Look at these people, Aren’t they eerie?
Look at this party, Isn’t it dreary?
I’m so glad I came
— Sally, ‘Don’t Look at Me” from Follies (1971)
The Friends set is not crumbling. The Russian dressing colored couch in Central Perk is not in tatters, and the moths haven’t eaten at the corners of its upholstery. The foosball table in Joey and Chandler’s apartment isn’t in pieces. The garish purple paint in Monica’s apartment isn’t wilting and weeping off the walls. Everything is as it was, unmoored by time. Well, except its cast. One by one, they tacitly enter the soundstage, walking through time the supertext of the scene. And with pop up clones of the sets that have traveled across the country, the world, Friends doesn’t exist so much as the ghost of 1990s pop culture and its sweeping influence; it is its mummification.
For a brief moment, as it was both truly brief and momentary, The Real Housewives of New York returned to its quasi-anthropological (or at least by Bravo standards)/Lauren Greenfield-esque roots. In the premiere episode of its 13th season, the reality TV show paused to show us a reality that was beyond the grip of producers and could not be manicured or performed or contrived in the way that many of us reductively understand how reality TV functions. It was just about time and space for a second: the relentless streets of New York on March 1, 2020, everyone going about their lives, walking around, talking, the beautiful symphony of chaos that’s come to be associated with the city. The little card on the bottom left taunted as a piece of painful dramatic irony for the viewers, and in a few seconds, the show cut to October, five months later, New York now a ghost town. We’re still not so far removed from that, even if the city is trying to revive itself and approximate an impossible normalcy. But the juxtaposition between the starkness of a New York alive and kicking and the Chantal Akerman-esque emptiness is still close enough to feel, the transition, the feeling of time and space themselves, still tangible. (And didn’t the pandemic feel horribly contrived in its own way, as if produced by a vindictive god to get the most dramatic reaction shots?)
The whites of Alia Shawkat’s eyes, despite their size, blind and flood the screen, in contrast with the actress’s olive skin tone, painted Seurat-esque with freckles, her head cut and her body dusted in soot. Her eyes, they’re cream-colored, a blank canvas, white enough that if you were to look into them, you would be staring into the other side. And you do, the blackened lungs of Shawkat’s character, Dory, expelling fear and self-loathing, the smoke and bilious parts of herself boiling over. I can still hear her.
Alone in a trunk, alone in a room, alone with yourself. This is all a fever dream, a nightmare. Or, as the ninth episode’s title might call it, an inferno. Or purgatory.
It is of my opinion that pining is, essentially, quite boring for everyone except for the person who pines, a little world of stasis where one can wade through feelings, tumble through them with uncertainty a kind of propeller. Do they like me? Do they know I like them? What would happen if they were to find out? Am I too obvious? Will my lack of subtlety eventually be my downfall? None of these questions is especially interesting to the outsider, and the friends who listen patiently do so out of social contract and, if you’re lucky, genuine investment in your wellbeing. And while there may be a narrative arc that may appeal to the friend, longing in and of itself is basically a solitary experience, until it’s not. (I would even be inclined to argue that it’s still, basically, a solitary experience with occasional collaboration.)
And that yearning is basically predicated on lack of tactility. Rather, one is caught up in the ineffable, the horrid swirl and whirl of time, a delirious trap that confines only you. And all of it is so absurd. So silly. Imagine if someone walked in on you in the throes of wanting! How ridiculous that would be. Read the rest of this entry »
Being one of the two shows I actively make an effort to watch, the cancellation of the brilliant Difficult People is devastating for me.Biting gay men and their equally witty female counterparts, or arguably vice versa, are a shopworn cliche in comedies. But the significance of Difficult People, the Hulu Original created, written, and starring Julie Klausner and starring Billy Eichner, is the show’s ability to flesh out the world to be hyperspecific beyond bon mots. Playing a struggling writer and a struggling actor, the finely observed details of their relationship, in both cruelty and joy, are hard to find in most media. To use “Old Friends” from Stephen Sondheim’s cult flop musical in the season three finale, and the unexpected series’ end, is another example of the deft way in which Klausner could paint mean people as being capable of deep intimacy and love.