The TV Shield: How Policing on TV Needs to Evolve

 

Crime procedural have long been a staple of prime time television. In a crowded TV landscape like the Peak TV we’re in now, crime shows remain a familiar draw for viewers. There is an easy-to-tweak formula that networks can replicate over and over again. This formula is how we end up with so many TV police tropes, including ripped-from-the-headlines police, psychic police, detectives in a certain location, crime scene unit officers, law enforcement teaming up with mathematicians, federal agencies enlisting cutting edge technology, and goofball police all crowding the TV Guide with their antics.

But as the political climate shifts more and more divisively, show runners need to start being more aware of the moral predicaments their heroes are thrown into — and what that means as a reflection (or not) of modern policing.

brooklyn99.jpgSource: The TV Shield: How Policing on TV Needs to Evolve

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Where The Man in the High Castle Dodges Reality

“The Man in the High Castle” should be the program on everyone’s lips after November’s election. After all, the show takes place in an alternate universe in which the U.S. has lost World War II, leaving the Nazis and Japanese empires to divvy up the states. Streamed through Amazon, the show isn’t beholden to any strict network guidelines around language and content. Instead of saying the pledge of allegiance in the morning, school children turn to a picture of the Fuhrer and perform a Nazi salute. The show’s premise is eerily close to discussions and debates rolling around the American zeitgeist now. And yet, it’s about as soft as the “Edelweiss” cover that opens its episodes.

Read more.

Blurred Lines: ‘Prestige Comedy’ and The Drama it Entails

“I think we’re really close when we’re going to have to retire ‘sitcom’ or ‘drama’ as a descriptor for these shows,” said Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture TV critic, on a recent episode of the Vulture TV Podcast. “[Atlanta] is a half hour show, and it’s funny, but I don’t know if I’d describe it as a situational comedy.”

But it’s not all fun and games—I mean, obviously, as the lines between comedy and drama get blurred—some aren’t willing to let the shift happen without a comment, as Dan Nosowitz writes for Splitsider:

Not so long ago, my favorite comedies were light and fun and escapist. Today my favorite comedies tend to be dark and not always funny. With a few exceptions (Broad City, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), the best comedies on TV are not really suited to a casual, I-just-want-something-funny viewing. The remaining comedies that still aim for sheer jokes are either garbage (The Big Bang Theory) or highly experimental and thus also not really suited for casual watching (The Eric Andre Show, Lady Dynamite).

…The joke-focused comedy now seems somehow uncool, a little dusty. TV has drifted into a space where boundaries matter less: a show can be 11 minutes long or 90, can air on an app or on broadcast TV, can feature huge movie stars or complete unknowns, can come from any country and become a hit domestically, can take on any subject in any way. With that kind of freedom, a half-hour sitcom seems unnecessarily restrictive and old-timey, and not very exciting.

There is, I think, a diminishing pool of superb joke-focused TV comedies, a void left by 30 Rock and Arrested Development and New Girl (I know, it’s still airing, but be honest, have you watched it in the past few years?). This isn’t a grumpy-old-man screed for some form of the past like multi-camera shows, but a plea for something simpler: I want more shows that are, you know, fun. There seems to be some feeling that to be great, truly great, a comedy can’t just be a comedy, but must also tap into something dark and real and painful.

On the one hand I see Nosowitz’s point: I love comedy, and there has been a dearth of “easy to watch” comedies in my rotation over the past few years. Though the rising tide of prestige TV and sheer amount of original content promises more diversity; more room for experimental, boundary-pushing shows to breathe, the advent of “prestige comedy” is a fairly traditional mindset of undervaluing comedic acting. It’s why Robin Williams wins for Good Will Hunting but not any of assorted, brilliant comedic turns. It’s why Mad Men or Breaking Bad get to be considered “innovating prestige TV” while staying almost entirely humorless, but Jane the Virgin needs to be the first one to call itself out.

But it seems a bit narrow-focused to say that there are no more just “fun” shows. New Girl is still on Fox; over on NBC the laughs are fairly easy and free-flowing on The Good Place or Superstore; ABC offers a whole block of comedies like Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish, The Carmichael Show, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, The Middle—you get the picture. Like someone who complains that they’re not hearing something about a real world development on their Twitter timeline, what you choose to follow is reflective of you and your tastes.

Nosowitz’s main point—that “prestige” comedy is being favored over the more carefree comedy of old—can still be valid; after all, most viewers aren’t likely to tell you that The Middle did something so fantastic it blew You’re The Worst out of the water. But I disagree with the idea that there’s inherent value in comedy just because it forcefully keeps it light. Where he argues that the “depressing lives of the cast of Cheers” is just some of the darkness that exists “in the background,” it seems disingenuous to say it should stay there. I won’t say that modern comedy is doing comedy better than older sitcoms, nor would I say that our generation “knows better.” But as part of building on what came before, comedy writers are drawing out that darkness and actually acknowledging it. mv5bmjm0ntk0odewml5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzqwmjc3ote-_v1_Some shows make this look easy—It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the logical successor to the “apathetic psychosis” of the Seinfeld crown, staying light on its feet and letting the audience appreciate just how depraved this gang can get; You’re the Worst expertly guards its characters with emotional barbed wire until suddenly it forces the audience to realize how flimsy and cruel their defenses are. But ultimately that acknowledgement of humanity (or the disassociation with it) is just as real, and necessary, as it is on something like Modern Family or Black-ish, even if on those shows it can seem a bit more saccharine.

No one I know exists wholly in the drama or comedy realm. Even in their serious moments, most people I know only muster about 20 solid seconds of solemn communication before returning to banter. That doesn’t make life hard to watch, and I don’t think it makes comedy tinged with serious themes—BoJack Horseman, You’re the Worst, or Jane the Virgin—harder to watch either. Modern comedy writing, with all its warts and dips into drama, may not be inherently more realistic than something like I Love Lucy or Cheers, but it does feel a bit more honest.

Are Modern Artists More Like Modern Politicians?

No, this won’t be another post telling you why you should turn to your favorite celebrities for advice on politicking.

When we think of the modern artist we think of them in multitude: They are sharp, savvy, and successful in all areas of fame, from social media to performance. They bring an energy that only they can bring, and they make it all look so good. Increasingly there also seems to be an outcry when the layers are peeled back and—lo and behold—they weren’t behind every single element of their production.

It’s that auteur theory, popularized in France during the 1940s, that a director or creator was responsible for every little piece of their art, that grinds people’s gears. It’s given us some fascinating artists, and even more fascinating works of art; Cronenberg, Wilson, Truffaut, to name a few. But I think the auteur theory would be more successful if it functioned more like modern politicians—who, in turn, are functioning more like modern artists anyway.

Principally that we expect artists to represent themselves with a team, not as the sole engine of these works alone. The idea that Obama would have personally drafted any of the hundreds of executive orders his administration has released is laughable. So why do we hold modern artists to be failures unless they are the (largely) sole creator listed on their works? When’s the last time someone made sure we credited Michaelangelo’s 13 assistants on the Sistine Chapel?

Of our modern politicians we expect talent, but that talent extends to who they choose to surround themselves with. President Obama has a fleet of staff members all working towards his vision (which, is not even solely his vision). Hillary Clinton has proved (despite whatever other controversies have dogged her along the way) to be an effective leader because she chooses to listen to input. Similarly, animators at Laika create stunning stop-motion animation because they work as a team, and Beyonce rocked the world with Lemonade, and her subsequent Formation World Tour because she sought out the best people to help her create her vision. Prince wrote The Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” but that song would’ve sounded much different in his hands versus their own. Toy Story passed through more than a few hands, including Joss Whedon, but is much different than the original treatment from John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter.

Obviously some of these carry a different weight than others—a studio implicitly represents a team effort, where a writing credit on a script or a lyric does not—but the truth is no artist can be the best they can be without a team. Nathaniel Hawthorne didn’t think he could. Why should Beyonce? As Fusion writes:

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Photo Credit: Daniela Vesco

Having more voices and more brains on an album gives it the opportunity to reach greater depth, achieve better sound, and draw from more varied experience than one person alone could ever bring to the table. Not only do the collaborators who helped create Lemonade lend the album more nuance, but this process allows Beyoncé to promote lesser-known artists through her work.

Think about Beyoncé (or any pop star, really, from Kanye West to Taylor Swift) not as a musician working alone in a dark studio with only her own thoughts for company, but as a conductor in front of an orchestra, a curator filling a museum, a director blocking a scene. Pop music is a kind of auteurism.

Where some see a yielding of control, or a lack of creativity, I see a larger scope of that same auteurism. Artists like Beck, Bob Dylan, and Prince have upheld that loner artist archetype despite being the exception not the rule, but I’m not even sure how much credence to even give arguments that they are implicitly better artists because they were a human swiss army knife. The theory holds that a piece of work represents an artists’ personal creative vision, and I think a resulting album’s ingenuity and creative force. To me Lemonade‘s is undeniable.

So the next time someone argues that an artist should be the sole mind behind any one work, remind them that we don’t hold our politicians to any such notions. Remind them that it takes a village to make stunning art—and sometimes it takes a credit to avoid IP litigation.

Joe MacMillan can be a mighty son of a bitch. And there’s a lot of facets to him. But I don’t think they’re all necessarily opposed.

There’s the mastermind, the tech guru, the guy who answers things with wistful looks and platitudes. Had the show only lasted one season we would’ve seen a fairly classic anti-hero arc with him. We would see him defy odds, get bested, act impulsively, hurt those around him. In season 2 we have another classic anti-hero arc—”can I find happiness?”—but with a twist: He’s post his show. It’s like what happens to Don Draper after the Coke commercial plays; he’s off the map a bit. And so his attempts at love and loving feel a bit more honest. He’s certainly not the character on the show who’s changed the most, but one thing has become abundantly clear: There is a heart under there. Somewhere. And it’s confused as fuck.

But to me they all seem aligned: He’s a guy who knows what one of his two biggest strengths is—vision. Joe firmly grasps where things will go, how they will move, and (perhaps dipping into his sociopathic side) how to get people there at all costs.

1280What he doesn’t realize is his managerial side. It’s more than just putting out “boring” computers or pushing papers or being the Silicon Valley’s messiah. It’s recognizing talent in people; such classic leadership. He has a brash way of pulling it out of people—his toying with Gordon, and now Ryan, speak to his lack of care towards pleasantries or even (sometimes) humanism. But he knows good ideas and strong people when he sees them.

To me, Joe is a lot like BoJack Horseman. He’s convinced, knowingly or not, that he is doomed to be a curse on himself and those who love him. And in a way he is. But only because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; like a child who loses a game and says it was dumb anyway. That childishness is what rears itself when Joe is at his most mysterious. Like BoJack and Don Draper before him, when he feels backed into a corner he’s cagey; he answers in riddles to try to obscure the fact that he’s just as unhappy and lost about the situation as you are. His imposter syndrome catches up with him. All of a sudden his vision is corrupted and he can’t put it back together right.

Ryan: You said freedom from fear is a right and you shouldn’t have to pay for it!

Joe: In a perfect would that would be true.

Oftentimes he is whatever the narrative needs him to be—a bully, a genius, a walking crisis of faith. But when Halt and Catch Fire is firing on all cylinders these versions of Joe align pretty clearly. He’s just got to get out of his own way.

 

The Facebook Times

With more and more of our news access being filtered (willingly or not) through social media reach, it’s about time readers started thinking critically about how those same social media sites might influence what we read and know. wersm-facebook-trending-657x360

Companies like Facebook have supplanted our traditional means of distribution, meaning many news outlets have no oversight—or insight—into how their content is disseminated and received by readers. And now that they’ve fired all their human editors in favor of the almighty algorithim, there’s even less insight and, as the Megyn Kelly-trending example shows, less management into what content gets distributed and how.

“I also worry about the opaqueness of Facebook and its mysterious algorithms. My team and I try to figure out why some posts seem to “hit” and are shared thousands of times while reaching millions of people, while others fare much more modestly,” said Dan Rather in a recent post (on Facebook). “On balance, I feel that all this change is a tremendous force for good. As this article states, I believe Facebook never set out to become the primary means of journalistic communication. We have to figure out how to make that work best for all concerned.”

But as we wade into discussing what alleigance and assistance social media companies owe us in the fight for modern journalism, let’s talk about things that matter. And—on trend—things that are real.

For instance, the answer to “Did Facebook Commit Libel Against Megyn Kelly?” is a resounding no. Libel, the legal definition for a defamation in a written form, is committed by folks who write articles, not folks (or robots or companies) that allow for that content to be shared. What’s more, under the DMCA or Communications Decency Act internet service providers and their intermediaries are not responsible for illegal content on sites so long as they remove it when it comes to their attention.

“It’s difficult to know who to blame for Facebook’s mistake,” wrote The Atlantic (which ultimately acknowledged that the law would not see Facebook as at fault). “On its face, the company’s decision to switch from human to algorithmic editors seems like a shirking of authority. The new Trending algorithm appears to work by promoting the most-discussed news topics to a place of prominence, no matter their global or editorial importance. It also caters to the kinds of stories that users appear to want to read.”

Which if Facebook is solely a technology company and not a media company—which it has always claimed is the case—then it has the right to do. Algorithms mess up. Just ask anybody who’s ever gotten a notice from the DMCA to take down a video because it contains a 30-second snippet of a song in the background that Youtube’s software flagged as a violation. As a technology company they are not necessarily responsible for verifying what users share. That’s how bullshit gossip and hashtags trend anywhere.

It’s worth asking if, in the future, there will be a new category of law that social media companies find themselves beholden to, with addendums for what they can and cannot allow on their pages. We seem to be wading into the debate already with questions over Twitter or Facebook’s politics and desire to step in around harassment. But in the meantime these social media sites are not legally treated as media companies. And that’s the way it was.

Is Liz Lemon our last under the radar asexual?

Representation on television—with the obvious caveat of still having a ways to go—is getting better and better. We have more types of sexualities and relationships being portrayed onscreen than ever before. Perhaps one of the most elusive enigmas in terms of sexuality on screen is asexuals. From a institution point of view they have nothing that Hollywood so values in onscreen relationships—namely sex scenes and accompanying narrative/humor. But as we get broader representation we are starting to see some characters declare themselves as such; like on Sirens or (possibly) the latest season of Bojack Horseman.

Which brings us to Liz Lemon. 30 Rock bridged a weird time in comedy; straddling the sort of subtly nasty humor so prevalent in 80s and 90s sitcoms with the more politically aware comedies of now.

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“Is that supposed to be sex, Lemon?” “It is the way I do it.” 

Liz’s sexuality arguably falls in the cracks of the former here, with jokes about her not just discomfort with sex and sexuality but her active distaste for it rarely getting serious treatment.

 

But it seems to me like Liz is a poster child for asexuality. On numerous occasions she expresses desire for a romantic relationship that is free from sex, bemoaning the seemingly contractural obligations she has as a girlfriend. She longs for a relationship where you just watch TV and no one tries any “funny business.”

Had the show been on now I’m not sure much would’ve changed; Tina Fey has proven time and time again that she’s not very interested in analyzing the comedy she puts out in the world, and I’m betting that Liz’s sex negativity would be just another hilarious gags that the SJWs expect her to apologize for rather than a nuanced look at sexuality. Even still, her time on TV possibly marks one of the last characters whose disinclination towards sex could skate with a slap on the knee instead of discussion. Here’s to many more asexuals gracing our screens in years to come.

The reviews for the VMAs are in and they are…

bad. Overall, critics and audiences weren’t pleased with the show MTV put on—that is, unless you break it up into chunks.

Turn to your Twitter feed this morning and you’ll likely find a number of people still in awe of how Beyonce or Rihanna rocked the stage, how Britney Spears is back in the spotlight, how Drake is back on the sideline. Any moment with any pop star resulted in dozens (in the case of the former two, maybe even hundreds) of tweets and discussion items, not to mention articles buzzing about who wore and said what.

So the reviews of the show is bad. So what? MTV’s goal with the VMAs has, historically, been about creating big moments in a chaos chamber. The performances and kerfuffles they create in the meantime is the sundae, not the cherry on top.

“[We] put those chaotic elements in the room together and then we kind of let go. We don’t produce things really tightly the way other awards shows might,”Van Toffler, a former Viacom executive who worked on the VMAs for 28 years,told Billboard last year. “We love when people talk about the event.”

In the age of social media, having those two or three moments that get people talking—and, more importantly, sharing—seem to matter much more. The question is: Will other award shows follow?

I’m hardpressed to believe that organizations like the Academy or the Grammys will let performers bounce off and go balls to the wall the way they do at the VMAs, but the idea that a few choice moments are what viewers are after isn’t so far off from how many people I know watch bigger award shows. The Oscar’s has the openings, and maybe some choice winners in a category or two; the Grammy’s and Tony’s often feature some of the best musical performances audiences will see all year; the Emmy’s has a better (and more funny) version of the Oscar’s opening bit. While networks try to figure out what formula, host, and red carpet hook will reel in viewers each year, overall viewership of awards is dropping. Like in late night programming, people are more in for the clips than they are the ride.

The VMAs is perhaps the only show that understands this. And though many viewers don’t care about the actual award (not even MTV devotes itself to music videos anymore) they can care about the personalities involved. And any awards show that offers up its stage for a Beyonce medley? Well, that’s just that isn’t it?

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Let’s Do The Twist!

People love to update old classics with modern twists and sensibilities. But be careful—it isn’t always so easy.

Take the Veronica Mars episode “One Angry Veronica.” Based on the timeless 12 Angry Men, Veronica gets jury duty and seems all too ready to dismiss a latina woman’s claim that she was assaulted by two white, well-off boys (09ers, as the show calls them) until one jury holdout makes a compelling case. After that it’s Veronica’s job—as teenage detective and jury foreman—to convince the rest of the jury to vote “guilty” on the two boys in question. vm_2x10

The “twist” is that this time instead of the defendant, a latinx person is the plaintiff, with the justice system still “working” to defend the actual (white) perpetrators of the crime. Problem is, there’s a big difference between 12 Angry Men’s use of the criminal justice system vs. Veronica Mars‘. For starters, the film had the “innocent until proven guilty” quality, where jurors are instructed to only convict if there’s no reasonable doubt in their minds. The entire movie centers on the bug of reasonable doubt spreading from one juror to the next until the climactic monologue that convinces the lone hold out. In Veronica Mars, it’s much less interesting—both legally and narratively—for the hold out to say that she has an inkling of the defendants lying to cover their ass; they’re not supposed to be guilty until proven innocent. I see what the writers were trying to do here, commenting on the racial and class divides in Neptune, but it’s not the update to 12 Angry Men they seem to think they’ve earned.

Same with Selfie, a single-season show starring John Cho and Karen Gillan in a modern retelling of My Fair Lady. Only this time it’s Eliza Dooley; a self-absorbed, social media obsessed pharmaceutical rep; and her straight-laced boss Henry Higgs, who she enlists the help of to assist her in learning there’s more to life than likes and shares.

selfie-castOnly here’s the thing: In My Fair Lady, Eliza was treated poorly because she was lower social class, and her manners are a reflection of that. Ass that he is, Henry Higgins’ “project” was ultimately set out to make high-society London the butt of the joke; he wants to illustrate the fact that the only thing that separates someone like Eliza from the upper-class is properly taught speech, an accent. His “experiment” is a stupid bet, but it also inherently implies that Eliza is worthy of good treatment.

Unlike Selfie, which instead of commenting on how a relatively arbitrary indicator of social class (speech) is used to artificually elevate one class over the other, is basically just saying that heavily gendered and youth-bent personality traits have no place in successful society.

While perhaps neither of these transgressions are so egregious that they can completely spoil what are essentially jumping off points, it’s as if the writers have a woeful disregard for the way the originals intended to jump off to. Ultimately their “twists” aren’t really twists are all, just poor adaptations.

 

Hunger Games is more than Battle Royale with Cheese

hunger-games-battle-royale-with-cheeseI’ve been thinking a lot about the common connection drawn between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. I can’t speak to whether Suzanne Collins saw Battle Royale, was inspired by it, lifted it wholesale, or whatever. To me the only clear thing is that while the films/books share a lot of similarities, they’re interested in wildly different things.

The Hunger Games starts out with the spectacle of it all. The egregious event floats a sense of dread throughout Katniss’ thoughts and action; looming tall over what is otherwise an ordinary day. And it does so because that’s what it’s intended to do: The government (“The Capital”) puts on the Hunger Games because they need to teach the outer districts a lesson in obedience, using the brutality they force their children into as a way to keep the status quo. It’s what makes the ending of the first Hunger Games so powerful, even when it’s stripped of the same savageness that gives Battle Royale its bite due to the U.S. film’s PG-13 rating. Katniss has learned to make the system work for her. The ending is abrupt, as her and Peeta go home in deception, but it works because the entire movie has been building to it; all that spectacle, now used to cage her in a very different way.

For whatever spectacle there is to the titular Battle Royale, it’s not entirely clear in the movie. The beginning shows us that there’s immense press interest in the winner of the games, but somehow the students have never heard of it.

Similar to the Hunger Games, the Royale was instituted to keep students compliant after 800,000 of them once walked out and utterly disregarded the rules of Japanese society. The focus, by director Kinji Fukasaku, is much more on the institutions of society, rather than the human nature of the “spectacle” in The Hunger Games. He interrogates what adults’ roles in the lives of the next generation are, how they communicate with them, the heightened melodrama of stories that—had the students lived longer—would’ve been blips on a radar.

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Even the posters reveal a crucial difference: Fukasaku initially (and brilliantly) focused Battle Royale on the way teens move and react as a group. Collins plucks Katniss out as a distinctive “YA protagonist” type.

That last point is why the characters come off so differently from each other. The Hunger Games focuses on kids who have had to grow hard, who have needed to become tough in order to function in the world. Battle Royale is about kids who have trauma suddenly and unsuspectingly thrust upon them. The former is about PTSD and adults, the latter is premature death in kids.

Whatever similarities there are—which, don’t get me wrong, are a lot, between the “kids killing each other because the government demands it” angle and the two lovebirds making it out together against all odds—they seem to be starkly contrast when held side-by-side. Collins went through great lengths to separate the government in her book from the government of the present, even if the media environment seems remarkably similar. Fukasaku’s work seems like a direct indictment of the government of both past and (at the time) present Japan.