Tag Archives: television review

‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E4 “Time & Life” is a Meditation on Transitions

Last night’s episode “Time & Life” lies squarely in the middle of the second half the seventh season, which might be one reason it orients itself around the concept of “transitions”. In fact, McCann-Erickson surreptitiously did not renew Sterling Cooper and Pryce’s lease meaning the agency will literally be transitioning to a new home base. The final three episode will no doubt tell the story of this transition within a show also in transition (to not existing) but if The Sopranos is any indication of Matt Weiner’s sensibilities, I doubt we will receive anything like closure on the series finale. Anyway, along with overarching transition happening this episode comes but the success and failures that led the characters of Mad Men to this point.

After the partners get notified in a backhanded fashion about McCann’s decision to absorb SC&P, Don characteristically leads the charge to try and remain independent by staking a claim to all of their conflicting accounts (say McCann’s Coca-Cola versus SC&P’s Sunkist). Don’s the idea guy and as we have seen time and time again he has the gift of gab, with a history of hitting home pitches no one else could have secured. Yet when Don launches into his presentation for McCann he gets interrupted (gasp) and dispatched with a couple of amused, “Don’s” (double gasp). Don’s identity crisis last week brought on by Mathis suggesting he might be more charm and good looks echoes here where a Don pep talk is not enough to save the company. Luckily for the partners McCann reframes the move in their minds from dissolving the agency to rewarding each partner on success since the merger.

The partners subsequently go out to a bar to celebrate and one by one they all leave to do things with family and friends. Eventually Don and Roger are the only ones left, and even Roger leaves – to meet up with Marie Calvet no less. A sloppy drunk Don so desperately searches for connection that he heads over to Diana’s gross old apartment only to find a gay couple. Even gay men a year after Stonewall are capable of an intimate relationship, while Don can’t even find the trainwreck that is Diana. Even Meredith stands up to Don this episode for being the last to know about the whole McCann situation and she tells him that in a few months he won’t have either an apartment or an office. He has lost his mojo and these past few episodes have illustrated that his transition into self awareness has brought him from bad to worse.

An artful zoom in to the faces of the partners on one side of a conference table mirrors a later zoom out at the end of the episode as they lose control when telling the office what they thought to be good news. Platitudes from the upper echelon don’t drown out the dissenting chatter, highlighting the privileged view both the partners have that insulates them from fear among the many lower level employees who won’t make it to the new office. Don tells them, “this is the beginning of something; not the end.” Well not according to Matt Weiner and again Don fails at keeping the calm with his trademark charisma. Transitions mean different things to different people, and this transition to McCann means even the partners will become cogs in a larger machine.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.44.37 AM

Peggy particularly understands her status as a cog this episode after hiring a headhunter who informs her a job at McCann offers both the highest salary and prestige across the board. She probably has her last sexist encounter with the McCann guys looming in her mind because as she mentions later in the episode, she wishes she could succeed just like a man does. From this stems another important development where Peggy conducts a focus group with children that highlights the transitional stage Peggy is in biologically. Her attempts at relating to the children are laughable and the focus group can only proceed when Stan intervenes and gets the ball rolling, in this case literally. In a touching moment later in the episode Peggy mentions that men have the luxury of ignorance, whether it be of how to play with children or even if they have children. She tells Stan she chooses to not know where her and Pete’s son is because it would hurt too much to know, and implicitly she might keep herself ignorant of children as a method of distancing herself from the family she has had to forego in order to succeed.

Save Don, nonromantic relationships get a boon this episode to the point where even Pete patches things up with Trudy. A slightly absurd storyline has Pete questioning the headmaster of Greenwich Country Day for placing dear Tammy on the waitlist, only to find out it’s due to a longstanding MacDonald-Campbell feud in which the headmaster and Pete are opposed. More to the point, he offers compassion to Trudy even though she was at fault for applying to no other schools. Don may have started out the show on top with a wife, kids and a debonair attitude that helped him score accounts and women on the side, but Pete in at least being up front about the kind of person he is and has been able to meaningfully grow into someone increasingly likeable.


‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E2 “New Business” Brings Parallels, Mirrors and Foils to Add Past and Future Character Perspectives

I have to say reviewing Mad Men is pretty difficult because I assume even the lackluster parts of each episode weave into the larger tapestry Weiner wants to weave for us. Still the absurd amount of sex and propositioning this episode contains outdoes even its own high standards, in my opinion, and at points certain hookups like Prima with both Stan and an attempt at Peggy in addition to Don’s sexin’, Megan’s Mom with Roger and Harry’s come on to Megan it just feel like drama being orchestrated to suit certain themes or ensure certain arcs take shape. That said Weiner will never be in the same boat as Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk who frequently jam in so many plot points into their shows they feel more like a series of high octane events rather than a story, but for Weiner this week’s “New Business” came across as a tad disjointed among the many different story arcs.

Each story arc jived for me individually, however, and specifically for Don his brief tryst with the formerly mysterious waitress Diana did him no favors. Don has been more or less stalking Diana since the last episode, finally coercing her into giving him a ring for a late night booty call. Don and Diana have a lot more in common than a penchant for late night drunk sex with strangers, it turns out. Peggy has oft been presented as Don’s protégé and mirror with shared closeted, working class backgrounds and stellar instincts for creative. Now with Diane we see Don’s romantic protégé, i.e. someone just as emotionally damaged who applies many of the same tactics Don has so deftly employed in seasons past.

After their first hook up, Diane mentions that she is running from the death of her daughter and then just a bit later she adds she that she was lying before and that she left another alive daughter with her father to flee the pain. Not only does Diane lie about her past, but she also continually deflects personal questions and uses both sex and alcohol as a refuge. Sound familiar? Don finds his female counterpart yet as implied by Megan later on who accuses Don of being a liar who ruined her life, at least Diane comes clean about her true nature within about week of their meeting. Don took three children to only partially admit his past to Betty only because she had already discovered it on her own.


Interestingly Prima, an photographer this week, plays as a potential future Peggy, albeit far more comfortable in her sexuality. Prima solicits both Stan and Peggy, but offhandedly mentions she has never married or had children and instead has achieved great professional success as a photographer. The parallels are not quite as clear with Prima and Peggy as with Don and Diana, but that’s all for the best otherwise the episode would have felt even more outlandish with two sets of doppelgangers. Season seven on the whole has time and again highlighted Peggy’s anxieties about relationships and starting a family with the touching Julio arc as well as the more on-the-nose Burger Chef pitch about families-by-any-other-name. Furthermore the last episode where Scottie momentarily swept Peggy off her feet only for her to turn back to work in the morning suggests Peggy will make some sort of decision about the juncture of her personal life and her work life by the end of the show and that could be anywhere from work-focused, personally lacking Prima/ Don to the other end of the spectrum. Also Prima Don(na).

After not appearing in the premiere, Megan returns in spades to the second episode to finalize her divorce from Don and get her furniture out of their apartment. In a very un-Mad Men ­fashion her tone and outlook changes over the course of just this episode. She begins upbeat and hopeful about starting fresh post-Don with all the acting prospects she had when she acted in New York, but her unsupportive family make Harry’s shameless propositioning feel like a much bigger to blow to the future of her career than it might otherwise have been. She mentioned how excited she was to be free of Don, but in a bittersweet fashion Harry reminds her that with that freedom comes a lack of financial support and no more access to Don’s wealthy bank of connections. At the same time her pious sister and bitter mother illustrate what can happen to women once they stay in toxic lives for too long – their anger damages them and those around them. Megan has always appeared to be the most emotionally stable and well adjusted of the cast so I believe her sadness by the end of the episode if a momentary setback instead of the beginning of a long decline.

In other news Betty wants to be a psychologist. I guess as long as she isn’t sharing her opinion on the Vietnam War, Francis will indulge her crazy, crazy whims. I certainly hope that this was not Megan’s last episode, but leaving with all of Don’s furniture and $1 million would be fitting given her enterprising character arc. Chaotic episodes such as these will likely be par for the course for the remaining episodes in order to tie up loose ends but hopefully each arc will intersect in a more fluid manner in upcoming episodes.

‘Mad Men’ S7.5 E1 “Severance” Sets Up Its Central focus for the Episode and Series: Identity

Last night’s “Severance” brought a focused return to the second half of Mad Men’s seventh and final season. The episode only delved into the lives of our dapper protagonist Don Draper and his coworkers, leaving Megan, Betty, Sally and co. for later in the season. By not addressing the family, the Matt Weiner-penned episode could explore how the employees of SC&P relate to their identity, as constructed from the workplace and otherwise. This rather melancholy episode starts off with what may be the show’s central focus: identity. Each character’s understanding of their identity is seen conflicting with their hopes, desires and even reality with characters like Ken and Peggy worried about falling into an inertia that come so easily in adulthood, particularly in the sixties. With the show wrapping up, notions of the past and future also get subtly intertwined into all this identity business, illustrating where identity inertia can lead 45 years down the road.

Don is back to his womanizing ways with alcohol close behind, yet his relationship with drinking, at least for now, seems a lot more healthy than when had to be escorted out of the office by Freddy Rumsen. On one hand he has accepted his impoverished past, telling the women he and Roger bring to a diner an elaborate story about his stepmom’s toaster in their boarding house, yet Don now wields his real past like a sword for slaying the ladies that doesn’t quite match up with the bleak flashbacks. Don still seems incapable of allowing others to delve into his past and understand his true identity, and that same issue with intimacy permeates the entire episode. In a telling moment Don walks into his apartment and turns on the lights to gaze upon his lavish, but completely empty, apartment which prompts him to turn the lights off again and check in with his secretary on how many women have called asking for him (3). Don barrels through these nameless sexy women, but a dream he has of Rachel Katz that sends him searching for the one woman who prompted him to truly open up about his troubled childhood years before he did so to anyone else. He discovers she died just one week before, sending him to where her family is sitting shiva. He he looks over at all the mourners, suggesting a longing not only for Rachel but also for an intimate community that would be there to proverbially sit shiva for him when the time comes. Perhaps this loss sends him trying to pursue Diana, an employee at a diner, where he tries starting with sex and then unsuccessfully following up with romance.

Don’s protégé Peggy is not quite as aware of her identity and how to manipulate it as Don is, but she definitely has a certain idea of how she should behave. Peggy’s employee Johnny Mathis sets her up on a date with his brother-in-law and after a few drinks she almost flies to Paris with the guy! Peggy is often seen as a parallel to Don by critics and that certainly fits with their guarded nature and keen eyes for creative, but a fundamental difference between the two gets squarely addressed this episode. While Don has sex with that Diana in an alley without saying more than a few words beforehand, Peggy insists that her date Stevie wait to have sex with her since she believes in their potential as a couple. She wakes up the next morning regretting being emotionally indulgent enough to almost fly to Europe, but we see that she still has access to her emotions and, at least while drunk, craves intimacy over sex. Don acts on drunk autopilot much of the time and seems to have lost hope of actually allowing access to his real emotions. Mad Men is a cynical show so there’s no saying Peggy will build on this momentary emotional fragility but there is a hope in her I’m not sure Don has at this point.

Peggy’s role as a woman in the male-dominated SC&P also comes into play in contrast to Joan who we may remember from earlier seasons consciously throwing around sexuality to get what she wants out of the men at the office. Since then Joan has matured and refocused her attention now as partner, but sexist McCann employees harass Joan and then Peggy unintentionally underscores the issue by mentioning how rich Joan is from becoming partner she doesn’t need to really work. That lucrative partnership wouldn’t have happened if Joan hadn’t slept with Herb Rennet in order to get the Jaguar account. Joan comes back the next day wearing a buttoned up, puke green shirt and librarian-esque glasses. After getting a call from one of the sexist McCann employees Joan finishes off the day with some designer retail therapy. Peggy has largely ignored the issue of sexism by focusing almost singly on the word, but Joan’s relationship with sexism suggests confusion in how her identity previously hinging on attractiveness will play out now that she manages accounts.

An interesting addition to this week’s episode is Ken Cosgrove who debates with his wife about whether he should continue along his lucrative trajectory in advertising or opt for his dream job as a writer. His wife’s dad brings into stark contrast what it meant to be a man in his generation versus Ken’s when he brags about cooking a Poptart. Likely puttering around Ken’s mind is the thought of being less of a man by pursuing his dream of being a writer in a world where men were so alienated from the domestic life that his wife’s dad found making a Poptart a commendable task. By the end of the episode Ken continues along in his role in advertising, relocating to Dow Chemical out of spite after he is unceremoniously fired from SC&P. I think the American model is often one of redemption because every soul has a bit of good in ‘em, but not so for Mad Men. Every character has seen significant changes since season one, but I wouldn’t say they are changing. This show has always been conscious of its temporal relation to the now being set in the sixties, but that focus is even more relevant now that the show is on the cusp of the seventies. We can all theoretically understand what identity is, but as the character have shown this episode abstract knowledge can often be at odds with real experience.

‘Girls’ S4E10 Review: “Home Birth” Show Us Toning Down the Crazy Doesn’t Mean Selling Out

A mature fourth season brings us a deceptively simple finale that doesn’t try to wow us with anything too crazy (I mean we all should’ve expected Caroline’s delivery to be a little bumpy), but instead underscore the main characters’ growth over the course of the season. In season one Shosh does crack, in season two Hannah has sex with Jessa’s teenage step brother but the season four finale is the result of a two season long cool down where consequences and realizations are catching up with the girls and guys we know so well. Certain television tropes stick out in this episode where moments get tied up too neatly with a set up we have seen before, yet elements of the show’s disjointed style remain to ensure this episode doesn’t feel too sugarcoated. This week’s “Home Birth” shows a marked change from last season’s finale with botched assisted suicides and the beginning of the Marnie/Desi affair but as Hannah has shown us this season change doesn’t always have to mean selling out.

Sitcoms and dramas alike often use births as ‘coming together’ episodes because they illustrate how a show’s various characters react to an array of emotions from surprise, fear, stress all the way to joy. It is rarely about the actual mother and father who often remain pretty focused on the actual birthing process, but rather the surrounding characters and that remains true for this episode. Gaby Hoffmann really delivers on Caroline’s paranoid fear of the “birth industrial complex” that she thinks will drug up her and the baby as does Jon Glaser as the cowardly Laird who refuses to overcome his fear and convince Caroline to see a doctor for her premature breech birth. Still Caroline and Laird mainly set the stage for Adam, Hannah and Jessa who all respond rather characteristically to this impending disaster.

I have loved watching Jessa’s progression this season most of all and the finale did justice to the character we have probably seen change the most over the course of Girls. Unlike Adam and Hannah who scream and whine, respectively, during labor Jessa keeps calm, sticks her head in Caroline’s bathtub to look at her uterus and finally orders everyone else to contribute to the situation instead of panic. Jessa’s normal detachment and lack of responsiveness to others’ emotions works as a boon here, resulting in the crew carrying a wriggling Caroline through Manhattan to the hospital. When Jessa ultimately decides she wants to be a psychologist at the end of the episode one could certainly read that as abrupt with no previous mention of a career idea much less one requiring 8 years of college, but here Jessa’s impulsiveness fits completely within her character as someone who completely commits to what she wants as soon – as she figures it out.

Adam and Hannah more or less keep it together while Caroline is in labor, but Adam’s longing for Hannah at the end of the previous episode has grown stronger after Mimi Rose out of the blue dumped him for Ace! There is a wonderfully directed scene where Adam reaches his hand over baby Jessa-Hannah’s incubator telling her all the things the break up-er tells the break up-ee when the break up-er discovers his mistake. To Adam’s string of apologies and please, Hannah responds with sage advice on getting over Mimi Rose clearly drawn from her tough recovery post-Adam but she does not grab Adam’s hand despite how easy it would be. Season one Hannah would’ve run back to him in a second, but season four Hannah has more considerate fish to fry namely Fran who has inexplicably gotten over his belief in Hannah’s penchant for drama. The episode begins with Hannah recovering from a not-quite panic attack with Fran comforting her, and one fatal flaw of this episode is not hinting at how Fran reversed his opinion on Hannah after the art show or the Cleo debacle for a relationship going strong in a six month time jump at the end of the episode.

Meanwhile Shosh, Ray and Marnie operate in a pseudo-love triangle where no one loves Ray but he still plays an important role in both their trajectories. Ray gives Desi the lowdown on all the reasons he is folksy trash prompting him to skip a show Desi and Marnie have for a big-time record exec and some bloggers. Marnie’s one-liner driven self-empowerment felt off to me, but still her decision at Ray’s behest to sing solo feels satisfying even if the lead up is kind of hokey. Shosh gets offered a job at Abigail, an orderly international clothing store (I think), bedecked in pink and perfect for her – except it’s located in Japan her Madame Tinsley’s soup guy boyfriend promises he will probably love her soon in hopes she will stay. She isn’t even worthy of Ray’s attention as he is preoccupied with Marnie, but Shosh finally stands up for herself and her needs and chooses to take the job. As perhaps the least fleshed out of the girls, her story arc this season has been streamlined, simplified and rushed including this episode, but she still seems to have changed over the course of this season approaching her Abigail interview sooo much differently than the Madame Tinsley’s or Ann Taylor Loft interviews of yore.

It turns out ratings dropped from this finale to the last and I think it’s because Girls is in no uncertain terms taking a turn for maturity and consistency rather than the frantic desperation of these girls trying to figure out their twenties. The episode surely was sedate but I am chalking that up to a more sedate season on the whole, though only next season will prove if the show is capable of carrying on a tonally transformed show without feeling quite so sedate. I don’t want season four to be the beginning of the end so instead I will consider this the end of the beginning, or the end of their elongated childhood as self-centered girls, hopefully paving the way for the beginning of their adulthood.


‘Girls’ S4E7 “Ask Me My Name” Gives Us the Messy Opposite of Last Week’s Episode – And It’s Great

For last week’s “Close Up” I called for a the return of the “muddy shitstorm” done best in episodes like “Beach House” and it’s like the writers preemptively read my mind, or rather this episode and the last episode were written by the same person Murray Miller who probably set the arc up this way on purpose. All the false simplicity and order of characters addressing their wants and needs in an artificially linear fashion like the average sitcom with three act breaks gets thrown out the window for an episode that is like a case study on manipulation with little guidance on how to pick out the sincerity. By a turn of fate Hannah and Mimi-Rose get some one-on-one time while Adam gets cornered by Mimi-Rose’s ex, Ace, who is played to outlandish perfection by Zachary Quinto. More than just a gauge on how the whole love triangle is working out, “Ask Me My Name” also delves into Hannah’s sense of self after trading in her life as a writer for a more conventional career as a substitute teacher. The key difference between this and last week is that Hannah’s character development and the narrative progress organically rather than with measured planning, allowing the show to really flex its storytelling muscles.

Although a couple supporting characters make an appearance in this episode, we mostly focus on Hannah being forced to come to terms with her feelings about Mimi-Rose due to a series of strange occurrences. Thankfully cutting out a bunch of silly exposition, we start this episode with Hannah in the middle of teaching a class on Oedipus where much to my surprise she seems to be thriving, albeit as a substitute which she acknowledges doesn’t require all that much effort. We meet a young male teacher named Fran who might be the most normal, accessible person we have seen so far on the show, cracking jokes and asking Hannah out for beers like a regular Joe.

There is a delightful scene before Hannah’s date where she discusses clothing options with Elijah and they joke about how she’s crossing the threshold of maturity, going on dates like “someone who’s 45” which launches them into a bit on the kind of people (adults) who derive fulfillment from commitment and exercising regularly. The not so subtle undercurrent is a sincere fear that if the roommates haven’t quite crossed the threshold where dying alone and finding security are real concerns, that day is certainly on the horizon. Hannah abruptly cuts off the joke, saying she needs to masturbate before the date, but the theme of impending adulthood deftly gets inserted into the plot for later use.

Hannah brings Fran to Mimi-Rose’s art show on their first date, which he soon recognizes as a fairly orchestrated ploy for Adam’s attention causing him to swiftly peace out. Hannah’s use of Fran sets in motion a hard to pin down, but certainly intriguing, cascade of manipulation that only Adam seems to be above. Mimi Rose invites Hannah to her art show after party, which Adam fights tooth and nail engaging Hannah much like the divorced adults Hannah previously mocked. Mimi Rose and Hannah take one taxi while Ace and Adam take another to the same party and here is where the pesky question of “why” starts inserting itself.

Of course, Hannah and Mimi Rose’s taxicab hits an old woman crossing the street and in an appropriate use of comedy, not as a crutch like last week but rather a moment to give dimension to the narrative, the taxi driver tries to blame Hannah for the mishap. As a result Mimi Rose and Hannah wait to give their stories to the police in a nearby convenience store and then a Laundromat, allowing a good chunk of time for Mimi Rose to try and reach out to the recalcitrant Hannah. What’s important is that at the same time Ace, who comes off as the ultimate hipster douchebag, tells Adam that Mimi Rose is a master manipulator – but then takes it back and tells Adam he just wants her back. How much Ace can be trusted is certainly up for discussion, but neither Adam nor the audience gets the comfort of a right answer.

Ace’s comment, however, causes the viewer to read the Mimi Rose and Hannah exchange with a more critical gaze that makes the unfolding of events exciting, and slightly tense, as we wait for the real Mimi Rose to reveal herself. But, of course, there is no “real” Mimi Rose in some sort of Scooby Doo way where she takes off her mask and comes clean about the hijinks. All we have are two people with a lot of complex emotions. As seen last episode Mimi Rose is not one to mince words, even when she probably should which Hannah attributes to Aspergers, though that has yet to be established as anything more than a resentful slight. Mimi Rose ostensibly comes clean about a desire for empathy even when reaching out can be difficult, which does tie back in her relentless need to connect with all the ancillary characters like the cab driver who don’t seem all that interested. At the same time, Mimi Rose offers Adam to Hannah in an eerily well thought out plan to slowly distance herself from him as Hannah edges in.

Hannah doesn’t know what to make of her as Adam’s girlfriend, and frankly neither do I, but professionally Hannah is sure that Mimi Rose captures what it means to be a real artist. Mimi Rose leaves a poem she composes in two minutes in a random person’s washing machine because she’s “always wanted to write a random person a poem” and details the novel she’s writing that took so much time away from her art exhibit. Everywhere they go Mimi Rose spreads her artistic whimsy and to Hannah, whose artistic whimsy seems to have died in Iowa, this compounds the loss of Adam by having his new beau be the funky artist girlfriend that he must have always wanted.

Ultimately Mimi Rose lays out how she feels compelled to produce art because she doesn’t know any other way, but acknowledges her worry that everyone finds her as off-putting as Hannah does. As they mutually share a grass is greener moment, I think Mimi Rose finally gets humanized. Or does she? Is Mimi Rose abruptness due to her true artistic inclinations for complete honesty and self-expression or is she some sort of manipulative mastermind as Ace describes her? The beauty of this episode is that this precarious situation does not get answered this episode and might never fully be answered and that precarious, uncomfortable situation is where we as humans make our home. Not at the end of Scooby Doo.

Girls S4E6 Close Up

‘Girls’ S4E6 “Close Up” Stretches Believability to Make Room for Jokes

Dramedies balance out the “drama” and “comedy” with different ratios with shows like Scrubs tending far more towards the comedy while hour long shows like Desperate Housewives I would say lean more towards the drama. Girls is the uncommon thirty minute show that will have an entire episode about Hannah’s throbbing break up, for example, with more drama than comedy. This week’s “Close Up” leaned into the comedic end of the spectrum, likely to get out of Hannah’s claustrophobic apartment of despair, but the steps Hannah and Shoshanna particularly take in the wake of persistent rejection and discontent seem almost implausible even within Girls’ often implausible world. During an interview for a marketing position Shoshanna says the object she is supposed to market smells like “bedussy” (combo of butt, dick and pussy)… and then she gets a date out of it? I don’t think so. Hannah’s therapist tells her she is a “helper” which makes Hannah want to become a teacher? Double no. There were some funny jokes to be had this episode, but the overall narrative felt more like a misstep than a calculated movement in a different direction.

A lot of the characters’ stories get fleshed out this episode despite it being shorter than usual at about 23 minutes, so much so that there had to be a Mad Men style montage round up at the end tying up all the loose ends. The story that got the plurality of time this week, and the one I found most compelling, was Adam’s discovery of Mimi-Rose’s abortion of his “ball of cells” as she calls it. Mimi-Rose casually drops the abortion bomb while explaining why she can’t go for a run with Adam, also known as one of the most insensitive ways to tell your partner you got an abortion. Adam kicks and screams all over the open plan apartment, and in a strong directorial choice by Richard Shepard, Mimi-Rose remains calmly seated on the couch and then walks in a straight line over to the sink not playing into Adam’s temper tantrum.

The same histrionics that I’m sure Hannah would have indulged and escalated were more or less negated, and that comparison between girlfriends is completely clear but the extent to which Gillian Jacobs plays up Mimi-Rose’s detached and I would even say aloofness feels too extreme. I could see Adam turning to someone less Hannah-like after their impassioned relationship, but someone on the complete opposite pole like Mimi-Rose seems unlikely. Then when Adam makes the choice to sneak out of Mimi-Rose’s apartment, presumably to end this surreptitiously, in an almost romantic-comedy coincidence Mimi-Rose reasons with Adam to stay using the line, “wanting you is better than needing you because it’s pure.” I’m sure no one in love, especially not the intensely passionate Adam, would hear that and feel comforted.

Through a motif of distinctly un-sexy tracking shots tracing various characters’ feet and then legs up the bed as they sleep, we then run into Hannah jarring as ever sitting straight up and thus breaking the visual sequence. A thinly veiled meltdown over missing Cinnamon Toast Crunch indicates Hannah’s not doing so hot, though she seems at least to have surpassed her purely emotional response last week for a more restrained existential crisis. In the wake of this, our good friend Bob Balaban as the plot device, excuse me, I mean Hannah’s therapist again defies believability by agreeing with Hannah that she was drawn to writing because of its ability to “affect change.” Not only that, he also goads her on by telling her she is a “helper”, which if he has been listening to Hannah over the past few years should not even be a possibility in his mind. It is understandable that in the wake of the fiasco that was Iowa followed by the fiasco that was Mimi-Rose, Hannah would become disillusioned with the current progression of her life and opt for something different. It is inconceivable to me, however, that Hannah’s something different be becoming a teacher. The unpredictable decision is clearly meant to be ludicrous given how little serious thought she appears to put into her new career, but it just doesn’t seem ludicrous in a way that meshes with Hannah’s heretofore established personality and sense of self.

I had a good, strong laugh at Shoshanna’s interview with a budding soup entrepreneur, but her outrageous outburst too felt noticeably incongruous with reality because how did she hear about such an obscure job that the soup entrepreneur also derides her for being unqualified for? He had her resume beforehand presumably and she knew he’s looking to market soup, right? Similarly Ray faces the ineptitude and inefficiency of city council and with an outburst he actually gets the board to acknowledge their shortcomings? Even though his scene felt like a burst of Coen Brothers’ oddity into our normal Millennial view of New York, I still don’t buy it all in the way the show wants me to.

The problem “Close Up” shares with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk of Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story fame is a disproportionate focus on plot and outcome, over logical character motivation. Shoshanna gets a date with the soup entrepreneur which I’m sure will be a running plot line, but how she got there simply does not work. This show has shown the ability to weave stories together in a muddy shitstorm, completely oblivious of outcomes and steeped in Hannah, Jessa, Marnie, Shosh and Co.’s attempts to find their personalities a home in the city, but an attempt to work backwards and graft a concrete outcome onto their motivations just doesn’t sit right for a show that knows how to be intelligent.

Girls S4E5 Sit-In

‘Girls’ S4E6 “Sit-In” Shows Its Strength In Its Reintroduction To New York

The art historian Meyer Schapiro wrote that while certain artistic conventions are very culturally specific (the dragon as emblematic of good luck in China versus the English St. George slaying an evil dragon) others are universally understood due to a shared psychological predisposition.

Now what does an art historian have to do with this episode of Girls? Well “Sit-In” starts off with a wonderful shot by Tim Ives, a frequent Director of Photography for Girls, where Hannah stands off to the left, making a face that could be described as smelling rancid milk while trying to hold back tears, and looking down off screen engaging neither Adam nor the audience. An off center composition has been identified as a commonality for art made by emotionally disturbed children because it conveys a destabilized discomfort, which funnily enough is exactly how Hannah feels upon returning from Iowa to find Adam shacking up with Mimi-Rose .

The fanciful montage of Hannah in a taxi heading back to New York at the end of last week’s “Cubbies” feels so far away from her current reality. Nobody is in the wrong because it’s unrealistic for Adam to have waited the projected two years for Hannah to return, but it still stings that he moved on so quickly. I object to the title of “Sit-In” because I think it devalues the historical weight of Civil Rights sit-ins, especially in light of the show’s notable lack of diversity, but I’m sure Hannah would see the difference in magnitudes as negligible. My political grievances aside, I think writers Paul Simms and Max Brockman did a mostly convincing job of telling Hannah’s breakup by hitting some notes that are often missed in the breakup story. For example, this episode is almost entirely a bottle episode, or one that takes place in a confined location, and Adam is missing from the story except for the beginning and the end. This atypical plot structure allows the audience to get re-acclimated to the NYC crowd by a communal response during Hannah’s time of need.

The confined setting is enlivened by a parade of Hannah’s friends who show up to support her as if her mother just died. Shosh comes over and plays up the role of the ‘true friend’ greeting Mimi-Rose with, “I don’t know who you are and I don’t care to know and that’s all I have to say about it.” Later the now pregnant Caroline and Laird appear in Hannah’s apartment and subtly offer a threeway as emotional support. The move to lighten the tone works by shaking up the pacing and not by completely buying into Hannah’s overblown doom and gloom.

Every one of the main cast stops by to pay Hannah a visit, yet what truly relates the show’s cynical tone of voice is that that almost every character shifts the conversation to be about themselves. Ray relates Hannah’s unjust breakup to his frustrations with the city council board he joined as per Shoshanna’s advice, even rambling on after Hannah yelps from a bacon grease burn. The only one who doesn’t do this is Jessa , though it turns out she was the one who introduced Adam to Mimi-Rose. Jessa’s compassion for Adam marks a clear shift in the dynamics of this friend group and belies perhaps the first sincere relationship we’ve seen on her part so far in the show.

Tim Ives does a great job with shakier handheld camera work than we normally see on Girls that makes Hannah confinement to her apartment a more dynamic experience. In addition to the cinematography, the inclusion of so many other characters makes us forget we’re stuck in an apartment and deftly draws us out to their respective lives across the city. This more dispersed focus certainly makes the episode more enjoyable, but her friends’ support and Adam’s consistently considerate behavior made me lose some sympathy for Hannah’s stubborn behavior.

The final few minutes of the episode contain both the strongest and the weakest points of the episode. When Adam finally returns to find Hannah ready to move on after watching an inspirational talk online by Mimi-Rose, the two have an honest discussion that bring’s Hannah’s meltdown into perspective. As Adam re-wraps Hannah’s burnt hand, he finally echoes what Marnie  said earlier — that they probably weren’t meant to be a “forever couple.” Adam Driver’s few scenes this episode were all superbly acted, but he really tugs at the heart strings when telling Hannah he needs to see where this Mimi-Rose things goes. I felt the final scene, however, where Hannah settles on her couch in the claustrophobic storage room Adam bought for her to the tune of an overwrought indie ballad was overdone. Strong directing, acting and writing coalesce into a compelling and relatable episode, but I hope the break-up doesn’t mean Girls breaks up with Adam Driver.

Girls S4 E4 ‘Cubbies’ Brings Hannah Back

Girls has always been good at profiling so-called ‘First World problems’. In combining the television genres of drama and comedy, Girls has refused to err too far into schlocky melodrama or, conversely, into pratfalls and poop jokes. Breakups and growing pains are more Girls‘ speed and this week’s “Cubbies” features both, with Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) all navigating those ordinary problems that still feel extraordinary to anyone who goes through them.

This episode feels particularly disjointed with each character’s story arc seeming to exist in a parallel track from the others without intersecting in any fluid way. A scene early on where Marnie tries to solicit feedback on her new song from Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna highlights how much Hannah is the center of their friendship. Perhaps it’s the camera decisions that make the table all three sit around seem giant, or the surreal aspect of the bar being obscenely quiet, but none of them seem to be connecting. Even Marnie acknowledges her need for Hannah to come back in the mix so she can actually get real feedback. Or at least more constructive feedback than the earworm diagnosis Jessa and Shoshanna agree upon.

Luckily, Hannah seems to have come to the very same conclusion. Hannah stuffs her version of an apology for her tirade from last episode into her classmates’ cubbies, where she describes the class conditions as a minefield where she doesn’t feel comfortable enough to write. Hannah casts herself as the victim, issuing a celebrity apology where she uses the word “sorry” a lot without actually apologizing for anything. The move feels insincere until she meets with her professor and says point black, “for a second I thought I was getting kicked out and I was so happy.” She’s been sabotaging herself in an immature attempt at getting booted from Iowa. It’s moments like these that remind us why this show is called Girls not Women, because Hannah keeps seeking validation for quitting the program that apparently no one quits.

Peter Scolari stands out as Hannah’s dad this episode who gives her the parental go ahead to quit if she wants. He channels a dad who loves his daughter enough to allow himself to be used by Hannah for advice, even though it’s clear he wants a more sincere connection. Hannah’s whole progression is certainly important as it brings her back to New York, and back to her apartment where Adam (Adam Driver) has been shacking up with Mimi Rose (Gillian Jacobs), but here the dialogue in her scenes seem less well chosen and consequently don’t contain the dramatic heft they should.

While Hannah’s once-promising writing career hits another snag, Marnie is somehow succeeding with the singing career I for one never thought would come to fruition. Marnie’s ultimatum last episode for Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) to leave Clem or stop the sex sounded like she was clearly standing up for herself, but now it’s harder to tell. A well-chosen reaction shot stays on Marnie’s face as her uncertainty about Desi’s decision to break up with Clem shifts to an irrepressible smile at having Desi finally say “I love only you” and maybe actually mean it. Her momentary catharsis feels as though it’s the beginning of a slow burn, but Marnie hasn’t had too many wins in the past few episodes.

Shoshanna has suffered from two weeks of job rejection with a particularly bitter and personal one starting the episode off. As a result, she seeks out Ray (Alex Karpovsky) to regain the sense of self she seems to have lost since their break up. The writer of this episode, Bruce Eric Kaplan, who cut his teeth writing for Seinfeld, really inserts some of that New York-centric humor with Ray screaming at the drivers outside of his apartment for honking too much. Shoshanna accompanies Ray during his errands and these two have the most fulfilling arc of the episode in my opinion. In a fitful monologue full of Shosh-isms, well delivered by Zosia Mamet, Shoshanna relates to Ray that maybe she was the problem in the relationship. She shows a lot more maturity than any of the other ‘girls’ on this show and drops a hint of inspiration with Ray to grow up and stop yelling at drivers on the street and actually take the problem to city government like an adult.

I knew something would bring Hannah back to New York because as she said, “I thrive on the streets. I always have.” Just kidding, I knew she would be back because she is like the sun and the rest of the characters on Girls orbit her. The uneven tone this episode might be due to Hannah’s story line taking up so much time despite being paced slowly, but hopefully her return to New York will even out the pacing.

The New Yorker Presents Alan Cumming

Amazon Pilot ‘The New Yorker Presents’ Preserves 90 Year Old Brand in New Online Format

Do you know what diaeresis marks are? Who would have a thought a publication that continues the archaic written tradition of adding dots over the second vowel in words with repeating vowels (e.g. preëminent) would partner with Amazon Studios to produce a pilot in the 21st century? The New Yorker is no stranger to the big screen with short stories originally published there having been adapted into acclaimed films from Meet Me in St. Louis to Adaptation, but The New Yorker Presents marks the magazine’s first foray into television. Still The New Yorker shines through every sleek transition, trademark jazz score and subtle allusion to the City. The unified branding indicates an adherence to what has made the publication America’s most award-winning magazine instead of an attempt to transform for a modern audience.

Despite the pilot’s throughline elements, the uneven pacing from four minute sketch to eight minute interview interspersed with 30 second long editorial cartoons registers as jarring even on the more flexible streaming video on demand (SVOD) service. Five disparate pieces ranging from poetry to interview individually hold their own during a digestible 30 minutes, but the more fractured magazine format feels mismatched overall on the traditionally linear mode of television. Amazon’s entrance into original content in 2013 is a testament to how the unexpected should be expected in the wave of SVOD where material as patiently cerebral as The New Yorker Presents gets produced in the same pilot cycle as a cop show.

Unlike the average network show, The New Yorker Presents offers us informative entertainment that still thinks the “informative” part of that phrase carries the most weight. The first sketch with Alan Cumming as an unflappable God who calmly coaches his prophet to warn against the end of days comes off as bland. It does well playing to the cartoonish with an exaggerated score highlighting the prophet’s misguided attempts at converting people followed by lazy jazz when Gods hand over his next ill-fated instructions, but the most it all elicits is a chortle.

The program really starts gaining traction during the conversation with seminal performance artist Marina Abromavić that relates the intensity of her recent work with consistently thoughtful camera work that finds the look or movement at the heart of the scene and lingers. Footage from Abramović’s recent exhibitions “The Artist is Present” and “Generator” is interspersed with material from the artist’s earlier work that shows among other things the artist cutting a star into her stomach as a discourse on engaging with pain. The interviewer, Ariel Levy, skillfully guides the conversation with Abramović who has been doing 30 years of interviews onto a previous quote by the artist relating sexual energy to artistic inspiration, obliquely addressing the artist’s motives on what could be considered by viewers overly sexualized performances. Levy elicits the artist’s views on feminism with the delicacy of any New Yorker print review. In fact similarities in tone, content and presentation to the magazine frequently draw comparisons to print articles centered around the traditional understanding of “culture” or long reads on American environmental concerns.

Jonathon Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married) directs that ‘long read’ as a doc on an American ecosystem damaged by pesticides. The interweaving of the lead scientist’s uncommon upbringing in South Carolina bolsters the narrative about frogs poisoned with pesticide runoff by adding another layer of power imbalance between a big corporation and the little guy. The piece ends with the scientist barefoot on a tranquil riverbank, albeit one filled with reproductively contaminated wildlife, reading a quote from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden about the music made by bullfrogs. That strong image ties together the pleasantly meandering human interest story, showcasing one thing a magazine can’t do – have some of America’s finest prose read aloud to fauna chirping and rustling by a river. That piece leads straight into a haunting poem read aloud by Andrew Garfield, which ends the show on a dark note. Personally I find this visual translation of the magazine intriguing with great prospects for future well-produced, insightful material dovetailed with the magazine. The New Yorker Presents isn’t really widening its target audience, but for a publication turning 90 this year and still flourishing, perhaps simply for SVOD is compelling enough.

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.