The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Mourning the Striped Pig, and Other News

September 30, 2015 | by

Time was you could find this fella on newsstands, getting sloshed.

  • Fact: the American newspapers and gazettes of the nineteenth century had names that absolutely trounced their present-day counterparts where liveliness and creativity are concerned (with the exception of the Modesto Bee, which remains a truly great paper title). In simpler times, you could spend your mornings over the Horseneck Truth Teller and Gossip Journal, Estabrook’s Great Public Chowder, Steven H. Branch’s Alligator, and the Striped Pig, among others.
  • For a different kind of nostalgia, contemplate MacGyver, which hit the airwaves thirty years ago and has left in its wake a mess of nerdy white-male heroics and misplaced, quasi-racist adventure: “MacGyver embraces its own insistent loneliness to an absurd degree. And that, in turn, makes the whole show feel distinctly retrograde … MacGyver sags under the weight of its old-school definition of heroism. It glorifies the single man—the single mullet—while treating other people as victims and saps.”
  • Not dissimilarly: in a new book, Lions in the Balance, Craig Packer attempts to careen between the MacGyver-esque machismo of those who hunt lions in the Serengheti and the “communal emotionalism” that so often animates conservation movements. “It is his position, as the story begins, that the lions of the Serengeti need sport hunters to survive; that Cecils must die if prides are to endure … In his quest to restructure incentives, in his willingness to take the long view, in his commitment to numbers over narrative, Packer deems himself ‘ultimately alone.’ ”
  • Trying to build a brand of one? Of course you are! This is the age of the brandividual. Let me tell you a few things you already knew, though: it’s a futile project, authenticity is a myth, and branding strategists are working to make our society a waking nightmare of empty professionalism. “I don’t think it’s possible to appeal to everyone and still be authentic, let alone unique. When [my branding strategist] declared my web-site font ‘almost hippie-dippy,’ I couldn’t help but get a bit defensive. So what if it is? My truest self does not use ‘impact as a verb.’ My truest self likes to be catty about former employers that have done me wrong, not write pleasant summaries of what I was able to achieve while working there. My truest self is sending GIFs to my friends, not cheerfully influencing strangers’ thoughts.”
  • Today in new and novel uses for the black crayon: Richard Serra’s strangely affecting “Ramble Drawings” are seventy-four works on paper, all “variations on Malevich’s square, stretched out and pressed with black lithographic crayons to achieve different textures: oily, streaky, pocked, solid. The pictures, stacked like rows of large, incongruous industrial cement bricks across the gallery walls, are anything but monotonous, however. Black never looked so colorful.”

The Disasterpiece

September 17, 2015 | by

The saga of Scary Lucy.


Illustration by Ellis Rosen.

In a no-frills park in Celoron, New York, where Lucille Ball grew up, there stands a four-hundred-pound bronze statue with a puss that’s been likened to Darth Vader, the demonic doll Chuckie, and Kim Hunter in her Planet of the Apes makeup. Scary Lucy, as the figure has been dubbed, bears no great resemblance to the comedienne who once hooked America with hennaed poodle bangs and balletic slapstick.

In early April 2015, some six years after Scary Lucy was installed, the local paper ran a story about the village seeking funds to improve or otherwise replace the statue. The A.V. Club picked up the development the next day, and nationwide coverage followed, from the New York Times (“NY Village Wants to Give Its Lucille Ball Statue a Makeover”) to Gawker (“Drunk, Leering Lucille Ball Statue Menaces Small Village”) to NPR (“In New York, A Sculptor’s Got Some S’plaining To Do”).

It was funny. But it was more than that. The black magic of statuary is in how the fact, myth, and memory associated with its flesh-and-blood celebrity can get canned inside it. Spark that with controversy, and presto: Lucille Ball’s Bronze Age. Read More »

Role Play

June 8, 2015 | by


A still from Holiday in the Protectorate.

Readers of the New York Times may have noticed a recent story about a new Czech reality show. In the tradition of Victorian House and other total-immersion programs, this one sticks modern people in another time—specifically a 1939 “remote mountain farm” in what was then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Hilarity does not ensue. As the article explains,

There, they must not only survive the rigors of rustic life with dated appliances and outdoor plumbing, but navigate the moral and physical dangers of life under Nazi rule.

German troops (played by actors) kick down their doors in the middle of the night. Local villagers betray them to the Gestapo. Food is scarce. Conditions are crude.

Everything about this show sounds distasteful, certainly. Besides the obvious objections, the basic flaw in these time-travel shows—the assumption that you can switch off modern mores along with central AC—seems doubly true here. Reading about it, I was reminded of when my father and I had gone to an exhibit featuring artifacts from the Titanic. To enter, we’d had to show a “boarding pass,” and they’d made us pose for an obligatory picture together at the top of the stairs they’d re-created, just like Rose and Jack in the movie. Read More »

Better Call Caravaggio

April 23, 2015 | by

Vince Gilligan borrows from the Baroque.


Above left, a still from Better Call Saul; above right, Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac (detail), 1602.

The eldest character in Better Call Saul isn’t Mike Ehrmantraut, Tuco’s unsuspecting abuelita, or any of the nursing-home residents shakily spooning gelatin from attorney-branded dessert cups. It’s the show’s sixteenth-century lighting scheme, which has better lines than even Bob Odenkirk himself—they’re just in the form of shadows rather than wry legalese.

In fact, while Saul’s setting derives from the blue crystal “artwork” of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, much of its symbolism draws from the black brushstrokes of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

Saul’s creators, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, have already confessed a soft spot for symbolism; they used a hot-and-cold color palette to divide the wardrobes of criminals and law-abiding citizens, with Jimmy bridging both worlds as he fights the temptation to break bad. These biblical undertones extend far past the fiery brimstone of Tuco’s shirt and the heavenly hues of “Hamlin Blue”—they go all the way back to the Baroque era of painting. Read More »

The Way the World Ends

February 5, 2015 | by

Being the last man on Earth.

From In the Mouth of Madness, 1981.

On a recent Sunday evening, trying to relax, I turned on the television and saw an ad for a new comedy series called The Last Man on Earth. It wasn’t clear how everyone else had died.

I had learned what I needed to know, or had remembered it: television does not relax me. I turned the television off, took an Ativan, and listened to The Teddy Charles Tentet, a terrific jazz record.

Phil Miller is the last man on earth—which makes him the world’s greatest handyman—world’s greatest athlete—[etc.]

The last man on earth.

But of course one is not the Last Man on Earth. There are other people, equal claimants to the Earth. It can be vexing to share it with them. Read More »

Have You Seen This Plaque? And Other News

January 6, 2015 | by


Photo: Stifehler, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Everyone says television has entered a new golden age, so it follows that books based on television have entered a new golden age, too. In other words, why write a novel when you can write a novelization? “For publishers, tie-in books have become cash cows that offer instant brand recognition and access to huge fan bases for vastly larger media … ‘Sometimes I meet writers who are like, “Why are you doing this?” but I would be betraying who I am if I said I’m never going to do this again because it’s beneath me as an artist … I combat the idea that these can’t be good novels.’ ”
  • Breaking: some hooligan has made off with the bronze plaque that hangs on Mark Twain’s grave marker in Elmira, New York. Authorities have ensured that it’s not on eBay.
  • Our literary critics have become less egotistical over the decades—have they also lost the touch? “Literary critics have become more subdued, adopting methods with less grand speculation, more empirical study, and more use of statistics or other data. They aim to read, describe, and mine data rather than make ‘interventions’ of world-historical importance.”
  • And Vanity Fair has done something of an about-face, too, if you look at its history. “That it has become such a celebratory document of the upper class is one of Vanity Fair’s ironies,” but the early iteration of the magazine, edited by Frank Crowninshield, “sought to break something. Its initial sharpness drove at some kind of point other than the enjoyment of fine food and clothing.”
  • Rediscovered credos on typography from a 1964 issue of Print magazine: “Is the typographer a prophet or a propagator of a new faith? Typography should be allowed individuality … [but] the aim of typography must not be expression, least of all self-expression, but perfect communication achieved by skill … Typography is a servant and nothing more.”