Things That Didn’t Suck 8-19 to 8-26

1. The Victorio 571B Banana Slicer
Because, really, I am powerless to argue against a consensus like that. That is obviously a fine and powerful piece of kitchen equipment.
2. The end of The Office
Y’know, what with one thing and another, I’ve never actually been that regular a viewer of The Office. I think it’s funny, and I watch episodes when I’m in front of a televisual viewing device that is playing them, but I’ve never made them  a part of my routine viewing schedule. That said: anything I saw from this most recent season was pretty moribund, and it’s good to see that they’re putting it out of everyone’s misery. Although between it and 30 Rock ending this year, and NBC’s announcement that they’re “dumbing down” their comedies1, it certainly seems like another fallow period for funny things on tv. This never would’ve happened if you assholes had watched Best Friends Forever like I told you to.

3. Even the idea of Kanye being a judge on American Idol
I don’t even care if it actually winds up happening or not. Can you imagine it? Kanye “MY CAPS LOCK KEY IS LOUD” West in the role of Randy “it’s a little pitchy, dawg” Jackson? Actually, if they put together the best of the rumored candidates, which would be Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Kanye West, you wouldn’t even need to have the contest. In fact, I bet you couldn’t even have a singing competition. That said, if they have two rappers as judges, they might even have to open it up to rappers to be contestants! I used to watch American Idol every year, if only because I like watching people be good at the stuff they’re doing on tv (it’s what compelled me to watch Project Runway for a couple of years, and keeps me watching Top Chef even though the producers have been infected with a legendary case of the brainworms), but I’ve fallen off in the last couple of years. If this continues apace, I will be back in with bells on for the next season.

4. Doug Loves Movies in general, and the first episode of this week’s in particular
We here at aren’t generally in the business of podcast-endorsement, which is weird, because we both listen to podcasts with some frequency. Anyway, the best episodes of DLM are generally any episode with Pete Holmes in it. And if they can’t get Pete Holmes, this is the next best one. The guests are lively and each funny, with special props to John Mulaney for his hilarious series of text messages and Paul Rudd for being Paul Rudd.

5. This de-make of Borderlands 2
De-makes in general are pretty funny, but this one is especially so (at least for a few minutes). Borderlands 2 is shaping up to be basically the best thing ever, and this is the latest in a pretty-incredible series of promotional materials for it. So go play it, and watch all the trailers, and then buy the game because you owe me after what you did to Best Friends Forever.

1 not to mention that utterly terrible Animal Practice, in which Prior Walter and a bunch of fart jokes vie for the title of “biggest disappointment in this half-hour.”

Things That Didn’t Suck 8-12 to 8-18

WELCOME BACK! It’s the triumphant return not only of posting on Ohioneedsatrain, but also of your complete guide to all of the reasons not to kill yourself this week! I hope you missed me as badly as I missed you.

1. This Guantanamo Bay prisoner
I don’t really understand wanting a cat when you’re in a remote, extremely secured prison. That seems a bit like inviting a torturer to your sex dungeon1, but hey! Whatever, man! What’s important is: even people who were directly employed by Osama bin Laden think that Lebron James is “a very bad man.” And that’s the kind of reputation that only an apology to Cleveland, and a free apple bacon bourbon shake from the B-Spot, can make right in the end.

2. RIAA revenue is somewhere near the same levels as Lebron’s reputation
I mean, it’s a moot point, and it’s piling on at this point, but really, there’s something deeply, deeply satisfying about an organization that was designed to defend and uphold the marketplace dominance of an organization that was built around being inherently unfair, making like the Titanic. It’s only a matter of time, really, before the whole thing snaps in half and the Leonardo DiCaprio of their legal and political influence disappears into the waters of the modern movement of markets, leaving only a few sopping, shivering Kate Winslets behind to live on with the memory that, at one point, they thought they had what they wanted, and to remind each other about how wrong they were2.

3. Roger Sterling, killin’ it O.C.3 style
I didn’t know that I needed Roger Sterling to be on Arrested Development, but it turns out that I did. And now he is, and that means that everything will be right with the world. Look, I know that I’m the guy that’s the serious naysayer about Community, and that the fact that Mitch Hurwitz has not been responsible for a lot of particularly inspiring television in the time since Arrested Development went off the air4. That said: Roger Sterling wouldn’t let things get out of control. This is going to be awesome.

4. More Alan Partridge!
I know I talked about the existence of the movie here, but really, there’s just an incoming glut of all the Alan one can handle. And I, for one, think that it’s swell. Just swell.

5. Dave Mustaine, conspiracy theorist
In which the weepy, whiny ex-guitar player for Metallica decides that America’s gun laws are soon going to be so oppressive because of all of these shootings the President keeps arranging to happen that he’s going to have to move….to Singapore. First off, Dave, they’re all as mad as hatters there. Second of all, I’m going to recommend that you read up on Singapore’s gun laws. I don’t think you’ll find that they’re much of an alternative.

1 in the sense that it’s a needless duplication of effort. If you’re one of those people who just generally keeps a torturer in your sex dungeon anyway, please pretend like I said “it’s like keeping another torturer in your sex dungeon”
2 with the help of the Bill Paxton of vengeful fuckers like me, who just like to watch them all go down. Don’t sue your fans, assholes.
3 don’t call it that
4 although Running Wilde had some truly inspired moments, most of which involved the interaction of Will Arnett and Peter Serafinowicz and/or Keri Russell’s hair.

In Which Our Hero Saves The Newsroom

I haven’t talked much in this space about HBO’s The Newsroom, partly because I don’t feel that this particular blog needs posts that go “AAAAAARGH AAAAAARGH AAAAAAAAARGH AAAAAAARGH”.

So I waited until I had something constructive to say, and I finally do. I can fix The Newsroom’s problems. It’s not an elegant way, but it’s an effective way, and here’s the best part: it requires nothing on the part of writers. Which is probably a good plan.

First, for those of you who don’t watch: good job on you. Second: the show’s got problems. That’s a big plural. I’ll have to spend a little time on them so that the cure will make sense, but the overarching theme is that the entire show is this bizarre revenge-fantasy fever dream in which a rich middle-aged white guy goes on and on about how much better the world would be if we’d all just listen to rich middle-aged white guys.

Aaron Sorkin, for his part, denies that he sees any of those problems, which makes sense. The show is unquestionably one of the most singular things ever to hit television. Well, actually, it’s sort of…duoular, because it’s basical Sports Night with the good parts ripped out, the character names changed, and Dan and Casey rolled up into the same character.

The premise, as quickly as I possibly can: Will McAvoy (Harry Dunne) was known for being bland and not having an opinion about stuff despite being a real television journalist. He’s at an event at which he says that America isn’t great but it would be if we were more like the America when people listened to the rich white guys who “legislated their ideals”1. There’s a shit storm and a guy named Don (Jesse Calhoun) leaves as the producer, taking the staff with him, which is actually related to an entirely separate incident. To replace the staff, Mackenzie MacHale2 (Jack Donaghy’s girlfriend with avian bone syndrome) comes in from a bunch of time in Afghanistan and brings with her her….I don’t know what he is. She’s Dana from Sports Night, and this dude is Natalie. In television role, not in terms of character. Anyway, his name’s Jim and he played Katie Holmes’ brother in the movie Pieces of April.  He has a weird halting not-quite chaste-from-afar romance with the spoken-for Maggie, who played Katie Holmes’ sister in the movie Pieces of April3. Maggie’s boyfriend is Don and that storyline is leotarded. Mackenzie and Will had a relationship that ended when Mackenzie cheated on Will, and I hope to hell that’s the last I have to write about that one, too. I suspect it won’t be.

Rounding out the cast is Dev Patel (as Neal Sampat, who is the only character that likes the internet and also believes in bigfoot), Olivia Munn (as Sloan Sabbith5, Sam Waterston, and occasionally Jane Fonda4.

The show starts out being set a couple of years ago (although it’s moved up to just one year ago now), and that gives us our first problem: the smug “this is how it should be done” tone. You know why we all can go and look back on the decisions made by the newsmedia when these stories actually happened? BECAUSE THEY ALREADY FUCKING HAPPENED. It’s not enough for Will to be good at his job, he has to be superfuckinghuman at his job.

There’s also the problem that Will is never wrong, which is closely related to the first, and very closely related to the third, major issue. He’s never even a little wrong. When you think he’s going to be wrong, IT TURNS OUT HE WASN’T AND IT LEADS TO BETTER THINGS. There might be one exception: in the episode, “Bullies,” a monologue is given by a character about Will’s narrow-minded, white-male-centric view of the world. The idea is that Will is berating a fictional Santorum staffer (this is, remember, just over a year ago – the major event in the background of the episode is the Fukushima crisis) for being gay and black and helping Rick Santorum. The fictional staffer yells at Will for reducing him to being gay and black and trying to “help,” and not allowing him the chance to be a complex person. More on that in a minute.

But even more than those problems, is Aaron Sorkin’s Women Problem. It’s hard to tell how much of it has always been there, and how much of it has been hidden behind shows with a better structure and better scripts. It’s related, however, to his impulse to refabricate the story of the founding of Facebook as being the result of being spurned by Rooney Mara – he’s big on the Man Done Wrong Getting Revenge plot, which is a tricky plot at best.

On The Newsroom, however, it’s not even ignorable. We’re told, repeatedly, that Mackenzie is good at her job, that she’s highly credentialed, that she spent time in Afghanistan, doing Serious Journalism, and that she came back to spur Will McAvoy into taking action to be a Serious Journalist who Fixes the World. But mostly we watch her send inappropriate emails, trip over things, be completely unable to focus on her professional duties, make fun of her inability to do math, and watch her, again and again, humiliate herself so that the great and powerful Will McAvoy will forgive her. And that’s just the microcosm; there is maybe – maybe – one event per episode that generates conflict that is not resolved in a man yelling at a woman.

In fact, most of the conflict is generated by women being extremely bad at their jobs. Maggie, for example, has clearly never been in the same neighborhood as feck, and has a back story in which she’s done things so terribly, hopelessly unprofessional that the fact that she can even get hired to do any job at all counts as a minor miracle, or at least proof of this enormous charity that we keep hearing that Will is capable of. And the treatment of her character, and Mackenzie’s still pales in comparison to the treatment of Olivia Munn’s.

Sloan Sabbith6, the character, is a PhD economist who also teaches at Capitol (I think?). She’s brought on to talk for five minutes about the economy every night to help people understand it, because that’s how Aaron believes Things Should Be Done. In-story, it’s also because, in the words of Mackenzie McHale, she has great legs7. Over the course of her appearances she not only convinces Will McAvoy to go hit on a girl who ends up being a gossip columnist who works to bring down his public image, which was actually a part of the machinations of the aforementioned Jane Fonda, who, I remind you, is also a woman but also manages to first badger a professional colleague in Japan into making off-the-record comments that she then holds him under duress on the air to recount, all the while yelling at his translator – a woman – for not translating her words correctly. These two examples matter because in the first Sloan is shamed for impelling those events, and in the second she is told to be more assertive with her interview guests, and is told after the fact that she was wrong. Responsibility, then, is shifted onto the woman regardless of what her actual role is, and regardless of whether someone else inhabits an identical role.

I’m not going to belabor the point any further. The point is: the dude’s got a problem whereby women have to be both inept and constantly-punished, at least within the world of the story. It’s a revenge fantasy against the Women Who Done Him Wrong, or at least it plays out that way.

So why fix it at all? Because sometimes it’s good. Never for very long, and never without reservation, but The Social Network wasn’t good without reservation either, nor was The West Wing. The scene in which Sloan badgers the Japanese guy into revealing his off-the-record opinion is a thrilling couple of minutes, not the least because it spends half of its focus on the control room, and on the one person who knows what’s going on. There’s a scene earlier in the season in which Jim helps Maggie through a panic attack which, again, says more about Allison Pill than anything else, but which was a nice, well-written passage about the relationship between two people. The scene where the black, gay republican yells at Will for reductivism is more than good – it seemed like a tacit acknowledgment of what he was doing, and then denied doing to the press, with the character. And it seems like the sort of thing you’d give an imaginary hero to give him “flaws”8

So here’s the solution:

The real main character is Jim, and this is all his at-work daydreaming. Jim is an associate producer (I think), and is unhappy that his boss, who is a powerful, credentialed journalist in real life, is demanding and hard to work for. So he creates a system whereby she screws everything up constantly. He has a crush on Maggie, whose boyfriend is Don, so he has to imagine her constantly in positions of emotional vulnerability, while vilifying her boyfriend to justify snatching her from him. Plucky, obnoxious Dev Patel is actually good at his job, and more understanding of the world, and that’s a threat to Our Boy, who fantasizes him a bigfoot-obsessed weirdo. Sam Waterston’s a drunk, Jane Fonda is a shadowy overlord who’s actually trying to ruin everything.

And Will McAvoy? He probably doesn’t exist. He’s clearly, even outside of my modification of the story, a fantastic figure who exists predominantly to be the platonic ideal of the journalist hero. He’s Tyler Durden – the inevitable projected result of Jim’s inability to do what he wants, but more importantly his inability to be what he wants. It explains why Jim is spurning Maggie’s roommate, who just so happens to be extremely attractive etc. It even explains why The Newsroom’s newsroom does not, in fact, behave like any other newsroom known to man or beast.

So should there be an readership that coincides with viewership of The Newsroom, be advised: none of this is real, and maybe it even takes place in a snowglobe.

1 that’s a paraphrase, but the monologue itself is easy to find on YouTube.
2 I promise that not only am I not making any of these names up, but that I will deal with it later, and also there’s a name coming up in this synopsis that will make you long for the days when Mackenzie McHale was the dumbest name you’d ever heard
3 I may have thrown her away for that joke, but I would like to give unilateral, unironic praise to Allison Pill for being, consistently, the best part of this show. She is given less to work with than literally anyone else, and she manages to wring laughs and genuine response out of those situations. She was also great in Six Feet Under, but more understated, and really, you should go watch that show instead of this one if you haven’t already.
4 meaning that Jane Fonda is occasionally in the cast, not that there’s a person in the cast who is occasionally Jane Fonda. That would be weird, and what would she be the rest of the time?
5 Yep. That’s her name. Didn’t I tell you you’d long for the glory days of Mackenzie McHale?
6 ugh.
7 despite the fact that, regardless of your opinion about Olivia Munn, she clearly does not, and Emily Mortimer does. Which is just one more sign that Aaron Sorkin has absolutely no idea about anything anymore.8 which, really, is what it is.

In which we talk about the VMAs

The VMAs are happening, too! It’s not just Emmys, guys! We give awards for errthing! Anyway. I like deciding what’s right and wrong about the world, so I will once again spare you the indignity of having to consider these things for yourself, and allow you the opportunity to print out this article, hang it up on your fridge, memorize it, and regurgitate these opinions at will.

But first, a note: yes, I know that MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore. And you know what? That’s fine. Everyone pretends like it was a good thing when it did play music videos, but I’m not the type that lies to myself. With the exception of 120 Minutes – or Headbanger’s Ball if ya nasty – generally you watched forty-five minutes of shitty videos to get to the good one. Now I can watch the music video I want to see whenever I want to see it, and MTV does the hard job of getting people in a room together so I can watch a spectacle. The current model is infinitely more effective than the old, and complaining about the way MTV used to be (which, again, sucked) is really just complaining that you’re getting old.

And no one can ever stop you getting old, so quit bitching about it.

Furthermore. here we’re going to have to ask the question: does it matter if the song sucks or not? I’m going to go ahead and say “no.” Partly because nearly every song that’s been nominated sucks, and partly because it’s the music video awards, so we’ll talk about the music videos.

Without further ado:

Best Pop Video
These…are not inspiring videos. I mean, every video sucks. That’s the other thing about the “MTV doesn’t play music videos” saw – music videos are, with maybe a hundred or so exceptions, not as good as just listening to the song. Pop videos, which are selling the branded image of the person performing the song, especially so. “Boyfriend” is a good song, but Justin Bieber videos literally all look alike, so it can’t win more than any other Justin Bieber video. Same goes for One Direction, although at least they have nifty little synchronized dancing business happening there. Rihanna only makes a couple of variations on the same video every time out. This isn’t a particularly good one. “Payphone” at least does something, in terms of a narrative and looking generally like they had a budget and a crew and stuff, but “We Are Young” actually has a video that I have voluntarily found myself watching more than once.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: fun. – “We Are Young”

Best Rock Video
the advantage that the VMA nominations have is that I can nip over and watch the video in question, which I couldn’t do with the Emmys. Having done so, there are a couple of things that are going to come to bear on this catergory. First: rock videos are the fucking. worst. Oh my god commercial rock music in 2012 is a pile of shit. Second: why does every rock act want to be a shiny science-fiction story? These Imagine Dragons people are terrible, and they made a terrible video. Linkin Park videos haven’t progressed visually since the last time I saw one ten years ago1. Actually, these last three are fine. Each of them is a pretty good video. I just hated the first two so much. “Paradise” is kind of uninspired (although anything looks good after fucking Imagine Dragons. Seriously. Can someone kick them in the knees?), and “Lonely Boy” is funny, but it’s funny in a “this will only work once” sort of way, and that’s not really why we’re here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jack White – “Sixteen Saltines”

Best Hip-Hop Video
AKA the “we have to keep inviting Kanye to stuff because he doesn’t have any filters and is a hell of a live performer” category. I always forget that MTV just calls the song “Paris.” Did they not want to try to make “Neighbors” happen? Because “Neighbors in Paris” actually sounds pretty cool. Anyway. It didn’t have a good video. “HYFR” had almost the same video, it doesn’t win either. Childish Gambino’s “Heartbeat” was an ok video, but Donald Glover is graded on a curve (dude started out making his own videos and does television, he should have a better idea what to do with a music video than this). I want to like the “Mercy” video because the song is so killer, but that’s not going to happen. Luckily, we’ll always have Nicki, making a genuinely interesting video that doesn’t make a lick of damn sense.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nicki Minaj f/ 2 Chainz2 – “Beez in the Trap”

Best New Artist
This category is weird, because it’s about the video, but it’s framed in such a way that it would seem to be about the artist themselves. Luckily – SPOILER ALERT – it wouldn’t actually matter for our purposes here, because the same person would win either way. One Direction still made a boring boy-band video, and so did The Wanted. There might be something to say about how little the video for “Call Me Maybe” contributed to its success3, but that’s a good thing in the end, because the video is dull as a spoon. “We Are Young” is still a pretty good video, and if it won it would probably be fine, but Frank Ocean is mighty, and his video is might good.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Frank Ocean – “Swim Good”

Best Female Video
Why is “Starships” nominated here and “Beez in the Trap” in the hip-hop category? Is it because of 2 Chainz4? Because while he isn’t a woman, neither is at least one member of Selena Gomez’s band The Scene. I guess I don’t understand. At least “Starships” was only nominated once. The video isn’t as terrible as the song, but it isn’t good. “Love You Like a Love Song” has an interesting video, I guess. Actually, none of these videos are bad. “Part of Me” at least takes an interesting tack through its “I’m moving on with my life without you” theme, which, frankly, is basically the most overdone thing about music videos ever. So points for that. “We Found Love” is still not a great video. It won’t be the next time it’s nominated, either. “Love on Top” is probably the least interesting Beyonce video. None of these are very inspiring, despite the baseline quality being a bit higher.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair, because why should it have to settle for just an Emmy?

Best Male Video
And see, “Take Care” is nominated in Male Video despite having Rihanna, who is totally not a male. Not that “Beez in the Trap” would’ve won in Female Video anyway, I just don’t understand why anyone would even nominiate “Starships” for any award ever. Moving on. “Take Care” is an ok video, but Drake videos, much like Rihanna videos, are all very similar, so I get it confused with other ones, and I think “distinctness” is a quality that should be considered, obviously. Did “Climax” really only come out in the last year? I feel like I’ve been hearing it in bars and quickly-passed-over television channels for the last decade. I’m sure he stands in the wind with his arms out a lot, but I’m seriously not even watching this video. “Boyfriend is still not a very good video, and “Swim Good” still is.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Frank Ocean – “Swim Good”

Best EDM Video
They brought back the dance video category, guys! That’s pretty cool. I love dance videos. Dance acts know what to do with visuals. This is a pretty strong category. Except for Martin Solveig’s “The Night Out,” which kind of sucked. Skrillex’s “First of the Year” is pretty cool, but it lacks “wow”, this Avicii song might actually be my favorite song of the bunch, but the video got old halfway through, I can’t imagine watching it again. Calvin Harris is a genius, and this video is ok, but not that good, and this Duck Sauce video is trying too hard to be weird. I mean, it’s watchable, but it’s not great.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER – The Chemical Brothers – Don’t Think. It may be a longform video (actually, it’s a movie), but it’s got scary-ass clowns in it, and I’m for that sort of thing.

Best Video With a Message
Oh fuck this category so hard.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anyone who doesn’t watch these fucking videos.

Video of the Year
Since this category has significant overlap, I’ll just point out that you know what I think of “We Found Love” and “Take Care.” M.I.A. is still M.I.A., and her videos are still screaming with desperation. Good song, though. The number of Katy Perry videos is too damn high, but we all know this one is going to Gotye anyway.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gotye – “Somebody That I Used to Know”

While I could, technically, go watch the videos and talk about the technical categories, I’m not interested in watching them that closely, and frankly, none of you care about them anyway. I mean, not that I care about htem. Just that you don’t either. So that about does it! Dunkelman, out.

1 actually, Linkin Park’s only good video was also for their only good song, that weird anime mecha video for that song that was a remix. That was pretty cool.
2 you know why they call him 2 Chainz, right?
3 I mean, you’d expect some spindly twenty-something with a boppy pop song would have a video that took off, right? It didn’t. I’m sure there are pockets of her target audience that have watched it a bunch of times, but I would wager it’s probably not even a majority of them.
4 it’s because he wearz 2 chainz!