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Robomatic

…or When Bad Ideas Happen to Good Intentions.

I’ve always wondered if the “you can do it all” theory, the Superwoman tag, was geared toward men just as much as women. On the one hand, you praise the woman and tell her that she can handle doing everything on her own without any help because she’s awesome like that. And on the other, you pacify her husband that she won’t leave him holding the diapers and cooking pot while she’s off being awesome outside the home.

And of course, there are women who can do it all. There are even men who do it all – there are so many kids from single family homes these days and more than a few of them are headed by a single father.

The question is whether that’s the ideal to which you should be raising a family in this day and age. What’s the kid going to grow up thinking – “My mom works and cooks and cleans and dances and sings and is nice to all the birdies in the sky. My dad… um… he drinks tea and goes to work.” Way to be a hero to your kid.

What really struck me about that Star Plus anthem is that the dad did absolutely fuck all around the house other than flirt with his wife and help his family put up a few decorations which apparently tuckered him out so he fell asleep along with the senior citizens and the little child. Meanwhile, his wife:

wakes up at the crack of dawn, salwar kameez-and-dupatta in place, to fix her adorable toddler a school lunch, before bullying her mother-in-law into sticking with her vocal exercises and her father-in-law his diet. She makes out with her amorous husband in the bathroom, hangs out with a senior citizen, circles around to blow her husband a goodbye kiss on his way to the office, and then jogs in friendly fashion around her neighborhood.

A round of socializing with the family, friends and random passersby is interspersed by her communing with nature. Next comes a dance class at home and flying kites with her devoted family and helping out with the household chores. She ventures out in between to direct traffic and beat off villainous-looking political types trying to plaster the walls of her home with illegal posters. Afterwards, she heads off to anchor a TV show where she works overtime like a good employee even if it means she’s late to her own birthday party. But that’s all right, because she makes up for it by rousing her family and showing them a jolly good time before cuddling on the rooftop with her husband and stargazing late into the night. When the sun comes up, we are left to assume, the cycle begins all over again.

I ask you again: when does this paragon go potty? I’m sorry to be so fixated on the petty details but I’m told that’s where God likes to reside.

Seriously, it’s men who should be offended.

 
26 Comments

Posted by on February 22, 2011 in Entertainment, Life, Television, Video

 

The Ginger Giant of Pink City

Personally, I thought this ad and especially its behind-the-scenes was way funnier than his new show. Conan speaking Hindi is just as hilarious as you’d expect, not to mention the sheepish-half bewildered local talent he towers over. I’m a little concerned about his upcoming remake of Outsourced though.

Noooo. Don’t do it, Coco!

 
9 Comments

Posted by on November 16, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Newsmakers, Television, Video

 

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Keep Raising Hope

Keep <i>Raising Hope</i>

If they’d kept the original title of the show – Keep Hope Alive – I would have known immediately that Raising Hope is my kind of show. As it was, it took me a little while to get around to watching this sitcom from Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl) about a clueless young man battling the odds to raise his little baby girl.

The Chances, Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and Virginia (Martha Plimpton) have big dreams: lots of money, yachts, fancy fixtures, rich people’s toys. Someday they’re going to live in an enormous mansion with a pool. In the meantime, however, while waiting for that lottery to chime in the happy times, they clean enormous mansions and pools for a living wage. And they live with Virginia’s grandmother, known as Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman), whose dementia prevents her from kicking them all out of her home, which they’ve sort of unofficially occupied for years now.

Burt and Virginia have a son Jimmy (Lucas Neff), born when they were both in their teens, and one day in the middle of cleaning a pool, he has an epiphany. Which leads, in turn, to a fateful rescue mission where he saves a pretty young girl from an older man. Her name is Lucy (Bijou Phillips) and they promptly have mad, unprotected sex in the backseat of his gross van. Things are great! For a moment it looks like Jimmy was right – his life is meant for better things than cleaning a pool. Too bad Lucy’s a mad serial killer.

However, her execution next year leaves a surprise for him: Princess Beyonce, his daughter. Everyone advises him to give the baby up for adoption but Jimmy is adamant. He’s going to raise Princess Beyonce Hope himself. Well, himself with the help of his parents, his friends and whoever else he can rope into it.

Like that really cute, quirky girl Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) who works at the local supermarket while writing stories full of words he hasn’t ever heard before. She might have a boyfriend, a college boy whose father’s pool the Chances clean, and Jimmy did once date her cousin, the girl with one dead tooth, but hey! Things can happen, right?

Right.

In the wrong hands, Raising Hope could have dwindled into one long “Ha Ha, Look at These Fucking Ignorant Poor People” joke. Thankfully, it’s a long way from that. It is, however, a show that isn’t afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects with the lightest of touches.

For instance, serial killer Lucy chooses to have Princess Beyonce because she’s pro-life – not the baby’s but her own. Since she’s pregnant, her execution is delayed till Hope is 6 months old. “Don’t worry, they’ll never execute the mother of a 6 month old baby,” she assures Jimmy. Oh, but they will. Sanctity of life only extends thus far and no further, you see.

Similarly, you see the family making choices – daycare for Hope or smokes for Grandma Virginia? – that seem tiny and ridiculous unless you’ve actually lived the experience of existing paycheck to paycheck. And that still doesn’t stop it from being hilarious. It’s also proved capable of handling the tricky subject of teen parenting, specifically its aftermath, as Virginia and Burt explain their horrifyingly bad decisions to their grown up son who is now a father himself.

The real heart of the show, as far as I’m concerned, are the moments in which Jimmy learns compassion and forgives his parents one bizarre action at a time as he slowly becomes more and more of a real father rather than a kid who decided fatherhood was his new mission in life. Martha Plimpton, in particular, just kills those scenes as she takes Jimmy’s childhood memories and reintroduces them to him in a newly adult context.

Baby Hope is cute but really just incidental to the whole process of what goes into raising a family.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2010 in Entertainment, Review, Television, Video

 

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Spoiled for Good, not Evil

Back when I was a teenage asshole, I used have great fun yelling out important plot points at my extremely spoiler-averse BFF. I think she basically walked around with her hands plastered to her ears for a whole week after Gupt came out until she could see it too.

And then there was me – the girl who’d read Agatha Christie novels back to front because I always “like to know”. It’s earned me a number of puzzled frowns and blank stares over the years, even from fellow ending-addicts who prefer to leave at least their mysteries unspoiled, but it couldn’t be simpler for me: I derive very little satisfaction from figuring out whodunnit, I’m a lot more concerned with how and why. I’m not really looking for a two-in-one “Get a puzzle free with this story” deal.

I’m very specific about what I like.

The ends of things, especially a book, is often a good indicator of what the rest of the material is like. There’s a reason why the most famous line from Gone with the Wind is from the last chapter – that’s where authors often store their best work. A book that peters out or pulls its punches at the climax is not a recommendation, no matter how powerful the prose or sky-high the praise on the cover. I might still pick it up, but I’ll know how to manage my expectations.

Reading Matt Yglesias and Ta-Nehisi Coates on the subject, however, I was reminded of AMC’s Rubicon, which just wrapped up its freshman season this Sunday. I suppose you could call it a sort of bait-and-switch: you’d expect the story of Will Travers (James Badge Dale), an intelligence analyst and “pattern recognition expert” whose chance discovery of a mysterious code leads him down a deep, dark rabbit hole and soon endangers the lives of all those close to him as well as himself, to come with a lot more bells and whistles.

Instead Rubicon‘s the kind of show that the British still make, the ones that are put on a diet of speed and steroids when they decide to remake it for the American market. It’s a show unafraid to take its time, devoted to establishing not just the world in which its story unfolds but also its atmosphere.

Little things about Rubicon appear designed to evoke fleeting memories of uneasiness you might have experienced over the course of your life. I don’t have to be an analyst on the brink of a momentous, life-threatening discovery to understand that feeling of paranoia when you’re walking down a deserted street in the middle of the night and you start imagining that that guy who got off at the same stop as you might be following you home with evil on his mind. I don’t have to be planning catastrophic world events to recognize hushed conversations that fall silent at the sound of high heels clacking on the floor of a temple to modern architecture.

Half the season of Rubicon was seemingly devoted to building these little moments that might have made you impatient at the time but ultimately served to underscore later events. If you hadn’t heard Maggie’s sad observation to Will, “This is the closest we’ll ever come to that lunch date, isn’t it?” or glimpsed her face after her disastrous booty call, the scene where Will confronts her about her betrayal wouldn’t have landed with the punch it did.

But how many people stuck around to watch that take place? Not many if even reviewers needed to be lured back:

At one point, Rubicon was in prime position to set the world record for “slowest paced episodic television show.” I even joked that I wasn’t smart enough to understand Rubicon. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t particularly confusing, it was just boring. Through the first three episodes, no character ever seemed to turn on a light let alone say something interesting. Minutes of screen time would be spent watching a guy we barely knew sit alone in the dark. I’d think, wait, that’s what I’m doing right now; why would I want to watch someone else to that on television?
[…]
Somewhere, around the sixth episode, something happened. I mean that literally — something finally happened. But things kept happening and, most importantly, the characters started developing personalities. I’m not making this up, Kale Ingrim (Arliss Howard) just may be the best character on television right now.

I was hooked early on, but that little nugget about the 6th episode caught my attention since my general rule for a new series that I find interesting is 6 episodes: that’s how long I give it to reel me in, after which, 9 times out of 10, I’m as committed as I can be without a wedding ring. Just ask Bones – I even forgave it that all time low of a season 4 London-based premiere.

But not everybody hangs around as long as I do. Not even me, if I find it heavy going. It took me just three episodes to bid farewell to Boardwalk Empire although it’s apparently going through a renaissance of its own so I might have to revisit and stick around for the full six.

And that’s the point about getting spoiled – if somebody were to tell me “stick around because things improve at such-and-such point when this-and-that happens”, that only makes me more inclined to watch it. Unless those plot points don’t appeal to me at all, in which case I’d be grateful to save my time because the Lord knows there’s no dearth of quality television out there.

But I’m apparently the minority.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2010 in Books, Entertainment, Movies, Personal, Review, Television, Video

 

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The English Patience

Hello. I love British shows.
Thank you. You’ve got good taste.

Currently I’m watching ——-. I’m on episode 4 already. I can’t wait for next week!
Sorry but you will have to.

What do you mean?
Well, this season is over.

Oh, I didn’t know that. Well, then I’ll just catch up with the rest of the episodes on the net or buy the DVDs or something.
That’s just it. There are no more episodes.

You mean the entire season comprises of 4 episodes?
Yes.

Huh. Well, when does the next season start?
Three years from now. Maybe.

What?
I said: The next season will air three years from now. Maybe.

Are you serious?
Of course. Why would I joke about a thing like that? But the good news is that it might stretch to six episodes if the cast and the producers can reach an agreement.

Oh, that is good news! And why wouldn’t the cast agree to a couple of extra episodes? Look at them! They seem to be having such fun.
Ah. Well, that’s not the cast that will appear in the next season.

The one three years from now? Maybe?
Yes. It will star a completely new cast.

But it’s the same show?
Duh. Obviously it’s the same show. Same concept, same location, same production. Just another cast.

I dunno. This all sounds confusing to me. I guess I’m going to wait until it all comes out on DVD and then catch it all together.
You’ll be waiting a while, won’t you?

What do you mean?
The DVDs don’t come out for another 20 years.

Shut up.
‘Struth!

But I just got the DVDs for this other British show I like.
When was it made?

Um, let me see… about 20 years – Oh.
Toldja.

But it’s the super nice anniversary edition. Four in a box.
Not bad for one season.

Ha ha. Don’t be silly. It’s four DVDs for four seasons.
Check it.

*runs to check*

Crap. It’s one episode per DVD! And there’s no commentary or making of or anything. Wait, there’s a two-minute interview in each!
Oooh, you got the fancy version! Must have been expensive.

No – yes – well…
How much did you pay for it?

It retails for 100 pounds but it was on sale so I got it for 80.
Nice.

About this British show I love…
Yes?

I think I’ll wait for the watered down American version.
Smart choice.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on September 10, 2010 in Entertainment, Television, Video

 

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Friends with Validation

Note: If you haven’t yet seen last night’s episode of Mad Men or intend to see it at some later date, and are opposed to spoilers, then please skip this post.

Don Draper is in the midst of a very tough season – he’s a divorced dad without the illusion of family to moor him, responsibilities keep piling up at work and tying him down, he’s fast turning into a old fogey with a drinking problem, and now the one person who loved him despite knowing everything about him is dead. Meanwhile, Peggy Olson is having a Peggy kind of season – she’s pulling herself up one painful inch at a time towards the glass ceiling she doesn’t even know exists because she hasn’t made it far enough to know anything other than there is in fact a ceiling, juggling a so-so romance, and fighting with her mother while struggling to keep her skeletons buried.

In The Suitcase, they bonded over vermin, secrets, anger, respect, loss and an attraction that could go anywhere. Peggy wants to know she’s important to Don because her job at his office is the most significant part of her life. Don wants… well, Don wants Anna but he’d be happy to have someone who sees him for who he is without being repulsed by that knowledge (hello, Betty!).

All of this reminded me of a movie I’d seen fairly recently: The Switch.

The Switch? you say. That sounds familiar. Isn’t that…no! The Switch, starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston? In case you’re on your way over to my home to burn me at the stake, I should tell you I’m typing this while doused in flame-retardant. Maybe I just have it on the brain because I saw it last week against my better judgment but The Switch makes pretty much the same case in double the time and with half the awesomeness.

Wally doesn’t really think much of himself or hold out much hope for happily-ever-after. His idea of realism is colored by his father abandoning him as a child, which might well be a contributing factor in his growing up to be a “beady-eyed man-boy”. But Kassie knows him to be neurotic and messed-up and still wants to be his best friend. Meanwhile, Kassie just wants Wally to be supportive. She doesn’t really want him to look out for her, she wants him to be involved in her life. (At least, I think that was the plan – somewhere along the way the movie kind of forgets about Kassie except to remind us she’s the knockoff-Nutella in the sweet Bateman-Thomas Robinson sandwich, so I guess we’ll never know.)

What really brought the comparison home to me was the scene in which Don tells Peggy that she’s “cute as hell”. The subtext of that scene was that Don might mess things up with his secretary (and be willing to take his punishment for that like a louse man), but he knows and likes Peggy too well to use her like that, whatever anybody else might think or however many (unconscious?) hints she might drop.

Forty years later, we learn Wally took the same tack in The Switch by simply abandoning Kassie at their second date when things got a little heated between them.

For all the energy spent discussing the old saw about a man and woman never being friends, I wonder why nobody talks about what happens when a man and a woman are friends. It seems to me that in the movies (and television) it eventually comes down to exactly this point:

Woman wants Man to validate her choices in life (unlike all the other men she’s known). Man wants Woman to appreciate him (unlike all the other women he’s known).

Even the grand Bible of the “men and women can never be mere friends” theory, When Harry Met Sally, is about the same exact dynamic. Sally is constantly trying to convince herself that she made the right choices by bouncing them off Harry, while Harry likes the fact that Sally is his friend despite their history together right when his confidence is at low ebb.

I wonder if this translates to Hindi as well.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on September 6, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Television

 

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The Kind of Parenthood I Like

The Kind of <i>Parenthood</i> I Like

I’m easy. Tell me a show has Lauren Graham and Peter Krause in it, and I’ll at least give it a try. Even if it does sound like Brother & Sisters : Berkeley. I mean, Brothers & Sisters is a show that needs to die already, it should not be setting up a franchise, even through coincidence. Early buzz likening it to Modern Family a.k.a. Brothers & Sisters: Los Angeles, Ha Ha. wasn’t really doing it any favors where I was concerned either.

Turns out Parenthood, despite its meh-tastic title and been-there-done-that premise, is a lot better to watch than it sounds on paper. This is one of those shows where you shouldn’t read the spoilers or the episode descriptions because it will remind you of terrible moments in your family and drastically reduce your motivation to watch. (Go ahead and read my review though coz I already wrote it and you’re here so you might as well.)

Based on the movie directed by the series’ co-producer Ron Howard, Parenthood follows Team Braverman: three generations of a sprawling, squabbling, but ultimately devoted California family.

Yeah, you never heard that one before. I know.

The ensemble cast features everyone from old hands like Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia as the grandparents with a 46-year marriage in crisis to Dax Shepherd who is a pleasant surprise as the man child Crosby-the-third-sibling who has responsibility suddenly thrust upon him in the guise of the adorable love child he never knew existed (Tyree Brown). Everyone gets their moment in the sun but the characters who really take center stage, though, are the other three Braverman siblings.

Peter Krause (Sports Night, Six Feet Under, the only good part of Dirty Sexy Money – a show that, alas, was none of those things) plays the eldest Braverman. His father calls him a hero, the family’s “fixer-upper”; younger brother Crosby calls him Dudley Do Right; I call him yummy. But really, when in trouble, everyone calls Adam.

The series begins with Adam and his wife Kristina (Monica Potter) realizing that their son Max (Max Burkholder – previously sighted in another part of California as Rob Lowe’s son on the Brothers & Sisters set) has Asperger’s – a diagnosis that leaves their teenage daughter Haddie (Sarah Ramos) unsurprised. In spite of being “perfect”, her whole life has been hostage to Max’s difficult behavior.

While Adam is trying to deal with his son’s illness and trying not to ignore Haddie just because she’s the easier kid, his sister Sarah (Lauren Graham), broke and looking for a fresh start, moves back into their parents’ home with her two kids. Sarah is a more beat-up version of Graham’s beloved Lorelai Gilmore, without the scary smart kid whose big problem is choosing Yale over Harvard and deciding which cute, obscenely rich preppie to date. Alright, alright – blasphemy. I’ll say no more.

[Digression: I should note here that while the combination of Krause and Graham was what initially drew me to this series, I also found their pairing distracting. Their scenes crackle with chemistry and not of the brother-sister kind. I keep waiting for them to make out and they never do! Fanfic seems to be my only option now. That video with Maura Tierney is such an intriguing possibility.]

With a couple of attention-starved, messed-up kids (Mae Whitman and Miles Heizer), a deadbeat ex and just a high school diploma, Sarah is the Sliding Doors version of Lorelai, being constantly reminded of all her wrong choices.

One of her biggest reminders is the youngest Braverman – Julia (Erika Christensen) the ambitious corporate lawyer who is bringing up a teensy cherub (Savannah Paige Rae) with her stay at home husband Joel (Sam Jaeger) who just happens to be the pin up fantasy of all the local moms.

Just as Adam and Kristina have to deal with the complexities of raising an autistic child while simultaneously acting as the anchor of the family or fragile Sarah has to deal with being a single parent to two needy children who aren’t absolutely sure she wants them given her tendency to dissolve into tears and moan what a terrible mess she’s made of her life, Julia and Joel have to deal with the stress brought on by gender role reversal. As committed and on-point as they are with their choices, they’re constantly battling the perceptions of outsiders and what it means to be “mom”, “dad”, “man”, “woman”, etc. Especially when their daughter makes her preference for the primary care giver, i.e. Joel, clear.

Parenthood can be relentlessly on message – life is hard! especially for people with kids! – but it can also be warm and familiar when everyone comes together. Written by Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights – and it’s eerie when you see that signature hand held, slice of Americana, grit in your eye, style creep into these California scenes), this is a show about people bringing up their kids but also vice versa. It’s about how you never stop being your parents’ kid but there comes a point when you look across at that familiar face and realize that that is not just “Mom” or “Dad” but a real, live human being.

It’s about your siblings driving you crazy but you can’t handle it when someone else agrees with you. It’s about keeping secrets when you know it won’t do any good and sooner or later everyone’s going to know – in the strictest confidence, of course. It’s about jostling for attention and how it never stops. It’s about the people you call when you’re in trouble even if two seconds ago you were sure you would hate them till the day you died.

It’s about family. And it’s good.

None of you listened to me about Friday Night Lights so why don’t you check out this somewhat-happier, somewhat sunnier version?

 
3 Comments

Posted by on June 17, 2010 in Entertainment, Review, Television, Video

 

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