Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reality Television

By Meg Walter

There is one type of television we watch to experience a different world.  For an hour we walk in the shoes of a meth cook, a 1960's advertising executive, a fading country star or a man fighting a zombie takeover. We watch in wonder because their lives are so foreign from our own.   

There is another type of television we watch to see how others experience our own world. For an hour we witness characters walk  in  shoes that  look just like ours, and we watch in wonder because the writers and actors seem to understand everything about the way family, relationships and the navigation of life's inevitable challenges really work. NBC's Parenthood is this television.

Fans of Friday Night Lights lauded the series (and still do) for the rawness of its dialog and the realistic portrayal of is characters' lives. It comes as no surprise that Jason Katims, FNL's executive producer, brought this same raw subtlety to Parenthood, his latest production project. Though Parenthood takes place in Berkeley and the four central families live in spaces that make me drool with envy instead of the humble homes of FNL's small  town  Texas, their lives feel just as real and their relationships just as complex.

The show follows the  Bravermans, Zeek and Camille and their four children,  Adam, Sarah, Crosby and Julia. Each child has a family of their own and deal with an array of challenges that may face any American family, from infidelity, to financial problems, to special needs children, to cancer. It's drama without melodrama, and  the characters are written in  such a way that we're willing to stick with them  through whatever they might be going through, and  we want each  and  every one to succeed.

Much credit is due to the cast, full of veteran television actors, who masterfully act by avoiding overacting. They understand that real conversations don't sound like script recitation, but are instead peppered with awkward pauses and "ummms" and happen more with facial expression than with words. Lauren Graham (of Gilmore Girls) fame, leans into awkward situations like that bold person you know whose confidence is admirable. Mae Whitman (Arrested Development (Her?),"Scott Pilgrim Versus The World), nails the post-high school identity crises without inducing viewer vomit. Max Burkholder is so convincing as a middle-schooler with Asperger Syndrome that I was really surprised to learn that he doesn't actually have  the diagnosis. And Monica Potter ("Patch Adams," "Head Over Heals") whose character struggles to put her breast cancer recovery needs above her family's makes me cry every. single.  episode. As we watched Adam Braverman look on as his wife Kristina (Potter) taught their son Max how to dance before the dance he is attending only because his mom is sick and wants to see her son go to a dance in case she won't have another chance, I looked over to see my husband  wipe away some manly eye water and ask, "Why are they doing this to  me?"

Because they know how.  They know that real people deal with real problems. That marriages have disagreements. That people get sick. That family can be tough. And that real people have real stories that can be told with simplicity and that anyone who is part of a real life with a real  family will watch with appreciation, like I do every week.

Join me. Tonight and every Tuesday night on NBC.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Now and Again: the UES Edition

By Jen Gulbrandsen

The writers of Gossip Girl have failed us so badly, I almost feel like sending you only the initial thoughts I type while watching the show…just so you know how it truly feels to sit through something incomplete and incoherent and incapable.

Instead of a recap (because I honestly don’t even know how to properly explain to you what went down without constantly typing, “but then we find out that ACTUALLY…”), I’m going to go through each character. I’m going to give them to you at their best, and also where they are now. Lest you think I’m being completely lazy, it fits the theme of the episode, where it seems that everyone has found a way to return to high school in one way or another.

First up: Queen B.
Then – Empress of the Steps. Sartorial Hit. Beloved and Feared by all.
Now – This is painful for me to say, but she’s become a mess. And not even a hot one. She allows for everyone to rule her life, rather than rule everyone else. This is NOT OKAY.

Chuck Bass
Then – A childish snot with lots of money and really great ascot ties. Wears a lot of purple.
Now – He’s potentially the most dedicated of all the original Upper East Siders. Sure he still schemes and plays all of the games they play, particularly with regard to bringing down his jerk of a father, but he’s actually… a good guy? Still wears a lot of purple, thank goodness.

Nathan Archibald
Then – The boy you want to marry. Sleeps around a little more often than I’d like. Plays a lot of lacrosse.
Now – The boy you want to marry. Sleeps around a little more often than I’d like. No more lacrosse.

Then – Someone we cared about, fighting for recognition. Had a good grasp of general hygiene.
Now – Has recognition and pretends to like everyone in order to maintain that recognition. Desperately needs a hair intervention.

Serena van Der Whorsen is actually the most consistent of the group. Still bouncing from man to man, still wearing great clothing (yes, even I can admit that), still unable to locate a hairbrush.

I leave you now, hoping and praying for Little J to come back from wherever she is to remind everyone who they are. Because this is getting pathetic.

Jen emphasized in English at Brigham Young University. She currently freelances as a ghost writer and works as a personal stylist to feed her addiction to all things pretty. Her TV preferences range from The Vampire Diaries to Arrested Development and she lives in a fantasy world where Stars Hollow still exists. See more at jengulbrandsen.blogspot.com.