Much Loved but Seldom Seen: ABC passes on ratings challenged trio

TVGuide.com, courtesy Andrew MacPherson/ABC

TVGuide.com, courtesy Andrew MacPherson/ABC

 

Sadly, my prediction about the fate of Pushing Daisies in my recent post was apparently prophetic. Whilst checking out The Ausiello Files on Friday I read the sad news that ABC has cancelled not only Pushing Daisies, but also other cult favourites Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money. ‘Quality television’, as Ausiello puts it, has suffered a serious blow. Although I hadn’t been keeping up with Eli Stone, from all I have heard it was a delightful and original concept, garnering much critical attention and attracting big name guest stars such as Katie Holmes, who performed a musical dream sequence in the second episode of season two. Created by Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim (of Brothers & Sisters fame) and with the entire first season written by the pair, it was certainly a show on my list for future viewing, perhaps over summer. Dirty Sexy Money (also executive produced by Berlanti) was a guilty pleasure of mine, but I am not really surprised it has not been renewed. Despite its stellar cast, I just haven’t felt the ‘appointment television’ vibe from it this season, and I feel it is another show that’s momentum was damaged by the WGA strike. I will however, miss the oh-so-wrong sexual chemistry between Darling twin Jeremy (Seth Gable) and the older woman, wife of Jeremy’s lawyer, Lisa George (Zoe McLellan).

The only light at the end of this story is that apparently all three shows will finish production on their ordered episodes, but as Ausiello points out, them being finished and them actually airing are two different things. Let’s hope ABC grants us this small virtue and lets the final episodes of these three terrific shows go to air. If, however, this is too much to ask, we thankfully live in an age of DVD box sets! 

Life Imitating Art: The West Wing Leads The Way

TVGuide.com, courtesy Paul Drinkwater?NBC

TVGuide.com, courtesy Paul Drinkwater/NBC

One of my favourite shows of all time is The West Wing; I am unsure whether my fascination with U.S politics stemmed from my love for this show or vice-versa. In any case, I couldn’t help but be drawn back into the world of the Bartlett administration during the coverage of the recent U.S election, re-watching favourite episodes and understanding more and more the process of the unfolding election. Even here in Australia, coverage of this historic election was widespread. I don’t think our own federal election garnered as much attention as did the Obama/McCain campaigns for the White House. During the initial campaign for the democratic nomination, I didn’t really know all that much about Barack Obama, the truth is I was barracking, in my own small and un-influential way (seeing as how I couldn’t really have a say in this election) for Hilary Clinton. Having studied feminism at university, from its beginnings with the suffragettes through to its current incarnation of third wave feminism, I was excited about the prospect of a woman holding arguably the most powerful job in the world. I wasn’t really ‘briefed’ as the political aides say, on her political standings, platforms or policies, I was more simply excited that she was there fighting it out for the party nomination, this was a huge step forward for The United States and for the world. The fact that she was fighting alongside Barack Obama made it all the more exciting. I felt the same way about Hilary as many African American’s felt about Obama; this could be the culmination and ultimate salvation of centuries of injustice. These two minority representatives garnering support and attention on the world stage, was exhilarating; I felt like I was witnessing something truly life changing.

When Hilary lost the democratic nomination to Obama, it was no great loss to me. Like I said, my support of her was not based on her political policies, in fact I knew little about them except that she was a democrat. I was supporting the idea of her; of what she could represent, and what kind of change she could bring to America and the rest of the world. In this regard, I was happy to throw my support to Obama, and to follow him with the same excitement as I did Hilary, because ultimately, he represented the same thing: a new definition for the representations of power in the Western world.

As the intensity of media coverage of the Obama campaign increased, and seeing Obama on the evening news became a daily occurrence even here in Australia, I began to be reminded of a certain presidential candidate from my old favourite show. Obama’s resemblance in status, circumstance, and even personality was uncanny to that of Jimmy Smits’ Texan congressman Matthew Santos. Young, charismatic family man with two young children seeks the democratic presidential nomination. Refusing to be defined by his ethnicity, he strives to be a voice for all the people of America and not just those who identify with his minority background. Along the way he faces tough competition within his own party from a former White House occupant during the most recent democratic administration. Through his rousing oratory focusing on change and the idealism that there is a lot more that unites Americans than divides them, he wins the nomination after a hard fought convention. He goes on to win the presidency, fighting a long campaign against his much more experienced, Republican war-hero opponent. The script, it seems, could not have been more prophetic.

It was with great delight, then, that I discovered that these similarities were not coincidental. It seems that, when over 4 years ago the writers at The West Wing began to plan for their final two seasons, they modelled their minority presidential candidate on a young, Illinois politician named Barack Obama. I may be behind the 8-ball on this realisation, I found articles on this very subject dated as far back as February when former West Wing writer Eli Attie first spoke of the origins of the Santos story, but it seems during this time Obama was not on my radar. I was still all about Hilary back then, and I somehow, inexplicably, missed the whole thing. If you want to read more about it try here or here, or the numerous other sites that will pop up in a search page.

Watching the Obama campaign was true life reflecting art, and it reminded me of just how politically and socially aware the writers of The West Wing were. Furthermore, it proves to me what great television can be, a vehicle to inspire the impossible, and a forum through which representations of our greatest social desires can be made possible. I am excited to see what Obama will mean for The United States and indeed for Australia, if only there was more West Wing to tip us off as to what the future may hold.

Pushing to save Daisies

ABC.com

ABC.com

 

ABC’s delightful and imaginative series Pushing Daisies could be nearing the end of its run on network television. Production has started on the last episode of its 13 episode order, with sluggish ratings suggesting the network will not order a back 9 pick-up of the cult favourite. Campaigns are underway to help save the series, here and here.  Daisies got off to a great start in its first season receiving much favourable critical attention, but was halted drastically by the WGA strike, and it seems it has straggled to regain its original momentum. As a new show trying to make its mark in the televisual landscape, and with one of the most bizarre premises a TV series has ever seen, it was arguably one of the shows hurt most by the strike. Daisies aired just nine episodes of its first season before being shut down, and ABC executives decided not to order additional episodes once the strike was over, (something they did with their other favourites Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters and Ugly Betty), instead choosing to hold off on new episodes until the next American fall season. This meant that a show that had barely found an audience was absent from TV screens for almost 10 months; a long time for any show let alone a quirky little one that had only ever aired nine episodes.

Pushing Daisies stars Lee Pace as Ned, a pie maker with an unusual gift; he can bring life to dead things with his touch. Once touched a time limit of one minute applies whereby Ned must touch the thing again, committing it to death forever, or something else must die in its place. Ned decides to use his powers for good, solving murders with local P.I Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) by touching murder victims and getting vital information from them within the one-minute time frame. Anna Friel plays Ned’s childhood sweetheart, Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Charles, who is murdered and subsequently brought back to life by Ned. The rules of Ned’s gift however mean that Ned and Charlotte, although clearly in love, can never touch – ever.

If you’ve never seen the show the premise reads as highly convoluted, but in viewing it, its delightful, unique and refreshing; a true original in a landscape of law, crime, and hospital dramas. Its high production values are evident in its rich and textured sets, costuming, and special effects. The whole thing feels like a fairytale, a storybook being played out in real life. The general rules of television don’t apply here, and there are often moments of pure, unpretentious joy.

Waitress Olive Snook, who works at The Pie Hole with Ned, is an irreverent, sassy blonde whose love for Ned is evident to all but Ned himself. Played by the enchanting and incredibly talented Kristin Chenoweth, Olive is prone to musical interludes such as her fully orchestrated rendition of ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ delivered as she shuts The Pie Hole for the night; or her duet with Chuck’s Aunt Vivian (Ellen Greene) ‘Make a Little Bird House in Your Soul,’ an elegy to the grief Vivian feels over Chuck’s supposed death, and how Olive suggest she should deal with it. Vivian also has her own musical moments, such as her hopeful and bittersweet rendition of ‘Morning has Broken,’ delivered as she walks from her house into the rain, a new woman reborn from the grief and depression that has plagued her.

Pushing Daisies is a visual fantasyland, with a decidedly 50’s throwback aesthetic coupled with heightened colour and stylisation. It even feels emotionally like a 50’s family drama, with its sense of innocence and jubilation. It is witty and charming without any sense of highbrow television elitism. It is quite simply, fun.

As of today Channel Nine in Australia has no scheduled date for when they will begin screening this gem, but I was advised by their programming department it would most likely air over summer, from mid-December onwards. If you can’t wait that long, and I hope I have convinced you that you can’t, Pushing Daisies is available from Amazon.com in Region 1 format. 

Sex and the City: A revisiting

HBO.com

HBO.com

 

With the launch of the Sex and the City Movie DVD here in Australia and both Candace Bushnell and Patricia Field in town for the Melbourne Cup Carnival, Sex and the City has been on my mind lately. I got to thinking about the writing that I did for my thesis two years ago, and the way I was thinking about the show so critically and through a theoretical lens of third wave feminism. I wrote my thesis on the representations of third wave feminism present within the text, and focussed mainly on the attitudes and representations of love, marriage, fashion and the pursuit of beauty. I hadn’t thought about the show in that way since I finished my thesis, after a year of picking it apart I just wanted to enjoy it again. But today, I started flipping through my thesis and I thought perhaps some of you might enjoy seeing the show from a more analytical perspective, the way I saw it for so long, so I thought I would print an excerpt of my thesis here for you. It’s hard to pick just one bit, and you must remember that this excerpt is missing all the context and grounding in theory that were laid out in the previous chapters, but it should give you an idea about some of the bigger issues at work within the series. I hope you enjoy it!

 

chapter three:

fashion and beauty

Later that night I got to thinking about Narcissus, a man so consumed with his own image he drowned in it. Did he have no best friends to mirror back a healthier view of himself? And why is it, that we can see our friends perfectly but when it comes to ourselves, no matter how hard we look, do we ever see ourselves clearly?

                                                               Carrie Bradshaw (4/02 ‘The Real Me’).

 

The pursuit of beauty and a penchant for fashion have long been considered frivolous and trivial by the feminist agenda: the pursuits of unintelligible women who don’t know better, women abiding in their own submission – both social and sexual (Brydon 1998, 6). In the second wave, as discussed in chapter one, radical feminists burned their bras in protest of what they believed to be a socially constructed and consented form of subjugation and oppression thrust upon the unassuming female population. Yet, despite these radical efforts of the feminist anti-beauty rhetoric, the fashion and beauty industries have only continued to grow. Current feminist thinking has acknowledged this fact, suggesting that perhaps the continued allegiance of women to the fashion and beauty industries highlights an important re-organization of feminist politics.  In the emerging third wave of feminism; beauty, fashion, and the feminist politics that accompany these pursuits, have experienced a resurgence: an embracing of all things feminine for women, and by women. Can it still be assumed that wearing stilettos represents a woman’s submission to sexual objectification? The four women of Sex and the City – strong, independent, mature beings that actively pursue sex on their own terms – are converts to the stiletto revival, and do we view them as mindless and unknowing in doing so? This chapter will analyse these questions and other related issues such as consumerism in the feminist world, in order to gain an understanding of if and how fashion, shoes, and the pursuit of beauty are used within Sex and the City in service of a third wave feminist agenda, and further how the show uses fashion and beauty as representative of women reclaiming the right to partake in their own empowerment.

fashion is the fifth character

From the very beginnings of Sex and the City, discussion of the fashions within the series has been prevalent. From Fendi, to Prada, Jimmy Choo to Manolo Blahnik, these names have seeped into the present female – and even male – vernacular. From the humble beginnings of the show, designer labels were employed not simply to signify that the four women of Sex and the City were fashion savvy shoppers with disposable income, but also to paint each character with their own sense of style. Every week, the four women’s high fashions are emblematic of their own personal style and personalities. Miranda’s style is practical, corporate and understated; Charlotte’s is preppy, sweet and classic; Samantha’s is sexy, daring and chic; and finally Carrie’s, being the most diverse and changing of the four women, is everything from wistfully pretty to edgy and hip, from eclectic and personal to romantic and dreamy.

These widely varying fashions play an important role in character definition, functioning classically as stereotypes of characters, especially within the first few seasons (Bruzzi & Church Gibson 2004, 115). As Stella Bruzzi and Pamela Church Gibson confirm, this is quite obviously a conscious decision by the show’s producers, writers and designers, to create stereotyped versions of women and feminism – the corporate woman, the sexy woman, the quirky romantic, and the preppie princess – in order to make these different forms of feminism definable and recognisable at first glance. Thus, Miranda is representative of corporate power ideals of feminism; Carrie with her quirks and whimsy can be seen as an emblem of one of the very first incarnations of feminism within the workplace – the writer; Samantha is representative of feminist sexual liberation; and Charlotte represents a return to old-fashioned values, for as Bruzzi and Church Gibson claim, she is everything Simone de Beauvior despised (Bruzzi & Church Gibson 2004, 120). The individualised fashions of the four female characters can also be viewed as emblematic of female choice within a highly dynamic and diverse fashion society; as Naomi Wolf claims, when a woman partakes in fashion, she partakes in choice; moreover she demands it (Wolf 2003, Internet). Such demand, coupled with the sheer plethora of choices available to women in the pursuit of fashion and beauty, serves to further provide women with an atmosphere conducive to personal freedom, something that can be considered feminist in nature and emblematic of the show’s attempts to negotiate the different forms of feminist politics.

The four female characters can be viewed as partaking in the practice of Girlie feminism outlined in chapter one: a re-claiming of ownership over feminine practices and adornments. Embracing fashion and feminine practices, they do so with open minds and in the pursuit of nothing more than their own empowerment. They partake in fashion not to serve the patriarchal tyranny portrayed by the second wave and as recounted by Scott, but perhaps to be ironic, to be sexy, or to be whimsical. Girlie feminism suggests that women in general be allowed to re-claim their femininity and to do so with an open and educated mind: women should no longer mindlessly comply with outdated misogynistic ideals of fashion, they should choose their fashions for their own empowerment and at the same time, understand that it is their right to do so.

a woman’s right to shoes

There are countless examples of the use of fashion within the series as an expression and symbol of empowerment; many of these examples come from the use of the stiletto shoe as a catalyst for feminism within the series. The image and symbol of the high-heeled shoe is a constant presence within the series on an episodic basis and their utilisation is highly emblematic of third wave feminism. Carrie and the girls don’t wear Manolo Blahnik’s because they feel that they make them more attractive to men, they wear them not only because they are attractive and desirable to themselves, but also because the act of wearing them makes them feel powerful and strong. This is evidenced in many instances throughout the seasons of the show; one such example is visible in season three’s ‘Attack of the 5’10” Woman’ (3/03). In this episode, Carrie feels nervous about running in to Big’s new wife at a ‘women in the arts function’, and so decides a new pair of Manolos will be just the thing to help give her the confidence to face the woman she feels threatened by. Carrie’s feelings of inferiority and rivalry towards Natasha are easily viewed as childish, immature and irrational, yet in her new shoes, Carrie is empowered to face Natasha not only because the five inch heels are literally high enough to put them face to face, but because the act of wearing them in itself makes her feel powerful and strong. Carrie’s insecurities are quashed by the empowerment she draws from her new shoes, and no matter how superficial her empowerment may be, no person should begrudge her, or anyone, for drawing empowerment from any source they deem necessary and possible. In this sense, Carrie can be seen as drawing power from what was once a symbol of female oppression, her shoes, in a manner Baumgardner and Richards liken to “gay men in Chelsea calling each other ‘queer’ or black men and women using the term ‘nigga’” (Baumgardner & Richards 2000, 137). For these authors, Girlie is an attempt to re-cultivate the meaning of such feminine adornments, something that is exemplified in Carrie’s use of shoes.

Yet a further example of the use of shoes within the series comes in season six’s ‘A Woman’s Right to Shoes’ (6/09). In this episode, Carrie’s favourite pair of Manolos go missing from a baby shower at which the host had asked guests to remove their shoes and leave them in the foyer of the apartment. When Keira, the host of the party, denies that it’s her fault the shoes went missing and refuses to pay for Carrie’s “extravagant lifestyle” Carrie surmises that after she has bought this woman a wedding present, an engagement present, three baby presents and paid for a trip out of town to attend her wedding, she has spent over “twenty three hundred dollars celebrating her choices, and she shames me for spending a lousy four hundred and eighty five bucks on myself?” (6/09). In this instance, the symbol of the stiletto is used to represent a lifestyle choice, that of choosing an independent and single lifestyle, of being a financially self-reliant, fashion-conscious woman who won’t settle for anything less than the best in all spheres of life. After dissecting the situation and venting her feelings with the girls, Carrie decides that her life, although “filled with shoes and not children,” is no less relevant and worthy than Keira’s, and therefore, perhaps Keira should help to celebrate her choices for once; she calls Keira and leaves a message on her machine stating “I wanted to let you know that I’m getting married – to myself. Oh, and I’m registered at Manolo Blahnik” (6/09). As the episode closes and Carrie struts the streets of New York in her brand new shoes, her “very first wedding present,” the elegant silver stilettos are symbolic of her independence, empowerment, and self-worth (6/09).

In her article ‘Sex and the City: A Visible Flaneuse for the Postmodern Era?’ (2003), Helen Richards further proposes that Carrie’s footwear is highly indicative of her role as a postmodern flaneuse. An historical figure originally belonging to the male gender, the flaneur was a figure of modernity that wandered the streets of Paris, observing, noting and watching its inhabitants, a sort of early journalistic figure (Richards 2003, 149). Richards notes that Carrie, who spends at least three scenes per episode walking, is the modern, female form of this figure, an insight also alluded to by Barbara Creed (Creed 2003, 52). Richards further notes that the flaneur was the “possessor of the gaze, objectifying the inhabitants of the city, noting their activities and appearance for his own enjoyment” (Richards 2003, 150). Carrie’s role within the series is certainly similar; hers are the eyes through which we see the world of Sex and the City, they are her judgements and descriptions of people, places and events that the audience bears witness to, and she is constantly roaming the city, researching, shopping, thinking. As Richards notes, there have been many critics of the idea of a female flaneur. Janet Wilson and Griselda Pollock for example suggest that the concept is implausible because the sphere of the modern city, and the right to look, was not a female privilege but in fact belonged entirely to men (Richards 2003, 151).

Carrie’s affinity with walking further serves to highlight her shoes of choice, stilettos, which are often shot in close up and constantly referred to, as in ‘Valley of the Twenty-Something Guys’ (1/04). “I decided to walk to clear my head. So I walked forty eight blocks in four hundred dollar shoes.” The stiletto can be viewed as a symbol of empowerment when identified with its highly phallic connotations: the metal-cored spike of a stiletto is both a symbol and a weapon with every step. Furthermore, the act of wearing stilettos can potentially be painful, dangerous and deforming (Brydon 1998, 9). In the 1950’s the stiletto was representative of sexual freedom, defiance and decadence; it was a potent symbol of life outside the domestic sphere (Brydon 1998, 7). Girlie feminism and the reclaiming of feminine practices by women as empowering has ensured that the dim view of stilettos held by radial feminists of the second wave has been redefined, within Sex and the City we are experiencing a throwback to the original meaning of the stiletto. Stilettos are now synonymous with the empowerment of the wearer (Young 2002, Internet), as it appears they once were. As evidenced in the analysis of the above scenes, the women of Sex and the City can be seen as drawing empowerment from their stilettos, performing tasks from business, to sex, masturbation to walking the dog in the high priced, high-heeled masterpieces, without any hint of feminine passivity (Young 2002, Internet). The representation of shoes and stilettos within Sex and the City echoes the notions of Girlie feminism discussed by Baumgardner & Richards – re-claiming the right to wear stilettos and knowing how, because of feminism, to use them to their own advantage (Baumgardner & Richards 2000, 126-166).

In this sense, and bearing in mind Wilson and Pollock’s belief that the flaneuse is an impossibility because the right to see and be seen within the city belonged only to men, Carrie’s shoes can be viewed not only as her equipment for walking the streets and for observing the world of the city of New York, but as a powerful phallic symbol of assertion, with every step, of her right to see, and to be seen within the space of the city. Read the rest of this entry »