Devin and I started recording an episode just after finishing the 2018 Oscars. This is not that episode, but it’s close enough.
Kanye West closed Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards with a medley of his current hit “All Day” and his two year-old album cut “Black Skinhead.” The performance elicited boos in the room and online, for different reasons. The audience objected to the introductory remarks from pop culture pariahs Kendall and Kylie Jenner and the blinding light that radiated from West’s stage setup, obscuring the performance from view.
Viewers at home objected to ABC’s decision to bleep out substantial portions of the audio from the performance. Such bleeps typically cover words the FCC has deemed profane. In this case, the bleeps covered entire verses of West’s two songs. The biggest ironies: the people let at least two swears slip amid the reckless bleeping.
The world gives us lots to be cynical about every day. But today’s Thanksgiving, so I want to take a brief pause from frustration, indifference and indignation to marvel at the treasures on our massive pop culture landscape. Here’s a look at some of the pop culture (and pop culture criticism) that I’m thankful for right now:
Last night, I watched all three hours of the 2014 American Music Awards. It wasn’t always a fun experience. Head over to The Eagle for my grades of each performance.
Saddled with the unreasonable task of attracting an audience in a toxic timeslot (Tuesdays at 9:30pm) with little promotion, ABC’s Trophy Wife was doomed to fail from a commercial standpoint. As of two weeks ago, it did – the network announced that it had cancelled the show after its first season of 22 episodes.
From a creative standpoint, the show seemed doomed to fail based on title alone. The idea that in 2014, a physically fit young woman who marries an older man could be described with a phrase as derogatory as “trophy wife” gave no one optimism that Trophy Wife would be a show worth championing. Yet the show quickly established that the title is an ironic commentary on the assumptions that people would make about Malin Akerman’s title character based on her appearance. Irony doesn’t always translate well into casual conversation, and indeed, when I tell people I like a show called Trophy Wife, I frequently get looks that would be more appropriate if I had just said that I willingly stepped in dog waste.
But enough about the title. Let’s talk about the show. It was a good one, and I’m going to miss it. I can imagine an alternate reality in which this show became a timeslot complement to ABC’s relatively highly-rated Modern Family and survived for four or five seasons of gleeful hijinks before retreating to a lifetime of syndication on cable. That would have been a far more appropriate fate for a show that married traditional sitcom standards with a modern perspective on family life as well as Modern Family at its very best. Not everything worked – some of Kate’s ongoing struggles to prove that she’s a worthy parent grew repetitive, Jackie’s antics often strained credulity, and Natalie Morales’ Meg usually seemed like an enjoyable character who belonged on a different show. But when it worked, and it frequently did, Trophy Wife showed far more promise than any other new comedy on the networks this season, save Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Enlisted.
I just read an excellent New York Times Magazine profile of Damon Lindelof, and I have a few thoughts about it.
1. The profile describes Lindelof’s tumultuous experience with the fans of Lost, the show he co-created and ran for all of its much-scrutinized run. For years, Lindelof endured outraged cries from devoted fans of the show who felt that the series finale failed to wrap up the mysteries the show had allegedly set out to solve. The feedback turned so sour that Lindelof deleted his Twitter account with a flourish on October 14th, 2013, explaining later that the resurgence of negativity that followed the polarizing Breaking Bad series finale left him feeling psychologically battered.
I never watched Lost to solve the mysteries. I was certainly interested in finding answers, and I enjoyed delving into Jeff Jensen’s exhaustive analyses for Entertainment Weekly, but when it came time to watch the finale, I was far more invested in where the characters would find themselves at the end of the episode, and how the journeys we’d watched unfold for six years would conclude. I realize I’m in the minority, and that the frustrating banality of the Smoke Monster, the Whispers and the Magic Cork left people frustrated to the point of dismissing the entire show. I think that’s an unfair response, given that the show always cared about people as much as it did smoke and mirrors. I was glad I’d spent six years with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Hurley, Ben, Juliet and the dozens of other characters who popped in and out. It’s not wrong to want more from a show famous for its mysteries, but it’s also not right to condemn the creator for having other ideas about how he wanted his show to end. There’s no use crucifying Lindelof for “wasting our time.” That we were invested in the first place means that he was doing his job right for quite a while, and that counts for something.
This week in New York City, the four broadcast networks are unveiling their fall schedules, complete with renewals, cancellations and pickups. Though a volley of announcements earlier this week robbed the announcements Up Front at the Upfronts: ABCof much of their suspense, and the very idea of a fixed schedule is irrelevant to a large percentage of the TV viewing public, these announcements remain interesting as the last vestiges of an outmoded business model.
ABC is up second. Click here for the network’s fall schedule with Vulture TV reporter Joe Adalian’s analysis. Notable points:
Serious is overrated.
There’s a tendency in critical discussion of modern entertainment to elevate shows that tackle “dark” and “mature” subject matter (drugs, violence, grief) above shows with sillier, funnier, brighter ideas (family, community, professional and personal success). And it’s not just television. The Oscars rarely, if ever, make room for comedies and lighter movies amid the annual barrage of solemn dramas about historical events and “important issues.” Dying is easy, comedy is hard, and getting recognition for making great comedy is the hardest of all.
To be fair, many of the critically acclaimed dark shows earn their praise – in 2013, for instance, Breaking Bad, Rectify, Mad Men and Hannibal tackled unpleasant subject matter with nuance and artistry aplenty. But too often, good or even great comedies fall by the wayside in our hurry to anoint a new drama as a worthy heir to those titans of TV drama’s alleged Golden Age. But it’s just as important to recognize achievements in comedy, a genre that requires as much talent and passion as drama but in service of a different set of goals and emotions.
While wide swaths of television fans have been obsessing over True Detective and biding their time until Game of Thrones and Mad Men return, two network comedies have quietly shoved their way to the head of the TV class. Enlisted and Trophy Wife both have trappings that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a network comedy before (slapstick, “heartwarming” moments, wacky dancing), but they’re also exploring relatively untapped thematic territory, the casts are deep and diverse, and both shows are (most important for a comedy) really, really funny. But they’re languishing in their timeslots and hurting for viewers as they approach the end of their respective first seasons. Even as critics like Maureen Ryan and Alan Sepinwall have begun to sound the gong in favor of “save this show” campaigns and last-minute timeslot switcheroos, these shows may have been doomed from their first episodes.