‘Girls’: The “Goodbye Tour”

Girls is, essentially, over. There’s still one episode left to air, but according to several sources the season finale may be a sort of fast-forward coda. If true, this annoys me, as I have always disliked series-finale time jumps. I prefer it when a show closes the doors on a world I am familiar with, on characters I understand (if not love) – as opposed to a future that I barely recognize. So this past Sunday’s episode “Goodbye Tour” is essentially Girls‘ true swan song. Like the rest of the series before it, it is frustrating, funny, uneven, annoying, and often gut-punchingly poignant.

I think it’s fascinating to go back to the start of this show, when Girls was more of a millenial ethnography. It took a more detached view of Hannah, her world and her friends, while simultaneously exploring their flesh and blemishes and cramped apartments with such an intimate camera gaze. Lena Dunham unapologetically wrote social commentary and diary-like confessions into the mouths of the characters, and that expository self-portrait style is what made a lot of people really hate the show. I think Girls has many, many problems, but the first season is very unique in its approach to character-piece television, and it’s grown on me more and more as a modern classic.

Then Girls began to change. More and more, it moved away from representing realism through dialogue, situations, and tangible bodies. The show evolved into a more HBO-ish series: plot-based, forward-hurtling, with “very special episodes” and an emphasis on the visual aesthetic of quality. There’s nothing realistic about the people and the stories on Girls anymore, if you’re using the rubric it began with. Kathryn VanArendonk wrote an excellent piece for Vulture that explores this point:

Girls has always had a fraught relationship with realism. It’s been a fundamental part of both the show and the critical response to it — is the series trying to argue that this is what millennial life is really like? It’s a show that’s laudably and unusually grounded in elements of realism you don’t often see on TV, especially stuff to do with women’s bodies, with how it feels to break up with someone, with the kinds of jobs someone might have in her mid-20s, with the food people would actually eat, with what sex might actually look like between two people who feel awkward with one another. Its realism is physical, bodily, fleshy…Hannah’s writing is all about gritty physical realities…It’s a realism born out of conceiving of women as both bodies and minds. It is not a realism that’s grounded in economic or social reality.

In reflecting on the episode “Goodbye Tour,” I think Girls‘ evolved, warped concept of “reality” is at its most obvious. The plot literally makes no sense, from Hannah’s pregnancy to her improbable new job as a professor of Internet studies at an upstate New York college. Shoshanna denounces every choice she’s ever made during the course of the series, essentially erasing all character growth. Ray is nowhere to be seen at the engagement party for his ex-girlfriend and, presumably, closest friend.

I don’t believe all this sloppy wrap-up writing is intentional, but juxtaposed with the absolutely beautiful final scene and montage (above), it does achieve a striking “late ’20s” feeling. The story makes no sense, but there is still a moment of transcendence reached through style and feeling. I was really touched by the sensory editing and heart-rending soundtrack (Julia Michaels’ “How Do We Get Back to Love” and Banks’ “Crowded Places”). Very telling are the cuts between Hannah’s gaze and Marnie, dancing for the delight of anonymous men; Shoshanna, goofily reeling in her fiance; Jessa, mocking fancy cupcakes with strangers. I’ve had a lot of moments like this, when I look around and see, with sudden clarity, where I and my loved ones might be in 10 years – who we’ve always been and who we will be. What was Girls doing for the last 6 seasons? What was I doing? I can’t remember for the life of me! But suddenly, all at once, we (and these characters) are closer to 30 than we ever thought we would be. I love the way this last silly, sad, joyful dance represents this show’s final grab for girlhood; it’s a moment of emotional realism that is internal and beautiful, and representative of all this show achieved.

Girls wasn’t perfect, but it was always better than bad, and it was sometimes very f*cking good. I’ll really miss it.

The Sopranos and Authorial Authority: Stop Believing

Have you heard? You were wrong about The Sopranos.

I had been talking with Chase for a few years when I finally asked him whether Tony [Soprano] was dead. We were in a tiny coffee shop, when, in the middle of a low-key chat about a writing problem I was having, I popped the question. Chase startled me by turning toward me and saying with sudden, explosive anger, “Why are we talking about this?” I answered, “I’m just curious.” And then, for whatever reason, he told me.

I don’t blame David Chase for this. I really don’t. It’s the critics and the fans that have pushed him to this, to revealing the “answer” behind the beautifully ambiguous ending to his beautifully ambigious masterpiece, The Sopranos. Which he did this morning, in a Vox interview. To my chagrin.

david-chase-james-gandolfini-sopranos-set

For a showrunner or an author, the temptation to reveal The Master Headcanon can be too great to resist. (Once burned by Lost, never again, am I right?) These geniuses sucked in all of the millions, into their exquisite fictions, where their word is law. And the audience? We all want our shit solved. We want our stories tied up in a bow. J.K. Rowling had this oversharing problem, too, but she doesn’t see it as a problem (and she still doesn’t). Gay Dumbledore, indeed. When an Author-God makes a pronouncement outside the fictional universe, it’s like we’re unearthing the epilogue to the Bible.

In case you’ve been living under the biggest and heaviest rock of all time, here’s the final scene of The Sopranos. I’ve watched it probably hundreds of times, I’ve dissected it to death, I’ve read enough think pieces for a lifetime, and it still leaves me full of awe.

Before this morning, I shared a certain perspective with most of the audience: that Tony is dead. Cut short in a brief moment, in the middle of dinner, in the middle of a conversation, in the middle of his life…in the middle of his favorite song. The sudden cut to blackness and silence represented the abrupt emptiness of death in the face of a human life: both prosaic and so vivid, mundane and miraculous, until it’s just over. That’s not the only way to read the ending, but it was mine. What I found most artful about it was its audacity. It was final and decisive. And it managed to be inexplicable, too. Very fitting in the context of the series and its protagonist.

When he answered the “Did Tony die” question, he was laconic. He shook his head, “No.” And then, simply, “No, he isn’t.”

While this is very frustrating to have to read – why’d you even open your big mouth, Chase? – I actually find it easy to ignore. To rewind and tape over, mentally. Because even though Chase created Tony and his world, and the end times, none of it belongs to him anymore. I was there from Episode 1, night after night, and I was there during the final credits. So now, The Sopranos belongs to me.

As always, art must be consumed, or it’s not art. This story and these characters are not real unless I accept them and treat them as such. This ham sandwich is not “food” and it doesn’t “taste good” until I eat it. It’s not even really “a sandwich” until I eat it. Until I experience this sandwich, it’s a useless exercise in bread slicing and mustard spreading. Tony and his life and death are what I decide to experience while I watch David Chase’s show. And I decided long ago to experience death.

Even David Chase supports me on this, oddly enough. The greatest TV reviewer of all time, Alan Sepinwall, wrote a book called “The Revolution Was Televised,” and he also asked Chase about the scene:

“It just seemed right,” he suggests. “You go on instinct. I don’t know. As an artist, are you supposed to know every reason for every brush stroke? Do you have to know the reason behind every little tiny thing? It’s not a science; it’s an art. It comes from your emotions, from your unconscious, from your subconscious. I try not to argue with it too much. I mean, I do: I have a huge editor in my head who’s always making me miserable. But sometimes, I try to let my unconscious act out. So why did I do it that way? I thought everyone would feel it. That even if they couldn’t say what it meant, that they would feel it.”

So I reserve the right to feel it as I feel like feeling it. A little capricola, a little provolone. Delicious ingredients that we all get to taste differently. And so it goes, on and on and on and on.

Hello, Ladies: Season One

Just finished all of Hello, Ladies season 1, which was not a tall order because there are precisely 8 episodes and what I do after work is no one’s business but mine and my bed. I’m still on THE HBO PROJECT. And when it comes to Stephen Merchant’s new solo effort…I don’t hate it!

I got a similar sort of charitable pity-watch feeling from Episodes, but Merchant is a much cuter Brit than the shriveled sad sacks in that show. I actually found myself compulsively watching it because it has that rare thing one doesn’t often find in comedies, which is an undercurrent of existential sadness. I think many modern comedies try for it, but few actors have the black-hole-desperation to pull it off. I just fucking love existential sadness. Especially in the midst of cringe humor, which tends to hinge, essentially, on the human grab for love and acceptance. That’s what Ricky Gervais’ The Office was about, and it’s what his partner Merchant has similarly wrought in Hello Ladies – albeit in a more stylish, HBO-snooty, LA way.

tumblr_mx954ueySC1r1mc57o1_500

It’s peculiarly weightless, centering around a crop of Angelenos with zero problems except their self-worth (which is everyone living above Sunset Boulevard, I guess). Occasionally funny, always awkward, buoyed helpfully by Merchant’s insane marble-like eyes. He does a lot to carry the show, and I’m really pleasantly surprised by his subtlety and pathos in the emotional scenes. Who knew Gumby could be a leading man? Good for Stephen Merchant; best of luck, you weird tall monster. HL is not consistently well-written, but never offensively bad. And the central will-they-or-won’t-they couple is a weak but charming little ship, which I will willingly sail into season 2.

tumblr_mw61qoAvIQ1rlpdfuo4_250     tumblr_mw61qoAvIQ1rlpdfuo1_250

tumblr_mw61qoAvIQ1rlpdfuo6_250tumblr_mw61qoAvIQ1rlpdfuo2_250

 

 

 

 

Oh, and I almost forgot! The entire season is basically worth watching for this one line. Saving for reuse.

tumblr_mwi1kjRzvi1rfpisco2_400

tumblr_mwi1kjRzvi1rfpisco1_400

I’m addicted most of all to the theme song, which does indeed lend itself to driving alone down LA freeways, feeling cool but living lame. Give it a try. Nothing says existential sadness better than Hall & Oates. *side-eyeing myself*

I Watched All of Sex and the City and All I Got Was This Lousy Blog Post

Generally I write stuff when I’m inspired, but I feel like it’s just my civic duty to let the world know that I finished the entire run of Sex and the CityWhy did I do this? Because there are many episodes of it, I like boobs, and hate-watching is my “me time.” I just refused it for SO LONG that I figured it was time to bite the bullet. There’s bar trivia to win! I can’t be missing out on crucial late-90s/mid-2000s television. Also you might be aware of my ongoing project: Watch Everything HBO Has Ever Produced. But I’m tapped out now. I’m going to hurl if I hear one more Carrie narration: “I began to wonder…”

Usually when it comes to female-centered content, I have much to observe, but SATC is a useless trifle of a show. It’s really only worth it for Kim Cattrall’s deliciously campy sexbomb Samantha Jones. Carrie is a self-obsessed little bullshitter, Miranda is a joyless working-woman stereotype, and Charlotte is a perpetual virgin. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s truly witty bitchery peppered throughout, but that’s because this series was created by a rich New York gay man. If there are really any revelations about sex or humanity contained within SATC, they are shallowly rendered and applicable only to the emotionally needy upper crust. Ugh. If I’m going to binge on something, make it steak. Not frosting. I feel ill. I swallowed all of it so quickly! THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!

Anyway I thought I’d make the most out of this assignment and offer you the public service of a Samantha Jones GIF collection. If there’s one thing I can get behind, it’s an unabashed dirty mouth and a confident woman treating her body like a wonderland. If I got one thing out of SATC, it’s this: sex and shame must be mutually exclusive for the soul to be whole. And now all I can think about is holes. Bless you, sweet Samantha.

tumblr_mtmdkxpZNW1s8fyi8o1_500

tumblr_ls31684ldg1qjmdrno1_500

sTDdJLN

tumblr_mjn2va4ICQ1qmn826o1_500

tumblr_inline_mpbvutdhKD1qz4rgp

tumblr_mnyzks9FQH1st0nmvo1_500

 

tumblr_inline_mtmml63gAu1s2b111

tumblr_mn9bc7LNBU1s34r45o1_500

 

Are you thinking to yourself, “Wow, Leah is really running out of things to say between episodes of Breaking Bad?” You’re right on the money. Wait till you see what I come up with next week. I now live in the bottom of the barrel.

Tales from the HBO Crypt: Carnivale

In case you weren’t aware of what I’ve been doing with my spare moments this past week, I’ve been watching Carnivale and sometimes sleeping and usually eating. For me there’s really no “casual watching.” I’ve kind of made it my mission to chug every single HBO show without stopping for breath.

If you’ve never seen Carnivale and your eyes and heart are hungry, give it a shot. It is one of the most beautifully photographed shows I have ever seen, and on the merits of eye candy alone, it deserves a place in the televisual hall of fame. Beyond Mad Men, far beyond Boardwalk EmpireCarnivale reproduces 1930s Dust Bowl America with utter perfection.

carnivale-season-1

Showrunner Daniel Knauf was an insurance salesman and a history buff who loved carnivals. He lovingly created a universe teeming with religious mythology, classist politics, and more ships than the British Royal Navy. Carnivale is filet mignon, people. This is a huge cast of talented character actors who were just getting started on the amazing plot tapestry that had been planned for five seasons. And then the show was cancelled at the end of Season 2.

I hate stories that life fast and die young. Because you can see from those first two seasons that Carnivale was gearing up to take over television. It was so moving, so subtle and full of life. Nick Stahl as protagonist Ben Hawkins is a total revelation. He starts out as a blank little cipher, but Stahl imbues him with such pain, such purity, that positing Ben as a Jesus figure gradually becomes second nature for the viewer. He’s a healer who desperately rejects the miracle of his abilities. I love this scene from the pilot. The slow build of the moment, and Stahl’s performance, leave me in awe.

I don’t even want to go into all the other angles of Carnivale: the early rumblings of sex-positive feminism…the painful cyclical nature of mortal life…all that good stuff. The proliferation of freaks and fortune tellers make it an “outsider” show, one of those exercises in interrogating “normal” life through the lens of the socially rejected. The thing that makes Carnivale so special, though, is the heart. So much care is put into developing relationships between the Carnies, and revealing their history to us, one iota at a time. It’s slow-moving, but satisfying in such a rare way.

And like I said, ships galore. So many vulnerable men on this show. Kreeeeeptonite! I mean, have you ever seen Tim DeKay look this good??

jonesey101Unf.

So yeah. This post might’ve been a wee bit more coherent and detailed, but my brain is honestly addled from so many hours logged on HBOGo. Just watch it, okay? Watch Carnivale. There aren’t that many episodes and it’s gonna make you feel all the feelings that are available to the human soul.

 

The Newsroom: This Just In. That’s What She Said.

751802_TNR_EP207_050213_MM_2533.JPG

Hey! The Newsroom is coming back on Sunday 7/14! Well that just snuck up on me. I mean, I saw the promos but I didn’t really internalize the fact that one of my blessed shows was returning. Because The Newsroom is so deceptively dry and gray and boring on the surface. But it’s true! Rejoice! Mad Men and GoT might be gone, but Sorkin’s impenetrable word putty is going to fill that hole!

Apparently there’s going to be a lot of election coverage this season, which will be cool because it will retroactively educate me on how I’m supposed to feel about our country’s policies and leadership. I mean, who am I kidding? I hate politics – not because that’s my ideology, but because I’m not smart enough for current events, and I transmute my shame into carefree rejection. Please, I don’t need to know what’s going on. I have celebrity pregnancies to follow and Catfish fanfiction to read. It should be enough that I even watch The Newsroom. That’s as engaged as I’m gonna get.

Which is why I’m just mostly excited to watch more unrequited love between emotionally stunted political science majors. You can have the meaty stuff about economics and social unrest. I’ll just be over here evaluating the sexual tension between Maggie and Jim. That’s my promise to you, the voters.

newsroom

True Blood: The Last Drop

Truly Truebie. That’s what they’ll write on my tombstone (if my Post-Death Wishes 1, 2, and 3 are all ignored). The devoted viewers of True Blood are waning and dying out, much like the vampire race, but some real crazies still remain. Self included. There’s really nothing “good” about the show anymore, insofar as “good” usually means “story arcs that make sense,” or “cultural significance,” or “any character continuity whatsoever.” But who cares?? Is THAT why you started watching? For quality television?

Because I think you started watching for boobies, blood, and bitchery. It was merely a coincidence that the first couple of seasons were marvelously written and straddled the difficult line between satire and melodrama. Now the actors and writers are tired, and all we’re left with is the bare bones. But I still love those bones! They’re HBO-branded bones. So now we get utter crap that’s beautifully photographed and peppered with witticisms that belong on a much better show. And I love utter crap. I love utter crap so much.

This season’s been…comforting so far. I like enjoying it with my roommates, letting our eyes simultaneously rake over Alexander Skarsgard’s dewy chest like we’re taking communion together. True Blood‘s a show for girlfriends. When it was an allegory for civil rights, it was a monumental and daring slice of sex. Now it’s pretty much just a weekly one-night stand, a tasty little romp I usually block out the next day. It feels right.

True Blood, I just want to let you know that you never let me down. Once upon a time, you made me think. But now all you make me do is scream and drool and drink a lot on Sunday nights. It’s alright. You be as dirty and dumb as you want. Because I’ll be there until the network stakes you in the back. I’ll stand by you whether your final episodes B positive O negative. I said it. Yep.

GoT S3E1: “Valar Dohaeris”

With a stroke of fate aided by living in LA, I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Game of Thrones season 3 premiere. The experience of seeing the first episode of a new season, of an HBO show, before everyone else, really fans the flames of flailing fandom. Worth the trip downtown, let me tell ya.

Here’s my review after the jump. I’ve released the SPOILER ALERT ravens. Take heed. Continue reading