Thinker for Hire Watches TV Too

Real TV. Really. Not PBS or documentaries about melting iceburgs. Dumb sitcoms. Dramedies. Two-camera jokeathons. I love them.

Rather than focusing on all the pain and absurdity of the past two days’ news, I’m throwing myself eyeball-deep into the waters of new TV.

I’m talking Parenthood. I’m talking The New Normal. I’m talking The Mindy Project. What else? Yeah, I think I watched Ben and Kate. I wish I hadn’t. I spent that 25 minutes checking my phone.

I don’t get invited to my exes’ weddings but if I did I still might not wear that dress.

Good news people: stereotypes are living, breathing, and unfunny on TV. As they always have been, l’dor v’dor, forever and ever amen.

Reliable. Comforting.

I counted 2 wacky black best friends, 2 fussy, foxy, sassy gay dudes, 2 chubby, shaggy lesbians, 2 blond, lonely single moms of adorable children striving to Make Something of Themselves, and 1 racist queer-hater whose objections were so cartoonish as to miss the entire point of a show about a queer family.

Better news: I plan to watch two of these shows again for fun, on purpose, and another one if I’m sick or sad or otherwise in need of a 25-minute Hulu break.

Break it down!

The Mindy Show: I’m sad I have to wait like 3 weeks for episode 2. Funny. Unconventional characters. M.I.A. soundtrack. Health insurance woes turned into comedy. Hurry up and gimme episode 2!

I’m not nuts about the Mindy Kaling schtick of fashion magazines and eyeliner blogging. But this was marvelous.

I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from “Alien” and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible. They’re all participating in a similar level of fakey razzle-dazzle, and I enjoy every second of it.

Getting this sitcom pre-publicity into the New Yorker was quite a coup for Kaling. Because that essay is more or less the premise of her pilot: girl raised on rom-coms becomes a lady parts doctor and swears off old bad habits, like casual sex and accepting uninsured patients.

Which she can’t really do. Because although she thinks that hardening her heart to poor people is required for opening her heart to Mr. Strong Jaw Commitment, or that turning down uninsured patients is equivalent to turning down fries on the side or an extra brownie, she ends up letting herself down by being good at her job.

So my main problem with the Mindy Project is one that will probably be solved a few episodes past the pilot: her character will be more focused as one of the following: a lovable anti-hero, a moralist with inverted/perverted morality, a selfish shallow twit, or a Fey/Poehler inadvertently funny lady in charge.

Or she could resolve into all of the above, because it’s funnier and life is messy. Which may be the funniest evolution, though it would confuse those of us eager to type the funny women.

She’s a comic ninja, and I am excited to watch her show develop.

Parenthood: I watched all existing episodes in a binge last spring, because the New Yorker told me to. And it was great! And I have missed it! So I was pleased to see last night’s season premier. Old friends, on TV. They’re back. Thinkers for Hire enjoy vicarious families too.

BUT: people, don’t be ham-handed and clumsy about adoption. I mean, the white liberal guilt has been a fun part of the show all along, what with the hippie grandparents and the interracial relationship and everyone’s nerves about it all. Funny!

But for once I’d like Julia to have something on her husband. The uptight lawyer mom, loosey stay-at-home-dad dynamic, where the dad is always wiser, is getting old. Give Julia a break! And would they really be this bone-headed about their adoption?

On the other hand, the can’t-discipline-their-adopted-Latino-son plot is consistent with their characters. They couldn’t discipline their daughter either.


Ben and Kate. It was dumb. I disagree with Alyssa, who I nonetheless wish could be my friend. It was completely unfunny in every way. Give the black guys something better to do than be lame BFFs with boringly immature white protagonists.

The New Normal. It had its moments. Gay guys find unfulfilled straight ally surrogate mom, with a kid of her own. Everyone’s dreams will be answered. Dudes get a kid, single mom gets paid (though in what world does $3500 for being a surrogate lead to living expenses and law school? In LA?) Comedy will ensue as these best-laid plans do not ensue.

I watched the second ep before watching the pilot because often pilots are so expository that they turn me off before the show even starts. But this show is structured around the single gal’s pregnancy, which is inexorably forward-moving. So I saw them take the pregnancy test before seeing them implant the embryo. I could handle the chronological dissonance, don’t worry.

And there are little mini-cliffhangers. It would be awesome if she didn’t get pregnant on the first try, because that’s what it’s like to use interventions to conceive. So we’ll see.

Also, the single mom’s dream is not to find a decent man. It’s to be a lawyer in a slick suit. Refreshing!

My main critique of this show is the racist queer-hating grandma mentioned above. Real racists don’t talk that way. Real racism doesn’t work that way. There would be humor and pathos and depth if the grandmother were bigoted in a more convincing, realistic way. Like, the subtle discomfort that the folks on Parenthood struggle with. The stereotype of hate is not only unfunny. It also counteracts the purpose of the show, which is to depict, as its name makes clear, the utter everydayness of queer families. The ways that straight families are no longer straight either, what with divorce and older parenting and single parenting.

It would be funnier if these families’ roadblocks were more realistic. If their critics sound less ridiculous.

AND THEN, to give her a secret trauma informing all her hate? A.) it didn’t make sense and B.) WTF?????

So Ellen Barkin is a great actor but so far the character is wasted and drags down the show far more, to me, than the gay stereotypes at its center.

Also, sassy black assistant. Come on. Was no one listening to Public Enemy?

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2 thoughts on “Thinker for Hire Watches TV Too

  1. If you like Public Enemy, you might like my blog, Rhymes and Reasons. It’s a series of interviews with hip-hop heads who discuss their lives and a few songs that matter to them. Pretty powerful stuff. Check’em out here:

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thank you! I finally had time to check out your website and it is fantastic. Thanks for finding me here and letting us know.

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