Wednesday, June 29, 2011

pieces by Arthur Watts

A Modern Christmas
"And there's a nice little book on Picasso for you Laura."

Courtesy, Then and Now (from Punch)

From the website The Art of Arthur Watts

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mona looked away. "He made me feel like such a damned fool."

"Oh, Mona, we're all damned fools! Some of us just have more fun with it than others. Loosen up, dear! Don't be so afraid to cry...or laugh, for that matter. Laugh all you want and cry all you want and whistle at pretty men in the street and to hell with anybody who thinks you're a damned fool!" She lifted the wineglass in a toast to the younger woman. "I love you, dear. And that makes you free to do anything."
Armistead Maupin, More Tales of the City

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

40 Favorite Amazing Moments From Roseanne (+ 1 extra)

These are not chosen to be the Best-Of in any comprehensive sense, but as part of a (necessarily incomplete) list of small moments in the show -- acting, writing, stage business -- for which I still watch and in which I still revel, many years and viewings later. They are not meant to describe everything that was great about Roseanne, but point to it; when this show was good, it was really really good. I could write thousands of words about each of these moments, but I will try to let them speak for themselves. [Note: I am not a fan of mid-season 5 and later, so that's where this chronological list stops.]

1. Season 1, Episode 9
There weren't that many really good episodes in the first season, but this is a great one. Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) stops Dan (John Goodman) from fighting at his birthday party at the Lobo Lounge, and later at home he takes out his lingering frustration in a realistically frightening way on a piece of drywall as daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) looks on, scared and saying nothing.

2. Season 2, Episode 2
Roseanne suddenly ends a goofy physical fight with Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) about her new career choice by grimly pantomiming what could happen if she decides to become a police officer.

3. Season 2, Episode 4
During the end credits Dan and Roseanne try to move a refrigerator out of the house and cuss constantly in an out of nowhere, over the top, bleeped barrage.

4. Season 2, Episode 9
Dan, warming up for a Thanksgiving day football game, moves the couch in one huge charge. Goodman was willing to be very physical on Roseanne.

5. Season 2, Episode 10
From the first really great episode (written by Joss Whedon). Darlene is rebelling against reading her prize poem in public, and Roseanne opens up the discussion about it while cutting coupons by silently extending her hand with the scissors in them in a way that's both welcoming and scary.

6. Season 2, Episode 10
Darlene reads her poem, which reveals unsuspected vulnerability. The frozen look on Gilbert's face is perfect.

7. Season 2, Episode 13
Roseanne was always great at depicting weaselly bosses (I could never vote for Fred Thompson after seeing him play Roseanne's evil factory boss in season one). Brian (Peter Smith) was really well-written: young, tyrannical, insecure, clueless, sad. Roseanne has him over to dinner to ask for better hours, only to have him fire her anyhow as her family watches and freaks out.

8. Season 3, Episode 1
DJ (Michael Fishman) fills his cereal bowl by adding some, swiping some off, adding some more, and swiping again. From a great real-time episode that shows whole family waiting for results of Roseanne's pregnancy test.

9. Season 3, Episode 3
The whole family walks in on Darlene making out with a friend, only Dan has no idea what's going on. The show uses the device of Dan's occasional cluelessness really well.

10. Season 3, Episode 4
"I've got a Salisbury steak and a Swiss steak. Who gets the Salisbury steak? Okay then, you'd be the person to ask: which one is it? [Puts plate down] Enjoy your, uh, thing."

-- Roseanne's first day as a waitress at Rodbell's.

11. Season 3, Episode 5
Becky (Alicia Goranson) and Darlene find unexplained evidence of DJ's weirdness.

12. Season 3, Episode 6
"What was once the cradle of our love is now landfill."

-- Roseanne and Dan toast their old mattress at the Lobo.

13. Season 3, Episode 9
Roseanne confronts Becky's principal (another great weasel, played by Dann Florek) about her kid's behavior in an inspired little speech about parenting:
"No matter how much we try to control what our kids do, at some point they are just gonna do what they're gonna do. They are like people that way."

14. Season 3, Episode 10
The woman Dan has been having erotic dreams about (played by Patrika Darbo) is revealed. The fact that she a chubby little thing shocked me to the bone the first time I saw this episode; Roseanne in these seasons still seems ahead of its time with regard to size by letting its large main characters just be, most of the time.

15. Season 3, Episode 11
Dan and Roseanne go out to dinner to celebrate the first time they had sex, and tell each other what they first noticed about each other.

16. Season 3, Episode 13
"I'm making your dad's favorite tuna casserole. I know. It's god-awful, isn't it? And especially the way I make it."

17. Season 3, Episode 13
"How could he do anything like that, he's not even home. So, where'd you find it? All right, so just put it in a bag, and I'll bury it when I get there."

-- More never-explained weird behavior from DJ.

18. Season 3, Episode 14
The sped-up bunnyhop from the video of Dan's father's wedding.

19. Season 3, Episode 15
Becky is staying at Jackie's after a fight with Roseanne, and Roseanne, missing her, starts crying when she sees Becky's copy of AC/DC's Highway to Hell.

20. Season 3, Episode 17
"Guilt is a many-splendored thing."

-- Roseanne to Jackie, after Dan comes home with a late Valentine's Day present.

21. Season 3, Episode 18
"Why are your words. So. Halting."

-- Jackie, doing community theater, prompted by Roseanne from behind the scenes.

22. Season 3, Episode 19

-- Jackie to Darlene, suddenly dropping her chaperone persona, after breaking up a fight between two boys fighting over Darlene.

23. Season 3, Episode 20
Dan: Too thick, Beck?
Becky: I think I just broke a rib.

-- Dan and Becky make up after a fight by having milkshakes.

24. Season 3, Episode 21
From the episode in which we first meet Roseanne's snooty neighbor, Kathy Bowman (Meagan Fay). After a fight Roseanne goes over to Kathy's house to eat crow so that their boys can still play together.
Kathy: Well, so long as you are admitting that you are wrong.
[Barr takes takes almost 10 amazing seconds to respond, bobbing her head to keep from lashing out, eating her words.]
Roseanne: Fine.

25. Season 3, Episode 22
Roseanne: It's Saturday night, it's 2:00 a.m. and Becky's not home from her date yet...what do you do?
Jackie: Okay. Am I home from my date yet--where am I?

-- Jackie and Roseanne are going over theoretical questions about what to do if Jackie inherits the kids. Metcalf has so many amazing moments like this, when she does a huge amount with her lines.

26. Season 3, Episode 24
Bonnie (Bonnie Bramlett), a fellow Rodbell's waitress, breaks out in a great version of "You Really Got a Hold on Me" at a barbecue (In real life Bramlett is a singer, half of Delaney & Bonnie on Stax Records).

27. Season 4, Episode 2
Dan: I remember when I first found that bike. Just a rusted-out piece of junk. But I saw the potential. I took it back to the shop--pounded out the dents--chromed it--repainted it--
Roseanne: Boring, boring, boring, boring, boring. Get to the part where I smoked the guy into buying it.

-- Roseanne and Dan gloat over a check after finally selling a cycle.

28. Season 4, Episode 3
"I'm 36 years old. I've got flabby arm and pelican neck, and all my houseplants are dead and no one loves me, but what difference does that make anyway, because everything in my life sucks!"

-- Jackie, flailing to explain a dumb decision to sleep with Arnie (Tom Arnold).

29. Season 4, Episode 4
From the first episode in which Darlene starts to become depressed, a plot development that the show, contrary to every sitcom rule, lets simmer unresolved over the course of the season.
[the phone rings]
Roseanne: Darlene, it's for you.
Darlene: Who is it?
Roseanne: It's Marcy.
Darlene: What's she want?
Roseanne: I don't know what she--[getting mad, throwing phone across floor] She wants you to pick up the phone.

30. Season 4, Episode 10
Depressed Darlene comes downstairs after avoiding Thanksgiving dinner to find her mother in the kitchen drinking beer and recovering from the chaos.

31. Season 4, Episode 13
From a great episode in which Roseanne makes fun of Crystal (Natalie West) for taking her to bingo then gets addicted to it. It suddenly gets serious when Crystal, who already has a nine-month-old baby, explains her bitchy mood by revealing that she's pregnant again. West manages to convey how cornered her character feels by this unplanned pregnancy in a powerful and fairly short scene.

32. Season 4, Episode 15
"You look like that Fonzie fellow who's so popular."

-- Becky's grandmother (Estelle Parsons) to Becky's boyfriend, Mark (Glenn Quinn). Great episode, with extremely realistic, territorial conflict between Dan and his mother-in-law.

33. Season 4, Episode 16
"I'm nervous, honey."

-- Dan, worried about having sex with Roseanne after her breast reduction surgery.

34. Season 4, Episode 19
"Is that so."

-- Dan, smirking at Jackie, who worries that he won't be able to eat on camera for a Rodbell's commercial if he's eating now too.

35. Season 4, Episode 21
"Listen, Darlene. What I would do, or Mr. X. would do, is not the point. You're asking me what you should do, right? Well, let me put it this way: You have never in your life done anything just to please somebody else. Why start now?"

-- Dan's advice to Darlene, who is asking him how to handle a boy who's interested in her.

36. Season 4, Episode 25
Dan and Roseanne beam when DJ gets the word FORECLOSURE in a spelling bee, after a bitter fight in which Becky realizes they have no money for her for college.

37. Season 5, Episode 3
Another virtuoso scene from Metcalf, who runs around Dan and Roseanne's kitchen making breakfast, not realizing that their power's been cut off until a few minutes have passed.

38. Season 5, Episode 8
Jackie laughs at Roseanne's description of lesbians wearing plaid shirts and being truckers before noticing her own outfit (Barr loses it).

39. Season 5, Episode 13
Roseanne: I would never have moved in with no guy so damn fast.
Jackie: Maybe you wouldn't, but this isn't you, it's me, and there's a real easy way to tell us apart. [Gesturing] You -- me. YOU -- ME.

40. Season 5, Episode 13 (part 2)
An amazing wordless little moment, after Roseanne tells Dan that Jackie's boyfriend has beaten her up. Roseanne looks at Dan, who says nothing but immediately walks out, leaning back in to grab his jacket as he goes. We know from this -- without anyone saying anything -- that Dan is going to beat him up.
41. Season 5, Episode 10
The little swooping impatient "cmon-let's-get-this-over-with" gesture Ty Tilden (Wings Hauser), tired from working the night shift, makes with his right hand, standing in the doorway, as he forces his daughter Molly (Danielle Harris) to apologize to the Conners for ditching Darlene at a concert. It's really good.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Shut It Down

Please cancel 30 Rock. It's not going to happen, but I'll say it anyhow: shut it down.

Alec Baldwin, who has made it clear that the coming season is his last, announced in April that 2012 was also "the last year of the show," period, but then quickly took it back: "I want to take the opportunity to state that although my days on network TV may be numbered, I hope 30 Rock goes on forever. Or at least as long as everyone involved desires."

Ungh, I don't. I wonder if Baldwin really does either--it sounds like somebody nudged him.

I am a huge 30 Rock fan. I started watching the show sometime around late 2008 (thank you Netflix Streaming, for letting me swan dive into season one all at once), and since then I've seen every episode many times, revisited whole seasons repeatedly, clutched it tight like a favorite stuffed animal. I haven't quite pawed over every favorite bit of writing (Pizzarina Sbarro!), but I've absorbed it completely happily as it came at me.

But in the last few years the show has been showing its age and I've increasingly wished that it would end. It's become thin. From a literal, joke-counting POV, it might be funnier--a constant barrage of wordy humor--but it's not as good. This show that was always great at being about a group of people--because it was about a group of people--has more or less become centered around a core of two, who do most of the work with long speeches. Baldwin's acting abilities are up for it (although it's not as fun); Tina Fey's aren't. I think she's extremely neato, but she wasn't meant to do that much heavy lifting.

At its best, 30 Rock is propulsive, constantly surprising, opening our understanding of characters with each little interaction in a constellation of ways, but the show has started to pat premises and characterizations harder into place with each joke (let Lutz break out a little, eh?). And the show has ended up in some tired sitcom places (classic stuff like will TGS be canceled?).

The show's not bad--it's not bad! (Although the bag-in-the-tree/smooth-move-Ferguson episode sure flirted with it). Just not so great, for a show that used to to be much better than it had to be. The 100th episode, which in the context of the first couple seasons would have seemed formulaic and a little sentimental, actually seemed pretty good to me, which says something.

I don't know why I assumed 30 Rock could avoid the trap of the TV show that Will Not Die, especially as it hung on long enough to get sucked into the gravitational pull of the 100-episode syndication landmark. That pull is so strong that it seems to dominate the lifespan of any show that hints at going into a fourth season--pulling it past a fifth, into a sixth to validate the decision, or further.

It's especially painful when good TV shows go out this way (or don't go out, being the point). Why do we want TV shows to last forever, when it's a problematic idea for even arguably more worthy constructions, such as actual human beings, to do so? We do, though--we want TV shows to have eternal life. The BBC ran two spectacular, zippy seasons of The Office, with one satisfying Christmas episode wrap-up, but NBC cranked out seven seasons of the US version and when the premise was bled dry and natural plot developments explored and everyone spawned and partnered and the lead actor finally had to leave, they transplanted another lead to keep the body alive. We do this all the time to keep these carcasses going: push in the Ted McGinleys and the Replacement Blondes, Kids, and Love Interests. Two and a Half Men just drafted Ashton Kutcher to wear the wacky brother jersey for one more season, even though it's a reasonable guess nobody thinks it's going to last much longer. There are no DNR orders for TV shows--we try heroic shit until there's just no point. (And these days we reboot it ten years later, anyhow.)

I remember a friend turning to me after a Simpsons episode one Sunday night in the early 1990s, probably sometime in the middle of the third season when things started to get really good, and saying with a kind of worried happiness, "Are these always going to be so good?" The shows were so great, so funny, it was hard to imagine them being anything but--but. We knew it couldn't last forever.

It would not have occurred to us to imagine that the show would be on the air twenty-two years later (like imagining our parents at age 190), kept going with good writers--but for what real reason other than money? Surely one of the benefits with creative creations is to shape them as best we can? Not letting them linger?

I know I'm priggish and idealistic. This whole topic is a terrible hobbyhorse of mine, because it bums me to see a show that has always gone its own way grind down to mediocrity or unavoidable TV cliches to keep itself on the air, not to mention sitcoms can go to some bad places past five or six seasons (look at Roseanne). 30 Rock is starting to look a little like late-seasons Simpsons: funny from the outside-in, with less emotional core.

I found 30 Rock at a rough time in my life, and if I were inclined to write "Dear Tina Fey" letters I might tell her that the show was smart, engaging solace, right when I needed it, every time. There was something sort of magical about how good it was, how fun and smart and solid. The show is still way too smart not to know what's happening to it (the writers even play with it sometimes)--but I wish somebody would just pull the plug.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

I'm an artistic genius*

Make delicious, delicious oatmeal cookie batter, by substituting c. 3-1/2 cups of oatmeal for about 1 to 1-1/4 cups of flour in the Nestle Tollhouse Cookie recipe.

[Licks of this unbaked batter are maybe the most delicious, salty-stuff sweet in the world, but do y'all find cookie dough ice cream remotely successful at accessing that taste for our pleasure? Grainy lumps of tasteless sweet, they are.]

Flatten scoops of batter on a cookie sheet. Top with a square of Ghirardelli caramel milk chocolate, then, a slightly smaller round of dough that you flatten carefully over the top and seal up around the edges.

Cook the usual way, maybe until a little browner than usual, and let sit and cool very thoroughly, until these become stabilized cookie/candy situations, with a lovely striation of the Ghirardelli throughout.


*Not really. Movie quote. Just hyperbolating.