Thursday, January 31, 2013

The five dummies you meet in heaven

     "30 Rock" cast, from left to right: Jack McBrayer, Tina Fey,
     Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, and Tracy Morgan.
     Photo Credit: NBC

I am not very old at all. In my ~20 years, I have really only ever lost two people that I consider close to me: my grandfathers, one of whom died when I was 4, and the other when I was 16.

You might be surprised to learn that losing someone close to you isn't much fun. Despite being told to remember the good times, you spend a lot of time dwelling on "what ifs" - the time you wish you had spent with a person, and the conversations you never had.

Right before my paternal grandfather died in December 2009, my English class was assigned a speech. We were asked to interview a family member or close friend, preferably over the age of 50, about an event in their life that we could write out as a story and then tell to the class. My mom suggested I talk to my grandfather about how he got his driver's license back in the early 1940s (long story short: he scared the tester so much with what a bad driver he was that the guy actually passed him because he refused to ever get back in a car with him). My family and a number of our relatives had tickets to go see the Guelph Storm play their annual Teddy Bear Toss game that upcoming Saturday, and while doing some research on the time period on Monday, I thought that going to that game and going out for dinner would be a perfect opportunity to ask him questions about that story.

Well you can guess what ended up happening. There was no story or hockey game on Saturday. There was a funeral on Friday. I never got to hear that story, and I still regret that I felt like I had as little as six days to wait to hear it. That Thanksgiving, he had told my brother to come over some time so he could teach him about electrical wiring, and I know he also still feels bad about never getting around to that.

Something that draws me to television so much is that I really, really hate change. I have never liked it, and for the most part I think it's because major change in my life has never been the result of my own determination. I have never been able to experience the kind of change where I choose to move into a new house, or quit a job and move on to pursue some bigger career opportunity. My change has been new schools and living away from home because that's what you do when you reach certain ages.

Yet through any kind of change in my life, and no matter how much I might not like the show very much anymore, the paper pushers at Dunder Mifflin were still there every Thursday night. I was still able to watch Dr. House crack inappropriate jokes every week. And when my own family isn't around every day, the Simpsons can be as good a substitute.

And there is one TV show - just one, as far as I know - that has been on the air, and I have been a viewer of, while I attended each of the three schools I have ever been enrolled at. It was on during my final year of elementary school, all four years of high school, and my first two years of university. For some reason, one of the biggest constants in my life has been this ridiculous satirical TV comedy that is both really intelligent and yet probably most well known in the larger popular culture for catchphrases like "I want to go to there" and "Blergh!"

Tonight, after seven seasons and 138 episodes, "30 Rock" takes its final bow on the NBC television network. I have been a viewer of "30 Rock" since Tuesday, October 10, 2006, when I sat down to watch its very first episode premiere (a day early here in Canada). That was a little more than 329 weeks ago - more precisely, it was 2,305 days ago. I have been alive for 7,219 days. That means "30 Rock" has existed for roughly 32% of my life. And in terms of how long the show has existed in this period in which I have been the copious TV watcher who types before you, I imagine the number shoots somewhere into the 80-90% range.

"30 Rock" is not my grandfather. It's not a relative or a close friend. It's not a person whose funeral I will attend. But with the incredible sadness I feel about the show ending, tonight's one hour finale might as well feel like a funeral to me. Probably the Monty Python Graham Chapman funeral to be specific, but still.

I remember thinking a couple years back that I had never really watched a TV show from beginning to end, as it aired, at least not for a show that lasted for any substantial amount of time. I was pretty sure that "House" would be the first show I could say that about, but I bailed on the last couple seasons once the show became an unbearable chore to sit through each week.

And so for the first time, I'm confronting the conclusion of a television show whose first episode I can really vividly remember watching live so many years ago. I'm also realizing that I've been fortunate enough that it's probably also been two or three years since one of the shows I watch week to week has even been cancelled (continued RIP, "Better Off Ted"). The end of "30 Rock" doesn't bring tears to my eyes (though who knows what's in store tonight), but it also does feel like I'm losing something that's been a part of my life for so many years. It's made me look back and realize that I took the show for granted season after season, letting episodes pile up on the DVR and not understanding how lucky I was to be able to watch this show for one episode, let alone seven seasons. As ridiculous as it might sound, for someone like me who geeks over TV so much, it does feel of a piece with not picking up the phone and talking to my grandfather more often, and the failure to realize that even the things that are a part of our lives for so long don't last forever.

In the remaining few hours before the finale, I'll be rewatching some classic episodes, as I've been doing for the past week or so, and wondering where the time has gone. And at 9pm tonight...well, I was gonna say that at 9pm tonight, I'll probably sit quietly and think about the fact that "Parks and Recreation" and "Cougar Town" and "Arrested Development" are still on the air, and that at least "30 Rock"'s 8pm timeslot will be filled by the delightful "Community" next week. But I think I'm probably gonna end up DVRing the finale and then staring at the list of recorded shows, finding five more minutes at a time to put off facing this weird end of an era for a kid who has been obsessed with TV for so long that he's been watching "Mad Men" since he was 15. *Then* I will go through my version of the five stages of TV grief outlined above.

And'll be Friday, February 1. I wait for the next time I lose one of my favourite shows. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But we're talking "30 Rock". So I think the more appropriate term would be "respawn".

Monday, January 28, 2013

Global's SAG screwup reflects a network in shambles

     "Homeland" star Claire Danes reacts to winning the SAG
     Award for Female Actor in a Drama Series Sunday night.

A funny thing happened on Canadian television last night.

No, that's not right. Allow me to rephrase. A funny thing didn't happen on Canadian television last night.

Hmm, still not exactly right, since even for TBS and TNT viewers in the United States, the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards probably weren't a laugh riot.

Okay, how about this: a super weird, ridiculously embarrassing thing happened on Canadian television last night. A major screwup the likes of which I can't remember ever seeing before.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Girls" - "Bad Friend": Catch the wave

     Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Elijah (Andrew Rannells) find
     the magic on "Girls".
     Photo Credit: HBO

At the beginning of Sunday (January 27) night's "Girls," Hannah's potential employer tells her to step outside her comfort zone in terms of her writing, specifically with a diagram on the wall suggesting that the magic happens in a little circle outside said comfort zone. Like the meta criticisms from last week's big Hannah/Sandy fight, it seemed to suggest that, despite being a show that focuses on the whole lives of twentysomethings in the big city, the critics of "Girls" were looking for something more each week than mostly or solely sexual exploits. We spend a good deal of time with...(we need a good "Cul de Sac Crew"-esque name for these people; to just call them "the girls" doesn't seem right since Adam, Elijah, and Ray are significant parts of the show)...these characters in their professional lives, but I'm blanking on an episode before this one that was primarily a personal story, but wasn't about a romantic relationship.

"Girls" has proven through a dozen or so previous episodes that it's perfectly capable of telling such stories about Hannah and Adam (last week's episode in particular), or Marnie and Charlie, or even Ray and Shoshanna (whose name I think I have finally learnt how to spell correctly). This week, the show stepped outside of its comfort zone and documented a coke-fueled night in the lives of Hannah and Elijah, with sequences that were at times quite funny, very well produced, and great showcases for Lena Dunham and Andrew Rannells. Rannells isn't playing the exact same character on both "Girls" and "The New Normal" so it's probably not a totally fair statement about the performances, but Elijah and Bryan share enough DNA that it's very refreshing to see this version of Bryan who is similarly obnoxious but that "Girls" can have a lot of fun with by understanding how obnoxious he can be ("The New Normal" will never be able to do that because Bryan is Ryan Murphy, and Ryan Murphy's favourite person in the world is Ryan Murphy).

And in an episode where Hannah is not on a romantic misadventure/screwup, what better way to continue the theme of "Hannah and Marnie couldn't be in more different places in their lives right now" than through Marnie's horrifying night with Booth Jonathan, fucking great artist/runner up to Adam Sackler in the 2012 "New York's Biggest Creep" contest? I didn't dislike Marnie in the first season, but at the same time I have no specific memories of really pulling for her as a character. It's hard for me not to, though, after watching the walls literally close in on her, forcing her into the fetal position. And much like when real life does it to her, she brushes it off and tells Booth how awesome she thought it was. Poor, poor Marnie - bravo, bravo Allison Williams.

The season is young, but this was my favourite of the three so far. As with all things "Girls", I imagine the reaction to this one in particular will be quite split.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Girls" - "I Get Ideas": On notice

     Hannah (Lena Dunham) gets life advice from Jessa (Jemima
     Kirke) on "Girls". Also, puppies.
     Photo Credit: HBO

For a show that is about so much pain and failure, "Girls" has thus far not been a particularly dark series. Hannah and friends makes mistakes and things usually don't go their way, but it's been handled somewhat lightheartedly because at the end of the day, we can brush off their heartbreaks and their career falters as often self-inflicted "white people problems" as necessary. And even when Adam is a jerk or a creep or all of the above to Hannah, he has his moments of redemption - where the continuity can be reset easily enough so that the revelation of his alcoholism can close an episode as Hannah and Adam happily jogging can open the next (do I have that order right?)

Sunday (January 20) night's episode "I Get Ideas" immediately felt different from episodes that have come before it. Our very first glimpse in the episode isn't of a girl - it's Elijah, breaking up with his boyfriend in the wake of his disastrous encounter with Marnie, the two men trading nasty accusations back and forth. From the outset, the music didn't feel particularly "Girls"-y - it wasn't the kind of music that said "prepare to feel even more uncomfortable than usual," but it just wasn't the norm. In general, it felt like one of the first, but certainly not the last, particularly dark instalments of the show - and for the most part, I thought it was just excellent.

That being said, my favourite scene of the episode didn't seem particularly dark or out of the ordinary at all, which was Sandy's constructive criticism for Hannah and their ensuing breakup. It was a classic "Girls" moment of the dial slowly being turned up on total and sudden insanity until characters might as well be foaming at the mouth because that would probably be less embarrassing than the words that were coming out of them. Particular highlights of dialogue included Hannah telling Sandy she knows all the things she does well, she needs to hear about the bad stuff, her asking Sandy if he still wanted to have sex (great reading by Lena Dunham), and picturing Hannah and Sandy watching multiple episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress".

Meanwhile, the amount of bleak seems to vary for the rest of Williamsburg. Despite being the hottest girl in the world, Marnie apparently doesn't have the right look to sit in the front of a building and be the face of a business. She and Hannah are still awkwardly tiptoeing around their problems. But for Shoshannah, life is blissful ignorance at the moment with Ray, and Jessa and Thomas John are still a bizarre force of nature that I can't explain (I love that they're sitting on that goldmine and just doling a little bit out at a time - for some reason, I hope there's some crazy revelation in the season finale about them that we can go back through the season and find hints about or something).

But if you want total bleak? Look no further than Adam Sackler. I enjoyed learning more about him as the first season progressed, and I actually kind of liked him in the first season finale. Unfortunately, the reset button seems to have been pressed in a major way where any more redemption we'd see out of him this season couldn't have more weight (or be any different, really) than what we've already seen. He's treating Hannah's heart like monkey meat and being a creep as usual, but now he's breaking into her house at night and scaring her, and then refusing to leave while laughing like a psychopath. I personally don't blame Hannah for calling the po-po - Adam has become even more toxic for her than we ever thought he could.

About half way through the episode, Oracle Jessa tells Hannah that her life will never get any better than it is right now. Not that we need to be all that worried about her predicting skills, but for Hannah's sake, let's all hope Jessa couldn't be more wrong.

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Girls" - "It's About Time": Fuck me? Fuck you!

     Hannah (Lena Dunham), Shoshannah (Zosia Mamet), and
     Marnie (Allison Williams) pull out their brave faces on "Girls"
     Photo Credit: HBO

Maybe I'm way off base, but it always seemed to me that most of the detractors of the first season of HBO's "Girls" hated it because they largely didn't understand it. They found it annoying, they found it pretentious, and they didn't think Lena Dunham and co deserved to be saying any of the things they were saying about life and the world as twentysomethings. But they didn't understand that the unlikeable characters and the repellant tone were both intentional and essential to telling a purposeful story and engaging with the audience in such an effective and interesting way.

So it seems only fitting that Sunday (January 13) night's second season premiere, "It's About Time", set out to raise the stakes on every character's colossal screw-ups to really drive home to the h8rs that everything they didn't like about the show was primarily a result of their misreading the message.

That isn't to say that Dunham set out to write an episode solely to try to prove people wrong. "Girls" has alienated a lot of people and at this point, barring a few new eyeballs from awards attention or people who didn't spend last spring reading countless thousands of words about the show online, they're basically preaching to the choir. But the premiere functioned very well as a simultaneous return for these characters, any regular episode for the show, and maybe even as a chance to take advantage of anybody who stopped by hoping to change their mind on Hannah Horvath and friends.

From beginning to end, our heroines (if we can call them that) found themselves somewhere below rock bottom, yet tricking themselves into believing they're doing just fine. Hannah is enjoying life with new roommate Elijah and a new boyfriend played by Donald Glover (again, the show addressing first season criticism of the show's lack of diversity), yet she's still a slave to her ex-boyfriend Adam, so much so that literally the only pot she has to piss in is reserved for him. Marnie tries to convince herself she's moved on and doesn't need a man in her life, only to try to have uncomfortable and awkward sex with gay Elijah before begging to be let back into Charlie's bed for the night. Hannah and Marnie both try to reassure the other that their friendship has not crumbled to dust. Shoshannah is a woman and hear her roar, but damn if she can't get a logical sentence out of her mouth in front of Ray. And in the episode's closing minutes, we see Jessa and her new husband, absent from the episode up to that point, running through the busy Brooklyn streets and hopping into a cab. No more than that, because we got our fill of rock bottom for one episode entirely before that, and it will take many more minutes to sort out the madness of Jessa's life than were available tonight. It was the perfect button to the episode, as if to leave detractors with one final, "You're kidding, right?"

An excellent return for the show. I laughed, I felt uncomfortable, and I watched some scenes through the spaces of the fingers covering my eyes. If it was anything less, I would be disappointed, and if it was anything else, it wouldn't be "Girls".