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Daily Reads: The Downside of Binge-Watching, Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedy of Privilege, and More

Daily Reads: The Downside of Binge-Watching, Jerry Seinfeld's Comedy of Privilege, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Binge-Watching TV Leaves Little Time to Savor the Flavor. In our glorious TV age, audiences have more control to watch how much TV they want at any given time. It’s no longer necessary to wait until next week to see an episode of your favorite show; now, you can “binge” them all at once. But though binge-watching is a celebrated practice, it often has negative effects on the viewing experience. The Boston Globe’s Matthew Gilbert unpacks the act of binge-watching and why the act leaves too much behind.

I hope I don’t sound crusty or anti-tech. I readily admit that there’s a valuable place for bingeing, when it’s time to catch up on a series, or when you have a bad cold and are doomed to the couch for a few days of dazing. It’s a tremendous and convenient option to have. No one wants to go back to the pre-time-shifting world. But I’d hate for bingeing to become the norm, so that we’re all only marathoning scripted TV shows in bulk, independently of one another, in our flat-screen bubbles. I’d hate to think that people are cramming in the next “Breaking Bad” during a lost weekend, alone. The “Breaking Bad’s” of this world deserve drawn-out analog treatment. I prefer the model of watching an episode of something good, and then sitting on it for a week or so, old school. Why? For one thing, there is the aftermath of the episode, when we can analyze what happened, chew on it.

2. Want to Understand What it Means to Be a Woman? Look to the Robots of Pop Culture. 
So much of pop culture is driven by men that it’s unfortunately too easy to forget that women are also part of the culture as well. But for the past half-decade, pop culture has been screaming a metaphor at us and nobody has seemed to pick it up. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg analyzes how robots have become an excellent metaphor for womanhood across movies, music, and television.

In this spring’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a former agent of the post-apocalyptic tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), goes rogue and tries to liberate the women he’s been keeping in sexual slavery. Furiosa is immediately noticeable both for her unusual position as one of the only women in Joe’s leadership team and for her prosthetic arm. In a world where Immortan Joe’s Warboys long to be “shiny and chrome,” spraying silver paint onto their mouths before completing suicide missions, Furiosa is already a mechanical woman, and she didn’t have to die to make the transformation. But the source of her symbolic strength also becomes an expression of Furiosa’s vulnerability. In one of the most striking sequences in “Fury Road,” Furiosa learns from the Vuvalini, the women who raised her, that the green oasis where she grew up has receded into a toxic swamp. Grieving, Furiosa unbuckles her arm, revealing her stump, and sinks to her knees, keening into the wind. Perfection is of little use when it can’t earn you the only thing you want.

3. A Deeper Look at “Jurassic World”. 
“Jurassic World” opens nationwide today and critics have already had a decidedly mixed response to the fourth film in the franchise. According to critics, some of the film’s issues include its winking, derivative nature, its odd joyless quality, and the casual sexism on display. However, many people have said that despite these issues, “Jurassic World” is still dumb-fun. Well, Film Comment’s Michael Sragow explores the dumb not-fun of “Jurassic World” and just exactly why it’s a “distressing fiasco.”

As in Joe Johnston’s “Jurassic Park III,” 
the most promising idea in “Jurassic World” is that dinosaurs are smarter than humans. But Trevorrow isn’t skilled or inspired enough to get away with suggesting that dinosaurs are also more emotionally complex. We’re supposed to buy that when they’re caught between I. Rex and Owen, the raptors have divided loyalties. Instead they simply seem to swing in whatever direction is required for a cliff-hanging turnaround or a heart-warming climax. Another casualty of the film’s pursuit of dinosaur psychology is human ingenuity. No man or woman in sight comes up with a bright idea. Owen cycles through swarms of ravenous critters with glaring eyes and locked jaw, as if focus and intensity conjure invisible shields. Saving Homo sapiens from the gargantuan hybrid is really up to the dinosaurs. The movie’s press kit tries to position the original movie as the seminal summer blockbuster — in other words, it misrepresents “Jurassic Park” as Spielberg’s actual adventure classic, the primal, imaginative “Jaws” (75). Spielberg’s dinosaur movies were breakthroughs only for meshing computer-spawned animals with flesh-and-blood actors (albeit playing cardboard characters). “Jurassic Park’s” “peaceable kingdom” view of dinosaur herds munching greenery recalled artists’ renderings of giant reptiles in slick 1950s magazines. Its most memorable moment was a visual joke: the comin’-right-at-ya gag that included the side-view mirror warning, “objects in mirror are closer than they look” — seen while a T. Rex goes on the attack.

4. Jerry Rigged: Why Seinfeld’s Comedic Brilliance Relied on a Privileged Perspective. 
Both “Seinfeld” and Jerry Seinfeld have been in the news recently. Soon the complete run of “Seinfeld” will be streaming on Hulu Plus for all of its subscribers to watch…and Jerry Seinfeld, arguably the cleanest, most inoffensive comic of his generation, has come out against political correctness again and again. Maisonneuve’s Adam Nayman argues that Seinfeld’s entire comedic perspective comes from a place of privilege and has tainted both his reputation and his series namesake.

Never was this particular strain of gluttony more apparent than in “Seinfeld’s” finale, which saw Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine sentenced to communal jail time for criminal indifference — a nicely sideways evocation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” and its “hell is other people” kicker that gave the final pullout from the gang kibitzing behind bars a slight fritz of existential resonance. The trial was meant self-reflexively as a referendum on the show, and even though the characters were found guilty after a parade of surprise witnesses claiming victimization, the case was actually being made for the defense: the only thing that “Seinfeld” (and Seinfeld) is truly guilty of, Your Honor, is nine years of hilarity. Any objections on moral or intellectual grounds are beside the point, because there’s nothing you can say about our clients that they haven’t already admitted of their own volition — and with nice, big, shit-eating smiles on their faces, too.

5. Netflix’s “Sense8”: A Travesty or Whacked-Out Masterpiece? 
Netflix has a new original series from the Wachowski’s called “Sense8,” a series about eight strangers emotionally and spiritually connected together by a sort of communal telepathy. The Wachowski’s set out to explore issues of politics and identity within a sci-fi context in “Sense8,” but does it make any sense? Is it like “The Matrix” or “Jupiter Ascending”? Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff examines the series and expresses his conflicted feelings on the series.

On one hand, it’s thrilling to watch a TV series that’s so casually diverse. There are characters of all races here, as well as a trans woman whose efforts to define herself are portrayed as necessary victories. There’s a gay Mexican man hiding his sexuality so he can continue getting acting work, and there’s a South Korean woman navigating the worlds of corporate intrigue and, later, prison (when she takes the fall for a crime committed by others). But on the other hand, the overall effect is that of eight different tiny personal dramas knitted together with the massive mythology and backstory of a series like “Lost.” The sensates’ complicated history is a new step in evolution, which is outlined in intricate detail, and the scope of the story is global in reach. The problem is that the eight sensates are each part of their own TV shows — with entirely different tones and even (occasionally) different shooting styles. One might be a wacky sex farce, while another is a somewhat realistic portrayal of a young Kenyan man struggling to get by while avoiding local crime bosses. These eight different shows are then awkwardly connected with a massive information dump, usually delivered by “Lost” veteran Naveen Andrews. It’s like watching a bunch of intimate family dramas while seated in a rock tumbler.

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