A Man is American TV

Americans treat “American” as an ideology, not a matter of blood or country. Historically, there were three things that made a person American: their church, their job, and their family. Americans were churchgoers. Americans were company-men. And Americans worshiped the nuclear family.

Though churches still carry a lot of heft for many Americans, they’ve declined in the northeast and the southwest — the two places most American TV shows come from. Without the church, American identity becomes defined by work and family. Thus, the central concerns of American TV shows are work and family. (And, increasingly, work as family.) Can you imagine an American TV show where a character rejects or is rejected by his family for a reason other than work? I can’t. What about an American TV show where a group of friends remains nothing more than a group of friends, never metastasizing into a familial substitute? Me neither.

A Man Failed to Predict Best Actor

Back when I wrote reviews for Film Fisher, I had to pick which actors to “tag” in any particular film. The first review I wrote was for Short Term 12. When I posted it, I mulled over who I should tag. As the star, Brie Larson was an obvious choice — her career since has justified that instinct. Keith Stanfield (a.k.a, Lakeith Stanfield) got some big moments in the movie, so I put him in there, too, as well as Kaitlyn Dever, who hasn’t gone on to do much of note.

If you scan the credits for Short Term 12, you’ll find one big name I left off my list. I say “big” because he just won the Oscar for Best Actor.

Yeah, it’s Rami Malek. Whups.

A Man is a Mad Man

With the first season of Mad Men under my skinny, yet expensive leather belt, I thought I’d cast my crumbs of thought on the waters of the internet.

  • Initially, the pace of the show frustrated me. I could never tell when an episode was about to end. Events just bled into one another. I still could not tell any of the first eight episodes apart. Part of it has to do with watching the show on Netflix, of course. But I remember distinct episodes from 30 Rock, Community, and Better Call Saul, all of which I watched on the computer.
  • Either I locked into the show’s groove or the show locked into mine. It was at the end of Episode 9, “Shoot,” when I turned off the TV, rolled over in bed, and thought, “I liked that. That was good.” From that point till the end of Season 1, I enjoyed it.
  • The show is a little too pleased with itself in terms of style and production design. Sure, it’s impressive. Even captivating at times. It’s fun to have the characters say “swell” like the Hardy boys. But the precision of all the details cuts both ways: it presents the past in gorgeous HD, as you’ve never seen it before, while underscoring how different it was from our present day. And the show can’t stop itself from commenting on those differences. Every man in the show is a womanizer. Every women struggles against the boundaries of her sex. Every character is consciously classist and casually racist. It’s like reading Huck Finn in an English class with a teacher who can’t get off the subject of slavery.
  • On the whole, the show is about loneliness. Or, more accurately, about knowing and being known. Every character tries to build, earn, or steal for themselves a sense of worth, a place in the world and among people. Don Draper is the quintessential example. The people most willing to accept and embrace him, his family, don’t know anything about his past. They don’t even know his real name.

A Man Takes a Dive

Well, this is interesting. IMDb is owned by Amazon, which explains why you get IMDb trivia when you’re watching movies on Amazon and why IMDb tells you if a movie is Amazon-streamable. Although Amazon has their own streaming service, for some reason they have kicked off something called IMDb Freedive, where you can watch movies and TV shows for free (not sure where the “dive” comes in).

IMDb has hosted an assortment of videos for years, but most of them were trailers or acting reels uploaded by users. Now, they actually have some good stuff that’s not elsewhere (I mean, on Netflix): Memento, Big Fish, Gattaca, Run Lola Run, and the gloriously titled Johnny Mnemonic, starring Keanu Reeves.

A tip of the hat to you, IMDb.