Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Suburban Mom's Pop Culture Week: Weeds, Jon & Kate, Mrs. Washington, New York Times Mag on Julia Child

This past week has been sheer madness at my house. We celebrated my youngest son's birthday and then took a seven-plus round-trip car ride to New York to adopt a 3-month-old puppy who has yet to sleep through the night yet in his crate without howling all night long . . . kind of like my youngest son did. Until he was three.

Here's what I've been able to fit into my pop culture consumption in the past week+, that is when I'm not taking the puppy outside in an attempt to housetrain him and keep the six-pound ball of fluff from being dinner to larger animals in the neighborhood.


-- In order to prepare for writing a column about Showtime's Weeds, I ODed on it, watching several seasons via Netflix and On Demand. After watching the evolution of Mary-Louise Parker's character Nancy Botwin, while I remain entertained and intrigued by the current season of the mom-pot dealer comedy, I liked Nancy's character a whole lot more in first season, before she got seriously dragged down into the muck and immorality of the drug trade.

-- Jon & Kate Plus 8 returned with two new episodes this week, only with a lot less of Jon and more of Kate-as-a-single mom. As I sympathize with Kate more each day as I read more about the heel that is her soon-to-be-ex-"Hey I'm still young!" spouse, Kate sure doesn't make it easy with her queen-like, dismissive attitude displayed in the show's first new installment since they announced that they were filing for divorce. In one scene where Jon and Kate were consulting with kitchen designers about renovating their kitchen (a room which I think looked awesome and didn't need massive changes, but what do I know?) she was wretched when she gestured toward a vase of flowers and dismissively told Jon, "Can you get rid of those? They're really distracting and ugly." Then, in a strategic feat of editing, the show's producers soon went to a cut where Kate -- who now sits in a white chair, not a love seat, for her one-on-one interview, Jon does his separately from a leather chair -- said, "I'm not as ridiculous as I used to be."

I also really did not like how the show's editors mocked Kate's attempts to camp outside in her backyard with the kids in two tents by getting her children to make fun of their mother and say she didn't know what she was doing in putting up the tent. It was disturbing to watch to say the least.

-- In a moment of weakness, I DVRed and watched the Hallmark Channel's original film, Mrs. Washington Goes to Smith, about a woman who quit college during her junior year in order to get married, worked to put her husband through dental school, raised their children to adulthood and was unceremoniously dumped by her husband for another, younger woman. In a life-altering decision, the character, Alice Washington, decided to go back to school and live in the dorms in order to complete her final year of college. She hoped to then become a high school English teacher.

Why would I watch a completely predictable but satisfying TV film -- akin to gorging on a salty bag of chips -- which had at least one totally fantasyland situation (there's no way a fifysomething woman would make the Smith College hoop team, at least that fiftysomething)? I watched it becuase it starred Cybill Shepherd, whom I've always liked -- especially for her sitcom Cybill -- and was surprised to find that her love interest/college English professor, was played by Jeffrey Nordling, who was in Once and Again and, more recently, 24. Sure, it was a chickflick in its purest form, but it was one with an upbeat, positive message, "This is the next big step in the rest of my life," Shepherd's character, Alice Washington said. The Hallmark Channel is re-airing the film numerous times.

-- I'm up-to-date on Entourage and have found myself getting increasingly irritated with the man-boy that is Vince.

-- In preparation for a Mad Men-themed column, I'm immersing myself in the Mad Men Season 2 on DVD, especially the special features.


-- This past weekend's New York Times Magazine was so chock full of articles that I haven't even finished reading it all yet. Among the pieces was a solid one on the dearth of female superheroes for little girls to embrace and a thought-provoking one about the contradiction between the fact that while the Food Network seems to be doing well and people are much more sophisticated about food in general, we're making fewer and fewer meals on our own, instead preferring to outsource meal prep to the grocery stores and restaurants. Julia Child's revolutionary 1960s PBS cooking show was featured prominently in the piece, given that the film Julie & Julia comes out this week. (I'm hoping to see that movie soon and write a column on.)

The lengthy Michael Pollan food article was a fascinating read. Here's a sample:

"It’s no accident that Julia Child appeared on public television — or educational television, as it used to be called. On a commercial network, a program that actually inspired viewers to get off the couch and spend an hour cooking a meal would be a commercial disaster, for it would mean they were turning off the television to do something else. The ads on the Food Network, at least in prime time, strongly suggest its viewers do no such thing: the food-related ads hardly ever hawk kitchen appliances or ingredients (unless you count A.1. steak sauce) but rather push the usual supermarket cart of edible foodlike substances, including Manwich sloppy joe in a can, Special K protein shakes and Ore-Ida frozen French fries, along with fast-casual eateries like Olive Garden and Red Lobster. "

-- Last week's issue of New York Magazine arrived at my house just yesterday -- thank you snail mail -- and I got the chance to enjoy Emily Nussbaum's ode to the chameleon-like Madonna who's now entering another phase of her life and of her public persona. While Nussbaum's favorite phase was the "Ideal Brunette Madonna . . . saving Black Jesus in that incredible slip," (mine was the "Express Yourself" Madonna), she wrote:

"Maybe it’s because I’m getting older along with her, but watching Madonna strut past 50—hips grinding in high heels, posing legs spread—brings out anxious, contradictory emotions. It’s become taboo to criticize stars for plastic surgery—both because it is their choice and because they have no choice—but each time I glimpse that grinning mask, I wonder why it’s impossible for Madonna, with all her power, her will to shock, to ever stop 'giving good face'? I try to persuade myself to admire her most New York qualities (ambition, workaholism); I tell myself she’s a dancer, and this is what dancers do. But I feel exhausted just witnessing the effort it must take to maintain this vision of eternal youth. This didactically selfless Madonna is less inspiring than the selfish one in so many ways."

The latest New York arrived today and I can't wait to dive into the Mad Men pieces, including an interview with Christina Hendricks, a defense of Pete "The Snake" Campbell and an abridged guide to the first two seasons. Not that I'm obsessed with Mad Men or anything.

What are your pop culture fixes of the week?

Image credit: Alexx Henry/Hallmark Channel via the New York Times.

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