Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Eight episodes into the first season.
Warning: Glee causes whiplash. The high school show choir dramedy will be clever and witty and sensitive and fresh, and then, a moment later, it will be stupid and unfunny and cruel and clichéd. Then it will launch into a musical number so energetic and charming that you forgive the bad stuff, and then the bad will take a truly ugly turn, and you wonder how you ever thought it was good enough to make up for that. The choir’s hyperspeed cover of Beyoncé’s “Halo” mashed against “Walking on Sunshine”—yay! The choir teacher’s deeply uncomfortable cover of Sisqo’s “Thong Song”—boo! Awesome, bizarre humor involving Jane Lynch advocating caning and prancing around in a zoot suit—yay! Stupid, bizarre humor involving the football team being coached to dance, literally dance, in the middle of a play—boo! A poignant, beautifully acted scene in which a gay teenage boy comes out to his father—yay! Yet another nasty, misogynistic scene in which an impossibly shrewish woman browbeats her impossibly saintly husband—boo!
Assessing Glee means weighing the good against the bad, and I, at least, have yet to get the scale to stay still long enough to take its measure. The show bewilders me, delights me, and disgusts me—and even when I stop hating it long enough to love it, I feel a little bit dirty about doing so. But I keep watching. It has me hooked. That has to count for something, I guess.
The London Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center on Friday, October 23.
Schubert and Mahler both can be classified as Romantic composers, but their careers fell at opposite ends of the period. Schubert came early, helping bridge the gap between Classic and Romantic, and Mahler came late, transitioning from Romantic to Modernist twentieth-century styles. Pairing the two composers underlines just how drastically composition changed over the nineteenth century. Both are lyrical and expressive, but the evolution of harmony and form and orchestrational technique is impossible to miss.
Special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through November 29.
There are many reasons to find Thomas Kinkade annoying, but top on the list for me is his trademark of “Painter of Light” as a nickname for himself. The term is hopelessly cheesy, of course, but even setting that aside, it’s offensively presumptuous. If anyone deserves such an exalted sobriquet, surely it’s someone like Johannes Vermeer.
That, at least, is what I was raised to believe. Vermeer is one of my father’s favorite artists, and I have a vivid childhood memory of Dad showing me reproductions of Young Woman with a Water Pitcher and Girl with a Pearl Earring and teaching me how to follow the sources of light in the paintings and recognize how Vermeer captured the way light reflected differently on different surfaces. It’s one of those little moments that, for whatever reason, really stuck with me. I always seek out the Dutch master’s works when I have the opportunity, and when Mom and Dad happened to visit New York while the Met had a special Vermeer exhibit on display, of course there was no question that we would go.
The Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, October 17.
On Saturday night, no one booed at Tosca.
Normally, that would go without saying, but this new production famously received an ugly audience response at its gala debut a few weeks ago. After more than two decades with Franco Zeffirelli’s extravagantly detailed production, which painstakingly recreated the real-life Roman settings, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned a new production, by Swiss director Luc Bondy, that gleefully rejects that kind of spectacular approach in favor of a cold, stripped-down aesthetic, which displeased many opera aficionados, to put it mildly.
For the record, I never saw the Zeffirelli Tosca, so I can’t work myself into a fury about Bondy supposedly desecrating the beloved Puccini opera, but I do think this new production is muddled, at best. The looming, overlarge sets swallow the performers. The costumes and sets comprise a motley, unmatched assemblage. (Just what time period are we supposed to be in?) And the Act II silliness with the prostitutes feels condescending and superfluous and therefore rather pathetic. The whole gesamtkunstwerk concept notwithstanding, though, opera is ultimately about the music, and musically, this Tosca was worth enduring those flaws.
Presented by the American Kennel Club and the Cat Fanciers’ Association at the Javits Center on Saturday, October 17.
I strongly believe in adopting dogs and cats from shelters. My childhood cats—all of them wonderful pets—came from animal shelters, as did Tess and Luna, whom Sean and I adopted in January 2007. A few years ago, though, one beloved branch of my family suddenly became obsessed with Tonkinese cats—a turn of events that has made my pro-shelter, anti-breeder soapbox a lot less fun (and that takes some doing—I love my soapboxes), so suffice it to say that Mom, Dad, Sean, and I did not check out Meet the Breeds because we’re in the market for a pure-bred. No, we were there for the spectacle. My parents happened to visit on a miserably cold, rainy weekend, and we were looking for indoor entertainment.
We certainly found it at the Javits Center. Breeders from all over the United States convened at the event, with booths featuring some 160 dog breeds and 41 cat breeds—a small zoo of domesticated animals. We spent hours wandering through the enormous exhibition hall, marveling at the more exotic breeds and cooing over the cutest ones and learning more than we ever needed to know about everything from the Ocicat to the Manx to the Chinook to the Keeshond.
Several years ago, at the peak of the backlash against the movie Sideways, A. O. Scott wrote an essay for the New York Times in which he argued that critics overpraised the movie largely because the average critic is a schlubby, geeky, middle-aged man all too eager to buy into a story about a schlubby, geeky, middle-aged man who wins the heart of the luminous Virginia Madsen. I’ve heard similar insinuations about An Education, in which the luminous Carey Mulligan falls for a man nearly twice her age, but though I understood where Scott was coming from with regard to Sideways, the sneer at An Education mystifies me. The movie is not about the older man’s fantasy of seducing the younger woman; it’s about the younger woman’s fantasy of being seduced by the older man. If it flatters anyone, it’s not schlubby, middle-aged geeks but artsy, awkward young women who have more book-learning than life experience but who want desperately to change that. And yet An Education is not itself naïve. An elegant coming-of-age story, with a rare female protagonist, it walks the line between rosiness and darkness with grace and insight and a big heart.
Bruce Willis has made an art of aging—not of looking younger than his years (or trying to, clinging to youth with hairplugs and a lifted Botox face and a grotesque steroid-enhanced body), but rather of truly aging well. He looks great for a man in his fifties, but he still looks like a man in his fifties—always—and he uses that. In movies like Sin City and Live Free and Die Hard and now Surrogates, he sticks to his same old action genre, more or less, but acknowledges that he’s not the invincible, yippee-ki-yi-yay-motherfucking kid he once was. He lets himself creak a little bit when he moves, and it’s compelling and cool, and Nicolas Cage, for one, should take a lesson.
The effect is particularly noticeable in Surrogates, in which Willis plays not only Tom Greer, grizzled police detective of the near future, but also Greer’s uncanny, bewigged, smooth-faced “surrogate,” a kind of robot representative he controls remotely from the comfort and safety of his home. In Greer’s world, virtually everyone uses a surrogate to interact with the outside—an intriguing premise that raises all kinds of questions, from the practical to the philosophical. Sadly, the movie all but ignores those questions in favor of a routine whodunnit, which is why I spent most of the movie pondering Willis’s aging and other tangential thoughts. I guess I give it credit for providing the material for my flights of fancy, but its failure to develop that material itself makes it a disappointment.
At Lincoln Center on Saturday, October 10.
The American Ballet Theatre doesn’t usually perform at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall—and for good reason. It’s a terrible place for a dance performance. The majority of the balcony seats, in three tiers along the walls of the long rectangular room, have only a partial view of the stage. There’s no orchestra pit, so all the accompanying music must be performed by a mere handful of musicians sitting in a back corner of the stage. And there’s no curtain, so the dancers have to warm up in full view, the ballerinas with sweat pants pulled up underneath their skirts, an amusingly ungraceful effect.
I was trying to make the best of it, but the woman sitting next to me Saturday was not shy about voicing her displeasure with the situation. After she had finished griping about how she couldn’t see the left third of the stage even when she leaned forward in her seat, she started complaining about the lack of a curtain. “I don’t like having the stage just be open,” she told me. “It ruins the mystique!” I mumbled something noncommittal—I was trying to read my program—but she turned back to me a few minutes later. “Never mind what I said earlier,” she said, now smiling. “This is fun. It’s like having a backstage pass!”
So I looked up for a second look, and she was right. It was fun watching the dancers warm up, walking through steps, practicing gestures, greeting one another with theatrical kiss-kisses on both cheeks, all the while dressed in their goofy hodgepodge of slick performance attire and grungy hoodies and legwarmers. And that, the mixed blessing of a bad venue, set the tone for the program. My seat really was lousy, and there were aspects of the music and choreography that I didn’t like, but I had fun despite my misgivings. The beautiful elements of the dancing were truly beautiful, and that made up for a lot.
Sole season on DVD. (At present, all seventeen episodes are also streaming for free on AMCtv.com.)
I love watching TV shows on DVD, partly because of the lack of commercials but mainly because I’ve never been good with delayed gratification, and on DVD, I can watch episode after episode without having to wait a week or more in between.* When it came to The Prisoner, however, one episode at a time was all I could take, not because it’s a bad show—to the contrary, it’s brilliant—but because it’s so weird and trippy, such a relentless mind-fuck, that I always wanted to stew over an episode before jumping directly into the next.
Simply put, The Prisoner is like nothing else I’ve ever seen before. Sure, you can recognize the classic show’s influence—particularly on labyrinthine, long-arced series such as The X-Files and Twin Peaks and Lost—but the audacity and surreality of the 1967–68 original are hard to match. Furthermore, The Prisoner demonstrates a strong singular vision that TV shows, a relatively collaborative medium, rarely possess. It was championed, cocreated, and produced by one man, actor Patrick McGoohan—who also wrote and directed many of the episodes (some under pseudonyms) and, of course, starred as Number 6—and that matters, I think. The Prisoner feels authored, for lack of a better term. It’s as unfiltered and distinct as a good novel, and as challenging as one, too.
By Margaret Atwood. Published in 2009.
I’ve read Oryx and Crake several times, and never once did I think, This book needs a sequel. Without question, there are ambiguities, story elements implied but not confirmed, and an unresolved, open conclusion, but those all work aesthetically. They aren’t holes. They don’t cry to be filled any more than do the rests, the silent beats, in a piece of music. Absence and uncertainty are part of what makes the book so striking and memorable. It’s beautiful on its own.
So as excited as I was to see that Margaret Atwood had written a sequel, of sorts, to Oryx, I couldn’t help wondering why she felt the need to return to that universe. Did she think something was missing from Oryx? Was there somewhere new she wanted to take the characters? Was there something else she wanted to explore? And the thing is, even having read the new novel, The Year of the Flood, I don’t know the answers to those questions. It’s an immersive story, and Atwood’s writing is always enjoyable, but I don’t see the point here. I doubt Year stands alone, and Oryx doesn’t need a companion, and whenever Year pauses to connect dots from Oryx or underline an idea from Oryx, I feel slightly insulted, as though I’m being condescended to. The Year of the Flood is a good book, but it’s superfluous.