Thursday, September 29, 2011

The House that Tina Fey Built: Women Take Charge of the New Fall Sitcoms of 2011

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on September 29, 2011. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Tina Fey
We are now firmly in the second week of the new fall TV season, and so far one thing seems clear: quirky and complicated women seem to be taking over our airwaves. Beginning in mid-October, ABC will offer two new comedies with a male perspective, Last Man Standing and Man Upboth promising to look at the modern beleaguered man. But for now, September is awash with new sitcoms boasting an array of strong, funny women: Zooey Deschanel in New Girl on Fox; Kathryn Hahn in Free Agents, and Whitney Cummings in Whitney on NBC; and Kat Dennings in 2 Broke Girls on CBS.
Strong female characters are of course nothing new in the history of the American sitcom: Gertrude Berg (The Goldbergs) and Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy) basically invented the situation comedy in the early 1950s, playing women who were brazen, funny, and regularly willing to make themselves the joke. But as the TV mother and wife evolved through the decades, fallible and funny women characters were generally replaced by the long-suffering and inordinately pretty wives of fallible and funny men – roles like Mary Richards, Maude Finlay, and Roseanne Conner became the exception instead of the rule. No doubt emboldened by the critical and ratings successes of Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), executives have clearly decided that perhaps it is time to return to their roots. And generally speaking, the viewers are all the better for it – though as usual, not all the new shows are equally worth our time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Giddy Thing: Much Ado About Nothing at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre (August 29, 2011)

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on September 21, 2011. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

There are worse ways to spend a summer night in London than in a lush West End theatre watching a high-octane Shakespeare production, but I have to confess that my girlfriend and I hadn’t actually planned for it. Coming on the heels of a much more orderly two and a half weeks in France, our time in London had a satisfying seat-of-your-pants feel to it, since it was essentially a pit stop en route from Paris to our final destination in Scotland But even months earlier, when all we’d confirmed about our time in the UK were our arrival and departure dates, there was one thing we were certain of: we knew exactly where we would be on Saturday August 27 at 19:00 GMT. That night we’d be sitting in front of a TV screen watching the much-anticipated fall premiere of Doctor Who. The preceding episode of the season had aired way back in early June, and I have no shame in confessing that our twin geek hearts were genuinely aflutter with the mere idea of watching the show’s return live on British soil. (Europe is lovely yes, but we’d let our travelling interfere with our TV watching quite enough at that point in our month-long trip!) And so perhaps you can imagine our excitement when, while looking for the entrance to the Charing Cross tube station, Jessica and I stumbled serendipitously upon Wyndham’s Theatre. There, on the marquee, were the shining faces of David Tennant and Catherine Tate – both of Doctor Who fame! – headlining as Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. No doubt all the stars in heaven had conspired to bring us to this very moment: these were our last two days in London, and it turned out to be the last week of the show’s 3-month run. We simply had to see this play.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Doctor Who
And so, on the morning of Monday August 29, Jessica and I got up early and stood in line for that day’s lottery, hoping to secure two of the few remaining seats for that evening’s sold-out performance. We weren’t alone, it turned out. The line outside the theatre that morning was well-populated, but buoyant. Many were coming to see the show for a second time, and true to form, the conversations we had were less about Elizabethan theatre than that Saturday’s Doctor Who episode. In the end, we left with two standing room tickets, and were grateful for them! We spent the rest of the day enjoying the Tate Modern and following a quick visit to a nearby pub, we got to the theatre a half hour early (as we’d been advised to do by the lovely woman and rabid David Tennant fan, we’d met in line that morning) in order to secure a good standing spot for ourselves. It turned out we needn’t have worried: Wyndham’s is a fairly intimate space (especially in the Stalls), and the back of the house had a clear, unobstructed view of the whole stage. And so we waited, and watched, as every seat in the sold-out house slowly filled up.