Book review: Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy

(image courtesy Bloomsbury Publishing)
(image courtesy Bloomsbury Publishing)

 

No matter how open someone may appear on the surface, the odds are that somewhere with them lurks secrets unspoken, some possibly even unacknowledged, that may never see the light of day, regardless of how close they may be to their loved ones.

This idea, that we never truly know a person, even when we share a marital bed or a home with them for decades, is central to Sandip Roy’s deeply-engaging novel Don’t Let Him Know, which centres on the Mitra family whose story is split between India and the USA, the past and the present.

Told as a series of very loosely interconnected short stories, which move back and forward in time and are told from the perspective of Avinash, his wife and their son Amit, the book functions as an exploration of the many reasons why secrets are kept and the way they can affect relationships which may otherwise be perfectly healthy.

Well to initial appearances anyway.

If you were to look at the marriage of Avinash, who is recalled from his academic studies in Carbondale, Illinois, on the death of his father to marry Romola, a virginal woman who has not set foot outside her village, you would think they were your typical, comfortable, set-in-their-ways middle class couple.

“At the wedding she glanced at Avinash as they went around the fire seven times. His gaze seemed far away, his brow furrowed in thought. She wondered what he was thinking. Was he imagining his life in America and worrying how she would fit in there? She realized they had talked about his interests and her interests but nothing about their lives together.” (P. 29)

But Avinash hides a secret, one that societal and familial obligations necessitate be deeply buried – that he is gay and was planning a life in America with his lover Sumit, one far removed from the constraints of his traditional Indian family.

While Sumit holds true to their pact not to wed, Avinash acquiesces, setting in train a series of decisions that come to imprison him even as he builds a life that ticks all the boxes that his family requires.

His is not an awful life – his career is successful (though not quite as successful as if he had stayed in the USA), he and Romola enjoy a reasonable companionship, and he adores his son Amit – but then neither is it a truly happy one, constrained down through the years by the secret he holds.

Unbeknownst to Avinash, however, Romola discovered his unspoken secret early on in their marriage when she mistakenly opened a letter from Sumit, asking why his lover had failed to keep up his end of their bargain.

Traumatised by the discovery, Romola buries her secrey down just as deeply as Avinash has his, using her non-acknowledgement of the letter’s contents as a way to shield herself from the fact that the life she has fashioned for herself is built on a lie.

 

(image courtesy Bloomsbury Publishing)
(image courtesy Bloomsbury Publishing)

 

That is, of course, until Amit discovers the letter in a diary when Romola moves to America some years after Avinash’s sudden death, and she is forced, once again, to confront the price that secrets exact on those holding them close.

While Don’t Let Him Know, does an exemplary job of letting us in on the way in which secrets can come to define a family, and the many sacrifices that have to be made to accommodate them – Romola for instance feels as if her life has never been her own, always at the beck and whim of others, never herself – it doesn’t fully follow through on its initial promise.

While the interwoven short stories do provide a refreshingly different narrative, allowing you to get to know the central characters and a number of secondary characters very well, such that you feel you know them intimately by book’s end, they also serve to dissipate the full effect of the narrative’s impact.

The emotional resonance isn’t fully lost, with Roy’s spare but poetic writing drawing you into a closed-off world of repression, loss and secrets, all overlaid with a veneer of happiness, muted though it might be, but the full import of that the holding of the secrets means for each of the characters isn’t fully explored.

“You are mad, said a voice in Avinash’s head. You are drunk. But Rohit was already walking towards the door. Avinash meekly followed him out of the club and into the dark night … This is real, he thought. This is happening. He took a deep breath and closed the door behind him.” (PP..183-184) 

Still, overall Don’t Let Him Know, is a richly-told, emotionally-immersive story, one that captivates from start to finish as a family struggles to define itself in the face of a series of suppressed realities take their toll.

The book speaks to the tenacity of the human spirit, such that even when faced with overwhelming realities that block the heart from pursuing its true desires – Romola and Avinash both harbour unfulfilled passions and road-less-taken regrets – that a life, a good, if not perfect life, can still be created.

It may not be what each person set out to create when they first embarked on adulthood, and involves trade-offs that in an ideal world would never have taken place, but as Roy eloquently makes clear in his shimmering debut novel, sometimes tradition or one’s own acquiescence with unpalatable realities leave you with no choice, and what results is simply what is, nothing less, nothing more.

Roy makes no definitive statement on what should have been, or what should’ve taken place, choosing instead to highlight what happens when a family is caught between reality and an ideal, between countries and cultures, and ultimately between unspoken and unacknowledged secrets that in the end wield a power out of all proportion to their visibility.

 

 

“[He] speaks for us all”: The innate truths of Sam Klemke’s Time Machine (documentary)

(image via Vimeo)
(image via Vimeo)

 

SNAPSHOT
In 1977, Sam Klemke started obsessively documenting his entire life on film. Beginning decades before the modern obsession with selfies and status updates, we see Sam grow from an optimistic teen to a self-important 20 year old, into an obese, self-loathing 30-something and onwards into his philosophical 50s. The same year that Sam began his project, NASA launched the Voyager craft into deep space carrying the Golden Record, a portrait of humanity that would try to explain to extra terrestrials who we are. From director Matthew Bate (Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure), Sam Klemke’s Time Machine follows two unique self-portraits as they travel in parallel – one hurtling through the infinity of space and the other stuck in the suburbs of Earth – in a freewheeling look at time, memory, mortality and what it means to be human.

Humanity is as diverse as they come.

And yet for all the differences between us, there is a universality that connects every single last one of us regardless of nationality, age, gender, sexuality and a thousand and one other things.

That great unifying thread is the ever-present existential angst that life is quite working out the way we planned. Most of us simply push it away, whether out of necessity or choice, but some people choose to not just stare it straight int he eye but to document their querying with full robust vigour, and in the case of Sam Klemke, with a dedication that will astound you.

Every year since 1977 this remarkably normal man has filmed himself ruminating on life, the universe and everything, in the process being brutally honest about who he is, what he has and hasn’t done and whether that’s good enough.

We may not all admit to the sorts of excoriatingly honest feelings that Klemke admits to, but we can all identify with his musings on time and mortality and the inevitable passing of our hopes and dreams into either fulfillment or more likely, sad though it is to say, into dust.

However your life has played out, or is taking shape, this film is definitely worth a watch if only to be reminded once again that there is more that binds us together than separates us.

You can watch Sam Klemke’s Time Machine on Vimeo now.

 

 

 

Sam Klemke’s Time Machine, A Documentary About a Man Who Has Filmed His Life Yearly Since 1977

The short and the short of it: The yin and yang of Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou

Lucky ... unlucky ... LUCKY in love (image (c) Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon via CGMeetup)
Lucky … unlucky … LUCKY in love (image (c) Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon via CGMeetup)

 

One of the oft-quoted truisms of love is that opposites attract.

While that’s true to some extent, it’s probably more accurate to say that opposites attract who are complementary to, and bring out the best in, each other.

That’s very much the case in Jinxy Jenkins & Lucky Lou, by Mike Bidinger & Michelle Kwon (Ringling College of Art & Design), members of the animation CGMeetup, where two neighbours, one lucky, upbeat and optimistic and one most definitely not, meet and go on an extraordinary journey through a series of neighbourhoods where the yin and yang of their respective worldviews is put to the test … and how.

But love being love has a way of prevailing in these things, and as this delightful animation short makes beautifully clear, it is possible to break free of your life to date and be transformed simply by meeting the right person.

And you might even get to live happily ever after, falling pianos and all.

 

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life “Fall” review

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life "Fall" review
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life “Fall” review (image via Netflix)

 

So that was quite a year wasn’t it?

Admittedly it was distilled down to 4 x 90 minute episodes but given the ups and downs we endured along with Lorelei (Lauren Graham), Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Emily (Kelly Bishop) it feels like an entire year had passed for the Gilmore Girls, especially after a particularly bleak, deeply reflective Summer.

Thankfully, things are looking up in “Fall” – clearly Reverse Land has taken over here with the bad things happening when things are bright and light and things looking up as temperatures plunge and gloominess descends – despite Lorelei having left Luke (Scott Patterson) behind to go Wild on the Pacific Coast in California.

Yep Lorelei is going to find herself, along with half the female population of the United States who all exit their motel rooms wearing insanely large backpacks in the sort of choreographed Mel Brooks-ian piss take that would have made Cecil B de Mille proud for entirely different reasons.

It’s a gentle dig at the commodification of going Wild – book or TV? That’s the delineator between the two groups, influencing how you go back to nature apparently – with everyone adding in extra little luxuries that probably go against the spirit of the undertaking.

Even so, Lorelei is going to give her three weeks in the wilds of California a red hot go – Luke of course is convinced this all means she’s leaving him; not such a crazy idea with Lorelei being quizzed by her Wild-mates one night about why she was undertaking the hike – Marriage busted? Awful kids? Drug addiction? – but after a mix-up with the ranger (played by real life boyfriend Peter Krauss) over her misplaced permit, she temporarily gives up and going to get coffee at a nearby locked gas station.

Now, it may not look like road to Damascus epiphany central but behind the gas station Lorelei finds a jaw-droppingly beautiful vista, inspiring a realisation of what matters to her – Luke duh! Hello wedding bells! – and one of the most touching scenes I’ve ever witnessed in any show when she calls her mum and recounts a heartbreakingly beautiful memory of her dad being there for her at one of the lowest points in her teenage life.

Emily is touched, Lorelei is crying and yes so was I and I’m pretty anyone else who’s ever lost anyone and been struck by memories coming at the most unexpected of times.

So with the whole Wild schtick a bust – in the strictest sense anyway; in every other respect, mission accomplished! – Lorelei flies home, asks Luke to marry her (he has a ring ready to do the same so score!), eats pizza, gets fitted for a wedding dress and marries in impromptu fashion one night because the town’s Reverend is up late hosting bingo.

Phew! It is quirky, heartfelt, beautiful and meaningful all at once, a reasonably standard kind of end to things to which Gilmore Girls gave so much more emotional resonance, especially after Lorelei’s crisis of faith.

 

For a moment, one golden posy-being-married moment, Lorelai feels like everything is perfect and complete ... and then ... (image via Yahoo (c) Netflix/Warner Bros)
For a moment, one golden posy-being-married moment, Lorelai feels like everything is perfect and complete … and then … (image via Yahoo (c) Netflix/Warner Bros)

 

Lorelei isn’t alone in her crisis of faith.

Rory, who mysteriously has gone from the buttoned-up, list-making, can-do girl of her late teens and twenties to an all-across-the-shop early thirties freelance journalist who’s lost her way, professionally and personally, is neck deep in one of her own.

Some reviewers have criticised that they see these changes in Rory as a character betrayal but the fact is that plenty of people go from got-it-all-together early twenties person to no-I-don’t-not-at-all early thirties person simply because life is a take no prisoners kind off deal and it’s only when we’re out in the real world that we begin to understand that our plans ultimately mean nothing.

I like that Gilmore Girls is brutally honest about this, and doesn’t leave Rory as the infallible golden child who can do no wrong; clearly she is capable of making some very bad choices such as continuing things with Logan long after it is emotionally sane to do so.

But even there, it is clear she loves him and is hanging in there in the hope that affairs of the heart can triumph over dynastic responsibilities (they don’t which is a relief since too many perfectly happy endings would be too much for even the Gilmore Girls).

What’s pleasing about Rory’s storyline is that her crisis of faith isn’t tied off nice and neatly.

At the end, when the immortal four words are spoken – SPOILER!!! “Mom?” “Yeah?” “I’m pregnant.” *and fade* – many balls are still up in the air, although Lorelai has consented to the Gilmore Girls book being written at least.

The narrative here has been seen by some as too open-ended and unsatisfying but that’s life to a tee – you don’t always get your happy ending, not even when the Life and Death Brigade show and whisk you off to a magical night of rooftop golf, purloined groceries, tango clubs and B & Bs; it reflects the fact that things don’t always resolve in the manner of fairytales and American sitcoms, and is realistic and far more affecting than some trite wrapping up of events.

One person who does get a happy ending of sorts – though happy is hardly the word she would use with Richard (Edward Herrmann) gone and life a pale imitation of its former self – is Emily who calls the Daughters of the American Revolution for the queens of bullshit artifice that they are and storms out of the meeting and her old life, declaring “This whole thing is dead to me anyhow. It died with Richard.”

This is Emily, real, raw and uncensored, a woman who understands all too well that life will never be the same again and she can either pretend it’s all the same or move on.

Which she does, selling the house in Hartford, buying one on Nantucket Island and taking everyone including Berta up there to make a whole new life for herself, one that includes toasting talks at the local whaling museum, where she applies tad too much gusto and graphicness to her presentations.

She’s still missing Richard terribly of course and one scene where she gently touches his face in a painting she had done of him – right size this time! – is deeply affecting and intensely moving.

This is a side we have rarely seen of Emily but in the after wash of intense grief it all makes perfect sense and Gilmore Girls is to be applauded for letting grief be given its full expression and not tidied up in some glib and inauthentic fashion.

So in “Fall” things both end and begin, with life continuing on as it always does in incomplete fits and starts, half-realised measures and hopes and dreams and yes some happy endings, but all on the understanding that even in delightfully storied Connecticut towns like Stars Hollow, life isn’t ever really neatly tied off and continues on whether we’re ready for it or not.

For a full recap of “Fall”, go HERE and for pop culture references go HERE

 

Weekend pop art: Deliciously twisted kids books covers

(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)
(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)

 

SNAPSHOT
Many of these original books focus on life’s lessons, joys, and curiosities. Gackley cleverly takes the books’ classic covers and turns them into unforgettable, edgy, politicaly incorrect parodies that speak to the bad little kid in all of us. With a catalog of children’s book titles like Peeping Tommy Goes Cougar Hunting, Cousin Milky Is Lactose Intolerant, and The Blind Child’s Picture Dictionary, this collection will have readers in stitches. A fun read for parents, grown-ups, and kids-at-heart everywhere, Bad Little Children’s Books leaves no bad joke unmade.

Born in 1923, Arthur C. Gackley is the creator of many children’s books, none of which were ever actually published. Mysterious and hermetic by nature, he spent his life living and working in a small New England village, but was likely washed out to sea in the winter of 1962—or possibly fell penniless into an abandoned wishing well shaft around 1978. No body was ever found. (synopsis via Laughing Squid)

A well done parody is a glorious thing.

Especially when the object of such perfectly-wrought parody are the types of books with which you grew up.

In the case of Bad Little Children’s Books, the effect is hilarious, twisting and tweaking and mischievously subverting the Little Golden Books-esque covers which recall many a pleasant moment spent sitting on my parents knees being read to – but not I should add with books that bear the amusing imputations these book covers bring with them.

More’s the pity really because I would have seriously enjoyed them. OK well future me travelling back in time totally would, hopefully leaving a note to then child-like good-Christian boy to loosen up a lot and find it all insanely amusing … eventually.

Because it is, it really is, and there’s no way you’ll be able to look at children’s literature again with a straight face.

 

(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)
(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)

 

(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)
(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)

 

(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)
(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)

 

(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)
(image via Laughing Squid (c) ABRAMS Books)

 

Now this is music #80: Cruel Youth, Luna Shadows, VHS Collection, Kimbra, Handsome Ghost

now-this-is-music-80-main

 

Christmas may be less than a month away, and festive music may be everywhere you go but that shouldn’t be your sole source of musical sustenance during December (and this is from someone who adores Christmas music).

So try out these five amazingly-talented, clever artists who don’t just deliver up memorable pop but give you something to ruminate on as the year draws to a close.

It’s the perfect package and proof that you can end the year with meaning and not just a succession of ever more exhausting Christmas get-togethers.

 

“Diamond Days” By Cruel Youth

 

Cruel Youth (image via official Cruel Youth Facebook page)
Cruel Youth (image via official Cruel Youth Facebook page)

 

There is a dreamily anthemic quality to the opening of “Diamond Days” from Cruel Youth, a band comprised of husband and wife duo Teddy Sinclair and Willy Moon who created a minor scandal on New Zealand’s X Factor in 2015 when they were both judges.

It begins with a drumbeat and standout movie star diva vocals by Teddy who channels everyone from Amy Winehouse to Lana Del Rey on this smoky wine bar torch song.

This isn’t a song you listen to so much as experience, as if an epic gothic love story is unfolding in your mind, all Hollywood-esque extravagant gestures and melodramatic moments.

It’s emotionally-powerful, oddly danceable and melancholic in an engaging way which suits a song mourning the end of halcyon days of a relationship.

 

 

“Hallelujah California” by Luna Shadows

 

Luna Shadows (image via official Luna Shadows Facebook page - NYLON by Lindsey Byrnes at #LifeIsBeautiful festival)
Luna Shadows (image via official Luna Shadows Facebook page – NYLON by Lindsey Byrnes at #LifeIsBeautiful festival)

 

Describing herself as “a sad girl writing songs under palm trees”, Luna Shadows is a New York native who has transplanted herself to Los Angeles and found herself utterly and irrevocably in love, as she tells Billboard.

“The way some people feel like they were born in the wrong body, I feel like I was born in the wrong part of the country.”

“Hallelujah California” is a love song to her new adopted home, one that resonates with a haunting intensity, a lush, loping beat that moves sinuously between melancholic and enchantingly sweet and fey.

Drawing on an immensely talented, complex musical background which Billboard notes includes “classical piano, jazz composition and vocal training to musical theater to production”, Luna Shadows, who is anything but the Disney princess she resembles, has crafted deeply-resonant, beautiful songs that sound every bit as softly euphoric as they are meanderingly introspective.

This is highly-intelligent, emotionally-rich alt-pop testament to an artist who wants to make beautiful music and say something worthwhile while she’s doing so.

 

 

“Floating” by VHS Collection

 

VHS Collection (image via official VHS Collection Facebook page)
VHS Collection (image via official VHS Collection Facebook page)

 

“Floating” doesn’t so much waft into being as you might expect from its title as come charging in like an electronic pop bull, eager to begin beguiling and enchanting you.

And yes, get you dancing with the kind of joyous abandon that all good pop songs deliver in spades.

VHS Collection (James Bohannon, Conor Cook and Nils Vanderlip), who hail from New York City where the duo formed in 2014, have deliver up a song that pulses, jumps and dance with a giddy momentum that you will find almost impossible to resist.

It’s a dancefloor powerhouse of a song that ends much as it begins with passion, a richness of synth-augmented melody and an insatiable urge to keep going on and on.

Trust me, that’s exactly what will happen as you play this impressive piece of pop on endless repeat every chance you get.

 

 

“Sweet Relief” by Kimbra

 

Kimbra (image via official Kimbra Facebook page)
Kimbra (image via official Kimbra Facebook page)

 

You have to admire an artist who dares to go interesting places with just about every song she releases.

The New Zealand recording artist, who attracted quite a bit of attention with her vocal turn on Gotye’s 2012 monster hit “Somebody I Used To Know”, has gifted us with a trippy, psychedelic piece of pop in “Sweet Relief” that is, in the words of Bit Candy, “state of pure Prince- like funkyness.”

Surging with an infectious soul R&B funk sound that builds and builds, underscored by some damn near irresistible sensuous vibes, “Sweet Relief” is the kind of song that harkens back to a bygone era without slavishly copying it.

What we get is a crazily catchy song that makes good use of Kimbra’s emotionally-resonant vocals and will have you dancing in no time … and frankly who knows what else …

 

 

“Promises” by Handsome Ghost

 

Handsome Ghost (image via official Handsome Ghost Facebook page)
Handsome Ghost (image via official Handsome Ghost Facebook page)

 

“Promises” has to be one of the most beautiful, goosebump-inducing songs released this year.

Drawing much of its emotional power from Handsome Ghost’s (Boston native Tim Noyes) deeply emotionally-redolent vocals, the song moves boldly forward on a confident beat and a melody that fuses folk-ish elements and a pounding pop sensibility that it meshes seamlessly.

Its music that you will move and affect to the core of your being; unless you’re made of concrete in which case best of luck to you, you unfeeling sociopath.

And not content with insanely divine music, Noyes also delivers up lyrics ton spire, motivate and propel you forward.

“… been living like a pretender”, but now he’s, “made a decision / I am finished fading into the dark / I need another shot at beginning / Let’s restart.” (courtesy Little Indie blog)

So the total package – pop smarts and lyrical depth and maybe a whole new life on the way? Perfect.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Recalling early Disney animated cartoons such as “Steamboat Willie” and Betty Boop cartoons from the 1930s, the new video for “Are You Lost in the World Like Me” by Moby and the Void Pacific Choir uses gorgeous oldtime animation by British illustrator Steve Cutts to brings its evocative tale to life.

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

As many of you will be aware, Leonard Cohen died recently, leaving behind an impressive artistic legacy that went behind the extraordinary literate, beautiful music he recorded. As an added glimpse of how talented he was in so many respects, check out this poem recitation from an interview conducted in 1974. (source: Laughing Squid)

 

 

Open your heart to everyone: The heartwarming festive story of Frankie’s Holiday

Everybody should be loved, no matter who they are (image via YouTube (c) Apple)
Everybody should be loved, no matter who they are (image via YouTube (c) Apple)

 

I grew up knowing exactly what it feels like to be excluded and ostracised.

Teased and bullied from the start of school to the end on a daily basis, for reasons known only to my tormentors, I longed to be loved and accepted for who I am, no strings attached or questions asked.

So while I don’t have red and green glowing bolts sticking out of my neck, I understand exactly how Frankenstein’s Monster feels in this adorable Christmas ad from Apple (rather ironically while I have an iMac at home, I’m writing this on the PC at work) which encourages viewers to “open your heart to everyone.”

It’s a timely message, especially with the hatefully exclusionary Mr Trump due to assume the presidency in just over 6 weeks, that we should be heeding all throughout the year.

In the ad, “Frankie’s Holiday”, in which Brad Garrett plays the titular figure of ridicule and scorn – Laughing Squid points out that he evokes, unintentionally most likely,  “the late Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder” – whose musical attempt to win over the fearful townspeople almost goes awry until a brave little girl helps him finish his song.

 

 

It’s this connection, this need to belong and be loved for who you are, that lies at the heart of this heartwarming ad, says Apple’s Vice President of Marketing Tor Myhren in an interview with Fast Company.

“Inclusion is and has for a long time been one of Apple’s core values, and I think we’ve looked for a couple times throughout this year to communicate that to the world. …What a great time to talk about inclusion, and in some ways, the holidays are similar. We wanted to put out a message from Apple around this time of year that reminds everyone that what drives us as human beings is the desire for human connection.”

Mission accomplished and let’s hope that we all heed this message regardless of who we are (or how many Apple products we might buy) especially in a world that seems to be forgetting en masse what it means to truly love our fellow man, at Christmas time or otherwise.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life “Summer” review

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life "Summer" review
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life “Summer” review

 

Right so without a moment to waste, let’s address the biggest revelation of the entire episode – Stars Hollow has a swimming pool!

Yes, an actual swimming pool by which Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) sun themselves like royalty – when they are not shading themselves of course with the help of a couple of indentured servants, I mean, young school boys in need of some pocket money – overweight men in speedos inappropriately promenade and next to which sits the Luke-provided (Scott Patterson) Floaty Hut which has been, gasp and gather yourself!, vandalised.

Maybe it’s the perpetual sense of winterness. Or the very New England-ness of Stars Hollow that excludes even the passing fancy that the town might possess a pool. Or perhaps, it’s the sense that, Taylor Dosey’s (Michael Winters) use of the song title “The Lazy Hazy Crazy Days” of summer, is about as close to the hottest time of the year as the town gets.

Whatever causes the mind to shut out the idea of Stars Hollow getting wet and doing some laps, or sipping soda, the presence of this pool, at which Luke volunteers as a lifeguard, with his usual paternalistic efficiency, is, along with the idea of attendant kid pee and a stated preference by both mother and daughter for staying in a cold bath and foregoing all the redundant heat-causing walking through the sun, leaves you stunned for the longest time.

Clearly it’s a well-kept secret because visitor numbers to Stars Hollow are down, necessitating the staging of the world’s first ever Stars Hollow the Musical, written by Taylor naturally, which seems to consist of the same scene over and over again and some legally questionable use of 9 ABBA songs at the end.

Still, the use of the songs by ABBA’s musical Mamma Mia worked a charm for that piece of Broadway gold – Taylor rather overlooks the fact that ABBA own full copyright to their songs and so they can use as many of them as they want to whatever effect they so desire – as did rap in historically-incongruent scenes for Hamilton, from which the chief administrator of Stars Hollow seems quite happy to artistically pilfer in the pursuit of topping up the town’s depleted coffers.

Everyone on the committee overseeing Stars Hollow great summer revenue hope such as Babette (Sally Struthers) and Sophia (Carole King in a starring turn other than the theme song)  LOVES it like they’re in a cult and it’s their new messiah; the one holdout? Yup, it’s Lorelai who rightly observes that it’s more than a tad derivative and a few miles to the right of quirky and sweet.

It’s a losing battle as it usually is when Lorelai points out that the Stars Hollow emperor has no clothes but unlike most other times when the coffee-addicted daughter of the town is content to let Taylor’s collective wacky whims be, she feels inclined to speak up to the point where it’s clear there is more at work here than just a dislike for rapping during the industrial revolution.

 

Quirky and carefree, what could possibly go wrong for Lorelai and Rory? Quite a bit as it turns out (image (c) Warner Bros)
Quirky and carefree, what could possibly go wrong for Lorelai and Rory? Quite a bit as it turns out (image (c) Warner Bros)

 

And indeed there is much wrong in the storied world of Lorelai, Rory and Emily Gilmore.

Perhaps it’s a family reaction to the grief of losing dad Richard (Edward Herrmann) which gets stirred up again and again as the company assigned to make the grave marker gets things repeatedly wrong or Emily changes her mind, or almost hilariously, a tombstone falls off the truck on route to the cemetery.

Clearly no one has quite recovered from losing the elder statesman of the Gilmore clan with Emily essentially going through the motions, staying in bed until noon, not going to the club – and when she does she gets herself a boyfriend of sorts to Lorelai and Rory’s muted horror – and sitting blankly through meetings of the Daughters of the American Revolution, once a hot button issue for her.

It’s clear her heart is no longer in life as she once knows it, and the presence of a TV … in the living room … with a tray table on which to eat dinner … yes you may Rory in being gobsmacked at this most un-Emily of developments … is final proof that the Emily Gilmore we once knew and kind of loved is off grieving the man she knew and unable to rejoin her starkly-demarcated life.

Rory’s rootlessness also continues apace, egged on by Logan (Matt Czuchry) shacking up finally with French fiance Odette, her assuming of the mantle of the editorship of the Stars Hollow Gazette, which faced closure and a brief visit by Jess (Milo Ventimiglia, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo) where a maudlin Rory wonders where her shot at being a contender went. (Oh and just so we’re clear, Rory is NOT back, all appearances to the contrary.)

The solution to all this existential angst and philosophical ennui, and an escape from joining the Thirty Something Club of people who left Stars Hollow with big dreams but returned tales between their legs, is to write a book of course but her chosen topic, the life she and her mother have carved out in Stars Hollow, is declared off-limits by Lorelai who doesn’t much like the idea of people, read: Emily Gilmore, finding many material with which to wantonly judgemental.

This throws Rory who has pegged all the hopes and dreams on this book, convinced it’s all she has left at age 32 in her arsenal but throws her mother, who treats her  daughter like she’s Emily, come to invasively pry and pillage over her life once again.

It’s a tipping point for Lorelai who realises she isn’t happy, that things are changing – Michel (Yanic Truesdale) for one is leaving her behind, following in Sookie’s footsteps – and she isn’t sure she’s OK with that.

While it all feels a little over-baked and sudden, in Lorelai’s case most particularly, and a tad too dark and depressing – again Daniel Palladino does not have his wife Amy Sherman-Palladino’s lightness of touch that marries the dark and the quirky in a merry leavened whole – it all makes a lot of sense given the way all three Gilmore Girls are being deeply affected by grief whether they realise it or not.

Grief is no respecter of quirky, small town romanticness and even though Stars Hollow dances on its own idiosyncratic way, the lives of Emily, Lorelai and Rory are no longer keeping pace and no amount of wry observations by the side of the Stars Hollow pool (yes there’s a pool) can change this dark turn of events.

For a full recap of the episode, which includes the hazards of installing air-conditioning in Miss Patty’s dance studio, go HERE, and for all the pop culture references you could ask for, or dance to in a vaudeville fashion, go HERE.

 

South Park – Language and Censorship: Kristian Williams profiles Comedy Central’s animated megahit

(image via YouTube)
(image via YouTube)

 

Like it or love it, South Park is nothing less than a TV trailblazer.

Fearless and daring, the creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone has never met a sacred cow it isn’t happy to skewer, satirise and mercilessly parody, all in the service of getting all of us, well all of us watching anyway, to take a good hard look at what makes us tick as people and why it is we do what we do.

And even more importantly, whether we shouldn’t give some serious thought, in amongst laughing at South Park‘s hilarious ballsiness, to do doing things a whole lot different.

As Kristian Williams, whom I support on Patreon, beautifully articulates in yet another of his brilliantly-realised video essays, South Park is all about pricking humanity’s pomposity, no matter which side of the political divide you occupy.

“South Park set out to dismantle any symbol of self-importance. It’s into escapism and rubs our noses in the ugliness of our world while simplifying current events into a less complicated, more easily understood format.”

Not bad for a cartoon that came to be the making not only of Comedy Central but TV animation as a whole.

Watch the whole video essay and you’ll come to understand how pivotally-important, intelligent and clever South Park is and how glad we, and society at large, should all be that television this daring and incisive exists.

 

The Walking Dead: “Swear” (S7, E6 review)

You'll never look at sandboxes the same way again ... (image courtesy AMC)
You’ll never look at sandboxes the same way again … (image courtesy AMC)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ALL TARA ALL THE TIME*

 

What isn’t lovely about a trip to the seaside?

All that sun, surf, fresh, salty air, building sandcastles, swimming and … bobbing zombies … wait WHAT?!

Yes folks even idyllic survivor communities by the seaside are going all Lord of the Flies on the collective ass of humanity now, all in the service of keeping themselves alive and intact of course, and there’s nothing anybody, including Tara (Alanna Masterson), can do about it.

To be fair when first she washes up on the shores of the coastal retreat known rather prosaically as Oceanside – in this instance, you can’t blame the beleaguered survivors of the apocalypse for poor naming choices based on the time pressures of survivor exigencies; this was a pre end of the world exercise in unimaginative nomenclature – Tara is in no fit state to take on anybody.

In fact so dead-soon-to-be-zombie-looking is she that she is almost speared through the head by a bloodthirsty 10 year old named Rachel (Mimi Kirkland) who, like her older but wiser companion Cyndie (Sydney Park), who still possesses a human soul thank you very much, is under strict order to kill every stranger they meet, living or dead.

Yep, not exactly a warm embrace, firm handshake, chocolate on the pillow kind of deal now is it?

Turns out they have good reason to have pulled in the welcome mat and brought out the Kalashnikovs; every man in their community over 10 was murdered in cold blood by Negan’s Saviors when they didn’t toe the party line.

So when Tara is allowed to live by Cyndie, who leaves the unconscious survivor, sans Heath (Corey Hawkins) – who was last seen running for cover from zombies on a bridge AWAY from Tara – with food, water and a spear beside her prone, driftwood-obscured form, it’s a pretty big deal.

 

We're all going on a zombie apocalypse survivors holiday (image courtesy AMC)
We’re all going on a zombie apocalypse survivors holiday (image courtesy AMC)

 

Just how big a deal though doesn’t become clear until Tara follows Cyndie back into the village and all hell breaks loose with everyone able-bodied woman in the village grabbing high-powered rifles and slipping into shoot-first, ask-questions-later mode like we might slip into comfy slippers, cup of cocoa in hand.

As shots ring out around her, it becomes palpably clear that Tara is not welcome, that Oceanside doesn’t want anyone new joining and that coastal tourism, at least in this part of the world, is no longer a going concern.

Remarkably Tara somehow survives – thankfully the Oceanside people have the aiming ability of drunk penguins on a bender – and is taken prisoner by the leader of the group Natania (Deborah May) who chains her up before feeding her fish stew and making a pitch for her to stay.

In a script by non-staff writer David Leslie Johnson, peppered with some very funny oneliners – at one point Tara says she was a fisherperson pre-apocalypse, agreeing with one of her guards that she worked on a “larder” boat; yup a great big floating pantry apparently … oops caught in a lie! – we get to see Tara at her best.

Cheeky, funny but also wary and resolutely optimistic, she is also strong enough to face down Natania in the most engaging of ways – let’s face it you don’t duke it out with people carrying LOTS of guns unless you have some wit about you – convincing her, so it seems, to let her return to Alexandria to her girlfriend Denise (Merritt Weaver) – uh-oh – her best friend Glenn (Steven Yeun) – UH-OH – and the blissfully perfect surrounds of her fortified home (yeah give up now will ya?).

For all the lack of welcome she’s endured, save for Cyndie who is a kindred soul of decency and residual humanity, Tara remains firm in her belief that civilisation of the best possible kind, rather than Negan’s coercive, rules-based , punitive nightmare, is possible.

The point of the episode, as of pretty much anything these days in The Walking Dead, is that that ship of hope has well and truly sailed.

Like a kid who builds things up only to knock ’em straight down, series creator Robert Kirkman seems unable to find any drama in people actually making a go of things, consigning everyone, including once idealistic Heath to the “Woe are we all, none of us are here for each other” school of thinking.

And so it is that Tara’s hope that Oceanside and Alexandria can be BFFs comes a-cropper when the two women walking her back to the bridge from whence she came TRY TO KILL HER.

After all in the nihilistic world of The Walking Dead, that’s all anyone is capable of anymore and while you can argue it’s realistic, it also makes for dejectedly repetitive television.

 

If you go out into the woods today, you're in for a big surprise ... (image courtesy AMC)
If you go out into the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise … (image courtesy AMC)

 

That’s not to say this was a bad hour of apocalyptic drama.

Balanced between some nail-biting action – the arrival of desiccated, mummified sand walkers was a masterstroke, injecting some never-seen-before terror into things – and meditative character development, “Swear” – the title is drawn from Tara’s honourable pledge to keep Oceanside’s existence a secret, which she duly does, even when circumstances might dictate its big reveal to the crew back home – was the standout episode of the season so far.

Granted it came off a very low creative base with The Walking Dead now backed into such a tight, depressive corner that it’s reduced to endlessly bleating about the evilness of humanity over and over, destroying, always destroying and never building up, but it still stood alone, a brilliant example of what can happen when you just let a storyline and a character breathe.

No doubt, there are those who will see it as far too slow and far too languid but then they are the same people who see Fear the Walking Dead, by far the more sophisticated of the two sister shows, as severely lacking in enough bloodthirsty humanity-killing-humanity action.

The reality is though that The Walking Dead needs more not less episodes like “Swear”, stories that take the time to tell a nuanced tale of humanity’s ability to survive some pretty grim odds and start all over again.

Yes they subscribe to Kirkman’s dark idea that no good can come of the apocalypse, but even Oceanside, and Tara and Cyndie, are all trying to rebuild in a genuine way from the horrors they have witnessed, part of a new wave in apocalyptic storytelling that believes the majority of humanity would rebound from the apocalypse and successfully, and most crucially, peacefully, start all over again.

The Walking Dead needs to tell more stories in that vein, and grab onto a little more hope, if it’s going to survive in the long term.

Giving into the idea that there is nothing worth fighting for but survival itself pretty much dooms you to ever-less-satisfying narratives that overlook the fact that while humanity is capable of the very worst, it is also able to summon up the very best.

That’s not stupid idealism, it’s a fact evidenced in every natural disaster, war and horrible life event you can name, and fine episode though “Swear” was, it’d be nice if The Walking Dead would actually remember more than once a season.

  • And we’re back to Negan in “Sing Me A Song”, who is convinced that the only way to salvation lies in blood, dictatorship and swaggering delusion. No, The Walking Dead, just NO …