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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The Affair – 310

If “310” had existed in another season, or after another run of episodes, this might be a different review. The episode — chronicling Juliette and Noah’s days in Paris, and commitment to their family members as well as each other —has plenty of sweet, emotional moments. It’s just that they only barely connected with what we just saw.

Take Noah’s arc this season. We’ve seen him come to terms with a burden he was carrying around with him for the entire show (except it had never been mentioned), spiral out of control multiple times, cope with his time in prison, dissolve his marriage to Alison, burn his bridge with Helen, and finally realize that he stabbed himself in a disassociative episode and…none of that, is here.

Whatever build up there was between Juliette and Noah this season, whatever complications she adds to his life, is largely absent here, save for an errant mention of when he was out of control a few months ago and she helped him right the boat. What was his recovery process like? Who knows. It’s not relevant here. Never mind the fact that the entire season built out a mystery and a few mental health episodes to keep its wheels turning. The Affair has always struggle to balance the different strands of the show, but here it feels like it bucks the hook its so steadfastly held onto in favor of a romance drama.

What’s left has some nice moments: Juliette’s quietly sad disbelief at Etienne’s lucidity, only to still be crushed when her fears are confirmed moments later; Noah’s talk with Whitney, though perhaps a bit on the nose (The Affair specialty), feels like a solid connection between these two.

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But it doesn’t feel at all like a resolution to their arcs. For Juliette, it feels like her introduction has gone from hot, sexually-open, stereotypical Frenchwoman to grieving wife seeking escape to ignored lover to…girlfriend? I guess? Again, we haven’t really seen anything from this relationship, pre-recovery or no. Juliette’s arc mostly makes sense when we look at what (apparently) the writers are trying to do with Noah, which is completely rehab his image.

It’s a bizarre step, seeing as how he didn’t need to be rehabbed until they decided to spin him out of control to spin out a season mystery. Noah has always been a bit of a scumbag as a real person, but as a character who opted to go to prison at the end of last season to protect the women he loves, he was not exactly in need of saving. “310” returns him to that place he always seems to get to in Affair finales: loved by a woman, against all odds, and stepping in to be her night in shining armor.

I’ve written before that season 3 of The Affair felt a bit like a show they had ventured off the roadmap with, and “310” only confirms that for me, unfortunately. But they’re renewed for season 4, so next fall The Affair will be back on the map, one way or another.

Stray thoughts

  • I can’t get over Juliette getting a finale half, which seems a bit weird to me. Although we left basically everyone else at a nice stopping point (Alison getting shared custody of Joanie and a potential job, Cole choosing Luisa, Helen coming clean and mending things with Vic) Juliette has been so close to a non-entity. Her plot line here, while narratively rewarding in some ways, seems to only exist to prop up Noah’s half.
  • Noah would pretend he’s Hemingway.
  • I really liked the way they played the two versions of Juliette’s colleagues. Too often the memory questions this show asks seems to be overly-convenient (the restaurant scene, or the season 1 finale) but this one was a simple illustration of how weird social situations are, with or without a language barrier. The no subtitles in Noah’s was a nice touch too.
  • I’m not saying Juliette’s boss was wrong or right, but damn that scene was brutal to just be a random, lingering thread.
  • As was the black humor of getting Etienne’s body into the elevator. Oof.
  • From the notes: It’s only a matter of time before Noah shows up inappropriately [after Etienne’s death].
  • Oh Furkat. What a douche.

Total Affair of the Heart – 306

Just as you start to wonder this week whether we’re going to see another one of Helen’s dad’s terrible girlfriends, and what Helen’s mom is up to, and if she knows how much we miss her—in she dances. Turns out, Helen’s Dad and Mom have rekindled their romance, and are halting the divorce and staying married. 

“At the end of the day, your mother just knows me,” says her father, blissfully. “Better than anyone else ever will.”

It’s the subject at the front of everyone’s mind this week; when do you really know someone? Noah wrestles with what his father knew about him, and what he wants Martin to know about him in return. Helen wrestles with if she truly knows anyone at all—and whether she’ll ever find someone to know her in return.

This week Helen bounces between rocks and hard places—Nina, Max, Martin, Vick; all seemingly trying to steer her away from Noah. She is, after all, one of the only people left who believes—nay, knows his innocence. It’s why she wants to believe he’s fundamentally good; fundamentally whole.

It’s why no one’s reasoning works with her. When her father jokes about Noah’s killer streak she hears the worst night of her life roar up against her ears. As Martin shuns his father for taking a life Helen sees the ghost of a path narrowly avoided. And when Nina throws in her face that Noah was broken when they met, that he used her to escape his life, until she dragged him down and he had to escape again.

When Helen’s at the disastrous double date with Vick and her parents it seems like she’s at an entirely different evening than the rest of them. That out of step feeling follows her throughout the episode, terrible decision after terrible action. She’s haunted by what she did, and haunted by the man who protected her who she may not even have known.

Her half lands harder than Noah’s, who struggles to put his life in motion after the last time we saw him—divorcing Helen, admitting his part in the end of his mother’s life, and figuring out where he goes from here. His admission in the last episode seems to have alleviated some of the guilt from his shoulders; he goes to his father’s house, and starts to broach the life he left behind there.

He brings Martin into some of the folds of his life and imparts some wisdom. We know Martin ended up going home, so when we see him chase a hooded figure into the lake it’s legitimately surprising (even if, from Helen’s perspective, we know no one else is there). But when the figure turns around it’s young Noah, it’s both a shock and a let down.

Anyone who’s not Helen could apparently see that Noah had trauma. And The Affair has telegraphed its thought process pretty clearly in the past. But this? This is a bit too low-hanging-fruit. What’s clear is that Helen wasn’t the only person “purposefully ignoring” the fuck-ups and downs in their life.

On the one hand you don’t want to end up like Helen: Finding out that Noah ran into her; realizing that she never cared to dig for the truth of why so long as the arrangement worked for her; grasping at straws and men for answers and connection. On the other, you don’t want to end up like Noah: Pushing people away in favor of exile, repentance, and confusion. Demanding too much and too little for yourself all at once.

The problem with knowing people, better than anyone else in the world, is that it can be a double-edged sword. And if The Affair is about anything more than affairs, it’s about the discovery of that truth.

Stray thoughts and thinks: 

  • God help me I love Vick. Poor bastard could be a great partner to someone in a different show. That being said, that Helen notices (or imagines) him laughing at her Dad’s joke about killing him to save a lot of heartache? Not a great look.
  • “Was Noah fucked up when I met him?” Helen asks Max, who is bewildered as one would be when you’ve just cheated on your fiancee with your ex-girlfriend after she initiated it and then brings up her ex-husband who was your best friend for 20 years.
  • Noah was calm when he heard a train whistle—if he heard it at all.

Total Affair of the Heart – 304

Episode 304, or wherein we learn that Cole’s life remains hard.

What I found interesting was that both versions of events (his and Alison’s) were sympathetic to Alison. It’s no surprise that she sees herself as unduly put upon, however legally warranted that may be; her lawyer doesn’t respect her, Luisa doesn’t like her, and she doesn’t get to see her daughter enough all because she needed to take some time out to recuperate her mental health. But the fact that Cole sees her as an almost wounded deer of a woman is in stark contrast to her own version of how Cole sees her. More so even than Helen’s strained relationship with Noah, this seems like the most two versions have aligned, painting a very skittish, sad Alison.

It appears, however, that there’s no winning for Cole. In his own version Luisa’s mad at him for siding with his ex-wife too much, and in Alison’s Cole is a hardass who doesn’t want to acknowledge her existence.

To a large extent I don’t understand all the animosity towards Alison, who—though possibly in a bit too much of a hurry—seemed to have done the responsible thing when she “left” Joanie and checked herself into an institution. When Cole comes over to yell at her she’s right to call him on the fact that she didn’t abandon Joanie at all, she left her daughter with her father.

But Luisa has earned some cause to be cautious: The timing of it all, as she’s pointed out before, was weird, and clearly Cole and Alison have a strong connection and an equally strong pull towards each other. The scenes in Cole’s version in their house have a warmer tone, with peach colored walls and a coziness pervading. It’s the sort of feeling we don’t get from The Affair a lot, and a lot of what we’re shown seems to stem from Luisa being a good mom and legitimately loving Joanie. It’s sad because their issues seem to be having two different conversations. When they fight in the kitchen after he holds her back so Alison can comfort Joanie, she’s trying to say that she feels like a second-class parent even though she’s putting in more legwork and consistency. He’s trying to get Luisa to understand that he’s between a rock and a hard mess and that as his partner she should do everything she can to make his life easier, not really taking into account the parental dynamics at all. The result is her feeling even more put upon; even if Luisa’s acting out somewhat, she’s keeping Joanie out of it and fighting with Cole over feeling respected while still standing by her man, even offering up an alibi for the night Noah was stabbed.

Which is strange since Cole doesn’t have an alibi for the night Noah was stabbed. That feels like a misdirect to me, at least in terms of what it means for Noah’s case. It does seem like Cole is up to something if not far more nefarious than at least shadier than his warm, homey life suggests. Perhaps because The Affair touts itself as a show where there’s always more than what you see, but the fact that the police seemed so much more sympathetic to Alison’s plight seemed more suspicious to me. I don’t think she knows what’s happening with Noah, but the fact that they’re resuming contact seems like a good place to start. Especially since—if Alison’s memory is to be believed—they were there for a full day, at least.

Stray Thinkings

  • Alison did know the officers were going to go talk to Cole, but didn’t warn him. I’m inclined to think it’s just a slip of the mind with everything going on, but she was interrupted in the process of considering poisoning Luisa so who knows.
  • Joanie is the cutest, ok?
  • Oscar’s schtick seemed suspicious when he was just talking to Cole (“Luisa’s been good for you, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this happy”), but coupled with his small talk with Alison where he (seemingly) contradicts himself over his baby’s sensitivity to noise, seems suspicious. Kudos to Darren Goldstein for really selling the subtle, smarmy vibe, where he always seems to be thinking three steps ahead even if he’s headed off at the pass.
  • It was like, classic weird thing with the cakes, but Alison’s didn’t look big enough for a kid’s friend birthday party, when it’s normally more about quantity than quality, and would probably make a better treat for just having as mother and daughter together anyway.
  • Of course, then Noah shows up driving past Alison, so I guess we’re about to get into it. Here we go…

 

 

 

 

 

Total Affair of the Heart – 303

Well Juliette’s done in one episode what it took Cole and Helen an entire season to. Luckily this also allows for the season’s first, return to “same encounter different perspectives” it’s hung its hat on for so long. Unluckily, there’s not too much to say on this episode really. 

What have we really learned about Juliette, now that we’ve seen her side of the story? Sure now we know that Noah’s account (she came and found him, and practically jumped his bones without any prelude) of the dinner varies wildly from hers (he came and found her, they had a conversation about love and life, before turning to other things), and we know that she’s got a much older husband, who was also once her teacher, who has dementia and lives in France with a nurse. That may be part of the most important thing we’ve gleaned of Juliette’s life: She’s a caretaker, taking in broken men and growing students, and forming bonds around helping them. It could (for once) explain what a woman sees in Noah, or what she sees in her douchey student.

It could also be a gateway to a whole lot of nothing. The Affair falls in line with House of Cards here, wrapping itself in prestige, high-brow drama dressings with little or nothing to show for it. Its constant cynicism about love is tiring. What little juice it keeps in the perspective tank seems to have run out of having much new to say. Whatever promise there is for Juliette as a character seems on a dangerous precipice here: As Angelica Bastién writes of The Affair, the show has some interest in letting its women characters wrestle with their archetypes without letting them say much about it. Helen is a scorned wife with a life, Allison a wounded mother with a complicated emotional pattern, and now Juliette is a sophisiticated European romantic who throws off traditional roles.

We now know about her husband, her perspective, and that she jacks off to Noah’s book (or the thought of Noah?), and not a whole lot else. Is she saying what she thinks Noah wants to hear when she talks about women’s arousal or are her archaic sex views really how she feels? We see her wearily eye a hole-in-the-wall gunshop and a sign-twirling Statue of Liberty, but is it what she thinks of America? Nothing else in the episode seems to hint at her feelings for her adopted country.

On Noah’s end there’s little more resolution: He doesn’t remember who stabbed him, or even really what happened. We get more insight into what happened to him in prison—Brendan Frasier’s prison guard seems to be straight out of Misery—but it’s all set up to what happened to him in the end. All we know is it gets more violent.

These prison flashbacks still rub me the wrong way. Again, there’s a difference between what The Affair was attempting in its first season—telling a story from two sides, all while leading to (seemingly) one-sided future consequences—and what it’s doing here, which is mostly checking off the quirky dark prestige drama toolkit. We don’t know what happened with Noah and his sister 30 years ago (guesses?) that leaves her wracked with guilt, but the writers are content to leave it dangling over the story and the audience. Increasingly like the show’s depiction of Juliette, it feels much less novel and insightful than it does just a hollow copy cat.

Stray Observations

  • Well that’s one way to read, I guess.
  • I guess this is supposed to be the same part of the dinner/consent conversation Noah heard, but this is one of those situations where their takeaways were so wildly different that I have a hard time believing it.
  • Audrey is much more convincing this time around, and comes off a bit less like a shrill feminist archetype, but only barely. They’re still not doing much with her, and her “hate-fuck” thoughts about Noah don’t help.
  • In addition to being much more sheepish and cute as opposed to Noah’s image of her as sultry and seductive, she doesn’t notice a train sound when he runs out. Hers is all non-diagetic music.

Total Affair of the Heart – 302

This week The Affair is all about women trying to do right by their children while also doing right by themselves. But that’s about where the resemblance ends for Allison and Helen.

For Helen we get a jump in the past, a year back from the “current” timeline, and we see she’s struggling to move past her involvement in the accident. She goes to visit Noah and he seems to only swing between openly cold and openly rude, casually reminding her that it’s Helen he has to thank for landing him in prison to begin with. With his half-closed eye and cheek gash it’s a far cry from the spry, optimistic Noah we saw in the last flashback, and Helen senses that too. Allison still lingers in the air; Helen can’t bring herself to say her name, but she tries to acknowledge Noah’s actions as an apology. He shrugs it, and any relationship, off.

And his nastiness haunts her throughout her day: she can’t shake the weight, and tries to make the case for her own culpability that night at dinner with Vic, Whitney, and Furkat, Whitney’s new, much older, artist boyfriend. But—as I’m sure we’ll see her struggle with this season—without outrightly acknowledging it, there’s no way she can move past it and cope. On some level Helen already knows that. And so Whitney’s defense of her mother (which is a far-cry from their relationship in season 1) is of no help.

But as we see in her fight with Vic—which starts as a fight over a text, but evolves into a fight encompassing their whole relationship—this is the status quo for her. She’s held people at arm’s length so long she forgot what it’s like to have an elbow. And now the only person who can really see her is Noah, and he doesn’t want to see her at all.

Unfortunately for Allison, the only person she can’t see is the one she’s desperate to: Joanie. We learn (through heavy exposition with Oscar) that she had a bit of breakdown when Joanie turned four, something she relates to her daughter turning four, the same age Gabriel was when he died. It’s unclear, right now, exactly what happened. If it was Gabriel related, and not Scotty related; if she was forced to sign the papers when she shouldn’t have been; if Luisa actually hates her or just cares a lot about Joanie and Cole, who Allison has hurt immensely. Either way, she’s stuck without visitation rights and a small apartment in Montauk.

But she’s also got some thawing relationships: Cole eventually acquiesces and allows her to see Joanie (for an hour, and what looks like supervised visits), even if he’s still explicitly bitter. And though I made light of her relationship with Oscar, Ruth Wilson plays the scene exactly right, helping carry every bit of Oscar and Allison’s relationship into the conversation. When we’ve seen him in the past say he goes way back with Allison (and Cole) it seemed vindictive, but here it’s clear that they’ve been friends, or some more strained facsimile, for a long time. The way teases come almost as quickly as confessions.

She’s a much less self-assured Allison than we’re accustomed to, even in her own rendering. It’s not that Allison hasn’t always been cursed with more than a tinge of self-doubt, but in the past she was able to in some way confidently act. Her conversations with the post office lady and her wavering at the playground show play like she’s under immense self-control—for exactly what? I’m guessing that’s for another confessional with someone much closer than Oscar.

Stray Thoughts: 

  • I had forgotten about Vic. I still like him, and his ability to cut through Helen’s bullshit, even if he is sometimes also talking bullshit (like when he’s yelling at her on the street after they get back from dinner). That said the elevator ride is (even if totally on brand) interminable—and he keeps texting after the alarm, my God. He’s still an expert at dodging Helen’s knife eyes. But moving in over a fight is a terrible way to do it, and it doesn’t seem like from what we’ve seen of Helen that Vic is long for this world.
  • “They have been through a lot.” “Honestly you’d have to bring your own waterboard to fuck them up more than my Dad did.”
  • Trevor is a pain now, and Stacey looks a lot like her older sister.
  • “I have a terrible relationship with my father, and I turned out great—” “Shut up.” Oh Furkat. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of you, and your intimate portraits.
  • “Joanie likes yellow now” is one of the coldest shut downs I’ve ever seen.
  • One thing this episode doesn’t get into is why she felt she had to tell Cole at all. Luisa seems to earn some rightful suspicion here, since I’m guessing though she didn’t tell Cole at his own wedding, it sounds like she did it shortly after. We know that the wedding was a breaking point for her needing to tell Noah, who she continued to be happily in a relationship with and raising Joanie until he went to jail. So why did she fess up to Cole?
  • A lot of modern references here, with Oscar mentioning ISIS and Helen saying a friend’s dad voted for Trump.
  • Any guesses on who she was talking to on the phone? Mother? Institution/doctor? Oprah?
  • The cab ride home with the picture is one of the funniest shots The Affair has ever done. Thanks to Decider for blessing us with the (censored) gif: 

 

 

 

Total Affair of the Heart – 301

Of course we start back with Noah Solloway. Partially because he is the one who has blown his life up at the end of each season and we need to see how he’s putting it together this time. Partially because he’s an instigator of the titular affair. Partially because the last thing we heard spoken was him confessing to a crime we know he didn’t commit in order to protect the women he loves. And partially because of course we start with Noahthe-affair

We’re clued in almost immediately that time has passed thanks to his beard, and we soon learn his father has died, he’s living with his sister, and it’s been three years since he went to prison. His kids are older, they’re not sure how to be around him, and Noah is more mopey than ever.

The Affair‘s hat trick with its perspective adjustments and replays never fully delivered on the premise, but in episodes like these—where the focus lies with just one person, never showing anyone else’s point of view—it’s more about how things are being said and what is left unspoken.

Noah and Helen, for instance, are definitely not on the same wavelength. At the funeral she is confused and he has his blockades up. She’s distant, asking questions but seemingly never answering his honestly. It’s frustrating, but it’s more likely a reflection of how Noah himself is coming off to others than it is about how Helen is communicating. As we see in a flashback to the beginning of his sentence, he was once light on his feet about his time, feeling invigorated, and telling Helen to “just wait” for him. Now he pushes her into pulling back.

His students are young to him. Their worldview is simple, black and white, something he brushes over without really engaging with it. We see it when he eviscerates Audrey’s piece in his class (for really no other purpose than that he needs an outlet), and we see it at the “salon” at his new French Love Interest’s house. Audrey is skittish and then righteous; the boys at the table simplistic to his distinguished, nuanced take on sexual consent. He’s not wrong, and his answer may be more jargon-filled and enlightened than the other men at the table (“I’m afraid to touch a woman at a party” blow me), but it’s not anymore respectful of women. Their political rhetoric is tedious, sure, but it’s all being filtered through Noah—who, as we know, has trouble with consent and power in conversations and sexual relationships.

His new lady love is relatively uncomplicated; her lecture is (as is The Affair‘s style) on the nose as hell with all its bluster about “a shadow of a shadow, desperate to be destroyed by its creator,” and being “tainted by his infernal paternity.” By the time they’re walking outside the church she’s the literary equivalent of a silver platter, a character who “calls things like it is,” and draws connections between adultery and Lancelot (who is one of the most famous adulterers of all time—doesn’t make it more or less romantic to those who oppose adultery, like the women at the salon dinner).

And all that is tied up with a couple new avenues for the show to open up this season: What did he forgive his sister for, once upon a time? What’s up with all this rape rhetoric on campus; is anyone else getting Veronica Mars season 3 flashbacks? What the hell happened in that prison that we’re flashbacking to, and is it driving him mad or is he really in danger?

For now all we have is Noah’s perspective. Next week, the world will broaden a bit.

Stray Stuff: 

  • “Thank you Mr. Solloway, for those…words,” is the funeral director hitting it on the head the best, until Noah’s son observes Grandpa would’ve liked his disjointed eulogy because it was “short, sweet—no bullshit.”
  • Any guesses as to what’s up with his deal with trains?
  • I’m not sure how much I like the “flashbacks” here. Granted it’s playing around with time similarly to how it’s always done as a show, but there was something a bit more respectably pulpy back when it was an end we were working towards. Now that it’s building to where we are it feels a bit like we’re betraying the show’s actual low-brow masquerading as high-brow game.
  • Jennifer Esposito, continually underutilized by The Affair and the universe, may have a bigger role this season.
  • I know it’s supposed to read as that way, but what the fuck was his tirade in class about? He’s clearly frustrated with his place and lot in life, but still came off as wildly inappropriate and smug—even in his own reality.
  • “Asking isn’t sexy.” These college boys are completely horrendous.
  • “I started noticing the change after 9/11” was the moment when I knew that this show was going to be harder to take seriously this season. 
  • Welcome back, y’all!

 

 

 

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.

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.

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.