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Listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast, I'm up to 2x3 The Midterm Elections and one of my least favorite scenes in the West Wing, when President Bartlet 'dismantles' Dr. Jane Jacobs's homophobia.

Good. I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.

I don't say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.

Yes, it does. Leviticus.


Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here.
I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.
(small chuckles from the guests) She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and
always clears the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While
thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working
on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2, clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated
to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here's one that's really important,
'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes
us unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins
still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be
together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn
my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?

I know I've complained about similar rhetoric before. The argument is this: There are things in the Bible that a modern religious person doesn't observe. This abrogation means that any parts they do still observe are inherently hypocritical, because if they claimed to follow the Bible they would follow the whole Bible.

This is a really stupid argument. Christianity explicitly rejects some of the Hebrew Bible's obligations. It's not hypocritical for them to not observe these things, it's inherently doctrinal, and it could even be argued (as I've sometimes been forced to, because sometimes Christians do weird and offensive things with Jewish ritual) that it's hypocritical if they DO observe those things. The Christian Bible says that Christians do not need to keep kosher. It's right there in the text!

And even things Christians do still observe that are mentioned in the rant are not necessarily observed in the Biblical way, on purpose! Jesus doesn't condemn the idea of the Sabbath, and Christians do observe a Sabbath, but Jesus condemns the idea of putting people to death for breaching the Sabbath. So Christians have a much more relaxed approach to the Sabbath than Jews do. Again, this does not make them hypocrites. It means they ARE observing their religion.

This infuriates me particularly even though I usually don't care all that much if Christians are revealed as hypocrites, because this argument is the classic anti-Judeo-Christian argument: Ostensibly directed at Christians by people who don't bother to distinguish between Jews and Christians. Jews have our own approaches to difficult passages in Tanakh, but generally we don't believe that the ritual law has been abrogated. We think we still are obligated in most if not all of the things Bartlet mentions as absurd rituals. Orthodox Jewish farmers in Israel, to this day, don't plant two crops side by side in a field. And though we don't have the executive ability to carry them out, most of the stoning laws Bartlet mentions are still technically on the books.

And Orthodox Jews generally still believe we are obligated in the prohibition of et zachar lo tishkav, no matter how difficult that may be to reconcile with modern ideas about love and sex. But it's not like the fact that I don't eat shellfish is what allows me to hate gays without hypocrisy! That's the frustrating part of this argument for me. If you accept it, you seem to be accepting the idea that IF Christians hadn't abrogated parts of the Torah's ritual law, they'd be free to consider homosexuality an abomination. But the people who are making this argument clearly don't believe that. They believe that considering homosexuality abominable is evil and homophobic regardless of whether you eat shellfish. So people making Bartlet's argument are making an argument they don't actually believe to try to trap religious people with sophistry.

So when you're criticizing Christian homophobia, or Jewish homophobia, try to do it with an argument that you actually believe, and which actually engages with Christian or Jewish doctrine rather than with your imagined fake version of that doctrine. Ask a Jew how they reconcile Veahavta lereacha kamocha with the idea of telling your neighbor they can't marry the person they love. Ask a Christian how they can send their churchmates to abusive conversion therapies when Jesus preached kindness and humility and not judging the sins of others.

But don't ask them these things because they're traps you're seeking to catch them in. Ask them because religious people have thought about these questions and we have answers to them, answers our critics often refuse to listen to, and because the conversations about these questions are worth having and worth struggling with. These are hard questions that challenge our faith, and serious theists ask them. Serious atheists ought to, also.

And what frustrates me most about this scene, why it's one of my least favorite West Wing moments, is that President Bartlet, deeply Catholic, who once considered the priesthood, must have some answer to these questions that isn't dependent on taking Catholics to task for eating shellfish. This scene is profoundly out of character on a theological level for the man delivering it. And I don't like when President Bartlet lets me down.

Edit: Thanks for comments- I will not be able to respond until after Rosh Hashanah at earliest
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Oh man, when I was a kid I used to run home after school to watch Batman reruns on WPIX 11. I'm pretty sure I didn't know they were reruns, I just knew that they were awesome. I was obsessed with the show, with the POWs and the BAMs and the ZAPs. My grandmother sewed me an Adam West Batman costume for a birthday one year and I proudly strutted around the house.

When I heard the news this evening, I popped in my DVD (I have two complete sets, a bootleg set from before the official DVD set was released, and the official release) and watched The Bookworm Turns/ While Gotham Burns, which I remembered as always being one of my favorite episodes. Roddy McDowall as the Bookworm, a failed novelist turned thief, who conceives of his crimes as novels, with serial chapters and plot twists galore. I watched and I remembered little preteen Ferret, thrilled to death with the idea of a crime where having memorized the complete works of Hemingway and Cervantes could help one crack the case. Where the villain pauses before executing his crime to remind his henchmen that in Burns, it's "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men', not 'the best laid plans'. Adam West's Batman was always absurd (He stops Robin while in the midst of climbing sideways up a building to remind him to always climb with two hands on the rope; He stops the Bookworm's gang before a fight to remind them to set aside their glasses lest they get damaged.), but there was a message behind it: a message about the power of intelligence and moral behavior to triumph over brute strength and selfishness. Crime doesn't pay.

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A few things:

A friend from college just posted this comic, and it's pretty amazing and should be shared widely: (TW: The title pretty much gives it away. Deals with miscarriage and living with loss)

On a completely different note, I've been watching How To Make It In America and struggling to articulate a genre name for a thing I love which links How to Make it In America with shows as disparate as Orphan Black and The Wire and Suits and some other shows I love. What these shows have in common is that they use the mechanics of the competence porn subgenre- supernaturally clever and skilled protagonists working together in teams that maximize everyone's potentials- but the good guys don't always win at the end of the hour.

The rush I get from watching these shows is definitely the same I get from watching shows like Leverage or Bones or the Flash, the hustle of adjusting plans on the fly to deal with unanticipated obstacles, the sudden insight of how to creatively route around a problem... but somehow outside the genre requirement that the end of the episode bring a triumph and a close to the episodic structure.

How To Make It In America sometimes closes its episodes with its heroes getting an unexpected order to make 300 T-shirts by next Wednesday, when they'd gone in looking to sell jeans. But it just as often ends its episodes with those 300 shirts, frantically and competently sourced from a mysterious warehouse in Greenpoint, stolen when the truck they were sitting in was jacked.

I really like that combination of competence and failure. But I don't have a vocabulary to describe the generic conventions of these stories, though I think they do have conventions. Like, there's a very specific kind of defeat-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-victory beat that I've seen on all the shows I mentioned, and a very specific gutpunched-character-sits-alone-while-sad-usually-indie-music-plays-into-the-credits beat.

Incompetence Porn? Anti-Competence Porn? Failure Porn? None of these names seem quite adequate to call what I'm describing. Possibly it's just Competence Porn That's Weirdly Paced... it's very common on these shows for the heroes to hit the tropey denouement of a competence porn plot at the three quarters mark, and it feels like the episode is over, and then rather than the episode ending, the remaining quarter of the show is the letdown. But we could, I suppose, think of that as really being the first fifteen minutes of the next episode of a competence porn storyline, time-shifted to the end of the previous episode.

Also, I finished reading the Meyer's history of Reform Judaism, which remained just as frustratingly full of interesting factoids yet tantalizingly far from enough detail fleshing out any of those factoids to the finish. The biggest hole in the book is in Meyer's discussion of the Reform Movement's actions during the Holocaust- I think there's a general sense in the Jewish community that because of Reform's connections at the time to the richest and most politically influential Jews in America, it could have done more than it did to mitigate the effects of the Holocaust, and nothing Meyer says refutes this sense, but... he mostly chose to skip over any serious discussion of what Reform did do during the Holocaust, despite covering both the immediate pre-war and post-war eras at length. It's an omission that felt cowardly to me.

I also had feelings about his discussion of Sally Priesand, since unlike most of the other interesting factoids taking all of a page in the book that I wanted to read a whole book about, I actually have read the whole book about Sally Priesand. I did think Meyer actually fleshed out some questions I had after reading Nadell's book... it seems clearer, in the wake of Meyer, that women Rabbis became an inevitability in Reform Judaism only after the merger of HUC and JIS- the institutional politics of the various campuses of HUC-JIS is something Nadell wasn't all that interested in.

All in all, I'm glad I read the book, but it's probably going to lead to a lot more reading about Jewish history to answer all the questions it left me with. But that's okay.
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Just watched an IA episode of a police procedural. And I was wondering- has anyone ever made a morally satisfying internal affairs episode on such a show? IA episodes have to be my least favorite trope of police procedurals because all police procedurals are morally bankrupt, or at least morally driven by the dictates of closing plots in 40 minutes or less. Yet we are still supposed to regard the protagonists as the heroes, or the premise of the show doesn't work. So an IA episode involves, for one 40 minute or sometimes 80 minute period, looking back at past episodes of the show from an external, absolutist moral lens. It makes no sense within the internal morality of the show, and given that as soon as the IA episode is cleared, usually by a deus ex machina that bestows no meaningful consequences on our heroes and often affirms their cloudy moral horizons as righteous, morality returns to amoral normal, it does not serve to create a new moral status quo.

Maybe the Wire achieves a successful IA storyline? I've only seen the first season, so I'm not sure, but I guess I could believe the Wire could pull it off because the Wire doesn't require us to think of the police as the heroes of the show and it doesn't require us rooting for their success.
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I finished watching Iron Fist. Well, mostly. I was bored through good stretches of it and I definitely didn't have my whole attention on the last few episodes. Um... it's not very good? At all?

Colleen Wing is the only good part of the show. Why couldn't they give us the Colleen Wing show?

Danny Rand is terrible. And he's terrible in specific ways that I particularly hate. It reminded me of my frustration with Sarah Connor in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, where she makes tactical mistakes that a character like Sarah shouldn't make, and you're not clear if it's because of sloppy writing or if it's a deliberate character decision that you don't agree with. But for example:

Having been believed dead for fifteen years along with his billionaire parents, Danny Rand shows up back in New York. He enters the corporate headquarters of the company his father ran, and asks for a meeting with his father's business partner, which is denied. Whereupon any sane adult would, you know, ask to schedule an appointment later, but Danny instead beats up the security guard and sneaks up to the executive suite. He learns that his father's business partner is now dead and that the business partner's children now run the company, but they don't believe that he is really Danny, since Danny is dead, and they have security escort him from the building. Whereupon any sane adult would, you know, get a lawyer and start the process of belatedly probating their parents' estate. Or if they don't know that much about how corporations work, get advice from someone they trust... who would tell them to get a lawyer and start probating their parents' estate. What does Danny do? Danny spends the next several days stalking the company's new executives and harassing them. Yes, that is what Danny Rand does. It takes three episodes for Danny to accidentally get a lawyer- within a day in story time of doing so, he is restored to his shares of the company. Those three episodes without a lawyer are so fucking infuriatingly unnecessary. GET A FUCKING LAWYER, DANNY. IT'S WHAT GROWN-UPS DO.

The story logic behind Danny's stupidity seems to be that he was taken from his New York life at age 10 and raised in a mystical woo-woo orientalist comic book warrior monastery in the Himalayas. He doesn't know how corporations work, he doesn't know how New York society works, and he therefore just runs around and breaks things like a kid in a room full of breakable things. But this is a really dumb and uninteresting characterization- ostensibly he spent fifteen years being trained into a finely honed and disciplined weapon by experienced warriors- none of that discipline, none of the patience or combat intuition you'd expect from such training ever surfaces in his characterization. Why should I root for Danny Rand to triumph? Why should I even root for him to learn when he's apparently squandered fifteen years of teaching?


Sep. 22nd, 2016 10:08 pm
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Pitch, the new TV show about the first female Major League baseball player, was amazing!!!!

The baseball looked real, the story beats felt right but also felt realistic enough that they could drive a serious drama rather than a classic feel-good sports movie, and Ginny was awesome. I can't wait to watch more of this show.
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Recent media:

I'm watching Agent Carter, of course... this thing they do where they only show Agent Carter when Agents of SHIELD is on hiatus is only helping Agent Carter, I think, because the relief I feel of not watching AoS makes my enjoyment of Agent Carter that much greater. I recall narrating the half-season finale to [personal profile] sanguinity on chat as I watched... "Holy shit, Fitz just travelled to another dimension to kill Simmons's ex-boyfriend. That is a thing I just watched."

Agent Carter is far from perfect, but the effort is there and that's a large part of my 'glorious failure' aesthetic. The reason Agent Carter frustrates is because it's actually trying to deal with important social issues and coming short, not because it's trying to pretend the issues aren't there. So one can certainly call attention to the way Howard Stark's sexism continues to be a joke rather than a character flaw, how Stark's imperviousness to Peggy's frustration with him undermines the show's messages about sexism. It's worth complaining about, it's one of many places where the show fails to deliver on its promise. But it's in the context of a show that's trying to talk about sexism, so we can have a conversation about that failure and what it signifies, rather than objecting to the bankruptcy of the original concept. Its failures are interesting failures, to put it one way.

I thought the scene where Howard Stark invades the all-male social club with his harem was fascinating and worth reflecting on, for its complicated mix of conflicting signals. The club is a safe haven for white, Christian, heterosexual, wealthy men. Howard Stark is white, ostensibly Christian, apparently quite heterosexual, and undeniably wealthy- a prime candidate for membership. He has no interest in joining the club, he says, because of his sympathy with egalitarian principles. One wonders, given the ambiguous signalling of last season, whether his Jewishness has some role in it, if some part of him objects to the club because he knows that if they knew his Jewish origins they would reject him. (I deeply wish Howard Stark's Judaism had been made explicit, it would have been this scene much more interesting) On the other hand, one wonders how much his sexism masks his egalitarianism- Stark could consort with his harem anywhere, but he takes delight in bringing them to the club because they represent a disruption to a social ideal he abhors. He values his harem in this moment not because of any sexual pleasure they provide him, but because of the effect they have on the members of the club: they are, by and large, delighted! Titillated! The general membership has no objection to women on premises, they simply do not have any reason to object to the status quo because it benefits them. It is club management who calls security, who evicts Stark and bans him from the club because of the social protest he has oh-so-innocently offered.

And at the same time, Stark's harem is nameless, just a collection of attractive bodies, sex objects manipulated by the only heroic woman with any brains and intentionality on the show: Peggy Carter. The show's great structural failing remains this. While we occasionally we get the heroism of Angie's acting scene or the wry subversion of Jarvis's amazing wife Anna, for the most part Agent Carter is about Peggy Carter in a man's world, and ultimately that feels like the kind of feminism that emerges from a man's imagination.

And still I love it! I love 1950s Hollywood as the new setting, even though obviously I would not have objected to more 1950s NYC. I love how they keep hitting the theme of Hollywood as a place for reinvention of self, this terribly destructive and terribly powerful myth that has been so important in shaping modern America. And I love Jarvis and Mrs. Jarvis beyond words, I love how at every turn the Peggy/Jarvis relationship subverts the tropes of UST, how the Jarvises represent one of the most compelling marriages I've ever seen on action television. I love the tension of a SF mystery told well and reasonably fairly. And I love Hayley Atwell's Peggy so fucking much. Administering the common cold as torture! (A really intense cold!)

I want to know more about Peggy's fiance backstory from last night. I was really hoping the fiance would be a Hawley, that they would transplant Nick Fury's Pamela Hawley backstory to Peggy, because it would work really well. It didn't quite go that way, but in general we didn't get enough details.

I also watched Ant Man last night, borrowed from the library because I had no interest in paying to see it. It was way more inoffensive than I'd feared. Hank Pym was not a likeable dude, but the story didn't require me to like him, because he was up against a lunatic allied with HYDRA and anyway Scott Lang and CASSIE!!! And Janet died because of her own choices, not because of Hank's mistakes, and we may get Janet back after all, and we're getting a Wasp either way, so the damage from that fuckup was about as minimal as I could have hoped for in the circumstances. And the shrinking stuff was fun! The scale play was really enjoyable, the scene fought on top of an iPhone, the scene in a bathtub flood, all the anthill stuff... Not a great movie, but not as terrible as it could have been.

I also recently finished Jessica Jones. What to say? It's really good, Krysten Ritter was really great. I think it was not a great show to marathon, and did not necessarily benefit from the Netflix release schedule. I needed time to process as I watched, so I watched it over the course of a few months, and everyone I talked to was on their own viewing schedule so we couldn't really talk about it. Very few people I know binged through it, mostly everyone was working through it an episode or two at a time the way I was. But I welcome conversation about it now.

And... I know I've recommended Only Connect a half dozen times already, and I know nobody but me cares, but seriously, even if you're not a quiz show person, watch the season finale. It's mesmerizing. The questions are just ludicrously impossible and the quizzers do a truly heroic job of slogging through it. The connecting walls are absolutely brutal. I think it is the greatest quiz show episode I've ever seen. Only Connect Season finale
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Only Connect and University Challenge, my two British quiz show addictions, are rolling into second round action, when the shows really get going for me. I like just watching them as trivia challenges, but what makes them addictive is the continuity, which fosters rooting interests as you get to know the personalities of the teams. I'm not quite sure who my favorites are in either show, yet, but I know that pretty soon I'll have some, as we start to get more and more repeat competitors. Unfortunately, the most idiosyncratic teams are often the earliest to lose, especially on University Challenge, so my natural tendency to enjoy watching them doesn't really get time to take hold.

My enjoyment of those two shows is always tempered by the frustration of lacking context. I'm far better at American history trivia than most of the students on UC, but UC rarely asks American history questions. I'm far worse at British history, but UC is constantly asking to identify prime ministers from two centuries ago. And I'm at a complete loss when it comes to questions of British television that are staples of both UC and OC. The thing is that I don't mind knowing the answers, which is my problem. It is often the case that I see a question on Jeopardy I don't know, and the question intrigues me and leads me to doing some reading and learning. But when I miss a British pop culture question, I shrug and say "Of course I don't know that," and stop thinking about it. Which means that there is some significant fraction of the clues that I don't care about, which is the source of the aforementioned frustration: why am I watching a show where I don't care about so much of the content?

I'm still dispassionately watching Agents of SHIELD and mostly not enjoying it. I was puzzled by the inexplicable appearance of fake Ancient Hebrew scrolls written in a fairly modern Hebrew script and carrying a deep, orientalist sense of impending mystical doom. Puzzled because I don't think the concept was substantial enough to be offensive. I think the show's grasp of the nuances of bureaucracy remains shockingly and damagingly poor and it wrecks both the realism and drama of the show's intrigue storylines. But every once in a while they string together a five minute sequence that is properly tense and exciting and morally ambiguous. Though it's worth noting that the last of these ended with yet another black secondary character fridged out of nowhere.

I will say that the All-Simmons episode was pretty excellent, because it was uncluttered by all the nonsense that makes normal Agents of SHIELD episodes impossible to enjoy. In general, AoS would be much better if it had much more Simmons and much less of everyone else, is my general feeling. Though I would have liked the All-Simmons episode more if her companion on the portal world were female and the storyline less insistently heteronormative. I did kind of love Fitz's response to Simmons at the end; I think the writers' consistency in the Fitz will Always Save Simmons character beat is kind of nice because it does come without strings, but I feel like they've been more inconsistent on Simmons will Always Save Fitz than I find believable. On the other hand, I suppose that in the case of the one major betrayal of Simmons Will Always Save Fitz, her undercover HYDRA mission during Fitz's recovery, there's a good argument that Simmons somehow 'saving' Fitz would have been far more problematic.

I'm watching the Grinder, but I'm uncertain if I like it. Certainly I love Ben Savage and Rob Lowe and Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Natalie Morales playing off each other, they're wonderful comic actors. And sometimes the writing hits this really wry meta tone that I enjoy, where they are consciously undermining their own jokes as they're making them... it makes the show less funny but more amusing, if that makes sense. The Grinder's basic joke- that Rob Lowe thinks that playing a lawyer on TV prepares him to be a lawyer in real life- is not one with infinite legs, but I'm curious to see how the show evolves because it has so many good, slightly awkwardly fitting, pieces. And even that joke has lasted them longer than I expected because of a weird truth about life: It is possible, if awkward and deceptive, to impose a narrative on real life. And even though the elevator pitch version of the show is about the difference between TV lawyer and real lawyer, what heft the show has comes from the struggle of Rob Lowe's character to reconcile the narrative he believes life follows and the reality he encounters as he tries to live the narrative. And Ben Savage coming to terms with the fact that sometimes the world does obey Rob Lowe's ridiculous narrative.

This is a dangerous path for the show to tread, because as I said it involves deconstructing the jokes as you make them, and this tends to make the jokes less laugh out loud funny. When Rob Lowe hits on Natalie Morales's character in the office, it is, unmistakably, sexual harassment. But he's not doing it because he's a lecher, precisely. He's doing it because as a TV lawyer he's supposed to be a lecher, and he is following the script. This isn't quite funny, it isn't quite exploitative, I'm not sure quite what it is. It's somewhat clever, but that cleverness has limits. If the sexual harassment crosses some nebulous line I'm not sure I can define, it will make it impossible to like Rob Lowe's character, because it's one thing to cause minor harm to people because you're clueless and another thing to do things that cause serious harm to others because of that cluelessness. At some point that cluelessness stops being excusable, and the exploration of that line is where we'll find out how The Grinder's writers see the world.

I also watched the first few episodes of Grandfathered, which I am liking way more than I expected I would. Part of that is just John Stamos's pure charisma, turning bits that would just be about moving the plot forward into jokes. But it's also how un-tired the jokes feel compared to how you'd expect them to feel. Stamos's Jimmy is the vivid, fully featured character you'd expect, but his son Gerald- proudly feminist, proudly paternal, and profoundly incompetent- is just as evocative a creation. He foils Jimmy in surprisingly sharp ways that make him feel like a living person instead of a walking punchline. When Jimmy offers crude pickup artist mantras and Gerald rotely rebuffs them as disrespectful to women, the dialogue skillfully steers them to the realization of a middle ground where both of them have something to learn from the other about honesty and emotional communication. And that has had me thinking more than I expect a gimmick sitcom to make me think.

I also kind of love how they've designed characters to circumvent one of my biggest problems with smart modern sitcoms: the backslide joke. On shows like Parks and Rec, with smart but flawed characters, as the shows develop arcs of the characters confronting their flaws and dealing with them in progressively stronger ways, it's hard for the writers to resist returning for an episode to a joke that delivers reliable laughs but is dependent on the more sharply flawed version of the character from earlier in the show. The result is funny episodes that undermine the overall strength of the storytelling and make ensuing arc development feel less meaningful. In Jimmy and Gerald you have a pair of characters who you know will continually learn and get better but also reliably backslide... they're still getting mileage out of jokes about Jimmy not liking to be called grandfather despite the Aesop of several episodes being that he doesn't mind being a grandfather, because Jimmy is set is in his ways and will keep backsliding.

And then there is Brooklyn 9-9, which I do not love quite as much as I loved Parks, but it is my favorite currently airing sitcom. Halloween III went exactly where I expected it to go, but it was nonetheless incredibly satisfying. I find myself saving B-99 watching for moments when I need something that I know will make me happy, because B-99 is pretty guaranteed to make me happy.
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Late in Season 3 of Entourage, we get a Yom Kippur episode that is just mindbogglingly amazing. Ari and a fellow congregant at a major LA Reform temple are forced by their families to attend Yom Kippur services and fast, when what they would prefer to do is try to make a deal to sign Vince to a major movie deal. The person they need to make the deal with is two miles away at the Orthodox shul. The sneaking of phones, the shamefaced conversations on supposed bathroom breaks, THIS is a compelling drama about Jews negotiating messy, complicated Jewish lives.

-You want me to lie?
-That is the beauty of Yom Kippur. As long as you apologize by sundown it doesn’t matter what you do.

The only other Yom Kippur episode I have seen of any show is the Coupling (US) episode whose central joke is that a bunch of non-Jews think that Yom Kippur celebrates Moses's birthday. That has a horrifying kind of humor to it, but this episode has so much more Jewish depth, while still being hilarious.
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I've been watching Entourage lately because it's on Amazon Prime and sometimes I don't like to think very hard. It's a very good show to watch when you don't want to think, because it will never make you think. But it's also not as terrible as I'd glossed by osmosis. I've been enjoying it quite a bit, partway through Season 3.

It's a very gentle humor, is the thing that has most surprised me. You hear in osmosis mostly about foul-mouthed, manipulative Ari Gold, and about the scathing satire of Hollywood excesses, and those things are present in force, but the heart of the show is friendship and optimism about Making It. The boys are confronted again and again with choices between friendship and personal benefit and most of the time, they choose friendship. It's a very sweet show, a lot of the time.

Also, I find Ari's Judaism in some ways much more compelling than I find Josh Lyman's (his alter ego, as they are both the foul-talking, manipulative, power-hungry fictionalization of Emanuel brothers). "The Bat Mitzvah" was instantly one of my favorite Jewish episodes of any show, highlighted by Ari's sweet speech to hsi daughter followed by him hilariously skipping the inevitably interminable candlelighting ceremony, but Ari's Jewishness is an always present and uncomfortable and potent part of the show, in really sharp ways. He is a walking, talking stereotype, and it is not a positive stereotype, but he owns it comfortably and he owns its limits. There's a really well-done moment in early Season 3 where Dom, the newly out-of-jail member of Vince's entourage, meets Ari and asks him "What kind of fag name is Ari?" The moment is ugly and is in the nasty tradition of homosocial no-homoing that is undeniably an essential part of the show's humor, but it's also kind of a proud moment for Ari, because he hears it, hears all the othering inherent in the line, and he does the most unthinkable thing possible for Ari. He swallows his tongue, because he knows that he is better than Dom and that he is above responding to an idiotic anti-semitic slur [It's worth noting it's also the kind of anti-semitic slur you usually won't see on television treated as being anti-semitic, because it's too subtle and a lot of non-Jews will insist it's not anti-semitic, just making fun of his weird name. I admire Entourage for going there.]. Ari can play the cheap, manipulative Jew for all it's worth, but he won't let anyone else paint him that way. The power he has over his identity as a Jew, the blessing and the curse, is really inspirational, actually.

About Entourage's approach to women, I think I have to be measured. It is not, in general, a show that is good at writing detailed and compelling female characters. It is, without question, a show that objectifies women a lot of the time, that treats them as trophies to be won by the men, sometimes as commodities to be purchased. It does not overtly depict sexual violence, but it does joke about sexual violence. And all the homosocial no-homoing (this show hits all the queerbaiting tropes, starting with 'it's not gay if it's in a threeway' and going downhill from there) is definitely misogynistic. So yes, there are big problems with the show's approach to female characters.

But I think the show says interesting things about its female characters sometimes, in spite of or because of its problems. I think there is likely a realism to the mercenary relationships between the entourage and the groupies, that the deliberateness and intentionality with which Entourage depicts the choice of the many beautiful women we see to trade sex and relationships for status and favors is an intentionality that is truly present. In a way, I think there is something admirable about that over other media portrayals of groupies. It is clear to Entourage's writers that the women of Entourage are not being fooled into sex. They are making a calculated decision to have sex, for their enjoyment, for their benefit, for their advantage, and they are often shown as being more intelligent and thoughtful than the males that they are sleeping with. As much as it is a show that is overtly about the performance of masculinity, it is much more covertly but sometimes just as cleverly about the performance of femininity. There's a great scene, for example, where Johnny Drama goes to a plastic surgeon to talk about getting calf implants because he's insecure about his skinny legs, which he believes are costing him jobs. The waiting room scene, a room full of artificially-enhanced women back for more, is an entree into the world of people the show has otherwise only shown as arm-candy at parties. In the waiting room, these women talk knowledgeably about the community they are a part of. The women of Entourage are their own creations.

I think it's also interesting in the light of [personal profile] liv's recent thoughtful posts on the subject of emotional labor, how much of the intra-entourage storytelling is questions about who is performing how much emotional labor within the group. Who pays for dinner, who cooks breakfast, who cheers someone up when they've had a breakup, who breaks bad news to someone, who convinces someone that he's making a bad decision. Given the collective immaturity of the boys, it's kind of stunning how functional the entourage is, how they've cumulatively devised a division of emotional labor that keeps the household running. What's kind of striking in this regard is that I haven't seen any plotlines at all, 3 seasons in, where the boys have ever contemplated offloading any of this emotional labor to women. The scenario is about as completely homosocial as it is possible for it to be, as I mentioned earlier.
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[community profile] jukebox_fest is due Wednesday, my time. I finished my first draft last night... should be able to polish it by Wednesday, but time is a bit limited by social demands.

Debating [community profile] invisible_ficathon. Didn't nominate, but there are plenty of things I might be able to write that were? Except I don't really feel like this is a good exchange for me. It's my kind of writing, but not the kind of writing I can toss off an emergency response for in a day if I end up stuck. I basically need to luck into a prompt that really inspires me or I'll be screwed, so probably will pass.

I never actually mentioned it here, but I got a netflix subscription so I could watch Daredevil. I... liked it. I didn't love it. I thought the balance it struck between realism and comic bookness was a little off. But I loved its perplexing Fake New York-centrism. The Awl really nailed the problem with Daredevil's version of Hell's Kitchen, but on the other hand, I really admired the show's commitment to exploring the small scale consequences of Avengers 1 in relationship to New York's actual long-term history of conflict between developers and tenants, even if it meant constructing a fantasy version of Hell's Kitchen. I also thought Foggy/Ben was a much better ship than Ben/Karen, and therefore was frustrated by the final shot of the season.

After finishing Daredevil, I moved on to Arrow, and have now watched the full Season 1 of the show. Which bears comparison to Daredevil, in many ways. I have a lot of thoughts about "You have failed this city" and Oliver's general usage of 'my city' in his guise as the Hood. I'm grateful that the show does push back a few times with people telling him not to use the possessive, but it's not enough. Oliver's life is way too disconnected from the ordinary life of the city for it to really be his in a spiritual sense, so the possessiveness comes off too often as an aristocratic sense of ownership. Knowing the place to get the best burger in the Glades does not somehow equate to belonging to the Glades. Fundamentally, though, the show recognizes this. Oliver is not only not a hero quite often, but he's not even aware of what's going on in 'his city'. I really admire the writers for letting Oliver fail so often, and for letting him sometimes even deserve to fail. I'm not sure how I am expected to feel, however, at the end of one of the many episodes where Oliver does succeed, after indiscriminately killing a crowd of faceless, nameless drug dealers or security guards. Arrow often struggles to fully articulate the mechanics by which a crime slips past the eyes of the legal system and into the purview of vigilante justice. I'm not saying necessarily that there shouldn't be a set of such mechanics, but I would like to see them elucidated more clearly by Oliver. I'd like to see Diggle and Felicity (or Laurel and Quentin, or Huntress and Dark Archer) force Oliver to articulate them. It would make the show much more effective as a meditation on the limits of justice.

Lastly, I am reading Kevin J. Anderson's The Dark Between the Stars, as it was in fact nominated for the Hugo for best novel, regardless of the circumstances. I am 250 pages in and I am loathing it. I've been bitching about this book in #yuletide for the past week. KJA's writing instincts just seem totally off. He routinely fails on basic narrative details. This one might be the most infuriating, but it's typical of a whole class of error:

Lee Iswander is frantic with worry and heartache after a natural disaster ruined his business and killed many of his employees. His wife offers to bring him his favorite food for lunch. In an internal monologue, he wonders what his favorite food is, if he even has one, if his wife knows what it is. A page later, his wife brings him food, and... the narrative does not tell us what the food is, or whether or not it's his favorite. It just says that she brought him food. I'm a hundred pages later and I am still obsessing over Lee Iswander's favorite food. It's such a confusing oversight. It's a six hundred page novel, why would you leave it out?
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So far, Fresh Off the Boat has been really funny. With B-99 on some kind of sweeps related hiatus and Parks and Rec over, it's the only sitcom I'm watching. They use the limited acting range of their child actors in smart, measured ways. They milk Constance Wu's comic timing for everything it's worth. They do great work with all the dramatic irony of the retro setting. They drop brilliant and daring one liners and trust that they'll hit ("Superstition is like racism. Every generation is a little better than the one before"). In a way, that is the problem with the show. The only show in twenty years to center a Asian-American family, and it is really, really good. It lets the networks say "See, if the quality is there, we will show diverse content." The same networks regularly air colossally unfunny shows about white families.

I wonder if a useful way to quantify diversity may be with Sturgeon's Law: When 90% of the content about a group is crud, we no longer have a diversity problem.

Also, I would like to register my protest that Agents of SHIELD went from "Melinda", easily the best episode of the second season (p.s. [personal profile] sanguinity, if you're ever going to watch an episode of AoS, this is the one to watch. Ming Na's acting range is stunning.), to the one with 'frenemy' in the episode title, wherein Coulson decides to ally with Ward for no particularly clear reason except to give Admiral Adama more proof that Coulson's a maniac. NO. DON'T TEAM UP WITH WARD.

I remain highly curious of how Age of Ultron will affect the show. Tickets for that are already purchased. :D
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Hm... reaction to the new Agent Carter?

I thought the episode was badly paced in that kind of typical way when you're an episode or two before the finale and you need to manipulate a lot of the pieces into their proper place for the finale. Both Russian subplots were awkwardly developed... I didn't comprehend at all the placement of Dottie's kiss in the storyline. I guess it reinforced the theme of men underestimating women, with the crowning irony that if they had heeded Peggy's warning about the Red Room, they might have caught her. But the emotional swing from Peggy's free to Peggy's about to be killed to Peggy's in SSR custody was strange and did disservice to the Red Room plot. Likewise, the Ivchenko storyline had several false starts that nicely built suspense... it would have been nice if it had also had an ending. It's not a subplot I care enough about to be anxious about through to next week.

I loved Angie's moment in the sun. I loved the fight in the Automat, and how brutal and terrible Peggy's escape from Sousa and Thompson was.

About Angie's moment in the sun: Peggy acts because she trusts Howard Stark is not a traitor. Repeatedly, she insists that Howard Stark is not a traitor, and repeatedly the SSR disbelieves her. When she meets Thompson and Sousa in the alley, she likewise asks them to trust her, to continue the chain of trust forged of working together, fighting together, spending time judging each other and proving each other out. It's a great echo of the premiere. They refuse to trust her, though Sousa at least wavers. But Angie is asked to trust Peggy over the government authorities and she does it without thinking, because that's what friends do. (Because that's what Steve would do?) I love that moment. I really do think that the Angie crying scene is one of Agent Carter's best, most earned emotional moments- built from awkward lunches and brooding silences and shared confidences at the boarding house table, until it seems inevitable.

And this is back from last week, but I still think it's startling that Dottie did not find Steve's blood last week, and I don't understand why they would tell the story that way. From a Watsonian perspective, how could Dottie go over the room as thoroughly as she did, thoroughly enough to find the poison lipstick, and not check behind all the paintings? And from a Doylist perspective, why would you write this scene where the Russian spy searches a room where we just saw our hero carefully hide an emotionally important object, and not even hint at the spy finding that object? It's just a strange oversight, a narrative pulled punch.

I was also a little disappointed by Miriam's appearance in this episode. She's been set up throughout as more an obstacle than a character. "No men above the first floor" is almost her only character trait, and that's been fine up to this point. Certainly it was all that was needed in the Howard Stark infiltrates the second floor episode, and it was a fine addition of unexpected stress when Peggy was looking for a new apartment. But with the government agents knocking on the door of the Griffith, it was a missed opportunity not to give a moment to humanize her- to let her stand up and say "I may not have always trusted Peggy Carter, but I believe she's a good girl, and I will not allow you to violate the rules of this establishment without showing me some proof to the contrary." And to have it stick. To let Miriam Fry be the hero of her own story. Her only character trait is that she is an obstacle to men trying to get on the second floor, so it was frustrating to see the SSR men brush past that obstacle as if it didn't matter, when being that obstacle could have constituted the sort of quiet female heroism Agent Carter is ostensibly about, the sort of quiet female heroism that Angie is allowed to exhibit minutes later.

That being said, Agent Carter is fantastic overall. It is, after Parks and Rec, the show I am most excited about watching each week. And I'm going to miss it when it's over.
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On Tuesday's Agent Carter, we saw the return of the 'Howling Commandos'. Well, sort of. The group as constituted in Captain America was very nearly an entirely different group. The only continuity was Dum Dum Dugan as the leader of the group. But that's also only sort of true. There's another form of continuity to the Howlers, which is its relationship to the comic book series.

In Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos, Dum Dum Dugan is second in command to Sergeant Nick Fury, but the rest of the squad is a strange token squad, with a single Italian, a single Jew, a single African-American, a single Southerner, all working together to kill Nazis. The Captain America movie replaces Nick Fury with Cap as the white guy in charge, and swaps out a couple of these ethnic groups for different ones, but preserves the idea of the Howlers as the token squad.

So when they are bringing back the Howlers in Agent Carter, they want to preserve this. I presume they called Derek Luke, the actor who played African-American Howler Gabe Jones, and I guess he was unavailable, because they scrambled to plan B: Must have the black token in the Howlers, so let's cast another black Howler. They do this, search through the list of names of Howlers in the comics, and name him Sam Sawyer, and consider their problem solved. In a sense it is. The Howlers as the safe harbor in the midcentury armed forces where outsiders can find a family is a theme of the episode, and Happy Sam serving alongside Dum Dum and Junior and Peggy reinforces the theme.

Within the continuity of the relationship to the comic books, problems emerge. Sam Sawyer of the comics wasn't a Howler, per se, He was their commanding officer, the lieutenant who sent Sgt. Fury and his ragtag crew on their missions. So casting a black actor as Sam Sawyer as just a regular Howler has a few metanarrative problems. There's the problem of the character getting a de facto demotion along with the cross-racial casting. And there's the problem of Sam Sawyer's personality from the comics not being transplanted along with the cross-racial casting.

Sam Sawyer is known as Happy Sam. Why? Because as the CO of the misfit Howlers, he spends most of his time yelling at them at the top of his lungs. It's called irony, I guess. Agent Carter Sam Sawyer is also called Happy Sam. Why? Because he is a little bit happy-go-lucky, apparently. The nickname inherits some nasty racial implications when it's removed from its original context.

The original Howling Commandos is informed by a weird, problematic form of 1960s liberal paternalism and it doesn't quite translate to modern understandings about race. So as long as you don't think about the act of translation, I don't think there's anything obviously problematic about this part of the episode. But I think their choice to make a translation is worth thinking about, and I think we have to conclude that on those terms, the result is pretty unfortunate.
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Howard Stark: Yeah, I know, and I was wrong. But you have to understand, a kid like me doesn't get to where I'm at by doing...

Peggy Carter: What? Wanted for treason?

Howard Stark: I grew up on the Lower East Side. My father sold fruit. My mother sewed shirtwaists for a factory. Let me tell you, you don't get to climb the American ladder without picking up some bad habits on the way. There's a ceiling for certain types of people based on how much money your parents have, your social class, your religion, your sex. And the only way to break through that ceiling sometimes is to lie, so that's my natural instinct... to lie. I shouldn't have lied to you. For that, trust me, I am truly sorry.

from Agent Carter S1E04, "The Blitzkrieg Button"

I'm having a hard time not reading that as Howard Stark coming out as Jewish. It's possible he's coming out as gay, or coming out as gay and Jewish. Those are also valid readings of the subtext, I think, but there is so much coming out as Jewish subtext there it's absurd. (I guess it's also possible he's coming out as Italian Catholic. Certainly Italian Catholics in this era faced similar kinds of religious and ethnic discrimination in the same Lower East Side neighborhoods. I think in general in the comics, Maria Stark is more usually coded Italian than Howard is. Her 616 maiden name is Carbonell, though I don't believe that's been confirmed in MCU. In any case, I don't think this scene would have so much edge if he's just confessing to being Catholic, even in 1946.)

In any case, Agent Carter has been phenomenal so far overall, but this scene kind of made my week. I loved the gloriously twisted intersectionality of it all. Peggy Carter is an upper crust British woman being bossed around by a bunch of upper class American men, so she makes an alliance with an even richer, even more sexist American on the basis of their wartime camaraderie: the war being for her as for so many others the great equalizer of race and gender and class and creed. But just as returning to the home front has forced Peggy to reconfront sexism she thought had been washed away by blood, so too for Howard Stark he has returned from the war that made him a hero to find that he's still a mistrusted outsider on the homefront.

(Of course, this whole narrative makes the complete absence of African-American characters from the story even more glaring. And if IMDB is to believed, they're bringing back some of the Howlers next week, but not Gabe and not Izzy, so grrrr...)
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Danger 5 Season 2 is coming out. We're up to Episode 4.

Danger 5 doesn't really do parody, as we know it. It also doesn't really do pastiche. I'm not sure I have the word for what they do, because it sits in the same territory as those things, but it isn't those things. Surrealist pastiche, maybe? There's a thing they accomplish on a consistent basis, which is to make you think they're heading for a trope, and then they subvert the trope not by subverting the trope but by doing something so out of left field that it's not even in the same ballpark as the trope.

In general, my love for this season is not quite as unabashed as my love for Season 1. I mean, obviously there are problems with Season 1 aside from the intentional problems, but the writing is so sharp that my tendency is to overlook them. Season 2 has been clunkier. Outside of the simple episodic formula that drove Season 1, there have been fumbles to reestablish characters and storytelling devices. I think they're also running into the limits of using so many one-note characters. The characters have felt out of character, compared to their static Season 1 versions, and the tactic of subjecting them to new pressures has not really had results that were either emotional resonant or even very funny. Their fridging of Claire in the first episode was frustrating on feminist grounds and has not been used effectively since.

On the other hand, I've enjoyed every episode more than the previous one, and episode four was the one that most had the feel of a season 1 episode: the strange geopolitics of the Vatican, the goofy fast food, the matrioshka doll phone, the Pope marionette, and ultimately Hitler's macabre Dantean descent. McKenzie felt most integrated into the team and Pierre, Tucker, Jackson and even to some extent Ilsa had actual emotional arcs. There were more quotable lines.

So I'm holding out hope for a clean finish to the season. It's even possible that some of the bad parts have been deliberate, since the show's using more continuity than it did in season 1 and there may be payoff to delayed jokes. We'll see, I guess.
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Parks and Recreation came back last night and put a smile on my face for a full hour. I loved Future!Ben being burned in effigy and being able to say only a few scenes later that he's finally in the professional situation that makes him happy. I loved Ben and Tom weeping over Tom's toast. I loved April freaking out about being comfortable in a stable adult lifestyle. I loved Leslie's comfort and pride in directing the work of 1200 people with vision and dedication. I loved Leslie and Ron putting aside their differences to help Jamm, I loved Leslie making war cookies, I loved how Leslie and Ron's inevitable differences clearly don't affect their love and respect for each other. I superloved Very Good Builders.

And I loved how the time jump was used to take these relationship moments, which the show had already earned, and make them feel even more earned. That Tom and Ben aren't two guys who have been supporting each others' growth for two years, they're people who have been supporting each other for five years, and it's clear that the missing three years deepened their friendship, but it's also clear that the show laid the foundation for the jump ahead of time. The time jump wasn't a swerve, it recorded an evolution.

And the Terry joke actually paid out, which I never expected. They've actually made progress over the years in explaining how Gary/Jerry/Larry/Terry finds satisfaction in his life even when everyone else thinks he's a punchline, that he doesn't mind being called Terry because he genuinely likes his work and he genuinely likes his coworkers. It's one of Parks's most meanspirited jokes, and yet it doesn't really seem mean anymore.

And what else... Joan was fucking brilliant. Tammy was horrifying. Lucy was cute. Jamm was used brilliantly. Ken Hotate's response to Leslie's money begging was perfect. The writers just hit all the notes well. If you're not watching Parks and Recreation, I seriously don't know why.
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Re: Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom:

Season 3 is pushing my rage buttons a hell of a lot less. There seems to be some self-awareness creeping in. There seems to be more awareness on the part of the writers that Sam Watterston has been playing Charlie as an incompetent drunk, Olivia Munn has been playing Sloane as a flighty flake, and the only reason why Jim Harper isn't the worst boyfriend in the world is because he's on the same show as Will McAvoy. The scene in the first episode where Charlie and Will try desperately to come up with an inspiring speech to make during the Boston Marathon bombing coverage was effective along these lines, as was the scene where Maggie apologizes for monologuing because where she works, that's how everyone talks. Being on the same page as the writers, that this is a show about people who are really good at reporting the news and really terrible at life, is making it less enraging to watch.

It's also given them the freedom to take the show into darker places. Neal is in Venezuela and may spend the rest of the show there. Will is in jail and may spend the rest of the show there. I would be really delighted if Will spent the rest of the show in jail, though I kind of doubt it will happen, but sending Will off to jail to Schubert's Ave Maria was a baffling regurgitation of Sorkinian tics that kind of worked dramatically. Will managed to be both a hero and a jackass boyfriend in that scene, and it's thought-provoking and unlike a lot of things on the show, startlingly human.

If Sorkin thinks this show is a good defense of the value of traditional journalism in the face of internet media, he needs to take a long hard look in the mirror. Sometimes it seems like Season 3 is actually that look in the mirror, but sometimes reading Season 3 that way requires us to root against all the ensemble characters and root for the guest stars, and that's a little uncomfortable to do even when the guest stars include BJ Novak and Mary McCormack. But oh, man, Charlie and Sloane, if you couldn't tell that your meeting with the potential buyer was a setup for a screwjob, you need to go back to business school fast. When the ensemble characters are this incompetent, it becomes easier to root against their nonsense ideology. It becomes easier to root for the triumph of the internet as a coming together of technology and community, when the heroes of the old guard are laughable buffoons.

The less said about the Carnivore plotline, though, the better. As Will is an awful human being, Jim is an awful human being and a particularly awful boyfriend, and I am desperately praying that Hallie's realization of this fact is permanent, because no, you do not need to return to that emotionally abusive relationship, Hallie. But I really like that Hallie has been given the intellectual and emotional integrity throughout this plotline to never doubt herself no matter how big a jerk Jim has been.

I do wonder if there is something spiritually damaging about being a social media-oriented journalist in a company built around clickbait, and I think Hallie wonders, too, but I think she's shown making peace with it. The point isn't whether what she writes is clickbaity, the point is whether what she writes is good- emotionally compelling, thought-provoking, honest, and challenging. The internet will make changes both for the good and for the bad, but it will make changes- and Hallie has the brains and integrity to roll with those changes. Good riddance that she's no longer at the mess that is ACN.
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One thing I would really like Season 2 of Agents of SHIELD to be more about is the regrowth of the bureaucracy. Rebuilding SHIELD from scratch with new leadership should entail an awful lot of paperwork. I want May to be like "Coulson, you don't have time to draw those circles and lines, you have to sign these timesheets and approve these expense reports. Also, Mockingbird filed a sexual harassment claim against Lance Hunter."

I also want the money to be an issue. "Sorry, Hunter, we have to rent a beat up econobox for your assignment tracking Ward in Boston, because we don't have a blank check from the Senate Select Committee anymore." How is Coulson funding SHIELD? How is this working? Like, hasn't the Bus run out of jet fuel by now?

EDIT: Also, also, why isn't the show wrestling more with the legitimacy of SHIELD? Nick Fury points to Coulson and says "You're in charge of this secret illegal organization now." and suddenly Coulson has the ability to recruit former SHIELD agents to fight HYDRA? Nobody challenges Coulson's authority? Nobody tells him "I support what you're doing, but I'm going to fight HYDRA on my own"? or "I support what you're doing, but I think we need to do it within official US channels"? These are the stories that should be front and center, and at best we're getting vague background hints.
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I mainlined all of Alpha House season 2 as soon as it came out. It was incredibly delightful, with a joke complexity density rivaling Arrested Development or 30 Rock. Highlights

-Senator Laffer owning an authentic Bush.

-The whole Mormon soaking thing. A slow build leading to an unbelievably hilarious series of images.

-Senator Bettencourt miserably registers voters in North Philadelphia, knowing that every voter he registers will be a vote against him.

-Janel Moloney as a Republican Senator. Let me repeat that. DONNA MOSS, REPUBLICAN SENATOR. Yelling at Bradley Whitford. Working while on a treadmill in her office... IN HEELS. Wielding a pistol in the Capitol in a bold stand for gun rights.


I'm watching Gotham- I don't think I mentioned, but of course I couldn't resist. It's a pretty bankrupt premise that I'm still waiting to see what the point is, but so far I'm enjoying it despite its sort of pointlessness. Penguin is wonderful, Fish Moony is amazing, and I'm liking that Jim Gordon is so ethically compromised already, though in the wake of this most recent episode it remains to be seen how far they're willing to take that. They brought things to a head much faster than I thought they would, which is a relief, and yet it beggars the question of where the writers think they're taking this show.

I'm watching Agents of SHIELD still, of course. I've been mostly disappointed by S2 so far, though the most recent episode was my favorite by far. Mockingbird is great! Mack is great! I want my FitzSimmons back together. I still wish Agents of SHIELD were the FitzSimmons show. But the show is plagued by the difficulty of juggling all the new characters and character relationships. Coulson/Skye was the heart of Season 1 emotionally, and Director Coulson/Agent Skye in this season has been just completely adrift. There have been episodes in this season that, with all of the new dynamics being juggled, saw the plot get completely botched. The Agent May vs. Agent May fight was great but it was surrounded by probably the most wretchedly dumb writing the show has ever seen, in which any questions about whether May could trust Coulson and vice versa were sabotaged by the stupidity of the dialogue.

I finished the Wheel of Time about a month ago. I'm not sure what to say about it because it is so big and powerful a literary achievement that it's hard to get a grasp on its significance. Ten thousand pages or more, hundreds of characters, dozens of plotlines, all maneuvered, sometimes clumsily and sometimes brilliantly, toward a single climax lasting most of a thousand pages. A climax that manages to tie up an immense number of loose ends without seeming forced, yet certainly not an effortless climax. The Wheel of Time is impressive because it is enjoyable in spite of its many faults, because somehow over the course of its tremendous length, the good outweighs the bad more often than not.

Some observations:

-Brandon Sanderson could never quite get Mat Cauthon right, especially his sense of humor. But he did a pretty amazing job of writing Mat Cauthon, gambling general, in the finale given that handicap.

-The metathematics of the Wheel of Time are pretty central to its point... The heroes of the Horn spinning out in every generation, the Dragon reborn again and again to fight the same battle over and over again against the Shadow, names translated into new myths with every Age, Tel'Aran'Rhiod as the one constant- the world of dreams, the world of storytellers, the world where if you believe something more strongly than someone else, your story is imposed on the world.

Given this, the point of Rand's ending is that he gets to live a life that isn't part of a story now. But I still want that story desperately, because of my love of metanarrative. I want to know what life is like for a messiah after he has provided salvation, after he is not longer ta'veren. I guess I need to read The Name of Wind now, eh?

I've also been lightly bingeing on Meg Cabot, when I don't want to think. All of her non-Princess Diary stuff is weirdly fascinating. She blends genre fiction with teen romance as well as anybody. The Airheads series is really dark and kind of awesome.

And lastly, I did a reread of Jill Pinkwater's Buffalo Brenda, a seminal book of my childhood and an anthem to weirdness and letting your imagination introduce you to new and exciting fun that always makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.


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