Category Archives: Television

Little Fires Everywhere / Mother and Child

2020, a year of shock and longing, but also a year of rebirth, and birth. In fact, a number of dear friends have either given birth or are now expecting. What could bring more hope and focus on the present?

I would like to talk about a TV programme and a film I enjoyed recently and that are about the multiple facets of motherhood.

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What I’m watching: Lockdown TV

I can’t keep taking in all this content during lockdown without putting something out there. While we don’t know yet when and how productions will start up again and when we will be able to see what happens to our favourite characters, we can take the time to truly appreciate what we have seen so far, and the incredible talent out there.

Therefore, I’d like to look back at three TV shows, three films and three plays I’ve been watching recently. Today, it’s all about television.

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Girls (HBO) – Season 3 finale

Writing is a funny thing. Sometimes you can’t seem to stop, and then you are simply blocked and find each of your sentences more

Driver and Dunham in Girls ("Two Plane Rides")

Driver and Dunham in Girls (“Two Plane Rides”)

banal than the next. I have decided to take charge again, and come back with my comments on the season finale of a show whose writing and story lines never cease to surprise me with their boldness and truthfulness: Girls (HBO).

In the finale of season 3, we are invited to the Belasco Theatre, where Adam is performing for the first time on Broadway. Everyone has come to watch him, after weeks of rehearsals that have made him take some needed distance from Hannah in order to allow his talent and character to develop. I may not be at his level, but I can imagine that I, on the other hand, would need to be down to earth and connect with my personal life while working on a piece, at least to blow off steam, before jumping back into a role as soon as I step into the theatre. This being said, I do believe Hannah went too far in entering his dressing room. She should have waited until after the show to talk to him, especially about being accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and possibly having to move away from New York.

Hannah sets the tone in this episode, which is painful for some of the girls and women as much as it is hopeful, with trust and maturity, love for her partner and family, as well as fashion choices. Although the fight with Adam may have been the final straw (was it really?), she concludes the episode by smiling with pride at her acceptance into graduate school. In a similar vein, Jessa enters into an unconventional friendship with her new boss. Jemima Kirke herself is all but conventional. I really appreciate her for her bohemian effortless style and beauty. Perhaps she convinces so much as Jessa because she thinks of herself first as an artist before being an actress. Her scenes this season with Richard E. Grant were delightful.

Unfortunately, Marnie is far from having it together… ever. She is still as desperate to find herself that her beauty is frustrating – take off those adult dresses and undo your perfect hair for crying out loud, you are in your twenties! I feel that she needs to distance herself from everyone, even from the city in general. Speaking of which, will the new season have more rural scenes, with Hannah moving to Iowa?

What is for certain is that we just cannot lose Adam… Driver is such a revelation (I have noticed such precision in every role I have seen him in). Adam the character may have not always pleased the audience, but the actor himself must be a privilege to have around. Go Adam. Despite his stage appearance in this episode, he is the one who was the least confident: not only is he afraid to lose Hannah, but is scared of failing on stage; two entirely different fears which throw him off guard. Hannah and Adam have noticeably grown apart in recent episodes, and towards different paths. As a viewer, I am proud of both of them, but might have to let the couple go.

A toast to Girls and the, I am sure, incredible artists involved in the show. Until next year.

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Mad Men – “In care of” – Season 6, Episode 13

Honestly, I have bigger problems than this – Pete Campbell

What I’ve perhaps always guiltily envied in Mad Men’s main character Don Draper was his capacity to make everyone forget his betrayals and endless affairs by simply standing up, buttoning his suit’s upper button and engaging in a tirade about the emotional value of a condiment. During the past thirteen weeks of Mad Men’s Season 6 however, I have slowly found myself losing sympathy for him. From the affair with his neighbour (leading to a fall out with his daughter) to a careless attitude towards his children (leading to a break in) and an insensitive attitude in the office, his behaviour has made me wonder whether he understood how cruel he can be. Of course the answer is no: has Don Draper ever had a proper understanding of who he was in the world?

Following the 5th season’s finale, season 6 focused on the idea of death not coming quickly enough. The life that is taken in In Care Of is that of Pete Campbell’s demented mother who apparently married her (homosexual) nurse, hopped on a cruise ship and fell overboard. Perhaps some will disagree, but as the viewer observes these scenes as they unfold through Pete’s hopeless eyes, the story line becomes quite comical. Pete was the one that made me smile and laugh in this episode.

In Care Of seems to offer freshness and warmth to the viewer through Matthew Weiner’s aesthetic direction and introduces the theme of family and caring around the holiday of Thanksgiving. Family touches most of the characters this week:

The first main family connection and one of the most painful relationships of this season was that between Don and his daughter Sally. Part of the reason for Don’s excesses is the distance between them since she caught him sleeping with his neighbour (told you it was a bad idea).

Joan decides to let Roger into their child’s life, “but not into” hers. After an entire season almost ignoring this connection, the transition may seem quick but then again, it fits with Joan to make this decision swiftly and move on.

After Ted’s family pick him up at the office, Peggy tries to get back at him by wearing a revealing dress and mentioning she has a date. Ted ends up sleeping with her and promising he will leave his wife. However, while she may not want to be “that girl” who is left for too quickly, he, on second thought, certainly doesn’t want to be “that guy” either and decides to move to California with his family to start over.

The theme is amplified when Hershey’s come to the agency to hear a creative advertising proposal.  What starts as a cliché presentation by Don about his made up relationship with his father breaks down and reveals where he actually grew up. His only true pleasure as a child was that of feeling normal when eating a Hershey’s bar. While he ultimately succeeds in pointing out how Hershey’s is anchored in culture and doesn’t even need introduction, everyone else at the meeting can only see the line he’s crossed. It does not help that they all know that he has long replaced chocolate with alcohol.

To say that Don is a lost man sounds like an understatement: after being denied the chance to know what it is like to be cared for by a parent, the first person he forgets to care for as an adult is himself. For instance, while his forced leave of absence seems like a brand new opportunity for the viewer, he asks for a return date, forgetting that stability is not what will save him. I only hope that if it turns out that he can’t turn around on his own, he will be able to listen to those who love him.

A few questions and notes remain:

  • Is Megan leaving Don? Will she move to Los Angeles?
  • Does Ted’s departure mean that the actor Kevin Rahm is out of the picture?
  • Don’s leave from the agency hopefully announces many new interesting outdoor scenes. Until next time!

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Girls (HBO) – Season 2, Episode 6 – “Boys”

Call me when you need to. Don’t call me when you don’t.

For those who care, thirty minutes of television can make a big difference. How many times have I said “yeah, GIRLS… it’s good! But you don’t have to watch it. It will not change your life”. I must however point out that right now, I am in a positive mood: this week’s episode of GIRLS, entitled “Boys”, kept me wanting more and finally put me back in touch with the emotions that made me watch this show in the first place. It did what this programme is really all about, it kept me actively talking about it. In the end, during a season, we are faced with ten thirty-minute episodes of intensity, in whichever direction it may go (last week’s “One man’s trash” took the liberty of taking us into a completely different dimension), and an infinity of discussions.

“Boys” takes us back into the supposedly busy life schedules of Girls’ characters, and invites us back into one of our leading men’s apartment. The character of Adam (Adam Driver never ceases to surprise me) is not easy to describe, as he can seem a lunatic and bully to some and a warm-hearted quirky young man to others. To see him this week, especially while bonding with Ray (the mysterious and fascinating Alex Karpovsky), was a joy. The ease with which both boys started talking to each other and found the common goal of returning a dog to its owner on Staten Island was very unlike the energy going on between the girls of this episode. Their conversations about their ex and current girlfriends, about their age and other women’s ages, were pleasantly honest and made us wish that girls (in the show and all around the world) would act the same way. In previous episodes, Ray showed himself verbally violent and depressed. Perhaps he is simply too surrounded by women in his managerial coffee shop job and needs a male friend, preferably “weird-looking”.

Meanwhile, Marnie’s realisation that she had been all wrong about her fake boyfriend Booth was a relief. At first, one hoped that this represented a turning point for her, and a return to her good friend Hannah. Instead, she refused to communicate with her, not wanting to admit her failure.

As for Hannah, after being offered an eBook deal, she finds that she has trouble writing – a worry that neither Marnie nor Jessa have time to listen to. This was the first real moment the viewer saw her lose her confidence, albeit in private. After so many episodes of observing her self-involvement, this felt refreshing and sincere. Even during the open conversation with Joshua last week, her wound was still hidden.

This episode made me think about the act of listening as opposed to talking. No one seemed present enough to listen to Hannah, who usually has so much to say. In the final scene on the telephone between Marnie and Hannah, they seemed to both be waiting to hear something, to listen. Unfortunately, no one spoke. When you want to talk, no one listens. And when you are finally ready to listen, no one is there to speak to you.

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“We are the ladies!” – Girls, review

“I am a voice… of a generation”, insists twenty something year old aspiring book author Hannah, whose parents have just cut off their financial contribution to her New York City lifestyle, in the pilot of Girls, the new show created by and starring 26 year old Lena Dunham. Some critics are calling the show hilarious and refreshing; others lament the fact that it lacks racial diversity and is not representative of today’s young women. These descriptions may all be true – I call the show depressing, and at the same time curiously intriguing, as it precisely captures the lives of certain girls in a certain generation.

Based on my experience watching the two first episodes, I insist that one should not “judge a show by its pilot”. It did not make me laugh, but I rather had my eyebrows drawn together during most of it. However, they did draw apart during the final credits which were accompanied by a joyful tune. Episode 2 did not make me laugh out loud either, but I did smile at comical scenes where, come to think about it, the humour was either in the eww/sucks-to-be-you effect, or in the neuroses of some characters.

Inevitably, Girls is being compared with another HBO programme, Sex and the City. We are discovering four young ladies trying to find success in New York City, one of whom even has a large poster of the 90s show on her bedroom wall. But despite the geographical location, the comparison is all wrong:

The streets of New York are not filmed in a romantic but in a rough way, bringing out the difficulties of making it in a big city where it is hard to care for anything but one’s own survival. The girls, so far, do not seem to complete each other in the way Char, Carrie, Sam and Miranda’s friendship naturally flowed. They seem stuck in this twenty-something stage where the path to thirty seems rocky and filled with doubts. Not the romantic kind of doubt, but plain doubt, frustration and discouragement, related with the economy and the search of love… or at least sex.

While one of the girls is ashamed of being a virgin at 22, another is staying with her long-term boyfriend although he freaks her out, the third one is planning on having an abortion although she would love to be a mother and the fourth one is having bad and ugly sex with – there is no better word – a weirdo, sexual activity in the twenties seems like a battlefield. You look for it for the thrill, but you actually don’t want it, as you are too worried about “what comes around the edges of the condom”.

Carrie and Miranda used to talk for hours on their landlines, while the former waited ages before buying a mobile. Girls’ pilot explains today’s rules of dating and digital communication. Facebook is the lamest way of contacting a boyfriend, texting is the best way, and there are a few in between. You could call, of course, but who has time for that anymore. Even Hannah’s lover (if you can call him that) asks her to “text” him if she ever feels like coming over.

Yep, these are the 2010s. While in Britain TV-viewers seem to turn to period dramas to escape the emptiness of Sunday evenings, in the US, gloss and beauty define the norm, and the frankness portrayed in Girls comes as a shocker, although so many viewers are actually living in this constant fear of First World problems.

I understand the controversy around this show, and why some will just switch off for lack of inspiration, which comes from the fact that the show is so real. The excellent acting probably contains a lot of improvisation, the intelligent dialogues do not try to be artificial and do not contain puns. It feels like we are right there, in the cold streets, in that slightly smelly kitchen or sitting on that dirty bench and hearing the annoying kids playing basketball nearby. Here is a question I cannot answer yet: if we think about it, what is it we want from TV? Harsh and slightly negative reality which may spoil our evening or pink and gold dresses accompanied by white smiles that make us feel like, yes, at least for a few minutes, we could take over the world?

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