Posts Tagged ‘Television’

Why am I so Goofy for Burn Notice?

February 26, 2010

My Four Favorite Imaginary Friends

“In my experience, people get hurt and things get complicated no matter what you do”
–Fiona Glenanne

Why am I so Goofy for Burn Notice?

For the uninitiated, Burn Notice is a television show about love, vulnerability, friendship, pyrotechnics, loyalty, violence, family, duty, honor, deceit, murder, depravity, greed, sunglasses and yogurt.

But mostly it’s about decisions. A friend once chastised me for being “so damn existential,” but I’m practically a Calvinist compared to whoever writes Burn Notice.

For reasons related to my own mental health more than anything else, I am trying to figure out why Michael, Fiona, Sam and Madeline are my four favorite imaginary friends:

Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) is a near-perfect hero. He’s brave, loyal, handsome, and honor-bound to do good in this fallen world. Week after week, this ascetic Good Soldier is reluctantly enlisted to aid and protect the helpless and downtrodden, and he just can’t say no. My favorite thing about Donovan is the way he can make his mouth smile while the rest of his face is saying, “You got to be kidding me.”

“The essential function of art is moral,” argued D. H Lawrence. That is why I get so upset when violence, the ugliest and stupidest thing people do, is portrayed in a stylish and witty fashion. I can’t stand philosophically nihilistic and morally empty movies like Snatch, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill, no matter how elegant and clever they may be. Thus, I am troubled by my intense affection for Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), an extremely stylish assassin. I reconcile my love for Fiona with my feelings about cinematic violence by telling myself that Fiona (unlike, say, Beatrix Kiddo) is driven in equal measure by an appetite for both vengeance and compassion. But I can’t quite convince myself that this is true.

Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) is the carefree, fun-loving guardian uncle that everyone should have. (I’m embarrassed to admit how unhip I am, but I really didn’t know that Campbell was a B-movie legend until my friend Tim who knows about these things recently schooled me.)

I am less embarrassed about my previous ignorance of Sharon Gless’s estimable talent (The shapes a bright container can contain!). I never watched Cagney and Lacey because it’s the kind of show my mom would (and did) watch. (My loss) Gless plays Madeline Westen, a haggard nicotine addict who is interminably stretched to the limit. Without getting too maudlin, the Westens represent a compelling mother-son relationship due to their heroic efforts to attempt to negotiate beyond her hurt and denial and his deeply constrained psyche which is fettered by a monomaniacal sense of duty.

But the main reason I love Burn Notice so much is probably because the show somehow manages to take a stand against wicked things like torture, mercenaries, and dehumanizing corporate greed without ever losing its cool.

by Richard W. Bray

Seinfeld and Gilligan’s Island

September 9, 2009

Seinfeld and Gilligan’s Island

I’m reluctant to admit this publicly, but I never really liked Seinfeld. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about having such peculiar tastes. On the contrary, I enjoy being the iconoclast. But whenever someone says that something that really happened is “just like that time on Seinfeld when…”, I say coyly, “I must have missed that episode.” In the past, when I still had the temerity to admit that I don’t watch the show, I was just asking for trouble. People act like I’m the one who has a problem because I don’t enjoy watching a bunch of thirty-(and then forty)-somethings behaving like clueless perpetual adolescents.

Tales of urban angst just don’t appeal to me. Frankly, I just don’t give a rat’s patootie whether or not a bunch of Caucasian grownups are able to get their soup and still make it to the movies on time. (You may contend that Jews are not exactly considered white in America, which is certainly an arguable position, but I would put them in the Recently White category, along with the Irish and the Italians. See, for example, Ignatiev’s provocative How the Irish Became White.)

I have nothing against people who choose to live in big cities. But unless you’re filthy-stinking rich, urban living just doesn’t make sense for educated, upwardly mobile grownups. I can understand why it would be exciting to live in the big city at an age when a person is young, fearless and practically penniless. But sooner or later, it’s time to put away childish things.

(Full Disclosure: I am an unrepentant suburbanite. I am happiest living in a house on the ground with as many trees and plants around as the modern city planning will allow. When I see a show on tv about grownups who make enough money to get the hell out of the concrete jungle, I almost wince at their lack of good sense. I can practically smell the stink of Jerry’s apartment and hear the cockroaches scuttling around his kitchen.)

But the real reason I don’t enjoy Seinfeld is, curiously enough, the same reason I never enjoyed watching Gilligan’s Island: Just as Gilligan and company will never get off their island, the characters on Seinfeld are a bunch of stupid losers who will never rise above their mundane quotidian quest for…I can’t even guess about what would make these people happy because the whole point of the show is about their perpetual frustration. I simply can’t root for these people, which is essential for me when I watch a sitcom.

I can handle a movie or a novel peopled with a bunch of pathetic, unlovable louts. But when it comes to watching a sitcom week after week, I have to care about the characters. Of course, this is totally subjective. Ted Baxter, Louie De Palma and The Harpers, despicable as they may be, are all vulnerable and thus lovable to me. Go figure.

by Richard W. Bray