Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (April 8)

Apr 08, 2019

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.

Friends, Romans, countryfolk! Lend me your keyboards! 

Before we begin, a couple of quick programming announcements: in the haze of new parenthood last summer, my husband and I booked a vacation with my parents and our kid that begins tomorrow. Obviously, we did this at a moment when it was unclear when HBO was going to air the final season of "Game of Thrones," which...ooops? I seriously thought about taking a laptop, waking up at three in the morning and recapping the episode, but my husband wisely told me not to be a total lunatic. Fortunately, we have a work-around! My trusty colleague Drew Goins, who has been contributing to Act Four, will fill in for me. Because I know you all appreciate my particular perspective on the show, I will write a recap of my own once I come back on the 19th and will commence recapping the show as usual on the 21st. I will miss you all very much, and I'm sorry things worked out like this, but I am also looking forward to a break.

Second, some folks had mentioned here that they'd been having trouble receiving the newsletter. If you are one of them, please email me at alyssa.rosenberg@washpost.com. We've figured out a fix, but it has to be done individually for the email address that is having trouble.

Finally, since I'll be gone, the chat and the newsletter will be off next week.

There was a Canadian show called "Little Mosque on the Prairie" on Hulu. It's the first thing that taught me as a Jew I have way more in common with Muslim people than Christian people in the way we live our lives. But nothing major has happened in the US. You and other critics like to talk about visibility but how can you have such a blind spot towards a religious minority in this country that gets the blame pinned on them for all the terrorist attacks?

With all due respect, this is a subject I've written about for years from a variety of angles! So perhaps you have a blind spot about my alleged blind spot? It remains completely ridiculous that "Little Mosque on the Prairie" is still the gold standard for Muslim representation in North American pop culture, and like many aspects of the diversity debate, it's shameful and ludicrous that representation in this area has stayed stuck.

Something has struck me about the Oscars: When winners give their speeches, they're not giving any sort of performance or providing anything of value to people watching at home. They're mostly just thanking people. Why is it entertaining to know that a movie star is sincerely thankful to his agent, family, and co-stars? Considering the nature of the business is that you're not allowed to badmouth co-stars or agents, this praise is ultimately meaningless and is simply a PR ritual. More than that, how is it entertainment to us? When I'm watching a TV show or reading a book, the part where people thank other people is done at the end credits or an acknowledgement section of a book. In the Oscars it's center stage which implies it has some value to us at home but I don't think it does. There have been a handful of times when someone won and did something cool they normally have to admit in self-deprecating fashion that they did it wrong. Stephen Soderbergh (my favorite speech) just talked about the power of making art, but he later admitted he was kind of drunk and couldn't remember the original speech. Olivia Coleman was the highlight of the night this year because she was just reacting in a raw way but backstage she used language that indicated her speech wasn't intentional.

I violently, violently, VIOLENTLY disagree with this, and I actually think it's moderately churlish of you to think this way! Yes, the Oscars are a televised spectacle, and the producers have endeavored to make them entertaining. But they're also a professional community's highest honors, and receiving an Academy Award is the pinnacle of most people's careers. Of course the people who are receiving those awards should be allowed to be something animated than the mute figurines they're receiving. And their speeches are absolutely of value to us, if only as a reminder that movie-making is a collective enterprise. Okay, yes, it may be considered rude to bad-mouth your representation, but it's also the case that good agents do yeoman work on behalf of actors and directors, not all of whom are easy to sell or great at selling themselves. It's also the case that it's tremendously valuable to see people acknowledge the other people who helped them along the way, including by doing domestic labor under circumstances that are complicated even if you can hire help to ameliorate them. Yes, the Oscars involve people who are normally manipulated or manipulating themselves for our entertainment, but on a night set up to honor them, what does it say about our actual love of movies if we want the people in question to shut up? Your comparison to the acknowledgements section of a book isn't apt: movies have thanks and acknowledgements at the end, too. But the Oscars aren't the same as the movies they're honoring: they're explicitly a series of short stories about the nominees and their accomplishments, and the winners' speeches and who they choose to recognize during those speeches are absolutely a critical part of the story. Go forth and appreciate the people who make your movies more!

One thing I noticed as a lot of joke and negative observations of affirmation action or how being a person of color was an advantage (i.e. anything involving the plot lines about Meadow and later A.J. college applications).

One of the things "The Sopranos" does quite well is illustrate how members of an ethic group that is more recently assimilated into whiteness use racism against members of other races as a way to reinforce their assimilation. That's sort of a long-running theme of mafia stories, actually: to what extent can you maintain your ties to your community and your sense of a distinct identity while also trying to reap the advantages of assimilation. In "The Godfather" (which also has an interesting scene of Italian-American anti-blackness), there's little hope that first-generation immigrants like Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) will be able to truly assimilate, so the Don pins his hopes on his son, Michael. By the time we get to "The Sopranos," Tony and Carmela are, in certain ways, highly assimilated, but because of Tony's choice of profession, they continue to hope that Meadow will find the right equilibrium between her roots and her future. She doesn't, entirely: her relationship with an African-American boy gets squelched and she ends up intending to practice law in a way that will likely leave her with mafia clients. And so the cycle continues.

Always curious about the fizzle out affect. Just curious if there was a big push to scrap the Electoral College after the fiasco of the Florida recounts?

I think there were certainly discussions about it, but I'd have to go back and do more research than I have time to do in the context of this chat.

I know you mentioned wanting to talk about the two finales so here goes. I think YOU'RE THE WORST in general had a stronger final season than CRAZY EX GIRLFRIEND, largely because while I didn't love every plot point, it never felt directionless. That said, I was more mixed on the YTW details than the CEG ones. I liked the reveal that the fall out was with Jimmy, Gretchen and Edgar and not Jimmy and Gretchen. Edgar leaving the group was necessary for everyone's next steps, and yes it would be painful. But the florist's role in the flash forward was too much, and Paul and Lindsay's first marriage ended in such a painful way that they're remarriage felt wrong. (Also I was hoping Paul's threesome with Becca and Vernon would lead to a permanent thrupple.) But I kind of appreciate how messy it was, and that while many characters had some substance abuse issues during the plot, and were dealing with them differently. From the beginning of CEG, it was clear that Rebecca's happy ending would have to involve musical theatre, more than ending up with any guy. I thought the show would end with her joining some community theater, and really liked how an experience with community theater did point her in the direction of her happy ending. I liked the 11 O clock medley and how it led to a solution. It was really satisfying, and while everyone got a more or less happy ending, details were vague enough to not be too much.

I wrote about how the endings of the two shows reinforced each other in a kind of lovely way here. And I think I broadly agree with you, with some minor quibbles. It actually makes a certain amount of sense, at least in the context of the show's theme, that Lindsay and Paul got back together: they're each other's Worsts, and they've changed enough that they can fit together better. Lindsay appreciates Paul's best qualities, and Paul's uncovered enough weird, angry, slightly kinky tendencies in himself that he no longer needs Lindsay to renovate herself into someone she's not. I think the florist thing is a little weird, but all the new-parent stuff with Gretchen and Jimmy wrecked me so badly (obviously I am SO the target audience for that stuff right now) that I could basically roll with it.

I think the ending of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," while appropriate, felt a little vague and unformed to me. Rebecca ended up in a place that was good for her and for the larger thinking of the show, but that also felt a tiny bit soft to me. All in all, I think Paula actually had the more satisfying final arc of the show, which maybe is fine: it was really nice to see the show affirm that someone *can* have the big career and the family and friends and suits that Rebecca is supposed to crave at the beginning of the show and doesn't, while also arguing that getting those things is really hard work. The throw-away about how often Paula and her husband have sex was, in particular, a great line affirming that she's essentially super-woman.

so this is real... i sometimes find myself affecting accents when around people with pronounced accents - i dont mean to, i really dont and take care not to as i would not want to offend anyone..... does anyone else experience this?

I think it's relatively common that people mirror the speech and mannerisms of people they're talking to. As long as you try to be aware of it when you begin conversations that put you in this situation, and try to gracefully and subtly dial it back when you find yourself falling into this pattern, I think you're probably going to be okay.

Apparently back in the day there was a jazz musician named Paco O'Toole. http://www.mixcloud.com/right_on/home-cookin-bebop-hard-bop-soul-jazz-latin-jazz-funk

Did we just crowdsource a jazz musician out of our collective brains?

It felt very truncated. The whole end of the book is gone with the show trial and weirdo communist lawyer. I get it doesn't have to be 100% faithful adaptation, but I guess "Native Son" really effected me so more invested in it. Just small things like the rape of murder of Bessie being totally different didn't feel better, but also flat in and of itself. Unsure if you saw it?

I missed it; maybe it's peak TV, or maybe it's just that I'm editing as well as writing right now, but I honestly missed that it was happening at all, and felt very embarrassed once I started seeing pieces about it.

My friend and I saw this movie the weekend it opened based on strong reviews. Julianne Moore is wonderful in the film. She's the star as well as an executive producer. We could relate to many of the movie's emotions (both of us have been divorced), but there was one point in the film where the editing jumped from one place to another that seemed to make no sense. For instance, immediately after her son's birthday party...then, BOOM, she's on a plane to Las Vegas. IMO, it was jarring, too sudden and not in line with her character's behavior. This burst the bubble for me; my belief in the story cracked, and it just wasn't as much fun afterward. Does this ever happen to you? I know it's 'only' a movie, but I could not figure out why the director let this happen.

Well, the director and editor may totally disagree with you about how this moment, or feel that it's supposed to signal a major break for the character. Asking "why the director let this happen" potentially misses that unless something unusual happened and the movie was recut by an editor working for the studio without the director's input that the director probably wanted things to be the way they were!

Let's throw it out to the audience. Anyone else had this experience with "Gloria Bell" or any other movies?

Apropos of nothing, I have been feeling sad about the way the blogosphere as it existed in the 2000s and early aughts is not really a thing anymore. I miss the informal and conversational style. I miss the way that bloggers would actually respond and argue with one another in a (relative to Twitter) in-depth and nuanced way. I miss the fact that people with no background in professional journalism or writing and idiosyncratic perspectives were able rise to places of influence in the discourse as amateurs. And, to be honest, I don't like the professionalized social and search driven writing that replaced the blogosphere nearly as much, or the much faster, more toxic, and much less charitable or in-depth conversation on Twitter. Obviously I still like and follow certain individual writers (like you, of course!), and I'm sure I'm romanticizing the past a little bit, but nonetheless I feel like something was lost. As someone who came up in blogging, do you feel the same way?

Oh my LORD yes. I met my best friend and matron of honor at my wedding through blogging. She literally began her toast "I'm Alyssa's friend from the internet." I'm going to snaffle this question to meditate on at greater length for this week's newsletter, because I'm so happy that you asked it even though answer it will inevitably make me so sad.

I watched the delightful It's Always Fair Weather for the first time last month, partly as a way of commemorating Stanley Donen's passing and also out of anticipation for Fosse/Verdon, which I can't wait to watch when it starts tomorrow. I think I've developed much more of an appreciation for musicals in general, and classic movie musicals in particular, in recent years, but I still want to broaden my familiarity with the genre more. What are your favorite musicals, stage or screen? Are there any that you would recommend or that you think are under-seen/appreciated?

I am, as is probably completely stereotypical, a Sondheim nerd. I am also kind of a sucker for "Evita." My best friend from high school is basically the author of all of my tastes in musicals, and she would be very, very embarrassed for me that I'm admitting the latter.

While it's true that Little Mosque remains one of the main shows to portray Muslims/Islam in a nuanced light, there are also a few other shows in which Muslims are protagonists or significant secondary characters and the focus isn't terrorism including Master of None, The Bold Type, and a new show called Rami on Hulu.

Totally fair!

Yes, it happens a lot. I'm a military brat - my father was career Army and I grew up all over the world. We'd move every year or two. And it was far easier to fit in if I quickly began to mimic the speech patterns and vernacular of the places we moved to. Try speaking like you're from Mississippi when you move to Massachusetts, and see how you're received. Hint: not well. So you pick up the MASS mannerisms.

Oh, interesting. I will say my family and I definitely picked up a certain amount of Boston-area slang once we moved there in 1995, but none of us affected the accent.

I stuck around after KILLING EVE and kinda liked it. The female lead is very watchable and I like Matthew Goode, plus it has the usual Brit TV embarrassment of riches, cast-wise. But - do NO vampires fear daylight anymore??

For a moment I misread this and thought that "Killing Eve" was somehow about vampires in a way that I had missed, and boy, I probably need this vacation I'm about to head out on, don't I?

I am one of those weird people who genuinely finds it kind of a bummer when people abandon constraints they find irritating rather than working around them. If you want to tell a story about someone who sucks blood but isn't vulnerable to daylight, or stakes, or whatever, why not invent something new, rather than building a visual and action grammar around those constraints the way "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" did?

So I finally saw a couple episodes of the show this weekend - wow. I was really kind of shocked by how all-in they were on the Satanic elements. I guess as a child of the 80's who lived through the moral majority and all sorts of pearl clutching at religion (and specifically depictions of the devil) in popular culture I never would have expected a show like this to get made. I can see why they moved it from broadcast to Netflix. Have you watched it? What is your take on it? I mean, I'm usually all for sticking it to religious/traditional values type messages, but this was a bit much even for me.

"The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" didn't get moved from broadcast to Netflix; it was conceived of and produced for Netflix. The show is part of a broader rebranding of the Archie Comics, which has included imprints like Archie Horror, which published the comic book series Afterlife with Archie and Vampironica, as well as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I enjoy "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" while also understanding how people who watched the previous "Sabrina" show or grew up on the original Archie comics (I did both) would find it jarring. In a lot of ways, "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" feels a lot like a show made by Netflix's algorithm: take existing property, add some sexy stuff and a dash of horror, cast appealing star from a show that a lot of people like, and voila, you have a television series. If you find it unsettling, definitely don't watch "Riverdale," which does air on network television.

for no good reason cannot get Queen songs out of my head..... Are you gonna take me home tonight? Down beside the red firelight? ...... suggestions please

If you're looking for something that genuinely rocks, I recommend Hole's "Celebrity Skin," which I've been listening to as I read anniversary coverage of Kurt Cobain's death. If you want something from a different genre and with a different vibe, and you haven't listened to her before, maybe try Robyn?

Speaking of musicals, I just read this review of the latest Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic "Oklahoma!" (which holds a special place in my heart, because I was in the orchestra for our high school's production). While I wholly agree that reworking of an old musical is generally acceptable (sometimes even preferable, if there are now-objectionable aspects to the original), I'm still not sure if this is a bridge too far. LINK: https://variety.com/2019/legit/reviews/oklahoma-review-broadway-1203182746/

Honestly, it sounds fantastic, and I love Rebecca Naomi Jones. If you're not familiar with Stew's "Passing Strange," she was phenomenal in it; here's a sample of her work in it. Revisions can work well or not, but I don't think there's anything ethically wrong with riffing really dramatically.

I saw it this weekend. (Liked it, reaffirmed my love of Julianne Moore.) It did not jump immediately from the end of her son's birthday party to the flight to Las Vegas. A fair amount of stuff happened in between. Maybe there was a problem at the OPer's theater.

Huh. Interesting!

Interesting that most of us automatically classify Italians as "white" but it wasn't so back in the day. Recently read a story of Italians lynched back in the 1890s in New Orleans, and read a book The Big Burn set in the 1910s where it is clear that Italians were considered in the "nonwhite" category.

If any of y'all are interested in these kinds of questions, I highly, highly recommend Nell Irvin Painter's "The History of White People," the definitive work on the subject. 

Thanks for defending the acceptance speeches at the Oscars. It is why many of us watch. I hate the continuing trend that is trying to make the Oscars more like say the Grammys that have few awards given during the show (most are done before) and is really a performance show. I love the Oscars the way it is --for the reasons you mentioned.

If you love movies, you should care about the craft and the community effort that went into making them!

Okay, lovelies, I gotta jet to my 2pm. I'll see you back here on April 22. We'll have plenty of "Game of Thrones" talk, and I'll look forward to catching up with you after my travels.

In This Chat
Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
Recent Chats
  • Next: