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    Showing posts with label Maureen Ryan. Show all posts

    'Outlander,' The Wedding Episode And TV's Sexual Revolution

    It would pain me greatly if critics and viewers dismissed "Outlander" for irrelevant, trivial or condescending reasons.

    Don't mistake my purpose: I'm not here to tell you "Outlander" is a perfect show. I like it, I loved a couple of episodes, but I outlined some of my issues with it in my original review.

    That said, sometimes a show on the margin of the public's attention does something radically different -- even revolutionary -- and it'd be a real shame if the show's non-trendy status prevented people from recognizing the fantastic thing it has done.

    "Outlander" has blown up a lot of the received ideas about sex on television -- how it's shot, who it's for, who it's made by and who it's about. The show's Sept. 20 episode, in which the two lead characters get married and have a lot of sex, was nothing short of revolutionary in its depiction of nudity and intimacy, and in its willingness to entertain the female point of view.

    I'm not saying other shows haven't done compelling and interesting things with sex on occasion, or even on a regular basis. As Emily Nussbaum tweeted the other day, "we are living in a dirty honest TV wonderland." I agree, and this development is tremendously exciting.

    It's a distinct relief that "Outlander" is not alone. We've now seen two full seasons of the twisted power dynamics that inform those strange, intense hotel-room encounters in "Masters of Sex." "Girls," obviously, has an honest treatment of sex as one of its main goals, and Jill Soloway, partly inspired by Lena Dunham, just unleashed "Transparent," a fantastically complex depiction of all kinds of desires. Thanks in part to streaming options and an expanding array of adventurous creators and networks, shows with sexually unapologetic women suddenly seem to be all over the place: "The Fall," "The Good Wife," "The Americans," "Orphan Black," "New Girl," "You're the Worst" and "Orange Is the New Black" are all part of a seemingly unstoppable wave of shows that treat the sexual activities of their leading ladies with refreshing matter-of-factness and genuine interest.
    Even a few years ago, it was not like this. Shows like this cropped up here and there, but they were not thick on the ground.

    To overgeneralize, you could say that the post-"Oz," post-"Sopranos" revolution in television was all about what a protagonist could do. The wave of ambitious dramas that crested in the mid- to late-'00s (and still lingers in sizable pockets of the TV landscape) explored the outer limits of the behavior of a complex individual ... as long as that individual was a dude.

    The last two or three years have seen a welcome and overdue explosion in who a protagonist could be. "Looking," "Happy Valley," "Borgen," "The Honorable Woman," "The Bridge," "Enlightened," "Broad City," "Top of the Lake," "Sleepy Hollow" and the shows mentioned above -- these and other programs often dominate conversations about adventurous television, and they aren't all that concerned with changing definitions of masculinity, the status anxiety of white guys and all that anti-hero baggage. They often feature diverse ensembles; they're often about how communities and individuals regard each other and change each other. A new set of thematic concerns has joined the big TV party, and that's also exciting. ax

    'Mad Men' Review: Everyone's Out Of Place In 'The Runaways'

    Wrong. Almost everyone in "The Runaways" was out of place or out of their element, and quite conscious of that fact. And I'll say more about that in a minute, but first, well, wow. You can't make the claim that "Mad Men" denies the viewer a full range of experiences.

    First, we had the AMC After Dark scene of Don having a three-way with Megan and her friend Amy. And then we had something completely different: Michael Ginsberg proudly presenting his sliced-off nipple to Peggy. Excuse me for a minute while I go drink the entire contents of my liquor cabinet.

    Yeeeeow. I feel scarred from having written the above sentence about Ginsberg's body part; seeing what was in that box was worse. There's a mental image I'll never be able to remove from my brain -- Scout's honor.

    As wildly different as those two moments were, this is "Mad Men," so the moments shared a thematic link, as did much of what occurred elsewhere in "The Runaways." As I noted above, almost every character stood on unfamiliar terrain or felt deeply alienated from what was going on around them.

    Even though Don may have succumbed to the charms of Megan and her friend, there was reluctance in everything he did when he was out in California. He felt left out at her party, he tried to ignore her dancing with another man and he sensed that there was something odd about Stephanie's quick exit from Megan's pad. Don was so uncomfortable that Harry Crane, of all people, turned out to be a sight for sore eyes. Don couldn't wait to get away from all those pot-smokin' hippies and go drink manly alcohol in a dimly lit bar. There's only so much extramarital flirtation and banjo a man can be expected to endure.

    Ginsberg's unease, at least in his own mind, had an explanation: It was all the computer's fault. He was so rattled by that humming monolith that he actually went to Peggy's house, a weird place for him to end up on a Saturday night. There, Ginsberg found one of the episode's many odd pairings: Peggy and little Julio from upstairs. In an episode full of characters experiencing discomfort and disconnected states, it's wildly ironic and very sad that Ginsberg actually found relief from his distress. Unfortunately, his "relief" was a symptom of profound mental illness.

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