Friday, July 15, 2016

Contain Your Excitement

Did you catch CW’s “limited series event” Containment? No? Hooray! The US public health system works!

Seriously, if you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid infection with this particular bug, you can count yourself lucky. For reasons surpassing my own understanding, I’ve been watching it since it began back in April and as it sputters and spasms into the final stretch, coughing, wheezing, and bleeding from its various orifices along the way, I’m here to tell you about the experience.

The first sign of infection is Resting Bitch Face

First, a crucial question: Have you seen the movie Outbreak? How about The Andromeda Strain? Maybe Cabin Fever? Any of these? Yes? Congrats! You’ve already seen everything that you could possibly see in Containment. You have met your quota for disease outbreak contrivances. Please feel free to take a break and maybe watch a rom-com. If you answered no to any of those, get thee to Netflix and enjoy. There is a world of better viewing options if what you want to see is characters wrestling with an invisible antagonist that turns their own bodies against them, a healthy dose of gory body horror, and the requisite slow, creeping paranoia that attends both.

In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the premise of Containment: After a highly virulent strain of bird flu breaks out in inner city Atlanta, the CDC and a particularly unbelievable government official from the US Department of Homeland Security decide the only way to prevent the disease from becoming a global threat is to literally barricade the downtown core of the city with freight cars stacked on each other and lock in any potential infected until a treatment or cure can be devised. What follows is the usual mix of relationships torn asunder, new relationships forged, people acting like post-apocalyptic asshats, and, of course, blood and coughing. Lots and lots of blood and coughing.

"Hey Bob. Another day at the office in the quarantine zone, amirite? I hear ya, I hear ya."

The characters resemble a paint-by-numbers book: There’s One Good Cop who is on the outside of the cordon and just trying to do right by the people inside. His Strong Female Character sorta fiancé is only inside the cordon because she decided to go to work instead of agree to move her stuff into his apartment because she has Commitment Issues. There’s Innocent Pregnant Teenager, her Initially Evil But Really Loves Her mother, and her Earnest But Misunderstood Inner City Baby Daddy who just wants to be a good father so he actually breaks into the cordon. Attempting to carry the emotional core of the show is Tougher Than She Looks Schoolteacher, who is trapped with her elementary school class inside the cordon on the world’s worst field trip. Tougher Than She Looks Schoolteacher has a meet cute thing going with Trying To Learn About Responsibility Police Officer who has been a slacker most of his life but is being forced into adulthood by virtue of being one of the only armed members of law enforcement trapped inside the cordon. And, of course, overseeing all of this is Nice But Possibly Shady Doctor who is inside the cordon and may know more than he seems to (spoilers: he does) and his counterpart Morally Ambiguous Government Official Who Operates With Impunity and Never Checks in with Anyone Higher Up. Said official is the one to make the decision to lock in tens of thousands of people to potentially die horrible deaths.

Any TV Sluts readers live in Atlanta? Find out if you are in the infection zone!

The Incurable Cough of Death is an uncredited character, though really should have top billing by number of appearances alone. Second billing should go to White Handkerchief/White T-Shirt, which all characters must have on them in order to make that first bloody cough really pop.

Clearly, I don’t think highly of Containment. On technical merits, it’s really not that bad. It’s competently filmed and looks slick. The acting is, well, not great but far from the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s just not greater than the sum of its parts, which is a quality a show needs to have, particularly if it’s treading on very familiar ground. The show unfortunately commits the one error a show is never supposed to make, the cardinal sin of television: it’s boring. Despite a legitimately strong first episode, the overall pacing of the next 10 installments is sluggish at best. Much like the infected characters that start piling up on the screen, the show limps around, gradually getting less and less lifelike. (Sorry, btw: It’s literally impossible to write this review without overly relying on cheap medical puns.)

It didn’t really have to be that way. In its first episode, Containment generates more excitement and more dread than all of Fear the Walking Dead did in the entire first season. I mean, come on! It’s a viral outbreak! That just lends itself to drama. Unfortunately, the few times the show gets interesting it’s only interesting because of characters making decisions that are SO OBVIOUSLY bad ones, you find yourself riled up at the lunacy of people acting how no human, driven by fear or otherwise, would act. It’s not until episode 10 that any real action begins to happen again. Watching the meandering plotlines and characters moving around without any direction only to begin to finally come together in the end made me wonder why the show couldn’t have just been three or four episodes, which likely would have served it better.

My reaction when I was on episode four and realized I still had eight more to go.

If, after all this, you’re still game for binging on the series, it wraps up its final episode next week. Back episodes are available from the CW. Mercifully, this disease is one that we can all get into remission from as the network has already announced that there will be no second season and the storyline will wrap up at the end of its current plot. Apparently the network had hoped that Containment could take advantage of the trend toward anthology shows, presenting either a different outbreak or a story of different people should a second season have occurred. Given that the first exposure was so ill-serving, it’s best to just let this patient go peacefully. 

Saturday, July 09, 2016

What Ben's Watched On Streaming for June/July

I've watched a bunch of things on streaming media recently. Here are my short-ish reviews:

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, Season 3 (Netflix)


A friend of mine recently said, "yeah, I was watching Agents of SHIELD, and then it got really stupid." I think she was referring to sometime in Season 2. 

Which is true, Agents of SHIELD perenially has a plot which I'd describe thematically as "peak comic book," where all plot threads come together into a unified whole no matter how disparate they seem to be at the beginning, and some stuff seems shoehorned in. It is apparently inconceivable to the Agents of SHIELD writers that SHIELD could have to deal with two major issues at the same time and they never team up or subsume each other. 

The show is also knocking off characters at a Game of Thrones rate (okay, pre-season 6 season finale Game of Thrones rate) sometimes seemingly because Joss Whedon doesn't want to pay for an actor anymore. Similarly, the "big bad" for the last half of the season sometimes seemed to be down a henchman because, I think, either the actor they had for him (who's B-list famous) was too expensive to be in every episode if he didn't have lines or he had a prior commitment so he couldn't appear in half the episodes you'd expect to see him in.

That said, as a guy who just read all the issues of Radioactive Spider-Gwen and spin-offs available on Marvel Unlimited (Gwen Stacy is a much more interesting Spider-Person than Peter Parker! Also she's in an alternate universe where Captain America was always an African-American woman and Daredevil is evil! You really should read it!), I have a pretty high tolerance for comic book stupid (I had to read through several issues with Spider-Ham -- yes, the Spider-Man that is an anthropomorphic pig -- crossovers) if a show is otherwise diverting. And Agents of SHIELD remains entertainingly diverting.

Also, Clark Gregg is still clearly enjoying his job and is a joy to watch.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Amazon Prime)


Elevator pitch for this show: "It's Attack on Titan, but with zombie mobs instead of naked giants, and it's set in a steampunk late Tokugawa Japan where most of the action takes place one of the armored supply trains for the rail system that keeps the last few human outposts connected."

The execution is, at best, fair. Writing seems to be done by folks given the directive: "use the formula we know works for shounen [teenage boy-marketed] anime for the elevator pitch you just heard. Do not, under any circumstances, take any risks with plot or characterization or otherwise give the audience something they likely have not seen before in another anime."
It's always magical zombies with glowing hearts covered in some sort of difficult-to-penetrate metal alloy. isn't it?
I could go on and give details, but it would really be a waste of your brain space. It's not good.

Penny Dreadful (Netflix)


This was reviewed before on this blog, but I actually like it a little more.

Let's not get too excited: I don't love Penny Dreadful as high art. I like it as a television version of a gothic horror (which also has influence from - and name-checks - the Grand Guignol style of gory theater) acted by people who are capable of much more substantial work than being "morally compromised supernatural evil-hunting team."

And that's what Penny Dreadful is -- Timothy Dalton plays the rich African explorer father of Mina Harker -- yes, that Mina Harker -- who assembles a semi-random team of dangerous misfits to rescue his daughter from a vampire. They are:
  • the African explorer's mysterious African warrior butler/something (Danny Sapiani)
  • demon-possessed psychic childhood friend of Mina (Eva Green)
  • American gunslinger whose dark secret would be only revealed in the last episode of the first season if it wasn't spoiled by the credits sequence (Josh Hartnett)
  • Dr. Victor Frankenstein -- yes, that Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadway)
In a parallel plotline, for reasons I can't quite understand, there's Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney); yes, the Oscar Wilde one with the painting. He seems to be there mostly to create multiple romantic issues with Josh Hartnett's character; Gray has sex with two women Ethan Chandler (Hartnett) is romantically entangled with, plus Chandler himself. I don't think this spoils much in the first season because, as I said, Dorian Gray has no direct relationship to the main plot. 
Here's Ethan Chandler and Dorian Gray making out. While there is a bunch of male full-frontal nudity in this show, sadly not of these guys. 
Also, Billie Piper is in this as a prostitute dying of consumption. She needs a better post-Doctor Who agent. 

As I said above, this show is sort of an update of gothic horror and Grand Guignol; the point is not that it's good, it's that it's constantly entertaining or at least shocking in a visceral way. There is a plot and there is dialogue. As the previous blogger on this beat noted, neither are particularly compelling (although the pacing of the story is good). But the production values, the acting, and the fact that everyone making this is taking it seriously instead of winking at the audience somehow raise it above "dumb" to "weirdly fun." 

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Magicians' Best Trick is in Being Actually Pretty Good

Okay, I’ve got a story for you. Imagine, if you will, a young man named Quentin Coldwater who discovers that he has been accepted to study magic at a mysterious school and join the ranks of the world’s magicians, those who can work actual magic. Along the way, Quentin and his friends begin to discover that a beloved series of children’s books about adorable English orphans who escape to a magical land may, in fact, be based on reality. Of course, nothing is as it seems and while our heroes learn more about their powers, they become aware that a dark and powerful force is watching and coming for them.

I know, right? Can totally see where all this is going. The premise will sound achingly familiar to anyone who has even glanced in the direction of the fantasy section at Barnes & Noble. Nonetheless, SyFy’s The Magicians, based on the series of books of the same name by Lev Grossman, has finished its first season. And, actually? It’s pretty good.

Accio Preppy Girl!

What makes The Magicians’ story more interesting than what you might expect is that it actually does a fair job avoiding the well-worn tropes of fantasy. Some things remain, of course. There’s still an overly-powerful villain bent on doing bad things; the merry band of adventurers must still come together to save the land; there are, natch, talking animals. But where both the books and TV series succeed is in striking out on some new ground.  Unlike most fantasy stories, Quentin is not a chosen one. The books go out of their way to explain that there are no prophesies, no special destinies to be fulfilled. In fact, anyone can do magic if they are smart enough, focused enough, and possess some latent skill for it. Add to this that Quentin’s fellow students are far from the precocious mainstays that seem to pass through Hogwarts. They’re loud, drunk, hedonistic, complicated, a little giddy about how cool it is that they can do magic. When the books were published they were somewhat derisively referred to as “hipster Harry Potter”, which wasn’t altogether unfair.

All that gritty real life is on full display in the show. Brakebills University is the college to Hogwarts’ primary and secondary school and as such, the characters are that much older and more adult-acting. There’s no wondering about which students are having illicit romantic liaisons with each other; like many college students, these characters are fully in possession of their sex lives and their extra-curricular interests, most of which come in the form of intoxicants both literal (alcohol) and metaphorical (SyFy’s tagline for the show, after all, is “Magic is a drug”).

Levitation sex is totally a thing.

That reality sometimes comes crashing in on itself. A lot of folk attempted to read the books and couldn’t make it through the first one. This was largely due to how epic of an entitled, whiney jerk Quentin is but also because, frankly, does anyone really need another jaded-eyed novel about how excruciating it is to be young, pretty, powerful, and yet feel bored and unfulfilled? That was pretty much the entire point of Gossip Girl, but at least that story knew it was a satire. Here’s one area where The Magicians the show outshines The Magicians the book: the characters are actually interesting and the entire narrative thrust isn’t solely focused on alternately mocking fantasy stories while trying to weave an all-too-knowing narrative about privilege into the fabric.

Another area where the show succeeds is by significantly venturing from the book’s established plot, taking a page from Game of Thrones’ book. While fans of the book will recognize similar set pieces and plots, as well as a general agreement in narrative direction, the show contains a number of differences, some directly related to the outcome of the plot. Again, like Game of Thrones, characters that survive in the books are killed off early in the show. Other characters are created out of whole cloth, merged, or altered significantly. Case in point: Margo, a fellow student at Brakebills who’s name in the book is Janet. While Margo and Janet as characters are certainly echoes of each other, the very fact of Margo’s name is something of an Easter Egg that hints at a major difference in the end of the season.

The biggest change, however, is the inclusion of Julia, Quentin’s classmate/best friend/crush object since forever. Julia’s presence in the first book is almost non-existent; she’s seen in the first few pages and then vanishes for the rest of the story only to turn up at the very end of the book radically different from how she was at the start. We as readers don’t get her story until book two. The series instead interweaves Quentin’s formal magical learning at the storied and WASP-y Bakebills with Julia’s much more dangerous street-level education as hedge witch. Not only does this change give us as viewers a much richer sense of the world of magic and how deeply it runs, but it also allows us to see the development of Julia’s character in a way that lets her claim her own story.

Today, finger sparks. Tomorrow, I dunno. More levitation, maybe?

Generally, the show suffers in the areas that a lot of shows suffer during their inaugural seasons. The pacing of the first few episodes is particularly clunky, veering headlong into plot points that probably should have been spaced out a bit while lingering on others that didn’t need more than a mention or two. The writers also seem to have a hard time grasping the characters voices initially. Penny, a sometimes foil to Quentin, is cast as a rebel and a verbal flame thrower, but instead of coming off nuanced in the first few episodes he just lands on unrepentant jerk. Alice, the Hermione Granger of the group, is done up in Hollywood “smart girl” drag, which is to say she wears glasses and plaid skirts and high collars is given lines to emphasize how socially awkward she is.

Could be worse. At least she's not studying Communications.

The show also sometimes seems to forget its own mission statements. Remember how I said in the books Quentin was not a chosen one? Well, the show gets a little wobbly on that bit. Quentin isn’t portrayed as having some kind of grand destiny, but a twist in the plot that is missing from the books does imbue Quentin with a bit more importance than his written counterpart ever had. Likewise, the choice to showcase how different Julia and Quentin’s education is ends up being underlined a bit too much, right down to the cold, washed out colors Julia’s sequences are filmed in contrasting with Quentin’s highly saturated, vivid experience.

What the show does right, however, is start to course correct after the first few hours which is where I kind of started to fall in love with it despite its initial faults. Given that the books showcase a story that is so transparently about privilege, it is ironic to have a cast that is just…so…white. The show improves on this, adding more diversity to the cast and fleshing out the supporting characters from the book more specifically. Students Penny and Eliot benefit most from this approach with Penny portrayed by Indian American actor Arjun Gupta and Eliot, the sole LGBT character in the series who also is the only one in the book to have literally NO romantic interactions with anyone, given a relationship to develop in the show. (Viewers may find that relationship, shall we say, “problematic”, but that’s another point.)

Seriously. Eliot rocks. His entire magical motivation is basically gin.


What you end up with is a first season that starts off wobbly but finds its legs over time. The show has a little more creative freedom to play with and gets to include new story elements that the books, oddly, never found time for. Also worth mentioning is that the showrunner is Sera Gamble, who was the showrunner for most of the good seasons of Supernatural. The show is eminently binge-able and has already been renewed for a second season, making it perfect for your summer TV watching. 

Friday, May 06, 2016

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 2

So, as this blog's resident always-watching-Netflix correspondent, I watched the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Did you watch the first season? No? Go do that right now! This blog post will wait.

Okay, okay, I'll recap the first season, quickly.

After being kidnapped and held for 14 years in Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne's (Jon Hamm at his sleaziest) underground bunker, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) decides to make a new life for herself in New York City. Having no knowledge of the outside world or life since the age of 14, Kimmy finds herself in a series of fish-out-of-water situations, many involving her job as an assistant/nanny/maid to self-obsessed trophy wife Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski). Helping her in their own inimitable way are Kimmy's roommate and decades-long aspirant to Broadway, Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), and landlord Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane).

Tina Fey is a co-creator and producer of this series, and so it goes at 30 Rock speed with gags. It's pretty funny; although occasionally a joke falls flat, most are great.

While the first season was about Kimmy getting settled in NYC and getting the Reverend convicted for his crimes, this one is about the growth of three of the main characters:

1) Kimmy:
Kimmy is a Christmas store employee this season.
Dealing with the psychological effects of what's happened to her instead of repressing them. Tina Fey, in a cameo as her therapist, tells her that she has Robert Durst (Fred Armisen -yes, there's a running Robert Durst gag this season) stress burps.

2) Titus getting out of his lonely rut - Titus starts dating and works to advance his career, instead of just filming bad raps about "black penis" in abandoned warehouses (if you haven't seen Season 1, that's a great episode).

3) Jacqueline, now divorced, tries to figure out what she should do now that she's no longer Upper West Side rich. Also, Jane Krakowski and Anna Camp go "rich white woman war" against each other:
Seriously, Anna Camp is at her cheerful psychotic best here (3rd best - True Blood, 2nd Best - Pitch Perfect, Pitch Perfect 2). 

While all this self-discovery is happening, Lillian is trying to keep the neighborhood from being gentrified by hipster types like Girls' Zosia Mamet:
Pizza rat makes an appearance. A homeless guy nicknamed "Methadone Charlie" makes several appearances. Ice-T gives a eulogy for a man who played a body in several Law and Order episodes.

Oh, and Amy Sedaris is in it, too. Her character briefly impersonates Sia:

I found the second season to build well on the first. It's hard for me to explain why the second season works without ruining half the jokes; like 30 Rock, it's a dense cluster of references and running gags, hearing a knock-off song to the tune of "I Believe I Can Fly" ends up being a hilarious gag in context, but I don't want to ruin the episode for you by explaining the context.

If there's a flaw to this season, is that the show is not subtle. At all. There are episodes with definite political points of view:

  • The episode where Tina Fey clearly wants to tweak all the people who complained about ethnic portrayals in last season without engaging the actual art itself, by having Titus reenact his past life as a geisha as a one-man show:
As a high tenor, Tituss Burgess can sing the heck out of the Takeda lullaby.
  • Drugs to kids who are merely hard-to-handle, but not actually mentally ill, is a super-bad idea.
  • Washington, D.C.'s football team has a racist name and its owners are horrible people.
Depending on how sympathetic you are to these arguments, those episodes will be more or less funny to you. I thought most of them were hilarious, plus David Cross (who I have often found unwatchable outside of Arrested Development) has a great performance.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Serving Up Cake and Pie Realness

Okay, confession: I’m not all sci-fi and comic books and depressing, dreary futurism. While the majority of my television habits definitely veer toward the, shall we say, anti-transcendental, I actually do have a profoundly lighter sensibility as well. Like a nice crème brulee, even my hardened exterior can sometimes crack and you can see the gooey, sweet center. My guilty pleasure is that there are actually some reality shows that I enjoy and key among them is that fluffiest of confections from our cousins overseas, The Great British Bake Off.

I love baking. I love figuring out how to put all these weird ingredients together in a way that will taste new and interesting. I love figuring out how it is that the right combination of certain elements mixed together will change their shape and properties. Basically, baking is like chemistry, but there’s a winner. Turn that philosophy into a literal competition and then add a dash of utterly charming hosts and I’m sold. Basta. Game over.

How many baking metaphors do we think I can work into this post?

For those not in the know, The Great British Bake Off is a competition series from BBC Two that has been running for six years. The tropes of all reality television are firmly entrenched – each season has around 12 amateur contestants who compete each week for two judges. Each week, one baker is eliminated until eventually someone wins. Sadly for those of us in the US, only one season is readily available without resorting to, ahem, unsavory means. Part of this stems from the fact that the phrase “bake off” is actually trademarked in the United States and owned by Pillsbury. More on that later.

In each show, contestants complete three challenges: a signature challenge where bakers show off something they are practiced at making, a technical challenge where bakers are tasked with creating something new with limited instructions and/or ingredients designed to test their skills, and a showstopper challenge where bakers are tasked with coming up with something that is both professional looking and tastes outstanding. Each bake is judged by two judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.

Delightful British charm included.
Assisting the process is Mel and Sue, the show’s presenters who not only introduce each of the challenges but interact with the contestants during their bakes. Mel and Sue are noted mostly for their humor and encouraging nature (“There are two ways to make a Swiss roll,” they tell contestants in one episode. “First of all, you push Roger Federer down a hill. Secondly, a lovely thing involving sponge and jam.”), though they have detractors as well.

Mostly from people who hate life.

Certainly there is no shortage of cooking competitions in the US or England for that matter. What sets The Great British Bake Off apart from the rest, however, is the general tone of the show. You guys, it’s so… fricking… nice. We are conditioned to watch competitions for the drama produced. American audiences in particular expect to see backstabbing! Alliances! Tears! Egos! Bake Off refreshingly eschews all of that. Contestants are kind to one another. They help each other out. There is no incentive to gang up on each other and force someone out of the competition. It’s telling that in six years of production, there has really only been one “oh no she better don’t” moment (somewhat affectionately referred to as “bin-gate” by devotees) showcased on the show. In fact, the most interpersonal tension the show has really managed to cook up is the occasional “smutty remarks” from show presenters Mel and Sue. And isn’t that about the most English form of protest you can imagine?

The pressure to be nice and kind to one another while under a deadline is INTENSE!

Even the setting, typically in a large baking tent is some utterly lovely English glade, is tailor-made for avoiding the traditional lighting and sound effects that create dramatic tension on so many other reality shows.  It’s all so… healthy. Which is ironic, given the metric ton of sugars and fats present in each episode. Which leads to the other thing about the show that is so lovely; the food. Seriously, you guys. This is food porn of the highest quality. Behold:

This is basically straight up hardcore porn for me. #sorrynotsorry


So why has a show so remarkably delicious not taken off in the US? Well, partially due to legal concerns. As mentioned earlier, Pillsbury owns the rights to the phrase “bake off” in the US, forcing the show when it has aired in the States to air under the name The Great British Baking Show. A US version was attempted in 2013 called The American Baking Competition, which should be a case study in exactly how to use marketing to utterly water down a title. The show was hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, for reasons surpassing understanding, and imported Paul Hollywood but not Mary Berry. Which was clearly another wrong step. The show failed to find an audience, likely not only due to its lack of the same English charm as its parent show, but also due to its comparatively undramatic nature. Because this is America and we can’t have nice things.


Still, do yourself a favor and watch this damn show. It’s just so ridiculously charming. And enjoy watching the loads and loads of baked goods assembled before your eyes, ever alluring, ever unobtainable, ever interfering with your summer beach goals. 



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

TV Sluts Threeway, OJ Simpson Edition

Hello, Readers! As we are wont to do from time to time, your TV Sluts have joined forces to collectively discuss The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story. The miniseries, the latest from Ryan Murphy and co. and following up on the success of American Horror Story, profiles the trail surrounding the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in 1995. What did we think of it? Find out... 

Please let there be aliens... please let there be aliens...

Arsenic Pie: SLUTS ASSEMBLE

Maggie Cats: WOOHOO. That's the secret; we're always slutty.

Clovis: Slutty, slutty assembling.

AP: But we are not always assembled and not always slutty in the same place in time and space. Who would like to begin? BECAUSE OMG

MC: General thoughts?

C: So much racism! So much sexism!

AP: It was, much like the case itself, a train wreck. In that I could not look away.

MC: I remember when the trial was happening, I think I was...14? But most of the broader cultural implications were completely lost on me.

AP: Also: Kato!! What what what was he on?

C: Kato was criminally (see what I did there?) underused.

AP: I see what you did, and I appreciate it.

MC: That pun was a crime.

AP: Yeah, I remember it all happening, but I also paid zero attention to it. If punning you is wrong, I don't want to be right!

C: I remember classes in my high school shutting down so that we could watch the verdict being delivered. Even in small town lily-white MI, it was a thing.

MC: I think the main things I took away from the show was how ridiculously underprepared the prosecution was for the defense's strategy and how Marcia Clark was eviscerated in the media. Basically for being a woman. That enraged me.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

AP: Well, that hairdo was pretty bad. I had no idea she was a rape victim.

MC: Me neither! I wonder if that came out in the book she wrote after the trial.

AP: And I also didn't remember/know that a tabloid published a nekked photo of her. Because what do you do when there's a lady lawyer? You slut shame her OBVS.

C: Duh. Ladies practicing law? Pshaw! Who ever heard of such a thing?

AP: Next you'll tell me they let the womenfolk do the doctorin’. That just ain't natural.

MC: Seriously. It kind of opened my eyes to the progress we have made even in the last few decades. Though stuff like this still happens, but nowadays I think there would be backlash.

C: I was really glad to see how they treated Marcia Clark as a character. Which is to say, I thought they showed really well that she was always in a damned-if-she-does-damned-if-she-doesn't place.

MC: I absolutely agree. Any character with Kiss From a Rose as their theme song is OK by me.

C: Oh Man, we need to talk about the wondrous ‘90s music employed in this show.

AP: I was also interested in the way they portrayed her. They showed her as someone who was really trying to do her job and get at the truth, and not as a famewhore. Who was Johnnie Cochran. Who is the biggest famewhore in the history of famewhores BT Dubs. And that actor’s portrayal was spot on. 

Real life v. Hollywood. Brother from another mother?

MC: Absolutely. She did an impossible job AND was in the middle of a custody battle. That's brutal.

C: Agreed, but I also liked that Johnnie Cochran was a complex character himself. Like, he was a total famewhore, but one who did have a very clear guiding principle that wasn't just around his own self-aggrandizement. (Though, that obviously was a factor as well.)

MC: The guy who played Cochran [Courtney B. Vance] has been in a lot of Law & Orders and is always great. I was psyched when I saw he was playing that role.

AP: I remember when I started watching it, I looked up who was playing Cochran because he nailed it. He was really the stand-out for me, acting-wise.

C: Totally. I had to keep reminding myself that he wasn't actually Johnnie Cochran. And on the other end of the spectrum WTF John Travolta?

AP: I know, right! Oh, he was baaaaaad.

MC: OMG that was so weird! Sarah Paulson for me was the real stand out.

AP: Yes, she was excellent.

MC: Was Travolta supposed to be bad though? Like, was that the character? He was just so swarmy.

C: It was like watching a demented sad clown trying to be a lawyer. Krusty would have been a better choice.

AP: I am so over Travolta. And was he wearing a bad make-up job or is that is face now?

MC: He is plastic fantastic. I actually thought he was fabulous as that character; but that's because we aren't supposed to like that guy either.

AP: It was a departure for him, but I can't say I'm a fan of his acting. Just kind of chewed the scenery a bit. It was a bit too much.

Pennywise wasn't this disturbing.

MC: CAN WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT DAVID SCHWIMMER? He was great.

AP: YES! YES WE CAN BECAUSE HOLY SHIT ROSS IS ROBERT KARDASHIAN!

MC: "Juice...Juice..." It was crazy. So basically OJ Simpson is responsible for the Kardashians. THANKS,OJ.

AP: And that is why OJ is currently in prison. He *was* good, I have to say. But I was always distracted by his skunk hair.

MC: That's what that guy's hair looked like though!

AP: No wonder Kris cheated.

C: What did you guys think of the decision to incorporate the Kardashians into the story? Obviously, they're trying to say something about what fame does to people.

MC: I had read the showrunners were specifically setting out to show the cultural impact of the trial. Example: Kato.

C: And the Kardashians are obviously one of the biggest components of that.

Next season on American Horror Story...

AP: I thought the scene with the little Kardashians was good foreshadowing. Like, you could see Little Kim plotting to become famous somehow. Overall, you could see that the show was addressing the cultural shift.

MC: It certainly did not paint a flattering portrait of most of the LA rich people.

AP: It was kind of the first time there was wall-to-wall coverage of a murder case, and it wasn't because people were interested in it legally or wanted to see justice done, they just wanted to be entertained, and the media complied.

C: Agreed. It seems to me that the big takeaways the show wanted us to, well, take away were the danger in obsession with fame, the problem with putting justice essentially to a public vote, and the very real and very much still pervasive mistreatment of minorities by white people in power.

MC: Absolutely. The whole thing had a "last days of Rome" feel to it.

AP: It was bread and circuses all the way.

MC: Everyone had a stake and an opinion on it. It was like a perfect storm with the race issues, celebrity, and salaciousness. Fo sho

C: I mean, Chris Darden's last speech to Johnnie Cochran even lays it out when he says "[the police] are still going to keep right on killing us." They may as well have had a flash forward to a Black Lives Matter march.

AP: And don't forget the domestic violence angle. Because yes, the cops were racist. And yes, Mark Furhrman is kind of a Nazi. But that doesn't take away from the fact that OJ beat and terrorized Nicole.

MC: Since I didn't follow the actual case closely as a kid, a lot of the facts of the crime were a surprise to me. Like how the LAPD failed at every possible step of the way. The prior beatings and abuse were a shock to me as well. It was so awful.

AP: They completely failed. That was one part of the case I knew about. I knew about that and the glove, and that was about it.

MC: I think the show also worked to keep the focus on the victims, something the trial was not able to do. Like, "hello? Remember the people who were brutally murdered?"

C: But weirdly, we never saw the victims. Which, for a Ryan Murphy show, I was really surprised by given that he never met a bloody body scene he didn’t love to film. We see flashes of two bodies in the first episode, but never their faces. It’s not until the show ends that we even see any representation of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.

AP: I actually thought that was a good choice. It was respectful to the victims not to cast them as Body 1 and Body 2. It was better to just let the real victims be...the victims.

C: It seemed to me like the show was trying to make a point about how much the actual victims were left behind in this process.

MC: Totally agree. This was actually the strongest Ryan Murphy show I have seen. I think because it was limited run, completely mapped out in advance, and based on real events. Keeping the Dad and sister of Ron (I think?) front and center was smart.

C: Yeah, because he was bound by facts and couldn't throw in aliens in episode 6. Just for funsies.

AP: True or False: Aliens would have made it that much more intriguing.

C: I maintain that John Travolta was playing his character as an alien. It's the only thing that makes sense to me.

MC: False. Truth is stranger than fiction. Also, Hahahaha, word.

AP: I think we may have a solid theory going. I mean, Homeboy is a Scientologist. I'm sure he thought aliens factored into it somehow.

MC: Oh, lord.

C: "Aliens did it" would actually probably make a more believable defense strategy than the one they actually presented.

AP: "If I Did It," by OJ Simpson. 

Please note that this is an actual book. 

MC: So, I have to ask. Do you guys think he did it? I have never expressed an opinion because I never thought I knew enough of the facts.

AP: I still don't think I know enough of the facts, to really say for sure. I would say he probably did it, but I also wonder if there wasn't someone else involved.

C: I think, based only on what I know from reading, that yes he definitely did it.

MC: How about this: do you think OJ believes it was someone else? The way he was portrayed it was like he honestly didn't know why he was there.

AP: Yes. That I believe. He might have done it in a fit of rage, and then honestly blacked out.

C: I think OJ probably doesn't have a realistic impression of his own mind. Which is to say, I think he knows he did it, but in his head the reasoning for it is so constructed and explained away and rationalized that he effectively believes that he did not do something he did.

MC: I would believe that; or convinced himself he blacked out. Right--and justified. Since Nicole was "his." It was creepy how he always called her "my Nicole."

C: That's what makes his whole case fascinating in my mind: I think he's pretty clearly the killer, but the case lived and died on the very real issue of institutionalized racism.

AP: And he really got off because the cops were so incompetent.

MC: It was like, the jury let this one black man go who actually committed it in response to all the black men who were convicted and innocent. And, to be fair, that is a legit reason to get off.

C: For me, the show hit it best in the last episode in a scene between Johnnie and his wife. His wife effectively says that OJ very likely did the crime that he was accused of, but the reason why she's proud of Johnnie is because he shined a light on how terribly African Americans are treated by the police in this country. Even if OJ didn’t deserve to go free, the attention his case brought was still a good thing. The case was an imperfect one, but the issue it raised is one that needs to be talked about, basically.

Justice, LAPD-style.

MC: Our justice system is designed around the idea it is better to let 10 guilty men free rather than imprison one innocent man. 

AP: Or the jury may have believed the defense. They might have actually thought that they knew what cops were like, and in their minds, it's totally reasonable for cops to plant evidence.

MC: Which we all know is now how things go down. I totally agree with Clovis. And like we noted, the police fucked this up royally.

C: I don't believe that the jury "threw" the case, for lack of a better word. I'm pretty convinced that the jury members honestly believed that he did not commit the murders.

AP: No, I don't think they threw it either. I think they honestly thought the cops planted evidence. Because the jury was comprised of African-Americans, and cops have planted things on African Americans.

MC: Well, you don't have to believe he was innocent. You just have to have reasonable doubt. I'm not sure I would have convicted. Even if I believe he did it. Reasonable doubt is not that high a bar.

C: Exactly. They had enough experience with the LAPD to easily believe the police were corrupt and that it wasn't beyond reasonable doubt that they could have framed OJ. Hence, acquittal. 

MC: The defense definitely called a lot of the evidence into question; and remember, this was basically the first high profile use of DNA. There was no CSI. People were like, whaaaaa?

C: Also it shows how you have to be careful telling a story, right? "Please listen to this long, droning explanation of science" isn't as compelling for people as "these racist corrupt cops tried to pull a fast one on you."

MC: Exactly. The show did a good job of showing how the jury was totally not getting it--nobody wants to hear 3 days of some scientist blabbering on.

AP: No, if it's not in layman's terms, nobody is going to care.

C: So what do we think were the things the show did best?

AP: THE CAR CHASE. With OJ and the gun and the screaming = Hilarious. You can't make this shit up. That's why it's so good.

Traffic on the 405 this morning: Light with a few backups due to fugitive activity. Normal Tuesday, folks!

MC: It definitely told a compelling story. And I thought was pretty honest while still being dramatic.

AP: The script was compelling, and the cast was committed.

C: I thought they did a really good job of taking a period piece and connecting it subtly but solidly with issues that we're seeing today. And that it didn't have the usual Ryan Murphy hallmarks of weird shit happening just for fuck's sake.

MC: For sure; I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of everything. But it still felt soapy enough that it was entertaining.

AP: It was really quite addictive. Nobody was phoning it in, except Travolta, who was coming to us live via satellite from his auditing center.

MC: He was with his alien overlords so distracted.

C: Travolta's thetans really deserve an Emmy nod for this one.

AP: And he'll have to donate half his Emmy to the church. And Lord Xenu. And Tom Cruise

C: IT'S CALLED TITHING AND HOW ELSE ARE YOU GOING TO GO CLEAR WITHOUT IT?!?

MC: Don't forget Nathan Lane. So random! The casting in this was so weird and so awesome.

C: How much fun did Nathan Lane have playing an uber straight dude? I mean, really?

AP: I loved Nathan Lane. He was basically playing Ken Starr.

MC: But David Schwimmer definitely wins for most random. And great. But I thought he only directed stuff now. He hasn't been in anything for a while. It was a great role too--I found his whole arc about doubting OJ's innocence and struggling with that really compelling. What would you do if you believed your best friend murdered someone? I mean, we're all cool with it because TV Sluts united forever. But it must be hard for normal people.

C: We're going to be blogging from prison, let's face it.

AP: They let you have internet time in Gitmo, right?

MC: I bet Arsenic Pie goes first. She'll get put in the slammer for speeding tickets and they'll ignore all the real crimes you've committed.

AP: FOR THE LAST TIME, PUNNING IS NOT A CRIME! You know I'm going to bust some kittens out of a university science lab and it'll be the big house for AP.

MC: 20 to life, bitch. You'll get your comeuppance.

AP: Fortunately, I learned to fashion a shiv from watching Downton Abbey. Anyway, back to it, OJ didn't seem like OJ, casting-wise. He's supposed to be a pro football player, right? Why was the actor they cast so fucking tiny?

MC: Well, he HAD been. He was retired at that point.

AP: Right, but he didn't shrink. He was physically too small for the role.

MC: It's pretty common for pro athletes to gain a lot of weight after they stop playing.

C: I thought Cuba Gooding Jr did a good job, but agreed that he never quite nailed OJ. Like, he just didn't quite become the part the way Courtney B Vance did for Johnnie Cochran or Sarah Paulson did for Marcia Clark.

MC: I actually think is a good thing to talk about--because the show didn't seem to want to take a stance on whether OJ knew he did it or not. So I don't know how much Cuba was given. It's hard to walk that line. 

AP: He did a good job being Cuba Gooding Jr. He didn't seem physically imposing at all is my point.

MC: The first few episodes of showing how he could get very unbalanced. I would have like to have seen him rage out.

AP: He didn't go all the way into how scary OJ supposedly could be.

Unclear if this is a compliment to OJ Simpson or an insult to Cuba Gooding Jr.

C: Maybe the reason for that is because the show was trying to be agnostic about his guilt or innocence. I mean, it's notable that we never once see any kind of recreation of the night in question, which would have been easy enough to film.

MC: Agreed. The audience is definitely supposed to make up their own mind. So it's difficult for an actor to play that role when the story never specifically tells him whether he did or not. He has to be convincing both ways.

C: And that fits with the idea that the show really isn't that interested in OJ himself, it's interested in the questions raised by the case (and trial) and what the cultural fallout from it was.

MC: BOOM. NAILED IT.

C: Thanks. I am incredible, aren't I?

MC: It's this kind of hard hitting analysis people expect from us. Also poop jokes.

AP: And Scientology jokes. Cuba did a fine job acting-wise. He just seemed kinda there. Like, he's not as tall as OJ, and not as muscular, and he didn't have that same physicality. Which, even if the focus isn't on OJ, OJ should still have been more of an elephant in the room. He just wasn't.

"Yes, you, young man. Would you mind trying on the gloves of this famous football player?"

MC: Yeah, agreed. The 8 previous calls to the police for domestic abuse is kind of a hard fact to ignore. The whole thing is just awful. Everyone failed Nicole in this circumstance.

C: The thing that was probably most heart-breaking to me was the scene of the Goldman family silently walking back to their car, hearing the news reports of people celebrating throughout the city and then asking "what do we do now?"

MC: Absolutely.

AP: You sue. That’s what you do.

C: Which has always been the thing that brings me back to the guilt or innocence question when you think about OJ. If he didn't do, someone did and that someone has never been pursued. Of course, the reason why is because the LA DA honestly believes that they found the killer and there's no one else to pursue, but hey. Double Jeopardy, everyone!

MC: But then when we say things like that, I want to roll my eyes and be like, of course we know who did it. Which kind of throws my whole "I haven't made up my mind yet' thing out the window.

AP: The defense did do a good job of pointing that out. That no other suspects were ever considered.

MC: Any final thoughts? 

C: I'm interested to see what next season is. This is an anthology series, after all.

AP: I would like to see them do the Steven Avery case, actually

MC: Charles Manson? Lizzy Borden? Good stuff about women in there.

AP: Nothing will top Christina Ricci though.  The Christina Ricci one was such a hot mess!!

C: I would love a season focused on the Chicago Murder Castle and the World's Fair. (Devil in the White City stuff.)

MC: As long as they focus on the murders and not the architecture. Zzzzzzzz

AP: I think this is a good series. So long as they keep attracting high caliber actors.

C: That's the real benefit of an anthology. You can get really good, big names because they don't have to sign away seven years of their lives. It's basically just shooting a big movie and then they can come back next season if they want to.

AP: Yeah, not too shabby to get Bruce Greenwood on board. I have a crush on him.

C: Didn't he play Captain Pike in the NuTrek movies?

AP: YES!

Dreamy

MC: I have a crush on David Schwimmer now.

AP: I'm telling Rachel you put moves on her man. I'll hold her down and shave her head.

C: It's hard to come back from Rachel. She did a number on all of us in the 90s.

MC: Yeah, Greenwood was great as the DA! He's very handsome. Though he seems short.

AP: He's 5'11"

MC: Someone has IMDB open.

AP: LIKE A BOSS. Anyway, overall, very good. Very compelling. A couple casting hiccups, but really well done

MC: I think it's fair to say we all enjoyed the hell out of the show. Both as entertainment and for raising conversations about broader issues. It certainly is a huge flashpoint in American history.

C: Yes. TV Sluts agreement.


MC: TV Sluts hooooooooo!