Kurt Vonnegut and Nicholson Baker embraced good television. Vonnegut said he’d rather have written “Cheers” than any of his books. In Baker’s novel “The Anthologist” (2009), the poet-narrator comments, tongue only partially in cheek, that “any random episode of ‘Friends’ is probably better, more uplifting for the human spirit, than 99 percent of the poetry or drama or fiction or history ever published.”
from Dwight Garner’s review of David Milch’s book in the NYT. Also enjoyed this part:
Entertainingly, Milch spends money the way you think you might like to spend money, if you had it: He impulsively pays people’s hospital bills, college tuitions and funeral expenses; he’s an absurd tipper; if he likes a pair of Prada loafers he’ll get wardrobe to find out the shoe size of everyone in his crew and buy them a pair, too. He’ll spring for a hundred Egg McMuffins, because they’re delicious, and hand them out.
OK well one of those things costs thousands of dollars and one costs exactly $279.
The purpose of “Emily in Paris” is to provide sympathetic background for staring at your phone, refreshing your own feeds—on which you’ll find “Emily in Paris” memes, including a whole genre of TikTok remakes. It’s O.K. to look at your phone all the time, the show seems to say, because Emily does it, too. The episodic plots are too thin to ever be confusing; when you glance back up at the television, chances are that you’ll find tracking shots of the Seine or cobblestoned alleyways, lovely but meaningless. If you want more drama, you can open Twitter, to augment the experience. Or just leave the show on while cleaning the inevitable domestic messes of quarantine.
from a New Yorker piece, “‘Emily in Paris’ and the Rise of Ambient TV,” in the NYer by Kyle Chayka.
I swear, meant to write about this very show and this very idea here on Helytimes but was too sluggish, kudos to Kyle Chayka . Watched the entire series of E in P. The outfits are funny, Emily is amusing, the shots are pretty and colorful, the plots don’t require any taxing neural processing. I don’t say that as a knock on the show at all, you try making one as appealing. But for me, ambient.
Other shows do this for others. Chayka doesn’t mention this one but Below Deck Med, I sense that might be part the appeal there.
Is this a reversion to what TV is meant for? Is TV truly just an appliance and the content is meant to be pablum you can sort of have on for an ambient effect? Was the “golden age of TV” just a glitch of art that emerged in between the end of movies being interesting and the arrival of all-consuming phone content?
What about rewatches? Does some of the ambient effect explain the popularity on streamers of F*R*I*E*N*D*S and The Office? You can tune it in and have some friends in the room without the stress of seeing what will happen with Jim and Pam?
We’ve been rewatching Game of Thrones, phones nearby if not in hand, and I find it very satisfying to watch while knowing what’s gonna happen. Come to think of it, spoilers never bothered me, almost all the famous spoiler things were “spoiled” for me by the time I saw them and I didn’t care. I thought The Crying Game was fantastic.
From Larry McMurtry’s review of Connie Bruck’s bio of Lew Wasserman, in the newly unlocked NYRofB archives.
From those same archives, Renata Adler’s savage attack on Pauline Kael drops a parenthetical on TV:
(for when YouTube removes the link, it is a scene where Matthew and Joe bet on whether the next song on the radio will be good or not. The song that comes up is “Wichita Lineman.”)
Some things I like about the scene: the idea that depending on the circumstances you could believe this was a good or bad song. Matthew trying to sell it. Also Matthew’s honesty.
This may have been the first time I heard this song?
Purging some books from my collection.
This one no longer sparks joy. Perhaps because the cover itself is too busy, and also summons up a specific 90s period that now feels almost grotesque?
I got a lot out of this book. What an era – when the most popular TV show really was the funniest. On Frasier:
What a great, brilliant innovation. It really gave Frasier a different, quieter feel than some of the other shows of the era.
How about this story about Clooney on the first day of E.R.:
Our friends over at Monkey Trial put this one up. Led us to the Stephen J. Cannell website, where there’s a short but thorough and helpful writing course available for free. Adding it to my category Writing Advice From Other People.
Watching (and enjoying) HBO’s Succession. Reminded me of something I heard Francis Ford Coppola say in an interview (with Harvard Business Review of all places) about how he tries to write down the theme of a project in one word on a notecard.
ALISON BEARD: And when you get stuck creatively, if you don’t know where a script should go or how a movie should end, how do you get yourself unstuck?
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: Well, if my intuition and asking the question just what feels better to me doesn’t give it to me, I have a little exercise where any project I work on, I have what the theme is in a word or two. Like on The Conversation, it was privacy. On The Godfather, it was succession. So I always have that word, and I encourage my children to do the same, to break it all down beyond everything else. Don’t tell me it’s a coming-of-age story, because that’s not specific. What, specifically, is it?
And if you have that word, then when you reach an impasse, you just say, well, what is the theme related to the decision? Should it be this or should it be that? Then I say, well, what does the theme tell me? And usually, if you go back to that word, it will suggest to you which way to go and break the roadblock.
Is succession the one-word theme of Succession?
How about this part:
As Zinoman puts it, “His smirking tone was so consistently knowing that he seemed as if he must know something.” This was an attitude fit for the cynical mood of the 1980s, and Zinoman emphasizes Letterman’s significance as an avatar of cool noncommitment, a figure of his time. In that, Letterman resembled that other pop-cultural phenomenon of the era, Jim Davis’s Garfield – the rotund cartoon feline also riven by self-doubt and haunted by grandiose fantasies of domination while projecting an aloofness that often verged on the cruel.
from Naomi Fry’s review of Jason Zinoman’s Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night in the Summer 2017 issue of BookForum. (A little behind on my Bookforum).
If you found a note on a scrap of paper in my house that said “Maybe I can stop masturbating” on it I promise it was related to an upcoming work of television comedy.
Enjoy VEEP on Sundays at 10:30pm and then on HBO Go forever!
If you enjoy Ed Harris in Westworld, as I do, you may be curious to have a look at his role in Walker (1987) in which he plays a similarly attired character:
Harris plays the real life William Walker who went down to Nicaragua with some armed guys and declared himself president there from 1856-1857.
I went down to Nicaragua and visited some of the places Walker shot up.
I tell the story of Walker, and of Nicaragua, and of the troubled film
The order in which they were made?
from Wiki as I prep a Halloween costume.
In real life more going for Robin Masters, “the celebrated-but-never-seen author of several dozen lurid novels.”
A recurrent theme throughout the last two seasons, starting in the episode “Paper War”, involves Magnum’s sneaking suspicion that Higgins is actually Robin Masters since he opens Robin’s mail, calls Robin’s Ferrari “his car”, etc. This suspicion is never proved or disproved, although in at least one episode – “Déjà-Vu” S06E02 – Higgins is shown alone in a room, picking up the ringing phone and talking to Robin Masters, indicating they are two different persons.
- How many flies, real and robotic, are there in Westworld?
- Is “I can’t tell who is human and who is a robot” a fair complaint about the show or the dumbest thing you can say because duh that’s the point?
- What’s Westworld’s policy on hate speech?
- Anthony Hopkins made Bernard, right?
- Does the show owe it to Julian Jaynes to shout him out by name if they’re gonna cite the wild inventive theory he made up?
Great point by my brilliant friend:
Julian Jaynes was living out of a couple of suitcases in a Princeton dorm in the early 1970s. He must have been an odd sight there among the undergraduates, some of whom knew him as a lecturer who taught psychology, holding forth in a deep baritone voice. He was in his early 50s, a fairly heavy drinker, untenured, and apparently uninterested in tenure. His position was marginal.
that some of you have not seen the thirteen second video entitled Thanks A Lot Bitch. The context is some reporters trying to interview Mark Cuban before the first presidential debate.
The Lakota language represents one of the largest Native American language speech communities in the United States, with approximately 6,000 speakers living mostly in northern plains states of North Dakota and South Dakota.
I spent the ensuing weeks across a table from Nic, hashing out plotlines. It gave me a chance to study him at close quarters. No one was more vehement about character and motivation than Nic. Now and then, he’d do the voices or act out a scene, turning his wrist to demonstrate the pop-pop of gunplay. He was 37 but somehow ageless. He could’ve stepped out of a novel by Steinbeck. The writer as crusader, chronicler of love and depravity. His shirt was rumpled, his hair mussed, his manner that of a man who’d just hiked along the railroad tracks or rolled out from under a box. He is fine-featured, with fierce eyes a little too small for his face. It gives him the aura of a bear or some other species of dangerous animal. When I was a boy and dreamed of literature, this is how I imagined a writer—a kind of outlaw, always ready to fight or go on a spree. After a few drinks, you realize the night will culminate with pledges of undying friendship or the two of you on the floor, trying to gouge each other’s eyes out.
I love True Detective and I loved, loved reading this profile of Nic Pizzolatto in Vanity Fair (from which I steal the above photo, credited to Art Streiber).
I did have a quibble, though.
Here’s what profile writer Rich Cohen says about F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood:
Early in the history of film, when the big-time writers of the day, Fitzgerald most famously, were offered a role in the movies, they decided to write for the cash, forswearing deeper participation in a medium they considered second-rate. Perhaps as a result of this decision, the author came to be the forgotten figure in Hollywood, well paid but disregarded. According to the old joke, “the actress was so stupid she slept with the writer.”
Credit and power are shared. But by tossing out that first season and beginning again, Nic has a chance to finally undo the early error of Fitzgerald and the rest. If he fails and the show tanks, he’ll be just another writer with one great big freakish hit. But if he succeeds, he will have generated a model in which the stars and the stories come and go but the writer remains as guru and king.
Not sure this is totally accurate. I’ve read a decent amount about F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood. The more you read, the more it seems like Fitzgerald really loved Hollywood, and tried really hard to be good at writing movies, and was distressed by his failures. Fitzgerald loved movies:
When Fitzgerald worked on movies, it seems like he worked hard, was hurt when he was (frequently) fired, which sent him into tailspins that made things worse. But he was trying:
Those are from the great Marc Norman’s book, highly recommended:
Or how about this?:
That’s from this great one, by Scott Donaldson:
Now, that’s not to say that Fitzgerald always did everything perfectly:
(from this one, very entertaining read:
On the other hand, William Faulkner did well in Hollywood. He’s credited on at least two movies — The Big Sleep and To Have And Have Not, that you’d have to put in the all-time good list. If he’d never written a single book, you could look at those credits and call Faulkner a pretty successful screenwriter.
What did Faulkner do differently than Fitzgerald? Possibly, his secret was caring less:
Murky, to be sure.
But you might say: the big difference in the Hollywood careers of Fitzgerald and Faulkner is that Faulkner teamed with a great director, Howard Hawks, who liked him and liked working with him.
That’s what Pizzolatto did too. He teamed up with Cary Fukunaga. Cary Fukunaga directed all eight episodes of season one of True Detective (and a bunch of other things worth seeing).
Fukunaga’s not mentioned once in that Vanity Fair article. That’s crazy.
Anyway. I’m excited for season two, it sounds super interesting.
Gave me my first job ever. I only met him once, for thirty seconds.
I hated the actual work of working there. I had no idea how to write in this man’s voice, no clue what he was going to be into. I was terrible at it. On the show at that time he’d often throw out all the comedy and just telephone his assistant Stephanie on air instead. From my office I could see the Hudson River and I’d stare at tugboats going by. After six months I got fired.
Still it launched my career. People still ask me about it and probably will be for the rest of my life.
Steve Young had the office next to me, he’d been working there since 1989 or 1990. His office was full of records of industrial songs, and every once in awhile he’d play one for me. I remember one that was a rap that helped KFC employees remember how to make biscuits.
What a great man.
Another memory: every single day I ate the same thing: a BLT from Rupert’s deli downstairs.
Another one: they played the show, or at least the top ten list, on the radio. Sometimes, on my taxi ride home, the driver would be listening to it.
If you haven’t seen the last Norm MacDonald appearance there’s no helping you, but watch this old one. In these late episodes it’s easy to forget how sharp and fast and energized Letterman was at full strength.
The guy I’ll really miss though is Paul Schaffer.
“The secret I finally learned, after all these years, is just stay loose with this stuff,” says Paul Shaffer. “Swing with whatever happens onstage, because everybody else is.”