Tonight’s goal: reach the Cloak & Dagger crossover episode of Runaways before I have to adjust my headspace for the penultimate Sunday of Mr. Robot.
Tonight’s goal: reach the Cloak & Dagger crossover episode of Runaways before I have to adjust my headspace for the penultimate Sunday of Mr. Robot.
This week’s television: Sunday: Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj, Mr. Robot; Wednesday: The Masked Singer, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. I’ve started in on the latest (and final) season of Runaways, after which I will start in on the latest of The Expanse. I’m still trying to finish up She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Glitch, and Raising Dion; and still need to get to the latest of The End of the F***ing World, The Man in the High Castle, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Today (or yesterday?) I realized why Halt and Catch Fire speaks to me: it’s about reasonably-clever people on the edges of exciting things that were happening in the world but who in the end were too mediocre for it to have amounted to anything for them.
I was today years old when I learned that Marc Guggenheim really did try to get Nic Cage for the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” event which begins tonight but we remain stuck with this footage of his Superman.
Back in January, during a rewatch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the first since my diagnosis, I noticed that Odo, by intention or not, was an analogue for the actually-autistic. Rest in peace, René Auberjonois.
This week’s television: Sunday: Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, Supegirl (the start of “Crisis on Infinite Earths”!), Mr. Robot; Monday: Batwoman, Black Lightning, Making It; Tuesday: The Flash, The Masked Singer, Making It; Wednesday: The Masked Singer, Nancy Drew, Making It; Thursday: Evil; Friday: The Expanse. My Battlestar Galactica rewatch is into season four now, and I’m still only halfway through the current season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. I’m still hoping soon to finish season three of Glitch and season one of Raising Dion, and to start in on season two of The End of the F***ing World, season four of The Man in the High Castle, and season three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Yes, I’ll be starting The Expanse when it drops on Friday despite my backlog of other shows. Runaways season three, which also drops Friday, will have to wait for the next time I grab a month of Hulu.
The purest show on network television returned this week and if you haven’t added Making It to your must-watch list, I’m judging you right now as you read this post.
Here’s a good thing: BBC America has put all of last season’s Doctor Who online, just weeks after I lamented not being able to do a rewatch. I’d actually forgotten how much I’d enjoyed the “reboot” in tone and aesthetic, and Whittaker is a joy, and the ridiculously-mad glory of the frog-end of episode nine is one of my favorite Who moments ever now. It’s almost time to see how the Chibnall era does in its sophomore outing and I’m ready for it.
This week’s television: Sunday: Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, Batwoman, Watchmen (thanks to a weekend of free HBO on Xfinity), Supegirl, Mr. Robot; Monday: 911, Black Lightning, Making It; Tuesday: The Flash, Arrow, Making It; Wednesday: The Masked Singer, Nancy Drew, Making It; Thursday: Evil, Making It. My Battlestar Galactica rewatch has reached the middle of season three, and I’m halfway through the current season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. I’m still hoping soon to finish season three of Glitch and season one of Raising Dion, and to start in on season two of The End of the F***ing World, season four of The Man in the High Castle, and season three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which drops this Friday.
With this week’s television finishing up on Tuesday, the rest of the week consists of my annual Pangsgiving rewatch of WKRP in Cincinnati’s “Turkeys Away”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Pangs”, and The West Wing’s “Shibboleth” and “The Indians In the Lobby”. Through the weekend I’ll be continuing to rewatch Battlestar Galactica and slowly making my way through current season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. I’ve had to add a rewatch of the most recent Doctor Who season because it went back up in full on BBC America, and then I will catch up on Watchmen this weekend because Xfinity has free HBO at the moment. Still on-hold: season three of Glitch and season one of Raising Dion, and season two of The End of the F***ing World and season four of The Man in the High Castle.
When you’re a late-diagnosed autistic (in my case, midlife), the retcon of your life can include newly-realized explanations for things that you do. These things don’t have to be major. For me, I discovered that I engage in echolalia, but primarily when I am watching television. (I don’t think I do it in conversation?) I’d never even heard the term before, until stumbling across it from one actually-autistic person or another. Not only will I find myself echoing lines or dialogue, or entire exchanges, sometimes I will repeat them over and over, trying different variations of delivery. Sometimes while the show continues, and sometimes I’ll feel compelled to hit “pause”, do it until I feel satisfied, then resume the show. To be honest, I’m not sure I ever even consciously noticed the behavior until learning about echolalia. Now I know that it’s been there all along, as far back as I can remember.
The worst part of Channing Tatum’s live-action The Maxx is that the animated MTV version isn’t available as part of Prime Video. (Oh, hey, someone put it on Vimeo.) It’s been so long, though, I don’t recall if The Maxx is problematic.
This week’s television: Sunday: Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, Mr. Robot; Monday: 911, Black Lightning; Tuesday: The Flash, Arrow (which I’d dropped awhile ago but picked up this season because of “Crisis on Infinite Earths”); Thursday: It’s time for my annual Pangsgiving rewatch of WKRP’s “Turkeys Away”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Pangs”, and The West Wing’s “Shibboleth” and “The Indians In the Lobby”. I’m also re-watching Battlestar Galactica and slowly making my way through current season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. I’m hoping soon to finish season three of Glitch and season one of Raising Dion, and start in on season two of The End of the F***ing World and season four of The Man in the High Castle.
Are you telling me that the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum couldn’t think of a way to display Mr. Rogers’ puppets in a manner other than looking like the jarred, fetal rejects from some sort of macabre scientific experiment?
Note: With several so-called “gimmick” episodes so far this season on Mr. Robot, including the silent episode two weeks ago and stage-play episode last night (they aren’t really gimmicks, per se, as you’ll see below), I thought I’d repost here something I’d originally written on July 22, 2016, on Medium and since taken down.
I don’t especially remember all that much in the way of theory either from growing up in the halls of a theater in upstate New York, from hanging out with actors in college, or from my one and only Dramatic Studies course, but Brecht’s conception of the “alienation effect” lingers.
(Wikipedia standardizes the term as “distancing effect” but notes that it’s also been variously called “defamiliarization effect”, “estrangement effect”, and “distantiation”.)
All I recall, really, is a general sense of the effect being one deliberately generated by a production with the intention of putting the audience at a kind of emotional arm’s length, allowing them to tackle the performances and themes before them from a more intellectual vantage point.
Brecht wanted to “distance” or to “alienate” his audience from the characters and the action and, by dint of that, render them observers who would not become involved in or to sympathize emotionally or to empathize by identifying individually with the characters psychologically; rather, he wanted the audience to understand intellectually the characters’ dilemmas and the wrongdoing producing these dilemmas exposed in his dramatic plots. By being thus “distanced” emotionally from the characters and the action on stage, the audience could be able to reach such an intellectual level of understanding (or intellectual empathy); in theory, while alienated emotionally from the action and the characters, they would be empowered on an intellectual level both to analyze and perhaps even to try to change the world, which was Brecht’s social and political goal as a playwright and the driving force behind his dramaturgy.
I got to thinking about this at some point before the second season premiere of Mr. Robot, initially because of the degree to which the show at the end of its first season not only broke the fourth wall, but obliterates it entirely as Elliot not only addresses the audience directly but commits a physical assault upon the camera through which we are watching him.
Throughout the show’s first season, Elliot engages in monologue through voiceover, addressing his comments to an unseen and unidentified “you”. In and of itself, nothing all that especially different from such voiceovers elsewhere. Except as the season progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that this isn’t some diary we’re hearing voiced aloud, or sessions of psychological or psychiatric counseling. Elliot not only is speaking to someone he’s convinced is real, he’s speaking specifically to us. He comes to believe that we actually know things that he does not, have seen things that he hasn’t. By season’s end, he’s so convinced that we are in league with the forces persecuting him he tries to attack us through the screen.
Breaking the fourth wall is one of the many methods Brecht uses to create his distancing effect, but it’s not necessarily used quite to the extent as it’s used in Mr. Robot (notwithstanding late seasons of Moonlighting where they were known to conduct chase sequences through the studio soundstage, or marvel at fake snow falling through the ceiling-less set). Here, the production doesn’t merely have the protagonist speak to the audience. Here, the protagonist comes to suspect the audience, and of course he isn’t wrong; we do in fact know things he doesn’t, have seen things he hasn’t, because that’s how being a viewer works. Mr. Robot’s use of breaking the fourth wall does everything it can to remind the viewer that they remain outside of Elliot’s experience. Outside, in fact, the experiences of every character on the show. The show constantly fights against the commonplace tide of entertainments meant merely to subsume us, by scolding us to remember that none of these people are real, that we are watching a story.
(This is, of course, Elliot’s own narrative struggle. How much of his life is real and how much isn’t. Who is he, and who are we. Mr. Robot himself just this week chided Elliot for trying to ask us for help on this point.)
In a great look at how the show’s directory of photography Tod Campbell bends, breaks, or inverts framing conventions (by placing characters at the bottom of the frame, flipping their usual “rule of thirds” placement within the frame, etc.), filmmaker Bea Cabrera describes how this deliberate approach emphasizes “isolation” and creates an “overall unease and tension”.
I’d argue that these techniques also do something else. By almost violently interfering with framing conventions, on top of playing up Elliot’s awareness of the viewer by acknowledging the lack of a fourth wall, the show constantly and as a matter of routine works to remind the viewer that they are watching a fictional episode of a television show, asking them not to get so sucked in that they lose sight of what the show is trying to say.
By disclosing and making obvious the manipulative contrivances and “fictive” qualities of the medium, the actors alienate the viewer from any passive acceptance and enjoyment of the play as mere “entertainment”. Instead, the viewer is forced into a critical, analytical frame of mind that serves to disabuse him or her of the notion that what he is watching is necessarily an inviolable, self-contained narrative.
As the Wikipedia article suggests, Brecht wanted the audience to be “empowered on an intellectual level both to analyze and perhaps even to try to change the world, which was Brecht’s social and political goal as a playwright and the driving force behind his dramaturgy”. Establishing its protagonist’s acute awareness of the viewer and framing its shots in ways the viewer can’t help but accept as an artifice, Mr. Robot underscores and highlights both its narrative argument over the degree to which our own lives might not be authentic, might in fact themselves be an artifice, and its desire to make us wonder just who out there might be responsible for constructing it.
By repeatedly establishing and re-establishing its own identity and existence as a fiction, Mr. Robot wants us to stop and think about just how much we simply take for granted that ours is not.
Hollywood producer Harvey Frand died on Thursday, July 23, 2009 in Los Angeles. He was said to be “the man behind the curtain” for the Battlestar Galactica revival, which had ended just four months earlier. The following night at House of Blues San Diego, what was meant “merely” as the second of three performances of the BSG Orchestra led by series composer Bear McCreary became instead an impromptu, and semi-public, wake. Edward James Olmos himself, as the evening’s host, delivered the news of Frand’s death, and his importance to the show, to the audience—eventually leading the house in a rousing, celebratory chorus of, “So say we all!”—and the show was transformed into more than just another performance. If you’ve ever had the opportunity, as a Galactica fan, to see the BSG Orchestra live, you know how powerful an experience it can be in and of itself. But being invited, even welcomed, to join McCreary, the musicians, Olmos, and the other cast and crew present for the show in a celebration not just of the show and its music but of one of the forces who’d made it all happen, this was something altogether else. It was, for me, my favorite pop culture fandom memory, and not only because an already-amazing show carried this new, deeper, undercurrent. The indelible image for me will always be that while the rest of the cast mostly remained upstairs in the VIP section, Olmos was down on the floor with the rest of us, hanging out in the cordoned-off sound booth, often with his head down, letting the music hit him, wash over him, from across the room. Sometimes—and here is the truly indelible image—playing air guitar. But it wasn’t just that, the image isn’t just about that. People left him alone. He wasn’t swarmed or swamped by fans. He wasn’t under the constant assault of being pestered or chatted-up. He was there for the music, there for the show, and there, as it happened, for Frand. And everyone let that be. This show on the night of Friday, July 24, 2009, is my favorite fandom moment because it combined all of the things that fandom can get right: its passion, its meaning, its care, and its respect. I doubt anyone present left unaware, or was left unawares, of the privilege of being in that room, albeit in a transitory and circumstantial sense, as one, united crew. Fandom, maybe, could be like this a little more often without needing tragedy to prompt it.
So say we all.
Last year, when I must have been going a rewatch, I argued that of all the characters on The Good Place Jason Mendoza had the highest degree of emotional intelligence. Even when he was alive, he was the only one of Team Cockroach truly to have earnest and authentic friendships. Eleanor was too trashbag, Tahani too conceited, and Chidi too anxious. Jason might not know at any given moment what’s going on, but he almost always knows how the people around him feel about it. He’s the most empathetic of them all, but if it’s ever acknowledged it’s only implicitly, only tacitly, and buried somewhere beneath or behind the teasing of his general cluelessness. Easily, then, my favorite part of “The Funeral to End All Funerals” was Janet’s eulogy for him. “Jason was the very first person to ask me about my feelings,” she says. “I hadn’t had any yet, but it made me want to go get some.” So, thanks, The Good Place, for someone finally, openly, sticking up for what truly makes Jason Mendoza.
This week’s television: Sunday: Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, Batwoman, Supergirl, Mr. Robot; Monday: Black Lightning; Tuesday: The Flash; Wednesday: The Masked Singer, Nancy Drew; Full Frontal with Samantha Bee; Thursday: The Good Place, Evil. I’m also slowly making my way through current season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and re-watching Battlestar Galactica. I’m hoping soon to finish season three of Glitch and season one of Raising Dion, and start in on season two of The End of the F***ing World and season four of The Man in the High Castle.
I’m not sure if it’s real or perception but I feel like at some point The Good Place: The Podcast somewhat devolved into endless recapping of seemingly every single line of dialogue, interspersed with a few lines of commentary. Has it been like this from the beginning and it’s just that I’ve grown tired of that approach? I feel like they’d just need to briefly describe each scene and then maybe have each guest say something about it from their perspective. Listening to Jackson recite basically all the lines while laughing appreciatively is a weird schtick and I wish I could recall if it’s new or has merely grown stale. I’m deeply into hearing the various creatives, from all levels, discuss the show. I’m less into just listening to someone repeat lines and laugh, like co-workers who think they’re funny reciting everything from last weekend’s Saturday Night Live as if they are performing the material themselves for an audience who didn’t also actually watch it.
So, you think you know, when you first read that someone replaced James Daniel Jordan’s voice with Jeffrey Dexter “Jeff” Boomhauer III’s, that you know how it will feel to watch, but then you do watch and it turns out it’s actually exponentially funnier.