A TV review – Designated Survivor

kiefer_sutherland_281476910002229

In these troubled times of North Korean nuclear threats and indirectly government-sanctioned white supremacist rallies, fiction is probably the best refuge one can find from an orange shitstorm that can’t seem to be weathered. In this context, Designated Survivor is ABC’s honest (however feeble) attempt at resurrecting The West Wing (1) through a Donald Trump counternarrative.

In the show’s version of reality, the president is an outsider and hasn’t even been elected due to extreme circumstances. However the similarities to our current situation stop here. Our man is a registered independent who gets things done through bipartisan support, diplomacy and rational thinking. What’s more, he actually sounds like a fairly educated and articulate adult. In other words, he is a slightly unrealistic breath of fresh air. His main antagonists are terrorists (well, duh!) but they are of the homegrown kind this time around: white Americans whose religion is irrelevant to the plot (but I want to say Christian, however shocking it might be for some bigoted readers) and whose status is never dismissed as that of « disturbed loners » just because the color of their skin isn’t dark enough to fit the terrorist bill. Captain Obvious going against the grain with his broad brush would probably be more subtle in his approach, granted, but the effort deserves some recognition.

All the ingredients put together by Aaron Sorkin in his iconic (and idealistic) political show 18 years ago have been somehow recycled by David Guggenheim in order to construct his counternarrative. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (yes, there is such a department) Tom Kirkland (Kiefer Sutherland) is America’s designated survivor after the attack on the Capitol that effectively destroys two of the three branches of the country’s government. He therefore becomes the Acting President of the United States under the Presidential Succession Act (2), hence the non elected status mentioned above. When disaster strikes, who better than 24‘s Jack Bauer to fit Jed Bartlet’s shoes? Especially since the mere thought of Ben Carson as the person currently serving as aforementioned Secretary in real life is bound to send shivers down the most stoic viewer’s spine.

While they aren’t even remotely living up to Josh, Donna, Toby and Sam’s legend (at least not just yet), Natascha McElhone (First Lady Alex Kirkman) Italia Ricci (Chief of Staff / adviser Emily Rhodes) and Adan Canto (Chief of Staff / adviser Aaron Shore) still make for a solid and highly likeable team. Kal Penn (Press Secretary Seth Wright) deserves a special mention as CJ’s successor in the part since his past as a member of Barack Obama’s administration (simpler times…) obviously informs his polished performance as a White House insider. Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci wouldn’t have stood a chance. Well, that is if reality hadn’t become much stranger than fiction lately. Maggie Q (FBI agent Hannah Wells), who seems to have ended her streak of questionable career choices (Live Free or Die Hard to name but one), and Rob Morrow (reporter Abe Leonard) of Numb3rs fame complete the highlights of a high-profile cast.

So if watching the news is as disturbing an experience for you as it is for me these days and if you have enough time – and money let’s face it – on your hands to work out how to use Netflix on your brand new Apple TV, pure escapism is awaiting in the form of Designated Survivor. Sorkin’s show worked as an idealized version of Bill Clinton’s presidency for seven years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, let’s hope Guggenheim’s alternative facts (3) about an unlikely run for office will stick around long enough for viewers to say the same. Unlike reality, it comes with pause and rewind buttons.

(1) If you’re not familiar with it, go check it out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_West_Wing

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Designated_survivor

(3) This one’s on you, Kellyanne.

Picture: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Kiefer Sutherland) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Publicités

Desperate Housewives – an informal essay (away from conservative principles)

marc_cherry_republicans

Marc Cherry at a GOP event in 2006.

Views are mine and obviously biased.

Let me preface this by coming out and say that I love Desperate Housewives, I really do. All right. For the handful of people who haven’t stopped reading yet, here goes: I’ve been watching the whole show for the umpteenth time at the very least, I’ve lost count (yup, my writing is slightly better than my math). Umpteenth time’s a charm as they say. Except that it’s also when it hit me: I’ve been watching a show that was mainly created as a vehicle for an extremely conservative platform. These reactionary views wouldn’t have felt out of place in pre-Civil Rights America as a matter of fact. A quick scan through Marc Cherry’s Wikipedia page seems to support that sudden nagging feeling. The show’s creator was apparently described as a “somewhat conservative, gay Republican” at some point and is a registered GOP member*, which explains many of the show’s themes and much of its ideology but also some of its contradictions. Desperate Housewives is a seasoned cook’s recipe seemingly made of light-hearted ingredients with the occasional dramatic pinch of salt that make for a heartwarming break at the end of a long day on the job for Average Joe and Ordinary Jane. But make no mistake, underneath that suburban veneer, the show’s underlying message is far from being as uplifting as Steve Jablonsky’s soundtrack.

Tom and Lynette Scavo’s daily lives and roles are probably the best example of the show’s core values. There couldn’t have been a more perfect example of the stereotypical Cold War nuclear family. Tom, husband, father and sole breadwinner. Lynette, wife, stay-at-home mom dealing with everything domestic. Even when Lynette goes back to work and Tom tries (and mostly fails, let’s be honest) to get to grips with their four kids’ antics, the show’s writers manage to insert meaningful reminders of the only acceptable state of affairs in their eyes. Their conversation about firing an employee at their new pizza venture immediately comes to mind.

Lynette : You pulling rank on me ?

Tom : Look, at home, you get to be in charge, and you decide how we discipline the boys, what car we buy, everything. […] Look, when I go home, basically, I check my balls at the door, and that’s fine. It works. But for this to work, when you walk through that door, you gotta check yours.

(Season 3, episode 14 – “I Remember That”)

Way to condone gender-based traditional roles as they were constructed in what is commonly thought of as a bygone era, at least in the Western world. Needless to say that Bree Van de Kamp, pitch perfect housewife and kitchen fairy, Susan Mayer, klutz extraordinaire who wouldn’t be able to take care of herself if her life depended on it and shopaholic, materialistic, self-absorbed and mostly idle Gabrielle Solis don’t do the cause any favors either. Edie Brit might be the only major female character that could pass for a modern professional woman. If she wasn’t depicted as a heartless slut instead, that is.

doug_savant_2009

Doug Savant (Tom Scavo) in 2009.

 

finale_walk_at_the_heart_truths_red_dress_collection_2010_cropped

Felicity Huffman (Lynette Scavo) in 2010.

Among all these somewhat clichéd female characters, Bree clearly stands out. As a registered Republican, proud gun owner and NRA member, avid churchgoer, bigoted gay basher, typical suburban housewife and wealthy country club cardholder, Bree is a poster child for the conservative establishment. Most progressive viewers might dismiss her as comic relief or some sort of foil but she is meant as a major character and, unlike Edie, mostly supposed to be taken seriously. This suggests that Bree’s views, far from being discarded as ludicrous, are in fact to be taken at face value as the show’s main message for the audience to go home with. She is therefore potentially much more influential than one might have thought at first. The fact that she literally gets away with murder (among other things including driving under the influence, failure to report a crime – manslaughter in her son’s case, abandoning her son on the side of the road, you name it) further supports the theory according to which Cherry is clearly favoring her and the brand of conservatism she stands for.

Life Ball 2014

Marcia Cross (Bree Van de Kamp) in 2014.

However, Bree doesn’t exactly have a monopoly on dodging the law. On Wisteria Lane, crimes have no lasting consequences as long as you’re rich, preferably white (with the notable exception of the Solis family as the token Latinos on the show), privileged and deemed respectable by the rest of the community (if you happen to be black on top of all this, you might also be able to keep the cops away but that might cost your son his life, Betty Applewhite learned that the hard way). Paul Young gets off scot-free after committing murder, Andrew Van de Kamp avoids being charged with hit-and-run, Bree ducks criminal negligence in addition to her other above-mentioned felonies and Carlos Solis manages to settle with the State in order to dramatically reduce his sentence for embezzlement. As long as you can pay your way to freedom, negotiate a settlement with a friendly neighbor, threaten unfriendly ones or all of the above, you’re in the clear. Committing a crime – fraud through sham marriage – is actually easier than questioning the pre-Obamacare health system preventing Susan from affording surgery. Once again, this is well within the realm of present-day conservative doctrine although Marc Cherry couldn’t have known that the world would actually end up being ruled by an orange-skinned Law Evader in Chief at the time. How eerily prescient. In that regard, the series finale encapsulates every single previously mentioned occurrence as Karen McCluskey performs the mother of all evasions. Truth be told, the only character who seems to be paying everyone’s dues to society, even when his innocence is self-evident, is the local plumber, Mike Delfino. Susan’s proverbial bad luck can’t carry the blame on its own. A lower social status and paygrade will do that to you.

Those are probably also what your kids are supposed to end up getting if their suburban parents don’t get them into an expensive private school, as far as possible from crowded state system classrooms. Hence Mike doubling his plumbing shifts and Susan pretty much snatching an assistant job out of the principal’s hands in order to be able to afford the exorbitant tuition.

And since it’s never too late for Marc Cherry to add a lesson to his ever developing Conservative 101 class, Mary Alice Young, our devoted narrator (I mean, she’s a woman, what else would she do between her chores anyway?), doesn’t fail to put the final nail in Progressive America’s coffin when Susan leaves her sick son with her ex-husband on her first day on the job:

It’s not hard to spot a mom who works outside her home. Just look for a woman who leaves her house every morning feeling incredibly guilty.

(Season 5, episode 15, « In a World Where the Kings Are Employers »)

A woman holding a job that doesn’t start with « house » and doesn’t end with « wife » is obviously unheard of in Conservative Utopia. However, when her male counterpart can’t hold on to his breadwinning occupation, all hell breaks loose. As Orson Hodge has it, « when [he] lost [his dental] practice, [he] lost people’s respect » (season 5, episode 16, « Crime Doesn’t Pay »). Are you done cringing? Now listen. You could almost hear Betsy DeVos snigger in the background, a little too far from the teacher for her own good. Well, that’s if you’re white and rich enough to move in the same circles of course.

Having said that, Marc Cherry’s atypical background somehow forces him to walk the line between hardline right-wing tenets and his own situation as a gay Hollywood artist in a world dominated by liberals. Hence a plethora of contradictions on his show. Its endorsement of hookup culture, multiple marriages and divorces almost as a way of life (although abortion is usually completely ignored as a viable option even with regards to teen pregnancies), to name but a few, might represent some of the contradictory aspects that are sure to be involved in being a gay Republican. The fact that the only major gay character in the first three seasons, Andrew, is not exactly shown in the greatest light as well as Bob Hunter and Lee McDermott playing stereotypical second fiddle to him as of season four can be seen as a symbol of said contradictory aspects.

I’m told we’re getting into the episode’s forty-second minute and it’s time for the female narrator to wrap up and put the kids to sleep. Fine. Like I said, I still enjoy watching reruns of Desperate Housewives like there’s no tomorrow all these years down the line and the story’s paradoxes might be part of the explanation. Blatantly ignoring Fairview’s conservative streak including cringeworthy gender roles, prehistoric values and inconsistent morals is definitely another one of those parts. This last one is getting increasingly hard to pull off though.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Cherry

Picture 1: By No machine-readable author provided. Flo~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 2: By Kristin Dos Santos (Doug Savant) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 3: By The Heart Truth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 4: Manfred Werner/Tsui – CC by-sa 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

A book review – Darkly Dreaming Dexter

jeff_lindsay_2013

Jeff Lindsay

Children. I should have killed him twice.

Whatever made me the way I am left me hollow, empty inside, unable to feel. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. I’m quite sure most people fake an awful lot of everyday human contact. I just fake all of it. I fake it very well, and the feelings are never there. But I like kids. I could never have them, since the idea of sex is no idea at all. Imagine doing those things – How can you? Where’s your sense of dignity? But kids – kids are special. Father Donovan deserved to die. The Code of Harry was satisfied, along with the Dark Passenger.

Jeff Lindsay, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, 2004

Writer’s block is a… hold on. Nope. Already wrote that last year when complaining about my lack of willingness to expose my prose to the world. Or to produce any for that matter. It had been half a year at the time. Almost thirteen months down the line, here I go again. As you might have noticed, my enthusiasm for both reading and writing usually ebbs and flows. Weirdly enough, it is somehow connected to how many *insert appropriate judgmental adjective here* papers I have to grade a week. My Dark Passenger, in a way. But enough about me. Jeff Lindsay deserves all the credit as far as said rekindled enthusiasm is concerned. Who? Exactly. What if I mentioned Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz or Jennifer Carpenter? Ring a bell? Yes, somewhat predictably, Dexter Morgan has become a household name as the main character of Showtime’s acclaimed TV show Dexter while leaving Jeff Lindsay’s novels in the shade. Who? Oh come on, don’t be a smart a… lec.

So here’s yet another rant, this time on behalf of unheralded Jeff Lindsay (he’ll thank me later), whose remarkable(1) talent I almost overlooked because of the sheer quality of a show (its first four to six seasons at least) which is after all a mere adaptation. The ingredients are fairly simple but highly efficient. The same Miami blood spatter analyst by day who turns into a merciless – but abiding by a very strict Code – killer by night we all remember from the show, an equally despicable boss and – that might be the one key element the show has been able to really enhance – somewhat understated supporting roles including Dexter’s sister’s Deborah (Debra on TV) who doesn’t seem to be suffering from Tourette’s syndrome as much as her small screen self just yet.

jennifer_carpenter2c_michael_c-_hall_26_julie_benz

Jennifer Carpenter (Debra), Michael C. Hall (Dexter) and Julie Benz (Rita)

However, the main reason why some characters might seem a little more subdued than they should be is the overwhelming presence of the story’s protagonist / first-person narrator, this ‘sociopathic vigilante’ as Wikipedia puts it. Indeed, Dexter’s voice is quite unique and the written form makes us more aware of it as we readers have to heavily rely on it to make our way through Lindsay’s plot. This literary device is akin to that which makes Emma Donoghue’s Room so much more compelling on paper than it is on the big screen for instance. Except that in this case, instead of a five-year-old’s thoughts, we’re getting those of a quirky vigilante complete with caustic humor. Triggering such a response in an avid Dexter viewer is no mean feat, believe me. It’s not as if I don’t know what’s supposed to happen or I haven’t seen Michael C. Hall’s staggering performance as everyone’s favorite serial killer. His unlikely appeal was already disturbing enough as seen through a camera. Here lies Jeff Lindsay’s seamless brilliance in his craft.

In other words, whether you enjoyed watching Dexter’s killing spree twelve weeks a year between 2006 and 2013 or you had never heard of that Dexter dude before reading this review (and let’s be quite honest, you still don’t understand all the hype surrounding him), dash to the closest book store (just kidding, type in the address of your favorite slave-owning shopping website) and go on a rampage. Did I mention there were eight books? Oh and did I allude to the fact that the first book (published in 2004) gave away the basis of a major plot twist that wasn’t written into the TV adaptation until the end of its sixth season in 2011? More proof that no Dexter fan had even opened the first book that paved the way for the show’s success and Jeff Lindsay had been utterly ignored as a trailblazer. Anyway. Rant over. Whatever you do, get acquainted with America’s most beloved serial killer one way or another. Both versions provide more than enough food for thought regarding the dichotomy between state-sanctioned justice and individual vigilantism to curb the most insatiable appetites.

michael_c-_hall_28200929_3

Michael C. Hall (Dexter)

(1) I would have gone for ‘tremendous’ but a certain orange someone has ruined this otherwise beautiful word for me lately (and probably forever).

Picture 1: Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 2: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 3: By Kristin Dos Santos (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A movie review – 10 Cloverfield Lane


john_goodman_by_david_shankbone

Writer’s block is a nasty thing. I wrote my last piece on The Program over six months ago and today is the first time I have even remotely been willing to put words on paper (so to speak) since I last pressed the publish button in October 2015. Rant over, let’s move on to yet another one of my increasingly numerous rants. That’s what old age does to you.

Here goes. I can’t believe I almost missed 10 Cloverfield Lane because of all the hype surrounding The Revenant and Spotlight. Don’t get me wrong, both were decent but nowhere near this latest nerve-racking experience in terms of getting you on the edge of your seat without letting up until a few seconds into the ending credits. This feat was achieved mostly thanks to one man. However, despite towering over the rest of the cast, John Goodman pulling a DiCaprio at the 2017 Oscars and getting rewarded for his storied career remains almost as far-fetched as aliens settling in the Deep South. Too bad. Not only is he in a league of his own (as usual) in this movie, but I’m also pretty certain the Spanish subtitles enhanced his already stellar performance.

Joke aside, after sitting through movies in three different countries, I decided to add Spain to my tally. Little did I know that Madrid would amaze me with its Swiss-like punctuality. 8.30 on the dot, no commercials, no trailers, hang on to your hat. This is probably the first time I’ve almost missed the beginning of a movie while being physically present.

mary_elizabeth_winstead_by_gage_skidmore

Good thing I ended up giving the opening credits my undivided attention before it was too late since I was in for a treat. Indeed, dear old Goodman isn’t the only gem lurking around J.J. Abrams’s surprisingly consistent plot. I know, he didn’t have anything to do with the writing this time but I’ve never missed an opportunity to take a pot shot at Lost‘s creator ever since I watched said show’s appalling finale. Guilty as charged.

Anyway, back on track. John Gallagher Jr, of The Newsroom fame, starts his bearded Hollywood blockbuster career with a bang (quite literally) and, of course, Mary Elizabeth Winstead takes everyone by storm after seemingly burying her career as John McClane’s daughter in the last two abysmal Die Hard installments, not to mention her being typecast as a horror movie damsel in distress (or scream queen, as Wikipedia has it). I can already hear people whispering in the back: some might say that her part in this movie labelled as a claustrophobic science fiction psychological thriller is a little too close to her usual bread and butter for comfort. But hey, stop interrupting me and go form your own opinion on her acting.

john_gallagher2c_jr-_at_paleyfest_2013

Let me now be as cryptic as the official trailer and say no more about the plot and its not-so-predictable-after-all twists except that the screenwriters explore at least three usually distinct genres in an extremely disturbing way and almost go so far as to break the fourth wall toward the end when… well, you’ll see when. So get some tapas and cerveza, reel your way to the closest movie theater, lower your guard a little and get ready to be taken off the 2016 Oscars beaten track to 10 Cloverfield Lane, Middle of Nowhere, Louisiana. Oh and check your inner monsters at the door, the movie is awash with those already.

Picture 1: By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 2: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 3: By iDominick [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A movie review – The Program

You might remember my review on Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race. That book compelled me to dig up more and more Lance Armstrong-related stuff, including Alex Holmes’s chilling documentary Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story. When I read that one of Irish journalist David Walsh’s books on the topic (Seven Deadly Sins) was going to be adapted for the big screen, I was intrigued to say the least. How could Stephen Frears still cycle on such a beaten track without just going through the same old stages? So off I went, nineteen bucks and sixty cents lighter, I was ready to enjoy The Program in my wildly overpriced seat while sipping my soda that was nothing short of a rip-off. Little did I know that I was in for yet another fraud. And I’m not talking about Lance Armstrong himself.

As a French-speaking English teacher, I can’t allow myself to completely refute the idea of a French actor impersonating Michele Ferrari but I hope you got the fact that it’s still frowned upon in my book. Off the record. Anyway, Guillaume Canet pulls off a surprisingly decent Italian accent in what must be his second or third language. His resemblance with the infamous Ferrari being uncanny (horrible pun barely averted, I hope you appreciate the effort), I’ll turn a blind eye to a few French lapses in his intonation here and there. His duo with Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong is arguably the lone victory this movie will be able to brag about in the coming years. While not quite as impressive as leaving all one’s opponents in the shade on top of the Alpe d’Huez, Foster’s performance as the evil genius of cycling is quite convincing, at least physically. Indeed, his gaze is eerily Armstrong-like at times and some of his antics don’t leave a lot to be desired as the yellow jersey of douchebags despite bouts of stilted acting.

As far as the rest of the cast is concerned, the main problem resides in what my closest neighbors whispered to each other during the movie. « I just can’t get over the fact that he’s Roy on The IT Crowd – ‘Have you tried turning it off and on again?' » (Chris O’Dowd as David Walsh) « Hey, wasn’t he that psycho on Breaking Bad? » (Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis) « Hey, what’s Dustin Hoffman doing there? » Famous actors are usually fine in biopics, especially when they involve the main characters and you feel like no one else could have done it quite as well (e.g. Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman in Invictus). However, when celebrities start taking over supporting roles and end up outshining their fellow cast members, the viewers’ attention is inevitably diverted from the main plot. Don’t get me wrong though, that might not be such a bad thing in this case.

The main plot. Yes, I’ve been told I have to talk about that too, so buckle up. Frears barely scratches the surface of the events that led to Armstrong’s demise and that left so many deep psychological scars within his former entourage. His rise to fame as a young rider, his cancer, his comeback as a godly figure of cycling, the man who can’t be killed, his seven Tour de France triumphs, the Floyd Landis debacle and his ensuing revelations on his former mentor and Armstrong’s confession. Nothing we haven’t seen a gazillion times on TV. No surprises there. Frankie (Edward Hogg) and Betsy (Elaine Cassidy) Andreu’s predicament as Armstrong’s main accusers looks like a walk in the park, Emma O’Reilly (Laura Donnelly) is mentioned in passing and the extra hired for his likeness to Tyler Hamilton is simply brushed aside without getting a single line. I won’t even get into the shocking ellipsis that leads Lance Armstrong and Kristin Richard (Chloe Hayward) from talking about Italian food to getting married in under five seconds.

In other words, this movie is so superficial that it fails to fully address any of the issues included in the other recent (and brilliant) pieces on the Texan rider cheat and it will leave you frustrated if you have done your homework. However, if you just got back from a 16-year vacation on Mars and know absolutely zip about « The Blue Train », I’m afraid you’ll be more than a little fuzzy on the details when asked to dwelve on the subject over dinner. The good news is that now you get to explore the Internet to lay your hands on tons of evidence and testimonies related to the case starting with the above-mentioned contributions. Happy procrastinating hunting! Don’t worry, no performance-enhancing drugs will be necessary for this feat.

Picture: By Jarrett Campbell [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Hewitt, Tomic, Kyrgios & Kokkinakis – an attempt to bridge the generation gap

Hewitt in 2004

Hewitt in 2015

I’ve been reading loads of tennis articles all summer and a particular series of controversies has caught my eye. Let’s call it « Kyrgios, Kokkinakis and Tomic reach puberty ». If you just got back from a vacation on Mars, here are a few links to catch you up:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-05/tomic-axed-from-davis-cup-team-after-rant/6595720

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/jul/17/bernard-tomic-arrested-after-party-at-his-7000-a-night-miami-beach-hotel-suite

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/aug/13/kokkinakis-banged-your-girlfriend-nick-kyrgios-sledges-stan-wawrinka

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/aug/16/thanasi-kokkinakis-in-heated-on-court-row-following-nick-kyrgios-controversy

In order to shed light on these incidents, let’s rewind. August 31, 2001. Arthur Ashe Stadium. Almost exactly 14 years ago, Lleyton Hewitt uttered what could easily be interpreted as racist comments about his second round opponent James Blake and was one of the main contenders for the title of Most Hated Sportsman in America. Now let’s get back to this week. September 2, 2015. As both the Grandstand on which his match was taking place and himself were getting ready to call it a career, the Aussie veteran was cheered on by a wild crowd for the best part of three hours and a half. Hewitt was even given a standing ovation as he made his way to the locker room after surrendering to his young countryman Bernard Tomic in a classic night session dogfight. A passing of the torch of sorts in more ways than one.

Bernard Tomic

Indeed, (that’s a reminder in case you were too lazy to click on the links above) Tomic got banned from the Australian Davis Cup team in the aftermath of a statement he made about his captain and his federation a few months ago. As if that wasn’t enough, he ended up spending part of the week leading up to the Davis Cup tie in a Miami jail as a result of a loud party he hosted. Just a regular week in Bernie’s world. His rap sheet includes speeding, trespassing, resisting arrest and tanking (that one’s not an actual crime yet though) as well as a sparring partner beaten up by his dad. Tabloid articles sporting his mug shots are probably piling up in the 22-year-old’s bedroom. Wait, doesn’t this remind you of another former up-and-comer from Down Under? You know, that highly respected soon to retire former Grand Slam champion from Adelaide. A guy who used to yell his signature « come on! » following pretty much every single unforced error made by his opponents, get involved in spitting contests at the Australian Open, need a security crew in Argentina, throw banknotes at Russian colleagues during press conferences and call chair umpires « spastic ». That was in the late 90s and early 2000s. And here we are, in 2015, and I’ve just been told that apart from earning the US Open crowd’s full support on the court, he’s also been hired to be a calming influence in Nick Kyrgios’s entourage behind the scenes. As his country’s Davis Cup captaincy is in the cards for 2016, his mentorship more generally encompasses the whole new (and extremely wild) Australian generation including Thanasi Kokkinakis and… Bernard Tomic. Weird, isn’t it?

Well, probably not that much. As a high school teacher, I often wonder how my students (especially the rowdy ones) would fare if they had a full time job instead of sitting in a classroom all day. Now keep high school students in mind and think about Kyrgios, Kokkinakis and Tomic again. They probably barely had time to go through middle school, let alone high school before being told they had to turn pro. Being a professional tennis player on the court and a celebrity off the court is definitely a full time job and probably even more so than most. Unless your name is Benoit Paire or Gaël Monfils, you never get to indulge your passion for junk food. You’re not supposed to unleash your inner troublemaker anywhere near a public place and please forget about throwing shapes on the dance floor this weekend. Everything you say or do is constantly subject to close scrutiny and within reach of the public eye in a matter of minutes. Oh and by the way, if you’re not very good at reading signals a girl you like might send you, worry no more, the tabloids will very diligently pick up on those for you. I wouldn’t blame any of my students for feeling lost and acting up if they were thrown into such a world overnight (hell, I’m not sure I would blame myself!). But then again, the whole world (ours, the supposedly normal one) has been tearing the Aussie trio to pieces all summer, somehow forgetting their age and background. Maybe give them a break?

Lleyton Hewitt got said break from public opinion quite late in his career, after he became close friends with the likes of Roger Federer he used to annoy to no end on the court, calmed down a little as a competitor, got married and got kids of his own. In other words, he settled down and interestingly enough everyone forgot about (forgave?) his past offenses. I’ve been wondering why all of this happened and there’s an extremely straightforward answer to that: that’s what most people do when they reach adulthood. This is why I think we should leave these kids alone and give them time to reach some kind of maturity, which might take a little longer in a society that is a far cry from a gated community to say the least.

Nick Kyrgios

Hewitt’s five-setter against his mentee the other night also gave me other reasons for wanting to cut Tomic and the Special Ks some slack. Indeed, despite the fact that the Australian grinder fought his way back into the match from a two sets to love deficit, he ended up throwing away a lead in the decider and losing that epic battle. I’m tempted to add « yet again » to this sentence. Hewitt has a win-loss record of 32-25 in five-set matches but if you break it down, as The New York Times journalist Ben Rothenberg did, you’ll notice that the former world No. 1’s record was 29-10 between December 2000 and August 2010 and has dropped to 2-11 between August 2010 and the present day. As Rothenberg had it on Twitter in the wake of Hewitt’s heartbreaking defeat, « Lleyton Hewitt has gone from the game’s best closer to the absolute worst. » I can’t help wondering if some of this decline is due to the South Australian’s slight behavior change on the court over the years (added to his getting older obviously). I strongly believe that a player like Nick Kyrgios’s loud and sometimes rowdy personality helps him be inspired in the heat of battle. So let’s not strip him of this potentially wonderful quality and risk impairing his game. Keep him in check, by all means, but, pretty please, don’t shoot him down.

Of course that’s unless you want to see all the prophets of doom and gloom crawl out of the woodwork to rant about this new boring generation of tennis players and to lament the loss of the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, who hated each other’s guts and were ready to take « unsportsmanlike conduct » to another level. These party poopers are usually the same people who keep rebuking the Aussie newbies when they get a chance. Wet blankets apparently have a memory like a sieve.

Thanasi Kokkinakis

I can’t resist leaving you with an absolutely savory tidbit to take home. Here’s what former chief tennis correspondent for The Times (he went down for plagiarism in the meantime) Neil Harman wrote about a certain brat in The Telegraph on September 1, 2001: « Lleyton Hewitt would never win prizes for diplomatic decorum. In Australia, a land that expected its players to fight hard and behave on the court like freckle-faced boys-next-door Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, the brash, uncompromising Hewitt has been received with mixed reviews. » « Never » can be such a strong word at times…

Picture 1: Lleyton Hewitt on court during Wimbledon, 2004. * originally uploaded to flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/david_wilmot/3357874/ * photographer: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/david_wilmot/ daramot] * licensed under cc-by-2.0 {{cc-by-2.0}}

Picture 2: By Carine06 from UK (Lleyton Hewitt) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 3: By Steven Pisano from Brooklyn, NY, USA (2014 US Open (Tennis) – Tournament – Bernard Tomic) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 4: By Carine06 from UK (Nick Kyrgios) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Picture 5: By Diliff (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A TV review – Episodes

I keep reading on websites such as Grantland (for example right here: http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/sitcom-tv-comedy-abc-cbs-nbc-fox/) that the TV show as a genre is dying. At least it seems to be the case in the eyes of some critics. However, it really looks like they’re not getting a lot of grassroots support. Indeed, the American audience is leaving a lasting impression of utter blindness in the face of that so-called decline. Shows like The Big Bang Theory (in its eighth season, last year’s most watched comedy), Grey’s Anatomy (in its eleventh season) or NCIS (in its twelfth season, last year’s most watched drama) have earned a near-permanent spot at the top of the charts week in, week out.* However, I find myself siding with the critics these days. Don’t get me wrong, I used to be an avid follower of these three shows (and more) but I gave up on Gibbs’s crew as well as Seattle Grace’s drama queens after 10 years and I’m currently on the brink of divorce with Sheldon and his nerdy friends.

So this first paragraph is what I wrote a few months ago when I was still crazy enough to think I was about to write an article on US TV shows as a whole. Yeah, right. In the meantime, despite Howard’s mother’s sudden death, TBBT and I have parted ways on friendly terms. Anyway, stumbling across it for the first time in weeks today, I realized said paragraph would be the perfect introduction to a somewhat less ambitious review of a more modest yet absolutely brilliant TV show. 30 minutes of off-the-wall and often black comedy a week, 9 weeks a year starting every January. In other words, completely off the 24-episode September-May beaten track. Never heard of anything like that? Don’t ask your mainstream friends about it, you’d be wasting your time. Unlike the three shows mentioned above, we’re talking about a less than stellar average of barely half a million viewers in its third season.** Light years away from The Big Bang Theory and its 6.2 million viewers a week.

Here’s the recipe for critical acclaim though: warm up a spoonful of vintage Friends, add a little Showtime (cursing included, nudity not so much, which goes to show that True Blood and Fifty Shades of Grey might not have the market cornered on human entertainment just yet) and a pinch of British salt to the mix and you’ve got yourself pure genius in a DVD box set (because you’re obviously above illegal downloading). It’s called Episodes and it’s a lot more original than its title.

The show’s freshness mostly comes from the fact that it’s as intense as its episode count suggests. No one needs long-ass seasons littered with token gestures coming in the form of countless and often utterly pointless episodes showing the world that network employees have earned their outrageous monthly paycheck. No one cares about never-ending displays of power in which only the season premiere, the mid-season cliffhanger (right before the Christmas break) and the season finale are worth interrupting your post-dinner nap. A third of the usual number of weekly sessions makes for an incredibly compelling and fast-paced experience. While this is pretty normal stuff on British TV (Sherlock delivers 3 episodes a year, Fawlty Towers and The IT Crowd used to push it to 6 and Misfits usually goes all the way to 8), it is nowhere near the norm across the Atlantic, with the notable exceptions of long-running episodes on HBO and Showtime. And believe me, this is by far not the only thing Episodes is doing right.

The most obvious of these things are to be found right in the spotlight. Matt LeBlanc has put on a few pounds and added gray hair to Joey Tribbiani’s well-known alter ego since his Friends spin-off completely flopped nine years ago. His faltering acting career was the perfect pretext for David Crane (Friends, Dream On) and Jeffrey Klarik (Dream On, Mad About You) to reopen their old bag of tricks. Bringing back both the co-creator of Friends and one of its fading stars in a comedy show was no mean feat. Needless to say, everyone immediately rose to the occasion.

Usual criticism about the former Friends cast in general and LeBlanc in particular has been revolving around the way our six New Yorkers will forever be typecast as Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler and Joey. Trying to alter that disposition has only hindered their professional trajectory so far – except maybe Jennifer Aniston’s if you like soppy rom-coms. So Crane and Klarik decided to change everything by not changing a thing – except the unavoidable above-mentioned extra weight, graying scalp and years piling up – and being as blunt as possible. Matt LeBlanc acts as (mostly) himself, acknowledging – if not really addressing – all his flaws (and probably slightly overplaying some of them) including Joey’s never-ending curse and miscasting incidents. And that works wonders. How YOU doin’? Pretty well, thank you very much.

Adding Stephen Mangan (Sean Lincoln) and Tamsin Greig (Beverly Lincoln)’s brilliant performances to the mix has obviously made everyone on the set feel even better. Especially since they’ve been living up to their billing ever since. The goofy British duo’s mission (should they decide to accept it or not, no one gives a rat’s ass across the pond) in LA is to woefully miscast Matt LeBlanc as their main character in the American version of their award-winning show. The proverbial cascade of misunderstandings and cultural differences subsequently unfolds with the help of John Pankow (Merc Lapidus, the president of the network, who’s never even seen the show in the first place), Kathleen Rose Perkins (Carol Rance, Lapidus’s second-in-command, prone to having sex with her bosses), Mircea Monroe (Morning Randolph, the ageless – and surgically enhanced – lead actress), Daisy Haggard (Myra Licht, the hilariously depressing head of comedy) and Genevieve O’Reilly (Jamie Lapidus, Merc’s blind wife, the butt of numerous dark jokes) among other supporting roles.

George Bernard Shaw once said ‘The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.’ Boy, was he right. What he failed to mention was that when these two decide to unite on the screen for a biting satire of television itself, nothing ever gets lost in translation. Here’s to gazillions more Episodes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, only 9 a year. Get ahold of this show now, it is all it’s cracked up to be, unlike some of its small screen counterparts.

*http://tvline.com/2014/05/22/tv-season-rankings-2013-2014-big-bang-theory-greys-anatomy/

**http://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/episodes-season-three-ratings-31476/

Picture: Thomas Atilla Lewis [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons