Marc Maron is a great talker. That’s true of most comics, but Maron doesn’t even have to be funny to be good. He’s got a sharp baritone voice with just a touch of a slur, and a talk radio delivery that grabs and holds your attention. It hardly matters whether he’s describing a fight with his girlfriend, musing over the health of his cat, or shilling for stamps.com. Maron is one of those people who’s just a pleasure to listen to.
Like a lot of fans, I know Maron through his podcast, “WTF With Marc Maron.” Since it started in 2009 it’s achieved enormous popularity and regularly features top shelf guests. Success breeds opportunity, and now Maron has a book, “Attempting Normal,” and a sitcom, “Maron,” which premiered May 3 on IFC. Because his on-air persona is so charming, I genuinely want it to do well and, of course, to be good. Unfortunately, at least as far as the TV show goes, it’s a little ill-conceived.
The premise of “Maron,” as Maron recently explained on Jimmy Fallon, is “a comic whose career just craps out, and he’s got no hope, and he starts interviewing people in his garage.” In other words, Marc Maron doing “WTF With Marc Maron.” Theoretically, it’s supposed to be a kind of podcast equivalent of “The Larry Sanders Show,” Gary Shandling’s neurosis-ridden ’90s comedy about a late night talk show host. But where “Larry Sanders” was structured as an office sitcom (albeit a transcendentally great one), Maron’s workplace is a garage outfitted with professional recording equipment. So what fills the time when he’s away from the mike?
Sometimes it seems as if only Daniel Mendelsohn and the New York Review of Books can criticize AMC’s “Mad Men.” Only someone like Mendelsohn, whose work is devoted to mythic themes and to the eternal, can look past the crisp elegance of Don Draper’s pocket square and the show’s captivating visual style. Only someone like Mendelsohn can see its aesthetics as fantasy, a dream of living in a time when drinking and smoking were encouraged, when people would cheer you on for sleeping with your secretary, (when offices had secretaries), when men wore hats, and uniformed elevator men led you gracefully to your floor. And it could only run in a journal like the New York Review, a journal that started during the New York printers’ strike of 1962-1963, an event that would have transpired sometime during “Mad Men’s” third season. Only a publication designed to be academic and comprehensive, someplace that wouldn’t even review “Mad Men” until the end of Season Four, can look past the immediate joys of watching the show.
Then, at other times, it feels as if some sort of cultural window opens and everyone (myself included) gets their two months to criticize “Mad Men.” The joys of watching disappear. Its slowness becomes tediousness. Its oblique approach to historical events feels ridiculous against the backdrop of radicalism, of escalating war, and of rioting and mass protests.
Yet directly engaging with historical events is even worse. The aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King dominated this season’s fourth episode. Characters were scared; characters were hopeless. Everyone was glued to the TV because that was the only thing they knew they could do. They debated whether to go to the office the next day and what to do at the office. Were they really supposed to work?
It’s a perfectly rational discussion for two characters — even two real people — to have. But the conversation also highlighted what was until then the bland ok-ness of Season Six. For weeks, nothing happened. Themes were sketched; elements of eventual movements were gathered; breakpoints between the characters flashed up. Accounts came, accounts went; you could tell that something would happen, but nothing had.
The Mad Men are us. That was the message “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner offered from the stage at a 92d Street Y talk last night, sitting in between Don Draper’s wives — January Jones who plays Betty Draper, now Betty Francis, and Jessica Paré who plays Megan Draper. Caryn James moderated a discussion and the audience was treated to iconic clips from the show, but Weiner was the real MC, mugging and quipping for nearly two hours with the appreciative Manhattan crowd.
Weiner teased the audience with a reminder that we all have a bit of self-loathing Don Draper and slimy Pete Campbell in us, and that we watch their fictional comings and goings each Sunday night not to gape but to relate — although he suggested that the attractiveness of his cast (the actresses flanking him and lead actor Jon Hamm not least among them), certainly helps smooth the way.
But “Mad Men” has become a cultural touchstone for more than just sharp suits and retro hairstyles, he said: “It’s accidentally related to our everyday life because it’s on a human scale and has a lot of moments of privacy.” The nontraditional, slow-burning plotlines take place in homes and workplaces, and focus on characters being disappointed even when they get what they want. Just like us, apparently.
For instance, viewers’ outright hatred for Pete Campbell, the most bratty and entitled WASP of all the characters, is stirred up because “he is them,” Weiner said. Pete’s ungratefulness grates in particular, by reminding us of our own tendencies toward dissatisfaction. “He’s every bad thing you’ve ever done all at once.”
David Goyer has become a go-to guy for the superhero set. It started with the Blade movies. He wrote all three and directed the last. Then he went on to write the story and/or screenplay for the three Christopher Nolan Batman films. And now there is his script for the upcoming “Man of Steel.”
Ironically, the last is not something he wants to talk about. There is a veil of semi-secrecy around the film, which is a re-boot of the Superman story. Instead, Goyer wants to talk about his new show, “Da Vinci’s Demons,” which airs on Starz. It was renewed for a second season shortly after the interview took place and before the second episode aired.
Goyer chatted to The Arty Semite on the phone from Wales about Leonardo da Vinci as a young crime-fighting, opium-smoking, hedonistic genius searching for humanity’s forgotten knowledge.
Curt Schleier: Your idea for da Vinci struck me as totally different and inventive. How did it come about?
David Goyer: I was approached by BBC Worldwide, which [wanted to get involved in] American productions, and wanted to see if I could do something historically based. So we started bandying about various historical [figures] like Cleopatra and da Vinci. I thought da Vinci was pretty cool, so I went off and wrote up this crazy proposal thinking this would be too crazy for them. But they really liked it.
What struck me is the similarity between your da Vinci and Sherlock Holmes. Was that intentional?
1. “It’s a terrible set, not a terrible room.”
There’s something strange about Joan River’s Internet talk show, “In Bed with Joan.” Maybe it’s strange that the show exists, or maybe it’s strange how seriously Joan takes the web series — that she earnestly seems to believe it will lead to a new period of fame and critical acceptance. As if we aren’t already living in that new period, and that “In Bed with Joan” is only possible because she’s back on top as a comic legend, even a national treasure. Or maybe it’s just the wallpaper and duvet.
“In Bed with Joan” is filmed in a basement bedroom of Melissa Rivers’s house in Malibu. The laundry room doubles as a green room. Joan introduces her guests by asking them to come out of her closet, then invites them to lie down next to her on her full-size bed.
But they also lie under a reddish-orange sign that reads “In Bed with Joan,” next to french doors with a nighttime “view” of the New York skyline. In the second episode, Nick Kroll asked if the view is of the South Street Seaport, which would place the “studio” somewhere in the New York harbor.
On the first episode, Sarah Silverman repeatedly insulted the set, saying how depressing it was to be there and to discover that hosting an Internet talk show in your daughter’s basement was “making it.” You can’t quite decide if Silverman is joking, maybe because Silverman can’t decide if Joan is joking, if the aesthetics of the show — the weird incongruity between the actual bed, the massive sign, the fake New York skyline, and the audience of three-to-four people perched on the steps — are all one big joke. As Melissa Rivers put it, “It’s a terrible set, not a terrible room.”
Everything that’s strange about “In Bed with Joan,” starts with that room. Joan Rivers has decided to make a low-budget online talk show, but Joan Rivers cannot make a low-budget online talk show. She cannot admit that the show is filmed in a Malibu basement; she has to pretend that it’s produced in glamorous New York City. She isn’t content to film conversations with friends or comics, like Jerry Seinfeld does on his web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” Joan Rivers needs to have a team of writers help her compose jokes and formal interview questions. Joan Rivers needs “In Bed with Joan” to be something larger than it really is. Joan Rivers needs “In Bed with Joan” to be a full-size Talk Show, maybe to continue making up for a creative failure that she’s long since made-up for, one that few people remember. Maybe she does it because few people remember.
The thing about “VICE” — the new HBO show by the magazine-cum-media empire of the same name — is that it’s strangely un-VICE-like. The first episode, which aired April 5, features reports on political violence in the Philippines and suicide bombing in Afghanistan. It’s shallow in a “dude this sh*t is crazy” kind of way, but it’s also very earnest. In the introductory voiceover we hear that “the world is changing… But we’ll be there uncovering the news, culture and politics.” In the words of CEO and on-screen personality Shane Smith to NPR, “We’re going to turn our cameras on something that we think is important… Because we’re part of the Fourth Estate and that’s our job.” Well, ok, but isn’t this supposed to be VICE? What about the hookers and blow?
I assume we’ll get some of that as the season continues. But it seems like VICE — which brought us productions like “The VICE Guide to Shagging Muslims” and “I Gave a Handy at Jew Camp” — is trying to signal a newfound moral seriousness. The show overflows with sympathy for people whose families have been killed in political assassinations and terrorist attacks, and it condemns leaders who use children as soldiers and suicide bombers. So far VICE’s ethics seem to be that war is bad, violence is bad, and the use of children as suicide bombers is especially bad. Agreed, obviously, but a habit of wanton offensiveness doesn’t easily accommodate the gravitas of warzone reporting. VICE wants to have it both ways, and it doesn’t work.
In a recent piece by Lizzie Widdicombe in The New Yorker, VICE founder Gavin McInnes (who is no longer with the company) described the magazine’s formula like this: “My big thing was I want you to do stupid in a smart way and smart in a stupid way. So if you’re going to Palestine, try to find a good burger joint…. Conversely, if you’re gonna do a thing on farts or poo… Be super-scientific and get all the data.” A 2010 article in The New York Times attributed the same philosophy to another VICE founder, Suroosh Alvi, and I once heard it from a friend who did a stint as a VICE intern. It’s a brilliant, cynical recipe for creating a compelling and consistent voice at the expense of any subject. And pursuing it undermines any moral pretense VICE might have.
The sixth season of “Mad Men” kicked off last night with an unsubtle theme: death.
Welcome to 1968, a time of social and cultural shifts and the continuing defeat of the Vietnam War. Death is something the characters cannot seem to escape. Don knows it all too well, from the suicide of his younger brother Adam in Season One, to his own military service in Korea, to the suicide of his co-worker Lane Pryce. Death comes to chase Don down in this episode as he faces an existential crisis, trying to find out why he is so unhappy.
The season opens with Don and Megan seemingly in paradise, as they lie on a beach in Hawaii — but it’s apparent that Don is not enjoying himself. He broods as he reads Dante’s “Inferno, ” a tale of death and crime, the beautiful scenery around him contrasting with his facial expressions.
The camera is sure to give an extra few seconds to Megan, who has landed herself a role on a soap opera and is now a small-time celebrity, getting stopped for autographs in the hotel. Don clearly is unhappy with Megan’s success and makes it clear that she no longer satisfies him. She may be a pretty face, but Don seems to be searching for a deeper connection. The camera seems to purposely focus on Megan’s bottom as Don’s voice-over reads from his book, “Midway through our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fast on his way to becoming Hollywood’s most endearing celebrity. He’s cute, funny, enthusiastic, and just so darn-likeable.
Between a booming film career and his own production company, HitRECord, J-Gor-Lev’s a pretty busy guy. Regardless, he’s is adding another project to the list. The actor has announced a new project for fans, creators, artists, and innovators of all kinds. HitRECord, the online collaborative production company Gordon-Levitt started with his brother, is partnering up with the new cable network Pivot to put on a variety show.
This isn’t your bubbe’s variety show — it’s a multi-platform crowd-sourced spinoff. So, if you’ve ever wanted to write a script, sing a song, illustrate, animate, curate, or edit anything, here’s your chance.
As the actor, and now host, describes it, every half-hour show will have a theme (“like the road, or snow, or outsider”), and will feature “short films, live performances, music, animation, conversations, and more.”
Not excited yet? Watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt explain it to you himself. That smile is infectious.
Melissa Rosenberg is sizzling right now. She was the screenwriter of the megahit “Twilight” movies, and a writer and executive producer of Showtime’s “Dexter,” More recently, she helped create the new ABC series “Red Widow,” which is off to a slower start. It airs on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
The show is about Marta Walraven, a not-so-typical stay-at-home mom in California’s tony Marin County. Her father is an Eastern European mobster. Her husband is an importer — of weed. And when Hubby’s partners steal millions of dollars of cocaine from a powerful international crime boss, all hell breaks loose. Marta’s husband is killed, and she is drawn into a life of crime, stuck between the cops and the crime boss, who seeks restitution.
Rosenberg spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about her career, mistaken identity about her name and her marriage into a family of multigenerational rabbis.
Curt Schleier: Would it be fair to say that “Dexter” was your big break?
Melissa Rosenberg: It depends. I’d been writing in television for 10 to 15 years prior to that. But “Dexter” is where it all kind of came together. I kind of climbed my way up [from writer to executive producer] on a show I loved. “Dexter” is what I was looking for and was a perfect match for my voice and character and edge. We all have a little serial killer in us. I prefer a little black comedy. I explore the darker reaches of the human psyche; that’s where the interesting stuff is. We all have both in us, the dark and the light, and I find it interesting to delve into that.
It’s not the first time the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo,” has been adapted for the small screen. In 1997, a year after the movie was released, a pilot starring Edie Falco was shot, directed by Kathy Bates.
That project never got off the ground, but now it looks like “Fargo” will be a TV show after all.
Deadline Hollywood reports that TV network FX has given the green light for a limited series adaptation of the dark comedy which, unlike the 1997 effort, will be executive produced by Joel and Ethan Coen themselves. The show will be written by Noah Hawley of “Bones.”
Prepare for snowy, flat landscapes, Midwestern accents and — maybe — some more corpses in the woodchopper?
Jeremy Piven has had a long and successful career. Now he can add “distinguished” to those adjectives.
Piven’s first break came in 1992 when he played Jerry, the head writer on “The Larry Sanders Show.” But his breakthrough role was manipulative agent Ari Gold, based on real-life agent Ari Emanuel, on “Entourage.”
Over the course of the show’s eight seasons, Piven received four Best Supporting Actor Emmy nominations, winning three. That’s long and successful. But distinguished starts at the end of this month, when he invades Helen Mirren territory.
Piven stars in “Mr. Selfridge,” an eight-part Masterpiece Classics mini-series that airs Sundays on PBS starting March 31. It’s about an American who moves to London and founds a successful department store different from anything the British have ever seen.
Piven spoke to The Arty Semite about actor’s insecurity, growing up the son of acting teachers, and the sense of community he found in the synagogue and onstage.
Curt Schleier: You spent eight years on “Entourage” and enjoyed a great deal of success. As it came to an end what went through your mind?
Earlier this month, HBO’s “Girls” ended its second season with Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) incapacitated by anxiety-induced Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, her ebook on the lost generation of 20-somethings looking more and more unlikely; I read the first few chapters of Phillip Lopate’s new book “To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction” and Lopate’s thoughts on a writer’s obsessions; and I started to have a panic attack at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass., during a promotional screening of Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color.”
It had been three medicated years since the last one, but I knew immediately what was happening. There is the initial trigger: a jolt, a kick, you’re aware that your breathing is a little unusual, or that your body isn’t reacting the way that it should. You extend your breathing to see if that will slow your heart, but your body is shifting, moving, trying to find a comfortable position. You become obsessed with the thought of relaxing. You notice that you wore really tight socks. You need to be composed, and stay composed. The thing you fear most is embarrassment. As soon as your conscious mind forms the words “panic attack,” it is over: that thought will metastasize, it will be the only thing in your brain. “Don’t pass out” becomes a hopeless mantra, and you lose consciousness.
Or: you realize what is happening. You grab your coat, leave, try to find somewhere quiet to settle down. Your head is a weird combination of heavy and light, your vision blurs. Outside the theater I propped myself up on one of those green plastic boxes where they dispense brochures for the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. But I need to sit down, and the only thing I see are the snow-wet steps leading to the Anthropologie on the second floor of the Design Research Building at 48 Brattle Street. I’m not sure how long I sat on the steps, relaxing. Two girls passed me: one only said excuse me; one asked me if the store was closed. There was an ambulance almost exactly in front of the theater. If it was there before, I didn’t notice. I wondered if they watched me keel over on the plastic box, and if they thought to help. By then I was feeling closer to normal. Those thoughts meant that I was close to normal. I pulled out my phone, saw there was a bus coming, and left. I’ll have to go back in April to see the movie.
I never wanted to write about “Girls” because so much has been written about “Girls.” By now it’s even cliché to start a piece on “Girls” by apologizing for adding to the pile of writing on “Girls.” But I also had nothing to add. The only thing I ever wanted to say about “Girls” was that the media debate over its Whiteness was really a proxy for the general lack of diversity on TV, and even a proxy for the fact that middle-class college graduates still cloister themselves in racially homogenous social groups. But that idea was taken before an editor could respond to my pitch.
Phil Spector’s life could be summed up in four words — musical genius, eccentric and murderer.
Playwright David Mamet’s HBO film “Phil Spector,” which airs March 24, makes the most of all of them but his take on the 2007 murder trial of the record producer has split opinion as much as the crime itself.
Al Pacino plays the bombastic, multi-wigged, gun-obsessed creator of the 1960s “Wall of Sound” recording technique in the weeks before his first trial in Los Angeles for the 2003 shooting death of struggling actress Lana Clarkson.
The first trial ended in a deadlocked jury. Spector, who pleaded not guilty and never took the witness stand, was convicted of second-degree murder after a second trial in 2009.
The 73-year-old is serving 19 years to life in prison and did not collaborate on the project.
Neither documentary nor pure fiction, Mamet’s film begins with a puzzling disclaimer saying that it is “a work of fiction … not based on a ‘true story.’”
Advertising, it’s fair to say, is in Ben Feldman’s blood.
Yes, he technically plays a fictional advertiser, the Jewish copywriter in AMC’s award-winning drama “Mad Men.” But Feldman says it was his excellent marketing skills that landed him the role.
“The casting loved that I was a Jew in real life,” Feldman told JTA. “They were looking for the typical character, a Jew with a heavy accent, and I played it up for all it was worth.”
A 32-year-old traditional Jew from Washington, Feldman is best known as the token MOT on “Mad Men”: the terrible blazer-wearing, Brooklyn-accent talking, shamelessly outspoken Michael Ginsberg.
Feldman’s first acting gigs were in off-Broadway plays. Eventually he scored roles in TV shows such as “CSI” and “Living with Fran,” as well as in small films.
He thought he was about to hit it big when he moved to Los Angeles for a sitcom produced by Adam Sandler titled “The Mayor.” Feldman starred in the pilot, but the show never aired and eventually was dropped, providing the struggling actor a crash course in the capriciousness of the entertainment industry.
Season two of “Girls” wrapped up last weekend, but here’s something to tide fans over for a bit. New York Magazine put together this collection of the “The Wit and Witticisms” of Shoshana, the show’s most Jewish character (see below). And if you haven’t done so yet, read our piece about how Shoshana reinvented the JAP character here.
In March 2012, teenage fashion writer Tavi Gevinson gave a TED talk bemoaning the lack of strong female characters in pop culture. “Strong,” she said, doesn’t mean “two dimensional super-women who maybe have one quality that’s played up a lot.” Rather, she argued, we need “strong characters who happen to be female.”
In a recent post, culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg went further. “The evaluation of whether a female character is strong shouldn’t be about whether or not the character herself demonstrates physical or emotional resilience, but about whether the execution of the character… is precise and unique,” she wrote. “”Strong,’ if we’re going to keep using the term, should be an indicator of quality, rather than of type.”
I couldn’t agree more. And it’s a reason that “Archer” — Adam Reed’s animated spy comedy now in its fourth season on FX — is one of the best shows on television.
The History Channel’s highly-rated “The Bible” mini-series is coming to New York. Or at least, a part of it is.
Rare biblical artifacts including fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls (portions of the books of Daniel, Jonah and Jeremiah), a 14th-century Torah scroll and a 12th-century prayer book from Egypt in the Karaite Jewish tradition will be on exhibit in New York at 450 W. 14th St. from March 20 to 27.
Called “The Bible Experience,” the exhibit it is part of a promotion for the successful series, which continues its run on Sundays through Easter and comes out on DVD April 2.
The collection has been on exhibit in the Vatican, where it will return after finishing in the Big Apple. It is part of a larger collection owned by the Green Family, founders of Hobby Lobby, described as the world’s largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer. The collection will be housed in a permanent museum scheduled to open in Washington, D.C. in 2017.
Evan Handler is best known for his two “lighter” roles: Jewish divorce lawyer Harry Goldenblatt on “Sex and the City,” and Charlie Runkle, agent and friend to novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) on “Californication.”
These are highlights of a remarkable career that almost never was. At age 24, Handler was diagnosed with cancer, which he battled for four years. He recounted that period in two books: “Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors” and “It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive,” both just reissued as e-books.
The Arty Semite caught up with Handler to talk about bargaining with God, fooling the Angel of Death, and what Marilyn Manson said about his genitals.
Curt Schleier: How did illness impact you?
Actress Bonnie Franklin, best known as a single working mother in the hit CBS comedy “One Day at a Time” in an era when U.S. television was redefining families in pop culture, died March 1 at age 69.
She died at her Los Angeles home of complications from pancreatic cancer, surrounded by relatives and friends, according to a statement issued by the CBS network on behalf of her family.
Franklin, a petite redhead, had acted on Broadway before being cast as the harried divorcee Ann Romano in “One Day at a Time,” which debuted in December 1975 and ran for nine seasons on CBS. It co-starred Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips as her two head-strong daughters.
Franklin’s performance on the series garnered her an Emmy nomination in 1982. She previously earned a Theatre World Award and a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut work in the 1970 musical “Applause,” in which she sang the title song.
During a career spanning six decades, she starred in more than 30 television series and made-for-TV movies while continuing her work in live theater. But she was best remembered for her work on the Norman Lear-produced sitcom “One Day at a Time.”
The Anti-Defamation League called on “Fashion Police” host Joan Rivers to apologize for a Holocaust reference she made on the show.
Rivers on the E! Entertainment Television program of February 25, commenting on a dress worn by German-American supermodel Heidi Klum, said, “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.”
The show has been shown at least four times on the E! network since it first aired. Rivers, who laughed at her own remark, has not spoken of it since.
The ADL in a statement Wednesday called on Rivers, who is Jewish, to apologize for what it called a “vulgar and offensive” remark.
“This remark is so vulgar and offensive to Jews and Holocaust survivors, and indeed to all Americans, that we cannot believe it made it to the airwaves,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director and a Holocaust survivor, in the statement. “Making it worse, not one of her co-hosts made any effort to respond or to condemn this hideous statement, leaving it hanging out there and giving it added legitimacy through their silence. Almost as bad as her original comment is the fact that she sat there doubled over with laughter after saying it.
You've successfully signed up!
Thank you for subscribing.
Please provide the following optional information to enable us to serve you better.
The Forward will not sell or share your personal information with any other party.
Thank you for signing up.Close