The Real Thing

I’m tired of the Oscars. My fascination with the movies I loved, and interest in the movies I appreciated (if not adored) is waning. Snubbery happens every year, and everybody talks about it forever. The Academy is never really all that plugged in with the best of the best, and women, minority and offbeat artists are almost always overlooked. There are so many other awards shows leading up to the Oscars—every actor in Los Angeles appears bored, bedraggled and hungover for three months solid. Worst of all: nobody gets any work done, and we forget the reason we’re all here in the first place.

too tired to care

This year, the movies that I saw fit neatly into two categories: made for the Oscars, and not made for the Oscars. I enjoyed The Imitation Game (Benedict Cumberbatch, obviously), but the sum of its parts was too obviously calibrated to hit the Academy’s sweet spots. The Imitation Game took complicated source material and bullied it into a linear, often sentimental story. I stepped back into the terrible fluorescent Cineplex lobby lighting, and most of the movie dropped right out of my head. Ditto Wild, Into the Woods—even Foxcatcher, which was more affecting, but bizarrely paced. I walked away from Foxcatcher distracted, unsettled—and a little bit hungry, for some reason.

But then, there’s Whiplash, Boyhood, Ida and Birdman—movies that are essentially love letters written by the film’s creators to their own characters. As the credits rolled, I was tempted stay put and scream rewind over and over again until I was asked to leave. I’m all about honoring movies for examining art, friendship, love and childhood in a meaningful way. But, more than anything else, I want to see more.

Frances McDormand took home this year’s Screen Actor’s Guild award for Best Actress in a TV Movie or Miniseries. In her acceptance speech, she expressed her thanks for the invite, and a sincere desire to “get some really cozy slippers, a box of See’s Nuts & Chews, hang out and watch more of our work.”

Go watch Olive Kitteridge, she said. I’m in a show at a theater up the street, also—come see that! This has been nice—now let’s get back to doing the real thing.

Frances McDormand loves what she does. She loves what other great actors, writers, directors and producers do. So do I. So do we all. That’s why we go to the movies and buy absurdly priced cable packages. And put our dumb opinions on the Internet.

The Oscars paint a shiny veneer over a the year in film, when most of the artists invited to the party have toiled and bled and cried and lost sleep and had panic attacks and gone without cake or booze for months to create a ninety-minute phenomenon that will knock our socks off. To make something that reminds us of our humanity, and celebrates it.

The audience is wider than Los Angeles’s own Illuminati. The work is the reward. This is true of almost any well-loved undertaking. The best things are those you work your butt off to achieve—so much so that you don’t really need or want or care about the accolades that come after it. I don’t want more acceptance speeches. I want more of everything else.

Also, have you seen Olive Kitteridge yet? Because seriously, you should.

–Elise

Advertisements

The Voices In My Head

Live from Sixth and I Synagogue, in Washington, D.C.!

photo

It’s weird to develop relationships with radio personalities. You get to know their voices intimately—inflection, tone, laugh, cough. You decide what they look like. You become terrified that their real faces won’t measure up, or will somehow change everything.

2014-06-27 17.46.34

I hate hearing recordings of my own voice. Fortunately, I avoid microphones and rarely call my own phone through to voicemail, so the audio is easy to avoid. When I do hear myself played back, I don’t like it. Is my voice always that deep, and vaguely androgynous? Why do I say some words with a British cadence, and why hasn’t anyone told me to stop? But most of all—my recorded voice doesn’t sound like me, as I imagine myself to be. It’s disconcerting.

A voice without a face is a strange thing. My favorite radio personalities and podcast hosts are in my head, but disembodied—not fully real. The voices of Ira Glass, John Hodgman and Audie Cornish are, in many ways, more the message they deliver than they are themselves. Depending on who’s speaking, I’m ready to listen quietly, or laugh along, or think very seriously about Syria.

I have spent hundreds of hours listening to NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour’s Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson and Glen Weldon speak, and their pop culture podcast is much more to me than just a group of people, talking about stuff. They are an authoritative bunch that has introduced me to some of my favorite books, movies and TV shows. Their voices—full of warmth and character—command respect, and not a little bit of devotion from the likes of Alison and me.

I attended the most recent live taping of Pop Culture Happy Hour at Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington, D.C. I wish Alison had been with me. I saw Linda, Stephen and Glen in action, and guess what? They have bodies, and very expressive faces, and are actually a little discomfited sitting before hundreds of plaid-and-glasses wearing NPR nerds. They are used to microphones and a studio. We are used to piping them into our brains through ear buds. It was strange for everyone.

Glen was my favorite panelist to observe. He played to us and with us, and made us promise to buy his book. He also spoke about this very phenomenon: the explosive popularity of podcasting in 2014, and the way that the relationship between “disembodied voice” and listener is evolving as a result.

Glen spoke about the intimacy of podcasting—it’s not straight-up news reporting, with all the journalistic rigor and formality that often requires. Podcasts showcase “the rough stuff,” very personal process stories, without time-stamps. Podcasts give the impression of being raw, immediate and unedited. In the moment.

PCHH is still an NPR program, so my feeling is that Linda’s podcast will never sound quite as informal or unfinished as, say, SERIAL. But being physically present with this group hammered home the fact that the voices in my head (the radio ones) aren’t godlike or all-knowing. They’re just people. Telling stories, or being goofy. Or being Sarah Koenig (whatever that means).

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.12.29 PM

That’s what Alison and I are doing—we’ve got stuff to say, and we’re finding a way to share, whatever that means for us. We’re nothing special—not yet. We expect to be very famous, quite soon.

–Elise

Blank Space

It’s not possible. It’s necessary!

– Matthew McConaughey, to a computer

I get it. In dramatic, space-exploration movies, the universe is a metaphor—for the unknown, the final frontier, etc. Gotcha. But despite the heavyhandedness in many of these films, I enjoy them—I loved Gravity, and Contact is one of my all-time favorites.

Scientific leaps in these movies don’t really bother me, either (unless they’re completely egregious—and they would have to be, for someone like me to be like, wait…).

animal in space

I’m pretty much on board, so long as the story is compelling.

It’s true of any genre movie: if the basics are there, the audience stays with you. Character. Relationships. You can get away with a shaky premise, if your story doesn’t lean too heavily on it—or make that premise the center of everything.

Interstellar is in love with explaining itself. It gets off to a promising start: a sexy dad with a decently likable kid, and an interesting futuristic world facing a not-unimaginable calamity: drought and starvation. This is the kind of apocalypse we are actually setting ourselves up for, today and right now. One smart guy struggling to find a solution, or building a sustainable way of living, would have been pretty great to watch.

But instead, we stumble upon a secret government complex and an underground laboratory. Without getting too spoilery, there’s a Plan A and a Plan B for saving humanity. We prefer A, but need Plan B because dramatic tension. Both involve bailing on Planet Earth, which is already a goner. Bummer.

What follows: lots of meander-y talk about relativity, gravity and dimensionality, and every character crying all the time. All. The. Time.

Cryinggifs_01_1

Which would be not annoying at all, if we had spent any kind of time with these folks, and could empathize. If the movie had made us believe that there were any kind of emotional stakes to, I don’t know—the end of our world. 

Instead, weird science is front-and-center, and the characters are basically strangers—to us, and to each other. Which is completely at odds with Interestallar’s message: love between people is the most powerful force on this, and on every other planet.

Space travel has inspired some of the coolest explorations of human curiosity and imagination, with some of the awesomest adventurers. But Interstellar‘s heroes don’t seem particularly noble, or interesting, or fun–so go ahead, I say. Go to space! I’m fine here.

contact

–Elise

Allison Janney Is My Hero

Recently, I have been mainlining The West Wing. This sometimes happens.

I watched it first, from start to finish, with Alison. Our roommate Elizabeth jumped in about halfway through. Once we finished the series, Elizabeth started again from the beginning, and we watched with her. Elizabeth’s then-boyfriend, later-fiancé, now-husband Joe got into it. We all watched it again. These days, Elizabeth watches random episodes to unwind after work and texts me about it (claiming that she’s trolling for clips to show in her US Government class. She does not need to justify herself to the lady who grabs at any and all Harry Potter books to calm herself during moments of distress).

But these past few weeks, in a fever leading up to Election Day (DID YOU VOTE. DON’T LIE TO ME, I WILL KNOW.), The West Wing’s idealistic, quick-fire, smarty-pants back-and-forth has been particularly comforting—and one character, in particular.

C.J. Cregg.

Pause. I know, everybody: Aaron Sorkin isn’t known for writing well-rounded women. I sometimes wonder if he has actually met a human female. But C.J. is smart, funny, incredibly sexy (knows it), and is just—cool. Nerdy, weird, powerful and very cool.

She also has the incredible advantage of being played by Allison Janney.

Guys. Have you noticed how Allison Janney is taking over the world, and being amazing at it? She is everywhere, and she is good at everything. We are talking about one of the most intelligent, sensitive and beautifully hilarious actors in this world right now. In most places—like in The Help (ugh, The Help) or The Object of My Affection—you don’t even realize she’s there until she suddenly is, killing it. Because every character she plays is so specific, and so wonderfully nuanced, we forget about the actress—it’s not Janney we see, it’s Loretta or Bonnie or C.J.

Most of Janney’s characters are a touch kooky, and larger-than-life—but when they are in danger of veering into insanity or bitchiness, Janney grounds them with a kind of vulnerability that makes you go—that person is a real person. Even though they’re on TV. And fictional. If you’ve seen even forty seconds of Margaret Scully in Masters of Sex, you know what I’m talking about.

So, just for fun—because it’s late, and I’m tired, and I wish I could talk to Allison right now and tell her how much I like her (with my eyes, not with my words—because I don’t want to freak her out): Important Role Models In My Life, As Played By A Fabulous Amazonian Actor I Love.

Mom: Bren, from Juno.

I have an awesome mom. But should I ever become teen pregnant (time travel!), I would want Bren by my side, ready to tear into anyone who glanced at me sideways. The way she did to that mean sonogram lady.

giphy (1)

Cool Aunt: Bonnie Plunkett, from CBS’s Mom.

Are you watching this show? Please do, if only to admire all the ways a tall woman can rock ballet flats. Bonnie is a hysterically funny, unbelievably irresponsible mother figure who really knows how to have fun—while maintaining her (very necessary) sobriety. She’s self-centered and egotistical, but she tells it like it is and has the best stories. I wouldn’t trust her to house-sit, or take care of my dog, though.

Eccentric Neighbor: Betty, from The Way, Way Back.

She’s loud, crude, drinks all day and gets way too familiar with you and with your stuff. But she would never judge, and is by your side, cocktail in hand, when you fall to pieces. Cause she has been there.

giphy

Psychiatrist slash High School Guidance Counselor: Obviously—Ms. Perky, from 10 Things I Hate About You.

Doesn’t everybody need a person who’ll say, Get over yourself, you are not the center of this universe—and then distract you with all the adjectives she’s found for “throbbing?”

BFF: C.J. Cregg. See above—and see this.

—Elise

Stream Me!

Let’s pretend, for a second, that HBO and Netflix are two of the more important relationships in my life.

I know, what a stretch!

Beginning next year, HBO will offer unbundled subscriptions to an unnamed streaming service (probably HBO GO, but HBO loves being mysterious, and so, has not specified).

This is, obviously, not an emergency. HBO will not take over the Internet, nor will Netflix go the way of Blockbuster and die a scary, excruciatingly drawn-out death, one strip-mall location at a time. As smarter folks than I have already observed, streaming services are “not a zero-sum game”—there is enough audience to go around. If anything, there’s a surplus of content—and literally not enough hours in the day or platforms in the world to accommodate it all.

HBO GO, Netflix and I spend a lot of time together. And, as my mom might say about my sister and me: I love them both equally, for very different reasons.

HBO GO is like a sophisticated, enigmatic older boyfriend. He thinks he’s smarter than me, but I’m weirdly into that. He’s vaguely pretentious; enjoys both Beyoncé *and* Olive Kitteridge; and eats at fancy restaurants where hamburgers cost $26, but taste amazing. He’s also kind of a dick sometimes.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 2.29.04 PM

Then, there’s Netflix. Netflix is my roommate. She’s seen me stumble in at all hours, jonesing for twenty minutes of mindless entertainment, before passing out on the couch. She’s seen me gross and teary after a date gone horribly awry, and on those Friday nights when I hate people and all I want to do is drink quietly and watch Clueless. She’s hilarious and laid-back and knows me so well (Recommended For You: Profound Indie Comedies Featuring A Strong Female Lead And Many Delicious Baked Goods).

waitress_ver2

Netflix recently made every season of Gilmore Girls available for streaming—and has announced that it will do the same with Friends. Basically giving me unlimited, on-demand access to all the warm fuzzies and gooey feelings in the land. Why even make in-person friends anymore?

These shows are my security blankets—easy to watch, often hilarious, and have comforted me during some genuinely upsetting moments. Friends and Gilmore Girls are both about building the relationships that matter, and learning from the people you love. Friends is not real life, sure—but the characters care about each other. Speaking as an often cynical, sometimes self-absorbed, always confused twentysomething, that’s not an easy, nor an unremarkable thing.

So, I’ve got my moods: Want to feel smart, but also laugh, but also feel vaguely depressed, and Introspective? The Comeback!

Want to be a little judgy, and get a little trashy, but not care because I’m among friends? The Queen of Versailles! (Documentaries always make you smarter, anyway).

HBO may be a high-maintenance date, and at times confounding (can we talk about The Leftovers? I mean, really—what was that?), but he is always reliable, and has a good heart. Netflix can be a touch cheesy, but is always down for a good time. There’s plenty of love for everyone in my web browser. Amazon and Hulu, included.

So long as my parents don’t change their passwords.

 

-Elise

GIRLFRIENDS.

Pilot season this fall has been dominated by marriage, and explorations of committed, boy-on-girl relationships. I literally cannot be argued with–just look at the series titles: Married on FX. Marry Me on NBC. The Affair on Showtime. Seriously, it’s right there.

Thing is (and I’m definitely not the first person to say this, nor the last): What I’ve seen of this new crop of shows isn’t…good. I’m already missing some of the fresh, hilarious gems that brightened my summer–when, in a surprising and delightful turn of events, lady comedians and female friendship dominated the airwaves. Here, a tribute to one of my very favorite new shows, and a personal plea to USA TV execs for renewal:

The premise of USA’s Playing HouseEmma and Maggie have been best friends forever. Emma returns to her small-town home for Maggie’s baby shower. Maggie promptly discovers that her husband is a cheating Internet weirdo, and Emma drops everything to move in with Maggie, and to help with the newborn. Co-creators and co-stars Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are real-life best buddies and collaborators, and it shows. The show glows with warmth generated by their love and their crazy. Awkward plot moments and the super-thin secondary characters (thus far, but improving) move to the background when Emma (St. Clair) and Maggie (Parham) come together onscreen. This thing is begging for renewal.

I don’t love it when girls touch me. I’ve never quite understood the GIRLS-style female friendship that requires joint nudity, or doing that horrible arm-in-arm walking thing. It is the least effective, least comfortable way to walk.

But ladylove, Emma and Maggie-style? I have that. Let me tell you, that kind of friendship is pretty singular, and I am not sure a girl should be allowed more than one. One at a time, at least–maybe one in a lifetime. There is a ridiculous abundance of brilliant, hilarious and wonderful women in my life. But this one, with my co-blogger, and the one I see when I watch Playing House, examines something uniquely female and totally underrepresented on the small screen ’till now. One where the emotional stakes don’t necessarily manifest physically–with touching, hugging, curling up together in bed or snotting in a bathtub. You just–feel them.

boundaries

Since I moved to San Francisco, Alison and I have stayed in shockingly close touch. I’m actually pretty good at keeping up with people, in general (I lied in our first post). But there are only so many bi-monthly hour-long phone-call-type relationships one can sustain. It’s exhausting. But then texting happened! It’s so great! And, if you’re Alison and I, it’s also the perfect tool to hone our writing-based, cynicism-powered observational one-liner skills.

In the way that so many ladies decide they’re “a Miranda” or “a Carrie” in their friendships, Alison and I both agree that if Playing House were a thing that happened to us, we’d both be Emmas. But the dynamic is us–two smart, stubborn and fiercely independent women who also, somehow, need each other. But NEVER talk about it. Because that’s sort of gross and also because–who cares? We don’t need to say it out loud. It’s there.

That kind of easy female comfort, coinciding with a deep mutual respect and awareness of boundaries/wants/desires is incredibly rare. And unbelievably hard to write. That’s probably why we haven’t seen it on TV until two BFFs decided to make it together.

Emma can go take a nap when she’s tired of hanging out. Maggie won’t get pissed–she’ll probably be glad for a moment to herself. Maggie can bust out Bosephus, and Emma can reminisce briefly about dry-humping some guy they both knew under the bleachers in high school. Most especially for girls, shared memories lay the foundations for the kind of wrought-iron friendship these ladies have. But memories are not the sum of that friendship–Emma and Maggie are invested in the present tense. In creating that present tense together, and also by supporting and celebrating their independent experiences.

This, I think, separates it from a show like Sex and the City. The show is a classic portrait of feminine friendship, yes–but you can’t divorce that friendship from men. Male relationships and sex are the foreground for each character’s story–again, it’s baked right into the title.

So, I’m excited about Playing House–for all the reasons that any person should love good art. They see themselves in it. I see Alison and I, albeit quietly, in Emma and Maggie. And it makes me hope–nay, believe–that were I pregnant and divorcing my cheating ex-husband, I’d have someone to call. Or that if Alison found herself in that hysterically funny situation, vice versa.

springsteen

To Alison, and all the Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parhams out there, let me illustrate what I mean with one final example, drawn from another Very Important Female Friendship Moment on TV: if you were Carrie, your diaphragm were stuck, and you genuinely, seriously needed a Samantha-style “helping hand” (terrible), I would be that hand. Without question. But I will not hold your hand for no reason. That’s weird.

-Elise