completely different

It’s…

… The Televerse! Friend and colleague Kate Kulzick invited me to kick off the guest-host era of The Televerse podcast. In this episode, we talk about Key & Peele, Married, Hannibal, Review, and more.

Then it’s time for The DVD Shelf, where I talk about the absurdity and downright surrealism of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Remember, if you want to pick a fight with me about Monty Python, it’s one pound for a five minute argument, but only eight pounds for a course of ten.

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glory

This is one of my favorite pieces, springing unexpectedly from my A.V. Club assignment to review the bawdy, sometimes brutal, sensitively balanced Review, starring Andy Daly.

I didn’t expect my review of the season two premiere to delve into how Forrest MacNeil (Daly) uses his job reviewing life experiences as a pretext for escaping his own life, abdicating decisions and destiny both to the hands of random viewers, boxing off his actions from their consequences. Review allows Forrest to pursue adventures and debauchery without acknowledging how his own desires drive his behavior or how his detachment from his own culpability puts walls between him and the people he loves. Review lets Forrest put his life in a box… or, in this episode, in a hole.

Suzanne, Forrest's ex-wife (Jessica St. Clair) [Comedy Central]

Suzanne, Forrest’s ex-wife (Jessica St. Clair) [Comedy Central]

Forrest is right about one thing: It’s possible to find meaning in the most unexpected places, and in assignments that sometimes seem random.

“We’re on kind of a mission”

localhero

Over at The VideoReport, fearless leader Bill Duggan has an announcement to make, former VideoReporters of years past have some memories to share, your tireless editor keeps on highlighting new releases, and I have one last recommendation for a free rental that will break your heart, and it should.

I’ve been trying to count up how many friendships, marriages, partnerships, and careers Videoport nurtured in that cool, well-stocked cellar, and I can’t even begin to tally ’em all up. Thank you, Videoport, for everything — for even more than the movies, when just the movies would have been gift enough.

We are not things

When The Fella and I saw Mad Max: Fury Road this week, we first sat through a series of trailers for action franchises, each featuring men in elegant suits and their (much younger) female stars stripped down to underpants, backs turned demurely to the camera but bodies oiled up with the promise of shining treasures to come.

In these trailers, women were reduced to glamorous cuts of meat: a gleaming leg in a high-cut dress, a shimmering shoulder emerging from a bed sheet, water-beaded flanks stepping out of a pool, often with no face in evidence.

By the time the feature started, I was more than annoyed. I was more than frustrated. I was more than furious. I was dehumanized. Frankly, I was primed to see the worst in in Fury Road‘s first act. So when the film presented a bevy of distressed women, scantily clad and bathing in the desert, I drew in a long, angry breath.

Then that scene upends itself, tossing aside the male gaze that most film privileges without even thinking, and the handful of women who drive this story start breathing on their own — not damsels, not trophies, not eye candy. They’re people.

Their bodies are valued in the world of the film, and so is their beauty (and there’s a complicated conversation to have about uncritically reiterating contemporary standards of beauty in apocalyptic film), but Fury Road recognizes what Immortan Joe’s society never does: These women are more than their beauty, more than their bodies. And finally, their bodies are theirs.

They’re clearly survivors of sustained sexual slavery and repeated rape, but there’s no on-screen sexual violence, no threat of rape, no gruesomely told backstories, no lingering detailed flashbacks. The film is violent, extravagantly so, but that violence is never lascivious.

It’s a narrative predicated entirely on the rescue of women held in life-long sexual slavery that never portrays or reenacts the atrocity of rape. In Mad Max: Fury Road, survivors of sexual violence don’t have to persuade the protagonists or the audience of the horrors they suffered. The film believes them, and — overturning the real-world rape-culture narratives we’re steeped in — it expects us to believe them, too.

It’s a tight story economically told. It’s a thrilling explosion of action that never fumbles its narrative thread. It’s a tale that knows how much to say and when to let us fill in the blanks. It’s a rumination on primal connection, the corruption of power on weak and strong alike, and the terrible road to redemption. It’s a woman’s story in which a man tags along for the ride, offering support and help, knowing when to simply sit still and let her take the wheel, or the gun, or the lead. It’s a world in which Furiosa can pay Max and Nux the deceptively deep compliment of deeming them “reliable.” It’s a world in which men and women alike are reduced to things, liberate themselves, and reclaim for their own purposes the attributes that made them prized objects.

And that’s why George Miller’s films will get ALL MY MONEY and — just to pick one trailer we sat through — Mission Impossible never will.

Benched for the season

Benched - Season 1

I could have mentioned this back when the season started: I’ve been covering Benched, a legal sitcom created by Michaela Watkins and Damon Jones and starring Eliza Coupe and Jay Harrington, for The A.V. Club. USA wraps up the first season with back-to-back episodes tonight, and you can catch up with my reviews for the full season here.

It started out as a whip-fast workplace comedy that leaned heavily on Coupe’s facility with physical comedy and open-ended rambling and a plausible but predictable will-they/won’t-they romantic angle between the leads to the detriment of the excellent supporting cast. As sitcoms went, it was entertaining and zippy, but nothing special.

But as the season went on, Benched evolved from a show I enjoyed into a show I loved. The characters developed and deepened (including great roles for Maria Bamford and Oscar Nuñez), the tentative flirtation broadened into a friendship, and the show set its sights audaciously on the legal system, portraying a world where there are no villains, no antagonists, no bad guys or good guys, just an overburdened institution and overworked, underpaid lawyers working within it. I began the season happy to review a new show; I’m ending it hoping — hoping — to see it return for season 2.