Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010: The Year

Needs no explanation.

Best On Screen Chemistry

Last season's bathtub carnage left me wondering how the hell they could possibly keep this show interesting. How could they match such an incredible season? The answer to that question turns out to be Julia Stiles.

I'm not a huge Julia Stiles fan (although I highly recommend The Business of Strangers,) but hot damn if she didn't add a whole new dimension to Dexter. Stiles and Michael C. Hall share ridiculous chemistry, and it was disturbingly heartwarming to think of Dexter having a life-partner in crime.

Close second:

Mad Men

Who the fuck gives a damn about Don Draper, his ego, his secrets, or his predictable decision to marry the pretty girl? It's all about Joan and Roger. Three cheers for writers and actors who have created two characters well over 30 who are hot as hell, smart, interesting, and make me root for adultery. 

Best New Thing on TV
Boardwalk Empire

It's big, it's beautiful, it's Scorsese, it's Buscemi, it's filmed in Brooklyn. Love. That is all that really needs to be said. Which brings me to....

Newest Ridiculously Sexy Woman on Weekly Television
Gretchen Mol

She was so damned good as Bettie Page, and now she's on tv on a regular basis as Boardwalk Empire's Gillian. She's the perfect mixture of sweet propriety, and gutter-mouth street smarts. Mol's prohibition-era Gillian is like Joan Holloway's spiritual grandmother.  My marriage ended in 2010 - I'm announcing here and now that my next wife will be Gretchen Mol.

Writer of the Year
Patti Smith

If you read just one book in 2010, I hope it was Patti Smith's Just Kids. Simple. Beautiful. Unlike any other love story you've ever read. It is perfect. 

Over-hype of the Year
Mary Ann in Autumn 

Sorry - I know people love Maupin. I love Maupin. I love the entire Tales of the City franchise and especially love Mary Ann Singleton, and sooo looked forward to this book. It's not that it's a bad book, but it's just not a good one. Truth be told, even for a long-time soap fan who's used to suspending disbelief, Mary Ann in Autumn was hard to swallow. It's winning awards and getting accolades because Armistead Maupin is a much-loved man - smart, funny, good-natured, and talented. This book does not show off his talent. Much like San Francisco, itself, you'll expect so much more, and find yourself settling for so much less. I wish I'd skipped it. 

Best movie You Probably Didn't See

See it. James Franco is so much more than a pretty face. He channels Ginsberg. Howl is a thing of beauty.

Biggest Loser
Barack Obama

Because he stands by marriage as the domain of heterosexual couples. Because he did all he could to keep DADT in place. Because he sold everyone who had faith in a national  health plan down the river. Because he gave the uber-rich more tax breaks. Because we are still at war. Because he has failed, miserably, by throwing away a great opportunity, and caused it to slip through his fingers. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Get me Fucking Started...

So DADT has been repealed. Praise be! it makes me want to give Dan Choi a great, big hug and a weekend at Disney. Seriously - everyone knows there are gays in the military. There always have been. A soldier is a soldier. Not something I'd choose to dedicate my life to, but thank God someone does. Who the hell cares how they identify? Gay people serve in armies all over the world, and morale among the troops seems just fine, thank you very much. The long and the short of it is -it's about fucking time.

Here's the thing, though: no one can afford to become complacent about LGBT rights. DADT was repealed. Few of us will be directly impacted by this. The fact is, this country is still a mess when it comes to gay rights, and this is exactly the kind of move government makes to appease the uppity. How long before queers are told to sit down and shut up about other forms of discrimination with, "You got DADT overturned...what the hell else do you want?" Even money says TPTB figure this bit of doing-the-right-thing comes with a proviso: we'll fix that little military thing, but they have to shut up about that same-sex marriage nonsense. 

Here is what you need to know about the decision re DADT:

You have a son who has always wanted to serve in the military. Your son is gay. Now that DADT is a thing of the past, you son can Be All That He Can Be. He can join the army, as himself. Private Gaylord Assboy reporting for duty, Sir! That's it. That's all the overturning of DADT means. 

Your gay son cannot marry the man he loves. If he has a life partner, the US Army does not recognize this. If your son marries a nice, young woman he met while stationed in Germany, this woman could apply for a Greencard and, eventually, U.S. citizenship as the wife of an American. And, if your son were suddenly stationed in Fort Middle-of-Nowhere, the US Army would almost certainly relocate his wife. They would be eligible for military housing. Your daughter-in-law would get an official I.D. card so that she could shop at the PX and the Commissary. If, heaven forbid, your son died in the line of duty, your daughter-in-law would be eligible for widow's benefits. 

But your son is queer. 

Thanks to the recent decision about DADT, your son is now good enough to die for his country as a proud and out gay man. He's not good enough, however, to be granted the same rights as those granted the soldier who stands next to him - the soldier who is heterosexual. There is no Greencard for your son's life partner. No military relocation. No military housing. No PX or Commissary. No survivor's benefits. There is nothing for your son's life partner. Because he's gay. He might as well not even exist.

Your gay son can be a war hero, but he can't be a husband.

This business with DADT is a victory, but it's a small one and, while I'm sure President Obama will be willing to take credit for it in 3....2...1...the fact is, DADT was overturned in spite of him, not because of him. So, before you go back to your comfortable chair and say, "I knew Obama would come through for me in the end," remind yourself that we still have a president who believes marriage is a sacred union between MEN AND WOMEN. The long and short of it is he is against full equality and recognition on a federal level. And, without full equality and recognition under the law, on a federal level, the fight for gay rights will go nowhere. They will toss us a bone, now and then, to keep us quiet, but we will be treading water. 

The American Civil War ended in 1865. Jim Crow laws, enacted locally, meant that, for millions of black Americans, the end of slavery did little to bring equality. Change only really started to happen when discrimination was addressed on a federal level, by the Supreme Court. This didn't start until the 20th century, and black people living in America are still far from having equal opportunities in this country.

Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell is nice....now tell me what else you have for me? 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hate to say "I told you so"...

When I said it during the presidential elections - that I was not pro-Obama, because he was clearly not planning on doing anything to move gay rights along - his staunch supporters, in between bouts of gushing syrupy praise over their new Messiah, told me I was racist. After all, what reason other than the fact that Obama was black could I have for not LOVING him? I reminded them that, actually, Obama is of mixed race as, technically, so am I.

And then the elections were over and we had a new president. Hurrah! Even I was glad. Not because Obama was the living, breathing cure for AIDS that his blind fandom had painted him to be, but because he wasn't George W. Bush.

Time passed, and he did lots of things. Mostly good things. He even did a bunch of things he said he'd do if elected. He did nothing to promote same-sex marriage. Fair enough - that's exactly what he promised he'd do: NOTHING to support an idea he doesn't believe in. Even if he DID believe in it, once upon a time, not even that long ago. No surprises there; a politician changing his mind about an important issue in order to garner favor.

A couple of people I know, people who were staunch supporters of Obama...people who are gay, voiced their "disappointment" in him. How, I asked them, could they be disappointed in a man who had stated, in no uncertain terms, that marriage is for heterosexuals, only? How could they be angry and surprised that a man who would invite one of the nation's most vocal homophobes to deliver the inaugural invocation speech would end up to be less than a friend to his gay voters? How, I asked them, could they be so naive?

"He's doing a lot of good,"they'd answer, "He's still pretty amazing. Give him time. He just needs time. He'll come around. He's trying to bring people together."

How, I wondered, could smart people, people I liked and cared about and usually respected, have deluded themselves into believing that denying a whole sector of society our civil rights was a strategy for "bringing people together"? How did otherwise rational people convince themselves to still talk about their love for a president who did not even acknowledge as legitimate the love two people share for a lifetime, on account of their genders? How and why do smart people become stupid?

In October, I blogged about the hypocrisy of the whole "the world isn't ready...just wait" argument. I spoke about Del Martin, who died after 50 years of waiting for the world to be ready. Still, people I knew, people I liked, people I respected said to me, "But, the president is AWESOME. Just wait. you'll see. He's done a lot of good."

If we had a president who was denying women the vote, or blacks an education or Asians the right to work, I would not tolerate the stupid, naive, ignorant excuse-making of his supporters. Our president thinks its perfectly okay to let fags go to war -maybe even die defending this nation - as long as they keep their mouths shut about who they like to fuck. That is the long and short of it. This week's DOJ actions say it all. That's inexcusable. At worst, our president is a homophobe. At best he's a spineless coward.  Any gay person who defends Obama's lack of movement on the gay rights front can just call himself Uncle Tom: you're like a black person who thinks Rosa Parks was uppity and Dr. King had a big mouth. It feels dirty and obscene to even type those two examples, but they're the best and most accurate comparisons I can think of. If you're a gay person and you think other gays who refuse to support a president who continually denies us our civil rights are stirring up trouble or "don't understand what Obama is doing", you're a fucking idiot, and you should probably turn in your toaster.

And you know what? I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another week of Dribs and Drabs

The Girl With The Golden Arm

It pained me to see Mad Men's Midge - my favorite of all the women Don has bedded down over the years - end up a junkie. Of course, it's kind of ridiculous that Midge looks so damned good for a junkie so desperate that she's scrounging around looking for money for her next fix. Rosemary DeWitt is a hottie, and she's way too smart and talented to be on the dreadful United States of Tara. Yeah, send me emails defending that show, if you really have to but here's my story and I'm sticking to it: USOT is a badly written, over-acted, piece of crap. The talented Toni Collette should be ashamed to be involved with it. The wooden, getting-long-in-the-tooth- for-the-good-old-boy-thing John Corbett is lucky to have the work. But Rosemary DeWitt runs the risk of never getting the notice she deserves as long as she's with that clunker. She was a good , little foil for Don's ideas about family life in season one of Mad Men, and her brief return helped move this week's action along but, ultimately, she looked too damn healthy, happy, well-fed and rosy to be a junkie. 

The Notorious Gretchen Mol

Loving Boardwalk Empire but, um...does anyone believe Gretchen Mol could be Michael Pit's mother? Maybe his slightly older girlfriend, but his mother? I'm thinking she looks about ten years older than he does. 

Anyhow, it's good to see her. I loved her in the Notorious Bettie Page, and I think she didn't get nearly enough credit for her acting in it. 

Also: Kelly Macdonald - one of my quiet favorites, ever since Trainspotting. Margaret Schroeder schooling two know-it-all politicos about women's suffrage? Perfect. She's quiet possibly my favorite character on this show. Don't give up on your values, Margaret! 

Early Cuts

Ok, so this is old, but it's still pretty fucking cool. My good friend's brother, Kyle Baker, did the drawings for this. If Kyle's name is familiar, it's probably because he also authored the amazing graphic novels about Nat Turner. If you haven't read them, check them out. I keep meaning to get copies for my nephews. 


Back at the ranch, Dexter is getting a little sloppy, no? And is it just me, or is his nanny going to end up being some baby-shaking, madwoman who chops up infants and uses them to make Irish stew?

Baby Jessica is sooo '86

As I type this, 3 of the Chilean miners have been rescued, and there are 28 to go. Go, Chile! Like Mad Men's Midge, don't these guys look way too robust, fit and - to be honest - chunky, to have been down there for three months, eating nothing but a spoonful of tuna every 48 hours? I'm not saying this is a hoax, but I do wonder if there's not an underground tunnel that leads to a nice, little ceviche bar. Or, you know, maybe when all is said and done there will only be 20 more guys to pull up. Hey - I'm just saying...they look good.

Jokes made in poor taste aside - Viva Chile! If the footage of that first guy coming up and hugging his son didn't make your eyes well up, you're some sort of soulless bastard, and I feel sorry for you. 

Who Says Smart Girls Don't Fuck?

A happy accident found me in a bar that was also a Litquake Litcrawl venue this past weekend, listening to Lorelei Lee read from her novel-in-progress. Lee is a porn performer, NYU MFA student, and writer. A very promising writer. I'm looking forward to reading her novel, once it's published. This short film gives some insight into a young woman whose choices not only buck convention, but challenge pre-conceptions about women who choose to work in the sex industry. You've got to love that.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dribs and Drabs

Mad Men

How well-written is Mad Men? It's so well-written that I find myself rooting for Joan and Roger to continue their adulterous flirtation/affair and live happily, ever after. Roger, played by the incredibly charismatic John Slattery, is only ever a real human being when he's talking to Joan. No one else stands up to him, or calls him on his shit. No one else seems to have the balls to tell him off. And Joan? No one really takes her seriously as a human being - and not just a femme fatale - but Roger. There's real love there, real friendship. Roger tells Joan things he would never, ever tell his ridiculous wife. Joan understands Roger in a way no one else can. Roger has respect for Joan - something her rapist-of-a-husband has never, shown. These two are gorgeous together in every way.


He's back. Holy shit, is he back. Dead wife. Grief. Guilt. And an epiphany: he can so love! Too soon to tell, but I'm psyched about this season. Ritualistic beheadings, Aster's teen agnst, the past always threatening to catch up with Dex, and the Florida sunshine. What could be better on a Sunday night?

Boardwalk Empire
Holy crap is this show a thing of beauty. Then again, it was a pretty safe bet: Scorsese + Buscemi + filmed mostly in Brooklyn. The writing is tight, the acting top-notch, the costumes and sets are amazing. It's just beautiful, on every level. Paz De la Huerta pretty much naked every week? That can't be too hard to swallow, either.


Tea's alive. Yeah, we knew that. The show has been a bit of a mess, lately. In some ways, unwatchable. However, the tide seems to be turning. Maybe the only actor I've really enjoyed watching lately: Kassie Depaiva. What can I say? I love Blair, and I really like that the writers have had her stand by her promise to Tea.

He gave us Wiseguy, dammit. And The Rockford Files.  And The A Team. And Tenspeed and Brownshoe, a show which I loved. Goodbye, SJC.

The Bay

So much hype - which actually made me suspicious that it would ALL be hype. It may be too soon to tell but, so far, I'm not really impressed. Well, that's not true...I AM impressed that they've seen fit to feature black characters from the get-go, not as fillers or servants, but actual characters involved in the action. And more than one. Other than that, there's not much here to make me watch, again.

For my money, Empire is still the only websoap delivering the goods. Season 3 is set to start November 9th, and I can't wait.

They Yearn for Earthly Pleasures...

I soooo want to go to this, but my Poltergeist cronies live in places like NY and Hawaii, and this is not the kind of thing one goes to alone. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

How The Internet Killed The Great American Serial

The Internet is a great thing. It has been, without a doubt, the most important technological breakthrough to occur in my lifetime. It makes possible seamless, real-time communication between people from all over the globe. Early this year, Astronauts sent the first Tweets and Twitpics from space, expanding even further the reach of Everyman. When people of my parents' generation talk about the assassination of JFK, their descriptions are of hearing the news on the radio, phone lines going down with so many people calling all over to share the sad news, and people gathering around television sets in hopes the reports were mistaken. When I think about the death of Princess Diana, I remember being logged into a chat room full of Australians and New Zealanders, all of us getting the news as it happened, directly from Internet-based wire services, the television playing in the background, the phone barely a consideration, and the radio nowhere in sight. The world had changed. How we got news had changed. How we shared collective sadness had changed.

The fact is, the advent of the Internet has changed the playing field, for all of us, forever. Some - in my opinion, most - of these changes have been positive. There are, however, drawbacks to having access to all kinds of information almost all of the time.

How It Used To Be

If Mr. Peabody were to take you on a trip in the Wayback Machine to witness the impact the Internet has had on entertainment, specifically serial drama, he might choose as a destination Pine Valley. Here, he would show you star-crossed lovers Jeff Martin and Mary Kennicott, who have overcome hurdle after hurdle and finally found their way to one another after years of struggle. They are newly married and in the process of adopting a young foundling named Tad. Yes, that Tad. It is an afternoon in 1975 and you are watching All My Children.

All seems normal. Mary arrives home from the grocers and finds two intruders in the house. She has stumbled upon burglars who have no intention of letting any eye-witnesses survive. When little Tad enters the apartment and finds his adoptive mother in the clutches of armed robbers, Mary causes a distraction that gives the boy just enough time to escape. Tad makes it out but Mary is shot dead by the intruders. It is a heart-breaking moment, and a shocking one. Mary is a major character, and a much beloved one. No one could have seen this coming. Every AMC fan sits still in shock, horror and sadness. It is, after all, 1975. The word "spoiler" isn't even a part of the television viewing lexicon.

The Tide Turns

The Internet has broken down many barriers to communication. In the process it has made secrets almost impossible to keep. In 1975 there was really only one game in town, when it came to getting news about soap operas: a new magazine called Soap Opera Digest. For the most part, SOD consisted of re-caps and interviews. The recaps were mainly aimed at women who, for whatever reason, had missed their soaps and wanted to catch up. Remember, this was before VCRs, let alone TIVO, Youtube or Soapnet. You'd buy a copy of SOD to find out what had happened on your favorite show last month, and to read an interview with Susan Lucci or Robin Strasser. Actors who were interviewed never gave away any upcoming story lines. Instead, Lucci might talk about what it was like when fans saw her at the airport and made comments about Erica's latest evil-doings. Back then, the closest you'd come to a spoiler would be an announcement about someone joining the cast of a soap and, really, announcements like this were only made when it came to known entities. When George Reinholt and Jaqueline Courtney, who had been incredibly popular on Another World joined the cast of One Life To Live, it was news, at least for soap viewers. And soap news was most definitely not mainstream news. Again, this was before Luke and Laura broke through that  fourth wall. In 1975 - and for many years after - soap opera viewers were an almost negligible niche market. What's more, television viewing was a strictly passive activity. In 1975, we sat back and watched. This isn't to say that we didn't react to what happened on the screen - of course we did. If something was sad, we might get teary. If something was funny, we laughed. Soap viewers, especially, have always been heavily invested. A habit I still have today is that of talking to the television: "Oh, Erica, shut up." "It serves you, right, Nikki, for thinking Victor is anything but a control freak, after all these years."

Today, television viewers don't just react to what happens on the screen - they gather to dissect it, they write blogs and articles and even university level papers that critique it, and they mobilize to shape it. The Internet and its capabilities as a powerful networking tool has turned television viewing into an interactive experience. Viewers are no longer content to just watch what happens. Fans of a specific show can hold virtual screening parties online and discuss the action in real time. Your favorite character has been killed off? You don't have to accept this - why not start a global Internet campaign to bring him back from the dead? Sick of reading other people's opinions about your favorite show? Start a blog or an online forum. After all, what makes the people who write Soap Opera Digest any better at watching television and forming opinions than you are?

There's The Rub

So, we now have a community of television viewers who are also self-proclaimed know-it-alls/critics/reporters. And, no, I don't exempt myself from this group because: hey - most of what I've written about on this blog during the last year has had to do with television. (Superhero Lunchbox used to be a very different blog, but older content has been deleted.) In addition, the Internet makes it possible for people such as myself to communicate not only with other television viewers from around the globe, but with television actors, writers, casting directors, and journalists. In many ways, the barriers that once existed between television viewing and television production no longer exist. If you don't think this is true, think about this: in the grand scheme of things I am nobody - just someone who likes to watch television and happens to enjoy the Internet. This is unremarkable. It describes about 90% of the people I know. I do not hold a degree in television production or broadcasting. I have never worked for a television network or motion picture producer. I am not an actor. The writing I've had published has had absolutely nothing to do with television or entertainment, at all. I don't have an uncle in the business. I am just someone who likes to watch television and dissect it. Big deal. In 1975, this would have earned me a seat on the couch and a subscription to TV Guide. In 2010, it means I interact (mainly via Internet and telephone) with television actors, writers, casting directors, and journalists. And this isn't remarkable. Anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account can reach out and start a conversation - there's no guarantee anyone will respond, but my experience tells me that lots of people do. Let's put it this way: if I can get interviews with actors, have long talks with writers and get casting directors to read my email and follow up with phone calls, anyone with a PC and an Internet connection can.

Television is no longer just a spectator sport.

Monster in a Box

With this shift in paradigm comes some problems. If the Internet makes it possible, in theory, for everyone to share information, it also means the chances of keeping anything a secret are next to nil.

In 2009, as Guiding Light was winding down, I was privy to some information about the show that some of the TPTB wanted to keep under wraps. Again, there is nothing exceptional about me as a television viewer or as a blogger. The moment I got wind of this information I thought to myself, "If someone connected to the show sees fit to tell me about this it means there are lots of others - people with actual credentials - who know about it, and probably have for a long while." One of these bits of information was Maureen Garrett's return to the GL set in the role of Holly. It was presented to me as something GL wanted to keep under wraps - a bit of a gift to the loyal viewers. I remember getting this information, being really excited that my favorite GL actor would be back, and thinking, "I won't leak this, but this secret won't keep for long." Two weeks after I learned of it, news of Garrett's return to GL was all over the Internet. Some people were happy to have gotten the "scoop." I thought it was kind of sad that die-hard GL fans were deprived of what could have been a pretty cool surprise. But, as I said - I knew that if I had been told, many, many others had also been told, and at least one person was going to let the cat out of the bag. It was inevitable.

Now, I'm not naive enough to believe that every leak is accidental. Planting stories and planning leaks is the bread-and-butter of entertainment PR. But I do know there was at least some desire to end the show with a few surprises, and that just was not ever going to happen. So strong was the desire to keep certain details under wraps, that one of the interviews I conducted for The Guiding Light Project was granted only under the condition that a P&G representative be present to make sure there was no specific discussion of the final episodes, and that the actor didn't inadvertently slip up and tell me more than I was supposed to know. This effort turned out to be moot, as well: the specific details that the P&G exec took such pains to guard became common knowledge when a cameraman posted still photos of the final days of shooting on Twitter.


Last week, One Life to Live aired what (while badly executed, IMO) was clearly intended to be a Mary Kennicott moment: the big reveal about Tea still being alive. Is there a single viewer who was genuinely shocked? Did anyone believe, for even a minute, that she was dead? Stories about Florencia Lozano's being let go from OLTL, only to be rehired (thanks, in part, to noise made by fans) had been circulating for months. We knew Tea might be gone for a little while, but we also knew she wasn't really dead. What could have and should have been a classic, "OHMYGOD, TEA'S ALIVE!" moment fell flat. Hear that sound? It's the sound of crickets chirping. And here's the thing - while soap viewers love continuity and familiarity, we also love waiting to see what happens next. As serial dramas, they're meant to carry over from one episode to the next with some semblance of suspense.  And we really love a good shocker. Remember when AMC's Cliff, heartbroken that Nina had perished in a plane crash, stood in front of an elevator whose doors opened to reveal...Nina - alive and well!?!?! Or the wedding where "Adam"'s mask was pulled off to reveal GL's Roger, back from the dead? Or every, single time James Stenbeck shocked the hell out of Barbara by showing up, again? Those were true shockers. Those were scenes with which to end a Friday episode...scenes that guaranteed viewers would be back on Monday. That element of surprise no longer exists. Nothing about the big reveal regarding Tea compelled me to go back for more on Monday.

There can be no more Mary Kennicott, Nina Warner, Roger Thorpe or James Stenbeck moments. In a world where your favorite soap writer is your pen pal, and your favorite actor is part of your Mafia Wars family, the air of mystery is all but gone. The monster is out of the box, and he's got no plans to crawl back in.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dribs and Drabs

Time, again, to ramble on a little bit.

The World Stops Turning

Yes, it's over. As The World Turns took its final spin and, while I think it's sad that this genre is slowly dying, I can't say this particular show was worth saving. ATWT had been a mess for a long time. During the last year the writers were phoning it in. It must be frustrating to work for a show that noone wants to support. I'd rather forget the show that ran for the last year or so, and remember the glory days, when ATWT was must-see daytime television. In my opinion, ATWT hit its peak during the days of Josh and Iva's secret coming out into the open....

...and Casey's begging Margo to show mercy, pull the plug, and allow him to die with dignity.

That's the show it's a shame to have lost.

The Mad Women

Can I just say that if you could merge Joan and Peggy, that's the woman I want to marry?

"I'm Stupid"

Republicans Hating Gays? Who'da Thunk?

Someone on the government payroll is using our time and, technically, our PC, to spread hate about the gays. And it ain't a democrat.

File Under WTF?

A tornado hit my old neighborhoodin Brooklyn last week. I have a friend in Chacago who laughed and said "We call that a little wind." Nah, sorry. We had weather as windy as Chicago has when Ilived in Wellington. THIS was a fucking tornado.

This is around the corner from my old house:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The World According to Tina

Before I start writing a review of Tina Sloan's book, Changing Shoes, let's get a couple of things out of the way:

1. I'm a life-long fan of soaps
2. Being a life-long fan of soaps, I've watched Tina Sloan and been a fan of hers since her days on 
3. Having interviewed Tina and interacted with her on a personal level, I find her to be a gracious, 
    charming,  lovely person.
4. None of these things would make me give a book a positive review if it didn't deserve it. Books play way
    too much of an important role in my life for me to take a dive, so to speak.

With that out of the way, let's get on to the subject at hand: Changing Shoes. For a year or so friends and fans of Tina Sloan have heard about the book she was working on. Some folks had the advantage of having seen the one-woman show the book is based on, and had an idea what was in store for them. I haven't caught Tina's show. All I knew about Changing Shoes was what Tina had told me when I interviewed her, and what she's shared about it on Facebook and Twitter. I wasn't really sure if I'd be reading a memoir, a self-help book, a tell-all expose'...or what. At various times during the past year, Tina has spoken about her aging parents, her days as a model and young actress, the changes that she has undergone as she's aged, her time on the set of movies and television shows, her relationships with family and friends...and she's talked about them in the context of Changing Shoes. For a while there I found myself thinking, "What in the world is this book going to be about? What can the narrative voice possibly be, if not schizophrenic?" As most of you know, the book was released last week and, if you're anything like me, you devoured it in record time.

Everyone has interesting things in their life. I mean it. Everyone. Every life is full of funny or sad or ironic stories, coincidences, accidents, tragedies, etc. For the most part, this doesn't amount to much. Having a good story and being able to tell a good story - these are two very different things. Tina Sloan not only has a treasure trove of good stories, she's one hell of a storyteller. In answer to my own question - "What can the narrative voice of Changing Shoes be...?" - reading Changing Shoes feels like meeting a good friend at a favorite coffee house, sitting down on a comfy couch, and asking her, "How on earth did you get from where you started to where you are today?"

The book opens with Tina coming to the realization that she's reached a stage in life where all eyes are no longer on her, but on the much younger woman next to her. From here, she takes the reader on a narrative journey through different parts of her life. We make brief stops at her Catholic high school in New York, Paris -where she comes into her own under the guidance of a wise and liberated woman with heaps of finesse, her early days as a model and actress in NYC, marriage, motherhood, career, the steady decline and eventual death of her parents, and a bunch of other places. I'd wondered if Changing Shoes would be a memoir, a self-help book, an expose'....the answer is, it's all of these things. I have to say, though, as an expose', it's very gentle. Long-time soap fans will have fun wondering/trying to figure out who it was that wore a baseball cap to hide the evidence of too many facelifts because, when it comes to this sort of stuff, Tina isn't naming names. This makes Tina's narrative voice more likable - she can tell a great story, but she's not out to smear anyone. Everyone likes a good storyteller, but nobody likes a bitch, and there's not a hint of bitchiness in Changing Shoes. If you're hoping to read the dirty secrets and scandals from behind the scenes at Guiding Light, this isn't the book for you. If, on the other hand, you're interested in how, during a time when most characters over 40 were being shoved asside, Tina not only managed to remain employed, but ended the run of GL with a front-and-center romance, you've come to the right place. You've come to the right place, too, if you want to hear the straight dope from a woman who hasn't had plastic surgery, doesn't plan to have plastic surgery, and isn't afraid to be honest about her age.

The section of Changing Shoes which deals with Tina's parents and their last years was something I found especially moving. It's an important story she tells, of having to cope with the mixed emotions that the failing health of a parent can bring. Most people are afraid to talk about how frustrating it can be to watch our parents get old, or how guilt drives a lot of what we do,when it comes to caring for them. Still fewer people are able to discuss the inevitable feeling of relief that comes when a person who has lived with prolonged illness finally dies. It's something we all experience, but it's something of a taboo. Having recently lost my mother, this section of the book was painful, but also a catharsis. While I miss my mother terribly, I've also experienced a sense of relief since she passed; no longer do I worry that every late-night phone call is THE phone call I've dreaded. Tina discusses this frankly - the fact that loving one's parents and being devoted to them does not make caring for them an absolute joy, and that the range of emotions that comes with this experience is not only natural, but universal.

Tina gets brownie points for managing to tell stories about her interaction with famous people without being a showoff. When she relates a story about Jodie Foster it doesn't feel as if she's bragging about having worked with a major movie star. Quite the opposite - it reminds us that Jodie Foster may be a movie star, but she's also just a woman...a woman Tina Sloan happened to have worked with, once. This, ultimately, is what makes Changing Shoes such an enjoyable read. It's not really about a soap star. It's Everywoman's story. The names and dates and specific details may be different, but the fundimental truths are the same: girls become women, young women become middle-aged women who become older women, parents live and die, kids grow up, people laugh, cry, complain, and make mistakes. It's how each of deals with these parts of life that matters.

I realize this may not be the most interesting book review, as I have nothing but good things to say about Changing Shoes. It's well written. It's touching. It's funny. It's juicy. It's full of homespun wisdom about things you never thought you'd hear homespun wisdom about. Tina Sloan will not tell you how to make a perfect pie crust, but she will give you tips on the best hormonal supplements to take if you want to kick up a sagging libido, but don't want to grow a moustache. You don't get that kind of advice every day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CPR for Y&R

Anyone who's read my ramblings for any length of time knows I have a soft spot for Y&R. When Y&R is good, it's damned good. Unfortunately, it's been so long since it's been good, I've almost forgotten what good looks like.

Genoa City has become a mess of soap opera cliches, bad storytelling, terrible casting, and missed opportunities. All hope is not lost, though. It's not too late to get the #1 rated daytime drama back on track. In its favor, Y&R has some really good writers, talented actors, strong history to draw from, what would appear to be a more generous budget than the other daytime dramas still on the air, and good ratings. If it's going to remain a well-rated show, something's got to give. Actually, A LOT has to happen, if I'm ever again going to rave about Y&R, but change has to start somewhere, and here's where I suggest the changes begin.

Ten Things That Can Be Done To Make Y&R Watchable, Again

1. Rely on the tried and true. Time and again, during the last year or so, viewers have commented on how damned good Y&R is when Beth Maitland is on the screen. Maitland is a rivetting actor with tons of charisma. What's more, her character, Traci Abbott, is one we know and love. People who watch soaps are in it for the long haul. We love the continuity. We love knowing a character over the years, and riding the roller coaster with them. The tried and true is always a good bet. Give us more Traci, more Nina (Tricia Cast kicked ass this week), meatier storylines for Paul. Hell, I even liked having Cricket around the last few weeks, and I was never a big Cricket fan.  The fact is these are all good actors/interesting characters. Fans of Y&R already know and love them. We know they can carry a story. Let them have it. Familiarity is one of the things soap fans tune in for.

2. No more gimmicks, at least for a while. No more switched babies, no more plastic surgery, no more look-alikes, no more locking people up in makeshift dungeons, no more people rising from the dead, ok? Give it a fucking rest, and concentrate on character-driven stories.

3. If I want to know what Paris Hilton is up to, I'll tune in to E! I don't give a damn about the real Paris Hilton, and I really, truly don't give a damn about Genoa City's faux Paris Hilton. Basing a whole story line on a person whose real life is sickening is a bad, bad idea. Drop it. I don't care about Abby Newman's life as a celebutante. Nobody does.

4. Legacy characters - you've got them...use them. You know what works? Billy and Victoria as a couple. I like them. I don't even like Victoria, but I love me some Billy, and I love the idea of the Newmans and Abbotts once again finding their lives intertwined. Romeo and Juliet was already an old story when William Shakespeare got his hands on it, but he knew a good story when he stumbled upon it. This is good stuff. The stuff good soap is made of. Because it's not just about Billy and Victoria...it's about Victor and Jack and and Nikki and Ashley and every ugly piece of history the Abbotts and Newmans have shared. It's maybe THE story that really matters in Genoa City.

5. Gay it up, or forget it. Rafe is gay. Big deal. If it doesn't come to anything, who cares? If you're not going to give Rafe a storyline where his sexuality actually comes into play, I don't give a damn that he's gay. You don't get a medal for just having a guy admit he likes other guys. And,  I know this will make some people really angry, but Thom Bierdz is not a good actor. He just isn't.  The fact that he's a gay man does not make him well suited to play the only other gay character in Genoa City. Rafe is a nice enough guy, and a handsome enough guy. How about having him hook up with a romantic counterpart who isn't 1) a psychopath pretending to be gay (Adam) or 2) a boring schlub played by a really bad actor (Phillip)? Jabot is a cosmetics company, for heaven's sake. Do you mean to tell me there's not one other queer in a city that's basically a cosmetic firm's company town????

6. If it's broken, fix it. One thing Y&R has traditionally been good at is recognizing when things aren't going well. This has fallen by the wayside, though. If something is a mess, and the writing is on the wall, Y&R execs need to pounce while the iron is hot, and make changes. Chance is a poorly written character and the actor chosen for it may be handsome and have a following, but he's about as interesting as a bowl of white rice. This has been clear from day one. Why this has been prolonged is beyond me. Clementine Ford as Mac is a disaster. A bore. Again, this was clear the minute she got on board. Nothing personal, but she's not the right person for the role and, frankly, no one cares about the character. Why is she still in the role and why is the character still relevant?  The whole nonsense with Kay Chancellor's long lost son? It never worked. Stephen Nichols has never fit in at Y&R. This was clear early on. Why let him keep chugging along? If something is broken, you don't wait for it to repair it self - you fix it.

7. Recognize the best of the 'new' talent. It's not always about sticking with the old. Y&R has some great "new" talent. Elizabeth Hendrickson is awesome, and Chloe is so promising, but she's languishing due to por story line. Chloe and Chance were never interesting or sexy. Give this woman a worthy co-star who she shares some chemistry with (Jeff Branson???) and provide them with a solid story line that people actually want to watch. Also, Hendrickson and Tricia cast have great chemistry...they remind me of Kay and Jill, the early years. Let this bird fly, baby!

8. Leave the comfort zone. Lauren Fenmore has been a nice character for so long, we've almost forgotten what a brat she was when we first met her. The set-up of Jill as the bastard Fenmore sibling was cheesy and gimmicky, but what's done is done, and they might as well make the most of it. This is Lauren's chance to get back to being the spoiled brat we all know she really is. There's a rich bitch inside of Lauren Fenmore, just dying to get out. As for Jill, face it: she's most fun and interesting when she's in a catfight with another female. The days of Jill and Kay going at it full force are just about over. She needs a formidable opponent, and Lauren could suit that purpose. To make it interesting, why not make Jill better at running the Fenmore empire than Lauren ever was?

9. Expand Phyllis' sphere. I love Phyllis but, for too long now her entire universe has consisted of Nick, Nick, and more Nick. Michelle Stafford is a great actress, and she's capable of doing so much more than she's been doing for the last two years. Phyllis and Nick are over. So over. Let it die. No one wants to watch Phyllis beg Nick to love her for the umpteenth time. I want to see her kick Nick in the balls. Or dump a load of manure on Sharon's lawn. Better still, I want Phyllis to get deeply embloiled in a story line that has absolutely nothing to do with Nick, at all. Great character, great actor...she's on contract...use her, dammit. She's good for so much more than just being the devoted wife who stands by and lets her husband make a fool of her.

10. A lot of people want Dru back, but that won't happen. For far too many reasons to go into, I don't have a hope in hell that Victoria Rowell will be back on the set of Y&R, EVER. That leaves us with Drucilla's pathetic, little family and, frankly, they're not cutting it. Here's the thing - I don't believe...I've NEVER believed that Dru would end up with a bland, boring, milquetoasty daughter as played by Christel Khalil. The Winters family is lacking in spunk, and Lily is where it should come from. If viewers won't get the satisfaction of getting Dru back, Y&R should infuse the character of Lily with a lot more of the characteristics that made Dru so damned likable: a tougher attitude, a more outspoken demeanor, a lot less gentility. Frankly, Khalil doesn't have the chops for this, and a recast is in order. If we're ever going to care about any of the Winters family, and if there's ever going to be a chance for Dru's legacy to be passed down, this is pretty much it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dribs and Drabs

A more in-depth, nerdy dissection of Y&R is on the way, but can I just say they need to give the whole business of babies going missing and being found 20 yrs  later a fucking break? Questionable parentage/childhood kidnapping seems the order of the day in Genoa City, and it's just dumb. In the last year this has been a theme for Cain, Jill (numerous times), Tucker, Nina's missing baby (I don't even know that guy's name. I don't freaking care.), the evil, kidnapping siblings who kidnapped Lauren, and Sharon's baby. Have a I missed anyone?

OLTL seems determined to suppress anything good and interesting and well-written, opting instead, on placing a focus on dumb plots (David and Dorian...James and Starr...Eli.)

Have you heard? BRENDA IS BACK!!!! Yeah. You heard. I heard. Everyone heard. Over and over, again, we heard. Know what? We heard so much about it that no one bothered tuning in to GH. BTW, several people asked why my daytime report card blog didn't mention B&B or GH. I don't watch either on a consistant enough basis to form any real opinion, other than that I don't like them. And before you write tell me I'm an asshole for not liking something I don't watch: I used to watch both shows, but they got boring/stupid, so I ditched them. Maybe they're just amazing, now but, based on what I've seen, I doubt it. Either way, there was no point including them when I don't really have enough of a clue about them as they are today to have an opinion.

There's now a spunky, Borhemian lesbian character on Mad Men. Let's see if she can go the distance and if there will be a story for her, or if she quietly disappears like other queers on this show in the past. As much as I liked Sal, and felt for him, getting rid of him made sense: no way would a guy like Don be A-Ok with keeping the fag around...especially not when someone needed to take a fall. On the other hand, Mad Men has twice dangled carrots before us, only to back out on developing any real story lines: early on, Joan's female roomate declared her love for Joan. Did I expect a full-on lesbian affair? Nope, not a chance. But it could have been interesting to see more of Joan's home life...maybe integrate her feeling uncomfortable with the living situation with her rushing to marry a moron. Later, we met the young, Eurotrashy ad man who disclosed to Peggy that he was a homosexual. It seemed like the writers were developing a friendship story line between him and Peggy. I liked that. It went nowhere, though, and the character? He must be hanging out somewhere with Chuck, from Happy Days.

My friends at Dayplayer Dish are on a serious roll. They scored an interview with Victoria Rowell last week, and will this weekend be interviewing the cast of The Bay. Check out Lee and Lauren's archived interviews, and their fun blog.

Tina Sloan, whose book is due out any day, has a really moving video up on the Penguin Publishing channel at Youtube. Pre-orders for her book, Changing Shoes, can be made at Amazon, and count towards first week sales, which is one way the NY Times Best-Seller List is compiled. There's a substantial discount on the cover price buying through Amazon, too. (Also Barnes and Noble and Borders) Evidently the NY engagement of Tina's one-woman show has sold out. If you're hoping to catch her when she passes through your town, it'd be a good idea to get tickets ASAP, before they sell out. Tina has been a good friend to the Superhero Lunchbox, and is an all-around awesome person - break a leg, Tina!

Kim Zimmer is set to return to OLTL as Echo DeSavoy. Remember her? I sure do, but I'm not sure how or why she'd come back to Llanview. Whatever. Kim Zimmer is a lot of fun, and it's nice to see she was wrong about Reva being the last role anyone would ever give her. She's always had a solid fan base, so who knows? Maybe this will bode well for OLTL's ratings. I kind of think nothing can save this show from getting the axe, now, though.

The trailer for the second season of Venice is up. Is there anyone not in it? It looks dumb, and the use of the word "soonish" makes me cringe.

Starlet, socialite, Empire guest star and professional funster Von Hottie has some advice for..um...your first time.

Another beached whale tragedy in New Zealand - this time 58 whales, in all, were stranded on Karikari Beach. When I lived in NZ, these strandings seemed to happen all the time, and they were always heartbreaking. On the other hand, I never cease to be moved by the way people gather from all over to try and save these majestic creatures. Seeing as how I'm often convinced human beings suck, this is the sort of thing that makes me feel good about people if only for a few minutes.

Favorite thing of the week: Ripping Rush Limbaugh a new one

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Daytime Report Card

Some people consider daytime drama to be the dinosaur of television. It's certainly in grave danger of becoming extinct, that's for sure. In fact, the writing is on the wall: there won't be any daytime soaps in a few years. Are the people who write and produce these shows doing anything to stave off this inevitable demise? Are they being effective? We now know that letter-writing campaigns from viewers are a waste of time, energy and paper. The ball is squarely in the hands of the networks and owners of the various soaps - those that remain. So....how are they doing?

As The World Turns
Sorry, folks, but it's dead in the water, and it's not going out with a bang, but with a whimper.
I haven't been a regular viewer for a while but, for heaven's sake,  I do know these folks couldn't even bother to give the great Julianne Moore, who returned for one day as Frannie Hughes, more than one line. Really? I know there couldn't have been a full-fledged story line written for her but, surely, they could haven given her something more meaty. ATWT's phenomenal botch-up job with Moore's return made GL's use of Maureen Garrett's stint look like a wealth of riches.

All My Children
Dare I say it? After more than a year of talking about how utterly unwatchable AMC had become, it's looking like soapdom's last, best hope. In many ways the show is still a mess, but there are glimmers of hope. The show's farewell to Palmer Cortland was perfect, and that final scene with Dixie? Corny? Yes. Cheesy as all-out? Yes. Did I love it? Hell, yes. Someone at AMC is finally listening to what fans have been saying about history and legacy characters. Brooke's return to facilitate Adam Chandler's departure from Pine Valley was the very stuff we watch soaps for. (And, ridiculous as it seems, I take some credit for it...since I wrote a whole blog about how the only character who could bring some sense to the Adam/Annie situation would be Brooke.)

After serving as little more than wallpaper for over a year, Angie, Jesse, Tad and Erica have all been involved in key story lines, lately. And, yeah, Debbi Morgan is well into her 50s, but I can suspend disbelief and buy into the pregnancy story line because she doesn't look a day over 40, and it's so damned good to see one television's best actresses working, again. I'm also enjoying Vincent Irrizarry's David a whole lot more than I used to, and I've never been a huge V.I. fan. Whoever concocted the current story line for David is almost certainly an old-school Roger Thorpe fan, because the similarities are crystal clear. It's good material, and Irrizarry is more than up to it. Where they've failed, though, is in allowing us to like something - anything - about David. This is where history comes in. We loved Roger, even when he was at his worst, because we knew his history. He did awful things, but they made a certain kind of terrible sense to anyone who knew about Roger's roots, about his father, about how much he hated always being compared to Doctor Ed by the woman he loved. We don't have this with David. It makes no sense to me that he'd just up and buy Pine Valley hospital to - what? Get back at Angie and Frankie? Really? I don't buy it and I'm not feeling it. Like I said, Irrizarry is hitting it out of the park with this role, but he needs a little more meat to work with.

Recent Highlights:

Brooke and Erica scenes - Some things never get old.

Erica in the elevator with Greelee - The bitch is back.

Tad/Liza/Damon/Colby - history, history, history. I defy anyone who is old enough to remember Tad/Liza/Marion to not be drawn into this. It draws on history in the best way, and makes us actually care about two young legacy characters.

Recent Lowlights:

Anything having to do with Ryan Lavery - He's boring and dumb. Who cares?

Frankie and his annoying wife - Another story about how a career in modelling spells doom for a relationship? Really?

Jake and Amanda - Cheesy, and not in a good way. There's nothing to like or care about about either character.

Days of Our Lives
It's been many years since I was a regular viewer. The fact is, this show has been very bad for a very, very long time. Bad writing. Bad acting. Bad art direction. Bad music. Just plain, old bad in every way. I watched for the Alice Horton farewell, because Frances Reid's Alice was pretty much a key figure in my childhood. It was ok. I think AMC did a better job with their tribute to James Mitchell, but it was nice to see all the old footage. And that old footage was a reminder of how great this show once was. I also catch DOOL once in a while when I'm waiting for Y&R to begin on Soapnet. It's bad. Very, very bad. As annoying as I find Crystal Chappell post-Guiding Light, I have to be clear about one thing; the woman can act. Give her some decent material. I almost think she deserves a medal for just going to work every day. The show is THAT bad. What a ridiculous waste.

One Life To Live
OLTL is sometimes so freaking good, only to become so fucking bad. Right now, it's in a slump. What are the writers thinking about? A month ago I was singing the praises of OLTL for giving us Ford: a young guy who is gorgeous to look at, morally bankrupt, and 100% selfish. Llanview needed Ford, and I was really enjoying him. So, what do they do? They turn around and turn Ford first into a guy who really, really cares about Langston and about his brother. (Ok...so you've ignored him for years, even though you knew he was living in a terrible situation, but now that he's in town, you're suddenly Big Brother of the year? Huh?) Worse, still, Ford is now a VICTIM! Poor, little Ford is being victimized by Eli. YAWN!!! Where AMC has neglected to give us a reason to think of David as an antihero (as opposed to a plain, old villain), OLTL is going overboard with trying to softsoap Ford and spoon-feed us a sob story about his past. The whole Inez thing? Spare me.

Another epic failure: the youth storyline. Back in the day, Guiding Light had the four musketeers. We liked them. They were cute. We cared about them. We really wanted Phillip and Beth to end up together. The fact that GL returned to this, so many years later, and wrapped up by pairing off Beth and Phillip, Rick and Mindy speaks volums about just how invested viewers were in these characters as a unit. The chemistry just isn't there for Marco, Langston, Cole and Starr. I don't care. I didn't care that Langston was unfaithful. I didn't care when Marco finally left town. I don't care that Cole is leaving the show. I don't care about Starr, at all. I just don't care.

Recent Lowlights:
David Vickers/Dorian Lord - That crap is enough to make me cringe.

Twin sisters, both preggers - Puh-leeze.

John Mcbain - That corny-ass, breathy voice....the nostril-flair method of acting...it's all crap.

Jessica Leccia - Wow. Seriously? Are you really that bad an actor when Crystal Chappell isn't in the room? Ouch.

Nora and Bo - The dumbest soap wedding of the year, and it took about two weeks to get through it.

Rex and Gigi - Just shut up.

Recent Highlights:

Tea, Tea, and more Tea.

Todd taking Cole aside and explaining to him that, no, he's not a softer, more gentle Todd, AT ALL.

Young and the Restless

The only thing I can say is...what in the world are they thinking?