Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TV PARTY. My sublet has a TV, which is a blessing and a curse. In my experience, when granted a monitor the TV abstainer will start on substance and eventually work his way down to crap. So it's been for me; I started on TCM but soon hit the harder stuff. Not Dancing With The Stars, yet, but I have seen some of that show with the two fat people. It's alright, but they have some serious catching up to do with Roseanne and Dan.

My current favorite form of crap is Two and a Half Men. I watch it in reruns and first-run whenever I can. It's taken Larry David's commandment for Seinfeld -- "No learning" -- from a sneaky sophisticate's joke on sitcoms to its logical conclusion: A smooth and popular comedy about pathetic dysfunction enabled by unearned privilege.

Horndog Charlie has a glorious life in Malibu bought with jingles, and has been putting up his absurdly maladroit brother and his horrible kid for eight years. If they all lived in a double-wide and scavenged deposit bottles, this might be a documentary. But money makes it funny: The characters' various ineptitudes cause comic embarrassments instead of life-threatening crises.

Everyone snipes at one another, and no one ever leaves, though in real life Alan would probably be rotating in and out of SROs and periodically pleading his brother for a sofa and a shower from a pay phone outside a shelter, and the kid (now pretty well grown, but still chubby and stupid) would be in protective custody. Alan's and Charlie's mother is a true gorgon, and most of the other women on the show are bunnies outsizedly lusted after by both. (Charlie has the means to both get and get rid of them, but when he's actually emotionally interested in one, he is incompetent to commit, while Alan simply winds up paying more alimony.)

Married… With Children had a similarly miserable outlook but was played broadly, overlit and theatrical, a live-action Punch and Judy show (I've always thought Peg and Al would make a great Mere and Pere Ubu); Two and a Half Men is played more coolly in a traditional sitcom format, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In other words these people, in TV terms, are supposed to be real. And despite all their advantages, they're deeply unhappy. Their greatest pleasure is to insult their alleged loved ones with zingers that convulse the laugh-track and leave themselves bitter and wounded. If I were tasked with creating a time capsule to explain our low age to our feral survivors, I would have to include a boxed set of Two and a Half Men.

Also saw the John Lennon American Masters show on PBS. I'm allergic to hagiography, and there's a strong vein of it in this bio; the drugged- and drunk-up parts of his life, for example, are treated somberly as darkly romantic effusions of his artistic personality, which I can certainly get with but which removes the comic pathos that might really humanize him. (They relate the famous LA tampon incident, for instance, but don't include the punch line: Lennon saying to a waitress, "Don't you know who I am?" and the waitress replying, "Yeah, you're some asshole with a Kotex on his head." Too deflating, I guess.)

Nonetheless it's good to hear so much about the guy at work -- much of it from musicians and other collaborators, and some from tape track run-off that hints at his methods ("It has to be a little laid back because he's watchin' the wheels, he's not drivin' the damn truck"). Especially for someone with so much else to occupy his thoughts, Lennon worked very hard and seriously on his music, and I'm grateful for any glimpses I can get of how he did it.

And though I'm sure Yoko Ono, keeper of the flame, held a heavy club over this production, I'm glad this bio helps cement the acceptance of her stuff from the Lennon years as something more than a sideshow. When I was a teenager walking to downtown Bridgeport to buy any John Lennon single that came out, I'd play the Yoko b-sides almost as much as the Lennon songs. They sounded super groovy coming out of the tiny, maxed-out speaker of my picnic player. (Of course I was also a big fan of "They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa!" and its backward b/w. In fact I still am.) Whatever else she was and is, Ono had the balls to assert her bizarre idea of rock and, as Lennon astutely observed when he first heard the B-52s, the world caught up with her. Fuck Albert Goldman.

UPDATE. Some fine TV partying in comments; Kia does close analysis on Hoarders ("...gradually you begin to realize that the piles of crap are actually keeping the husband out of the house by the grace of a wise and powerful subconscious intuition... Do I have a life? Well, not much of a life. Why do you ask?" I hear ya, sis).

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