Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mom's Dead Upset

I'm finding it's impossible to write about a show I really love. It's too hard to pin down in a couple of sentences something that affects the heart. Like trying to reason why I love someone, teasing love apart when love only exists as an entirety.

That's the dilemma with Mom's Dead Upset. It's a Korean comedy that's phenomenally popular in Korea. I catch it on KBS World where they do lovely subtitles for almost all their shows. Literally, it translates into "Mom's On Fire". And boy, is she.

At first Mom's just a slowly smoking pile of old embers. And who wouldn't be after serving her family for over forty years as cook, cleaner, miscellaneous-errands do-er? But when her children embark on one disastrous marriage after another, long-suffering Mom explodes into a roaring fireball of fiendish proportions.

See, you're Mom and this realization is seeping into your head: year by year your life has become more and more dreary, more and more cheap and the only dim light to all this misery is your children and your children look at you like you're stupid and forget your birthday and only call you up when they need a babysitter (and what's your son doing knocking up some old maid anyway) -- that's when you explode, high and bright like the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. So what's left? Well, there's you. And that's the Zen moment of truth: Mom can't save her children but she can save herself.

On the face of it, this is a really simple comedy-drama. Unlike Desperate Housewives or Samantha Who? or Pushing Daisies, there are no clever turns of plots, no soft porn, no dramatic murders, no supernatural powers, no aliens. There isn't even any clever dialogue or witty repartees. It's just a simple family drama about simple people of no importance, no wealth, no extraordinary ambition. The only glamour in their lives is this vague hope that one day, a real estate developer will come in and swoop up the whole neighborhood, making them modestly rich. But otherwise, as long as they have a few bucks left at the end of the month, they're modestly content.

But saying this show is a simple comedy-drama is like saying War and Peace is a nice book-of-the-month selection. I'm simply in awe of the writer, Kim Su Hyeon. Her touch is sharp, compassionate, precise, touching: every life is a painful tragedy and a hilarious comedy, whether it's the life of a foolish son who knocks up his girlfriend and can't tell his family even though she's the love of his life, or the life of a dignified but poor patriarch who only finds love in his eighties, too late to marry and have children with his soul mate, but not too late to share a cup of tea every afternoon. Kim Su Hyeon gives children dignity and clarity. She gives women complexity. And she has this way of building and building, so quietly, you don't notice, until all she needs is that one word to convey a lifetime of hurt or longing.

The actors on Mom's Dead Upset are incredible, too. They look, dress and walk in total truth with Kim's words. Every detail is right, from the silly head band the son wears to the grand, quick gestures of the acerbic sister-in-law. I could probably do a thesis paper analyzing each actor, but I think my favorite is Jang Mi Hee. She plays the youngest daughter's brutal mother-in-law. Beautiful and elegant only in appearance, Jang Mi Hee's character has the maturity of a three-year old and terrorizes her family with compulsive mood swings and self-induced insomnia fits. She's even trained a bird to scream out orders so that the bird is a live manifestation of her id. And yet, like her victimized daughter-in-law, you can't help feeling sorry for her, finding compassion in all your outrage. That's how brilliant Jang Mi Hee is. Towards the end of the series, she does become a bit too clownish in her Taming of the Shrew act -- but that's really a small fault.

Did I say Mom's Dead Upset makes you appreciate your own life? Your own family? I suppose in so many words I did.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The Silence of the Lambs and Lost gave birth to Fringe. It isn't pretty. Fringe is a creation with too much DNA with JJ Abrams's thumbprint squarely on its blodgy head. Great if you're a die-hard JJ Abrams fan. Great if you're an adolescent boy. Great if you're an animal rights activist who likes shows that demonize science and universities. I suppose this is why Fringe is on Fox and not ABC.

The best part of the show is Anna Torv who plays an FBI agent. Abrams's real talent is in picking female leads that have the knack of giving his scripts a great deal more complexity than they deserve. The most disappointing part of the show, for me, was Joshua Jackson. Listen, I'm a huge Joshua Jackson fan, so I can't figure out why he seems so at a loss in the role. It's a simple role: smart-ass genius who fucked his life up and blames it on his weirdo father, the crazy scientist. Isn't that sort of basic? Don't tell me the only thing you can do is angsty, rebellious teens, Joshua!

Oh -- and the music sounds like something out of Outer Limits -- actually, the whole show is glorified Outer Limits -- without the promise of a payout. Because there's never a payout with Abrams. He's all talk.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

True Blood

True Blood. Saw the drink ads all over LA and thought, "HBO promo". Then I heard the whispers -- show about vampires! -- and wasn't thrilled. Then saw the promo clips and thought, hmmm, seems kinda funny. It is Alan Ball. Okay, I'll watch.

Man, the pilot show was fatiguing. All that over emoting. All that hyper atmosphere. All those accents. All those weird people. And then there were the vampires.

The series is based on the vampire books of Charlaine Harris, which I hear is pretty good, which is a shame, because now I won't read them -- not with that lingering unpleasant taste of the series in my mouth. True Blood's hook is the relationship between a telepathic waitress and a vampire -- for those of you who don't know, vampires and humans can live together openly now because the Japanese have invented synthetic blood (oh, those Japanese! always looking for a marketing opportunity!), so there's no need for vampires to hunt humans, unless it's for fun. And unless it's in Louisiana. Vampire stories don't seem to interest writers unless there's a Romeo and Juliet component -- vampire longing for human longing for vampire. But if they're going for romance, the show's a little short. At the moment, where it's lodging itself is in the campy Gothic porno genre. Apparently vampires like to screw humans. For money (they pay, and they pay well). And it's violent. Go figure. (In the books, the theory is that human blood makes vampires horny. Okay.) Well, True Blood is on HBO, the porno channel without the money shot. Personally, I think HBO is secretly run by Puritans and they have a mission: to turn the human race permanently off sex, which on HBO is as tedious as it comes. Isn't anyone at HBO having good, emotionally rewarding sex?

Anna Paquin plays the telepathic waitress Sookie. She's really blonde and I hardly recognized her. I suppose she's a good choice because I've always found her a little spooky, even as a kid in The Piano. She's surrounded by the required chorus of good-looking guys. What's weird, though, is most of them look like Brad Pitt. Have you noticed that on TV, everyone looks like everyone else now? The first step to digitizing actors? Hey, listen, studio heads -- digitized actors will still have reps.


When I saw the promos for Privileged, I thought, "Ugh, not another one of those shows." You know, shows where you're supposed to gawk at the rich and famous as they screw in and out of their Dolce & Gabbanas while you're supposed to wish you were one of them. Shows like Gossip Girl, 90210 (new version), Dirty Sexy Money, etc.

So I was a little surprised that I liked the pilot. It's fun, well-written, and well-acted, with a good pace. And so free of cynicism, I'm a little taken aback. And thus far, not one sex scene. And I liked the soundtrack.

Of course it's filled with gorgeous people and has the token gay, who is also the token black. You've got the poor outsider who can teach those stupid rich people what life is really about. You've got the super bitch. You've got the love triangles and the sister rivalries. You've got Debi Mazar in a cameo doing her usual Bitch Shtick. And no one ever wears the same thing twice. Well, you have to fill an hour some how. And this is a pretty harmless hour.

Oh — doesn't Michael Cassidey look strangely like Ben Affleck?