Monthly Archives: January 2015

Jessa and Adam Girls Female Author

Girls S4 E3 “Female Author” Is a Victory for Personal Victories

The sophist philosopher Protagorus said “man is the measure of all things,” or basically what might be hot for one person can be icy cold for the next. There is no one truth and by extension, no one ‘right’ way of reacting to a situation. I say that to say Girls works best when the characters are all clawing at what they want without any idea of the right way to get it, or if they should even be wanting it in the first place. Desi’s relegation of Marnie to the role of not-mistress-mistress echoes the position Hannah was in with Adam way back in the pilot, though I don’t think she would stand for such degradation now. As for Jessa I’m sure every relationship she has been in has consisted of similar power struggles. The point is everyone can offer advice, but “Female Author” allows us to laugh at these characters plodding through uncertainty in search of their own personal victories.

Every member of the principle cast made an appearance in this episode, which means unlike last week’s “Triggering”, we’re not watching the Hannah Horvath show. When Marnie seeks advice from Ray on how to handle her relationship/affair with Desi, Ray rightly calls him a Svengali who manipulates Marnie’s tragically devalued sense of self. Marnie is so in need of emotional support she makes out with Ray just for offering up a few obvious reasons why Desi is bad news for treating her like a mistress without the integrity to even acknowledge that’s what she is to him. At this point it is hard to tell how much of Marnie’s current situation is from her choosing the precarious singer songwriter life and how much is just a fundamental fact of her personality.

Hannah’s breaking point in being Adam’s girl-on-the-side came after contracting HPV and receiving an accidental dick pic, but Marnie has reached hers after an awkward meeting with abnormally young record execs who somehow love Desi and Marnie’s wispy folk songs. Hope is still alive for a record deal, but afterwards Marnie gives Desi an ultimatum: leave Clem or we stop the “intimacy”. Arguably any woman with self respect would not beg to date a man who would cheat on his girlfriend, but Marnie’s line in the sand had to be drawn somewhere and this is it.

Hannah too has reached a breaking point of a different sort, though how she will move on from here is anyone’s guess. While Elijah just arrived in Iowa City and yet already knows everyone poet in town, Hannah feels guilty about watching too many Teen Nick marathons. She has neglected the writing that brought her to Iowa City in the first place. The way she targets the effect, i.e. not wanting to write anymore, without understanding the nature of the cause feels very true to the twentysomething experience of trying a bunch of different jobs and hobbies until one feels right, or at least right-ish.

Hannah quietly proposed that maybe she has just been writing because she has been telling herself she’s a writer, and then goes a step further and levies criticism against the rest of her classmates for making writing so unpleasant. If Hannah has to be 50 Shades of Grey knock-off girl due to all the blowjobs in her stories, she gets to tell them a thing or two about their recurring problems. Hannah putting each of her classmates on the hot seat is the funniest part of this season so far, but the sincerity with which she tries to solve her writing problem sets up a strong trajectory for her to explore what she really wants during the rest of the season.

Hannah can’t seem to get any updates on Adam, but lucky for us the writer of this week’s episode, Sarah Heyman, shows us why Adam has been flying under the radar. He has no tolerance for the small talk required in a long distance relationship and has seemingly gotten swallowed up in Jessa’s electrifying persona. Adam and Jessa share impulsive personalities with dependency problems to boot so their flirting over talk of sober birthdays doesn’t just feel like an artificial plot point to get two more Girls’ characters to hook up. Still when Jessa gets them both arrested because she was peeing in the street, Adam puts his foot down on what he will accept from her. He will only the new and improved Jessa we have seen come about this season. This relationship is ostensibly a friendship, but ultimately could result in a mutual support or a dark descent into any number of their vices.

This episode’s strengths were in developing every character without feeling like the narratives served any other purpose than entertaining the viewers. Every character took a step forward while keeping us interested to see if next episode will be their two steps back. Funny and as sincere as Girls can be, “Female Author” is the most compelling episode so far.

Girls S4 E2 Triggering Hannah sits at table

Girls S4 E2 “Triggering” a Dud – Or Playing the Long Game?

“Iowa” threw so many different plotlines in the air last week that this mostly Hannah episode felt a little isolating, though considering she just made the move from New York City to Iowa City that might very well be the point. This week’s “Triggering,” written by Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham, feels like a series of vignettes united only thematically by big city Hannah struggling to catch a break in Iowa. She even goes on a (not well received) rant about how TMI is an outdated term because “there’s no such thing as too much information.” Hannah is used to NYC mirroring back her over-the-top personality, but here she’s mostly met with annoyance from classmates and campus bookstore employees alike. The problem is that all of this becomes abundantly clear early on, but then the episode keeps repeating that point without progressing the narrative.

From the first shot of Iowa cornstalks blowing in the wind set to plucky guitar music, I could see what was coming – Hannah’s going to love Iowa’s quaint charms but then quite soon she will see the cornfields for what they really are. While Hannah writes short stories idealizing amber waves of grain, farmers in Iowa actually make a living off that corn. Well the first part comes true almost immediately, but unfortunately the larger perspective that Hannah could hear and then ignore does not come. Hannah loves Iowa because she can get almost a whole house for the price of a cramped New York apartment and hears she doesn’t have to lock her bike, but then her house has bats and her bike gets stolen. The fairly predictable cityslicker-in-the-country story gets belabored, which is particularly strange as Hannah is supposed to be from the East Lansing, Michigan which is, in fact, smaller than Iowa City so it frankly seems unbelievable that she is so thrown for a loop.

The closest we get to a larger Iowan perspective is Hannah’s Writers Workshop classmates who uniformly hate her short story, which in their defense is a fictionalized account of the time she took four Quaaludes and asked her boyfriend to punch her. They sound like a chorus of Girls detractors criticizing her privilege and finding it hard to discern where the author ends and the story begins. The thing is only one of her classmates seem to be any more sympathetic or thoughtful than Hannah, while the others come off as just as obnoxious as her but in a different way, though noticeably more diverse than the cast of Girls has ever been. Who knew you had to move to Iowa to find all the people of color? Anyway, Hannah continues to make excuses about her writing and ignores claims that it is useful to hear other perspectives on her work, but how this vignette coalesces with the previous one is hard to discern. Perhaps this is just part of a long-term set up for a future catastrophe, but for now I just felt a little uncomfortable and slightly bored.

The closest we get to understanding how Hannah is relating with Iowa is that she tells her parents she is maybe thinking about suicide for the first time ever, so I guess that’s something. Then as soon as Hannah arrives home to “metabolize her notes and integrate them into her writing”, she finds Elijah walking out of her shower. As always Elijah ups the comedy of any scene he is in and made it so Girls isn’t just the Hannah show with a brief check-in from everyone else, but his intrusion whisks her away from any hope of a unified story. Elijah managed to find a rager on his way from the airport which leads to a fun setpiece of them dancing to “Get Low”. There are some great moments like when Hannah comforts a girl sobbing about her boyfriend cheating on her by rehashing an explicit speech Elijah likely told her to keep her head up about Adam – and then promptly cuts the poor girl in line for the bathroom.

After the rager Hannah sums up her feelings with a nice little bow, “I want to go back to undergrad school. I don’t like grad school.” Of course the party was just a way for Hannah to distance herself from her problems, but Girls just doesn’t work well when it can be summed up with couple pithy sentences and a crane shot.

Hannah at dinner with her parents

Girls S4 E1″Iowa” Ushers in a New Chapter to These Girls’ Lives

Who would have thought that Girls’ season four premiere would be titled “Iowa”? Further who would have thought the spoiled, self-involved Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) would be moving there? This episode, more than any other so far, crystallized how fragile promise and success can be in one’s twenties. The five-year plan Shoshanna naively made season one is so far off track that we share her embarrassment in picking up her diploma from an NYU basement office with her divorced parents bickering around her. None of the four main characters’ trajectories or self presentation is the same as when this show started and for all the show’s criticisms, I think it has consistently shaped how quickly the lives of even ladies as homogenous as these can get destabilized.

 Shosh

“Iowa” brings about resolutions to last season’s cliffhangers, but as is often the case with resolutions, they also serves as new beginnings. Shoshanna’s unceremonious graduation from college was the result of a senior year of unabashed excess. Pilot episode virgin Shosh is long gone, seemingly along with her upbeat optimism. Now she responds to greetings with shrugs and hates Marnie, yet her heartfelt apology to Ray signals a maturity brought on by her forced grounding in the real world. Whether Shoshanna’s grounding is permanent or temporary is hard to tell, but her transformation rings true to the perhaps less talked about college experience of coming out far less sure of yourself than when you came in.

Hannah

This episode, written by Dunham and Judd Apatow, thoughtfully calls out Hannah’s nondecision decision. As Hannah says, she applies to graduate school every year because it provides a certain structure sorely missing from her life as an aspiring New York City short story writer. As Jessa pointedly mentions, Hannah really is “pussyfooting out of the whole thing.” Not saying that the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop is worse than a GQ advertainment job, but her choice to attend graduate school comes across as a method of delaying making hard decisions for a year or two. Sure Jessa could just be hurt Hannah brought her back to New York only to leave and Hannah’s career will probably benefit, but it’s hard to not see it all as a veiled cop out. The inclusion of real decisions like this with very grey gradations of right and wrong are what make Girls worth watching. Sometimes being realistic and true to yourself are mutually exclusive.

Adam

While Hannah can be seen as both a winner and a loser in this scenario, Adam is clearly the loser. We get a glimpse of what lies just below the surface when Adam shows Hannah an artful commercial for Torpica, a depression medication, homing in on his blank face that recurs later on at Marnie’s ill-fated jazz brunch. His plan is to have no plan, which when planning a long distance relationship means trouble on the horizon. Hannah’s nondecision decision solves her professional problem, but exacerbates the disconnect between her and Adam that neither really understands how to address. The ambiguous nature of their relationship is uncomfortable and kind of sad, but fits with what we should expect from these two fickle folks at this point.

Marnie

Marnie’s attempts at jumpstarting a singing career have, on the other hand, been an unambiguous failure. Her path has been the most surprising in the past few seasons from being a repressed art gallery assistant to getting a rimjob by a hippie with a girlfriend (named Clementine). Running out of her jazz brunch gig crying indicates her goal might not be achievable, but there is something to be said for her working through this dream and following it through until it fizzles or she somehow becomes famous. Good old Elijah makes it clear to her that just because she has a couple songs about death doesn’t mean that anyone will respect her though. Girls has done a great job so far of illustrating in ways big and small how Marnie just doesn’t respect herself, so seeing how that manifests itself in others not respecting her fits like a puzzle piece.

Jessa

Marnie seems to be approaching rock bottom, if she isn’t already there, but Jessa started the show at bottom and only now seems to be pulling herself out of it with the help of an awesome old lady. Jessa found Baedie who could respond to her outrageous behavior with firm kindness, and Jessa somehow rose to the occasion. Although Jessa tried to assist suicide in the last season’s finale, we first see her this episode telling Baedie about her cat’s gall bladder issues and picking up groceries, something almost impossible to conceive of last year when she was robbing stores and snorting a lot of coke. If anything, Jessa seemed like she had negative potential when the show started but now seems to have finally found herself. Her not responding to Hannah’s messages was a choice she made because she was upset at Hannah, not an accident from being too careless and therein lies the chasm Jenna has bridged over the course of the show.

I think the first three seasons of Girls can be thought of as the first period, and the beginning of season four onwards will be the next period in these ladies’ lives. Whether that period is better in their perspectives than the first is thankfully unpredictable and certainly relative. The show has allowed each of these four characters the room to fail and succeed often at the same time without trying to insert some kind of artificial safety net. This episode had some good laughs, but the strength lies in the delicate storytelling that positioned all four girls slightly away from each other and towards a future none of us can see yet.

George Clooney, Peter Tolan, Bennett Miller

George Clooney, Peter Tolan and Bennett Miller’s ‘The Studio’ Finds a Network

After some bidding from different networks and online distributors, Showtime has landed the upcoming George Clooney project The Studio. Clooney and Grant Heslov’s Smokehouse Pictures are backing the upcoming drama about the 90s movie business. One of the first TV deals of 2015 indicates a continuing interest in period dramas like AMC’s Mad Men and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. Showtime might also be indulging another theme in showbiz shows with the Matt LeBlanc comedy “Episodes” about the television industry having been the channel’s asset for four seasons now.

Rescue Me creator Peter Tolan will write the upcoming show with MoneyballCapote and the recent wrestling film Foxcatcher director Bennett Miller attached as well. While The Studio is only in development at the moment, the project has a penalty deal attached which increases the likelihood the show will get on air.

The show chronicles a movie studio in the early 90s negotiating corporate interest for potential deals. The two friends who run the studio see their lavish lives clash with conglomeration, prompting friction internally as well as externally. Any viewer of Mad Men will be able to guess the amount of underhanded deals and power plays in a big business show like The Studio. The rest of television shows executive produced by Clooney like 2000’s Fail Safe or 2005’s Unscripted have not left much of a mark, but with the support of Tolan and Miller this show is looking pretty promising.

Lucious Terrence Howard from Empire

“Empire” Pilot | Flashy Drama Out the Wazoo

At 9 PM last night the sumptuous soap Empire premiered to 9.8 million viewers, breathing life into Fox’s struggling lineup in the process. The hour-long drama finally capitalizes on the musical trend with music sorely missing from Empire’s predecessors – R&B and Hip Hop. Instead of making do with Mr. Schuester covering 20-year-old rap songs, now we finally have a show with maybe not groundbreaking music, but really good stuff for a network drama. The show itself is cheesy and the dialogue doesn’t even attempt subtext, but a compelling structure and flashy drama out the wazoo keep you engrossed – even when you know you shouldn’t be.

Interestingly this tale of a cutthroat music industry executive with warring family dynamics is partially based off a 1963 book entitled The Lion in Winter about the personal and professional difficulties of King Henry II of England. This complex political web forms somewhat of a backbone for this modern drama, but in the execution nothing ever feels all too complicated. There’s a story here about a patriarch giving up the business he worked hard to build to one of his sons, but the audience and the creators know we mostly care about the music and the catfights, which are both represented.

Who Better than Terrence Howard to be a Threatening Media Mogul?

Terrence Howard in a casting choice that should surprise no one plays a demanding, if not overtly threatening, CEO of a music empire called Empire Entertainment named Lucious Lyon. The opening scene paints a pretty clear picture of what to expect from Lucious when he pointedly reminds an underperforming singer to think about her brother who got shot a couple months ago in order to eek out every last bit of emotion for the song. It works, but yeesh, did he have to go there? We quickly get introduced to Lucious’ three sons Andre (Trai Byers) the CFO of Empire with a lot of professional qualifications but little ties to the music part of the music industry, Jamai (Jussie Smollett) the middle son who is a singer-songwriter and gay (much to Lucious’ chagrin) and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) who is a somewhat stereotypical party boy rapper. Quite soon after we meet all the boys, Lucious makes abundantly clear that he is pitting his sons against each other in choosing the next head for Empire.

Just with that premise there is a enough going on for many future fruitful episodes, but around the time Lucious takes the company public his ex-wife Cookie Lyon played by an excellent Taraji B. Henson, gets released from jail after 17 years for “drug dealing” to boot. The seed money for Empire came from her drug money, something she tells Lucious she is not afraid to leverage in order to so see some of that new wealth.

A Rather Soapy Primetime Soap

With clunky cinematography and pretty bland dialogue this show almost surpasses primetime soap opera for daytime soap melodrama. Director Lee Daniel’s direction lacks the punch of his features Precious and Monster’s Ball or the subtlety of The Butler, but luckily the acting and music by superproducer Timbaland provide enough muscle to keep the show intriguing.

The machinations behind-the-scenes that keep the company afloat are established very early on, but the focus often shifts to the palatable over the complex. In the flashbacks to when Empire was just a dream shared between Cookie and Lucious, the show’s problems and strengths are made more evident. Instead of illustrating the gritty lives those two had to lead to get by and thus how far they have come, the shows instead opts for the easily understood. When Lucious can’t face visiting Cookie in prison in one of these flasbhacks, he sends in Andre who is the five-year-old equivalent of one of the puppies from the Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial. He has one tooth and his voice hard to understand, but boy is he cute. What the flashbacks and the show itself lack in substance, they make up for with catchy music, stellar acting across the board and a plot rife with amped up drama. Personally I think that’s not too bad for a FOX pilot.