Monday, November 06, 2017

Is it just me?

Or is it a generational thing?

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT for the pilot of GLOW. But I need to point out a story point for my post to make sense. And the plot point is not all that shocking. No one sees dead people.

But I recently watched the first few episodes of GLOW on Netflix. To refresh your memory (since there are 753 scripted shows on 694 channels), this is the comedy where Alison Brie plays a struggling actress who winds up a woman wrestler on TV. I’ve always been a fan of Brie and who doesn’t love women wrestling? The few reviews I’ve read were basically favorable and none of my MASH's were on that night so I said “what the hell?” Somewhat concerning though was that I had not heard any buzz on the show. No one I knew was talking about it. My Facebook timeline showed no mention (instead I got 100 “please pray for me I’m going into surgery” posts – am I supposed to hit “like” for those?), and there were no billboards. Who’s going to watch a show without a billboard?

The pilot got off to a good start. There were some cute lines and Marc Maron absolutely steals the show. (There’s hope for us podcasters!) Brie is adorable and all is right with the world.

But then…

(Here’s the SPOILER ALERT part:) Brie sleeps with her best friend’s husband. And the best friend (a) just had a baby, and (b) constantly rescues Brie’s character.

This leads to a big plot point where the two women wrestle, but my point is this: I now hate Alison’s character. I no longer root for her. I no longer care whether she climbs the wrestling ladder of success. She did such a shitty thing, essentially … “because.” It’s not even like she and the husband were in love.

So now my question: Is this supposed to be funny? Are we supposed to laugh at how fucked up she is? Are we now supposed to celebrate when she herself gets fucked over? Is this just the new sensibility? It seems cruel and not funny to me, but again, is this just a generational thing? Must everything be “edgy?”

I’ve always believed that the audience should want to root for the protagonist. He can be flawed, he can do stupid things, he can be his own worst enemy, but isn’t there a line? Sleeping with your best friend’s husband while she’s struggling with new motherhood to me crossed that line. Even for adorable Alison Brie.

So what do you think? What does it take to make you laugh? And to make you turn your back on a character? I really want to know. All ages welcome. Thanks in advance.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I watched the series, and thought it was OK. I have less than no interest in - that is, active disliked of - wrestling, but I liked both Brie and Maron in their roles. I find it relatively easy not to judge fictional characters too harshly, and in Brie's character's case what interested me was seeing someone who is a complete fuck-up figuring out how to be less of one. There's an episode later on where I was really happy with the way the show treated a particularly contentious issue that makes cowards out of almost every show's writers these days, too.

I also think in the scheme of things...people rooted for Tony Soprano, who was a mob boss, a gangster, and a multiple killer. They rooted for Walter White, a killer and meth manufacturer. They rooted for Spike, a soulless vampire who exulted in the fun of killing people, and Angel, a vampire who, pre-soul, exulted in causing as much pain as possible to the people he killed. They rooted for Don Draper and are still rooting for Philip and Elizabeth Jennings even though they're on the wrong national side. They've rooted for spies and killers, liars and hustlers, womanizers and the severely dysfunctional.

I put Brie's character's affair with her friend's husband down to a particularly bad episode of self-destruction. I don't know where I draw the line, but it's not there.


Pidge said...

Last night, I gave SMLF a shot....Oy! The general stupidity of the main characters, especially the mom, who leaves a sleeping baby in an unlocked apartment (the Toddler has already demonstrated his ability to wake up, climb off the bed, find his way to and open said door), to make a junk food run, turned me right off. As a grandmother...and previously, a parent, she lost me, right there.
This episode was chocked full of someone's idea of entertainment, I guess....911 calls, lots of texting, a pretty girl called 'nipples' for obvious reasons, a brief, but apparently satisfactory attempt at laptop stimulation using Ms. Nipples as inspiration, a desperate booty call with full chubby male frontage and back age, and reassurance that the lead still has an appealing, if ungroomed, nether region.
The climax (not sexual, the sleeping baby, buried under the blankets, seems to be a sudden turnoff), is when the aspiring actress/lead gets a PSA on PTSD! Oh...spoiler alert!
Well, I wish her lots of luck.
This show is obviously not for me!

Andrew said...

The Seinfeld finale tried to play this kind of game, making the viewer realize the four main characters were jerks all along. It didn't go over so well.

Off-topic: Alfred Hithcock's movies often make you root (at least temporarily) for a despicable protagonist. Psycho, Dial M for Murder, etc. Of course these aren't comedies.

SteveG said...

It might be a generational thing. I had the same reaction to a scene in the new SMILF show where the SMILF of the title leaves her very young child asleep, alone while she makes a quick run to get some munchies. After that scene I was out. That said I'm enjoying a few British shows with lead female characters with some unlikeable traits - Fleabag, Crashing & Drifters. So perhaps it's just the specific instance of the character defining act that creates the issue.

Peter said...

So...umm...what you're saying is... Alison Brie gets some of her clothes off in this?

Jeff said...

I agree. I think a lot of the time it's assumed that terrible people are automatically funny.

Terrible people can be very funny, but you can't just put a jerk on screen and have viewers like them.

The same goes for dramas with "difficult" or otherwise terrible lead characters. I don't have to like a character to be interested in seeing what they do and what happens to them, but they have to be interesting in some way.

I don't know why that gets forgotten. Perhaps creators think about characters like House or Archie Bunker, and decide to mimic that, but forget what makes those characters watchable.

And sometimes, a show like that succeeds. So maybe it's a matter of taste. Maybe some people simply do like watching terrible people do terrible things. Maybe it's cathartic to someone awful on the safety of a screen, like a horror movie lets us see scary things without dealing with the personal consequences. (Or more frightening, maybe there's an element of "I would so do that if I could get away with it.")

It doesn't work for me. But I suppose the shows will rise and fall on their own merits. Personally, I prefer my misanthropes in fiction the way a good cook will use bitterness in a recipe: extremely sparingly, and with a lot of thought towards the overall end result.

Douglas said...

It's more dramedy (sp?) for me. I didn't go into it thinking sitcom. The shows actually quite good as characters continue to reveal their flaws and find some redemption, but no one is rewarded (individually) for their actions. Maron is great. The ensemble takes some time to gel. And Brie's character spends the rest of the series trying to right herself.

OTOH, what do I know? I don't like Orange is the New Black.

Sung said...

FYI, I saw the whole run of GLOW, and I quite enjoyed it. But yes, they certainly do put Brie's character into a bind from the very beginning, don't they?

Call it the Tony Soprano effect, which has been the M.O. for most shows since -- Walter White, Don Draper, Vick Mackey, etc. Make the lead do something horrible, because that makes them complicated, real, etc. But of course none of it is real, because, let's face it, it's TV!

But to answer your questions:

"Is this supposed to be funny?" - I don't think so. GLOW is most definitely a dramady, not a comedy. Sure, there are funny moments with the likes of Marc Maron on the cast, but it's absolutely not a sitcom. So Trudy Campbell banging Harry Crane is not supposed to be funny.

"Are we supposed to laugh at how fucked up she is?" - at times, but there's also the cringe-thing (this moment of cringe, brought to you by The Office!). I thought the drama/comedy ratio for this show was like 70/30.

"Are we now supposed to celebrate when she herself gets fucked over?" - sometimes. I didn't really hate the Brie character like you did. I thought she was a sad person who did some terrible things, but because she's played by Brie, you can't quite hate her. So the showrunners are really hoping for the redemption thing to kick in, which it did for me. After the initial screwup, Annie Edison basically spends the entire run of the show trying to make it up to Nurse Jackie's sexy doctor (sorry, but I can't remember any of the character's names! -- though I do recall their wrestling persona names, Zoya the Destroya and Liberty Belle).

"Is this just the new sensibility?" - anti-heroes still seem to have legs right now. Maybe this is why we elected one for president...? Doh.

"It seems cruel and not funny to me, but again, is this just a generational thing?" - I don't think Brie's transgressions were supposed to be funny, so maybe it is a generational thing?

"Must everything be “edgy?”" - I'm afraid so. This is why we can't have nice things.

Steve said...

That decision ends up being what every other episode and dramatic beat of GLOW is about. It's basically a story about having done a awful thing and having to go on living afterward. What are you going to tell yourself about that person in the mirror? Hate yourself because you're a monster? It gets exhausting.

It's sort of a weird inversion of all the male anithero dramas we've seen since the Sopranos (what my wife calls 'another show about an asshole'), where we are happy to identify with someone who does awful things regularly because there's a power fantasy there and you are immersed in the justifications they tell themselves. Here, there's no fantasy, no justifications, just guilt and shame.

Chet said...

Ken, I watched the first few episodes and the gave up. But her sleeping with the husband wasn’t a problem in my mind. Didn’t they establish that she did not know it was her friend’s husband until after the sex?

1955david said...

I'm in total agreement

David Schwartz said...

Ken, I agree wholeheartedly with what you said. You have to have someone in the show that you can identify with, that you can care about. When characters do reprehensible things, or are just people without scruples or morals, what is there to identify with that makes you care enough to watch the show?

Yes, we're all human and make mistakes. However, when those mistakes turn to actions without struggling with conscious, then I have trouble caring about the characters or the show. For example, Sons of Anarchy and the Sopranos were shows with sometimes vicious characters who did a whole lot of messed up stuff. But we saw the lead characters struggle. We saw them conflicted and trying to live within their own code of morality.

When characters are not trying to live within some standard of behavior, or are not struggling with the situation they're in, they then become callous and unrelatable. My feeling is that it's the struggle between the outside forces on the characters and their inner desire to maintain their humanity that draws us into the situation and makes us care. That's why Frank Burns could never have been the lead character in MASH. You need someone like Hawkeye who struggles with his circumstances... who we can identify with and care about.

Mike Schryver said...

This is the same problem I have with a lot of shows produced in the last decade or so. I need someone to root for. I need someone to like. I need at least a glimmer of joy and hope, not just a bleak existence with unlikable characters. I'm 58.

Stephen Robinson said...

Thanks, Ken. This has bothered me for a while on TV shows recently. It's as though I'm expected to root for the protagonist solely because the camera is focused on them. FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE, another Netflix series, had a similar set up that bothered me.

Contrast this with the pilot of CHEERS, which gives us a reason to like the leads. Sam and Diane are more than their flaws (his womanizing and her arrogance).

It's been 30 years (!) but I think a good example of this noticeable shift is the 6th season CHEERS episode where Lilith, upset with Frasier, "bids" on Sam at a bachelor auction and tries to seduce him (hilariously so). The whole set up is about Sam trying to put off Lilith so that Frasier can arrive. (I love the line "Do you think I'd steal someone you loved?" "What about Diane?" "And didn't God punish me with a vengeance!") Now, we'd just have Sam sleeping with Lilith because he could and hiding it from Frasier.

The FRASIER episode "Room Service" had Niles sleeping with Lilith but the episode made it clear that Frasier was mistaken that Lilith wanted to get back together. There was no sense of deliberate betrayal.

Perhaps even at 43, I sound like an "IN MY DAY!" old man but I wonder whether if NETFLIX had a current version of MARRIED... WITH CHILDREN, would a running plotline be Peg fooling around with the Steve or Jefferson character? It just seems like something that once was a BIG deal is seen as no big deal and yet deep down, I believe audiences still find it a BIG DEAL and are put off by characters who do this.

Paul Dushkind said...

Another fogey here.

I dislike movies like The Talented Mr. Ridley, in which there's no one to identify with or root for. Almost every character was rotten!

I haven't seen GLOW, but I seem to be the only person in the world who disliked Mad Men (I watched the first season), for pretty much the same reason. I used to be into advertising, so people kept telling me I'd like it. One friend described it enthusiastically: adultery, driving drunk, littering, smoking. I doubted that I would enjoy a show about people misbehaving. He actually seemed *angry* with me because I didn't get it.

When I eventually saw Mad Men, I disliked it for the reasons I expected, and more: I disagree with some of their ideas about advertising.

VincentS said...

I don't think it's a generational thing. You don't have to turn your main character into a jerk to be edgy.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

First off, I'm a HUGE 80's fan, wrestling fan & Alison Brie fan. I watched GLOW when it came out in June. Really liked it. Always liked her in Mad Men & of course- Bojack Horseman. That Harry Crane (I forget the actors' name) is in GLOW as well made me laugh/cry/sigh.

When it comes to liking the main character/hero/protagonist, I think it ONLY works in comedies. If you hate the main character, the show just doesn't work. Look at New Girl (Sorry Ken) all of them became unlikeable (minus Winston) and the show tanked. I know Seinfeld & Curb have some unlikeables but that's the exception.

As for dramas, the opposite is true. Even if the main character is despicable (Tony Soprano, Walter White, Vic Mackey, Don Draper, etc) You can empathize with them. You know they are bad, but; for some reason, you root for them. I don't know why, but it works in dramas- not comedies.

Interested ti hear some other viewer theories, --LL

Annie C. said...

It was a close call when Hawkeye's old girlfriend was assigned to the 4077. After hearing how he treated her during med school, I started to see his character as a bit snotty rather than always funny.

Yep, it changed my opinion. Not enough to dislike him, but enough to look askance at some of his antics.

Interesting exercise.

annie said...

I stopped watching after the first episode. Could not believe for a second that 80 pound Alison Brie could be a woman wrestler.

Roseann said...

I watched about 3 episodes and then I didn't care to watch any more. Meh.

Cowboy Surfer said...

I did watch the GLOW pilot. Marc Maron was very good.

The show wasn't for me but I did give points for the JOURNEY - Separate Ways clip...

Linda Teverbaugh said...

It’s not just you, although I don’t know how many more of us there are. Similarly, I recently vowed to never watch another episode of Broad City. I was never a big fan to begin with, but Linda started watching the show because so many kids in her USC writing class wanted to spec it. So I started watching it with her. Then they did an episode in which they both got high on mushrooms. Many self-indulgent, psycholdelic animation sequences ensued — I can live with that. But then, still high, the Abbi character goes to her boss’ apartment to help her out while the boss is throwing a party. The boss, not knowing Abbi is high, asks Abbi to keep an eye on her cat. Abbi lets the cat out onto a narrow window ledge and the cat falls to its death. She killed the cat. The boss and all her guests react appropriately — horrified and heart broken. Later, Abbi and her friend talk about it briefly, aknowledge Abbi was completely at fault, and then just kind of shrug. I’m no lover of cats, but many people are. They are cherished members of the family. And this sitcom character just thoughtlessly killed one, and we’re supposed to ... what? Laugh? Be amused because it’s one of those wacky things people do when they’re high? Hey, we’ve all been there, right? Wrong! Their adventures are no longer madcap, they’re dangerous and potentially incredibly hurtful to those with whom they come in contact. Why would I ever want to watch those two people do anything ever again? They have ceased to be amusing. I don’t get it, and I don’td care to. I may be slipping down the slilppery Steve Allen slope, but there has to be a line, right?

Terry Benish said...

Good Morning Ken!

I remember GLOW the first time through. In case you don't or never did see the original whatever it was, alt-comedy perhaps, they're on YouTube. They're terrible actually, titillating to the original audience perhaps.

It seems that the current thing occupies a similar presence in today's landscape. Not good, would be my comment.

MikeN said...

I see dead people is the spoiler, only in a certain way.

Brian Stanley said...

I didn't get the sense it was supposed to be funny or something to root for, but add some stakes for the main character's journey toward redemption throughout the season. Sometimes people do stupid things in real life. Sung, I liked your analysis.

And even though I didn't think it was a humorous story beat, the later episode where Alison needs Maron to help her deal with one part of the fallout of what happened had the funniest lines in the series and built the relationship between their characters.
"I'll help you, but I'm going to be confidentially cruel and we both know you deserve it," was the subtext I got from his zingers to the passing strangers during their outing.

Pat Reeder said...

I've never seen "GLOW," although with so many friends with Internet access, I've received countless unsolicited screen caps of the Alison Brie nudity. But it sounds as if it has the same mindset as many shows of the past decade or so: mistaking a self-centered, cavalier attitude of "F- you, all I care about is me" for humor. Sometimes, it seems as if 90% of the characters on today's sitcoms are Karen from "Will and Grace." Many times, the plot eventually presents them in some warm final scene where their friends or families express their affection for them. Personally, if I knew anyone who acted like that, I'd lock them out of the house and sic the dogs on them.

I also couldn't agree more with Linda Teverbaugh (or, I assume, her husband). Both about "Broad City" not being funny and about animal abuse as humor. I'm surprised someone did it with a cat, because that's just begging for a boycott. But I see it all the time with pet birds. Anytime a sitcom character has a pet parakeet, parrot or cockatoo, I brace myself that something horrible is going to happen to it, and we're all supposed to laugh because, hey, it's only a bird, right?

My wife and I rescue parrots and cockatoos and currently have a feathered family of 13. They are the most intelligent and sensitive animals I've ever known. The intelligence of African grays is equivalent to a four-year-old human child. They're extremely social and loving. Some of the birds we've taken in have absolutely heartbreaking stories of cruelty, abuse and neglect that they've endured before they came to us. One little Goffins cockatoo was so terrified of people, she'd rush to the far corner of her cage and shiver in fear when anyone entered the room. But after she finally learned that we weren't going to hurt her, she wanted to be petted and played with all the time. I wish writers of sitcoms would do a little research and stop using abuse of pet birds as an easy laugh. Whenever I see that, I hit the remote and don't come back.

Jon B. said...

You are right, Ken. I do not find that the least bit appealing. Thanks for the heads up. Now I won't waste any time on it. I owe you one.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ken, when you were in the NY area, did you get to see the RoseMarie Documentary, WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH?

Anyone else in the NY area, GO SEE IT!!! It is extremely enjoyable.

Rich said...

Ken -- You are right. This is not a generational thing. This is a royal screwing of the pooch, to use a NASA expression.

My guess is that the storytellers were trying to be outrageous, to create a "talk about" moment. The might have pulled this off if they'd set up the protagonist as an exceptionally complex (Maria Bamford in "Lady Dynamite") character with colossal emotional issues.

"Breaking Bad" worked because the character was pushed beyond the limits of what humans can reasonably deal with (which made it fascinating.) Sleeping with your best friend's husband...murdering someone in cold blood for material gain...harming children in any way...there are certain things that destroy audience empathy.

Billy Wilder's best advice on how to create a successful story was, "Make people want something, and give it to them." Don't make them hate your hero. Uggh.

blogward said...

There was a recent UK comedy series called 'Fleabag' about a narcissistic, dysfunctional, sexy young modern woman who took advantage, stole, lied, you get the picture. It was funny because of the outrageous situations that arose due to her duplicity - and she was only trying to get by. BUT - the finale episode was a real kicker - no comedy at all, completely downbeat. I wonder if the GLOW people saw this.

Robert Brauer said...

I watched GLOW this summer, and I also got the distinct impression that Brie's character didn't understand that the guy she was sleeping with was her friend's husband until it was too late. They had a scene where she sees her friend and the husband together in a photo, with a panicked look of realization on Brie's face.

Off topic Friday Question: What did you think of Larry David's widely panned SNL monologue this weekend? Over the line, or just some material that really didn't work? Or perhaps you liked it?

Bubba Gump said...

Years ago, the first episode of "Dawson's Creek" established that the teacher slept with one of her high school students, and years later the first episode of "Mas Men" established that the office secretary was being 'passed around' to different employees of the ad agency. Needless to say I never watched another episode of either series. Treating teenagers and women in such a way was not what I wanted to see.

Dana Gabbard said...

This is also playing later this month at the American Cinemathque in Hollywood.

Dana Gabbard said...

I once ran into a young lady panhandling on the L.A. subway. Turns out why she was soliciting money was so she could indulge her desire to travel like a vagabond. When I pointed out that was a poor justification and came off as irresponsible she declared "I'm young". I guess some folks of a certain age are reckless and irresponsible. YouTube is full of videos of idiots jumping of roofs with their skateboards etc. I once ran across a flash mob of youngsters using skateboard to jump off a high sign with some guy (who was orchestrating this thing and obviously somehow making money off it) directing the 100 or so skateboarders. Would you enjoy a show devoted to such behavior? Plenty of reality shows can be mindnumbing in what people do. I guess some enjoy it. Personally I will take vanilla.

Barry Traylor said...

First I had even heard of GLOW and now I very much doubt I care to watch it.

Frankipop said...

Yep, she shows boobies.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Yes. Absolutely. It is 100% a generational thing. Because today's writers are of the generation that has been indoctrinated into believing the politically correct notion that there is NO SUCH THING AS "NORMAL." These writers and show-runners feel that celebrating diversity means creating characters that are the exact opposite of mainstream. Unfortunately, they sometimes take this to extremes. Even the suggestion of mainstream family values could get you labled as intolerant or ignorant. The question is often raised, could a show like All In The Family or similarly controversial shows be made today? Of course they could. The show that couldn't/wouldn't be made today is the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Why? Because she's too NORMAL. Mary Richards is too WASPy, too binary-straight female, too moral, too good. In this age of sliding scale morality, sexuality, ethics, etc., the idea of a happy "normal" family or a lead with a definite sense of right and wrong is an anathema to many of this current generation. Maybe these characters are more realistic, but T.V. isn't reality. I suppose I'm a dinosaur, but I watch T.V. to escape from the pressures of the real world. And for the record, I hated Breaking Bad. I had to force myself to watch the first season and barely started the second before I had to quit. I still have no idea why that show was so popular. Finally, I remember the Gorgeous Ladies of Wresting. "Spanish Red" was my favorite. That is, until they changed the girl that played her.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I don't really need to care about a character or empathize with them in order to enjoy a show, provided the show and the character are well written. I don't need a "hero" in a show, but I do need a compelling protagonist who does things that make me want to know what happens next. And I do think that writers walk a razor's edge between creating a bad character worth watching and an amoral caricature. I haven't seen GLOW, but the show that SteveG mentioned, Fleabag, is my example of how to write a very compelling character that's almost entirely unlikable. She's horrible, but there are also long term consequences for her horrible decisions (in fact, that's a big hook in the story arc). I love Fleabag, but can't stomach more than a few minutes of "Absolutely Fabulous"; I think the difference is that there are ramifications for the central character's actions in Fleabag, but none for Patsy and Edina. I realize that AbFab is more of a farce, but when I watch shows like that I find myself constantly asking "why on earth do these people have any friends?". With Fleabag, you can see that her self destructive behavior is affecting her, even when it's being played for laughs.

stephen catron said...

I enjoyed GLOW quite a bit, but never thought of it as a comedy. Any humorous moments were bonus for me. I rooted for all the characters, damaged though they may be. That was the fun. To root for this rag-tag group.
But I do agree there needs to be someone sympathetic to root for in a comedy. That's why I hate Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. They are disgusting people whom I would avoid in real life. Why would I want to spend time watching them?

thirteen said...

What makes me turn on a character? Cruelty to an animal. Example: when Mad Men's Duck Phillips abandoned his dog on the streets of Manhattan because Duck thought the dog disapproved of his drinking. In the endless online arguments that followed this episode, there were dopes whose answer was "It was acting. No dog actually got abandoned." That wasn't the point, of course, but they were dopes.

John said...

I watched three episodes and gave up. It just didn't catch my interest. I love Allison Brie, but this show couldn't hold my attention. I really wanted to like it too.
I think this one is a miss.

Aaron Sheckley said...

Good Lord, we've had 70 years of TV shows that celebrate the "Traditional American Family and their Values", which in many ways translates to the trials and tribulations of sanitized white suburbia. If that's the default setting for "normal", then fine. But if you feel disenfranchised because television shows seem to be focused lately on people who don't match your definition of normal, then think of it as a sort of TV parity. For a lot more years than we should be comfortable with, black people, Native Americans, LBGTQ people, women, etc all had to watch TV shows that seemed to take no notice that they existed, or had any interest in portraying what life was like for them. Imagine that kid on the Rez watching endless cowboy shows and wondering why the hell all those white guys on the screen were calling themselves Indians, and why he never got to see any real Native Americans who looked like him. Imagine a black kid in Greensboro, NC in 1966, watching Andy Griffith and wondering why the hell there weren't any black people in a small town in freaking North Carolina? And the only black people he ever saw seemed to be either criminals or portrayed as some sort of a Noble Savage? Or being a gay man in 1970's America, and knowing that the only time you were going to see another gay guy on the tube was when they were portrayed for comic relief? Now, I get why someone who grew up in the time and place that I did might watch current TV and be uncomfortable that it no longer seemed focused on the Caucasian, straight, Christian American nuclear family of Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids and the dog; there are certainly a lot of modern programs that I have no interest in seeing. But I AM glad that they're being made. It's not "politically correct" to make a TV show that reflects the experiences of people who aren't like you, and have experiences that are different than yours. If someone feels that current TV is a symptom of the decline of western civilization because Lucy is no longer standing in her living room going "Waaaaah, Rickeeeee", then take heart; there are about a zillion hours of nostalgia programming on line where you can steep yourself in the lore of bygone America. The words "politically correct" seems to have come to mean, "I think it's wrong that anything is portrayed on television that doesn't reflect my personal experiences".

Ralph C. said...

I haven't watched GLOW and probably won't ever do so. I'm enjoying Stranger Things and Cheers reruns, though.

Brad Apling said...

Buffoonery to a point I will allow unless it becomes a point of asking "Is he just two floors short of an elevator?"
Break some of the rules, but don't make me question what point the writer(s) trying to make. Are you pushing an agenda or are you trying to put a twist on something common just to make up for the lack of a good idea?
Slapstick is fine, but don't turn it into a carnival sideshow.
Don't do the obvious in comedy (as was discussed in this blog a couple months ago). It's cheap and will lose me quickly. I look for intelligence and uniqueness in comedy as in drama.
Surprise me. Do something unexpected but, again, don't make it happen every 5 minutes. Rarity is still a gift.

Anonymous said...

I don't think GLOW was particularly funny, but it had nothing to do with character flaws. It had to do with the subject matter. It was stupid. I only watched it because Maron entertains me. But I also think Stranger Things is derivative nonsensical BS. No one seems to agree with me on that.

ChipO said...

Though i'm echoing many other posts...
GLOW is a comedy???
GLOW as a comedy? Nah.
Just another show where we watch a bunch of folks try to survive with or without morals.

Matt said...

7 year old GoT Spoiler Alert...

Jamie Lannister pushed a 10 year old boy out a window while having twincest and now he is a fan favorite. All it took was him losing a hand and the revelation he saved half a million people from burning to death.

Anonymous said...

Same ridiculous mistake was made on Michael J Fox's show. The guy has Parkinson's, as does his character, and the writers decide–and the producers okay–M's horney neighbor ( played by his real wife) devoted to fucking him, making it very clear to M, who is playing around with the idea.

I didn’t give one fuck about M's character after that.

He’s getting flirty with a spent-out next door neighbor, while his wife deals with his Parkinson’s every flipping day? And what brand of whack case decides she must have a married man with Parkinson’s disease for a sport fuck? And what kind of man would be attracted to a woman like that?

And after all this, why in God’s name would I care about the shakey little fuck?

Todd Everett said...

"Seinfeld" didn't work for me until -- a couple seasons into the run -- I realized that we weren't supposed to find any of the characters particularly likeable. (I learned this from an interview I read with one of the principals).

Bob S. said...

I liked Glow and thought that it was perfectly clear that Brie did not know she was sleeping with her best friend's husband.

Andy Rose said...

One thing Seinfeld had going in its favor: They kept ramping up the absurdity of both the stories and the characters to the point that, by Season 3 (when people actually started watching) it basically existed in a heightened reality. Watch any of the actors who guested on Seinfeld and compare their performances to anything they've done on any other show. It's like they've all had eight lattes. It's hard to hate characters for their vile behavior when they're already human cartoons.

Terry said...

This is completely unrelated to Glow (which I enjoyed but wouldn't necessarily call it an all out comedy), but I thought it might be a good Friday question.

I'm watching the MASH episode "Point of View" right now and I was wondering if the way it was shot required the construction of any additional sets (e.g. putting walls where the 4th wall would normally be) or was it all done with camera angles?

Unknown said...

Reading these comments makes me want to stand on everyone's lawn and not get off. Sheesh.

Mike said...

@Aaron Sheckley: Preach, brother, preach. Or sister. We are not judgemental about your life choices here.

Anthony Hoffman said...

This is exactly why I couldn't continue watching the pilot. Screw her. Why am I watching a show about some snobby actress who fucks her best friend's husband and ruins her marriage? That's funny? Look at what a screw up she is doing horrible things as she learns to wrestle. Hooray?

Mitchell said...

The comparison of Alison Brie's GLOW character, and defining action of sleeping with her best friend's husband, to the well known anti-heroes from Soprano's, Breaking Bad, etc., makes me think of a Quentin Tarantino quote that I once heard: (like him or hate him, I think the quote is valid): "If someone gets a paper cut on a movie set, I'm like shivers, because I can relate to that. Being shot with an Uzi - that's harder to relate to."

Anti-heroes that work are usually so heinous that their actions don't register with those of us who aren't involved with Cosa Nostra violence, Meth dealing and murder, etc. Cheating on a loved one is far more personal, and easier to imagine happening to ourselves. Maybe that's why Alison Brie's character is harder to like; because it's easier to imagine it happening to you. It's the paper cut vs. the Uzi.

Diane D. said...

The question most people seem to be answering is do you need a protagonist you can root for in a comedy, and the overwhelming answer seems to be yes, which would be my answer.
I don't understand Aaron Sheckley's rant. I agree with many things he said, but I didn't think anyone was disputing the need to acknowledge the diversity of people. What has that got to do with a sympathetic lead in a comedy? Who thinks a gay person or African American can't be sympathetic?

TimWarp said...

Interesting that people on here are blaming Alison's character for "ruining the marriage" and not the cheating husband...

Heli said...

I'm really surprised that people think Alison's character in GLOW didn't know the guy she slept with was her friend's husband. How many of you don't know your best friend's spouse (or at least what he or she looks like)?

The emotion in the car when she sees the picture was guilt, not shock.

I'm pretty sure their pre-coital dialogue made it clear that she knew who he was, even if it was played a little coy for the reveal to the audience later.

And, FWIW, I enjoyed the show, but I can't say I was rooting particularly for Alison (or the cheating husband, obviously).

Scott Rosenberg said...

While I certainly won't begrudge you dismissing a character who bangs her best friend's husband, I have to admit being a little surprised that, as someone who teaches people how to write and structure episodic television, you aren't more appreciative of how important the affair is to the show. Or maybe you do and just don't feel the execution was there, which is a fair opinion.

I thought it all worked. GLOW was one of the best things I've seen all year. I think the start of any further breakdown has to be first, that this is a half hour drama through-and through, even if the subject matter gets silly. It is rather explicitly a show without heroes, but still generates loads of pathos by believing that this collection of deeply flawed individuals and misfits, with nothing remarkable to their credit, still deserve to have something good in their lives, if they were willing to work for it together, even if that thing is a curious syndicated wrestling show that at it's best will let these folks pay their rent. That the show is able to generate such an affirmational, hopeful quality over something so objectively silly is it's writer's greatest achievement.

To make that work, both Brie as the natural leader/rally monkey and her bestie with the legitimate acting resume needed to be knocked down a peg. The cheating accomplishes that, and as a matter of mechanics, is a driver of the plot and stakes beyond where you stopped watching.

I thought we were clearly meant to understand that Brie's character, a struggling actress with a crappy apartment and no money for rent, no love life, was in such a sorry state that when her friend's schlubby husband propositioned her in his members only jacket, she didn't say no, because she just needed to have something - anything - good in her life, for a few minutes. My reaction was more in line with the setup than yours; but as with anything Netflix, the writers really don't know if it generally succeeded or failed until it's all inn the can.

Daz said...

Oh yay! a Glow discussion!

Disclosure up front: I *really* enjoyed GLOW to the point I thought episodes 7 & 8 were two of the best episodes of TV I've ever seen. Ep 8 because it was so beautifully inevitable, the story unfolded like clockwork. Is there an award for 'Best use of "Theme from Exodus" in a series'?

I would not describe 'Glow' as a comedy, although maybe my categorisation is skewed by the prominence of 'situation comedies' and 'sketch comedies'. I dislike the world 'dramady', but GLOW is a drama with humour, and lots of it.

Your focus on Ruth's likability struck me a little odd - I'm rooting for the ensemble and don;t particularly care what happens to Ruth. It's nice to know (in a Brechtian sense) that she's staying in the ensemble, but I think of her in terms of her relationships with the other characters, rather than 'this is a show about Ruth'.
Ruth is not a likeable character out the gate. She's got every stereotypical bad quality an actor can have and is completely self-obsessed to the point she sleeps with her best friend's husband. Her growth is the foundation for the story, and the antagonism with Debbie is the front-line tension. I think it's a clever choice because it keeps Debbie's personal and professional life in the conflict, with both a need to resolve it and solid reasons for not resolving it. (I think her self-obsession is the key to her relationship with wolfgirl, but that's just occurred to me now...)

The dilemma this approach has, though, and what I think you've put your finger on is "how to you keep Ruth from being so unlikeable that people turn the show off" and the answer (as you allude) is "Alison Brie" who is *so* likeable we have to work a bit too hard to keep Ruth in focus. I think the writers are maybe trying to have their cake and eat it too. On the other hand, when Ruth is called out for being a home wrecker, or when Debbie rebuffs her gestures, It feels appropriate and reminds us that she has;t done nearly enough to earn any redemption.

Gee, I loved this show


me said...

If you'll indulge me some addenda and a response to Scott Rosenberg…

I misstated my case when I wrote I didn't care what happens to Ruth. I do care, and I would like to see her both forgiven AND redeemed, but I am not demanding that. Mad Men was mentioned a few times earlier and that's a good reference point. I gave up on Mad Men in Season five(?), when Don was having an affair with the upstairs neighbour. Wifey and I both decided we were;t up for *yet another* season of Don degrading himself and dragging down everyone around him *because we'd seen it before*. Ruth is on her first pass through the valley of I-Fscked-Up and I'm on board for seeing how she, and the other parties handle it.

The woman focus of glow is refreshing. More than refreshing, actually, it's revelatory. I have never seen a scene like the opening of Ep 8 in the locker room when they start throwing sanitary products around. It's so simple, and natural-seeming but I've never seen anything like it (and nobody said 'vagina'). (and Ruth's distance from their bonhomie (bonfemie?) telegraphs her pregnancy brilliantly - this is what I meant about it being inevitable 'Why isn't she bonding with the girls about their... ohhhh, of *course* she's pregnant). There's plenty more scenes like that, and ones that go way further than saying 'vagina', but theythey explicitly serve a character or story point and aren't running 'jokes'

Scott Rosenberg -"Brie as the natural leader/rally monkey and her bestie with the legitimate acting resume"
I see Brie's 'natural leadership' as one of her annoying traits. She has skills but can't apply them effectively, because she's annoying. *Except* (and I think this is a bit genius) when the business of performance is at hand. She can't audition, she can't really take direction because of her self-obsession, but she is entirely unselfconscious chewing scenery as a Russian, and knows how a production works (when she and Debbie both yell 'places' (or some such) it's a tiny moment of awesome. (Like that *brilliant* bit where Ruth and Sam are checking out the potential venue and she pushes him to explain how he'll shoot it and we get that great swooping camera movement as he explains it and we suddenly realise "oh! he *actually* knows what he's talking about)

I'm going to have to rewatch it now.


Anonymous said...

I can relate to Brie. I was the other woman. It's beyond my own understanding, but a lesson in humility. We all want to be heroes/winners and a force for good and have a good life when we are young. I know I longed for order and purity and all of the richness that a godly life provides. No child wants to grow up and be hated or evil (whore, pimp, addict, prostitute, drug dealers, murderers, adulterers, home-wrecker, wife beater, thief, etc.). A desire for goodness is innate, but free will is a dangerous thing in the hands of a fool and satan comes as an angel of light.. Looking back at the dysfunction/sin that surrounded me and is in all of us, I can only bow my head and thank the God who loves losers and why I love losers, because I was/am one. A wretch saved by love. I boast of nothing, but Christ crucified. It's all Him. He died for losers. "It's a Wonderful Life" was a dream. Not in my world, or most peoples.
Anonymous (to protect those I have brought pain upon, who will someday know how sorrow and tears for what I have done follow me and how sorry I am. Please forgive me!)

Beth Thompson said...

Hi Ken --

First of all, thank you for this blog. I've only recently discovered it, and I'm hooked.

Also, yes I'm about 2 years late to the party commenting on this post, but you hit a nerve for me. The other day I was working out why some sitcoms were perennial favorites of mine and other people -- MASH, Frasier, Golden Girls, Friends, The Andy Griffith Show, etc.

The qualities that they all had were:

- good writing
- funny and witty (not just easy laughs)
- loyalty between characters
- one or more characters are worthy of respect, even with flaws
- solid, caring relationships
- ultimately good people who do the right thing.

On the shows I like, the characters were very clear that sleeping with anyone married was off limits. When it happened with BJ once, I was disappointed even though I understood the conditions that brought it about.

So "edgy" is not for me and -- judging by the success of these kinds of shows versus the shows that are here today, gone tomorrow -- I think a majority of people are also uncomfortable with edgy. And who would want to watch it over & over again in syndication?