Rosemary's Baby is one of my favorite movies of all time. It plays on all of my biggest fears: intrusive neighbors (maybe without dishwashers) who force you to eat things they've prepared, the plight of struggling actors ("Nobody Loves an Albatross" was probably non-union), being compelled to munch raw chicken in a moment of pregnant psychosis, general insecurity about not being the best Scrabble player in the world, and being raped by Satan. It would be a really punishing movie other than the fact that it's also somehow aspirational: The imposing Bramford building (actually the Dakota) where the Woodhouses nest suggested the optimism of a young, artsy couple in New York in the late '60's; Rosemary (Mia Farrow) was beautiful, bare-faced and waddling around in adorable sundresses with the pixie cut to end all pixie cuts; and, of course, the charm factor of hidden stairways, phone booths, old books, and pendant necklaces (all cursed, of course). Rosemary's Baby is like a fever dream, one that grips you in paranoid fright but makes your senses tingle at the same time.
It's perfect. More than Norman Mailer or Woody Allen, I want to engage my amnesia button for Roman Polanski when I think about how much I love this movie. Ira Levin's novel — which was published in 1967, a year before the film's faithful adaptation was released — was excellent, but the movie was even better. Ruth Gordon's Academy Award–winning chocolate mouse, Farrow spitting in John Cassavetes's face, that haunting melody: This is untouchable stuff.
Ah, you're thinking, Tuesday. A safe distance from last Thursday, when my virtual social world was overtaken with The Sound of Music Live! reactions. A page turned from Friday, when my favorite website, Grantland, ran not uno, but dos brilliant essays on NBC's spectacle. SNL has dealt with Carrie Underwood & Co., and so it was mentioned again just yesterday in a recap on this very blog. But now, you say to yourself, there is nothing left to say.
Yesterday, NBC Entertainment's chairman Robert Greenblatt announced that The Sound of Music Live! producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are planning another live musical event for next year's holiday season. This news is far from surprising, considering TSoML’s earth-shattering ratings that appealed to both snarky rubberneckers and wholesome, innocent Rodgers and Hammerstein fans. Meron, Zadan, and Greenblatt told the New York Times that they were "circling a couple of titles" for the follow-up, requiring their choice to be both family-friendly and familiar to all. In fact, Greenblatt seems so giddy over TSoML’s success (despite the wintry mix of chilly reviews) that he's gazing optimistically into the future of this new tradition ("who knows what happens in Year 2, 3 or 4").
The Hollywood Hills were alive this morning with the sound of NBC executives exhaling and finally getting around to unwrapping their day planners for 2014. Whiskers on kittens are all well and good, but they've got nothing on job security. The network's live staging of The Sound of Music saved everyone's lonely goatherd last night, garnering a boffo 18 million viewers (including an eye-popping 4.6 rating in the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic) and, across the board, the sort of numbers NBC hasn't seen on a Thursday night since the ER finale. Bob Greenblatt, long a punching bag around these parts for his poor programming choices, deserves the peacock's share of the credit. Though wobbly in nearly all other matters of taste, Greenblatt has never been shy about his bedrock belief that the one thing capable of saving network television is musical theater. Sure, his beloved Smash got smushed. But last night proved people actually really like seeing pretty, talented stars sing and dance. (The lesson? Give America its razzle-dazzle sausage. Don't force them to watch that sausage learn its lines and try to adopt a child from China.)
They must not make monsters like they used to. NBC is taking another spin on the vintage monster merry-go-round with The Wolfman, a series based on the 2010 werewolf film The Wolfman, which starred Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. The 2010 feature was itself a remake of the 1941 Lon Cheney vehicle The Wolf Man (but don't worry, TheWolf Man and Wolf-MAN! are still up for grabs), and though the more recent film underwhelmed at the box office, the network is placing the upcoming television adaptation in the capable hands of Carnivale alum Daniel Knauf. Knauf's current NBC property, Dracula, has been a mixed bag since it premiered last month (though its ratings remain disappointingly mushy). Still, it feels as though we've been picking over the same monster bones for a long time; earlier this year we watched as eyeballs exploded on Hemlock Grove (which will begin its second season on a yet-to-be-announced date), and we're already heading back to the murderous Milk-Bone box.
There is a television show that comes on Friday nights right now called Grimm. I can't say with certainty what it is about, as I had never watched an episode until this most recent one, but mostly the plots seems to revolve around a policeman who captures criminals and monsters. The monsters are hidden inside of regular-looking humans, but this policeman, something called a "Grimm," has the ability to see them. I don't know. That might not be a perfect description, but no matter. I made sure to watch this one because they discussed a very serious, very real subject: the Cucuy.
The Cucuy, pronounced kuh-coo-ee, is, to be short, a Latino bogeyman. He is used as a parenting tool, a threat to lob at a child who is misbehaving. "If you don't keep your room clean, the Cucuy's gonna come get you," is how it works. Nobody knows what the Cucuy looks like because nobody has ever survived his visit; he only ever eats you whole right then or carts you off to his hellhole to eat you later. In hindsight, this seems a bit of an overreaction on his part, him eating you because you didn't make your bed or whatever, but I suppose that's what makes him effective. My mom used to tell me all the time* that he was going to get me, and I was terrified into compliance. I say the same things to my own sons now and they are terrified into compliance, too. It's an odd practice, I suppose, but it's a part of our culture (and also funny to no end), so I'm happy to pass it on.
Despite having lived my life an arm's length away from his grasp, the show represented the first time I'd ever gotten to look into the face of the Cucuy. Three quick things:
Finally, Parenthood got real. This show is best when it considers legitimate, realistic problems that actual people have to confront. This week's episode covered topics including finances, protecting family, fighting with your spouse, emotional cheating, and what it means for a 10-year-old to choose ballet over basketball. There were highs, there were lows, and, most importantly, there were tears.
Prepare the tissues, because you'll be furious and sad
Kristina's mayoral campaign resurfaced this week. Her opponent, Bob Little, used an incident from Adam's past to pull ahead in the race. In a previous season, someone called Max Braverman a "retard," and Adam responded by punching the guy out. After Little released the story, Adam was mobbed by the local media and an unfortunate sound bite of his received the industry standard treatment: an Internet remix. (Are supporter-made Internet remix videos really a thing in local politics? Videos like these were integral to The Good Wife, but I can't think of any prevalent real examples.) Campaign manager Heather, Adam, and Amber all encourage Kristina to go public with Bob's relationship with Amber from Season 3. Ultimately she decides not to — instead using a press conference to explain what Adam did. Little's lead increases.
Maya Rudolph is coming back to NBC, and it's not to lend SNL a momentary famous black lady impression or to appear on a middling sitcom. It's to [OPRAH VOICE] HAVE HER OWN VARIETY SERIES! Or a pilot, at least. Lorne Michaels is producing, and Deadline hears the pilot will air as a special after the Olympics in February. I have no idea what a Maya Rudolph variety series on NBC prime time will look like, but let's assume there'll be impressions and an overall charming glow.
Salvation is on the way! Parenthood Season 5 has suffered a serious dearth of tears, but fortunately this week's episode accelerated the action on numerous tedious story lines, which will hopefully elevate this morass of a season. Perhaps we should thank Kristina Braverman. Not only was this a mayoral campaign–free episode, but she delivered a soliloquy about how great Adam's marriage proposal was that seemingly woke Amber from her own engagement trance. We were also treated to two classic Braverman meals — the entire clan (save for Joel) had dinner in the perfectly lit backyard and the four adult siblings met for a Season 1–esque lunch — and quality Hank time. Even though there was still a conspicuous lack of sob-inducing moments, I'm confident (or delusionally hopeful) that Parenthood can return to form. Here are the episode's top promising moments, plus the Near-Cry Moment of the Week.
Let's Talk About Drew's Robe
Drew's signature is his diffidence. He's a recognizable teen. You know, that quiet kid with Bieber hair that's probably less of a fashion statement and more of a hiding mechanism. Maybe, that's realistic, but I've always found it difficult to truly love him as much as Crosby or Amber because we don't know him the same way. Or maybe I discriminate against shy people. If you consider him in a macro sense, Drew is actually a remarkable TV character. He was central to last season's abortion story line, and because depictions of abortion are so rare on television — particularly with teenagers — Drew is unforgettable. But that doesn't speak to his personality as a Braverman. (Yes, I know his last name is Holt.) His new signature needs to the oversize navy blue robe he wore last night. This is the garment he wore as he confronted the hungover girl he hooked up with the night before in the unisex dorm bathroom. We've seen that navy robe earlier this season, but it just didn't look so regally awkward. Drew is a king, but no one has taken notice yet. That drunk girl is beginning to get the message, and I like to think it has something to do with the robe.
Since not even NBC is crazy enough to stay out of the Tina Fey business for too long, the Peacock has ordered 13 episodes of a sitcom that Fey and her 30 Rock co-executive producer Robert Carlock will write and produce together. Ellie Kemper will star as a woman who “escapes from a doomsday cult and starts life over in New York City.” On the one hand, it's NYC again. Buuuttt ... Erin from The Office blundering into the big city could be fun! The show will debut next fall, right around the time people are celebrating the eight-month anniversary of Fey's second time nailing the Golden Globes alongside Amy Poehler.
In the mid-'90s, my mother had an important job. She had to raise a little black boy, perfectly. There was no room for error. So, in this process, there were a number of highly purposeful maneuvers to make sure the job was done without hiccups. Where we lived, where I played sports, what conversations we had (and didn't have), and especially what I was exposed to on television. For every TGIF show there was A Different World, for every SNICK show there was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and for every Rugrats and Doug, a Martin or Living Single.
Every now and then, however, she'd slip up. She wouldn't realize I was in the room. Or she would think I was sleep, when I really had one eye open. That's when Matlock would pop up. Or Columbo. Or Perry Mason.
You know, white people.
There's a pretty phenomenal story of me as a little boy sitting on the toilet asking my mom where white people came from. It was a valid question, because chances are if you lived in Southwest Atlanta in the mid-'90s, you weren't seeing many. After learning that the answer was less "the moon" and more "the north side of town," I began to develop a curiosity in these white people. And most of my first main exposures were on television. And in that first wave were four shows centered on middle-aged white ladies that my mother, and eventually I, couldn't get enough of: Murphy Brown, The Golden Girls, Designing Women, and, of course, Murder, She Wrote.
Back around the time that a band of ordinary superheroes burst onto NBC, the network adopted a single voice to narrate most of its promotional spots. It's that breathy, doom-filled guy who warned us of the importance of saving the cheerleader (and, ergo, the world). Heroes is long gone, but somehow that guy can still be heard previewing the next week at the end of hour-long dramas and during midshow commercials for other NBC programs. Even as the voice has evolved over the years, all its iterations have sounded dissonant at the end of Parenthood. I don't think this nameless, faceless guy really understands the particular toll of Kristina's fight with cancer or Sarah's various breakups. At least his foreboding communicated the fact that you'd be sobbing.
Now, in Season 5, there's just one problem. All the tears have dried up, and the NBC man sounds more dissonant with this show than ever. At no point during Thursday night's episode, "Let's Be Mad Together," was I even close to crying. The preview clip from last week fooled me! I thought this would be peak Parenthood. There were highs (drunk Joel in the grocery store with Crosby) and there were lows (Ryan the plumber), but not a single tear, not even a welling up of the eyes. Maybe it's because everyone was mad — hence that episode title. Yet, I thought this was a great episode. I suppose the amount of crying is not the only way to measure an episode's worth. So in honor of this week's angry disposition, here's a breakdown of this week's most noteworthy arguments.
After what might have been Parenthood’s worst episode ever last week (at least if you're judging by the amount of crying), the show went meta this week. It was the unofficial Joni Mitchell Week. Listen to this playlist as we explore emotional highs and lows.
Prepare the tissues, because you'll be furious and sad
Ryan has to go and the Amber engagement plotline must end. For all its sentimentality, Parenthood keeps its characters consistent. Yet the Amber and Ryan story belies everything she has become. She made some reckless decisions in the past, but the Amber of Seasons 3 and 4 was wise, stable, and mature. That Amber would not be marrying someone without knowing the whereabouts of her fiancé's father. Usually a couple picks a wedding venue after the groom tells his bride-to-be that his father is dead.
NBC relaunched its once-proud Thursday-night comedy lineup a few weeks ago. Outside of critically adored/audience-ignored holdover Parks and Recreation at 8 p.m., the goal appeared to be relatively straightforward: Network honcho Bob Greenblatt was hoping to wring a few remaining drips of pride out of the faces of a more flush era. At 8:30 p.m. Welcome to the Family would hearken back to a simpler time, when gentle family foibles were enough to glue audiences to their couches. Sean Saves the World would bring back some of Will and Grace’s sassy magic at 9 p.m. The Michael J. Fox Show would complete the circle begun back in the glorious '80s, when Family Ties was ascendent, NBC's name was golden, and Brandon Tartikoff still pulled the sun across the sky every morning on his chariot driven by flying, flaming peacocks.
That the peacock is an ostentatious yet mostly flightless bird is an observation well known to anyone who has been chronicling NBC's lost decade — particularly as it threatens to stretch into a second. So many were surprised to see the network soaring in the first week of the new fall season: Buoyed by its twin pillars of football and The Voice, NBC easily beat its rivals in the key demos advertisers care most about. The Blacklist started off like gangbusters (Spadermania is very real) and Chicago Fire returned strong. Skeptics might point out that the Peacock found itself flying last year around this time as well, only to come crashing back to Earth once Cee Lo and the Super Bowl were in the past. But at least in 2013, network honcho Bob Greenblatt seemed to have a coherent plan: serve viewers a steady diet of comfort food in the form of old stars and hoarier concepts and leave the flash — and costlier flameouts — to his rivals.
The second week of the TV season hasn't been nearly as rosy for NBC.