On Television: Part Two
ZOELAB DAY 50
It’s a new day. And now, as I write, Emilio, Georgie (4) and Vinnie (6) (another Friday night sleepover) are getting a special Saturday morning treat: they are watching The Muppets. The new one that came out in 2011. I love this film—as a Muppet fan, I find, in its sincere and hearty goofiness, that it stays true to the original Muppet credo. The music, in particular, is great, because it includes both the original classics from the show: Rainbow Connection, The Muppet Show theme song, and then some new tracks written by the wonderful Brett Mackenzie, (another one of my major crushes) who is one half of Flight of the Conchords, “the fourth most popular folk rock parody band in New Zealand” and the television show of the same name. (I will write more on FOTC later.) Vinnie just grabbed Emilio’s stuffed Ernie toy and asked me if he was a muppet. I thought about if for a moment, and then said: “Yes, in fact, he is a muppet!” When the movie was over, all the boys asked me to draw a picture of their favorite muppet for them. Of course, I do believe your favorite muppet is really the muppet that you most identify with. This is a question I have asked people many times in my life: “which muppet are you?”. Georgie chose “animal,” which is spot on. Vinnie chose “Kermit,” also spot on. And Emilio chose “Walter” (the new muppet character from the film). An interesting choice, that I don’t quite understand. Walter is sort of a bland character, who doesn’t really know what he wants, but he is, in fact, the world’s biggest muppet fan.
So, yesterday I was describing my period of syndicated sitcom serial monogamy. There is one other show that should be mentioned: Will and Grace. Although I found the princessy normalcy of the two title characters a little annoying at times, I do believe Debra Messing, who played Grace, is a great comedienne and is a dead ringer for Lucille Ball. In my opinion, a great comedienne, even if she is naturally beautiful, has to be willing to be both ugly and foolish. Both Lucille Ball and Debra Messing are able and willing to do that. However, the funniest stuff of the show comes from the fabulousness of the two supporting characters: Karen (played by Megan Mullally) and Jack (played by Sean Hayes). Their dancing, their singing, their dramatic entrances are absolute genius. They help us remember that a sitcom (a classic multi-camera one) is not just a television show. It is a live performance in front of an audience. They were magically able to take the utmost in obnoxiousness and turn it into unmitigated charm. Like many of the funniest sitcom characters, they represent the people we don’t want to be, but fear we secretly are. And the best part is, in all their glorified pettiness, they make no apologies for it. Of course it must be mentioned that the show was groundbreaking in its normalizing of gay men.
This period of sitcom watching came to an end around the same time that I quit acting, and decided to pursue my dream of starting a rock band. Instead of falling asleep to sitcoms every night, I would take out my guitar and write songs until bedtime. The experience of choosing a creative act over a passive act was a very healthy shift for me. In fact, the period of being in a band was one of the three (along with performing improv and ZOELAB) most fulfilling creative endeavors I have engaged in.
It was not until graduate school in San Francisco that I became addicted to television again. Graduate school was an incredibly enriching, but emotionally difficult experience, and I really needed to have an escape in the evenings. I had nicknamed grad school emotional boot camp. We had to be in therapy, talk personally about ourselves in class, and write essays and make art about our personal histories, fears, traumas, while at the same integrating a lot of theory. My escape from having to think about myself became a project that I embarked on with Lucas—watching the entire 5 seasons of Six Feet Under. I had already seen some of the show and knew that I loved it, but we wanted to get through the whole thing. We would receive 3 DVD’s at a time from Netflix. We didn’t want to watch them all at the same time, so we would scatter them through out the year with other shows and movies. We would often not put a DVD on until 11 at night. (That same syndicated time slot). I always had reading to do and papers to write first. Each DVD had 2 or 3 episodes, and even though, when we first put the show on, we would say we are only watching one tonight, we knew were fooling ourselves, because we really knew that there was no way we could resist watching every episode on the disc. Six Feet Under is the only series I am writing about that is not a comedy. It is my favorite dramatic television series of all time. First of all, I love that is about death. And not in a glorified or inhumane way as are so many other popular dramatic series. I think our denial of death (and of aging) is one of the most destructive things about American culture. The process of facing my own mortality has been one of the most enlivening things I have ever done (and am still doing). I love Six Feet Under because it feels real and human. All the characters are so deeply flawed, and all, each in their own way, are trying to find happiness. They are stumbling through the mess of their lives, as we all do. The acting, also, is incredible. Every single actor on the show acts his and her heart out—each is peculiar and funny and sad and selfish all at once. I agree with the critics that the show fell apart a little in the later seasons, and became melodramatic. And I was not a fan of the last episode. But, still, the show deserves much credit for its courageous writing, and its incredible characters.
The Six Feet Under project was actually a painful experience for me. I cared so deeply about the characters that I felt like they were part of my family. I even dreamed about them. If something bad happened to one of the Fishers (and something bad was always happening to one of the Fishers) I was devastated. If something good happened to one of them, I was elated. And I would become enraged at the show for its unbelievably dramatic cliffhangers. But the most painful moment was when the last episode of the DVD ended, and the knowing that I would have to wait a few days before I could watch it again. There was a dark pit of emptiness that followed.
Another show that I must also mention here is Freaks and Geeks. Sadly, Freaks and Geeks did not get the many seasons it deserved. The plug was pulled only after two. I suppose Freaks and Geeks would be most aptly called a dramedy. It had the format of a dramatic series--one hour, one camera, with a filmic production value and serious themes, but it was also incredibly funny. As with all my favorite things in life, this show had major heart. It centered on two groups of high schoolers--the freaks (who were in the upper grades) and the geeks (who were in the lower grades)—and their families. Another example of a show with great characters because of their realness, and their flaws. In this case, the flaws centered around the group you belonged to. I also deeply related to this show, and recognized myself, and people I knew growing up. The cast, was also incredible. The geeks really looked like geeks and the freaks really looked like freaks.