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Porn Buffy: True Blood’s Secret Recipe for Female Viewers

Is it just me, or is the Buffy/True Blood parallelism starting to freak you out?

Not that True Blood equals Buffy: I love True Blood, watch every ep, but to me, for all its fancy HBO production values, the show is more of a great, sleazy thrill ride, with only occasional traces of Buffy's big-picture staying power. But then, True Blood has a separate, perfectly legitimate appeal: It's Porn Buffy.

So we've got Sookie, who, like Buffy, is a spunky, occasionally irritating gal with powers that Set Her Apart. Like Buffy, she fell virginistically in love with a brooding, old-fashioned, dark-haired vampire, a man with Recovering Bloodaholic Guilt Issues and a bitchy ex. Like Darla, that ex was also his sire, and she was an older woman, still hung up on him despite endless rejection (although unlike Darla, Lorena has a super-bendy neck and the cable-TV ability to nude it up).

Luckily, Sookie/Buffy also has the hots for a blond, evil, pretty vampire with an aristocratic background! This gorgeous, dry-humored fellow is in secret love with her, to the point that he's having nakedly romantic dreams when he's not having marathon sex bouts with women in chains, flashing back to Nazi times, or flashing back to Viking times. (Flashbacks that have a Buffy-like cheesiness to their production values, come to think of it, although nothing to rival David Boreanaz's Irish accent.)

Buffy did have fewer werewolf gang-rape initiations, although there was that incident with the swim team and their coach.

It's possible that this is all just coincidence, or maybe it's just the eternal female conundrum, torn as we are between uptight, shirtless prigs and their natural rivals, saucy (also shirtless) bad boys. See: Jack/Sawyer, Aidan/Big, Noel/Ben, Dawson/Pacey, Spock/Kirk, Gallant/Goofus.

It is also possible that I am simply blinded by the show's endless display of torsos, a welcome phenomenon now that the men of Lost are off singing kumbaya in heaven's anteroom. It's not as if HBO's other shows (Entourage, Bored to Death, Big Love, etc.) are serving this particular audience: women who like their cable television to be just smart enough to justify the fact that it is porn.

A while ago, Alan Ball made some remark to the New York Times about how focus groups had revealed that men like True Blood for the "sex and violence," while women enjoy it for the "romance and relationships." I think what that those focus groups really reveal is that women in focus groups tend to be liars.

06/03/10

Now, In Defense of Sex and the City 2

After the first few pans, I decided not to see Sex and the City 2.

I'd adored the show, I'd liked the first movie okay, but I didn't want to spend two and a half hours at a flop that (according to critics I respected, including my smart colleague David Edelstein — and my wonderful fellow Sex and the City fan Emma Rosenblum) was unfunny, offensive, and a shonda to fans of the HBO series and to all women of decency and self-respect.

But after the fifteenth vicious review? I needed to see it. I mean, the reviews were SO bad, so vitriolic, some of them relishing so transparently the opportunity to (sometimes explicitly) say "shut up, you stupid cunts," a surprisingly high number containing freaky metaphors about rape and murder, that something weird was going on.

So I saw the movie. And I enjoyed it.

Samantha = Jack Black plus Eve Ensler. »

04/13/10

Ryan From The Office Keeps a Blog

I find a lot of online "extras" annoying, but this one cracked me up: Thousand and One Words, the blog of Ryan from The Office, the show's temp turned cokehead turned temp. Devoutly emo, it's a photo blog full of brooding about conformity and crowing about overcoming addiction ("something that many great men, including myself, struggle with").

And yet the old Ryan is in there, with musings like "the only thing more feminine than being a mother is being a tease." He also includes a racy shot of girlfriend Kelly Kapoor (played by the hilarious Mindy Kaling):

"Explicit? Indecent? Erotic? Or commentary about the way in which women are treated in the workplace? Here's a woman, hard at work, pulled herself up by the bootstraps despite her ethnic heritage, but all you see is that she's topless. It's sad, but the saddest part is that the woman was willing to pose for this photograph without a single question as to the artist's intent. What happened to integrity?"

04/02/10

A Conversation With David Mills

Two months ago, I went to New Orleans to research a profile of David Simon, which comes out in Monday's issue of New York. I was hanging around Mother-In-Law's, a local bar, watching a rehearsal for HBO's new series Treme, when Simon came in and shut things down: the bar didn't have enough water damage to match the post-Katrina time period.

While tech people applied fake fungus to the walls, I walked into the garden. In a folding chair to the side, I found a mild-mannered guy in sweatshirt, who looked to be in his thirties. I assumed he was an extra, or maybe a member of the crew, but when I introduced myself, I realized it was David Mills, the wonderful TV writer who had been collaborating with David Simon since they met doing college journalism at the University of Maryland.

"Had there been an Internet then, I would've been one of those nerds." »

03/26/10

Hater Like Me: A Lost-Recap Explanation

There used to be a thread on the Television Without Pity Buffy boards, one I visited only out of curiosity. It was called the "Deep Bitterness Thread," and it was a place for those so disenchanted they needed a safe place to vomit their televisual toxins among other, similarly damaged souls. It was a brilliant way to isolate the more scarred viewers from the rest of us excitable cheerleaders, so neither could spoil the other's idea of fun.

I never posted to the thread. I was never bitter about Buffy, whether an episode disappointed me or not. Long before I was a TV critic, I was a rabid online TV analyzer — a fan of fanhood, even when the discussions veered into mental illness, freakish entitlement, and overuse of emoticons.

But now, to my surprise, I find myself a Hater. My Lost recap this week has attracted rage from some commenters and I can understand why. I was annoyed by, disenchanted by, and dismissive of, an episode of the show that many people adored — and even as I was writing my nasty little recap, I was surfing TWOP posts arguing that it was the best episode of the show this season, or ever.

Now, I did put a warning at the top, but there it was: Deep Bitterness.

An explanation for my views on Lost. »

03/09/10

How I Met Your Mother and the Rules of Sitcom Musicals

Can we call a moratorium on musical numbers in sitcoms?

Last night's How I Met Your Mother had a very funny riff on Rules-type advice books, with a self-help bestseller called Of Course You're Still Single, Take a Look at Yourself, You Dumb Slut. Say it! It's very funny! It was funny every time they said it.

It also had not one, but two, bad musical segments: the "bang bang bangety bang" running-joke ditty and a truly lame number Ted sang to Barney about "superdates." This song actually managed to rival the lameness of the "Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit" production number in the show's 100th episode. It was an un-song.

Let's establish some rules! »

03/05/10

Birth Pangs

Jamie Poniewozik's take on last night's episode of The Office was so right on.

Like me, he enjoyed it — especially the second half, which was amazingly accurate in its portrayal of what it's like when someone hands you a freaky alien-headed newborn, especially compared to most TV shows. The bottle-pushing nurse; the handsy lactation consultant; the mood swings from confident diapering to radical sleep deprivation: The show managed to avoid most sitcom clichés, because they skipped the birth and went right to the far more original subject of the recovery ward.

Now, I'm sure there were people who were bored or annoyed by this stuff — especially the nursing jokes — but I thought it was subtly funny and very touching.

But as Poniewozik points out, the bigger issue with the show is not this episode, but the season around it, and the show's growing difficulty balancing sweetness and darkness. As he writes:

For me, the problem has been that this season hasn't been depressing enough. Let me explain. Yes, The Office is a comedy. At it's best, it's very, very funny — but it's very, very funny about things that are real, that are bittersweet, or sad, or, when you think about them, depressing. The Michael Scott Paper Company, say, or Michael's breakup with Holly, or his abusive relationship with Jan. The plots are funny, sometimes awkward-funny, sometimes slapstick-hilarious, but they always worked on a bigger level because there were real stakes and change.

This season, they've tiptoed near some of these changes, like the recession and Jim's rise to management, then dropped them. Jim and Pam as parents offer an opportunity for plenty of darkness, as anyone who has ever been through the early months with a newborn can attest. (The only show I've ever seen get into some of these subjects is Scrubs, which had a really alarming stretch dealing with Carla's postpartum depression.) If they can get into some of that material without choking on sentiment, without losing the office setting, they'll win some sitcom hall of fame award. Fingers crossed.

03/01/10

Small Love: Giving Marriage a Bad Name

I spoke too soon.

Last night's Big Love was kind of terrible, wasn't it? So disappointing, especially after last week's extravaganza of arm-pruning and Gothic fertility treatments.

In contrast, last night's episode was all Bill thrusting out his chest, Mormon-rooster-style. Even in a TV environment that embraces the anti-hero — Tony Soprano, Larry David, Don Draper — the Big Love creators are in a bind with their bland, butterscotch patriarch. They can't make Bill a hero (he's a pig, a hypocrite, a bully); they can't really condemn him (for the show to work, you have to believe the family is more than a sick joke).

It was affecting when Barb was confronted about the compromises she's made. But she's had this insight almost every season. There's a statute of limitations on my compassion.

But hey, at least it's not The Marriage Ref»

02/26/10

Big, Big Love

I began this season of Big Love in a state of jaded distrust — and last Sunday, many viewers seemed to join me. The majority of recaps I read (though not our sane and sanguine Nick Catucci) seemed put off by the show's growing grotesquerie, what with all the arms being cut off, embryos potentially implanted by Betty Draper's brother, kidnappings (and really great parties!) cut short in Mexico, conspiracies Skyped from Scotland, and so on.

Which is weird, because I'm seriously starting to dig the series again.

Superman in magic underpants »

02/19/10

The Deep End: A Confession

I watched The Deep End again last night.

I apologize to, and for, my own taste, but you know, Royal Pains isn't back for a while. And I seem to have an almost physical need to watch some terrible show like this: A baby L.A. Law made up almost entirely of scavenged parts of former baby L.A. Laws. There's nothing original here, the plots are glib and flabby, but somehow, each episode manages to be almost mathematically satisfying, for its small, positive attributes.

Primary among them:

• The hypnotic presence of Billy Zane, the best eyeliner-ish actor other than Nestor Carbonell. I've adored Zane since Dead Calm and Titanic, although clearly this is a man you should never follow onto a boat.

• That Actress Who Always Plays Charmingly Nerdy Willow Rosenberg-like Women, a.k.a. Tina Majorino, most recently seen on Big Love. This is her big break and I feel obliged to watch it so she will succeed and become Sandra Bullock.

• The Actor With the Cajun Accent, Norbert Leo Butz, who has a significant theater résumé, and is therefore classy (and quite funny and sexy in an offbeat way.)

Okay, that's basically it.

Apparently, if you put three actors I like into a terrible, cookie-cutter legal soap opera, I will watch. I hate Grey's Anatomy, and this show has a similar slick, nonsensical quality, but Grey's only has one actor in it I like and about five I dislike. (Although I haven't been watching it this season, so perhaps I shouldn't judge.)

This isn't a positive review, really. It's more like a testimony at a TVA meeting.

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