(Source: @sarahcpr, Twitter)
While the Internet went cray (but, alas, not broken) over Kim Kardashian’s oiled-up cakes on the cover of Paper magazine this week, I was busy binging on the cancelled Starz show, “Boss“, which centers on corrupt Chicago mayor Tom Kane and his battles with political enemies and his own body. Kane, played by a scarily beguiling Kelsey Grammer, is diagnosed with Lewy bodies, a degenerative neuro disease with no cure that will eventually lead to incapacitation and death.
Pure bawse. Kelsey Grammer on “Boss”.
I watched the show based on a Netflix recommendation after speeding through the Amazon original series “Alpha House”. While “Alpha House” is full of laughs along with drama, “Boss” doesn’t bother, which is a shame. My favorite series such as “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Street” always, rather wisely, made sure to give the audience some (much needed) comic relief. I mean, on “The Wire”, Omar’s love of Honey Nut Cheerios, Pryzbylewski’s entire career as a cop, or Clay Davis’ lyrical use of a certain four letter word– genuine laughs. And for “Homicide”, just check out pretty much every storyline with Munch in it. He was so good at breaking tension, most people know him now from “Law & Order: SVU”.
What brought on all that politicking by way of streaming? I honestly think it was some kind of subconscious focus on on the midterm Elections (doesn’t that seem forever ago already, as opposed to just 11 days?). I didn’t bother to blog about them (I barely churn out anything now, so I figured, why waste a post on that subject?). But I couldn’t help think about politics regardless. The BFF sent a text which included a pic of some group using public voting records to try and shame, uh er, “encourage” her hubby to vote more (he’s great at the national ones, but not so much on the state stuff). The other BFF and I chatted for over an hour on the obnoxious nature of some people’s prejudicial attitudes on voting. For example, Me: “I hate that people assume I. MUST. VOTE. a particular way because I’m Black, a woman, a Christian, a mom, a Millennial, from the East Coast, married to an immigrant…”.
I could get all early-aughts and sing “Confessions” like Usher, but I’ll skip the melodrama. When Election Day rolled around, I didn’t vote.
I could lay the blame on not feeling well, which is true; I had begun a week-long course of antibiotics the previous day that left me super drowsy. But, that wasn’t the cause. I really didn’t want to. Because for the most part, I don’t believe in the whole mess anymore. That goes for the GOP and them Dems. I don’t have money, so I don’t have power, so I feel they could give two- uh Clay Davis’ about me.
Stay Clay. (Source)
Let’s be clear- this is no invitation to argue me down with the goal to make me vote. Yuck. Please don’t. What I’m saying is, despite feeling powerless, I still care. I wish I felt a casual indifference instead of the slow burn of hopeless aquiescence. Sigh.
So while I pushed back memories of registering voters in 2005 and having an Election Party in 2008, I binged on shows that are set in the (fictional) Senate and (equally fictional) halls of one of the biggest cities in these here United States. My glum feeling wasn’t mollified, but I was entertained.
If you scroll up, you’ll see I’ve already linked a bunch, but this wouldn’t be a proper Some Stuff without more. So first up, this Retro Report on the real costs of campaigns. Here’s the descriptor:
And the video:
Sigh. Because corporations are people, and campaign financing is free speech. Double sigh. Let me double back to “Alpha House”, by way of a review in The Atlantic by Norm Ornstein, who loves the show because it portrays it’s politician characters as people (Sorry corporations, you got the Supreme Court… politicians need something, too.)
Americans hate Washington politics. But Americans apparently can’t get enough of television shows about Washington and its politics. From Scandal to House of Cards to Veep to Madam Secretary to the new State of Affairs, such programs have popped up on networks, cable, and the Web, to critical acclaim and buzz. Washington is especially captivated by House of Cards; President Obama has said he is a fan, and when the cast members descended on the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, they were treated by official Washington as near-royalty, with the show considered a must-see. Not for me.
Of course, I think the cast is full of amazing actors, starting with Kevin Spacey (who had an earlier, terrific Washington turn as Jack Abramoff in the movie Casino Jack) and Robin Wright. But I stopped watching House of Cards, in part because I can get picky about verisimilitude. But the larger reason is the deep cynicism that permeates the show. It is about pure evil—characters with no moral center who will do anything, up to and including murder, to achieve their ambitions. And the most evil and amoral rises to be president. It is great drama, but the series plays to Americans’ worst instincts and beliefs about politicians and politics.
Oh… well, that’s true. Well, that playing to my “worst instincts and beliefs” is most likely the icing on the cake that is Spacey and Wright. But do continue:
…the vast majority of people in government are there because they want to make a difference—and are not corrupt or amoral. They can and should be lampooned, skewered, even twisted around to make for juicy drama and suspense. But only if there is some humanity, along with perspective, mixed in. Watch House of Cards without knowing real people in politics, and you will come away thinking that everyone is Caligula on crystal meth.
My post-election therapy was binge-watching the second season of Alpha House, the terrific Amazon Prime series built around four Republican senators sharing a house on Capitol Hill. In the interest of full disclosure, I had a special interest: I had a cameo, with a line, in the final episode, along with MSNBC’s Alex Witt. But I had become a big fan of the show long before that. Of course, it was in part because of its heritage. I would watch or read anything created and written by Garry Trudeau, the master satirist of the past four decades, and Jonathan Alter, a great journalist of the old school. Add John Goodman, and you had me at Alpha.
Alpha House is broad satire—sometimes very broad. The premise of the show, of course, comes from the real-life Capitol Hill house owned by Representative George Miller and long shared with the likes of former Representative Leon Panetta, Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Dick Durbin, and former Representative Bill Delahunt, all Democrats. Trudeau and Alter gave it the twist of using four Republican senators who themselves are broad composite caricatures of lawmakers we know. The senators can be venal and opportunistic, and each has deep flaws, as do the sometimes even-broader caricatures of their colleagues, not to mention their staffers, who have near-equal billing.
But besides the fact that the episodes are laugh-out-loud funny, the show has another great virtue. Alpha House is written with genuine affection for the real human beings, warts and all, who occupy elected office. That is especially true of John Goodman, who plays Gil John Biggs of North Carolina, and Clark Johnson, who plays Robert Bettencourt, a black Republican from Pennsylvania. The senators and the staffers live in the real world of politics—perhaps the signature line came in the second season’s fifth episode, when Gil John Biggs says to his colleagues, “You know what the sad thing is? We spend 90 percent of our lives ducking s***storms, begging for money, and whoring for votes. And why do we put ourselves through all of that? In order to hold onto jobs that are 90 percent ducking s***storms, begging for money, and whoring for votes. What’s wrong with this picture?”
I suppose that line really does sum up how much elected officials must go through to become and remain elected. After streaming “Alpha House”, I too felt softening towards some politicians… key word, SOME. And because I’m a David Simon-fangirl, I’m going to needlessly point out that John Goodman was on the first season of “Treme” (as husband of Melissa Leo, who starred in “Homicide”), and Clark Johnson was a newspaper editor on “The Wire” after appearing as a cop with Leo on “Homicide”.
I’ll end this post here with “American Idiot” by Green Day. I don’t have “Television dreams of tomorrow”, but I am enjoying streaming today.