Fly Like Paper

Jim and PamI have been a faithful watcher of The Office nearly from its beginning and have loved the vast majority of its 184 episodes.  Naturally, Steve Carell’s departure left an obvious, gaping hole and at first, I admit I did think they should have ended the series when he left.  But this ninth and final season has been better, not quite hitting the bar set by those first few seasons, but much improved from the last couple.  I still do feel that the show has run its course and I’m glad this is the last season but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that is sad to see it go.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this:

“I am bothered by the developments that this season has brought to the Halpert family.  Jim and Pam haven’t always been the focus of the show but their chemistry and the evolution of their relationship has been a constant.  Some viewers felt it got a bit stagnant after they got married and started their family but I always felt that theirs was a natural relationship.  After all, what marriage doesn’t lose some of its zeal after the realities of daily life and the demands of family set in?  They stuck by each other and that was enough reward for me.  Earlier on in this season, when Jim pursued a career change and lost sight of Pam’s needs and wants, I felt this, too, was an organic and plausible story line.  But I expected one of them to close the gap.  To sacrifice for the other and for their family.  To stop communicating so poorly, to take a leap of faith, to lay it all out once and for all.  Whether it would be Jim sacrificing his dream job or Pam sacrificing their comfortable life in Scranton, I expected one of them to give in.

One could argue that families fall apart all the time.  Divorce in America is by no means an uncommon thing and this show has always maintained a commitment to exposing the sad, dreary aspects of the mundane lives of the working class.  Perhaps the destruction of the Halpert family is just one more harsh reality.  Jim and Pam may be no more special than any other couple who falls in love, gets married, raises a family and eventually grows apart.  I couldn’t call it unrealistic.  But it certainly isn’t what I expected, nor is it what I want to see.  Sink or swim, I want to see Jim and Pam together.”

Last night’s episode finally gave me what I’d been waiting for.  It was emotional, subtle, tender and it moved me to tears.  And it surprised me.  No surprise that The Office, with a mere 3 episodes left, still has the ability to make me tear up, but surprised that I doubted it would.  While the American series differs in a great many ways from its British point of origin, it has kept true to the pace that the show’s creators set.  They know just how long to keep you waiting, to make you damn near desperate for the pay-off, so much so that you’re even beginning to doubt you’ll get it.  We saw it with Tim and Dawn in the original series and even though Jim and Pam are really very different characters whose story has veered from that of their British counterparts, they’ve held true to the remarkable sense of timing that makes even something as small and ordinary as a hug feel monumental.

Paper Airplane

Yes, it’s true.  The Office: I will miss you.

~Nikki

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Gatsby

We were originally told Christmas of 2012.  Then, March of 2013.  Now, the release date for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire is May 10 of this year, less than a month away.  At this point, I’m more eager for the soundtrack, which will be out May 7th.  Here’s a convenient little sampler:

You know Florence + The Machine and Jack White are favorites of mine (I am fucking DESPERATE to get my hands on Love Is Blindness) but that Lana Del Rey song sounds promising as does the remake of Together by The xx.  Nero’s Into The Past and Sia’s Kill And Run have got my curiosity piqued as well.

The full playlist:

1. 100$ Bill – JAY Z
2. Back To Black – Beyoncé x André 3000
3. Bang Bang – will.i.am
4. A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got) – Fergie + Q Tip + GoonRock
5. Young And Beautiful – Lana Del Rey
6. Love Is The Drug – Bryan Ferry with The Bryan Ferry Orchestra
7. Over The Love – Florence + The Machine
8. Where The Wind Blows – Coco O. of Quadron
9. Crazy in Love – Emeli Sandé and The Bryan Ferry Orchestra
10. Together – The xx
11. Hearts A Mess – Gotye
12. Love Is Blindness – Jack White
13. Into the Past – Nero
14. Kill and Run – Sia

And, thanks to E!, here’s Over The Love in full by Florence + The Machine.  Shit, is it good.

~Nikki

Absolute Power Corrupts, Absolutely

Animal FarmThe nature of man is a tricky thing – much more complex and fickle than we often like to think.  Throughout our evolution, humans have tried a number of societal and governmental structures, some with great success and others with tremendous failures.  Some have led to near-miracles while others came to disastrous results.  Some succeed in certain cultures and communities but fail in others.  The one constant that has proven true in every society, in every group of people and at nearly every turn is that no man is immune to greed or corruption.

Animal Farm is George Orwell’s simplistic tale of corruption in a communistic community.  Rather than be ruled by the human dictator who owns the farm, the animals who work it pull together to overthrow him and ban him from the farm.  They agree on a system built around equality, around shared work for shared rewards.  Without one specified leader, they agree to live and work side-by-side, none anymore powerful or wealthy than the rest.  And so it goes for a short while.  But soon a couple of the smarter animals (pigs, of course) notice that things could work more smoothly and with greater benefit to the farm with a few changes.  Each pig presents his plan to the group and lets them reach a consensus.  Majority rules.  Harmony is achieved but short-lived.  Before long, one of the pigs realizes he can manipulate the more gullible animals by villainizing the pig who opposes him.  Once his opponent is banned from the farm, he becomes a kind of dictator, all the while changing his rhetoric to suit his own selfish agenda.  Many of the animals cannot read and are easily fooled.  It bears a remarkable resemblance to the structure of North Korea’s current government and the propaganda spewed upon its poor citizens.  I think this book was written for a Young Adult audience, which makes for a somewhat simplified narrative, but its lesson loses none of its poignancy or relevance.

With any political piece, it’s easy for the narrative to become preachy.  A writer has to be careful to let the point make itself in the unfolding of the story, something Orwell did with grace.  At no point while reading Animal Farm (or his more complex political novel, the iconic 1984) did I feel he was forcing his personal views upon me.  I’ve read that he was an advocate for socialism; in his life, he warned of the dangerous potentialtumblr_mgu6ej8ENw1qc6j5yo1_400 outcomes of both communism and capitalism.  No doubt, anyone who’s paid even the smallest attention to the goings-on of the world within the last 50 years would agree that communism simply doesn’t work.  It has always amazed me how the most basic definition of communism sounds perfectly fair and idealistic and yet, there has never been a society capable of maintaining it without corruption.  This speaks more to the nature of humanity than it does to the philosophy itself but that hardly matters.  For all practical matters, communism with regards to the human race has by and large been a failure.  Orwell gracefully lays out the causes for that in this book.  And one could argue that many of capitalism’s negative effects (an excessively uneven distribution of wealth leading to the disappearance of the middle-class via the expansive gap between the rich and poor, the working class being forced to work more and harder for less reward, and greed corrupting the free market, to name a few) as described in Orwell’s 1984 have recently come to fruition.

Regardless of his political views, any reader with even a slightly open mind will find meaning in Orwell’s work.  His storytelling isn’t pushy.  It isn’t preachy or obvious.  He was a master of language who artfully crafted stories that depict the corruptible nature of man.  Ultimately, the take-away message from both 1984 and Animal Farm isn’t that one societal structure is good or bad, but that any and all forms must answer to the people they govern through some form of regulation or system of checks and balances.  Orwell warns that any governing body is only as honest as the people who make it up.  I think we can all agree with that.

~Nikki

There Is Still A Light That Shines On Me

boston-marathon-explosion

Man has used violence as a means to get what he wants since the dawn of humankind.  Be it to exact revenge on one individual or to send a message, to reach the end of a dispute with one person or a whole nation in an all-out war, violence has been a part of the culture of mankind since our very earliest beginnings.  It seems an inevitable part of our nature.  And yet, when things like the London bombings in 2005 or the most recent explosions in Boston happen, nothing about them or their aftermath feels natural.

Undoubtedly there still are random acts of violence.  Watch almost any news segment or episode of America’s Most Wanted or The First 48 and you’ll see that very often, some poor soul is the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong deranged person.  But more often than not, violence is used either to retaliate for some wrongdoing or to send a specific message.  In the case of terrorism, it’s a bit of both.  No doubt the members of Al Quaida believe themselves to be oppressed or otherwise harmed by global powers the likes of the United States and the United Kingdom (and others).  And, of course, the acts of terrorism they commit are done to tell the world that they will not rest until their voice is heard, until their demands (whatever they are) are met.  If these violent acts actually worked, maybe I could understand the rationalizations behind them.  As it is – as far as I can tell anyway – no one benefits from these bombings.  No one wins.  And, at the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, if they don’t work, why keep at it?

I do believe there are some folks in the world who simply want to wreak havoc.  And maybe that is the case with the incident at the Boston Marathon yesterday.  The investigation is still underway and no motive has yet been identified.  But aside from wanting only to create chaos, no other motive for violence justifies the means.  The destruction caused by these acts of mass killings and even the consequences of singular violent incidents – investigations and trials and years spent in prison, the emotional pain given to the mourners or even the offenders themselves – all of it seems such a waste of time and resources.  Enough to warrant giving up this archaic means of proving a point.

Evolutionarily speaking, a gene or mechanism or behavior will remain in play as long as it is useful.  When its benefits no longer outway its negative effects, it will be selected out.  It may take a few generations but it will fall away.  My question is this: will the day come when humans in every culture think it is not worth the destruction and rebuilding, the misery caused, the millions of dollars spent on investigations and trials and lives spent in prison to use violence as a means of making themselves heard?  Or will we forever be caught in this hamster wheel?

Personally, I don’t think violence in humanity will ever cease to exist entirely but my hope is that the day will come when it is such a rarity that every day’s news won’t be filled with tales of murder and rape, of hate crimes or sexual crimes or crimes against children.  That these things will be taboo and only a tiny percentage of people will fall victim to them.

Patton Oswalt’s response to yesterday’s events says it all:

“I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, ‘Well, I’ve had it with humanity.’  But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.  But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet,” he wrote. “You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.  But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

“So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.'”

~Nikki

Don’t Wanna Play That Part

DunhamWe’ve all heard the phrase: “Men are simple.”  Men have said it, women have said it, and I’m sure no one has ever meant for it to encompass all men at all times.  Recently, Lena Dunham said it in reference to writing male characters for her HBO series, Girls.  Dunham has been hailed by critics and fans alike for writing complex, multifaceted female characters, girls who aren’t reduced to one stereotype or another.  But her male characters have been criticized as being one-dimensional, men without ambition or goals other than to impress (or even just fuck) a woman.

I watch Girls and for the most part, I like it.  It’s weird and gross and often makes me uncomfortable but somehow, all at the same time, it is bizarrely appealing.  I would agree that the female characters are more fully developed than the male characters but I wouldn’t go so far as to call the men stereotypes.  At least, not male stereotypes.  Oddly, they seem to me to fit stereotypes more typically associated with women.  Charlie is so lovesick for Marnie in season one that he fails to notice how much she doesn’t want him around.  Even after she humiliates and breaks up with him, he gives her one chance after another to get him back, alienates his new girlfriend and eventually cheats on her with Marnie, and when Marnie finally admits that she loves him too and wants to be with him again, all he can say is, “That’s all I ever wanted.”

Adam, who I’ve always found more than a little scary, reluctantly falls for Hannah, then pines for her endlessly, never letting go of his adoration for her even after she treats him like garbage.  And when she calls him in a pathetic appeal for attention, does he tell her to fuck off, he’s got a Adamnew woman now, one who doesn’t mess with his head and call the cops on him for no reason?  No.  Instead, he drops everything and literally runs across town (shirtless, no less) to save her.  Save her from what, you ask?  Her own insanity.  That’s right.  She wasn’t actually in danger of anything except indulging in her obsessive compulsive disorder.

And Ray, the male character who showed the most promise as far as depth and range were concerned, has been written into a lazy slacker who lacks the drive to do anything with his life until he falls for Shoshanna and suddenly, wants to be a better man so as to keep her from leaving him.

We’re used to seeing women in these roles – desperately seeking the object of their affection despite obvious signs of said object’s indifference.  (There are so many of these women, in fact, an entire book has been written and published to snap them out of it.)  And it is refreshing not to see women in these roles but it would be even better to see no one in them.  Not that Dunham’s men are complete caricatures; there are moments wherein they display real depth and honesty.  And, of course, I’m not suggesting that no man should ever be depicted as lovesick.  Personally, I don’t think Dunham has done quite as bad of a job with her male characters as some do.  But she is a woman and for that reason alone, I’m sure it’s easier for her to write women.

Nor do I think that her comment about men being simple was intended to deride men as inferior creatures.  She spoke specifically of the Hannah & Marnierelationships men have with women in comparison to women’s friendships with each other, which she believes are more complicated because they aren’t based on sex or romantic love.  I can’t say that that’s always true but I’m sure it is some of the time, especially for women and men in their twenties when so many of their relationships are about figuring out who they are and who they want to be.  What I find more special about Dunham’s Girls is that her characters are as (or more) tortured over their troubled friendships as they are over their sexual relationships, which isn’t something we’re used to seeing in female characters.  And I think that’s actually her point.

~Nikki

Across The Harlan County Line

The concept of duality isn’t new to storytelling, nor is it played out.  When used effectively, it can draw together characters and opposingJustified plot lines and provide them with a kind of symmetry that enriches every aspect of the story.  From its pilot episode, Justified has been an example of duality done well with main character Raylan Givens and the character who has grown into a second male lead, Boyd Crowder.  (Side note: the character of Boyd Crowder was originally intended to die in season 1 but fans and critics alike found him so irresistibly appealing – due in no small part to Walton Goggins’s brilliantly charismatic portayal of him – that Justified’s makers rewrote his story arc and invented a new, much larger purpose for him.  To the folks who made that decision, I say: thank you.)  Raylan and Boyd each have opposing goals; one is a man of the law, the other a determined outlaw.  Their paths continually cross, their lives invariably intertwine and while they claim to be more enemies than friends, there is no mistaking the connection that exists between them.

Boyd and Raylan have had a kinship from the start.  They “dug coal together” and apparently, formed some manner of unbreakable bond while tumblr_mjy0xs0eNY1reylb6o4_250COALdoing it.  Raylan proved incapable of killing Boyd in season one and has found himself defending or helping him in one way or another since.  Despite Raylan’s interference in Boyd’s illegal affairs, he has voluntarily saved Raylan’s life a time or two as well.  But in season 4, the connection between these two reached a new depth, their lives and characterizations so intricately paralleled, it now feels as though one cannot exist without the other.  This 4th season of Justified hasn’t intertwined their plot lines as much as mirrored them, giving us viewers the gift of perfectly executed duality in its telling.

At the season’s start, both Raylan and Boyd were planning for a bright future, taking extra work and storing expendable cash, all the while keeping their eyes on the endgame.  Raylan has a baby on the way and wanted more than anything to be a better father than his dad was (to his bitter end).  Boyd wanted to rid himself of the illegal, seedy business he inherited from his father.  You see, not only do their individual characters alternately mirror and oppose each other, but within each man opposing forces exist, good and evil fight to gain ground.  Raylan and Boyd come from the same stock of hardened criminals, men who earned their living in illegal and violent ways, men who lived and, as it turns out, died by the sword.  Raylan tried to break the cycle when he became a deputy U.S. Marshall and focused his efforts on capturing criminals but has struggled with dark impulses all along.  As Nicky Augustine pointed out in the season’s closing episode, he “hides behind his badge” but it’s murder all the same.  Like Raylan, Boyd’s history is full of back and forth between the good and bad within him.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember him as the thieving white supremacist he was in season one, that is, until we see the word SKIN tattooed across his knuckles.  He found God and changed his life, genuinely reformed until his followers met their untimely end thanks to Boyd’s family ties, a tragic affair that shook him to his core and sent him back to a life of crime, this time determined to be smarter, better, determined not to lead innocent men to their slaughter but instead to profit from the wicked and eventually build a gateway to a better life, a legitimate life with limitless possibilities for the future.

But by this season’s end, both Boyd and Raylan had failed.  Boyd couldn’t climb out of his daddy’s shadow any more than he was able to climb the social ladder in Harlan county, just as Raylan failed to shake off Arlo’s legacy of morally bankrupt rationalizations and violence.  They began the season full of hope and promise, looking forward to the future.  Each ended it with their eyes on what lay behind them, consumed with the sins of the past, haunted by loss.

Boyd final scene

Raylan final scene

~Nikki

5 Reasons Why Jimmy Fallon Is The Best Talk Show Host In Recent Television History

I’ll admit that I rarely watch late night television.  If I do happen to stay up past 11pm, I typically favor reruns of “30 Rock” or “The Big Bang Theory” over talk shows.  But one very special TV host has begun to turn those tides, to make me want to watch his late night talk show over the tried and true episodes of my beloved TV series.  I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.  Here are five examples of why he’s the best late night talk show host in my lifetime:

All of the “History Of Rap” segments.  This is the most recent (and every bit as good as the others):

This little piece of hilarity:

He’s so fun and charismatic, he even convinced the FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES to participate!

And one of my personal faves, an oldie but a goodie that combines a little ditty about my favorite holiday with a spot-on impression of one of the best songwriters of all time:

~Nikki