonly stated opinion is that Richard Blais was the most talented chef left at the end, and only his crash-and-burn kept him from winning, giving the crown to Stephanie Izard. He was later brought back for the All-Star season for a chance to right this unspeakable wrong. He won.)

I said it was hard to make the sexist call for individual challenges. But the reason I’m writing this post right now is that I’m having trouble not making that call for the finale that aired last night. I won’t deny that the chef who won, Paul Qui, was a formidable contestant over the course of the show. He went up in a final head-to-head with Sarah Grueneberg, someone who had been in the low end of the judging much more often than he had. But the final challenge is supposed to be about only that—just the final meal that’s being served. Each of the two chefs served four courses, to two sets of judges. At Judges Table, each was complimented on their overall menus, nitpicked on a few details, and generally congratulated. However, none of the judges denied that one of those eight servings of Paul’s was a disaster. A failed dish, too overcooked, that even he hadn’t wanted to serve. On the other hand, all eight of Sarah’s servings had been solid, with her dessert hailed as perhaps the best that had ever been presented on the show. I know that reality show editing means that we’re often led to believe that certain contestants will win when that is not the case. But given what we were shown of the judging, and the opinions that were shared, I find it frankly unbelievable that Sarah did not win. And I’m calling sexism.

I’ve seen others write about the subconscious sexism that seems to be factoring into the Top Chef judging overall. The societal picture of a “culinary master” is generally of a male chef, whereas female chefs are more likely to be pictured as the home-cookin’ type that is so popular on channels like the Food Network. Within the competition itself, some women end up following what they’ve been socialized to do for their whole lives, and help others to their own detriment, such as when disproportionately taking on the thankless “front of house” jobs during Restaurant Wars. This all plays into who ends up making it to the final.

When it comes down to Sarah vs. Paul, I feel that two factors hurt her in being denied the title. First, her “likeability.” Sarah rubbed a few people wrong over the course of the season, and was vocal about when others rubbed her the wrong way. Though she’d obviously bonded with the other chefs who made it to the final episodes, she never reached a point of being charming. I don’t in any way think she should have to, but let’s face it—Paul is intrinsically adorable. His handsome-yet-baby-faced vibe and his frequent chatter about just wanting to make his father proud would make just about anyone feel that inner tug to give him the prize. Sarah couldn’t match him in that game. She is an ambitious woman who frequently mentioned that she put off her wedding to be on the show, and in the ambitious woman vs. attractive, vulnerable man showdown, it’s pretty clear who’s got the edge.

The second thing that hurt her—and I believe every woman who made it to that final challenge before her—is that people, in general, have an easier time seeing a woman fail than they do seeing a man fail. Not that making it to the final round of a grueling competition should be seen as a failure, but that’s just it—there’s this overall vibe in society that I notice all the time that seems to say that the more prestigious the prize, the more difficult something is to attain, then the more a woman should be content just to have been in contention in the first place. (See: Hillary Clinton.) The second part of that message is: it’s harder on a man to lose to a woman than it is the other way around. The judges never shy away from showing sympathy for the person they don’t pick to win. Isn’t it easier to have that person be a woman—who’ll surely bounce right back into wedding planning!—than a man whose father whom he only wants to make proud is literally standing right there? Whether they had the conscious thought or not, the saturating nature of societal sexism and the actual factors at play in the room made it emotionally easier to give the prize to Paul, even though he had not performed as well.

Neither of my theories are ones I can prove. But the evidence I was presented with shows that Sarah should have won, and my gut tells me that these factors—these factors that come into play every day, all over the world, for women who are trying to succeed—came into play for her.

I love Top Chef. The challenges can get ridiculous, and I often call the show out on that, but I don’t think I’ve ever missed an episode. For the most part, I really love the judges, too—especially Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons. Can’t get enough of ’em. But the images and ideas society feeds us become ingrained. Sexist bias is often subconscious, and the female judges can let this seep in just as easily as the male judges. I do think that sexism is in play at this point in the judging on this show. The numbers say it, and the judges pretty much said it themselves last night.

Other projects:

Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

I love Twitter.

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