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Like ‘Girls’, the nudity and sex in the HBO show ‘Looking’ ( a series that follows the lives of 3 gay male friends in San Francisco)  is the thing I find the least shocking about both shows. It’s the satirical tone that fucks with me. Hannah, to me, is as unsettling as a protagonist as Tony Soprano, an entitled monster who remained an entitled monster till the last, defying not only several seasons of onscreen therapy, but also duping an audience accustomed to the soothing arc of redemption. While it’s debatable as to whether Hannah is any kind of villain besides being everything that’s wrong with first world privilege, her genuine moments of empathy or moral propriety may seem as though they light up a path, but I suspect they are just that – ephemeral firefly moments rather than milestones.

Whereas the terminally nice boys of ‘Looking’ are most definitely on ‘paths’ and ‘journeys’ ( guided through the trees by benevolent Midsummer Night drag queens and glow-sticks ) . The insidious agenda of this show is to tell us that gay men are flawed but essentially good people making their way through lives that are just as boring as heterosexuals’ are.  I did watch several episodes wanting to believe that this show was an excruciatingly restrained satire, lampooning the same sorts of white liberal privilege daddy issues as Girls, but unfortunately, apart from all of the gluttonous sex, I’m 95% sure that this is a slow-cooked homage to first world problems. The lo-fi naturalism of the glacial plot and the thoroughly watchable chemistry between the actors obscures what is essentially one of the most low stakes soap-operas to walk the earth. What with the kind of quippy dialogue that makes the characters indistinguishable from one another, apart from the odd backstory appropriate popular culture reference , without the talk of anal fisting or the simulated fellatio with strangers, this could be the Gilmore Girls, recast by HBO for the 21st century.

The nudity in Girls might be the nicest thing that the show might have ever done for women, the sex, not so much. While it was wild at first, the honeymoon period was soon over and now when I think about women having sex on Girls I see a rutting, faceless Adam Driver and the mournful eyes of Lena Dunham fixed on an invisible dust mote floating a few degrees off the fourth wall. I do know that the whole point of Girls is that this universe is the ‘anti-Friends’ and any whiff of  the aspirational is promptly neutralised by failure, however the sex in ‘Looking’ reminds me that, even in a show like Girls which has third wave agenda, I rarely see het couples on TV who are having having genuinely mutual, good sex with any frequency whatsoever. Lena Dunham’s nudity might be revolutionary because it’s about a woman who has no clothes on, rather than sustaining the interest or the erections of the male demographic between 18 and 49, but the prosaic nature of so many of the sex scenes is nothing new at all. On TV and in films, if heterosexual sex is genuinely enjoyable for both partners, it either foreshadows imminent loss, or is just a device to let us know that the protagonist is haunted by existential dread.

OZMG I’m gonna die alonez!

Sex is just nasty biology guys, lets get back to the bromance.

Come to think of it maybe that’s why the domestic short-hairs of Looking are having such a great time in bed – bromance plus sex!

Speaking for my people, I’m not pessimistic about the representation of women or where we are at with heterosexual sex on screen. In fact, there have been several implied oral sex scenes over the past few years that tell me that the female gaze is on the vision board in the writers room of most of the major networks. In fact The TV show Outlander included an entire episode ( The Wedding ) devoted to indulging the kind of romantic and erotic female fantasy that might be commonplace in the most pedestrian romantic fiction, but utterly unprecedented on screen. Even if 50 Shades of Grey is an alarmingly neutered sex movie, which seems to be mostly about doing admin and dating a 12yo girl’s idea of whatever it is that successful men are like ( or even what it is that men are like… ), even as a crude prototype, it’s still a win, because it’s a mainstream film about a woman’s sexual adventure.

And in it’s way, 50 Shades of Grey is probably a far more cruel satire about female masochism than any Girls bit about getting choked out during sex might be. Not every woman who watches the Girls might find Adam’s feral sexuality “a female wank fantasy’ as one astute male friend put it, but they’re probably susceptible to the thinly disguised romantic tropes that make Adam the hero of almost every scene he’s in. Whereas Christian Grey is so entirely composed of romantic tropes, it’s as if he doesn’t exist at all. Which, I suppose, technically makes him the perfect wank fantasy, if you want to get all Lacanian or whatnot about it.

As well as thinking most things could be improved by zombies – House of Cards ( you know it makes sense )  – I like to watch movies as if it was 20 years ago and I’m watching science fiction, which doesn’t turn 50 Shades into anything sexier, but it makes it easier for me to understand Christian Grey as a cyborg in an Ancestor Simulation, because in the future men and women will be so segregated from one another that … oh, never mind.

I’m just glad I got this far without using the word problematic…

ABC

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This kid Josh Thomas – who some Australians are sneery about for reasons that I can only imagine are about being precocious, or a capitalist – was only 20 when he wrote the first series of Please Like Me and I know that fact that is not an enticement to watch this show, what with it’s terrible title and share house quirk aesthetic and episode titles named for food, it’s a miracle that I ever watched a single episode.

As well as being totes cool about porn, I’ve come round to romantic comedy of late and PLM may as well be described as a coming-of-age rom com centred around Josh – writer /protagonist- who we meet in season 1 just as he agrees that maybe he should split up with his girlfriend because he’s gay. His girlfriend Claire is philosophical about it and they remain friends, just like in actual real life.

Diversity is never a gag or a set up here and it always looks like an ordinary (albiet entitled, white middle-class) life, even when the characters are all thoroughly eccentric. There’s a whole bunch of dominant paradigm subversion going on, but the characters are never maudlin about it in the way that the disappointingly dull housecats of Looking can be. Which is not to say that this just another show about modern manners cut from the’Friends’ template, because things get surprisingly dark and far more grown-up as both seasons progress, revealing Josh’s Spongebob cheerfulness to be just as much of a coping mechanism as a naturally sweet disposition.

Josh’s BFF Tom, is the only note that doesn’t quite play for me. The trope of the  loser bro who fucks with women who are way out of his league isn’t necessarily more offensive than just being a cliche, but in a show with a big heart and a cast of very endearing characters, there’s not a lot to like. Unless I’m missing some deeper commentary, he’s just a standard demographic avatar to get gross penis bros to watch a show about a skinny gay boy . The rest of the cast are stellar however, particularly the parents. Former Home and Away actress Debra Lawrance as Josh’s bipolar mother has done most of the dramatic heavy lifting as well as being a fine comedian. David Roberts’ ( Matrix Reloaded ) and Renee Lim (who happens to be a practicing physician who also acts ) as his bewildered dad and straight-talking step-mother are a spin-off show that I would watch for sure.

I’m not going to pull a quote because I’ve deleted the file, but there’s a really nice opening scene where Josh is on a date with a hippy dude who tells him he’s just had a Reiki massage. Josh proceeds to serve him for believing in snake oil and he’s clever and funny and well-informed and of course I agree with every word.  Hippy dude just says, “Hey, I’m sorry, but I’m going to go. I’m just looking for someone really kind and gentle to be with and I don’t think this is going to work,” and leaves, just as a huge order of vegan food is placed on their table.

 

 

 

HBO Season 1 – 2005, Season 2 – 2014

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Now I don’t want to speculate as to why this HBO show has not done as well as other HBOs, but I’m just going to mention that I do not want any part of this revisionist conspiracy to replace Friends with Seinfeld as the iconic sitcom of the 90s.

You can love Friends and Seinfeld at the same time it’s OK

I missed the first series of The Comeback, which aired in 2005 and watched it after Season 2, which was commissioned by HBO almost 10years later. Disregarding the jealous car-sick losers who hate on Jennifer Aniston and hoped that single cam might just be a passing fad, it’s easy to see how this show got lost in the shuffle of the US Office series and the peaking popularity of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The Comeback is a mockumentary reality show which follows the comeback of ageing sitcom star, Valerie Cherish, played by Lisa Kudrow.

TC shares a lot of it’s satirical DNA with Curb, following the humiliations of another shallow, vain protagonist with less than noble goals and I’ll admit, I did take a couple of episodes to get used to Valerie’s maniacal gurning and shrill affirmations. I’m always a little slow on the uptake and I needed the scene where Valerie visits her former producer at her normal alt person’s home – the pot-smoking, lesbian ‘spider-eyed’ Jane who uses her Oscar as a doorstop –  to beg her to work for her again, to understand that this was actually going to be a lot more ambitious – and funnier – as a critique of the film industry than it first appeared.

Perfectly cast and featuring an immaculately timed Seth Rogen cameo as an easy-going hero bro, the meta plot line of the blow-job episode ‘Valerie is Brought to her Knees” is about a thousand times more well-observed as a parody of contemporary celebrity than the approximate units of narcissistic high capitalism that he and James Franco represent in The Interview.

Must be weird being Seth Rogen. He seems super nice. He’s in heaps of indie stuff. Opens himself up like a flower. Nice guy.

Quote: “No it’s not TV… they don’t do that any more, do they?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(It’s English and they’re in LA and it’s on like the Living Channel or some other karmic punishment for colonisation )

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Well meaning rich and famous person Emily Mortimer of the odious Newsroom and her daft pal Dolly Wells do a vanity project about being BFFs. Stars have cameos. Bradley Cooper is in the title sequence.

Apart from passing the Bechdel test, there is nothing remotely bad-mannered or challenging about this show, including it’s 6 part, half hour format.

If your idea of watching TV is trying not to drink a whole bottle of chardonnay in front of Downton then you’ll love it.

Quote: ” You look just like Jane Birkin

 

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IN THE  TED Talk in the CDC, at the end of Season One of The Walking Dead, we get to see all of the lights in the grid of the human brain snuff out until all that’s left is the primitive core, a superstitious little sage-brush, smoting the pre-historic cave of the skull. Which could be an analogy for the way anyone in the business of dissecting popular culture has stopped paying any attention to TWD,  except to roll their eyes over it’s lowest common denominator spectacle and compare it unfavourably to it’s AMC cohort. Grantland writer and broadcaster Andy Greenwald, among others, gives it a big, fat diss as the derivative, cannibalistic end of the Golden Era of television. Picking over the carcasses for brains.  I  think we’re being squeamish about the real business of television. Not every post-Sopranos show is going to be the Great American Novel. Is no one interested in reading the entrails anymore? There’s more to the carcass than brains, you know. Genitals, for one thing.

On a good day, TWD is excellent pornography. As their demographics prove, they do a fair job of skewering the many headed hydra. We may not remember who half of the characters are, but when it comes to slaughtering the undead, they have a sweet Eros and Thanatos thing going on. All that penetration. All that sub-Olympian athleticism covered in sweat and dirt and sticky, sticky corn syrup and chunky styrofoam bits. It’s a damn shame that when there is actual, literal  sex on TWD, it is so vanilla. All of the bodily fluids have been spilled elsewhere on the  ZA barren ground. It could be that TWD is following the anyone-who-enjoys-illicit-sex-must-die rule of horror, or it might have something to do with AMCs whole don’t-say-fuck-but-it’s-okay-to-shoot-a-little-girl-in-the-face censorship thing. Or some kind of perfect storm of formulaic buzz-kill as a result. I never noticed the lack of fucking on Breaking Bad and that was possibly because it was, oh, you know, a 21st century masterpiece. There are other suggested worlds in the Breaking Bad universe, but the story we were being told was far more compelling than anything we can imagine.  In TWD the urgency and mess of sex and desire are so conspicuously absent from a story about the survival of the human species, that the fans have no choice but to create it themselves.

I’m shocked to find myself reading Caryl fanfiction. I’d never read any fanfiction previously. I can’t read romances and often resent romantic story lines on film, but I am heavily invested in Carol and Daryl’s relationship. I’d had crushes on fictional couples when I was a child, but  I am, as an adult, so bored by the whole industry of monogamy that I would rather slit my own wrists than read, say, Jane Austen. I was out after the first half of Homeland because of the love story. Of course, Twilight is a non-starter, but I can’t even watch any vampire stories, of any kind, because of the lifetime commitment subtext. On the whole, I find representations of heteronormativity vapid, demoralising and even more importantly – deeply un-erotic. I may not be in the majority, but I’m not alone in feeling ripped off by the so- called escapism of romantic fiction. So what makes The Walking Dead’s slow burn any different? Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker nails it when she writes:

Daryl and Carol should surely be sleeping together, given their chemistry. Instead, we’re forced to endure young lovers, Glenn and Maggie, who are so boring that I am willing to eat them myself. Among other tragic outcomes of a zombie apocalypse, the least deserving people get laid.

Boom. There it is. Because you deserve it.

The cynical bitch that rules my star-sign knows that Carol is the quintessential  L’Oreal demographic. Ageing, with a patchy C.V., used to feel angry, but has become philosophical about men. Haunted by a 12yr old daughter that is, or might have been. She’s you, right? She’s most certainly me. She’s an economic goldmine, that’s for sure. The good women who identify with Carol are the voice of social media, they guide trends and boost brands. The fandom devoted to the Caryl ship is crazy big, quite possibly second only to the evangelical church of Daryl Dixon. Nobody likes to think that they’re being exploited, I know. We all like to think we are smarter and more unique than we really are. But is it really exploitation, when you are getting something out of it?

Because what we are getting is a female fantasy. Carol represents the audience. While Melissa McBride’s performance as Carol might be as miraculous as a white rose blooming from a single teardrop, her transformation from grieving victim to resourceful survivor has never been anything but accessible. She’s not Sarah Connor from Terminator 2, for instance, doing chin-ups in a padded cell. Carol is not a super-hero or a Manic Pixie Dream Girl or any of the exhausting gender reversals of the loser guy/ unobtainable goddess  iterations that a love interest can so often be. Carol has had losses, but she is most definitely not a loser. Her character is refreshingly sane ( shut the fuck up. She’s covering for Lizzie ) and free of the neurotic incompetence that bafflingly passes as complexity in a female lead character – Carrie in Homeland, Hannah in Girls, Lori and Andrea in TWD– characters so unable to make rational decisions that I suspect writers might use the DSM as a style guide when they write women. As The Earth Mother of the group she has become possibly the most well-drawn character from the barely tweaked archetypes on offer. She certainly gives  Reedus’ performance far more light and shade than he could have had as The Loveable Rogue. In the same article Emily Nussbaum describes him as:

a standard semi-reformed bad-boy, with modules in good with children

Whereas I would say that an inventory of Daryl Dixon’s iconic steez is far from standard and reads as though Han Solo has tracked down, killed and eaten Chewbacca, for all the canonical super-powers that have accrued to him.  Hell, what with the cross-bow, the motorbike, the angel wings, the poncho, the scars from the abusive childhood and the grasp of colonial injustice via that one perfect, wild white rose, Daryl Dixon has so much Wu-Tang he makes Jon Snow from Game of Thrones look under-dressed. Jesus, all Rick has is a hat and he has to share that with Carl.

While we’d all love to see Carol get some head in a comfortable bed,  it can’t be that simple. The rules of horror mean that initiating a smoking hot, feral sex montage with the fan favourite will be enough to put our heroine in an undead impasse. Not only just in terms of it’s Woman Problem, but not front-loading TWD with a romantic relationship for Daryl has been one of the smarter moves that the show has made in terms of dramatic tension. The large events and small beats that  make up the Carol and Daryl arc give the show a real sense of detail among the other spastic story lines that lurch about with all the fine motor-control of a zombie herd. Norman Reedus has said that he was initially against Daryl having a love interest, while all of the other characters were pairing off. I may be completely smitten by the Reedus charisma bomb, but I would like to think that as well as a strategic empire-building move, it could also have been a Darylesque gesture that gave both he and McBride some job security, because at this later stage of the game Reedus’ stats are nothing less than bulletproof and McBride’s are growing exponentially.  Reedus tirelessly promotes the brand with admirable composure and does a great job of building McBride’s reputation too. I suspect that they are already in preemptive Anna Gunn-style damage control, as every press release and interview with any member of the cast praises McBride’s superior talent. This is a Survivor alliance of smart, genre-savvy people, who are looking to play a very lucrative long game. Which is to say that if the plan is to tease the inevitable beyond four seasons, just to keep McBride in the mix, as much as I adore her – sister,  you can always get another job, because  the audience has been cock-blocked for far too long. Any later than the back half of Season Four would be borderline sadistic. For God’s sake, the Caryl fandom are close enough to militant.

If they simply follow the Tantric template of all the other lovely small scenes they’ve had together, they can’t go wrong.  I feel certain that TWD can deliver on that perfect first kiss and it will be instantly iconic. The sex scene however, might just be the deal breaker for me. I am so out if it’s a just a dimly-lit PSA on equality and respect. I do not want to see a bland sequence of unbroken eye-contact and considerate love-making that not only serves as some kind of restorative justice for Carol as a battered wife, but also caps off  The Civilization of Daryl Dixon Project. We already know that Carol and Daryl’s relationship is based on mutual respect and tenderness. Their intimacy has been established. The teenage girl/boy audience is already responsibly catered to by the youthful sweethearts Glenn and Maggie. I want to see something much darker and dirtier and more complicated than that. I want to see an epic, adult sequence that makes me believe that there really is fucking on The Walking Dead. After all, like Carol, we want it, we deserve it and we’ve certainly suffered enough.