Get Adobe Flash player

Write On

Author Archive

Exile in Goyville, Part I

by Bob Schneider

1954 in The Naked City: You could lay down 15¢ for a subway token, take the AA or the CC to 49th Street, flash your G.O. card and pay just four bits for a side-balcony seat at an NBA doubleheader or a Rangers game; 15¢ was the going price for a slice of pizza or an order of fries—always fresh, never frozen; a quarter got you a frank, mustard-and-sauerkraut; a chocolate malted and a pair of pretzel rods would set you back 20¢, cherry lime rickeys were a dime, a 6-1/2 oz. Coke was 6¢ with a two-cent deposit (sodas were a nickel in subway vending machines); and who ate Hershey’s when you could get a Chunky, a Knickerbocker Bar or one of Hollander’s sublime full-sour pickles for the same price—5¢?

Although I lived in a tenement on Suffolk between Grand and Broome, and my family might be (generously) described as lower middle class, I always had enough gelt in my pocket to get anything I wanted—candy bars, cartoon marathons, comic books.

In 1954, the NBA introduced the 24-second shot clock, Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile, and in the World Series that year (The Jints swept the Tribe), there was The Catch—the Say Hey Kid chasing down a blast off the bat of Vic Wertz in deep centerfield, snagging it over his shoulder, his back to the batter, cap flying as he spun round, firing the ball back to the infield—a mindboggler even when viewed on a twelve-inch DuMont console.

In Creature Feature news, Gog was a killer robot, Them were giant ants; The Creature from the Black Lagoon surfaced, carrying a damsel in distress, while Gojira roared out of Tokyo Bay to claim the title “King of Monsters.”

My favorite adult-type TV show, which I watched on my DuMont with the religious fervor appropriate for a kid starting the second grade in yeshiva (Jew parochial school), was I Led Three Lives, in which Herbert Philbrick (Richard Carlson) found commies lurking like zombies ’round every corner. I rooted for him all the way, because in 1954 I was also quite concerned with the Soviet threat to our way of life.

And even though it wouldn’t impact me in a big way for a bar mitzvah’s worth of years later, I would have been very upset, very gung-ho, had I known that in 1954 Vietnam had been partitioned North and South along the 17th parallel after the fall of Dien Bien Phu, which signaled the end of French colonial rule in Indochina; and that it was also the year in which the domino theory, the conceptual foundation for our tragic, mass-murderous, military intervention in Vietnam (and the cause of my Indochinese tzurris those many years later), was first floated.

I was a proud member of the tribe, and a bull-goose Zionist as well, and I surely would have been out-of-my-mind pissed had I understood the significance attached to the fact that Nasser had beaten back the Muslim Brotherhood and grabbed the reins of power in Egypt, or that Alfredo Stroessner had taken over Paraguay and made that country safe for Nazi war criminals including Mengele, Auschwitz’s Angel of Death.

But what I knew all too well was that in 1954, the father-mother (see Creation of the Humanoids, 1962) moved the mishpuchah from our edenic shtetl on Suffolk Street to Hell’s Kitchen, so that we might live above the store which made possible for us that day, and all other days, our daily babka. It was our own melting-pot Downton Abbey, and I was little Lord Rob-it. We even had a pair of tenants. There was an enclosed kiosk attached to the side of the building where a jovial ginger named Red, of course, shined shoes, and an extension at the rear of the building with a barber shop presided over by Lenny the Tonsorial Artiste, where I had my first experience with the joy and majesty that was the tittie magazine.

All we had done to get there that muggy summer morning was take the D to West 4th and there change for the A to 42nd Street. But the moment I stepped out of the Port Authority, with its cavalcade of belching buses, it seemed more like we had boarded a Stratosled with Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov, and landed on the Planet Mongo.

times-square-1953

The legendary Bosco Brother Butchers—where sixteen years later Peter Kubelka bought numerous haunches of lamb, schlepped them up to the Southern Tier, and cooked All Through the Night an unforgettable feast for a cadre of enthralled avant-garde film acolytes who had already been captivated by his masterwork Unsere Afrikareise (Our African Trip, 1966)—was first among a brace of butcher shops that dotted the nabe, unlike any I had ever experienced in the kosher precincts of the Lower East Side. These places overflowed with offal and other exotic cuts—chunks of fatback covered in crystallized salt, oxtails, whatever the hell they were; bloody pans overflowed with livers and kidneys and brains and sweetbreads from lambs, pigs, cows and calves.  And hearts, hearts!  They didn’t let anything go to waste. There were cows’ hooves and pig trotters; dead, furry rabbits hung from hooks by their little lucky feet, big floppy ears pointing straight down; outsized rounds of cheese hung right beside them.  One had a pie slice cut out of it, had black flecks all through it. I asked my father what they were.

“Maggots, Rob-it, maggots. The Telainishe like maggots in their cheese, dey say it makes the cheese taste better.” (Many, many years later, I learned that the cheese was provolone, the specks were black peppercorns, and they were dee-lish.)

I subsequently learned that the Telainische were part of the Bad Element, which included anyone who wasn’t a member of the tribe, all of whom, in times of deep economic or military crisis, would show their true, genocidal colors and scapegoat the chosen people at the behest of some latter day Führer, whose coming they await with as much conviction as we do that of Moshiach (Messiah to you members of the Bad Element).

I had been programmed to never forget the six million from the time I was a zygote. Now I found myself living on Mongo among the Bad Element who were itching to add the nukes and me to the body count. I had no friends, nor did I have the prospect of any; I was a displaced person on an alien planet. Is it no wonder my survival instinct kicked in and I became determined to get the lay of the land I had been dropped into? And so I went exploring.

© 2013 Bob Schneider

 

“Conversations with a Twitter Feed”

By Alex J. Mann

The pilot episode of my web series “Conversations with a Twitter Feed” (CWATF) was conceived, written, shot and edited in about 12 hours. I was working on a writer’s packet for a pop culture variety show that I was submitting for, and in the final section, I had to pitch and write a segment. I knew I wanted the segment to incorporate social media, because that’s what my background is in, and executives love the sound of “social” and “media” together.

twit-feed-2 I spend a lot of time on Twitter, so I poked around there, hoping for a breakthrough. At the time, the most important news of the minute was Kanye West’s rant about one of his favorite bad words. As I read Kanye’s Twitter feed, I commented on his tweets out loud to no one in particular. (I was by myself, but swear I wasn’t “talking to myself.”) Then, I had that thought that writers often have: What if I wrote down the narrative in my head?

I copied Kanye’s tweets into a document and wrote short, punchy responses to them. Eventually, I had reactions/responses to about 15 of Kanye’s b-word tweets. It was a one-sided conversation with a Twitter feed. Since it’s just the Internet, I decided to drop the “one-sided” technicality and call the segment “Conversations with a Twitter Feed.” I had the missing piece to my writer’s packet.

I pitched “Conversations with a Twitter Feed” in my packet as a recurring show segment in which comedians have conversations with celebrity Twitter feeds. In order to sell it, I wanted to shoot an episode. So about an hour after I wrote the script, I sent it to David Monk, a DP/editor I’d worked with on previous projects. A few hours later, we had cut a rough two-minute video of me responding to Kanye’s tweets. I put the link and script in my writer’s packet and sent it in. I was sure I’d get the job.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job, but I found a solid web series premise. All I needed was more comedians who were interested in chatting with Twitter feeds.

twit-feed-1As of writing this, we’ve released about 60 episodes of “Conversations with a Twitter Feed.” We’ve featured comedians who have performed on shows like Conan, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Comedy Central Presents and television networks like NBC, HBO, MTV, Comedy Central, VH1 and Adult Swim. The series has received some great press. It’s been written about in The Huffington Post, Splitsider, BuzzFeed, Thought Catalog and Tubefilter. Someone told me we were mentioned on one of the Nerdist podcasts.

Views and subscribers are growing. My goal is to continue to grow the series online and eventually get it to where I originally envisioned it: on television. I think that given the speed we can produce an episode, especially around topical pop culture stories, the series would be a great segment on a show like Best Week Ever, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon or Chelsea Lately. It’s cheap to produce (all you need is a comedian and green screen), and it uses social media. Executives love social media.

To keep up with CWATF, please subscribe to our YouTube channel, like our Facebook page, and follow us (and chat with, if you want) on Twitter. New episodes every Monday and Thursday.

Guild Nine Win Opener, 8–7 over WABC-TV

by Timothy Cooper

New seasons beget new beginnings. But apparently we, the 2012 Coed Slow Pitch Broadway Division Champions, like doing things the old, tried-and-true way; that is, by winning.

softballOur abrupt yet decisive comeback in our season opener “surprised us even more than it stunned them,” quoth Parnie, and he’s not wrong: A deficit of 5 at the top of the fourth didn’t prevent us from making a tremendous comeback in the back half of the game to eventually beat WABC-TV 8 to 7. The surprise was shared by literally all, as our skill of rotating in basically everyone was tested to its fullest extent, with 19 different WGAers playing at some point, somehow. Here’s how it went down:

The first hit and first run was by yours truly, eventually RBI’d in by Jo, but 6 straight runs by WABC went unanswered until I enacted a substitution bonanza in the fourth, like a corrupt governor handing out pardons the hour before his term ends. (The comparisons end there: No one has offered to corrupt me, and no end to my term is in sight.)

At that point, both Erik and I scored, with Erik and Parnie getting the RBIs. After Mike scored in the fifth and Erin, Erik and Tina (pinch-running for Jo) went home in the seventh, it was all tied up. A rather Purple Haze-y seventh inning took care of the rest of our business.

That’s right: The strong smell of Colorado’s top reason for tourism wafted over our dugout from unseen sources, threatening to destroy our motivation, but Emmitt was having none of it. After some feistiness with Mike the Ump and six innings of intense third-base coaching, Emmitt stomped in to take his one and only at-bat. With Lisa poised on third to score the winning run, Emmitt ripped into a pitch with the same force that a lioness rips into a young gazelle’s throat after it’s been culled from the herd. Much like that innocent baby mammal, WABC was exposed to nature at its most brutal, and may never recover.

A big welcome is extended to newcomer Alicia, as well as to returning veterans Mike, Lisa and Erin, who somehow look younger than when we last saw them. All played admirably. Doug pitched quietly and powerful, striking out several and forcing them to bat regularly.

Other notables:

  • Marni’s roll at first base
  • Erin’s triumphant return to second
  • Scott and Erik looking solid at left; Jake extending reliably at first
  • Zach and Mike forming a sharp outfield duo, albeit nonconcurrently
  • Sharon finding out she was DH’ing after I said she wouldn’t get to play, in one of only 25 about-faces I made while creating a sometimes sketchy but ultimately victorious lineup
  • And an impenetrable Stu and Other Stu and shortstop and shortstop, respectively.

Let’s play them all like this one: as a team, hitting those singles in the hole, holding onto the ball to be safe, and writing a storybook ending… with plenty of secondhand illegal substances.

 

Opening Week: 2013 Softball Season

by Timothy Coopersoftball

The 2013 Softball Season is about to begin! Last season was a triumph, marking the first time we made it to the playoffs in two years, through a combination of tenaciousness, gumption, stick-to-itiveness, and other qualities probably mentioned in A League of Their Own.

This year, the majority of our opponents are brand new: In addition to WABC “Who’s Dave?” TV, there’s HipCricket “We’re Embarrassed to Work at a Place Called HipCricket,” Christie’s “We Only Sell Forgeries,” and ValueLine “We’re Probably an In-Flight Magazine” Publishing.

Our first game is NEXT MONDAY, April 8, at 5:30 (call time 5:10) at Heckscher Field #4An Evite will be forthcoming. PLEASE RSVP to all Evites, whether yeah or nay; that’s the only way I can know whether you’re showing up. If I don’t know that you’re planning to be there, I might not be able to schedule you in to play. Not everyone can be scheduled in to play every game anyway, but I’ll try my hardest.

If you know anyone who wants to join (women; we have more than enough men), send them my way. If you don’t want to be on this list any longer, e-mail me and I’ll take you off.

Note that if you want to find out whether a game is canceled due to rain, I will send an email as soon as I know, but sometimes they don’t tell me before I get there. So to find out the official word concurrently or before me, don’t call me; call the Central Park/Heckscher Ball Field Hot Line: 212-628-1036. Then press some random numbers to try to hear the updated conditions for Heckscher (the extension is constantly changing, so good luck).

If you want a team shirt, I still have some; they’re $19 (cash, thx). Team shirts are required to play.

Learning Digital

by Lowell Peterson

We have seen the future, and it is digital. This is what we read in the trades, hear on the radio, discuss over cappuccinos and beers—it’s what we fret about and plan for. I give presentations to writers both here and abroad, and I research the economics and technology of the “new media.” We still don’t know if the coming predominance of digital production and distribution will utterly transform the way Writers Guild members earn a living, or if it will instead require some adjustments in style and work schedules that are important yet entirely manageable. But we know for certain that the union and its members must be prepared and must actively participate in the development of the new creative and business structures, rather than sitting back to wait and hope.

To this end, the WGAE is pleased to present the next series of digital media training courses funded by the Consortium for Worker Education. This year, we have added workshops and classes on digital animation and storyboarding, on writing for video games, and on Avid editing, in addition to sessions on digital journalism, Final Cut Pro X, and legal issues faced by members who create their own projects. We designed this program after surveying members to determine what insights and skills would be most interesting and useful to them. Enrolment in some of the courses is limited, so I urge you to keep an eye on your email inbox—and the WGAE website—to get details and to sign up.

How the iPad Can Turn Books into Art

by Simon Apter

My bookshelf is my most prized sentimental possession, and I am convinced, after watching so many thrift-store appraisals and absorbing so many oddball-collector tips from Storage Wars, that it comprises the most financially prized objects in my house as well. (Once, after buying a virtual library in an L.A. locker, Dave Hester, the “Mogul” of Storage Wars, lined up the book-filled bankers boxes on the storage lot tarmac and then counted off in paces the serpentine’s length, declaring each literary step to be worth so many dollars as the SW cash-register sound dinged along.)

My shelf also comprises my favorite piece of “art” in the house, and not in the rather obnoxious way that people unctuously refer to high literature as high art (I’m looking right at you, ghost of Norman Mailer), and vice versa, but instead because I’ve arranged my books, from top to bottom, so that the spines form a rainbow. Red to violet from the top down, then whites, browns and blacks underneath.

One of my bigger disappointments in re-arranging the books this way was my discovery that I wasn’t nearly as well-versed in the Western Canon as I had thought—my bloc of iconically orange Penguin Classics was woefully smaller than I had expected it to be. A slightly bigger disappointment was my realization of just how few, exactly, of the textbooks held over from college I’d read or, in some cases, cracked open (What the Anti-Federalists Were For, by Herbert J. Storing, is as representative a volume of this collection as any, although I refuse to take complete blame for not having read this one. Upon registering for my rebels-versus-redcoats junior-year history seminar, “The American Revolution,” the instructor informed us—after it was too late to transfer out—that his class was actually supposed to have been called “Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution,” but that the registrar had deemed the title too long for the Bulletin. That, he explained, was why the syllabus had been stocked with so many excessively dry books).

But as much as I love my books, I’m afraid I may never buy another one again. For I’ve switched, you see, to tablet.

I’ll preface this by saying, mostly seriously, that I’ve gone electronic for medical reasons: the daily heft of lifting some combination or permutation of five or six books, magazines, and newspapers adds up, and after my second back surgery for a (re)herniated lumbar disc, I decided to lighten my load.

The early returns are promising. Never before have I been able to combine two of my four or five favorite activities—viz., browsing at the bookstore and lying around the house in my underwear—at the same time! Why risk getting kicked out of Barnes & Noble when I can now read the first ten percent of virtually any book I choose, in any room I choose, in any outfit (or lack thereof) I choose? Why spend hours at the store with a stack of books, vacillating Should I, shouldn’t I? when I can spend seconds downloading first chapters and then leisurely deciding what to do with my ten or twelve dollars (as opposed to twenty-five or thirty for a new hardcover title, yet another advantage of going digital) after taking in a generous sample?

But perhaps most inspiring is a rediscovered love of reading. Not of books—that affair has never flickered out—but with actual words-on-a-page, solid English prose. Just as one can hop around the Web via embedded hyperlinks in blog posts and articles–from Times science piece, say, to NIH study to university biology department–a tablet-reader can do the same with books. He can even purchase, for a mere $4.27—perhaps one-fifth what I paid in college—an electronic copy of Professor Storing’s What the Anti-Federalists Were For from Amazon’s Kindle Store.

My first electronic purchase, the memoir of the late Christopher Hitchens, led me to download samples of Arthur Koestler, George Eliot, P.G. Wodehouse (Attempts, naturally, to rectify that aforementioned Western Canon deficiency). Should, for example, it interest me after Hitchens’s last chapter as much as it did when he initially mentioned it in the first, I’ve got the opening chapter of Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey ready to go. And all of these siphoned into my device without the hindrance of classical consumerist tyranny of choice–or of pants.

So where do I go from here? Not to B&N, obviously, except for sentimental reasons. I don’t know what my paperless future will be like, but I imagine less weight, less boredom, and most important, more reading.

Cartoon Crystal Ball: How “The Simpsons” Predicts the Future

by Simon Apter

No offense to CNN or MSNBC, or even to SNL, The Daily Show, or Colbert. But my place for politics, as it has been since 1989, is Fox; Springfield, U.S.A.; and, of course, The Simpsons. Because I’ve seen this presidential campaign before, this exercise in quarter-truths, strawmen, and ad hominem attacks. And if you’ve watched any of the episodes in which Homer, Burns, et al. have gotten involved with politics, then you have too.

We’re living in a quintessential laugh-or-cry moment, a time that in its extremism and straight-up ridiculousness resembles the over-the-top satire that The Simpsons utilized to mock the American zeitgeist of the ’90s. Now, I’m not talking about the scathing social commentary that the show continues to make hay with in the 21st century’s second decade. What’s truly mind-blowing to me is how astoundingly accurate the show’s over-the-top spoofs of ’90s politics and culture have become. That is, real life in the ’10s is reprising Springfield life in the ’90s.

Take one of the show’s early foray into politics, “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish,” written by Sam Simon and John Swartzwelder. The show aired on November 1, 1990, just before Election Day. Mr. Burns runs for governor as a Republican candidate, only to be done in on the eve of election night during, naturally, a publicity stunt/media circus. In an effort to appeal to the common man, Burns ostentatiously eats dinner with the Simpsons, who’ve been primed by handlers and fed questions by party hacks. Example: Mr. Burns, your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?

Burns’s campaign comes to an ignominious end when Marge serves for dinner the three-eyed fish whose ocular mutation had been caused by pollutants from Burns’s nuclear plant. It’s all captured on TV.

But the most interesting part of the “coverage” of the event is the emphasis given to the visual of Burns’s spitting the fish out of his mouth in disgust. The “camera” slowly traces the ark of the rejected fish, watching it peak, soar, and ultimately plop onto the floor. And there you have it. The small piece of regurgitated fish, and not the candidate’s business practices that led to the disfigured fish, is what’s deemed important. The blatant pandering of the dinner-with-the-common-family event is now ignored, its idiocy replaced by proxy with the piece of fish.

I thought of this episode and its relationship to politics in ’04, immediately after hearing Howard Dean’s infamous Scream after the Iowa Caucus in 2004. Say what you want about his campaign, it was torpedoed by the Scream, which essentially became the metonym for the entire failed bid. In Dean’s cry was Burns’s fish with its sleeves rolled up, neck bulging, showing the wrong enthusiasm at the wrong time.

The Simpsons of course also featured the greatest campaign ad of all time, for Sideshow Bob in his mayoral candidacy against Mayor Quimby. “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” written by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, aired on October 9, 1994. The ad, which accuses Quimby of operating “revolving door prisons,” intones, “Mayor Quimby even released Sideshow Bob—a man twice convicted of attempted murder. Can you trust a man like Mayor Quimby? Vote Sideshow Bob for mayor.” The last sentence, of course, is ridiculously rushed, lest the naive viewer realize that the man twice convicted of attempted murder is actually the subject of the ad.

Like the three-eyed fish example, the play here is with the naivete that Bob’s handlers assume is native to voters. Surely, if you say “Vote Sideshow Bob for Mayor” quickly enough, people won’t notice that he’s a murderer. Surely, if the contemporary candidate wears the flag lapel pin, we can overlook his lukewarm commitment to upholding the Bill of Rights. Surely, if Mitt Romney throws in a few “y’alls” in Dixie, people will realize he’s actually a Bubba who’s only wearing a Northern square suit.

“Sideshow Bob Roberts” also features The Simpsons’s most prescient and most frightening political pronouncement. After he’s convicted of a “masterpiece of electoral fraud,” he warns the gallery:

Because you need me, Springfield. Your guilty conscience may force you to vote Democratic, but deep down inside you secretly long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That’s why I did this: to protect you from yourselves.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to run.

Of course, under similar pretenses, Newt Gingrich et al. were swept into Congress less than a month later in the epochal ’94 midterms.

This is the current GOP platform, this mandate to rule Americans like a king and to somehow protect us—especially women—from ourselves. And it was divined by a group of comedy writers almost twenty years ago. So I couldn’t watch the RNC in Tampa last month; I just didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Fighting Silence and Protecting the Rights of Writers

by Marta Gibbons

Revolution begins with a wish for what’s right, an aspiration for justice. I’ve heard it said that abundance is dangerous to power, while deprivation, when carefully managed, is safe. High unemployment ensures a ready pool of strikebreakers and transforms the curse of a bad job into a blessing. Forcing a person to accept the role they are obliged to play allows a relaxation of vigilance. This could explain why low-paying employees remain silent, while relatively well-paid employees strike and demand better working conditions.

I seldom disputed my wages; I did stand up for better working conditions, for the perceived notion of equality and the opportunity to succeed. The guilt of challenging my employer did not prevent me from seeking justice, although my fear often caused me to come out fighting like a bull in a china shop.

The staff of the Writers Guild helped me to understand that employees have a right to fair wages, since their work allows companies to succeed. I want to thank the Guild for their support and for their guidance through the process of negotiation, because standing up for the rights of employees was one of the highlights of my career.

And thank you to this Council for allowing me to serve on this board. It has been an honor to be part of a group that maintains the organization of participation.

Thank you and best wishes on your continued efforts to fight silence while protecting the rights of writers.

Marta Gibbons served on the WGAE Council between 2010 and 2012.

The Episode Recap: Changing How We Watch TV

by Simon Apter

One of my favorite offshoots of the twenty-first-century “prestige drama” genre (which, like so many recent TV trends, began with the debut of The Sopranos in 1999) is the Episode Recap. Made possible by the extraordinary TV writing working its way onto premium–and, eventually, basic–cable, and by the boom of instantly-rendered Internet opinionating, the Episode Recap is an entirely new, entirely modern form of short-form digital journalism. If Facebook digitized the old-fashioned “social” or “mixer,” then the Episode Recap is the latter-day version of water-cooler chatter.

While much of online journalism can be ridiculed as mere echo-chamber bloviating–that is, like-minded writers chasing like-minded readers, Birthers uncovering more fraudulent documents with other Birthers, Hacktivists sharing malware tips with Hacktivists–the episode-recap genre succeeds online because this echo-chamber, dog-chasing-its-tail milieu is actually what it’s all about.

For the episode recap is not written simply to describe the episode for those who haven’t seen it; rather, it’s an imaginative attempt to recast and reimagine the show through incisive, 20/20 hindsight. Even if–especially if–you’ve already seen the episode under dissection, the recap will uncover some aspect, some scene your memory elided, that adds another dimension to your enjoyment of the show.

You didn’t read Star-Ledger critic (and master of the genre) Vicki Hyman’s weekly Jersey Shore recaps because you wanted to find out what new kinds of trouble Snooki and the Sitch had gotten themselves into; rather, you wanted affirmation that the rest of the world–personified here by mainstream legitimacy of a major metropolitan paper–thought that the two were as batshit crazy as you did. Molly Lambert’s Monday-morning exegeses of Mad Men on Grantland gave us pithy instant analyses of characters’, well, character:

  • Megan Draper: Megan is an actressy mix of highly arrogant and very insecure.
  • Megan’s friend: Megan’s ginger friend is an attention slut.
  • Pete Campbell: Pete is an opportunist who sees the potential for exploitation in everything.
  • Roger Sterling and Lane Pryce: Roger is a schmuck, through and through. Lane is a depressive realist.

Yes, these are over-reduced distillations, but–importantly–they aren’t simplifications. A skilled episode-recapper assiduously avoids casting his “re-casted” characters as two-dimensional strawmen; rather, he works tacitly with the show’s writers to add depth and to increase complexity to what has already been developed on screen. These are not mere critiques; they’re postmortem examinations.

A good episode recap actually has more in common with fan-fiction than it does with criticism, and a good recapper will suggest backstories that are only hinted at on-screen; predict fallout from an implied future conflict; imagine and report on a character’s internal monologue that the show’s original writers chose to keep hidden from us. We spend 167 hours each week not watching a particular show; why not enrich and enhance them with intelligence and wit?

The reigning heavyweight champ of the recap is New York Magazine’s Chadwick Matlin, who has managed to make his weekly meditations on The Newsroom as anticipated as the Sunday-night program itself. He has also made himself indispensable: Say what you want about “Sorkinese,” the dialogue of The Newsroom is too lush, too booby-trapped with double- and triple-entendre to absorb in just one sitting, and this is where Matlin’s work becomes necessary.

“If art involves the cultivation of a relationship between creator and audience,” Matlin wrote in the introduction to his first Newsroom recap, “then Sorkin is one of our most intimate artists. His success stems from the oblique feeling that while watching his work, we, the audience, get to observe the obsessions of his mind.”

But it’s tricky to delve, unsolicited, into an artist’s mind; it helps to have a guide, and leading us through the obsessions of a writer’s mind–real or perceived–is what a skilled episode recapper does best. The recapper is a special kind of viewer, an evolved sub-species of Homo technologicus who can read between the frames, can burrow behind the dialogue as-written and as-delivered. And with the prestige drama, he or she is absolutely necessary. The recapper, not the broadcast, becomes the link between between creator and audience, much like an English professor serves as the link between literature and student.

And what about recapping the recaps? It’s only a matter of time before Hyman, Lambert, and Matlin find some enterprising scribe insinuating analysis of an analysis of an analysis.

Dr. IMAX: Or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love 3-D

by Simon Apter
I used to rail against 3-D movies. Sure, I’d seen and loved Michael Jackson in Captain Eo at Disney World when I was nine, and I’d bought and enjoyed the 3-D version of Rad Racer, the classic 8-bit car-racing game for the original Nintendo. But the twenty-first-century version of three-dimensional entertainment seemed to represent something else, something divisive and undemocratic.

The new 3-D movies are classist, I’d tell anyone who would listen, insisting that 3-D turned the movies (as in, “I’m going the movies”)–that great egalitarian space where executives rub elbows with nine-year-olds, Republicans with Democrats, and rom-com lovers with action junkies–into a segregated, pay-for-play enterprise complete with First and Economy cabins. For a few dollars more, it seemed to me, you could upgrade your movie-watching experience from humdrum 2-D into mind-blowing 3-D. And that didn’t sit right. The movies were supposed to be about festival-seating, general admission, and getting there early so you wouldn’t have to crane your neck back because of a front-row seat. Mayor Bloomberg’s seat was the same as mine, and so was his price of admission.

So naturally, in typical inferiority-complex fashion, I took it upon myself to look down on the 3-D viewers–those gilded moviegoers among us, eyes slightly glazed as they blinked out of their 3-D theatre, special glasses in hand. Surely their visual experience had been incredible, but was it better than mine? With just height and width to worry about, wouldn’t my brain necessarily have had more capacity to enjoy plot, characters, dialogue? While the 3-Ders were busy cogitating the depth of the image in front of them, I was pondering the depth of the writing and acting, the talent of the above-the-line and below-the-line folks who’d made the film in the first place. I was closer, I’d think smugly, to the art.

After all, I reasoned in a wonderfully bombastic strawman, Alexander Calder never released two versions of his work: the actual mobiles themselves, for those who could pay to see them; and then 2-dimensional pictures of the mobiles, for the hoi polloi. The Sculpture Garden at MoMA doesn’t demand an extra entrance fee for its 3-D wonders.

But I’ve since gotten down from my high horse. Cultural criticism runs aground whenever it begins to parse the nature, definition and propriety of art, and my 2-D snobbishness was no exception. Because three-dimensional movies, at the end of the day, are neither better nor worse than their 2-D older brothers. Three-dimensional viewing is about the experience of watching the movie, not about the movie itself. Changing the manner in which an object is enjoyed doesn’t actually change the object. You’d probably pay more to hear a recording of Morgan Freeman reading Inferno than you would to hear me, but nevertheless, through all 34 cantos, Dante’s poetry remains unchanged regardless of its medium.

It’s easy to be a stick in the mud about progress, especially when it concerns entertainment. For me, going to the movies always evokes memories of Friday-night trips to the second-run State Theatre in downtown Corvallis, Oregon, where the dollar-fifty double-feature was the place to be if you thought of yourself as remotely cool. In April 1994, I had my first real make-out session during Cabin Boy/Sister Act 2. That night became the platonic ideal of movie-watching in my imagination, and I’m transported to the State for a few milliseconds every time the lights go dark.

A novelty like 3-D feels like a threat to the happy memories and warm associations that we’ve spent our lifetimes cultivating, a cold reminder that our world is no longer ours, that “fun” itself is passing us by and relegating all that we love to nostalgia and to memories of things past. We can feel like our old-fashioned enjoyment of something has been marginalized and is no longer valid, like we’re hanging on to things “the way they were meant to be.”

But I’ve come around. I see neither a fleeting golden age nor a decaying future. I just see the movies now, in however many dimensions to which my ticket has entitled me. Because regardless of the movie, and regardless of the projection, the lights still darken, and I’m still in eighth grade, still making out with Sarah Collins, if only for the blink of an eye.