Kind Women

The few friends that I have and know me well make fun of me often for liking terrible shows and sitcoms. I was thinking about it a bit today, as I was catching up on Fran Drescher’s tweets, and I kind of realized one reason why I get so drawn into shows like Reba and The Nanny.

I enjoy themes of family led by kind women.

It’s by no means a definitive thing about me, nor is it particularly grand in my discovery of it, but I just thought it was interesting to realize that little bit about myself.

In the case of Reba, I always joke that I love the show because she’s just a good Christian woman. She loves her kids, no matter how stupid they are. And they really are stupid. The jokes and the writing are simple enough, but I think there is a warmth to the show that I really enjoy. My favourite part about it is Reba’s relationship with Barbra Jean because it’s one of the biggest examples of kindness. It’s not done in a preachy way at all, but Reba’s reluctance to make peace with her ex-husband’s wife carries themes of forgiveness and tolerance. And what I appreciate is that while Barbra Jean technically should have been the evil “other woman,” the show made her out to be so awesome and lovely. Dudes, I love Barbra Jean.

With The Nanny, there is something about Fran Drescher that gives me a similar impression. There’s weird mother-ness to Fran that I really like. Even with the show revolving around an inappropriate Fraulein Maria, it was never really a question of whether or not Fran could take care of the children. It was almost a given that she was that way. It was just Mr. Sheffield’s weird commitment issues. And while I kind of think the last season really went to hell in a handbasket, there were parts of it that make me imagine what Fran Drescher was like while the show was still going.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of how I feel about my own unconventional mother, who was our family’s breadwinner and also covered up her kindness with some kind of non-standard veil. She would never say dumb, lovey, wishy-washy shit, but she was always clear in her actions that she loved us. When it came to her children, there were very few limits. And I like to think that it was a great lesson to pass on to us.

Apart from how to make ghetto midnight snacks like boiled Spam and Vienna sausages in our pajamas, that is.

The other thing is that I get the impression that these women are genuinely kind. They don’t seem pretentious, nor do they try to be more than they are. I really like that. The aspiration for me then becomes about achieving the same genuine quality, rather than more materialistic endeavours. (Although I do still get that feeling when I see shows like The Good Wife or Damages. Now that’s another breed of women I also aspire to be. In a balanced way, of course. Fuckin’ love Christine Baranski.)

A Week of Detox

If I could name a theme for what I’ve been up to this week, I’d say it was “detox.” I feel like I went on Jenny Craig, but for other aspects of my life. No, don’t worry, I won’t be singing that awful “IF YOU WANT IT YOU GOT IT” bullshit jingle. Argh, I hate that song.

What the...?

Futonless!

Every university student or anyone who has gone through their early twenties will have had to had slept in/passed out on/thrown up over/stupidly purchased a futon of some kind. It’s as much of a staple to independent youth as it is living off Kraft dinner for a prolonged period of time. They come cheap, they fold up into seating, and they’re great for reading comics on your belly on a nice summer afternoon.

I had bought my own gem on my first year of living on my own, when I moved to a little bachelor suite in South Granville. It was a great companion, and we’d become good friends over the last little while. I even made it a little custom sheet to minimize the wear and tear.

And then it just kind of sat there; a floppy, awkward, hunchy reminder of years that I personally don’t find so exciting.

Today it was picked up, and I suddenly see my room in an entirely different and very spacious light. I’ve essentially gained about a plot of floor space measuring about 4×6 feet. I may or may not have made some carpet angels when I realized this.

Farewell, Cable Television!

There is a type of person that I dislike—not hate, as I reserve that for many others—okay, maybe not dislike, but I find kind of abrasive and annoying; and that is the guy who always makes it a point to casually mention that they haven’t had a TV for x number of years. And then later follow this up by saying that they just watch shows and movies on their computers.

In any case, that is exactly the same as this:

Don’t say you “don’t have TV” like it’s some kind of weird badge of entitlement, man. You know who else don’t have TV? The Amish. And monks. And probably some clairvoyants. Have you hung out with any of those guys? They seem pretty annoying.

You are not better than me because I greatly love Reba and Gilmore Girls. Those shows are absolute diamonds!

Anyway, my point is I got rid of cable. I still have the television, but no more afternoons of Judge Judy, Price is Right, or Judge Joe Mathis. What it’s getting me is an extra $50/month to spend on terrible things like Belgian waffles and hand creams.

Books, Donated!

I’ve given up on building my literary aspirations on thrift store finds and other terrible shit printed and bound. So many carried my dreams of becoming somewhat of a literati, yet each one dragged the disappointment of knowing that the books I loved the most weren’t the ones about mid-century art or short stories by Margaret Atwood, but the ones about Bigfoot and drunk animals at the bar.

It was a terrible realization, guys.

Until I got an eREADER.

Holy shit. “Amazeballs” is not even a fit enough word to describe how I feel about this thing. I debated with myself, whether or not to go with an eReader or a more multi-functional tablet, and I am so, so glad I went for the eReader.

The fact that it is built solely for reading is what I find so great. The interface is clunky, and reminiscent of those days when I had tutorials on MS-DOS (okay, maybe not), but the beauty of it is that reading is all you can do on this thing.

I’ve made a past admission that I am not a great reader. And I don’t know if it’s the lingering feelings of excitement, but I blew through a book in one night the first night I got it, and read my first Hunter S. Thompson book in three days. I’m now on my third literary meal, and I’ve shown no signs of disinterest or slowing down.

The amazing part for me is not the technology behind the e-ink shit garbage or 10,000-book storage, but at how well it motivates me to read. I can’t explain it very well, but this thing just really makes me want to drink in every page. It’s magic!

It also hooks up to the Vancouver Public Library’s e-publications online system, so I don’t have to haul my ass to the colosseum to find what I want. I don’t need to worry about late fees, either, as the file automatically returns itself or flies back to the VPL or whatever digital files do in space when you’re not looking. Completely amazing.

This must be what my dad felt when he first found out what an iPhone was. Christ!

In that vein, I’ve now been pulled to really examine my book collection, and separating the ones worth keeping from the ones that should have been thrown out years ago. Oh, this digital age! I’m all for it! Fuck you, old geysers still using the Encyclopaedia Britannica!

But, yes, I did end up keeping my Bigfoot books by Graham Romieu and Cats in Love.

Guys, this week of editing has made me feel great. It’s so awesome to be able to claim new space, new mental assertions and input, and new discoveries. It’s better than constantly moving my furniture around. Which I also did. Just today. Heh.

Good Work: Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad”

It’s tough to find a good show to watch religiously these days. Sure, there are a few that are pretty good, but very few that actually utilizes “must see” as part of its description.

Especially with the mudslide of crap that is reality television, some things just feel like little pieces of heaven come prime time. And by that I mean a one-hour long show about a high school chemistry teacher who turns into a crystal meth cook.

I always had a good feeling about Bryan Cranston. He was the only good thing about Malcolm in the Middle (now somehow resurrected—quite feebly—by a new show called The Middle; here’s a short summary: it’s shite). And I’ve seen some of his interviews. This man is intelligent and very talented.

You know that scene in She’s All That, where Freddie Prinze Jr. sees Rachel Leigh Cook not looking like garbage? Of course you do.

Watching Cranston in Breaking Bad is kind of like that moment. Except he doesn’t float down in a red dress—he fucking smashes the stairway banister in half as a Winnebago breaks through the side of the house.

This show is what everything good about writing and storytelling is. From the dialogue, to the subtle hints within the scenes, to the complex understanding of basic human actions. Vince Gilligan gets a lot of this right. So much so that it sort of restores my faith in good television a little bit. The pacing and unveiling of events have the right amount of tension to keep you really interested, but it’s not so tense that you develop butt-cramps from clenching your cheeks so tightly.

Okay, maybe a little bit.

The characters in particular are developed in a way that we get to know them a little at a time, at the pace of a day in the hot New Mexico sun. Gilligan doesn’t rush into anything, but lets the story unfold the way it should be told. The way this show is built and delivered feels like a carefully folded paper crane(-ston?). He’s careful to touch the edges of the papers at their exact points, and creasing each fold with the patience like no other.

I watch reruns and I still find something new in the episodes. The people are “bad” but likeable in the way your racist drunk uncle is, and not the way Julia Roberts is in Pretty Woman. Nobody here really has a heart of gold, nor do they pretend to. That’s what’s so awesome about this. And while themes about narcotics or drugs can become trite in some endeavours, Gilligan swaddles this in enough realism that we don’t end up with any feelings resembling after school specials. The story isn’t about drugs. It just happens to be involved.

There are also no hints of the soap opera type of story arcs here, the ones that made Friends so popular. Nobody hooks up and gathers at coffee shops to talk about the differences about men and women, or you don’t secretly hope that anyone gets back together. The underlying truths that we glimpse here are more universal than that. At the same time, the darker mixes of comedy/tragedy are much more robust than what’s been produced in the last few years. You know, these people actually have problems.

I really believe that Breaking Bad is going to go down in history as a prime example of thrilling storytelling, much like how Tootsie has cemented its way into every discussion about comedy and good writing. It’s good to still have standards like this to look up to, whether we’re delusional pajama-wearing writers or actual professional ones who get paid for it.

Television is still such a powerful tool, in my opinion, and really does a good job of describing any particular slice of society at any point in time (well, after television was invented, of course). I’m still hoping that more shows like this get produced, so researchers and doctorates in history fifty years from now don’t funnel our time & generation into assumptions of millenials being shallow idiots who were into people famous for nothing.

Good Work: Beth Kushnick, Set Design for The Good Wife

I’m continuing my collection of Good Work here.

A while back, I mentioned Melinda Ritz, the set designer for Will & Grace. I believe Beth Kushnick (a board member of the The Set Decorators Society of America, in which Ms. Ritz is also a part of) is another talent to admire.

Eggplant-coloured walls… whaaat?! Amazing. Sometimes I think painting a room all white (walls, moldings, floors) is a bit of an easy way out. It’s hard to go wrong with that white-gallery setting, and please don’t get me wrong—many pull it off really well. But there’s a bit more to look at here. It just feels like a step upwards, and the way these rooms are put together is still as bright and welcoming.

She has a similar eclectic style, and is also not afraid to pull weird shit together. The looks are posh and clean, but not too clean. No unhappy hipsters here. She really considers the set design as an extension of the character.

The way I approach decorating a film or television set is by considering the depth of that character’s existence, of the experiences they’ve had in life that lead up to this single moment in time. Look around your own home and you’ll see the layers of life that surround you – photos, mementos, family heirlooms mixed with newly acquired objects. This is an essential thing to capture in order for a film set to feel authentic.
from Christie’s Feature Archives: “Arbiter of Style: Presenting…Critically Acclaimed Set Decorator Beth Kushnick”

This collection from The Good Wife is not as theatrical as that of Will & Grace, but man, do these rooms look great. Granted, the characters are vastly different from Will Truman/Grace Adler—it’s an upper-class Illinois family of four. My favourite features are the wall of books (lawyers!) and the panel molding all over the apartment.

Also notice the image above that peeks into one of the teenagers’ rooms. Thank goodness Alicia Florrick does not have goths in the house.

Another thing: the television! It’s like the one reality that is hard to find in a lot of decorated rooms. An apartment with public figures and kids cannot realistically exist without it. Especially with the show, they’re always watching the dad doing speeches and public apologies. The television needs to be there!

I always try to look for good places for the dumb TV without making it look like I watch it all the time (even though I do). It’s a good consideration, a small detail that matters, I think. It’s a difficult balance to maintain, without looking like a glazed-over EVERYTHING-FACES-THE-TV sort of person.

Kitchen detail includes shelving in front of the windows, instead of around it. Funnily enough, the light isn’t blocked, as the items are clean and only provide more visual interest.

On top of that, The Good Wife is an excellent series. Argh. We need more stories like this, where it’s intelligent and good people living lives, and not high school storylines played out by the middle-aged.