Tag Archives: 30 Rock

The Golden Age of Television

Readers, yours truly is not a person to whom the positives of life are either readily apparent or understandable, but even someone as typically dour as myself can’t deny that we are living in a golden age of television.

It’s he-re…

Now I’m not exactly sure why that is- why all of a sudden we seem to have had a jump in quality and quantity of shows. An age thing, perhaps? I considered that, but as much as we could argue that we simply prefer the television shows we had when we were in our 20s, I don’t think my generation is alone in the belief that TV is better now than it was a decade ago.

Let’s try to figure out why. Continue reading

Culture War Correspondence: Sitcom Absurdity

GORDON: We have been graced, dearly beloved, by a topic recommendation from our ever-faithful reader Ben, who asked that we “address the absurd and current culture’s take on reality.”

To which I say, “pink octopus comb.”

And apparently, that’s a real thing, and not just some facetious absurd phrase I made up…

EVAN: To be a tad more specific, the way our culture presents that reality via television, which is something that I very definitely have opinions about. I have opinions about television, everyone.

GORDON: He really does. You should ask him about them. Continue reading

Fame Day: Cornel West

Where exactly do you start when talking about Cornel West?

I mean, the man’s a brilliant academic. Dr. West had an illustrious career at Princeton and has just recently begun teaching at Fuller Theological Seminary (when he’s not teaching at the university of Paris). On top of that, he’s written over 20 books (and by books I mean tomes measured in weight rather than pages), appeared on countless national news panels, and somehow still found time to have a bit part in a couple of The Matrix movies.

Or perhaps I could talk about the man’s political work. West has been one of the few figures to consistently call out the Obama administration on its hypocrisy and atrocities- exemplified best by his outrage on Obama being sworn in on MLK Jr.’s bible.

Continue reading

Evan and Gordon Talk: Sitcoms

GORDON: Ladies and Gentlemen! It’s the Evan and Gordon Show!

<Theme Music>

Starring:

Evan as Evan!

Michael Fassbender as Gordon Brown!

The closest this man will ever resemble me was when he lost 30 lbs to play a prisoner who died on hunger strike….

And guest starring . . .

Gordon’s inflated ego!

ego
EVAN:
 This is why I don’t like it when you do intros. Continue reading

Beyond Good and Evil

Act 2, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has the titular character declare that “there is no good or evil, but thinking makes it so.” Years later, this same sentiment would be echoed by Milton’s Lucifer in Paradise Lost, vowing “The mind is its own place, and itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Moral ambiguity, in case you haven’t caught the drift, is the subject of today’s post. Our culture is becoming increasingly saturated with concepts and figures embodying this general rejection of our traditional measures of what right and wrong is. Jump back twenty years, and the definition of a bad guy would be fairly straightforward. A bad guy breaks the law. A bad guy hurts people. A bad guy lies. A bad guy uses people.

Today, all those things would describe five minutes of screen time with Breaking Bad’s Walter White…

Or Sin City’s John Hartigan…

Or The Walking Dead‘s Rick Grimes…

Or even any of these guys…

And lest anyone think that women are excluded from this mentality…

Now this isn’t the first time we’ve had a run of morally questionable heroes/antiheroes dominating popular culture. If I were to describe tough, unflappable, characters struggling against each other for their own ends and agendas, often in contradiction of the law- you’d probably assume I was talking about characters from some film noir piece.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Throw a mass of people in an economic depression with no end in sight, mix in distrust of the powers that be, add cynicism in regards to any progress or change, and when else can you expect but a tacit respect for the handful of people who do manage to carve themselves out a living. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, “right and wrong” doesn’t quite seem so relevant as “effective or not.” When you feel helpless and voiceless, chances are anyone whose managed to be independent and powerful is going to be attractive- be he/she a suave criminal, a cunning businessman, a shrewd politician (à la Game of Thrones), or even just an all-around tough guy (see Sons of Anarchy).

And we’re not just talking about TV shows here.

Who are the good guys and bad guys in Inception?

Think about it- exactly which characters were representing the side of justice, truth, and freedom? Or Killing Them Softly? The Godfather SeriesThe Big Lebowski?

Our heroes today aren’t crusaders, they’re survivors. They’re those who manage to carve out a slice for themselves in spite of law, society, and conventional morality. “Good and evil” simply aren’t relevant.

And y’know what? I’m not hear to pass judgement on any of that.

There’s strong arguments to be made on all sides for whether or not this is a good or a bad thing or, to put it into morally ambiguous terms, a productive or a destructive thing. There’s even a strong case to be made for the “morally ambiguous” characters on TV and in the movies still never straying too far from anything truly socially unacceptable. Alternatively, you could (and I would) potentially argue that the moral system we had before all this wasn’t actually all that moral to begin with.

And what about the issue of cultural plurality in our ever-shrinking world? When what is right according to my moral code wrong according to yours, how do we proceed? Do we try to find some sort of umbrella system to keep us from fighting each other? Maybe we should declare moral anarchy and simply duke it all out based on the strength of our convictions. Certainly Nietzsche would approve of that.

All that’s to say that the issue’s complicated.

I don’t know, Michael Cera gif, I don’t know…

Speaking for myself, it is nice to see some kind of conviction, even if I don’t agree with the cause at hand. There’s a case to be made for apathy being the pinnacle of all evil. In a world where the greatest battles the average person (or rather, Westerner) faces are over such petty, empty things as getting a dinner order right or having to wait in line, seeing any kind of drive makes for a nice change. As with so much in this past year, it might not be great, but it’s a start.

TV Characters We Hate To Love To Hate, Or Something

Having just finished an episode of The Big Bang Theory is as good a time as any to write this post, which elaborates on an article I found on Macleans.ca titled “How obnoxious is too obnoxious for a TV character?” In it TV writer Jaime Weinman primarily writes about TBBT and its most popular character, Sheldon Cooper.

Weinman points out that the 12th episode of this season, “The Egg Salad Equivalency,” was actually the highest rated in the show’s history, an astonishing fact when you realize that a large chunk of it features Sheldon being extremely [albeit unknowingly] sexist and racist. I’ve embedded the primary scene in question below:


It’s pretty awful, but the fact of the matter is that Sheldon Cooper is far from being the only popular sitcom character you would actually hate to be around in real life. Two years before TBBT even aired the US version of The Office was around, and the original British version came out four years before that. Michael Scott was a huge draw for people who tuned in weekly to see how a particular Scranton paper company was doing [as well as being solely responsible for repopularizing the phrase “that’s what she said”], but was also one of the most blindly insensitive people on the planet.

Very old television spoilers ahead.

Steve Carrell’s departure at the end of Season 7 meant that someone else had to be the new boss, and in spite of my suggesting that Matthew Perry would fit the bill that role was given to Ed Helms’ Andy Bernard. While his character managed to be a fairly likeable manager earlier on, the current [9th] season has had him transform into what is essentially a terrible human being.

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He’s this close to being a moustache-twirling symbol of outright villainy.

He leaves the office to sail a boat out to some island, comes back expecting everyone to have covered for his month-long absence, and then, upon having his girlfriend [understandably] break up with him for another coworker proceeds to make both their lives a living hell. Crazy-talented webcomic artist Anthony Clark tweeted it best when he said:

And speaking of Ed Helms, take as another example his companion in the Hangover films, Alan Garner. Essentially just Zack Galifianakis playing the role he always plays [see: Due DateDinner For Schmucks, etc.], he is, as we’ve been talking about, a person who is so obnoxious that you wonder how they continue to be alive; there are times when you want to reach through the screen and slap them in the face.

Most TV shows [that’s the end of the movie portion of this post for now] have them, too. Adventure Time has the Ice King, Community has Pierce Hawthorne,  Modern Family has Manny Delgado [which you might debate, but I stand by this], and 30 Rock had the one-two punch of Tracy Jordan and Jenna Mulroney. Not only are the prevalent in television, but they also manage to become a huge draw for viewers.

Weinman ends his article by stating that “the show knows Sheldon is a jerk, but it doesn’t seem to know just how big a jerk he is.” I think it’s a fair assessment to say that all of the shows I’ve mentioned are aware that they’ve added obnoxious jerks to their casts, but the exact purpose for this is lost on someone who only had four hours of sleep last night. Sure, they can act as semi-antagonistic friends for our hero, usually the straight man, but eventually as the audience we’re forced to ask ourselves how people can bear having them around.

You could even justify it as being some sort of catharsis, rooted in schadenfreude, for whenever these character get their comeuppance, but it never happens. Sheldon will continue to be unaware of how his actions affect others, Pierce will continue to be extremely racist but get away with it due to his age, and we will continue watching them, amused, annoyed, or somewhere in between.