Monday, February 3, 2014

What We've Been... watching

Posted By on Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 4:16 PM

A couple of clueless 20-somethings trying to make it in New York City... You’re thinking Girls, right? Yeah, those chicks are clueless (and often naked), for sure, but can’t hold an American Spirit cigarette to the idiocy of Abbi and Ilana, the two main characters in Comedy Central’s Broad City. Based on the web series of the same names, it was created (and written by) Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (yeah, they use their real first names) and follows the clueless pair as they fumble their way through life. In the last episode, Abbi started smoking a ton of weed (because she was finally paying for her own) and Ilana brought her, among other superfluous documentation, unpaid parking tickets to an accountant so he could do her taxes. This pair is giving Key and Peele a run for the best comedic duo on Comedy Central.


I’ve been really into the HBO show True Detective. This crime drama, which flashes back between an investigation in 1995 and the same characters being interviewed about it in 2012, has an old-as-dirt premise: Two mismatched cops, here played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, try to solve a big case.

But there’s a unique tone here, something I’ve never really seen on television, something that feels like heat and sweat and dust and yellowed newspapers and rusted tricycles and rot and dread and simmering anger.

Whitman professor Anne Helen Petersen has a great essay on how Matthew McConaughey has transformed his shallow-man-with-deep-abs image into something a lot more interesting. And on True Detective he has the role that’s most fascinating on his surface, a weirdo cop prone to slipping into lengthy tangents, philosophical and erudite.

But to me, the most incredible performance is the much more subtle Harrelson. His role is less flashy, he’s an irritable, traditional cop, prone to anger and jealousy. But where that sort of role has so often been played for laughs, here’s it’s entirely serious. This is a man whose foundation is completely collapsing and he doesn’t even know it yet.

The one downside? There’s this B-plot about a serial killer that’s really bumming me out. This show could be about these cops tasked with tracking down parking scofflaws and it’d be just as compelling.


These days, when most of my friends don’t have actual TVs, show recommendations are more like, “So, what series have you been voraciously consuming on the Internet recently?” In some ways, it’s more like plowing through a novel — so maybe it’s fitting that one show that kept coming up is Sherlock, the BBC’s modern take on the classic tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Each season consists of just three 90-minute episodes, and the third season is currently airing in the U.S.

The show itself loosely follows both the original stories and the crime procedural format, but it plays with those expectations and even riffs on its own fans’ intricate online analyses. Again, it’s fitting — modern fanfiction began when Conan Doyle killed off the famous detective and fans stepped in to write their own alternate endings and adventures. Emily Nussbaum recently wrote a great piece for the New Yorker that explains why the various layers and relationships make the show so intriguing.


In anticipation of Sunday's Super Bowl, I decided to finally watch Frontline's two-hour documentary, "League of Denial" on the NFL's efforts to derail concussion and brain trauma research on football-related injuries. The documentary explores the research linking football injuries to long-term memory and cognitive disorders, leading to a series of confrontations with NFL bigwigs and their own contradictory research studies. A Frontline update from last week rounds up many of the developments in the dispute from the 2013-14 NFL season.

The film provides startling examples of former pro-football players who suffered severe mental issues later in life, building the foundation for the NFL's $765 million player settlement last year. The documentary runs probably longer than needed, but it spends the time piling up redundant evidence of the NFL's efforts to either cover up or ignore serious safety risks, earning the league comparisons to the tobacco industry. A must-see for anyone who never wants to guiltlessly enjoy watching hard-hitting football again.


Almost all of what I decide to watch comes from other people’s recommendations, and there definitely are some suggestions that I take more seriously than others. I’m about 16 years late, but I finally gave in and started watching Sex and the City, only after the sharp and wonderfully talented Emily Nussbaum wrote a fabulous piece in the New Yorker this past summer arguing that the show is as canonical — if there even is a canon for TV — as HBO hits The Sopranos and The Wire.

A longtime fan of Carrie Bradshaw and company, Nussbaum claimed that the show was “sharp, iconoclastic television, high-feminine instead of fetishistically masculine, glittery rather than gritty, and daring in its conception of character” and after that I was sold. So I dived right in and found myself agreeing with Nussbaum that the show shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure at all. It’s too good for that. At first I found myself connecting with Carrie on cosmic levels, reveling in the fact that I was watching me on TV, but as I’ve continued I’ve appreciated even more that she is flawed — human even — and it’s great that the show was able to capture that so well. So if you, like me, are decades late joining the party, I would definitely advise giving Sex and the City a go. The show is absolutely timeless and though it takes the form of a sappy romantic comedy at times, I can’t say that I’ve been disappointed at all. And of course, now Cosmopolitans are my drink of choice.


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Monday Funday: Storytime at the North Bank @ Riverfront Park

Mon., July 26, 11-11:45 a.m. and Mon., Aug. 9, 11-11:45 a.m.
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