Five Dollar Bill

happening

Balance is a good thing. Your mom thinks so, and so does your yoga instructor and your therapist. Equal parts nights in with a good book, weekend brunches with friends and awkward happy hours with strangers that you met on Hinge. Leafy greens, protein and candy bars. Right? No, I’m really asking.

I am a notoriously picky eater, and my evenings are homebody-heavy. But the balance principle does apply to my pop culture diet—if to nothing else. For every trashy beach read, there is an enormous, painfully detailed biography of an early American president that I adore. For every bloody Damages or soapy The Good Wife, there is a confectionary delight I’m watching that’s just—funny.

I did not include New Girl in my recent post about endings. The show wrapped up its fourth season a few weeks ago—and despite all the distracting emotions swirling about Mad Men and noisy love-child theories trending about Game of Thrones, I’m still thinking about the final scene of New Girl. It didn’t press the same buttons as the heady, ambiguous endings I wrote up last week—New Girl satisfies different, but equally important, intellectual and emotional needs of mine.

Like every pseudo-hipster smarty-pants girl, I’m not a huge fan of Zooey Deschanel. But New Girl isn’t about Jessica. At least, not the way that Mad Men is “about” Don Draper. New Girl is an ensemble show. It’s about a friend-group dynamic. One that is ultimately supportive, loving and heart-warming. And always. ALWAYS. Hilarious.

I laugh out loud when I watch New Girl. Like, all the time. Like, the way I laugh when I re-watch Friends—my ultimate pop culture comfort food. Nick is my Chandler (I secretly love him—because I have a not-so-secret fixer-upper complex). And Schmidt is my Ross—hands-down the funniest character, mostly because he’s unbearable. Schwimmer and Greenfield will probably never live down their fictional assholery.

sandwich

MY SANDWICH?!?

But you can’t help but root for them because they’re good people, and sometimes you just really want good things happen to nice folks.

THIS HAPPENS SO RARELY IN REAL LIFE, YOU GUYS. Why are some of my favorite girlfriends cursed with toxic relationships, constantly? Why do people get sick? Why did THAT GUY get THAT JOB, and why does THAT GIRL making so much more money than I do?!

When my mind buzzes with questions like these, an episode or two of True Detective or Breaking Bad are not. Uplifting.

Then, Chandler proposes to Monica. Or Phoebe has her triplets. Or New Girl delivers a moment like the five dollar bill. For those of you who saw the season four finale, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes a scene and a line are so perfectly crafted, genuinely delivered, and shamelessly designed to trigger all the happy feelings that it’s basically unfair. It made me cry. Alison cried too!

But so NECESSARY. Love does happen! People do grow up, even in the admittedly limited scope of a 22-minute sitcom. I am totally okay with being manipulated in this manner.

Because I need it! And it’s too easy to forget that acts of kindness and heroism are just as real as random disasters. These moments remind us that the world, while generally unfair, does redeem itself. Even Don Draper and Peggy Olson got (some of) what they (probably) wanted in Sunday’s Mad Men finale. Voilà—balance.

These shows are important to me—not because I believe that television equals life, and that my experience will fit neatly into a three-act structure with a tidy, satisfying ending. It’s important because I believe in balance. I believe in surrounding myself with art and culture and people that both challenge and comfort me. And that buried deep in my ooey gooey heart—though I HATE to admit it—I love a happy ending.

–Elise 

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The End of Things

I’m here! I know—you don’t believe me! It has been a while, dear readers and dear co-blogger. A few life changes and various many-houred flights later, these are the things I have learned about myself:

I need to stop acquiring stuff immediately. Stuff is cumbersome and irritating and inconvenient and karmically unnecessary. Purge, I say!

There is virtually no amount of money I will not pay for convenience. I want professional people to sell my car and pack my things and pick my 401(k) investments for the rest of time—I cannot do it alone.

Also, how much I miss Alison.

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I missed some more things while I was traveling. Real things, but also a lot of the television shows and articles and podcasts I follow religiously in my day-to-day. And I noticed that, upon my return—binge-watching, reading and listening during any free moment I’ve got—there are a lot of endings happening right now.

Sunday’s Mad Men, “Lost Horizon”—only three more episodes left!—was one of the grimmest, most uncompromisingly real hours we have spent with these folks. The great, good Joan is taken down by the patriarchy at “fifty cents on the dollar,” while Don Draper grins madly and barrels down a road of manic self-delusion. Not pretty.

Meanwhile, two of my absolute favorite television shows ever—Justified and The Americans—came to a close. Justified is gone for good, and The Americans wrapped up its third, fantastic season.

Justified showrunner Graham Yost can’t deal in the kind of ambiguity that Mad Men’s Matty Weiner adores. The finale was satisfying and genre-appropriate–but surprising. The last scene of this guns-drawn western featured  Harlan boys Boyd and Raylan doing what they do best—acidic banter, but disarmingly poignant. They have been enemies, but they have also been brothers in the mines.

justified!

Raylan’s final, most heroic act was not shooting down the bad guy, but a lie he told to protect Boyd and Ava for the rest of their lives.

I won’t linger on The Americans season three finale here—for a gorgeously heartfelt recap and analysis of the season, check out Andy Greenwald’s piece on Grantland.

Greenwald structures his thoughts around destructive power of honesty. How truth-telling, though “noble,” can cause more pain than a teensy little lie. Or a really big lie, in the case of undercover Soviet spies, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings.

Lies that do good, and lies that do bad. To my mind, this tension characterizes all three shows and their endings. Raylan’s lie is a boon, a saving grace. The Jennings’ big confession to their daughter, Paige, will probably destroy them. The truth won’t set Don free—acknowledging his complete and constant dissatisfaction will probably kill him. At least we know Peggy’ll be all right—she knows what she’s about.

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Everybody lies. To ourselves, to our loved ones. For good reasons, or for no reason in particular. Justified, The Americans and Mad Men have never shied away from the complicated, messy humanity of their characters. Their greatest challenge is one that we face every day: do we tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth—or not?

I get these people, and I understand their choices. I will miss them. I’ve said a lot of goodbyes these past few weeks and— as in the real world—good people (with great stories) are hard to come by.

–Elise

Growing Pains

Watching GIRLS with one’s father is very strange. Particularly if much of the episode deals with the uncomfortable reality of a newly-uncloseted dad, and a twentysomething daughter trying to cope. My dad isn’t gay (I asked him, just to be sure). That’s not awkward. The tough moments are those like the recent restaurant confrontation between Hannah and her father, where she admonishes Tad for his immaturity—and in response, he dares her to produce her wallet as the bill arrives. Yeesh.

I am approaching a birthday that could well mark the end of my mid-twenties. Well, I probably have one year left before I cross into “late”—it’s kind of a judgment call. Regardless—I do not foresee a time in the next year or so when I will bring anything other than my ID (with which to order fancy drinks that I could not usually afford) to dinner with my parents. I can mock them all I want about their insistence upon arguing with Google Maps and their constant need to redecorate. The reality is, they are grown-ups. I am not. Even though the numbers tell a different story.

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*26

This is typical of my generation. Man, do I hate talking about my generation. From what I can tell, nothing good comes of lumping oneself in with all people born within a certain span of years. As the group grows up, it is uniformly resented (I’m looking at you, Baby Boomers), and accused of self-absorption, shortsightedness and laziness. I get it: my job prospects are doomed. My children will be born onto an imploding planet. This is fate: I can’t choose when I was born, and I can’t change my (terrible) circumstances. I’m stuck—but also welcome to the digital age, so I had better move really, really fast anyway.

You’ve heard this kind of thing before. Back to GIRLS.

This past Sunday, the season four finale aired on HBO. It’s been four seasons, you ask? Yes, it has! For casual viewers like my dad, who have only seen snippets of the show (another one of his favorite moments being Hannah’s declaration to her parents, “You said it was cheaper for YOU if I was on the family plan!”), it’s easy to recap each character’s trajectory during a quick commercial break. Because the primary foursome, like myself and Alison and our similarly-aged readers, seem to be frozen in time. Things happen to them, but nothing ever seems to change.

GIRLS takes this the extreme, following four young women so totally and ludicrously immobile that nobody cares what happens to them. They are, however, amusing to watch—as overblown stand-ins for our own paralyzing anxieties.

I still like GIRLS—but have noticed recently that Lena Dunham’s world reflects less upon my own. Many friends of mine are ready to move forward. Not toward the Capital F Future (parents still treat, and help us with our taxes), but they are considering real-life career changes, cross-country moves. Graduate school. Marriage.

amy

So I’m starting to wonder where GIRLS can go, and how much longer I will continue to watch. Even a glimpse into the six-months-from-now future isn’t much of a hook – is a new relationship all it takes to fix the broken people? How much longer can I laugh along with characters who refuse to acknowledge reality, instead of simply being victim to it? It’s getting a little old. You know?

–Elise