The Good Wife: “Dear God” and Gloria Steinem

Really fun return to religion, and Alicia Florrick’s discomfort with same, on last night’s The Good Wife(Track the number of times Julianna Margulies rolls her eyes, hard, during her first day at “binding Christian arbitration.”) 

The show took one of its excellent field trips to a wacky courtroom, this time in a megachurch, forcing the atheist Alicia to consult her daughter on how to quote Scripture for her law firm’s purposes. And also forcing her to confront some of the skeletons she’ll have to grapple with, very publicly, now that an angelic vision (…sigh) of Gloria Steinem has convinced her to run for state’s attorney.

Eli warns her that her atheism obviously won’t play well in politics; incumbent SA and all around “bad man” Castro, trying to scare off his competition, cuts right to the point: “Very few saints survive oppo research,” he tells “Saint Alicia.” My full recap of “Dear God,” now up at Inc.:

The Good Wife Recap: ‘We Need More Good Women’

The Good Wife, The Year After: Set ‘em up, knock ‘em down

Last season must have been like plot boot camp in The Good Wife writers’ room. You start the season with an already-in-progress corporate coup attempt; then, halfway through charting the fallout, you get to wrench everything off-course by unexpectedly killing off the romantic lead. 

Now the writers are just showing off. Two episodes into the show’s sixth season, and we’ve already had Cary jailed over dubious drug charges, Alicia pressured into running for office, Diane efficiently jumping ship (with bonus sudden entourage!), Kalinda repeatedly facing down an increasingly, scarily present Lemond Bishop, Peter reverting to his politically-savvy, sexually-stupid habits, and Eli running circles around everyone twice as quickly as usual. 

It’s hard to remember that this is the show that, six years ago, started off with a spate of slow, rather rote procedurals. This last episode kind of half-heartedly waved at a case of the week, fitting it in mostly to write Cary a bail check. 

I’m not complaining, yet - nor do I miss those days of rote procedurals (or the days when Grace and Zach had actual plotlines that took up time, rather than brief cameos). But I’m hoping the rest of this season finds a more balanced pace. I’ll be paying attention over at Inc., where I’m recapping each episode (and probably counting how many times Diane plays the “Don’t you want to Lean In, Alicia?” card. Right now she’s averaging once per episode.) The tally so far:

Episode 1, “The Line”: The Good Wife: How Quickly Could You Raise $1.3 Million?

Episode 2, “Trust Issues”: The Good Wife: The Problems with Startup Culture

Outlander, Ovaries, Orphan Black…and Battlestar Galactica

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Orphan Black kind of came and went for me this summer. I watched it avidly, if sometimes skeptically, with the growing belief that this was the rare television show that would benefit from a longer season. By the time this one really started to hit its stride (and get over its unfortunate episode-length experiment in bad drag costuming), it was done.

I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in sum. I’m not entirely sure that rapidly expanding the world, or the clones therein, was the best idea for a show that’s never had the greatest grip on its central conspiracy and all the scientific-military-industrial entities pulling its characters’ strings. And much as I love the characters and the ever-amazing Tatiana Maslany, I do think Orphan Black is undercutting its original thriller grit by refusing to kill off any of its main clones. Cosima should probably be dead; Helena, lovable child psycho that she is, never should have been resurrected from last season.

I say that even without considering how much both characters had to do with the Women and Their Ovaries plotlines of this season. But that, along with the haphazard effort to expand the menace without fully thinking through the explanations, became part of why this season of Orphan Black reminded me so much of Battlestar Galactica. There was also the obvious (genetic doubles impersonating each other and tricking humans), the superficial (casting Michelle Forbes, or Cylon Aaron Doral, as heavies); the tangentially-explored (tensions between religious extremists, scientists, and those who tried to keep a foot in both camps); and the ovary-centric, with the show spending much of its time this season on fights over women’s bodies and reproductive abilities, and the ownership thereof. That last is an area that most recent serious scifi seems to wind up trying to explore, rarely very successfully; from Scully on X-Files to poor angel Kara Thrace, some lady on any prestigious scifi show always seems to be getting her eggs carved out of her body by pleasantly malevolent scientists.

I’m not condemning Orphan Black for going there. It’s an obvious story destination, especially for a show about clones who happen to be women. And it’s exploring these topics at a pretty relevant (and horrifying) time. But Sarah Manning’s more than just a womb, as she would be the first to tell you; I’d like to see Orphan Black do more to remember that.

I’d especially like to see that given its status as one of the only purveyors of hard scifi TV right now. Orphan Black isn’t really spaceships and robots; its clones are deceptively human, and it might not obviously appeal to the  Battlestar Galactica crowd. But it’s the closest thing on the air right now to scifi over fantasy, especially in this era of Comic Book Everything and Game of Thrones and Outlander.

That last, of course, comes straight from Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore, who’s managed to find a show that allows him to fully indulge in his love for slow-mo mysticism (complete with a pseudo-Celtic soundtrack recycled from almost every meaningful Adama Menfolk conversation ever. Hi there, Bear McCreary.) Half an episode into Outlander and heroine Claire is also despairing over her unused womb, so it looks like we’re right on the ovaries track. That’s not really Moore’s fault; it’s true to the tiresome book, and in one episode, he and actor Caitriona Balfe managed to make Claire much more compelling than I found her in the source material. But - robot angels in Times Square and the other sources of my BSG PTSD aside — I’m a little wistful that Moore has turned his attention to something so much more on the fantasy end of the TV spectrum. 

Sure, if you want equity of pulpy television adaptations of mediocre fantasy series, Outlander serves as a potentially promising feminist answer to Game of Thrones. But as someone who’s alternately bored and angered by the Saga of the Rapes of Westeros, I’m finding it hard to care very much about the slightly more female-friendly version. I don’t really need another show illustrating how much it sucked to be a woman sixty years ago, or three centuries ago, especially not when I’ve got plenty of prestige dramas already covering that territory. For all of its occasional inconsistencies, at least Orphan Black has bigger ambitions, and somewhat more subtle things to say about the modern injustices of being human while female. It’s also really the only scifi series on TV right now, and it’s held down by a bunch of women. All due luck to Outlander, but I’ll be waiting for the return of Orphan Black, and hoping it gets some company from other forward-looking TV shows. 

London, making sure that fro-yo trend fully clears the shark.

London, making sure that fro-yo trend fully clears the shark.

Much Ado and the silence of Hero

I’ve watched a lot of Much Ado About Nothing. It’s my favorite Shakespeare comedy, thanks entirely to the characters of Beatrice and Benedick and their passionate-enemies-turned-passionate-lovers story. Their witty, slightly melancholy banter laid the groundwork for Pride and Prejudice and a host of lesser romantic comedies, and it’s largely why the play gets produced and performed again and again — from Joss Whedon’s celebrity-cool Los Angeles and the BBC’s incestuous local TV station and Kenneth Branagh’s ye olde Italia to countless colleges and community theaters across the land, and most recently on the rain-soaked plains of Central Park.

For me and, I suspect, for a lot of women and feminists and fans of the best aspects of romantic comedies, Much Ado’s appeal also comes from the fact that Beatrice takes very little shit from anyone, ever. She ends the play married, yes, but defining her own terms for that marriage. She gets to end the play as equal as any of Shakespeare’s women ever get to be to their romantic partners, and more equal than most women in literature written by men get to be. She gets to end the play speaking, and perhaps even more importantly, being heard.

So Beatrice and her fate are solid.  But that leaves us with Hero, the cautionary anti-Beatrice. Whose silence gets harder and harder to ignore every time I see the play.

Hero, the ironically-named plot device masquerading as a main character, barely gets to say anything for the first half of the play. She has one line in the first act, and six more in the second, according to Open Source Shakespeare.

That only gets slightly better as the play goes on and things really start happening to Hero. Beatrice gets to speak on 106 separate occasions in Much Ado. Benedick has 134 such opportunities to speak, and Claudio 125. Hero gets 44.

This isn’t a matter of a late-arriving character. Hero is onstage from the very beginning of Much Ado, but mute until midway through the action – which, to be clear, mostly revolves around her body. In those first two acts and seven lines for Hero, the plot concerns: who gets to marry Hero, and how that man will woo her (by letting his boss pretend to be him – okaaaaay), and how that man will ask Hero’s father for permission to marry her. Oh, and how that man’s boss’s brother will try to spoil this (frankly incredibly stupid) plot and destroy Hero’s reputation, just to get back at his brother. All of this happens to Hero in just the first two acts of Much Ado’s five, and she gets to say very, very little about it.

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So, this was a pretty surreal start to my new job: my interview about racism with the fascinating, provocative Mark Cuban blew up the internet. (Never before have I had one of my stories picked up by ESPN, CNBC, The New Yorker, TMZ and The New York Times all at the same time.)

(Welp. That was really not what I meant when I asked Elementary to give Joan something to do.)

Elementary and the Case of the Disappearing Characters

I don’t care all that much about Mycroft Holmes on Elementary. That is, I don’t care about him as a main character. He’s a good supporting character, with the potential to be great – he’s interesting for the reactions he elicits from the protagonists, and for what those reactions tell us about them. I like Rhys Ifans and his believably prickly-fond sibling chemistry with Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock. And if he’d been around a little more this season, I might even care about him more as a main character.

But he hasn’t been around all that much, and a decent portion of his appearances has been involved in this “slept with Watson off-screen” silliness. (Elementary, please give Joan Watson something to do. Please. I beg you. That’s a separate, but related, issue.) So, while I trust that there are more plotcakes to come this week as Elementary ramps up to its second season finale, the big reveal last week about Mycroft? Ok, whatever. I guess I admire the technical misdirection, but I found it hard to care. I wasn’t shocked – or, frankly, interested – nearly as much as the episode seemed to think I should be, only because I don’t think he’s been shown to be that important a character. He’s certainly no Irene/Moriarty.

It’s a weirdly common situation for Elementary, which has had some problems sustaining plotlines and recurring supporting characters this season. There was a promising middle stretch, when it seemed like the police department’s widespread resentment of our heroes, along with Holmes’ culpability in getting Detective Bell shot, were building to a larger, game-changing crisis situation. And then … that all sort of fizzled. And sure, I guess the writers could have been laying the groundwork for some sort of shocking dramatic showdowns in the next couple of episodes, but even if that happens at this point, I’m just not sure how much I’ll care.

The main problem is that the show seems to be getting wrong what it did mostly right last season. (West Wing comparison coming up ahead.)

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-“I think my character was just … raped.”

-“No. No no no, that’s never happened to me. You must have pressed the wrong button.”

Amy Schumer’s perfect parody of Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom and Good Women Existing to Support Great Men quite rightly got linked pretty much everywhere, but this is even better. Schumer takes on the military rape epidemic, victim-blaming and misogynist video game culture, all in three minutes or less!

Veronica Mars: Music, many Logans and fan service

This week I’ve been listening nonstop to Typhoon, an Oregon indie rock band I first heard in the Veronica Mars movie. I have mixed feelings about the movie, much like I do about the series, but there are two no-holds-barred recommendations I’ll make about all things VM:

1) The music is unfailingly fantastic. I’m really enjoying Typhoon’s “White Lighter” album, including the “Prosthetic Love” song featured in a pivotal movie scene. But I also spent a good half-hour last Saturday rebuilding an iTunes playlist of all the music featured during the series, above and beyond what’s on the official soundtrack. It’s everyone from Tegan and Sara to Mike Doughty to Neko Case, and in the past decade most of it has infiltrated my regular playlists. Like Life, another truncated TV show with fantastic musical selection and coordination, the pre-movie Veronica Mars sticks in my memory in part because I regularly listen to songs that it first introduced me to.

2) The first season remains an excellent television series, which holds up even ten years later on a rewatch. I unearthed my first-season DVDs in the weeks leading up to the movie’s release, and quickly went from “watching them in the background as I do household chores” to “must pay full attention to each episode.” I have an ambivalent-to-negative reaction to the rest of the series – I especially hated that the end of the second season reached back and retconned part of the first, and I stopped watching sometime in the third season. But the first season was and is engrossing.

Which isn’t to say that it’s flawless, especially when it comes to Logan Echolls, the “obligatory psychotic jackass/suspected rapist” turned “sympathetic abuse victim” turned “bad boy fixer-upper romantic lead.” I enjoy watching Logan as a character(s), the acting of Jason Dohring, and every separate incarnation of his relationship(s) with Veronica – I just don’t buy that the same character could transform so quickly, so many times.

Which brings me to my biggest problem with the movie, as embodied by yet another Logan Echolls: it tries to simultaneously please and critique its diehard fans, and it doesn’t entirely succeed at doing either. Back when the series was airing, Rob Thomas told me that fans sometimes influenced how he wrote the show, so the fact that he wrote the series sequel to the same audience wasn’t a surprise. Nor do I really object to that — even when you take out the fan funding that launched the movie, who else is really going to care about these characters ten years later, besides the people who had very strong opinions about Veronica, Logan, Piz et al? (Assuming that anyone can have strong opinions about Piz.) 

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