frontiers

mm right guard

At The A.V. Club, I examine how Mad Men uses images of cowboys and astronauts as symbols of freedom — and just as often, as avenues of imagined escape:

These superficially discordant visions of cowboy and astronaut are fundamentally similar: exploring a frontier, expanding the mapped world, and returning home to tell the tale. Astronauts orbit and return to Earth. Cowboys ride the range and bring the livestock home. These connotations of repetition and return undermine the frontier’s twin promises of opportunity and escape.

That contrast is at the heart of Mad Men, which asks whether people are capable of change—and whether they want to be. Amid the show’s flamboyant parade of changing styles and social mores and its characters’ shifting families and career trajectories, it’s easy to ignore how often they lapse into repeating old patterns and recreating the relationships they learned in childhood, no one more than Don Draper.

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.

Stars Hollow

[MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD OH BOY PRETTY MASSIVE] Here’s the dark secret in Gilmore Girls that no one ever talks about: Stars Hollow lies in the grip of a shadowy fertility cabal that rules the lives of its denizens — and even their folk elsewhere — with terrible certainty.

Think about it: Christopher Hayden accidentally impregnated Lorelai, then a generation later he accidentally impregnates his new partner. Luke has a daughter with his high school girlfriend. Luke’s sister Liz has two unplanned pregnancies ~18 years apart. Lane gets pregnant with twins the very first time she has sex. Sookie is so overwhelmed by pregnancy and parenthood that she and Jackson decide he should have a vasectomy to avoid any further disruption to their lives, but something persuades him not only to skip the agreed-upon procedure but to keep his continued fertility secret from his wife so she can be surprised by yet another OOPS pregnancy.

The only reasonable conclusion: Gilmore Girls takes place in a dystopian alternative universe where all social and sexual mores are controlled by forces beyond the control of the individual, outside the scope of sex-ed classes, and unfettered from the many forms of reliable and widely available birth control. In the AU of Gilmore Girls, all heterosexual couplings serve the larger master of society’s need for babies, babies, more babies, always more babies. You have plans? Too bad. Stars Hollow needs babies. You have hopes and dreams? I hope and dream that they’re about babies, because that’s what you’ll be having.

Make Gilmore Girls a double-feature with The Handmaid’s Tale! Also, I am pretty worried about April Nardini.

[cross-posted to The VideoReport]