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Daily Reads: The History of TV’s Attractiveness Gap, How Louis C.K. Saved Cinema With a Web Series, and More

Daily Reads: The History of TV's Attractiveness Gap, How Louis C.K. Saved Cinema With a Web Series, and More

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

1. “Love” and the History of TV’s Attractiveness Gap.
Judd Apatow’s new Netflix series “Love” follows a dorky “nice guy” (Paul Rust) and a cool, wild girl with a host of addiction problems (Gillian Jacobs). The series has garnered mostly mixed-to-positive reviews, with many critics highlighting the humor and the supporting cast as standouts. Vulture’s Pilot Viruet examines “Love” and the history of TV’s attractiveness gap.

Sitcoms have featured these couples since, well, the beginning of television, though in the early days, it was often a pretty actress paired with a relatively plain actor (“The Bob Newhart Show”). They were slightly mismatched, a fact that was baked into the show’s premise and used for a quick chuckle. With “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996–2005), audiences were quick to point out Ray Romano’s not-exactly-leading-man looks, especially when compared to his wife, Debra (Patricia Heaton), and it became a joke within the show itself. In later seasons, the show ramped up this mismatch by making Ray into something of a bumbling idiot, unable to do anything right and therefore constantly raising Debra’s ire. Because “Everybody Loves Raymond” was so successful, the series led to multiple copycats that paired beautiful actresses with similarly bumbling actors — and also added on a little weight. The fat husband/hot actress matchup (which took over Fox’s Animation Domination block with “The Simpsons'” Homer and Marge and “Family Guy’s” Peter and Lois) came to prominence with the 2000s trifecta: “According to Jim” (Jim Belushi and Courtney Thorne-Smith), “Still Standing” (Mark Addy and Jami Gertz), and “The King of Queens” (Kevin James and Leah Remini). Much ado was made about the fact that you’d never see these couples in real life — especially because the men were often depicted as zhlubby, lazy, incapable of taking care of themselves or their family, and so on. It wasn’t just a physical mismatch but a personality mismatch as well. Sure, it was a stretch that Remini would be with James, especially when he kept screwing up. Of course, this is the point of most sitcoms: The opposites-attract, “look at that silly man fail at everything!” setup is the easiest way to get cheap laughs — especially in a multi-camera sitcom in the ’00s. Aside from the laughs, you could argue there’s something toxic about these pairings and the unrealistic expectations they promote, most obviously for reasons Apatow has long been criticized for popularizing in his films: The male fantasy that you, too, can be a lazy zhlub with barely any redeeming qualities and still get a super-hot wife willing to put up with it It bears mentioning that not all series handle the trope poorly — rather than using it for a cheap laugh, the rare show can actually deepen the characters and offer commentary on the nature of attraction. On “Sex and the City,” Charlotte (Kristin Davis) spends her adult life looking for very handsome, put-together men, but none of the relationships work out. Eventually, she considers Harry (Evan Handler), her chubby and bald divorce attorney, whom the show frames as everything Charlotte wouldn’t want (messy, rude). While once finicky, Charlotte comes to realize Harry is a perfect match — and the couple has great chemistry, not to mention he’s the best sex she’s ever had. What works is the show is acutely self-aware about this mismatched pairing, as are the characters. But their compatibility and attraction to each other — plus the fact that viewers see this courtship take place, rather than being thrown into the middle of a marriage — makes it believable when they wind up together.

2. “Horace and Pete”: How Louis C.K. Saved Cinema With a Goddamn Web Series.
Louis C.K.’s weekly experimental web series “Horace and Pete” follows the life inside a 100-year-old bar and the miserable owners and patrons struggling to keep it alive. Though it costs a premium and hasn’t gotten much press, the series is utterly fantastic, and operating on a level somewhere between film and theater. For the Talkhouse, director Stephen Cone examines the series and how Louis C.K. saved cinema with his web series.

“Horace and Pete” tells a story at once purely simple and infinitely complex, about a 100-year-old bar and its employees and patrons. First and foremost are brothers and co-owners Horace (CK) and Pete (a heartbreaking Steve Buscemi); their Uncle Pete (a pitch perfect Alan Alda), the racist, politically incorrect, foul-mouthed bartender; and Horace and Pete’s sister, Sylvia (Edie Falco, continuing to show she’s one of our greatest actresses). Throughout the first three episodes, we are introduced also to several richly drawn supporting characters, including Jessica Lange’s saucy and tragic Marsha, Steven Wright’s strangely moving, stoic Leon and secret weapon Aidy Bryant as Horace’s daughter, Alice. And then there’s the grenade that is Laurie Metcalf, tossed into the show in its third episode, exploding the narrative in new, painfully human ways. There is a plot, sure: Sylvia wants the bar – a traditional, misogynistic blot on the family – to finally close, so she and her family can reap the benefits of gentrification. The men, however, are stuck in time and tradition, refusing to budge, insisting on continuing to operate in the way they have for years. There are also multiple romantic subplots involving the slow-mo rotating door of women in and out of Horace and Pete’s lives. The plot itself is there, and impressively sturdy, but the life of the thing comes from the polyphonic portrait of lonely souls just trying to make it to the next day. It’s a testament to CK’s astonishing talents that each and every character on this show, shot midweek in the manner of a live, in-the-moment stage play and posted on CK’s web site a couple of days later, seems to fully exist in our real world, fueled by a narrative that avoids cliché at every turn. And then there’s the form of the show, to these eyes a true aesthetic miracle, a visionary hybrid that combines theatre, TV and film, the old and the new, into one invigorating, fresh whole. There is the single-camera stage of old school sitcoms, but the vibe of the thing takes us also into “American Playhouse” territory, into Altman’s filmed theatrical experiments, with a naturalism that transcends the proscenium, evoking the multiple dimensions of our greatest cinema and literature. An experiment for the sake of itself is one thing, but to stumble into a form that actually deepens a narrative, its characters and the writing, is something else entirely. The script combines the best of Louis CK himself, the aforementioned Chekhov, contemporary theatre (the great New York-based playwright Annie Baker is a consulting producer on the series) and Eugene O’Neill, and the dialogue feels both self-conscious and completely organic to the wandering characters of the piece. Indeed, the whole show swings constantly between artificiality and the deepest, most authentic documentary. In that sense, Louis CK is simultaneously proving himself to be the closest thing we have to…who? An American Chekhov, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Renoir? An American Alain Resnais, certainly (God, I wish he could have seen this – he would have loved it). All of the above? How the hell is this happening?

3. The Emotional Power of a “Fury Road” with Mel Gibson as Mad Max.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” was a critical and commercial hit, topping numerous publication’s best of lists (including Indiewire’s) and has been nominated for a slew of Oscars, including Best Picture. Much has been made out of the film’s feminist subtext, how the film follows a group of women trying escape man’s oppressive clutches, and how Max ultimately plays second fiddle to Furiosa (Charlize Theron). The A.V. Club’s Mike D’Angelo argues that “Fury Road” would be even better if Mel Gibson had returned to reprise the titular role.

That may not sound like an especially contrarian viewpoint. It probably isn’t, in a general sense. I haven’t seen a lot of people express relief that Gibson was replaced by Tom Hardy (unless they now despise Gibson so much, based on his offscreen behavior, that they don’t ever want to see him act again). On the other hand, neither have I read many reviews that consider Gibson’s absence a serious liability. For the most part, it seems to have been shrugged off as irrelevant — Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is the movie’s true hero, and Max spends much of the film as a human IV stand, so who cares, really? Sure, it might have been preferable to have Gibson reprise his signature role, but the film doesn’t need him. Such indifference strikes me as a failure of imagination. Admittedly, when you’ve got a great movie staring you in the face, it’s difficult to conceive of a hypothetical version that’s even better. So let’s try it from the opposite angle, using another popular 2015 sequel: “Creed.” Sylvester Stallone would never have allowed this, but imagine that “Creed” had been made exactly as it exists, except with a different actor in the role of Rocky Balboa. Make it any actor you like — someone you think might be a superb Rocky. Would the movie still work? Possibly. Might it even be terrific? Sure. But would it command the same emotional response, founded upon decades of accumulated affection for the series and for its former protagonist, as the “Creed” we actually have? Not a chance in hell. The new film’s passing of the torch — not just from one generation to another, but from one demographic to another — is far more meaningful because the aging, rueful icon many of us grew up with is doing the passing himself. Another actor playing Rocky, no matter how brilliant the performance (what the hell, make it Daniel Day-Lewis; he could probably pull it off somehow), just wouldn’t have the same effect. There’d be a distance. That’s the version of “Mad Max: Fury Road” that we actually have — which makes it all the more miraculous that it’s as magnificent as it is. The first time I saw the movie, I was primarily aware of Gibson’s absence during its brief, hallucinogenic flashback visions, experienced by Max at moments of extreme stress. These flashbacks (assuming that’s what they are; there’s no other logical explanation for them) aren’t from any of the previous “Mad Max” films, but they still imply a backstory in which Max failed to save a little girl from being killed, and remains haunted by that failure. They’re the closest “Fury Road” gets to putting us inside Max’s head, and go a long way toward explaining his behavior. And they might have been more effective played against Gibson’s reactions, since we can readily conjure up memories of his brutal past experiences as Max. Hardy, by contrast, is Mad Max in name only (and he doesn’t even actually say his name until the end of the movie), with no mental associations. So his tragic backstory, seen only in quick snippets, feels expository rather than dramatic. It provides information in a way that encourages us to fill in the blanks, while withholding the key visual cue — Gibson’s face — that would make doing so emotionally satisfying.

4. Stay Out of the Woods: Horror’s Tradition of Fearing the Deep, Dark Wilderness.
Robert Eggers’ “The Witch,” about a 17th century Puritan family who leaves a plantation and takes shelter at the edge of a large, frightening forrest, has become one of the most acclaimed horror films of the year so far. Cut Print Film’s Chris Evangelista explores horror’s tradition of fearing the wilderness.

As civilization expands to the point of overpopulation, and forestry depletes, a popular use of the woods as a threat in horror films comes in the form of “Backwoods Horror.” These are the films where a group of urban or suburban individuals — usually young, rude, and privileged — take one hell of a wrong turn and end up on the bad side of some piece of farm equipment wielded by an uncivilized redneck hillbilly. The most famous and effective film in this sub-genre is Tobe Hooper’s 1974 shock masterpiece “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” “The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths,” warns the film’s narrator (John Larroquette!), “It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day.” Drawing from the real-life-horror story of genuine backwoods maniac Ed Gein, Hooper’s low-budget nightmare has the five youths in question come up against a family of cannibals who want to have them over for dinner in the absolute worst way. At the center of it all was the iconic Leatherface, a hulking, grunting chainsaw wielding monstrosity in a blood-slicked apron. While not set strictly “deep in the woods,” “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” makes use of its seemingly uninhabited, middle-of-nowhere locale to ratchet up the dread. Hooper’s film may get more prominence in horror history for its inhuman-seeming villains, but it wasn’t exactly charting new ground. In 1972, John Boorman’s “Deliverance” dropped four green city dwelling men into the backwoods of Georgia for a rafting trip. It’s all fun and male-bonding until the men run afoul of sadistic moonshiners. “Deliverance” reputation prevails to the point that when characters in films find themselves in danger of getting lost in some unknown southern locale, someone will be quick to quip that they’re stranded in “Deliverance Country.” “Texas Chain Saw” director Tobe Hooper stuck with the hillbilly horror with “Eaten Alive,” the relatable tale of a crazy hotel owner who kills people and feeds them to his pet crocodile. Quentin Tarantino would later appropriate “Eaten Alive’s” most famous line — “My name is Buck, and I’m rarin’ to fuck!” — for “Kill Bill Vol. 1.” Wes Craven’s 1972 nasty, no-frills “The Last House on The Left” had the filmmaker interpreting Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” as a reaction to violence of the turbulent times. “‘Last House’ was really a reaction on my part to the violence around us, specifically to the Vietnam war,” Craven said. “I spent a lot of time on the streets protesting the war, and I wanted to show how violence affects people. It blew away all the cliches of handling violence. Before that violence had been neat and tidy: I made it painful and protracted and shocking and very human.” In the film, two teenage girls are headed to the city for a concert, and find themselves abducted by a gang of psychopaths. The gang take the girls from the city to the uninhabited woods, where they proceed to torture, rape and kill them. However, the horror doesn’t end there, because these woods aren’t as far away from civilization as one might think. As it turns out, the parents of one of the murdered girls lives very close by, and when the gang ends up on their doorstep, it’s only a matter of time before parents learn of their daughter’s fate and enact a bloody revenge against the gang, who likely ended up wishing they had never left the city.

5. Melanie Lynskey on Playing Her Roles Honestly.
Last Sunday marked the return of HBO’s “Togetherness,” a “Thirtysomething”-like show about a married couple and their two friends struggling with each other and their lives. Lynskey plays the wife of Mark Duplass on the series and gives one of the best performances on TV. The L.A. Times’ Libby Hill profiles Lynskey on “Togetherness” and playing her roles honestly.

When Lynskey sat down recently for lunch in Downtown Los Angeles, it became clear [Lynskey] was far more interested in engaging on a personal level than being formally interviewed. She’d much rather inquire after your family, your job, your life than be the center of the discussion, and did so with an engaging earnestness. “[Melanie] has a way of intuiting interpersonal dynamics that is beyond me,” said Mark Duplass, who plays Lynskey’s husband Brett on “Togetherness.” He also serves as creator, director, and writer of the series along with his brother Jay. “It’s beyond that old soul thing that people have. It’s a next-level thing.” “Togetherness,” which returns for its second season on HBO this Sunday, features Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, a woman who struggles to reignite her passion for life through building a charter school, all while navigating the difficulties of marriage and family. She’s a key player in the series which deals with the messier aspects of a stagnating marriage and the frustrations of trying to find love and comfort as you age. Last season, Lynskey’s character was tempted to break her vows to husband with an intriguing stranger, and the season finale ended on a cliffhanger that left the question of Michelle’s faithfulness up in the air. “People will angrily say to me, ‘I really hope you didn’t do that,'” said Lynskey in regards to how the show’s fans have reacted to the infidelity storyline. “People are very black and white about it. But life is complicated.” Lynskey starred in “Two and a Half Men” and “Up in the Air” before trying out for the part in “Togetherness” in 2013. She said after the audition she went to her car and prayed, “If I’ve ever done anything right in this life, please let me have this job.” Clearly, God was listening. “Jay and I knew within 30 seconds of her walking in the door that we were going to cast her,” said Duplass. “The thing that really overwhelmed me was what Melanie does with so few words. I use a lot of words to express myself and she just says so little and does so much.” Lynskey grew up the eldest of five children. “[My parents] were pretty hands-off,” she said, then explained that’s why she came up with chore lists and appeals for allowances for herself and her siblings. “I wanted order so badly. Everyone was like, ‘What a dork!’ and I would say, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be nice to know that one thing was going to be consistent?'” Who knew that stability would arrive via a career in acting?

6. The Four Unsung Pioneers of Film Editing.
Though the gender gap is staggering in Hollywood, people often don’t realize that for much of film history, women primarily served as film editors, and it was a common position for women, although frequently uncredited. Premium Beat’s Michael Maher examines the four unsung pioneers of film editing.

Margaret Booth: In 1910, actor Elmer Booth frequently starred in the early works of director D.W. Griffith. Elmer was set to have a large role in the Griffith film “Intolerance,” but he died in a car crash in 1915. Griffith actually gave the eulogy at the funeral. After his death, Griffith hired Booth’s sister, Margaret, as a “patcher.” This low-end editing job provided her with a living. She immediately got to work on Griffith’s film “The Birth of a Nation.” The Orpheum Theatre in Haverhill, Massachusetts bought the exclusive rights to show “The Birth of a Nation” in the New England area. The owner of that theater was none other than Louis B. Mayer. In 1924, Mayer would form the Metro-Goldywn-Mayer company, widely known as MGM. Mayer hired Margaret Booth as a director’s assistant, where she would eventually rise to cut films like “The Mysterious Lady” and “Camille,” starring Greta Garbo. It was actually MGM’s head of production, Irving Thalberg, that would coin the term film editor when describing Margaret’s skill. In 1936 came the release of “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The film was a massive success, and Booth received an Oscar Nomination for Best Film Editing. The film had a total of 8 nominations, and won the Oscar for Best Picture. Her talents would not go unnoticed, as Booth soon became the studio’s editor-in-chief in 1939. She immediately became the supervising editor behind “The Wizard of Oz,” which was edited by Blanche Sewell. Booth did not receive editing credit for working on other major MGM films like “The Red Badge of Courage” and “Ben-Hur.” She remained the editor-in-chief at MGM until 1968. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Booth would supervise a variety of films. The last film she supervised was the 1982 hit “Annie.” She received an Honorary Oscar in 1978 for her contributions to the art of film making. She passed away in 2002 at the age of 104.

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