Time-Suck Friday, Take 2

Gumby Man My Brain HurtsI swear, actual content will reappear very soon (I feel like there’s an unwritten rule that after you acknowledge a lack of posting x amount of times, your blog is on its way to a premature death. That’s not going to happen here–really, truly).  I’m a bit of a stressball today, with a welcome but unexpected rush writing gig and the anticipation of a completely bonkers amount of things to get done next month. But here are some things that I loved on the internet over the last couple months, and I think you will, too:

  • On April 2nd I went to the very last LCD Soundsystem show at Madison Square Garden, and basically spent my summer-vacation money to do so. I can tell you now I don’t regret it one bit. Partly because I was there with friends who shared this band with me as the soundtrack to the last five-odd years. There was a lot of Planet Emo going on in our little section of the stadium, plenty of compulsive hugging and biting back tears. But also: the band was incredible. It was the first time I saw them perform live, and I’m just sad that I never managed to see them earlier. To be honest, I really only fell in love with them last spring, when the throbbing base of “Dance Yrself Clean” jerked me out of my ongoing Alpine funk. I spent weeks listening to that track on repeat, wanting to dance in the street. Sometimes, all it takes to fall truly in love with a band (or, for that matter, a person) is that one little push. And then you’re done for. In honor of the band’s passing, Pitchfork published an exhaustive look at every song LCD ever recorded. It’s a fascinating, dynmaic biography of the band, tracing its evolution with videos, clips, and excerpts of interviews with that slovenly bad-ass, James Murphy. Don’t read it all at once, if it’s too intimidating. But dip a toe in–you won’t be sorry.
  • A study in contrasts: I encourage you to read Truman Capote’s seminal “The Duke in His Domain,” a 1957 profile of Marlon Brando for The New Yorker that just hints at the eccentricity to come. Then check out the 1979 interview in Playboy with Lawrence Grobel, in which the interview is forced into impressive contortions to get the actor to talk about anything but the plight of the Native American people. It’s fascinating to see how much (or how little) he transformed over that 20-year period.
  • I’m fairly new to podcasts, but boy howdy do they make a slow work day sped by. I highly recommend: How Did This Get Made?, in which some very funny people disect some very bad movies; Extra Hot Great, in which three former heavyweights of TWOP look at all things pop culture, including a trivia round and an evolving canon of great TV; and Firewall & Iceberg, in which HitFix TV critics Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall delve into the high-and-lowlights of this week’s television offerings.
  • DOCTOR WHO! Is back this Saturday! I…well, I really think it’s a show you dig or you don’t. And I say this as someone who thought I wouldn’t like it (evidently, I was wrong), that if you have any inclination towards British wit/culture and a willing suspension of disbelief, you should give it a shot. And if you’re already a fan, you should check out Sepinwall’s interviews with Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, and Alex Kingston.
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The Idiot Savant Box/Rec Room: Coupling

If I described a television show to you by saying it was one part Friends, one part Sex in the City with a generous dash of Home Improvement-style misogyny, you’d run screaming, no? I consider those last two examples to be claw-your-eyes-out offensive 90% of the time. And yet Coupling, the UK’s raunchier version of Ross, Rachel & co., manages to charm me despite embracing every possible gender stereotype imaginable.

I think the show works in large part because it manages to simultaneously embrace the traditional multiple-camera, live-audience sit-com format while playing extensively with narrative structure and language. We  have our three guys (Steve; bumbling everyman, Patrick: macho player; Jeff: goofball catch-phrase machine) and our three girls (Susan: slightly uptight everywoman; Sally: superficial, neurotic “spinster”; Jane: Steve’s grating, delusional ex). We have almost everybody pairing off at one point or another. We have nearly constant sweeping generalizations of the “Mars/Venus” variety. But we also have an episode where the same 9-minute scene is shown from three different perspectives. Or another shown entirely in a split screen, following a couple immediately post break-up. Or one that features a subtext translator.

Each character has his or her gimmick, and Steve’s tendency to speechify on behalf of Men Everywhere gets tired more often than not. But then you have a scene like “Lesbian Spank Inferno,” which is just unapologetically goofy and hilariously uncomfortable in that way that only British shows tend to be.

I keep asking myself: what kind of show is this? I can’t always tell if we’re supposed to take the characters and their “Men act like this, women act like this” proclamations seriously. These people are absolutely cartoonish most of the time, which, if I’m giving creator Steven Moffat a lot of credit, could be seen as a satire on the genre itself. If you’re going to do the traditional sit-com thing, why not take it to its logical extreme? On the other hand, given the particularly one-dimensional, often shrewish portrayal of women on the show, I can’t say I’m completely comfortable with that interpretation.

That said, I think Moffat’s work on the new Doctor Who is pretty brilliant (though Jacob of Television Without Pity has a lot of interesting, if obtuse things to say about the gender politics on that show under Moffat’s direction), and I loved his Jekyll miniseries. Is Coupling a great show? Sometimes. I’d recommend any number of series before this one, but it satisfies a certain yen I have for frivolous yet smart television, and clearly, it makes me think.

Recommended if: you’ve got Netflix Instant Viewing and some time to kill. (Stand-out eps: “The Man With Two Legs,” “Size Matters,” “Her Best Friend’s Bottom,” “Naked.”)

Not for you if: Cutesy takes on the War Between the Sexes make you foam at the mouth.