Blunt Talk and You’re the Worst are both shows where the premise depends on our cynicism about redemption narratives. Blunt Talk begins with Patrick Stewart’s character Walter Blunt standing on top of a police car drunkenly declaiming Shakespeare. This sets up a parody of the now-familiar PR-ed apology and public appeal for forgiveness, including a stirring avowal of the importance of journalism (which leads to a staged outside broadcast from a fake hurricane in a porn studio forced to rent out its space because of Los Angeles’s mandatory condom laws’ effect on the porn business) and attendance at alcoholics anonymous (with a last minute switch to Sex Addicts Anonymous for Walter and Gamblers Anonymous for his manservant Harry. “That’s a good idea; you love gambling,” says Walter). But when this sex-addict adventure goes south leaving Walter and Harry mournfully discussing loneliness in a suburban boat, the show reveals that it might be taking the redemption narrative more seriously. Read more↴
As it seems like no-one with more theological training is interested, it falls on me to consider the religious significance of Black Jesus. The curious thing about the show is that its biblical references are pervasive but ambient, half-meant rather than specific analogies. Much of the first season involves Jesus and his friends attempting to establish a community garden, and of course there are many biblical gardens this could be referencing, but the show never settles on any particular one. Or, maybe more obviously, one of Jesus’s friends is called “Fish,” and the one woman in his circle is called “Mags,” but the show is never clear on how far it wants us to take the analogy with Mary Magdalene (she’s not a prostitute, but she does get involved in a lot of Instagram beef; are we to read that as making her a sinful woman?). Read more↴
It wouldn’t have immediately occurred to me to call 2014 a brilliant year in television, but there have been significantly more shows I’m excited about than I have time to watch, which speaks rather well of current TV quality.
To begin by mourning the shows that were tragically cancelled, I’m saddest about The Carrie Diaries. Read more↴
I like The Carrie Diaries, the prequel to Sex and the City on the teen-focussed CW network, a lot. It’s a fun show, but there’s an underlying issue-of-the-week earnestness to it which differentiates it from Gossip Girl (with which it shares a production team) and which I like to think is a period detail, harking back to 1980s programmes like Grange Hill. The way it negotiates the period setting for an audience of contemporary teenagers is interesting, with the way a mild griminess stands in for pre-Giuliani New York, or everyone wears technically-accurate 80s clothes that happen to align neatly with what’s fashionable today as 80s revival (except for the antagonists, the mean girls, who wear the clothes people actually wore in the 80s). But the most interesting revision of 80s mores is the way the show portrays homosexuality, or more precisely how it portrays tolerance of homosexuality. Read more↴
I think I liked Revenge more when it started as Gossip Girl meets The Count of Monte Cristo, before it turned into 9/11 conspiracy theorist Batman. The first season, in which Emily remorselessly enacted revenge on the family that framed her father, did have a war on terror connection, but it seemed properly post-9/11 in that terrorism was almost purely background (I initially thought, on the basis of some back-of-the-envelope calculations, that the terrorist event that formed the backdrop of the show took place in 2001, although it turns out there was an additional chunk of the timeline that puts it nominally pre 9/11). In the second season the terrorist attack becomes a more direct focus of the show, with Emily now targeting the vague conspiracy of politicians and businessmen who planned it (under the guidance of the man who taught her the Batman skills necessary to her quest for vengeance). Read more↴
People usually describe The West Wing as idealistic. This is reflected in what is taken to be the show’s signature directorial move, the “walk and talk,” in which two characters walk briskly through the corridors of the West Wing engaged in some high-powered discussion of the story of the week; this is a visual representation of the show’s commitment to the idea of the good that can be accomplished by energetic, intelligent, good people. But I always thought the heart of the show was in a slighty different move, that usually appeared towards the end of the episode. Again two characters, but this time usually static, in the muted light of an office somewhere out of the way; one character gives an impassioned speech to persuade the other of the moral rightness of some course of action, and just as this speech reaches its argumentative climax, the character breaks off and says, “but of course, we’ll never be able to implement that policy.” This reveals the cynicism which Žižek identifies as central to idealism: the idea, not just that good people sometimes do bad things, but that the “goodness” of good people is an internal, essential, quality untouched by any bad things they may by chance happen to do; indeed, the very distance between the bad actions and the internal goodness, perversely, comes to be taken as evidence of this internal goodness.
While The West Wing exhibits the cynicism of idealism, there is also a naivete of cynicism. Cynicism operates by revealing that, behind people’s actions lie their true, hidden, motives; but this just reproduces naivete at one remove, with a simple faith in the reality of these underlying motives. What I like about Political Animals is that it challenges this naive cynicism. Read more↴