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Ketchup 2018

Argh I’m just awful at keeping up with this. These are things I remember from 2018 so far. Maybe I’ll be better in the summer about making a note here and there.

Music

  • Ctrl, SZA
  • Until the Hunter, Hope Sandoval
  • Alone, Mall Grab
  • Elder Island, Elder Island
  • Con todo el mundo, Khruangbin
  • Freedom, Amen Dunes
  • Mind Out Wandering, Astronauts, etc.
  • Pop 2, Charli XCX
  • Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett
  • Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter
  • Scary Hours, Drake
  • Places and Spaces, Donald Byrd
  • Gabor Szabo
  • Lord Echo
  • Czarface Meets Metalface, MF Doom
  • War & Leisure, Miguel
  • SR3MM, Rae Sremmurd
  • These Falling Arms, The Sea & Cake
  • Treehouse, Sofi Tukker
  • Exotic Worlds and Masterful Treasures, Stimulator Jones
  • Sugar at the Gate, TOPS
  • In a Poem Unlimited, U.S. Girls
  • Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples
  • William Onyeabor
  • Provider, Frank Ocean

Required reading

  • Bluets, Maggie Nelson
  • Pale Fire, V. Nabokov – Students always love this
  • Olio, Tyehimba Jess – Most impressive new poetry book in years
  • Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes
  • Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino – Students always love this
  • If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, Anne Carson (and Sappho sort of)
  • Meadowlands, Louise Gluck
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
  • Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys – So magically good; her handling of time and tone is amazing
  • On Being Blue, William Gass – Did not remember the fundamental sexism in this; was embarrassed to have assigned it to students

Non-required reading

  • L’Amour Fou, Rosalind Kraus – Finally thought to buy myself a copy of this much beloved work on surrealist photography
  • The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst – Very smart but I don’t love it like Wendy does
  • Meditations, Marcus Aurelius – A little bit every workday instead of alazopram
  • Speak, Memory, V. Nabokov – Sometimes the pleasure VN takes in his own virtuosity makes me roll my eyes but this is just incredible in every way as a memoir, a history of 20c, and a string of blue ribbon sentences

Movies

  • Man of the West, Anthony Mann. I love how Mann does violence. There are no clean punches or shots, it’s all awkwardness and it goes on too long or not long enough to effect any catharsis. Grueling. Lee J. Cobb, Julie London, Gary Cooper. Movie Night! With Scott and Shrode.
  • Darkest Hour, Joe Wright. Movie Night! With Scott and Shrode. Watched and forgotten.
  • Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino. I guess if it’s sufficiently continental it’s OK that it’s predatory pedophilia?
  • Winchester ’73, Anthony Mann – The western where the rifle is the star
  • Stagecoach, John Ford – Everything’s going to be all right as everyone knows his/her place
  • The Gleaners and I, Agnes Varda – Still the greatest
  • Faces/Places, Agnes Varda – Also good but here as opposed to the Gleaners it feels a little bit like the openness to chance is slightly pre-determined? I like the part when they go to Godard’s house and he’s such an asshole
  • North by Northwest, Hitchcock – Movie night! With Scott and Shrode. For some reason we drank a lot of ouzo.
  • The Florida Project, Sean Baker. – Baker wants to get into some serious shit here regarding American poverty and hopelessness, but he also wants to make a kandy-kolored adorable movie about hope and the irrepressibility of the imaginative lives of children, and he can’t really have it both ways. If it ended in tears and agony instead of E. T. transcendence I would respect it more. Still this is worth seeing and I’m glad it got made.
  • Seeing Allred, Sophie Sartain, Roberta Grossman. This is a Neflix documentary about Gloria Allred and she is a badass.
  • Wind River, Taylor Sheridan. I’m sorry, this is bullshit. The movie is well made and earnest in its desire to condemn racism, government ineptitude, and corporate malfeasance but why why why must the lady FBI agent be incompetent, the Native Americans noble but hapless, and the only person capable of setting wrongs right a white guy? I fear I know the answer to that: If the Jeremy Renner character were played by a Native American actor, the movie would never have been made, because no one’s going to stomach watching a Native American hero coolly pick off the white bad guys. Ugh.

TV

  • Big Little Lies (HBO)
  • Silicon Valley (HBO)
  • Babylon Berlin (Netflix)
  • The Crown (Netflix)
  • Narcos (Netflix)
  • The Same Sky (Netflix)
  • Nobel (Netflix)
  • The Tunnel (Amazon)
  • Atlanta (FX)
  • Bosch (Amazon)
  • The Expanse (Amazon)
  • Prime Suspect: Tennison (Amazon)

I watch a shocking amount of television these days but I don’t know how much I’m really watching it since I’m usually doing email at the same time. Any of these will provide a reasonable amount of ambient narrative if you’re in need of that kind of thing, but Atlanta‘s the only show there that’s actually worth thinking about.

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Ketchup 2017

I’ve got a phone, a tablet, a laptop, a desktop, and a TV in my house, and any one of them is capable of delivering torrents of video from a variety of sources. A fly on my wall would note my oddly contradictory responses to this cornucopia. On the one hand, I’m an indiscriminate Hoover, in that I’ll start watching just about anything. On the other hand, I seem to have become increasingly discerning, or distractible, in that I am rarely sufficiently engaged to finish anything. I watched one third of The Young Pope, only to be distracted by the appearance of the new season of Orange is the New Black, which I got halfway through before being suddenly struck by an inexplicable need to see all of Bertolucci again, a project I abandoned almost immediately after reading somewhere that I should instead be watching Paolo Sorrentino’s movies, which reminded me that I never finished The Young Pope, but when I tried to go back to it I somehow instead spent a whole week watching the first twenty minutes each of a hundred subtitled European cop shows on Netflix.

I’m grateful that there are a lot of interesting things to watch, but this lurching from one thing to the next is unpleasantly disorienting. I don’t like it when I’m at the gym in the morning and I literally can’t remember what I watched the night before. (It’s possible that my sense of being overwhelmed and confused by this tsunami of content is exacerbated by early onset CRS.) I don’t like the sense of having so many things unfinished. It’s begun to affect my reading habits as well. I only ever used to have one book by my chair; now there are six.

So some New Year’s resolutions for 2018.

  • I’ll finish what I start, unless it’s awful, in which case I’ll abandon it quickly and decisively, never to return
  • I’ll watch more movies and fewer TV programs, which have a way of just burbling on forever
  • I won’t watch anything so wholly without merit that it doesn’t warrant at least a brief comment on this blog

Before beginning this new program, I should quickly note some cultural products consumed this fall which I haven’t written about here and likely won’t. This is by no means a complete list; this is just what I can remember off the top of my head this morning.

Movies

  • Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan (2017). Just watched this with Shrode when he came through town on his way to New Orleans. Impressive, exhausting.
  • Force Majeure,  Ruben Östlund (2014). If this doesn’t convince you that rich people are insufferable I don’t know what will.
  • Landline, Gillian Robespierre (2017). Charming but not as good as Obvious Child.
  • The B Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, Errol Morris (2017). O sublime. I had a very profound but kind of hard to explain reaction to this movie.
  • The Accountant, Gavin O’Connor (2016). I saw this on a plane I think. I remember it because the guy’s an accountant, but also, like, has guns.
  • Gold, Stephen Gaghan (2016). I am still a Matthew McConaughey fan, despite everything.
  • The Right Stuff, Philip Kaufman (1983). I like Sam Shepard’s mysticism.
  • The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Noah Baumbach (2017). Good lessons about how not to be an artist.
  • Okja, Bong Joon Ho (2017). Wonderful. I wish I had the gumption to be a vegan.

Books

  • Sailing the Wine Dark Sea, Thomas Cahill (2003). It was fun and useful to read this while teaching my classics class on Homer, Virgil, and Ovid this fall.
  • On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, William Gass (1976). Preparing to teach this alongside Maggie Nelson’s Bluets in my spring class on reiteration. It’s knottier than I remembered.

TV

  • A Very Secret ServiceJean-François Halin (2015-). This is on Netflix and it is really disorienting, in a good way. It’s like Get Smart meets The Battle of Algiers
  • Patriot, Steven Conrad (2015-). This is on Amazon and I don’t know what to say about it except that I love it when Kurtwood Smith talks about piping.
  • Mindhunter, Joe Penhall (2017-). As I scroll through my viewing history on Netflix and Amazon, I see that I have in the past year or so started watching approximately one thousand drama series of various stripes, but seen through to the end maybe half a dozen, of which this was one. Not perfect, but strong characters, good writing, engaging mise en scene make it worth it IMHO.
  • Ozark, Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams (2017-). Another series I went the distance with; I’d go most anywhere with Laura Linney.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David. I had never really gotten into this; I watched it all this fall.
  • The Deuce, George Pelecanos and David Simon (2017-). Meticulously researched and I love the idea of it but it’s really pretty flat in practice (just like Treme was).
  • Vinyl, Rich Cohen, Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese (2016). Just atrocious.
  • The Young Pope, Paolo Sorrentino (2016-). As with Sorrentino’s movies, I feel like I’m too American to really appreciate it, but I love it.
  • Vice News Tonight. I have become a devotee of this show; it’s the only TV news I can bear to watch.
  • Justified, Graham Yost (2010-2015). I was really surprised by how much of this I watched. I watched a lot of it. It certainly trucks with a lot of stereotypes about Applalachia, but in a weird way even just to see that part of the world represented on TV felt weirdly like something positive. That, plus so many nice performances kept me on this for a while, though not all the way.
  • Ballers, Stephen Levinson (2015-). This is just horrible, horrible. I watched it all. Probably the most shameful thing I did in 2017. I don’t even know why I did it.
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Influenza Playlist

Being sick loosens the customary strictures of my TV ethos. Normally, oppressed by my needs to maximize efficiency and minimize shame, I mostly try to watch things I haven’t seen before and things that aren’t total garbage. But six days on the sofa with the flu lends license to revisit old things and wallow in crap.

In addition to random episodes of various television shows, a Green Bay Packers playoff game, a Crimson Tide championship game, the Golden Globe Awards where Meryl Streep talked about how we need to protect journalists and insulted MMA, and dunes of additional flotsam (I discovered my Apple TV can stream every Simpsons episode ever, which is good to know), here’s some of what I can remember watching in living DayQuil-vision over the last week.

Once Upon a Honeymoon, Leo McCarey (1942). Carey Grant and Ginger Rogers try to conduct a playful romantic comedy amongst the Nazi intrigues leading up to WWII. Featuring a scene where they’re mistaken for Jews and confined to the Warsaw ghetto. One of the most schizophrenic movies I’ve ever seen.

Being There, Hal Ashby (1979). Revisited for obvious reasons. Ashby, working off a script byJerzy Kosiński, posits that a complete idiot uncomprehendingly reciting snippets of TV advertisements could rise to political power, but he doesn’t quite dare to get Chauncey Gardiner all the way into the Oval Office, he just hints at the possibility. Outrageous satire then, business as usual now.

Caddyshack, Harold Ramis (1980). This amused me less than I thought it would. I didn’t remember how much of the comedy turned on sexism. The Chevy Chase character has held up better than the Bill Murray character, I think.

High Fidelity, Stephen Frears (2000). This wasn’t as fun as I remembered, either, and for sort of similar reasons. The movie proposes the girls as existing only to thwart or satisfy the boys. The boys are the only characters whose problems actually matter, and they’re all a bunch of assholes. It was fun seeing all the posters in the record store, though. The Silos! God. The year 2000 was a lot of years ago all of a sudden! Amazing how little consciousness of hip hop these boys have.

Rushmore, Wes Anderson (1998). Very nice, but really all I can think about it what a quantum leap it was from this to The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), which is so infinitely better.

His Kind of Woman, John Farrow (1951). Uneven and claustrophobic romance/noir suffered a lot of production problems and it shows. But I’d watch Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell hang wallpaper, and Vincent Price is a hoot.

The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino (2015). You know, I got about eight hateful minutes into this and turned it off. It’s just boring. Probably unfair.

Blue Velvet, David Lynch (1986). Hasn’t lost an ounce of weirdness in thirty years. You can’t imagine it being made today. There’s something so frank (forgive me) about its presentation of depravity. It doesn’t wink at itself, or us; it doesn’t say, “Ooh, look how naughty and outré I am.” It’s just like: Look at this.

The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms, David Briggs (2015). Notice how both this documentary and the article I mention below mention “secret rules.” I’ve been abstractly terrified of the Internet for some time now; since the election it’s not very abstract. (I squarely blame the Trump presidency on the Internet, period.) I came across this documentary on Netflix and I’m glad I watched it. Math has never been my strong suit, but the cheerful Oxford don explains algorithms in terms even I could understand, and I feel I have a glancing knowledge now of how, for instance, Google search works. Pretty fascinating.

The Secret Rules of the Internet,” Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly (2016). I so wish we had Orwell with us to see what is happening to the nature of public discourse. This article really got me thinking about how we’ve increasingly ceded authority and standards for truth to the radical flatness of the Internet, where information moves because of money and/or ideological agenda, and the truth is completely optional. Meryl Streep was right; we need to support real journalists now more than ever.

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Ketchup

KetchupCan’t keep up the full-blown posts while school’s in session. This isn’t everything seen, heard, and read this semester — just what I can remember off the top of my head.

Atonement, Ian McEwan (2001). Hundreds of terrific sentences and a lively yarn. Is it now always necessary that every novel has to be about both what it’s about and also about novelists?

Ex Machina, Alex Garland (2015). This made me so mad but now I’m having trouble even remembering it. I think it had to do with the fact that it was masquerading as being all Jaron Lanier philosophical when really it’s just about grubby horny boys wanting to look at sexy naked girls without feeling bad about it. Two choices available to female-coded beings in this world: slave or murderer. See my commentary elsewhere regarding those recent Scarlett Johansson movies; she’s the queen of this kingdom, and Luc Besson is its Don King.

Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography, Errol Morris (2011). Manic, obsessive, repetitive, and great investigation of photography’s truthiness and its consequences. Particularly astute on the ways photographs can be put to use as political propaganda.

Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes, With Other Popular Moralists, ed. Robin Hard (2012). I didn’t like Diogenes as much as I thought I would. His inconsistencies irritate me. Turns out I’m more of a Seneca guy. What are you going to do.

Dialogues and Essays, Seneca. Still working on this. Not as immediately accessible as Marcus Aurelius but I’m warming to it.

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius. I love this like I love Montaigne; their spirits are so close. (My understanding is that Montaigne oddly doesn’t seem to have known Aurelius — a pity.) The Staniforth translation is the best. The Robin Hard one may be “better” for classicists but it’s awful for human consumption.

Welcome to Me, Shira Piven (2014). A little Truman Show, a little Nurse Betty, a little To Die For. Doesn’t quite hold together, is too one-note and too relentlessly committed to despair, but it’s still a smart movie.

Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Suzan-Lori Parks (2015). If you’re struggling to write a play about a soldier come home from a war and you find out that your favorite living playwright’s new play is titled “Father Comes Home from the Wars,” you have some kind of mixed feelings. But the main feeling here is satisfaction, since this is one of Parks’ best.  I admire her so much. I’m particularly impressed that she’s getting less and less obscure, but isn’t losing any of the fundamental ambivalences that make her work so provocative. This work is every bit as incisive and destabilizing as, say, The America Play, but I can also imagine this one put on by a high school drama club, whereas earlier work was a bit too far out for that kind of venue. Wonderful, wonderful piece; wish I could have seen it at the Public.

The Sellout, Paul Beatty (2015). Beatty reminds me of my good friend Jeffrey McDaniel, such a fecund imagination that he’ll never use one clever metaphor when three have come to mind. The novel works as a crazy comic satire on contemporary race relations, politics, poverty, capitalism, Los Angeles, and also as a sort of fictional beard for Beatty’s more essayistic commentaries on all of the above. I sometimes wish Beatty didn’t feel the need to stuff every single sentence with as many jokes as possible, but all that candy is laced with enough acid that I suppose it balances out in the end.

Also reread Roth’s The Radetzky March  and The Emperor’s Tomb this fall, for fun.  

Also reading more Simon Stephens plays.

TV: Sandy convinced me to watch Orphan Black. It’s pretty dumb but I did watch the whole thing. It’s kind of ironic that here you have a show with all these strong female characters, but only one actress getting work! Also watched the Netflix series Narcos, FX’s The Americans, and Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle. Also re-watched the entire span of The Wire and thought it’s holding up very well. More and more, I find I watch fewer movies and more series. This depresses me a little, but I don’t know why.

Listening: Nicholas Jaar, Claude von Stroke, The Juan Maclean, Dexter Gordon, McCoy Tyner, Maya Jane Coles. Utterly in love with my absurdly expensive Spotify subscription.

Looking: Thinking a lot about August Sander’s People of the 20th Century, Sternfeld’s Stranger Passing, and this post from Blake Andrews on “docutrinity.”

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Orange is the New Black, Jenji Kohan (2013-)

feelcopI enjoyed Jenji Kohan’s Weeds, but I always felt kind of uneasy about it at the same time. It was set up as a standard fish-out-of-water comedy — suburban soccer mom enters the world of illegal drug trafficking — and it was funny in many predictable ways, as we watched Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) widen her wide eyes in recognition at each stage of her education as she gradually mastered her new milieu. Our pleasure came from watching her first learn the ropes and then learn to pull the strings, but there was always a sense of tension too, because whenever it seemed like Nancy had figured it all out, she’d stumble into some unforeseen dark corner of the trade and find herself confused and panicked.

My uneasiness came from the fact that those dark corners got darker and darker. It was one thing to watch Nancy to blunder and stammer through her first attempts to buy wholesale dope from a seasoned dealer. When, at some point, I found we’d got into the territory of rape, murder, and human trafficking, I felt disoriented — was I still supposed to be laughing?

Kohan’s new project Orange is the New Black, starring Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman, gives me similar fantods. Once again we have a nice white lady from money enter a demimonde where the kinds of savvy she possesses (how to start an artisanal soap company) are useless, and the kinds she needs (how to deal with an aggressive suitor or angry rival in the communal shower) seem unattainable. And also again, there’s a — for me — discomfiting confusion over the genre mindset I’m supposed to be in. When the inmates are arguing over who’s going to get to play the good parts in the Christmas pageant and who’s going to have to play the cattle in the manger scene, I feel safely in Barney Miller sitcom country. But when a fellow inmate orchestrates Piper’s being remanded to the solitary confinement unit, I’m not amused. Abuse of punitive solitary confinement is a horrific and persistent issue in the American penal system, and I don’t like seeing it represented in a comical context. The scenes of Piper in the security housing unit aren’t themselves comic, but the overall context of the show is. The effect of having documentary/dramatic type passages mixed in with clearly contrived/comic passages is that the comedy seems bizarre and the drama seems undermined.

The series’ sexual and racial politics are also difficult to manage. There’s a sweet feel-good love story between a couple vulnerable and nice kids, one of whom happens to be a white male corrections officer and the other of whom is a female Hispanic inmate. We seem to be asked to see this as a light and frothy and charming star-crossed lovers story, but when things get problematic in the relationship, the series seems to also require us to take our Foucault down from the shelf and start thinking about power. Again, I’m not sure what’s funny. It doesn’t seem funny.

OK, enough, I think I’ve made my basic point. Were I to go on, I would talk about how the show consistently portrays whiteness as a norm. White characters get to be complex in this show; characters of color are almost completely reduced to stereotypes. But OK, enough. Oh, we should also talk about how Lesbians are represented. And we should also talk about how thrilled the series is to show us naked female bodies—constantly, and almost from almost the first frame!—and why that might be. But right, enough.

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Ketchup

These endless summer days I ingest culture faster than I can process it. In addition to a lot of material about PTSD, which I’m reading for a writing project, this is what’s been passing in front of my eyeballs. 

White Material, Claire Denis (2009). Denis goes back to Africa. Isabelle Hupert makes me nervous. The politics here are a mess, totally confused. A good example of how sloppy thinking likes to masquerade as ambiguity. But it’s Claire Denis, so of course we must still love it.

Somewhere, Sofia Coppola (2010). Just letting the camera keep running on a lifeless scene doesn’t make it Cassavetes. This is a deeply boring movie.

Another Year, Mike Leigh (2010). Another heartbreaker from Mike Leigh. It’s not really a story so much as it is a kind of temporal vitrine, in which are displayed a half-dozen fully-realized characters, interacting with each other and trying to be alive.

True Grit, Joel and Ethan Coen (2010). Lacks the Coen whimsy of Fargo, etc. and also the Coen fatedness of No Country for Old Men. Fine, but neither here nor there.

F for Fake, Orson Welles (1973). Sloppy, self-indulgent, self-important, gimmicky, dull. And that’s coming from someone who’s genuinely interested in and who has great patience for this theme. Poor old fucker.

American Experience: Stonewall Uprising, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (2010). Nice doc. Lots of fascinating footage of Village life in the 60’s.

The Fighter, David O. Russell (2010). Stolid family drama, worth seeing. Has the kind of genuineness and moral seriousness of purpose you rarely see at the multiplex these days. It’s about a hundred times less interesting than, say, Raging Bull, but I think contemporary audiences are so incredibly grateful when they’re not pandered to, they wind up thinking something like this is art for the ages.

Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, Jonathan Shay (1994). Perfect idea, poorly executed with slack, repetitive prose and a lot of unnecessary self-dealing.

Speed the Plow, David Mamet (1988). Dialogue perfection. Perfect dramatic efficiency.

Still Life: A Documentary, Emily Mann (1982). Really lively, allusive, slippery drama about the collision of eros and thanatos in the post-war life of a Vietnam veteran.

Lethal Warriors, David Philipps (2010). Philipps didn’t ask for this job; he was a sports writer in Colorado Springs when the “Band of Brothers” started coming back from Iraq and killing each other and others. Philipps does an admirable job of stepping up and becoming a real reporter, covering some of the saddest stories of the war. Good, thorough, clear reporting. See also the Frontline episode, The Wounded Platoon.

Louie, Louis C.K. (2010-). Makes Seinfeld look like Happy Days.

The Passenger, Michelangelo Antonioni (1975). Oh, it’s horribly pretentious and aimless and even sometimes irresponsible, but it’s also of course gorgeous and dizzying poetry. I had to go get my camera to take pictures of it. Then I had to spend an hour planning a trip to Andalusia. 

The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann (1924). Been clambering up this Alp since May. Certainly skimmed some of the later Settembrini discourses, but I genuinely enjoyed almost all of these 700 pages. Took extensive notes elsewhere. This is utterly worth your time. Read it while you’re young. What’s it about? It’s about a young man who decides — the verb is too strong — to absent himself from history.

Port of Shadows, Marcel Carné (1938). Oh, France. Merci pour Michèle Morgan.

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Damages, Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler & Daniel Zelman (2007-)

This is one of the most claustrophobic and nasty pieces of television I’ve ever seen. There’s not a single likeable character, everyone is a lying and cheating power-mad narcissist out to stab everyone else in the back and then self-justify. Worst of all, no one even seems to enjoy the overripe fruits of their iniquitous labors. The show is completely humorless and profoundly amoral. Watching it makes me feel dirty and ashamed, but I’m halfway through it now.

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Treme, Eric Overmyer and David Simon (2010)

This started slowly and creakily. Ours is a household that loves New Orleans, and we were wary. Despite all the protestations precisely to the contrary we heard the filmmakers utter in interviews, it seemed to us the show was bogged down in a lot of explaining, pandering, cliches, and oversimplification. Its New Orleans is a place where everyone eats rice and beans on Mondays, everyone knows who Kid Ory was, everyone dances second line every other day. I’ve been watching The Wire lately, and they don’t make everyone in Baltimore eat nothing but crabcakes; I think N.O. gets singled out for this kind of overtypification simply because it seems, to people from other parts of the country, like something of a foreign country. I almost want to call the show’s vision of N.O. a kind of orientalism. I hope viewers realize there are square people who live there, too. There’s only one square person on the show–a dentist–and he’s been banished to Baton Rouge.

All that said, things did pick up and we wound up sticking with it, even developing an iota of affection for the initally hugely irritating and grotesquely caricatured Steve Zahn (as Davis). I don’t know if we’re going to make it much further, though. Looking over the remaining chararacters, I find that the only one I really want to know much more about is the one played by Wendell Pierce (Antoine Batiste). I am fervently hoping that the troubled couple of young musicians (Annie (Lucia Micarelli) and Sonny (Michiel Huisman)) fall off a ferry as quickly as possible.

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The Pacific, Jeremy Podeswa (2010)

You could write a dissertation–someone probably has–on how successive generations of WWII narratives–movies in particular–have shaped the way we remember these events. This vivid and dynamic miniseries succeeds as a story because it has, obviously, the unity of opposites in spades, and also some quite idiosyncratic and well-developed characters to care about. But it also intends to revise or enlarge some of our assumptions about the war in the Pacific, and it succeeds at that too. First, it introduces, among the more familiar locations like Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal, some less familiar but nonetheless devastating and crucial battles, like those at Peleliu and Cape Gloucester on New Britain. Second, the series contrasts–gently, gently, ever so gently–the nonstop hellishness of fighting in the Pacific, which could sort of be like D-Day every day, with the different type (i.e., less hellish) of fighting in Europe. Third, and most notable, the series deeply engages with the fact of the psychological trauma soldiers experienced during and after the war. “Shell shock” here isn’t ignored, mocked, covered up, or glossed over: It’s pretty much front and center the whole way through, which seems as much to reflect our growing contemporary awareness of the ubiquity of war’s invisible wounds as it does the historical reality of the phenomenon.

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Maria Bamford

I watched John Oliver’s New York Standup Show — I’m not a big fan of standup comedy, it just happened to be on — and I thought Maria Bamford was alarmingly funny, or maybe funnily alarming. At one point she did an impersonation of a female comedian doing a set of cliche jokes for a comedy club audience (my boyfriend this, shopping that, etc.), and it was really trippy, because everyone in the audience was laughing, but you couldn’t tell if they were laughing at the jokes, or laughing at the fact that people laugh at jokes like that, or some combination. Nice.