Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (Oct. 23)

Oct 23, 2017

When the credits come up at the movies, the pages in a book run out, or the last commercial rolls over the end of a television episode, the story might be over. But the discussion is just getting started. Here at Act Four, we’ll get together every week to talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. We’ll also try to sort out why the stories we love mean so much to us, and what they mean for the rest of the world.

Hi everyone! How are your Mondays going? I'm rewatching last Friday's dirty, hilarious "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and reading Khizr Khan's memoir, "An American Family," which comes out tomorrow, so it's a busy day here, but it's very nice to take a break to spend some time with all of you! Let's get started!

I know you're a fan of B99, so I just wanted to comment on how ridiculously charming last week's episode was. It had the standard Halloween episode heightened reality, starting from the hilarious cold open. It had Woke Jake (#resist, Ofamy, the call/voicemail). And I particularly liked the mundane memory recounted at the end, in the middle of the absurdity of the rest of the episode. I just kept finding myself randomly grinning for the rest of the night after watching that episode. The show is consistently funny, but can really nail a lot of other notes as well without sacrificing the humor.

Oh my goodness was this episode a delight! Early in the episode, I turned to my husband and said "Jake is totally going to propose to Amy," and then shrieked so loud that I'm pretty sure the neighbors heard us when it turned out that I was right. The whole thing was just executed so beautifully: the heist itself was carried out with the show's usual panache, and I totally agree that the actual proposal and the moment that promoted Jake to take the plunge were played in a fabulous, understated fashion. I particularly loved that Jake told Amy she was the best detective he knows.

I should also note that "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" was co-created by Mike Schur, who has a long record of doing this sort of thing pitch-perfectly. And as Alan Sepinwall points out, Schur pitched this particular idea to Dan Goor, the show's co-creator and current showrunner. At a time when too many shows do will-they or won't-they romances, series that know how to move characters' relationships forward without leaving comedy or emotional pathos behind are especially valuable. I cannot wait to see how many wedding planning binders Amy has, and how much trouble Charles causes with the food.

Paying for Cable TV is enough for me, I don't need bills for HBO, Netflix, CBS, and whatever other company wants me to pay to watch their programs. That said, will any of the premium series (Star Trek, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, etc.) ever be syndicated?

I think that is exceptionally unlikely. The whole idea behind a premium content service like Netflix or HBO or CBS All-Access is that these companies make shows that people want to see so badly that they're willing to pay a fee for. If they license those shows to other outlets, then people like you will wait months or years to see those shows in syndication (and likely bowlderized) and they'll lose the whole value proposition behind their business model. If you really want to see any of these shows, you could always consider buying the DVDs. That's probably your best bet to see these shows without an ongoing subscription. And remember, content like this is unusually expensive to produce! If you want to see it, pay for it!

Do you think that the time has come to take another look at the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse that have followed Bill Clinton over the years, and this time without his supporters humiliating and debasing the women with charges of "bimbo eruptions" (Betsey Wright) and "trailer trash" (James Carville)?

Given that the Starr Report extensively investigated these charges, and the huge level of media attention given to them at the time, I'm not sure what new facts are left to be uncovered in these cases. That, of course, is not the same thing as saying there is widespread agreement about these cases, or that younger people are generally familiar with them. Personally, I think these allegations are deplorable and condemning the women who raised serious charges as sexually loose or low-class is disgusting and no one should do it. I am relieved that on that latter subject, at least, our culture has evolved enough that no serious Democratic operative would think of doing this today. 

SPOILER - Don't read if you didn't see the premiere last night ************** Why the heck didn't anyone take out Negan when they were all toting machine guns and chit-chatting? It seems ridiculous that there wasn't ONE sharpshooter amongst the group to take him out. What gives? I can't be the only one frustrated with that, right?

I don't watch "The Walking Dead," because I know the show is just not for me, and it wouldn't do anybody any good for me to essentially keep repeating that it's just not up my alley. But if other readers have thoughts or feelings on this subject, please share!

I am watching The Vietnam War (currently up to Episode 8). While I like it a great deal, I wanted to ask about one omission that I've noticed. Burns and Novick haven't included any professional historians, to fill the role that Barbara Fields or Stephen Oates filled in The Civil War. There are several novelists and journalists, but no historians. Did you discuss this decision with them at all?

Yes, we totally did! This was actually a choice they made in "The War," as well. Given that for both movies, they were able to interview people who had lived through these conflicts (which was obviously not the case for "The Civil War"), they decided they wanted to tell the story from the bottom up, and to focus on the experiences of the individual soldiers who fought in the conflict, while framing those stories with policy and political context. Which is not to say that they didn't consult with historians. Fredrik Logevall, whose books "Embers of War" and "Choosing War" are among the best things I've ever read on the French and American wars in Vietnam, was consulted extensively (even if he doesn't agree with all the movie's conclusions). Huy Duc, who is interviewed on screen, actually is a historian, just one who works in Vietnam rather than in the United States. So it's not that they didn't want historians' perspectives and thoughts; they just didn't want the movie itself to be a debate between historians, the way "The Civil War" sometimes feels.

Not exactly current pop culture, but maybe pop culture from ~350 years ago. Do you happen to know how the wait time is to get into the Vermeer show?

I took a few minutes to poke around, and I'm not actually seeing references to huge lines yet. If you're eager, I'd recommend going first thing in the morning, during a week day. Beyond that, I'm not sure there's either a major line or a clear strategy to beat it!

best days to see big exhibits in DC. People often come here as a long weekend trip, so Fridays and Mondays can be very crowded too. You can see the same pattern in the way the days get filled up for the NMAAHC tickets - weekends go first, then Mondays and Fridays. Then the rest of the week. Oh, and next distribution will be in early November for tickets in February.

Thanks for the advice! I'm sure our original poster will appreciate it.

Is there a better thing on Twitter than the marriage between David Simon and Laura Lippman? The banter between the two is amazing, they are just a few cocktails short of becoming the new Nick and Nora Charles.

On Simon's end, at least, they are definitely more obscene than Nick and Nora Charles, but I definitely enjoy them. I feel like they strike a nice balance between being personal in style in their exchanges with each other, without necessarily revealing much in the way of personal details about their marriage, kids, etc. To me, that's the ideal for how couple should behave on social media.

There is some cross-pollination happening in some of these series. For example, Amazon Prime members can watch previous seasons of HBO content like VEEP and Game of Thrones. You would need to pay (a la carte) to see the latest episodes, or have HBO. Some older HBO shows like Deadwood, you can watch the entire series on Amazon Prime. As the business model grows and changes, I think you'd be seeing a lot of shows that span several streaming services.

Yes, I agree, though that is still very different from syndicating these shows to networks that, let's be honest, couldn't actually air them without substantial edits!

I saw the interview with Matt Damon and George Clooney both claiming that they knew nothing about the rumors swirling around Harvey Weinstein. Between them and Meryl Streep, it seems that the higher up you go in the Hollywood food chain, the more likely someone is to claim that they knew nothing. Do you think it's plausible that Damon, Clooney, Streep (anybody else?) can credibly claim that they never heard of the many rumors or jokes about Weinstein's behavior? I'm beginning to think it's because they choose not to believe the rumors, not that they didn't hear them.

Since I am not Matt Damon, George Clooney or Meryl Streep, I can't say for sure what they did and didn't know. That said, I think it's possible that they didn't know anything -- but I also think it's important to note that this isn't exactly exculpatory. Maybe no one told them because they weren't perceived as people who would believe the women Weinstein allegedly harassed and assaulted, or who would respond in a supportive way. Maybe no one told them because they were perceived as independently powerful and thus not in danger from Weinstein (Streep, Judi Dench). All of these things seem plausible to me. But in the former case, at least, it's possible to not know about the worst allegations against Weinstein and still be culpable in Hollywood's deeply messed-up culture.

I'm a pop culture junkie and am interested in several of the new streaming shows but I'm not spending another $100/month on top of the close to $200 I'm already spending to watch one show here and another there. That economic model is not going to work for me.

That's fine! But then you don't have the right to expect that you'll have access to everything you don't want to pay for. That's a completely fair deal!

because not everyone realizes is it open until 6. But that is not reliable for a big exhibit and they will kick you out at closing time even if you are still waiting in line.

More helpful insight from the museum-goers on the list!

Count your blessings. The last show happened during the idiotic 90s government shutdown, drastically reducing available dates. We lucked into tickets late in the day. Fortunately there was a huge Winslow Homer exhibit at the same time so we arted ourselves silly. But when we finally got into Vermeer, it was shoulder to shoulder - not ideal circumstances.

Oh, that's a helpful bit of context! And I should totally add that, at least on my own time, I've very much come to the conclusion that there are times when it can be worse to see art under non-ideal conditions than it can be to not get into a hot show. I suspect I'll enjoy the National Museum of African American History and Culture more in a couple of years when the crowds have died down a bit. When I was last in Paris, I skipped the Mona Lisa rather than deal with the hordes swarming around it. 

With the odd length of some episodes of premium content (an hour one week, 75 minutes the next, 67 minutes the one after that and varying amount of content that would have to be cut or blurred) it certainly seems that they are not *planning* to syndicate in any meaningful way as we currently think about it.

A good point. I'm going to boil this whole conversation down for the newsletter!

I would suggest getting basic cable and either Netflix streaming or Amazon Prime. The former is quite inexpensive compared to the quality of shows and the latter also gives free shipping. You can pick up cheap DVDs of other shows at the public library or used on eBay. That will help keep your entertainment costs down.

A good potential solution!

I don't disagree but my point is I don't think paying for and keeping track of dozens of separate services is a tenable business plan. It's one thing to buy HBO and stumble across some wild and wacky new show but if it's some niche product I'm not likely to stumble. Remember UPN and the WB?

It's probably not, but it will also sort itself out!  One of the benefits of capitalism (and I'm willing to admit some) is that sometimes things that should fail, fail! 

I'm a little befuddled about Gwyneth Paltrow. Not calling in to question her story, but I'm surprised that with parents in the industry, they wouldn't have sat her down and told her some of the seamier side of the business to be on the look out for. I'm sure Blythe Danner put up with her share of harassment as a young (and stunningly beautiful) actor.

I just find it really difficult to know for sure what people might have done in circumstances like this. Maybe Paltrow's parents thought their relative fame and influence would cast a protective halo around her. Maybe they didn't want to disillusion her. Maybe Danner was lucky enough not to be harassed. I think it's just really hard to say.

The issue of celebrity bystanders in l'affaire Weinstein could be a manifestation of the larger question about what bystanders should do. Some movie stars and directors basically tried to sidestep it (yeah, he's probably a creep, so let's work with someone who isn't). Some people tried to work around it (he's probably a creep, but as long as he doesn't hurt my movie or anyone on it, I'll hold my nose and get the film made). That kind of move happens all the time in life. If my boss at the (gas station/paper company/law firm) behaves badly, I can work around it or sidestep it. Celebs shouldn't be held to a higher standard, but not to a lower one either. There are calls to say, it starts with believing the story. But after that the course of action isn't clear.

This is a great observation and I totally agree!

Thanks for all the great discussion in here today! I'm going to take our exchanges about syndication and turn them into this week's newsletter. As always, spending time with all of you is a delight. I'll see you here first thing next week for a pre-Halloween discussion. Bring you thoughts on the finale of "The Deuce" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," among other subjects!

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Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
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