Playing House: Your perfect summer treat

I’m loving Playing House right now, mostly because the two main characters, Emma and Maggie, remind me of my best friend Ashley and myself. They’re played by the creators of the show, Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. The two women are also best friends in real life, and their relationship comes through onscreen in their genuine affection and in their perfectly-timed, sometimes prickly comic interaction.

The show kicks off as Emma moves in with her very pregnant best friend Maggie after Maggie kicks her cheating husband out of the house. It has a sweet, Gilmore Girls-ish temperament and focus on small-town life. But it’s saved from being too treacly by the droll comic talents of Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele – he kind of sneaks up on you as a bit of a hottie, no?) as Emma’s ex-boyfriend Mark and Zach Woods (Silicon Valley) as Maggie’s brother Zach. The show isn’t afraid to get truly bizarre occasionally, as when Maggie dons a wig and trucker hat and assumes the persona of bow-legged, tobacco-chewing Bocephus. But it also has enough heart to treat Tina, Mark’s wife, with more empathy than your average show might afford the uptight, too-perfect character. And the last 2 episodes of season 1 had me chuckling at some nice callbacks to earlier episodes and crying at the genuine emotion surrounding the birth of Maggie’s daughter.

I somehow completely missed the show’s first season, so I thoroughly enjoyed bingeing it, and I’m looking forward to diving into season 2. It feels like the perfect summer fizzy-drink of a show.

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I finally watched Fruitvale Station, and you should, too

Hi folks, Pop Goddess is back after a 2-year hiatus! My husband and I now have a 1 ½ -year-old baby boy, so that means all the movies I watch have to be on-demand on TV, and I’m a lot more particular about the pop culture I do invest my time in (Mr. Robot, you’re solid but I can live without you; Orphan Black, I know I should be addicted but I’m just not there yet; Jane the Virgin, love you!). Hey, I only have about an hour every day to watch TV/movies, so it has to be worth it!

Speaking of worth it, I finally watched Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler’s film about Oscar Grant III, the young black man fatally shot by a BART police officer in 2009. I’d heard great things about it, and I love Michael B. Jordan from Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. But I also knew the movie would be challenging to watch. It is, but it’s also a great showcase for Jordan and a testament to Coogler’s talents as a writer and director. In a compact 90-some minutes, spanning the course of a single day, Coogler paints a compelling portrait of Oscar, his challenges and flaws, his sincere efforts to be a better person and a good father and son. It’s impressive that Coogler doesn’t portray Oscar as a saint or “good” victim, but still leaves us heartbroken at his killing and at the grief it causes his mother (an excellent Octavia Spencer), girlfriend, and daughter. Coogler only has the narrative space of a day to establish Oscar’s personal relationships and sense of family, but he does it with such warmth and humanity that we fully grasp his family’s immense loss.

Coogler is clear-eyed, but not didactic, about the systemic challenges that limit Oscar and the implicit biases that lead to his killing. There’s a quiet exchange that highlights the difference between how we treat young white men and young black and brown men who might make similar mistakes in life. During New Year’s Eve celebrations, Oscar chats with Peter, a white man, about how he doesn’t want to propose to his girlfriend when he doesn’t have any money. Peter admits that he had no money when he proposed to his girlfriend and that he actually used stolen credit card information to buy an engagement ring. “Now I have my own business and bought her a new ring with my own money,” he says. We don’t know the details, but clearly Peter has benefitted from white privilege – the benefit of the doubt, second chances and employment opportunities that Oscar, a young black man with a prison record, doesn’t have. Peter gives Oscar his business card; we can imagine that Oscar might have called him in the New Year, that he might have gotten a steady job and might have succeeded in escaping the history of his struggles and crimes. Heartbreakingly, that potential and possibility are snuffed out in a fog of confusion, bias, and abusive power.

Posted in Movies, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Good Wife season finale recap

Hi folks – as promised, here’s my recap of The Good Wife’s season 4 finale, “What’s in the Box?”

I thought it was a solid episode. I especially loved the scene between Peter and Will – a good example of the show’s economical writing, which counts on the viewer to remember the history between the characters without a lot of exposition. And I have to say, I’m glad it was Cary at Alicia’s door, not Will. Let me know what you think of the episode and of season 4 overall (Nick makes threatening scrambled eggs! Nathan Lane plays a surprisingly soulful accountant!) in the comments section below.

Episode 22: What’s in the Box?

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Weekly recap: The Good Wife

Hi folks, I’ll post the link to my recap of last night’s finale within a day, but till then, check out my recap of the April 21 episode:

Episode 21: A More Perfect Union

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Weekly recap: The Good Wife

Hi all – get ready for tonight’s episode of The Good Wife with my recap of the April 14 episode:

The Good Wife, ep. 20: Rape – A Modern Perspective

Couple things – they (the producers? showrunners?) changed the title of this episode from “Sex Dolls and Videotape,” which I thought was actually connected more specifically to the story. Maybe they felt it was too flippant for the subject.

Also, can we PLEASE move The Good Wife to a night when we don’t have to sit/fast-forward through an hour of The Amazing Race just to watch it?? It’s getting SO OLD. And then we have to put up with the annoying time-delay alerts popping up at the bottom of the screen throughout the episode. I was surprised to read a couple weeks ago that The Good Wife‘s ratings are actually rather low and that there was some question about whether it would be renewed for next season (it was). It might help if it actually aired at its scheduled time.

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Dancing the Gods: Nrityagram’s Odissi dance recital

I was lucky enough to attend an Odissi dance recital by the members of the Nrityagram dance company recently, and it was just as exhilarating as the first performance I saw last year. Unlike last year’s show, which included several Nrityagram dancers and members of a Kandyan dance company, this performance featured only Surupa Sen, the artistic director of Nrityagram, and Bijayini Satpathy, the director of their dance school. This streamlined aspect somehow made the experience even more immersive.

I was reminded again how indispensable the live musicians are to the recital: Sanjib Kunda on violin, Soumyaranjan Joshi on flute, Sibasankar Satapathy on mardala (percussion), and Jateen Sahu, harmonium and vocals, provided an essential musical foundation and accompaniment to the dancers. I also think the English translation of the poems/hymns on which the dances are based, included in the program, enhanced the performance. For those of us who don’t speak the original languages of the verses, it allowed us to appreciate how precisely Ms. Sen and Ms. Satpathy communicated everything from intimate human emotions to divine cosmic power through their graceful movements, intricate gestures, and mobile facial expressions.

My favorite section of the first piece, a hymn in praise of Vishnu, was when Ms. Sen and Ms. Satpathy depicted the narrative of Krishna’s birth. Even though those particular lines of the song weren’t translated in the program, the dancers portrayed the event with such clarity that it was instantly identifiable: Devaki cradles the infant Krishna and then, distraught, hands him to his father Vasudev so that he can take the newborn to safety. Vasudev tenderly carries Krishna, in a basket, on his head. With a few economical movements of her arm, Ms. Satpathy even depicted the flooded river Vasudev has to cross to reach Gokul. Once there, he leaves Krishna with Yashoda and turns away, heartbroken. This whole episode played out in a few moments, but the dancers’ precision and sensitivity lent it great emotional weight.

For me, the highlight of the recital was the final piece. It was based on a hymn celebrating Ardhanarisvara, the deity that embodies both the male and female principle, commonly understood to represent the union of Shiva and Parvati. Both Ms. Sen and Ms. Satpathy alternately represented the male and female aspects of the deity, with subtle yet powerful shifts in posture, gestures, and expression. In one instant, a dancer portrayed the female aspect, with her golden skin, gold ornaments, garland of flowers; in the next instant, she embodied the male aspect, his skin smeared with ashes, adorned with serpents and a garland of skulls: “She is draped in silks, he is clad in the sky; her hair is like the monsoon clouds, his matted locks flash with lightning.” Each dancer enacted both the female deity’s bounteous dance of creation and Shiva’s Tandava, his fearsome dance of dissolution, with his drum sounding the rhythms of destruction. Ms. Sen and Ms. Satpathy complemented and conversed with each other through their movements and gestures, until both dancers came together in a unified posture, reminiscent of a sculpture depicting Ardhanarisvara – half male, half female, united in a single harmonious form. It was a thrilling, transcendent performance, and it left me eager for my next chance to see a recital by these supremely skilled dancers.

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Weekly recaps: Justified season finale and The Good Wife

Hi folks! Check out my recaps of this week’s episode of The Good Wife and the excellent season finale of Justified:

The Good Wife, ep. 19: The Wheels of Justice

Justified, ep. 13: Ghosts

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The Testament of Mary: Fiona Shaw takes on an angry, grieving Mary

It felt fitting to watch the new Broadway production of Colm Tóibín’s Testament of Mary during Holy Week recently. Unfortunately I was rather disappointed in the show. I’m also a bit conflicted about this review since it was a preview performance and, technically, they’re meant to be critic-free. But then, I’m not a paid, professional critic, so, keeping in mind that the show may change by the time it officially opens, here goes:

As I said in my earlier post about Tóibín’s book, I was very excited to see Fiona Shaw in this production, directed by her frequent collaborator Deborah Warner. Surprisingly, my chief impression of the show was that Shaw was forcing many emotional notes. I feel like she was hampered by the lack of a cohesive physical activity onstage – an activity that, as any grad student in acting can tell you, would free her up emotionally. When I read the book, I often had an image of Mary cleaning her little house or fixing a meal for herself as she speaks to the reader. Onstage, Mary has fits and starts of fragmented activity – moving chairs around, filling water in a jug, cleaning a fish – but it’s sporadic and disjointed. It’s possible that the disjointedness is a deliberate choice, a manifestation of Mary’s traumatized, fractured emotional state, but that point doesn’t come across clearly. Many of the objects that Mary handles onstage represent emblems of Christ’s Passion – a hammer and nails, coils of wire suggesting the crown of thorns, a ladder evoking the cross. For a moment I thought perhaps Mary would eventually pull them all together in a unified way, but that didn’t really materialize either.

Despite the production’s shortcomings, the power of Tóibín’s text still shines through. Shaw is particularly effective in capturing Mary’s pain at Jesus’ apparently dismissive attitude towards her at the wedding in Cana: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” Shaw also communicates Mary’s melancholy wonder at barely recognizing the child she raised in the rather imperious man standing before her: “If someone had told me that this is not my son, I would have believed them.” The strongest section of the play centers on the crucifixion, the event which Mary, and the text itself, circle around warily. It’s never absent from the edges of her memory, though, and she finally confronts it directly. Her description is harrowing, forcing us to confront the unmitigated horror of crucifixion without the softening, beatific effects of faith and religious tradition.

As a sort of prologue, the production presents us with a familiar, traditional version of Mary – Shaw sits in a clear box on stage like a museum exhibit – draped in blue, eyes raised heavenward, a symbol of obedient faith and an object for veneration. The play then proceeds to metaphorically shatter that box and disrupt our traditional ideas about Mary. It offers us instead an angry, grieving, very human woman. I only wish the production allowed Shaw to fully locate the devastating emotional truth that Tóibín’s text offers its readers.

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Weekly recaps: The Good Wife and Justified

Hi folks! Get ready for tonight’s The Good Wife and Tuesday’s season finale of Justified by catching up with my recaps of last week’s episodes:

The Good Wife, ep. 18: Death of a Client

Justified, ep. 12: Peace of Mind

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The Good Wife, ep. 17: Invitation to an Inquest

Hi all, here’s my recap of this week’s episode of The Good Wife:

The Good Wife, ep. 17: Invitation to an Inquest

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