The Muddled Memory-Making of the 2011 Grammys
February 13th, 2011
Tonight, the Grammy Awards opened with an extended retrospective. As a collection of contemporary female vocalists paid tribute to the music of Aretha Franklin, it established that this was a night to reflect on Grammy history. It was a narrative picked up by Miranda Lambert’s performance of “The House That Built Me” later in the show, which she dedicated to those performers who came before (and who appeared on the screens behind her in a nostalgia-tinged multimedia component), and cemented with a “rare performance” from Barbra Streisand and Mick Jagger’s first ever Grammy performance.
However, earlier in the show, Lady Gaga took to the stage to perform her brand new single, “Born this Way.” Although one could claim that this too is a bit of history, given that the song borrows liberally from Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” the song premiered only last week. In another performance, a trio of young performers (Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae, and B.O.B.) were introduced by Ryan Seacrest as being the next generation of Grammy legends, albeit in a performance which had a definite tinge of nostalgia given Bruno Mars’ black-and-white, Jackson Five throwback performance of “Grenade.”
It’s no secret that the Grammys have long ago stopped being an “awards show,” having transitioned into a concert event so blatantly that everyone noticed (if you’ll forgive me the inversion of a classic Simpsons line). However, during tonight’s show (and especially given the few hours I spent half watching the non-televised portion of the awards online), I realized the degree to which this shift has seemingly been designed to disguise the fact that the Grammys, more than any other awards show, utterly fails at capturing the last year in its respective medium.
And how, despite some unquestionable success at making the show “memorable,” it sort of confounds the notion of memory altogether.
December 1st, 2010
In plotting the first season of Terriers, Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin made two key decisions which shaped the series into one of the year’s finest.
The first was their willingness to resist creating a season-long arc: after the first four or five episodes seemed to be towards some larger conspiracy, the show risked frustrating viewers by pulling up before things became too complicated. In an age where hyper-serialization is highly valued, the decision seemed strange until we saw the result. The residual energy from the near-miss mythology lingered in the subsequent standalones, as unfinished business meant a constant threat of its return – when it did return in “Asunder,” there were more pieces to the puzzle, and the re-entry was surprisingly elegant.
The second was that, throughout the various ups and downs, the show never concretely positioned its heroes within any definitive morality. While we could argue that Hank and Britt are inherently good men, their willingness to do petty, despicable, and reckless things has been refreshing. Hank’s jealousy has never been romanticized, and Britt’s violent outbursts have never been pitched as heroic; while we understand why they do the things they do, we are never asked to agree with them, and the result is two characters who we can relate to even when we don’t want to. They’re characters we like even in their darkest moments, but characters that we don’t necessarily forgive after the fact. They are characters that feel real, and thus characters that we become connected with.
“Hail Mary,” coming off of the rollercoast that was “Quid Pro Quo,” is hopelessly hopeful. Following the earlier pattern, it concludes stories without actually concluding them, leaving threads of story that can be picked up at a later date. It provides a sense of future that it must subsequently tear away, reunions that are either years or weeks too late. While you could technically argue that this is a happy ending, a sort of scrappy P.I. Casablanca, in truth the ending is as the season was: an exercise in dynamic delay, a true marvel of narrative form.
And a show that simply cannot be allowed to ride off into the sunset.
“Dash, Flash, Crash”
November 17th, 2010
Last week I posted about concerns regarding Modern Family’s relationship with questions of race and ethnicity (albeit focused on the former), and over at TV Overmind the commenters were…well, they were angry. My point was not to say that the show is racist, but rather that there are moments when questions relating to sensitive issues are located within the production of the series rather than character actions.
Let’s take, for example, Phil’s “If you ain’t white, you ain’t right” t-shirt which angers an African American taxi cab. It’s highly offensive, sure, but it plays into his cluelessness in ways we recognize. It is the intersection of his inability to realize what his words mean with questions of race in today’s society, and its continued presence (“And this year I predict total White domination!”) makes it seem less like that single flashback is necessary in order to construct the joke. It seems like something Phil would do, makes me laugh, and happens to transition into the best episode since “Fizbo.”
In other words, next time you hear me ragging on Modern Family? Manny’s birthday.
September 28th, 2010
I will admit to loving a good ironic title, and I’d argue that “Taking Control” somewhat misrepresents the state of The Good Wife heading into its second season.
I’ve seen a lot of divergent thoughts on the premiere: some seems to think the show is still in fine form, while others felt that it was “off” in some way. I’ll admit to being slightly in the second camp, albeit with a better sense of how, and more importantly why, the show feels this way. While I do think there are a few creative missteps here, I think the general function of the premiere was a good way to enter into the season (if not necessarily conducive to a particularly strong premiere).
September 28th, 2010
A week after opening with an unquestionably meta opening, Ryan Murphy did not stray far from that example with “Britney/Brittany”: in the opening scenes, Will expresses how he wants New Directions to know when to show restraint, while Kurt and many other students express their desire to branch out into something more exciting, youthful. It picks up directly where last week’s opening left off, questioning the song choices the series makes, which I’d argue is an interesting question that this season does need to respond to.
Of course, how much you enjoy “Britney/Brittany” depends on both its framework (which has some issues in terms of balancing fantasy and reality) and how Britney Spears’ presence plays out throughout the course of the episode. As someone who admittedly enjoys Spears’ music on the level of cheesy pop fare, I thought choosing Britney was not in and of itself a mistake; however, the show was let down considerably by the way in which her music and its legacy were received by those both within and outside of New Directions.
While musically satisfying, at least for me personally, “Britney/Brittany” suffered from an inelegance which is likely to cause any future themed episodes to raise even more red flags than this hour.
“They Don’t Call the The Amazing Race For Nothin’!”
September 26th, 2010
Earlier this month, CBS gave away what I would technically consider a spoiler: they released a video of two contestants completing a Roadblock which was fairly clearly taking place towards the end of the first leg. Being generally spoiler-phobic, I resisted the video for a few hours, but then everyone and their mother were talking about it.
And when I finally watched it, I discovered why.
YouTube – The Watermelon Heard Around the World
I chose this version of the video with the highest number of viewers: while CBS’ own upload has 650,000, the copy posted has over two and a half million views. People have been watching this video for weeks, and it seems to have actually created some legitimate excitement around the season. I don’t think that the video is enough of a spoiler to ruin the episode (my usual spoiler-hating self didn’t really emerge), but I do think that it creates a very different sort of viewing experience than what we’re used to.
As a result, I want to ask (and perhaps answer) some questions about the strategy at play, which ended up helping the series to one of its most memorable premieres in quite some time.
Save this Premise?: The Premature Campaign to Save Lone Star
September 25th, 2010
When I realized that there was an online campaign to save Lone Star, I had two thoughts.
First of all, I was bolstered: rallying around Kyle Killen’s inspired support of the series, journalists and fans began to voice their support with Twitter hashtags and Facebook campaigns, and as someone who saw promise in the series I was pleased to see the show getting attention.
However, I was also struck by the fact that people are not really campaigning to save Lone Star. The majority are campaigning to save the idea of Lone Star, the notion that complex drama series not about policemen or lawyers have a place within the context of network television.
While I think this is a battle worth fighting, and I certainly am in support of the series continuing (despite my concerns over its longevity), I have some serious concerns about how this campaign relates to the text itself. When we have seen only a single episode, and when there were legitimate concerns of where the series goes from here, is this metric level of internet-related hype surrounding the series not simply creating expectations that the episode will need to live up to? Does this level of support not seem premature for a show that hasn’t even become a show yet?
September 21st, 2010
The Sons of Anarchy have positioned themselves as a morally complex guardian angel for the people of Charming, but that image can only last for so long – in the wake of an event like a shootout where an innocent child and an authority figure are gunned down outside a church, two questions emerge. First, how could SAMCRO let this happen; and, second, was this SAMCRO’s fault?
These are questions that, in the past, remained largely within the club: the series was, after all, about the internal conflict between Jax and Clay, specifically the former’s struggle to reconcile the current club with his father’s vision, so the external side of things wasn’t particularly important. However, with political forces swirling and legal troubles surfacing and resurfacing, SAMCRO is facing an uncertain future for reasons that go beyond their internal volatility.
“Caregiver” is another strong entry for the show’s third season, and one which nicely captures the difficult position of taking care of someone who runs off without notice, or turns coat with little to no notice.
“Chuck vs. the Anniversary”
September 20th, 2010
I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this review, but I think this might be the last weekly Chuck review for quite some time here at Cultural Learnings.
This is not so much a reflection of the relative quality of “Chuck vs. the Anniversary” as it is a reflection of what kind of show Chuck has become over the past season. When I posted my review of NBC’s Chase earlier today, someone commented that Chuck similarly lacks character and consequence: they were joking, of course, but the latter point (consequence) stuck with me heading into tonight’s premiere.
This is still a show I enjoy, and a show I plan on continuing to watch, but I think Chuck has reached the stage where it no longer interests me critically. The season seems like it is onto a solid start, but it is a start which takes absolutely no risks, taking some potentially interesting new ideas and quickly absorbing them into the show’s existing structures.
And as pleasant as that is, I think it might be the point at which weekly reviews no longer feel like a good use of my time.