Friday, December 25, 2009

Gap Holiday Kids Ad

Every year there's always one Christmas ad that's really fun. This year, my vote goes to the Gap kids ad. Vibrant, sassy, fun. So much better than the adult version (really dead in comparison). Go, kids!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Greek Men

You can definitely tell that women are doing some of the serious writing on this show because the men of Greek are so lovable! They are so lovely, you just want to squeeze them into a s'more sandwich and each them up. (For my more detailed account of Greek, you can click here.)

Rusty: big-eyed, innocent, sweet, awkward, likes to plunge into love — how adorable is that!
Cappie: witty, fun, big-hearted, oh-so-naughty.
Beaver: beefy, hopelessly simple-minded, earnest and cute.
Max: all his nervous ticks are so endearing — and he can fix your cell phone — and count cards — and he'll probably rake in the bucks working for some evil defense contractor.
Cal: every straight girl's fantasy of a gay buddy.

So what's with the girls? The only lovable girl is Ashleigh. And she gets punished with no love life. :(

*Update: Ashleigh: OK. She gets punished with a boring love life.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Good Morning, Miss Dove

Thinking about Jennifer Jones made me think about Good Morning, Miss Dove and how a sappy, mediocre movie can become memorable thanks to one actor's performance (in this case, the luminescent Jennifer Jones as school teacher Miss Dove).

Good Morning, Miss Dove is a pure 1950s film, folks. Sappy sentimentality thickly drips off every scene. School teacher Miss Dove is seriously ill. Her life depends on the expert surgical hands of one of her former students. Without Miss Dove's guidance, he probably wouldn't have become a surgeon. Without Miss Dove, half the population of this little town would probably have fallen off a cliff, literally or metaphorically. The only thing unsentimental about this film is Jennifer Jone's portrayal. She doesn't ooze love. She's didactic, stiff, morally uptight, rigid. When one of her former students comes to her with a broken heart, blubbering about how this filthy rich man dumped her — "Oh, what should I do? What should I do, Miss Dove?" — Miss Dove coolly tells her to get down on her knees and thank God she was dumped. And it works out, because the dumped girl runs into the surgeon outside Miss Dove's classroom and they get married, living happily ever after in Small Town Ville. Yeah, Miss Dove!

About the only time you see Miss Dove smile is in a flashback of her youth. She's a lively, romantic young girl who's just gotten engaged to a hunky, sweet geologist. All her dreams are coming true. You see, Miss Dove dreams of exploring the world — she has a passion for adventure and knows everything there is to know about every part of the planet. The geologist is going to sweep her off to exotic lands, he digging for rocks, she exploring and savoring culture. But then her dad dies and her dad has left behind a mountain-sized debt. She has two choices: she can run off with her geologist hunk as advised by the family friends who are also the bankers, or she can stay behind and spend the rest of her life paying off her dad's debt. She chooses the latter. And she's so honorable, she doesn't even tell the geologist why she's calling off the engagement, lest he uses his own money to bail her out.

That's how she becomes a geography teacher, talking about lands she'll never see.

It's heartbreaking, watching her make that decision. Watching her kill off the center of her happiness. Her life has become sacrifice, a sacrifice to honor, debt. Not that she plunges into self-pity or becomes angry. She's just dead. Of course the movie doesn't allow for that. We watch as she becomes an excellent teacher, redirecting her children's negative energies to positive ones, from bullies to appreciators, would-be criminals to productive members of society. Teaching isn't really about geography but the fine-honing of pre-adults. Yes, yes, but what about Miss Dove? You can see it in Jennifer Jone's eyes, the aloofness of her presence, how she never firmly attaches to any one of her pupils. She cut all that off the moment she decided obligation over life. And that's what makes the movie more haunting than it was probably intended to be. All because of Jennifer Jones.

The final scene shows Miss Dove recovering. The surgery was a success. She, as a teacher, was a success. But we see the toll of dedication: when the surgeon and his wife tell her they are expecting a child, she murmurs about how she's going to have to get better just so that she'll be able to teach this child. Out of love? No, out of exasperation. She thinks the surgeon and his wife are pretty silly, and the product of such silliness is going to need all the help she can give it. Well, I guess that's one reason to keep on living. And God knows, we all need a reason.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jennifer Jones, 1919-2009

She was one of my favorite actresses. She could take a bad, maybe even racially-offensive role and spin it on its head so that all you saw was a tormented, tempestuous girl (Duel in the Sun). And no one could top her spinster school teacher portrayal (Good Morning, Miss Dove). She was always the best thing in every one of her movies, and that was the really sad thing, how she never got her transcendent movie, the Gone With the Wind moment which would have seared her in every movie-goers consciousness (ironically, she was married to David O Selznick). I wish she hadn't stopped acting in the 70s because she was one of the truly great actresses.

Here's a clip from The Song of Bernadette (she won an Oscar for her performance).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Private Greek Marathon

Now that I can no longer afford cable, I'm watching more and more TV shows online, usually at IMDB, which gets feeds from The problem with that is, more often than not, there's usually some kind of time restriction and suddenly you get this notice that says you have ten days left to watch something like sixty episodes. This is what happened to me as I made my way through Greek, and now I have a long, long marathon ahead of me.

I'd been meaning to watch Greek for quite awhile; it'd been getting the kind of press that Glee gets now. But it's on ABC Family and, with dozens and dozens of cable networks, it's really hard to keep track of what's on when, especially because shows come and go on their own schedules. So I never really knew when Greek was on, just like it took me forever to figure out when and where Glee was on. This is something that shows are really going to have to figure out: how to effectively advertise their shows in the era of antenna/cable/digital/satellite/web/Google. Networks like ABC Family use their brand in that traditional way, hoping to attract viewers through similar programming. If you keep watching ABC Family, you'll always know the line-up and get posted on new shows. But that only works if you've drunk the Kool-Aid. If you're finding the Kool-Aid lukewarm, you find yourself watching less and less.

So back to Greek. Someone made such an enthusiastic recommendation, I made the supreme effort of looking for it online. I was really surprised by how good it is. At least episodes 1-5. After that, the episodes get kinda uneven. Greek is about life at a fictitious university as experienced by brother and sister Rusty and Casey. Episode 1 introduces us to Freshman Rusty, who's thinking of shaking up his life a little by joining a frat. Casey, the older sibling, is already part of an exclusive sorority and isn't too thrilled that her nerdy brother wants to be part of the same world. As you would expect from a show centering on a university, the cast of characters grow and grow, but the show stays true to the central theme: brotherhood/sisterhood. Again and again, the show wants you to understand what it means to create and strengthen bonds, whether through the Greek system or through dorm life or through biology. The show is very true to ABC Family, but it's also true to that fantasy we all have of this cool, amazing collegiate life where fun, witty people like Cappie exist and how your Greek sisters and brothers will stand by you, no matter how obnoxious you are or how gay, and how your roommate, no matter how ideologically different from you, will be there to support and guide you, and that college is the place where you are allowed to make mistakes so that you'll grow up to be stupendous people no matter what road in life you end up taking (unless your mistake is to rat on the Greek way of life).

That wasn't my collegiate experience, nor most of the people I know, but we all end up pretending that it was as we send yet another check to our old alma mater. And watching Greek, I certainly want to pretend that it was because it's such a lovely fantasy. In fact, Greek's version is so great, I want to go back in time and start life all over again — I mean, life just doesn't start until you enroll at Cyprus Rhodes. And I so want one of those cute ZBZ t-shirts.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Middle

I think I like The Middle a tad bit more than Modern Family. Even though eccentricities abound, The Middle isn't trying to be perverse or "wink, wink". While Modern Family has The Office as its idol, The Middle seems to be looking up to Malcolm in the Middle. Not only are the titles pretty much the same, but one of the kids, Atticus Shaffer, seems to be an imperfect clone of Erik Per Sullivan. Of course, The Middle is a much gentler version of Malcolm. The mom is sweet and earnest, played to perfection by Patricia Heaton, the children more normal. Although, the writers seem to be determined to have at least two abnormal, Aspergey kids: Sue is a clueless loser (literally a loser as she can't seem to get in on any reindeer games) and Brick is that weird kid in class you must avoid at all cost. Brick is so weird (just in case you don't get it), he whispers words to himself. Sorry, writers. That just ain't working. The whispering thing is so forced, it instantly reminds you that you are watching a TV sitcom instead of just enjoying yourself.

What does work is Eden Sher's Sue. I have to agree with everyone that Eden is a genius. In someone else's hands, Sue would be like Brick, totally unbelievable. But Eden makes Sue's defects so natural, so endearing, so real. And it's nice not to have a smart aleck teenager. I mean, Sue actually asks her mom for advice! She actually likes her mom!

I also like the writing. More often than not, the stories develop in an unexpected, fun way that keeps you on your toes. It's a mature kind of writing, written by people who aren't enamored by their own writing or feel obligated to do back flips off cliffs. They just know how to write and I really love the nimble way they avoid the usual sitcom pratfalls.