Category Archives: Television

Philip Glass: Geometry of Circles

I saw this for the first time today:

Absolutely mesmerising. Once again I regret that I did not grow up watching Sesame Street which did not air in my country during my childhood years. What a wonderful educational programme, always with a sense of beauty or humour to it.

Reviewing MTV’s Plain Jane

MTV’s Plain Jane is one of several tv shows that I’ve become addicted to by  accident, while spinning in front of the tv screens at my gym. Here’s a review.

I’m usually not that into reality shows, but makeover shows tend to reel me right in. What appeals to me about them is, I’m sure, the same thing that appeals to anyone who ever got hooked on a makeover show: The illusion that a quick, easy, and positive, yet radical personal transformation is possible and that you can become a better person practically over night. I call it an illusion because that’s what it is of course – change is difficult and demands hard work. But it’s a nice illusion. Especially when you’re on the spinning bike and the display lets you know just how painfully slowly you’re burning off those calories. So I rate makeover shows based on how good a job they do at selling me this illusion.

Louise Roe - hostess of MTV's Plain Jane

In MTV’s Plain Jane the hostess is English fashion expert Louise Roe. Roe receives video applications from young women, one per episode, who tend to have a plain appearance, and during a short period Roe sets about administering their transformation into hot, well-dressed, stiletto-sporting ladies.  She does this not only by taking them to high-profile stylists and hairdressers and expensive clothes shops, but also by putting them up to several challenges which typically include flirting with random guys in public and forcing the women to confront and overcome some random phobia of theirs, like touching snails or being alone in the dark.

Two days
Does the show do a decent job in selling the illusion that these acts really do transform the young women’s characters? Of course it does, a little. I wouldn’t have watched the entire first season if it weren’t the case. However, I do think there are some aggravating problems with the format of the show. The first and most obvious one is the fact that the entire transformation allegedly takes place during the course of just two days. I get that it must be sensible in regard to the budget of the show’s production to limit the shooting to a few days, but couldn’t they at least pretend that the makeover is spread over a longer period? Like a week or so? A span of two days simply doesn’t seem convincing in terms of personal transformation, not even of the most superficial kind. And especially not of the in-depth kind. Which brings me to the next problem with the show:

The Alleged In-Depth Transformation
The show’s primary object is to change the apperance of the girls – it’s right there in the title. The show is not called “MTVs Fear of Commitment Susan” or “MTV’s Problem with Intimacy Paula”. It’s “Plain Jane”. Which is why I really think the show ought to just focus on getting the girls to look and dress better instead of insisting on taking a faux-deep spin on it all by having the girls conquer their various fears and phobias, as mentioned above.

Especially considering the fact that, once again, the show only has two days to accomplish all this, which is hardly enough time even for a physical transformation. The result is that Louise Roe often ends up doing a half-assed sort of job on the girls. Like with Carrie in the episode “Conservative Jane”. Roe and the crew spend a lot of time conquering Carrie’s deepest fear (I believe it was a fear of the dark, but I’m not sure) instead of spending some time teaching Carrie how to walk in the super tall platform stilettos that they put her in in the last scene of the show. It hardly helps Carrie that she’s faced her phobia and is wearing expensive clothes and make-up when she is walking around with the apologetic and unsure slouch of a kid trying out stilts for the first time. And I’m not even beign catty here: Walking in high heels is difficult – we’ve all been there, with the stilt-walking – and it’s not Carrie’s fault that nobody on the show bothered teaching her.

Another thing is that the crew doesn’t seem prepared to deal with it when they actually manage to accomplish something with their in-depth “face your fears” challenges. In one episode, “Wallflower Jane”, 24-year-old Loreli is made to take a kind of boxing lesson, the emotional impact of which makes the young woman burst into tears. Louise Roe, being a fashion reporter and stylist, understandably has no idea how to handle the situation and as a result she just stands around awkwardly while the poor girl is sobbing her eyes out on international television. I get that the entire point of departure of reality TV is to explore people’s emotions (which is of course also problematic in and of itself, but that’s another discussion entirely), but on a show like “Plain Jane” where the premise is sleek surfaces and the illusion of painless metamorphoses, it’s just incredibly out-of-place and uncomfortable to watch.

Every Plain Jane has a Secret Crush
I’m also not sold on the show’s statement (repeated in the intro of every episode) that “every Plain Jane has a secret crush” the affection of which is pointed out explicitly as the goal of the entire makeover. It simply bothers the feminist in me that the makeover needs to be done for the sake of gaining a man’s approval when it could just as easily have been a question of simply making the young women feel better about themselves and their appearance. I actually think the show works the best when it takes a brief pause from focusing on what the guy in question will like. Like in the episode “Do Over Jane”. Here we meet a young woman, Clare, who has allowed herself to become stuck in a job a s barrista and lost sight of her dream of becoming a professional writer. In a few very nice scenes, Roe helps Clare pick out outfits that will make her look like a business woman, like someone who would be taken seriously if she walked into a publishing house with a manuscript. There was much more dignity in these scenes than in the final scene in which Clare was reuinted with some random failed blind date from her past, sharing an awkward on-camera kiss with him.

The “learn-how-to-flirt-with-guys” challenges that the Plain Janes are put up to are a little less offensive to me, since these could easily be seen as a way of learning how to get the young women to have fun and let loose a little, and these exercises don’t have the approval of one specific guy as their focus. The actual scenes, however, suffer a great deal from being so obviously staged: The allegedly random guys are clearly hired actors, and if I were one of the Plain Janes the idea that the show had to hire people to flirt with me would not exactly make me feel more self confident.

Also, I would like to add that the vast majority of the guys I’ve been involved with in my life haven’t really been that into fancy clothes and expensive make-up. They appreaciate the effort, so they have told me, but several of them have told me flat out that they think it’s sexier when women have their hair tousled and are looking casual and a little dirty. And, preferably, not wearing any clothes at all, fancy or not. Of course the preferences of men change from person to person, but still. I’ve seen little evidence that pretty clothes = endless romantic success.

Long sleeves and broken mirrors
Again: I’m not saying all this simply because I want to expose the show as being stupid and superficial. Of course it’s superficial, that’s what I like about it. It’s all about selling that superficial illusion. And there are a few things that I think the show does really well in this resepct. The best part about it, I think, is Roe’s repeated message to several of the young women that they have to embrace the woman in themselves and stop thinking of themselves as little girls. Women get things done while little girls sit around in schoolrooms and wait to be told what to do, and as all the partitioners on “Plain Jane” are on the wrong side of their school years, I love that Roe makes it her mission to get them to act their age. In one episode, Roe tells a Plain Jane to stop letting her sleaves fall down over her hands, because it looks childish. And in episode “No Risk Jane” Roe walks into Plain Jane Joanah’s bedroom and scolds Joanah for totally neglecting the interior decoration. Joanah is a hoarder, and her bedroom looks like the room of a messy 12-year-old,  packed with defect Chinese-style fans, ugly furniture, stuffed animals, and even a broken mirror. “Do you know what that means?!” Roe says, pointing furiously at said mirror. “Seven years of bad luck?” Joanah replies timidly, to which Roe retorted “Seven years of bad sex!” I thought that was one of the genuinely funny and cute moments of the show, and the interior decoraters that Roe released in Joanah’s bedroom actually did a wonderful job with it.

More of this, and less of the awkward boxing lessons and you’ve got me hooked for another season, MTV. Catch you at the gym.

“L, I think you are swell!”

How is it that I had never seen this Sesame Street clip before until this day?

Brilliant. Especially the adorable bullfighting with the elusive L. Makes me feel good about the fact that I had a celebrity crush on Samuel Ramey in high school.

Detective Sarah Lund Charms Australia

Sarah Lund in her famous jumper

Blogger And All Suns are Darkened, whom frequent visitors will know from my blogroll, has written a beautiful review of the crime series The Killing which I gave a brief review back in February.

From And All Suns are Darkened’s review:

All of this leads me, as it inevitably must, to Sofie Gråbøl. She portrays Lund with an impeccable intensity, but also with a subtle, detached sombreness. Gråbøl inhabits every little detail of Lund – the Faroese sweater, the messy hair tied back in a pony-tail, those downturned lips, and, by days sixteen and seventeen, those tired and exhausted eyes. I must return to the moment where Lund discovers the truth of “Sarah 84,” because Gråbøl plays the moment perfectly – she appears stunned, angry, horrified and cornered all at the same time. And it is her acting talent, combined with the smooth and structured writing, which make that scene so memorable to me.

All Suns Are Darkened also makes an interesting comparison between The Killing and The Eagle – A Crime Odessey. I join in in the “comments section with a few thoughts of my own that I wasn’t able to put into word until reading AASAD’s review. Read the entire review here at And All Suns Are Darkened.

Read the entire review here at And All Suns Are Darkened.

Touch Wood – “Jesus bleibet meine Freude”

Who knew a cell phone commercial could be this lovely?

“In My Opinionation” – Blossom revisited

So, a couple of months ago, a facebook friend of mine mentioned Blossom in a Big Bang Theory related status update. I’d more or less completely forgotten about Blossom, and I thought I’d check out an episode or two, just to see if I remembered anything. What happened after this is not quite clear to me. All I know is that somehow, over the following two months, I managed to watch every episode of Blossom. Always eager to share my weird guilty pleasures with you guys, my readers, here’s a review of the show. And no, this post is not an April’s Fool. I really did watch all five seasons of Blossom.

A Very Special Show
I did not embark on my Blossom-watching quest with great expectations. The show used to be on Danish public service television every week from my eighth and up until my thirteenth year, and yet I had no clear memories of the show, other than lots and lots of dorky-looking, big floppy hats, lots of dancing in the opening credits, and an annoying on-going plot about some older brother of Blossom’s who had once been a drug addict, which, even back then, struck me as “Ooo, look at us, we have such a cutting edge family sitcom going on here!”

The hats, you guys. The horrible, horrible hats.

Before I started re-watching the episodes I also found out that the Blossom producers actually coined the phrase “Very special episode” which has since been used in television lingo to describe episodes that are more concerned with sending a positive message to kids than with decent dramaturgy, roughly speaking. So I was sure that I was in for quite a crappy experience when I sat down to re- watch it.

And sure, there is some of that in the show. Blossom’s brother Anthony (Michael Stoyanov), the former drug addict/alcoholic, really is a constant reminder of this. There’s a reference to his substance abuse in just about every episode, and it gets old really fast. They try to flesh his character out somewhat by way of giving him a dry, intellectual comedy routine, but it doesn’t work very well, not to me anyway. Stoyanov strikes me as having deplorably little personality and stage presence, and I never got interested in his very special character.

Six LeMeure (Jenna von Oy)  is absolutely adorable and hilarious, and von Oy is an incredibly good sit-com actor. Fast-talking is her shtick and she does this so well that it’s funny every time. On top of this, she has a wonderful personality and is quite pretty, without being a beauty queen, so she’s an easy person to relate to, and I remember identifiying the most with her character when I watched the show as a young tween girl.

But she, too, falls victim to the Very Special Episode syndrome, especially somewhere around the third season. It seems that the writers were determined to deal with certain issues (teenage drinking, pregnancy scares, relationships to older, married men), but were afraid to hand these immoral story lines to their protagonist Blossom, who was supposed to set an example for young girls. So instead Six got stuck with them, and that’s a darned shame.

The sad violin and the Fish Stick Guy
On the whole, however, I was surprised to find how genuinely funny Blossom was. If you compare it with other family sitcoms from that same era, such as Full House and Step by Step, it’s so much better that it actually almost feels criminal to be speaking of them in the same breath.

Part of the reason is no doubt that some of the actors are very good comedians. I’ve already mentioned Jenna von Oy as Six; Mayim Bialik is also quite charming in a precocious, off-beat kind of way; and while Stoyanov leaves me rather cold as Blossom’s oldest brother, Joey Lawrence is wonderful as her youngest older brother, even if he isn’t given much to work with. He plays your average dumb jock on Blossom, and the writers make the classical sit-com error of taking “dumb” and changing it into “mildly retarted”, so the part could have easily been a disaster. But Lawrence remains a joy to watch throughout the series.  Not just because he’s quite the cutie and grows consistently hotter as he gets older, but because he simply seems so at ease in front of the camera and has such a natural comedic timing.

Just look at this. This is the kind of thing that almost makes up for every 90s fashion disaster ever. Almost.

Ted Wass is also wonderful as Blossom’s rock musician father Nick. His character could have easily been an Uncle Jesse-ish stereotype, but Wass wisely focuses on playing a sympathetic authoritative figure and bringing a dry, subtle, poker-faced humor to his scenes.

Also, the writers of Blossom are a lot less afraid to take risks than those of shows like Full House, and they make some pretty bold dramaturgical choices in several episodes. This often results in a kind of crazy-comedy that you don’t expect to see on an American family show. There is for instance a wonderful scene where Blossom goes to see a woman who claims to have given birth to Nick’s daughter, and the two swap sob-stories about their hard lives while a violin players keeps popping up to accompany their stories with a sad violin (from 3:25). Or the scene where Nick questions Joey about a joint, while Joey thinks they’re talking about condoms (2:44). Or my personal favourite: An episode in which Joey is suddenly having trouble with his baseball and is coached back into the game by Nick dressed up as a character named The Fish Stick Guy, wearing goggles, a rain hat and rain coat and sporting an insane fisherman’s accent while pitching different kinds of fruit and vegetables for Joey to hit (from 3:59).

There’s even some pretty risqué dialogue here and there, such as this:

Blossom: “Can I have your Ding-Dong?
Six: *glares at Blossom*
Blossom: “Compromise: We’ll split it.”
Six: “Right. I’ll have the Ding…”
Blossom: “And I’ll have the Dong. …Did I really just say that?”

Or this:

Father: “Hot date tonight, huh, son?”
Son: “No, I was just going to work on my stamp collection. You know I’m a philatelist, dad.”
Father: “No, you’re not! You just haven’t found the right girl yet.”

Excellent. And definitely not something you’d find on Full House.

Six, Joey, and the story arcs
So, how come I remembered so little of this show? How come it’s generally mostly remembered for the ugly hats and the Very Special Episodes?

Personally, I think it’s because as good as the writers could be when constructing a single episode, as bad were they at writing an actual series. They are just not good at creating story arcs that can hold the interest of an audience. Take Joey and Six, for instance: Six has a crush on Joey from day 1, and since the two of them are only one year apart and both absolutely adorable, it seems like an obvious choice to get them together at some point. Hell, I was ‘shipping the two of them, and I haven’t seriously ‘shipped an early 90s sitcom couple for, oh, 15 years or so. But then the show completely fails to deliver, and Joey ends up with some random girl nobody even cares about.

Similarly, Blossom has a supposedly Deep Romance with a hot rebel named Vinnie, but the show is too darned coy to even tell us if they ever have sex, which, seriously, writers. If you are writing a show about a teenage protagonist and her hopes and dreams, and your audience doesn’t even know whether she’s a virgin or not? You’re doin’ it wrong.

Pictured: Blossom with her flower. Did she give it to Vinnie? WE WILL NEVER KNOW.

Finally, and most annoyingly, somewhere around season 4 or 5 Nick marries an English woman named Carol who is all of a sudden the great love of his life and who brings with her an annoying 8-year-old daughter whom we are supposed to care about (think the Olsen twins, but with a fake English accent that will make you want to stab yourself in the ear with a potato peeler. That.).

But if you can see past these problems, Blossom is worth a re-watch. If nothing else, it’s a nostalgic look back on the innocent, yet horribly ugly 1990s, that doesn’t involve neither Dave Coulier nor Suzanne Somers. And that should count as something.

The UK embraces The Killing

Photo: DR Drama

I’m sure it must seem like I’m doing like the whole “O HAI, I’M SCANDINAVIAN” to death lately on this blog, but I was so pleased to find that Danish crime series The Killing has become quite the hit in the UK. I’d like to stress the fact that I’m not particularly patriotic as a general rule. For example, I think it’s ridiculous that Danish In a Better World beat Spanish Biutiful at the Golden Globes. In a Better World is a nice little movie with great performances by most of the actors, but ultimately it is way too contrived, and not even close to being the masterpiece that Biutiful is. In the case of The Killing, however, I’m really thrilled about the series getting the international recognition it deserves. I mentioned the series once briefly, then never got around to writing an actual post about it, but it was really excellent.

From the Guardian review:

The police struggle to find her killer, while her parents grieve and weep, and the Danish sky grows ever darker. But BBC4’s Saturday night double-bills of The Killing, or Forbrydelsen, are quite the thing to see you through a long winter weekend evening.

…Th[e] focus on the family is one of The Killing’s greatest strengths. Its portrayal of a couple ripped apart, trying to come to terms with the violent death of their daughter while keeping the family, home and business on track is heartbreaking – I have yet to get through a single episode without at least a solitary tear escaping down my face. The acting is wonderful: Ann Eleonora Jørgensen brittle, contained, silently screaming as Nanna’s mother; Bjarne Henriksen gentle, loving, and occasionally menacing as her father Theis. Parental guilt and grief perfectly played.

I couldn’t agree more. The desperately mournful scenes between Nanna’s parents while the November darkness crept through their humble flat and cast long shadows through their daughter’s empty room are what I remember the most of the first series. But as the Guardian’s Vicky Frost also notes the acting is brilliant all around, and all the characters are brought to life, no matter how they shortlived their involvement in the story is. In that way, it works incredibly well as a whodunit, too, and it had the entire nation placing bets as to who the murderer was.

If you have the chance, do watch this series! And stay tuned for the sequel The Killing II as well. The Killing II had a less intimate feel to it (as it dealt with a case of several murders), a more direct sense of social criticism and a slightly melodramatic development, but it managed to hold up to the standard of season 1.