Saturday, June 25, 2011

The God of Carnage, a review

Saw the play "The God of Carnage" at the Guthrie last night, and I'm still thinking about it.  It's a chamber piece that is very much like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" but with less acid.  Two couples, a living room, 90 minutes--it's short, it's interesting, but ultimately is it meaningful?

The set-up is that Veronica and Michael Novak have invited Annette and Alan Raleigh to discuss the fact that the Raleighs' son Benjamin has hit Henry Novak in the face with a stick at a neighborhood park.  We never see or hear from the boys--this is all about the parents.  At first, it is deeply cringe inducing--it is all to easy to imagine the parents of my acquaintance getting into exactly this sort of nurturing community disciplinary action.  Two boys got into an altercation on a playground, and the parents have to convene and establish a joint response.  That's right--the parents get together and have this weird discussion about what happened and how it happened, and it was deliberate and does Benjamin understand that he has disfigured his playmate.  And at some point, the veneer of cooperation comes off.

Which it should, because, really?  Veronica Novak is furious that this eleven-year old hooligan has hit her son, and she wants to know that he's going to be punished to her satisfaction.  She wants him to be disciplined, she wants to know he feels guilty and miserable, and she wants retribution.  But she's such a civilized New Yorker, that she can only come at that vengeance obliquely.  She asks if Benjamin feels guilty, if he understands the violence he has perpetrated, and she's very disappointed to hear that Benjamin--as a fairly typical 11 year old--knows he's in trouble, but isn't particularly upset about it.  So, Veronica insists that Benjamin be brought over to apologize to Henry, but only if he fully understands the seriousness of his behavior, and Veronica wants both the Raleighs to be present as well.  And she does it in the guise of "teaching Benjamin" and "helping him so it doesn't happen again." She skates between being a hostess--it is her living room where the play takes place--and being a protector of her children.  She doesn't scale to the heights of Greek or Jacobean revenge plays, but not because she doesn't feel the emotional impetus to it.  She just tries to keep it on the level of NYC social niceties.

The Raleighs start the evening trying to be conciliatory and businesslike.  Yes, our son hit your son, and we do not approve of his actions.  What must we do to rectify the situation?  They are tentative, rather abashed--it is clear that both sets of parents deeply identify with their children, and Benjamin's action has shamed his parents.  They are willing to do what the Novaks ask to resolve the situation.  But those relationships don't stay static.

Alan declares his son a "savage!"  A way to distance himself and his own self-image from his boy.  Then Veronica slips in one too many comments about her disapproval of Benjamin, and Alan is roused to his son's defense.  The evening wears on, alcohol is introduced, and hints appear that perhaps Henry wasn't particularly innocent.  There are intimations that Henry may have taunted Benjamin past that boy's ability to stand it.  "But that's not the point here!"  Veronica says, because she doesn't want to hear anything to disturb her conception of Henry as an innocent victim, which the Raleighs are willing to indulge up to a point, in the hopes of smoothing over the event.

Then as the discussion continues and (inevitably wanders),  we see a divide along gender lines.  The men understand that boys define their masculinity through strength and fighting, and they both have fond memories of their own boyhood that involved shows of dominance and successful fights.  The mothers are appalled--as a fundamental difference over the proper level of "civilization" begins to show.  The men begin to rebel against the smothering "niceness" of the women's world views, and begin to bond with each other over rum and cigars.  But marital loyalties can't be entirely transgressed, and soon the men find themselves having to back up their wives.

But the rum loosens the lips, dissuades the Raleighs from leaving, and each of the characters begins to show their anger and disappointment at the world and their lives.  At least two characters declare this as the "worst day of my life."  Which is in stark contrast to the larger world which is referred to--Veronica has written a book on Darfur, and Alan is an attorney who has a case at the International Criminal Court at the Hague.  This "worst" is far from the worst these characters know about--and yet they fully believe their claims.

Throughout the play, Alan's cell phone goes off: one of his clients is a pharmaceutical company and a new report has just come out about serious side effects of one of its drugs.  Alan is counselling his client to go on th offensive--accuse the report of being an attempt to manipulate stock prices in advance of a shareholders' meeting, don't recall the drug, refuse to acknowledge any responsibility.  This is the opposite of his role as a penitent in the Novak living room, and you see how he came to this meeting solely to pacify his wife.  She is obviously engaged in a battle for attention from her husband--the cell goes off one too many times, after one too many glasses of rum, and she grabs it from his hand and dunks it into a vase of tulips, ruining it.  Alan ends up on the floor in a tantrum of anger and frustration, his own ability to control his emotions reducing him to a toddler.  Is it any wonder that the children of these "adults" misbehave themselves?

This is a play that is well-crafted, but not outstanding.  The Guthrie actors were quite good, and the characters were distinct, but the production didn't really say anything new about human nature, parenting, or why it's not a good idea to drink a lot of rum on an empty stomach.  It is possible to imagine how some truly great actors might elevate this play, and it turns out that Roman Polanski is making a movie version with what might just be a dream cast.  Jodie Foster as Veronica, John C. Reilly as her husband Michael, Kate Winslet and Christoph Walz as Annette and Alan.  Just imagining those four sitting stiffly in an elegant living room is to see the inherent tension of the situation, and it is easy to see how the various alliance could shift and coalesce.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sanibel Sunset

I am sitting in a time-share condo on Sanibel Island watching the sun set.  Well, since the building actually faces sort of South South-East, I am watching the effects of the sunset, as the sky goes from blue with brilliant white clouds to pink and purple, and now to a sort of steely blue with some oyster-colored spots.  The Gulf went from  a muted blue-green through silvery-gray, to now a pearly blue that is close to the color of the sky.  Earlier, just before the sun set, there was an enormous cumulus cloud that was directly in the sun's rays, and the reflection of that light on the water left a shining white path as white as it gets at night, when the lack of light leeches all the color from the landscape and the full moon turns the black water bright.

I've been painting the last couple of days, sitting on the porch and looking at the view and painting.  It's a little bit tricky, as there is a Building-Code-Required railing that runs right across my eye-level.  It's a trade-off: it obscures the view, but then I don't fall to my death. 

The last time I was here on Sanibel was some 13 years ago, when my kids were babies and travelling anywahere just ment doing the same jobs in a different location with slightly fewer things to keep the kids safe and occupied.  In that time, Sanibel has hardly changed. A few restaurants have changed hands or closed, there are a few more people on the beaches, but the biggest change has to be the  disappearance of the Australian Pines.

Australian Pines are a a feathery sort of evergreen, that were originally planted as windbreaks.  They gave the island a sort of familiar, homey look to those of us from the Frozen Northland, where we are used to lots of piney woods.  There were quite a few planted along the main road that runs up the length of the island, and they gave the road the feeling of a cathedral, as they arched high overhead.  I remember one night riding in the back seat of an open convertible, laying my head back against the seat and watching the pines go by.  My brother and husband were in the front seat, and because of the acoustics of a convertible, I could hear that they were talking, but nothing they were saying.  It was just another noise, like the sound of the waves on the beach, and I let the wind whip my hair into my eyes as I say the night float overhead.

The trouble with Australian pines on an island on the Gulf of Mexico, however, is that sometimes there are hurricanes.  And Australian pines have what was described to me as a "pancake" root system.  Flat, thin, close to the surface.  Far from being an effective windbreak, they tended to just topple over--especially the large ones that were 100 feet tall or more.  Most of the damage done on Sanibel (as opposed to on Captiva or elsewhere) was not from the hurricane winds themselves, but from the Australian pines flying around.

So, sure, I miss them--they were introduced in the late 1800s and certainly have better claim to being here than most of the people, but with them gone, the island actually looks more tropical and exotic.  I can live with the change.

And now the sun is completely gone.  If I turn around just so, I can see the light of the Sanibel Lighthouse flashing about the building and trees.  Lovely.  Just lovely.

High Tops Are Back?

Men with chainsaws arrived this morning at the place I am staying on Sanibel Island.  Their mission?  To take off the dead branches off the palm trees.  The result?  Instead of gracefully drooping fronds that wave and rattle in the breezes off the Gulf, they all look like this:

No lie.

Farewell, True and Faithful Companion

Those of us who are fans of Doctor Who received sad news yesterday--Elisabeth Sladen, best known to us as "Sarah Jane Smith" passed away yesterday.

Sarah Jane Smith was my first companion, as far as I can recall. Back in the dark days of 1981-82, when the only way to get "Who" was through oddly timed reruns on PBS, I was introduced to the series by my college boyfriend.  I had huge secondhand black-and-white TV in my dorm room, and there we watched Tom Baker and his 90 foot long scarf run from scary monsters and even scarier wobbly sets.  There was such a wonderful theatricality to it all--the show seemed to be barely more than filmed theater.  There were hardly any of the special effects or film tricks that had been developed even by then.  Monsters were extras in costumes--some of them were good costumes, many of them weren't, but they were all evidently people in costumes and it was up to the actors and the audience to conspire in the imaginative act that this was somehow believable.

Sarah Jane was the Doctor's companion way back then, a lovely, kind, and smart presence who was absolutely fundamental in making the series work.  After all, if someone as smart and brave as she was could be overwhelmed by what was happening, then it really was scary.  If she got fooled by the Monster of the Week, what chance did I have against such a thing?

Due to things like, oh, class schedules and the whole being in college thing, my viewing was erratic and possibly the local station stopped carrying it.  I did notice that she was replaced by a different actress who I didn't like as well, and the whole thing was wonderful, but kind of in the deep cultural background.

I came late to Russell T. Davies reboot of the Doctor Who franchise, which meant that I could line up the entirety of Davies reign on Netflix and watch the hell out of some fantastic television.  Loved Christopher Eccleston from the first minute, where his first line was "Run."  It was clear Davies knew what he was doing, and I was along for the ride.

And then he brought Sarah Jane back!  And not just "Sarah Jane," but the real, actual Sarah Jane--Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane!  And she was spunky, and wise, and brave, and everything she had been back in the old series.  But David Tennant wasn't Tom Baker, even though they were both The Doctor.

  And in a lovely ans emotionally believable arc, Sarah Jane wrestled with her disappointment that she had been left behind, worked through her jealousy of Rose, recognized that she had a life of her own that was worth living, and said goodbye.

She also saved the world from Krillitanes and was given back her dog--the frankly pathetic attempt at robotics that Sladen convinced us she could love.

She made a couple of other appearances on the show, notably in the glorious party that was the finale of Season 4, flying the TARDIS home with all the beloved companions of the new series.

She also got her own series, a series which has been hovering just below the top of my Netflix queue for months and months.  We saw some of it in that finale--her computer, her son, and K9.  She even got a visit on her own show from Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, in a two-parter called "Death of the Doctor."

I had no idea she was ill.  The tributes coming from the creative team running Who have been deeply moving.  But I can't help thinking there is a tribute that we will never see.  A bit of background: John Barrowman, who plays Captain Jack Harkness in both "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood" was one of the Companions on that giddy flight at the end of "Journey's End."  And Barrowman, being Barrowman, has a "thing" he (reported) likes to do.

He likes to unzip, and display his "meat and two veg" to unsuspecting actors.  Apparently this is something that the "Torchwood" team is all too familiar with.  And he's managed to do it to everyone, and the emphasis is on everyone.  Except Lis Sladen.  I don't know why.  Maybe she was just too much of a lady for him to pull that sort of nonsense with, or maybe she was smart enough to recognize the warning signs and be absent from the unveilings.  I'll never know.  But I suspect, somewhere, John Barrowman will take a moment and bow his head in her honor.

And then drop trou.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Random Thoughts on Oscars 2011

This is not my fashion commentary.  This is what would have been a live blog, except that it's already the next morning.  So sue me--I was enjoying watching it.

Anne Hathaway walked the red carpet in a Serious Red Dress.  Awww--she looks happy, relaxed, and ready for anything.  Isn't it amazing that she's an American actress?  She's beautiful in such a "you have a funny looking face" kind of way that American movies so rarely allow on-screen.

James Franco, however, has totally failed a softball interview in the "green room," which looks like a bar to me.  This may ultimately be the explanation for why he spent the majority of the telecast holding his head verrrrrry still.  Oh yeah, I just implied that Franco was drunk and/or hungover.  It was like he was emitting anti-charisma particles most of the night.

Kirk Douglas!  OMG--I was sure he was dead!  Interesting fact from continue growing even after the rest of the body stops.  But isn't he being charming?  He's milking this appearance like the biggest ham ever, and I start to worry that the orchestra is going to be ordered to drive him off-stage with the Official Oscar "Your Time Is Up" music before he even gets the envelope open.  But no, it's good.  I love the rapport he sets up with Hathaway and how she responds.  And then the good looking Cane Caddy!  Is he KD's personal assistant, or was he provided by the show?  Either way, the hand over hand battle was well done.  Oh, and then Melissa Leo and KD--give these two kids a show!

Then the ceremonial appearance of the Lifetime Achievement award winners--kind of sucky, Oscar telecast, to be sooo committed to sucking up to the "Younger Demographic" that the people you feel are sufficiently talented to deserve awards for a lifetime of acting directing and producing don't even get a second at the mic.  But then I am unable to guess who is older--Kirk Douglas or Eli Wallach?  IMDB to the rescue--it's Wallach, by almost exactly 1 year.

Lots of costume changes for Anne Hathaway--love the beaded number, and then she twists in it!  She is now officially my favorite Oscar(TM) host ever.

In contrast, a surprising number of presenters are wearing the same thing they wore to walk the red carpet.  I have come to expect multiple costume changes from everybody.  Okay, Dion and Paltrow and Welch all changed, so the dressing rooms have been reserved for performers perhaps?  Or maybe Anne "A Different Look For Every Category" Hathaway has used up all the closet space.

Cate Blanchett: her generation's Helen Mirren?  Discuss.

Why is Russell Brand?  My brain has such a hard time with him, because one part is screaming "LOOK AWAY FROM THE SKEEVE!" while a different part is saying "he's funny!  He makes me laugh!"  Tonight a new part of the brain weighs in with "Oh honey, no--clean-shaven is not the right look for you."  And then I have to think about something else, lest the three-way brain battle causes my head to explode.  Oh look!  Helen Mirren speaks French and I can understand it!  She's so cool.

ABC is proud to host the OscarsTM until 2020.  You say that, ABC Lady, but somebody literally just screwed up your telecast.  Local maybe?  I got part of the OscarTM buffer--camera pans across statuettes with the envelopes leaning against them, then I got 2.5 seconds of what looks like young couple buying their first home ad, then a couple more seconds of OscarTM panning buffer, then the last half of the young couple ad--which turns out to be an ad for cat food, but cute as it involves young man giving young woman a kitten which is wearing a tag that says "will you marry us"--and THEN I got the first half of the cat food/new home buying ad, which ran up to the part where the second half had already aired, and then suddenly we were in the middle of one of your sentences where you were bragging about what a great job ABC does with the telecast.  I call "Shenanigans!"

Obama has a favorite OscarTM song and it isn't "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp?"  Color me disappointed.

Kevin Spacey has a nice voice.  Does he still make movies anymore?  He's also kind of creepy looking in a way inconsistent with movie musicals.

My kids are already scouring the interwebs for "Autotune the Oscars" in order to download "Tiny Ball of Light."  I kind of love "He Doesn't Own A Shirt" myself, mostly for the blatant pandering of it.  Here you go kids!

Oprah, wearing a dress from the Dollly Parton Couture Collection.  Honestly--do boobs like being pushed around like that?  I'm thinking she's going to have some strange marks about her chestal area by the end of the night.

Billy Crystal is kind of unrecognizable in a weird way.  Like a "lots of bad plastic surgery unless it's steroid therapy for lupus" kind of way.  He's still funny, but it's like his expressions don't recognize his face--there's a weird disconnect when he mugs, where I have to mentally assemble what the different parts of his face are doing to get the emotion he's conveying.  I hope things are ok in Chrystal World.

RDJ and Jude "I Used To Be Sooo Handsome" Law are bantering.  The banter is awkward because it seems like RDJ is talking about  tech issues from his Other Franchise, Not The One Jude Law Is In.  RDJ is my third favorite Sherlock Holmes, behind Benedict Cumberbatch and Jeremy Brett.  Which I guess means that the RDJ Sherlock Franchise is no longer necessary.  Jude Law is not on my list of favorite Watsons at all--or if he has to be on a Watson list, he's down below the Jeopardy-playing computer and my aunt's Maltese.

 Bob Hope Hologram--boy, do I see where Johnny Carson got his delivery.   How many more awards seasons until the Bob Hope Clone is perfected to take over hosting duties?

Something about Celine Dion's face is so annoying that I close my eyes so I don't have to see her, and miss the first however many seconds of the I See Dead People Montage.  Some of those faces just jump off the screen, don't they?  Jill Clayburgh, Tony Curtis, Leslie Nielsen.

Halle Berry is having such a sad life right now--I wonder if the fact that she is gorgeous is any consolation to her. 

Tom Hooper and James Cameron: Separated at Birth?  I know I couldn't figure out why James "Smurfs in Fern Gully" Cameron would be at the OscarsTM this year.  Let's go to the replay:
James Cameron

Tom Hooper

Nope--the age difference is too great for Separated at Birth.  I'm going with "unacknowledged love child."

Portman wins Best Actress.  After watching the clips, I was kind of hoping for an upset.  God knows I'm more interested in seeing "Blue Valentine" and "Winter's Bone" than "Black Swan."  The sad thing--Portman's life has nowhere to go but downhill from this moment.  Trust me--pregnant is much more fun than newly post-partum, even without diaper changing and sleep deprivation.  Pregnant, cute, dolled-up and Oscar-winning--nothing in the real world will live up to this moment.  Ever again.

Sandra Bullock ragging Jeff Bridges--"ya think ya might wanna stagger these out a bit?"  Give that woman a reality show or something.  I don't want to watch her act, I want to watch her be Sandy.  She too has had a terrible year.  Does being gorgeous, funny, and universally beloved offer her some consolation?

Colin Firth wins!  Of course he's charming--I think they must have charming lessons in school in England.  Except Christian Bale skipped out of his.  Maybe they're elective.

I like the speech somebody wrote for Steven Spielberg--the winner of the Best Picture will join such movies as [undeniably great films here].  The other nine (losing) nominees will join [undeniably great and unjustifiably OscarTM-less movies here].  That's a great way to say what everybody says--the honor is being nominated.  The winning kind of misses the point sometimes (often).  (But I still love "Shakespeare in Love" and you cannot take that away from me!)

And The King's Speech wins, everybody comes up to celebrate, and the orchestra plays over the third guy's chance at the mic, but He! Will! Not! Be! Denied!  So he cleverly thanks the Academy and they let him talk.  Ya know, HBC was so dang charming in that movie, that I might just have to go see it again.

What's the deal with this P.S.22 school choir?  Damn!  There's some cultural allusion I've completely missed--because you KNOW the OscarsTM wouldn't just pick some kids' choir--however good they are--and put them on the telecast unless they had already been a YouTube sensation of some sort.

And the show is over in less than 3.5 hours.  Franco can go back to school--he did himself no favors tonight.  But Anne Hathaway can come back next year.  Please?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscars Frivolity

Yes, I know you are all expecting deep insights into the geopolitical morass that are the Libyan demonstrations. . .but I'm punting!  Because it's OscarTime (TM)!

Besides, I'm actually quite shallow.

So--this made me smile.  It's a photo gallery of Hollywood stars at a pre-Academy Awards party from last night, as posted on a site I'd not seen before, called TooFab.  Here is the first image that popped up.

Say what you want, but I kind of love Anne Hathaway letting her inner dork come out to play.  Those glasses are the kind that Mia Thermopolis would have worn pre-Princess lessons if The Princess Diaries had been made today.  Sure, she's Hollywood royalty, she's the youngest person to ever host the Oscars. . .and she's putting in an appearance at an event, but clearly all ready planning to put on the jammie bottoms that go with that jammie top and pull an all-nighter to memorize her lines.

But who is that she is standing next to?  I can't quite tell who it is, and I'm sure I should be able to identify her.  Hmmm. . .I'm going to have to look at the text under the photo because I can't quite place the face.

But wait!  This is how we know "TooFab" is just a pretender to being a reliable gossip site.  Because the only text underneath this photo is:


Who knew?  I mean, Harvey has totally shed some pounds and upgraded his image since the whole Miramax/Disney failure, but that is quite the make-over.  And I hadn't heard that Anne Hathaway had changed her professional name.  "Dior Dinner" could be a stage name, although it's a little too vaudeville and burlesque for my taste.

Hey--TooFab, I've got some advice for you.  Hire a webmaster.  This is ridiculous.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This One Will Not Be Funny

It's pretty rare that I use this blog to write about something that I am passionate about, something that is serious, something that I am not attempting to use humor to deal with.  This is just too horrible.

Last night, I flew home from Las Vegas and arrived in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport at 9:30.  Every last seat of the large plane was filled and so even though I had packed a carry-on sized bag, I had checked it.  As a result, my girls and I were standing at the baggage claim until 10:30 waiting for our luggage.  There is a large television screen mounted above the carousel, and despite the lateness of the hour, Anderson Cooper was broadcasting about the protests and government crackdown taking place in Libya. 

I hadn't seen anything remotely new related for a few days, and I was floored.  It was less than a month ago that the protests began in Egypt, and it seemed that the entire Middle East was rising up against the limited benefits of "stability" and demanding civil rights and democracy.  Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya and Bahrain, refusing to accept more decades of repression and tyranny.

However, Libya is not Egypt, and Mommar Qaddafi is not Hosni Mubarak, and the military and the police were using extreme force to put down the Libyan protests.  Qaddafi had shut down media outlets, and Anderson Cooper was getting what news he could through cell phone conversations with residents of the areas where the protests were happening.  There was no video of the caller, and in the airport there was also no sound: only stock film clips running under the closed captioning of the dialog.

One caller admitted to being frightened, and hiding inside, because the military were shooting any young people who were found outside.  At the same time, the caller felt that it was his obligation to take some risks in order to create a future for his country.  He was afraid to die, but he was also afraid to let the moment pass without forcing the regime to change.

Periodically, Cooper turned to in-studio experts to analyze what was happening in Libya, and the situation remained horrifying.  Qaddafi had called out helicopter gunboats and had ordered the military to fire and bomb his own citizens. The expert was appalled at this brutality, and felt that it showed how completely out of touch Qaddafi was with the political realities of his country.

When Cooper returned to the caller, something was happening that the caller couldn't explain.  All that I could glean from the closed captioning was a sense of utter chaos descending, and the caller's desperate belief that Qaddafi would rather kill every last Libyan rather than step down from power.  The caller began to plead, passionately and hopelessly "please, it is important that the media stop this.  Call President Obama, contact someone who can get Qaddafi to stop the killing, because he will not stop.  Please, do what you can to force him to stop killing people, because he would rather rule an empty country than give up his power.  Please do what you can to make this stop!"

And then, in a move that smacked of every cynical movie or novel I have ever seen, Anderson Cooper cut off the call and faced the camera, saying "What do you think about this situation?  The chat lines are open.  Call us or post your thoughts on the web site."

I literally could not believe it.  A profound human tragedy was taking place--live via cell phone connection--as a country tried to throw off a brutal dictator who had no qualms about gunning down his own population.  There was a desperate cry for help to stop the slaughter. . .and Anderson Cooper simply turned it into a call-in show and an internet chat topic.

Qaddafi has been dictator for some 40 years of a country that is trying to end the corrupt regime.  He has shown that he is willing to put down the protests in a brutal fashion.  Surely there was something more to do that to open up public chat.

I have become embarrassed by my country, and this elevation of television/internet audience protocols over actual information and assistance is something we should all be embarrassed by.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How Did I Not Know This? Jimmy Buffet Has Let Me Down.

It turns out that today is "National Margarita Day!"

Actually, every day is National Margarita Day, if you are me. Just like it's always 5 o'clock somewhere.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Appreciating Shakespeare: the "Nooooooooo!" Edition

Spotted this on Slate's Browbeat blog--a full eleven and a half minutes of people shouting "No."  Check it out.

At about the 4:00 mark, I was thinking nostalgically of how Shakespeare railed against the heavens in the under-appreciated classic King Lear.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
    You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
    Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
    You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
    Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
    Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
    Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
    Crack nature's moulds, an germens spill at once,
    That make ingrateful man!

And he goes on from there for another three paragraphs, cursing his fate.  Or earlier, when his two daughters between them refuse to allow him to drag his extravagant train of one hundred knights into their homes, he refuses to believe them and calls down curses.  Although at the moment, he can't think of any specific revenge, he knows he will come up with something horrible:

No, you unnatural hags,
    I will have such revenges on you both,
    That all the world shall--I will do such things,--
    What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
    The terrors of the earth.

Or, he could just keep screaming 'Noooooooooooo!"  

Oh, that Shakespeare--you have to admire him.  Especially after watching eleven and a half minutes that demonstrate how far we have fallen over 400 years. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tiger Mama, Revisited Yale Law Revue Style

Back when I was at the Yale Law School, we students had a tradition called "The Yale Law Revue" where we wrote parodic lyrics to popular songs and used them to make fun of our (highly) eccentric law school experience.  Any foible was fair game, the more public the better.

I expect Amy Chua and her "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" to be prime targets.

In the spirit of those halcyon days of yore, I offer my own take on Amy Chua and the Tiger Mother.  I offer you "The Battle Hymn of the Best-Seller." 

Sing along--you already know the tune.

Mine eyes have read invective of a thousand Mommy Blogs
They say I am abusive, that I treat my kids like dogs
Of my derelictions they make damning catelogues
And the books fly off the shelves!

Glory glory hallelujah!
All you mommies--how I fooled ya!
My book reached number six
On the Amazon sales list
And the bucks keep rolling in!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who Doesn't Love Legos?

And Who doesn't think this is adorkable?

Even my cold dead heart feels a little flicker of warmth.

Apparently these are not actually Legos (TM) but "brick building sets" by a company called Character Options, and they should be available around Easter 2011.  (Source)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Mommy Wars, Explained for Daddys

I guess I really have to do this.

Recently, I wrote about a (now all but antique!) article in the New York Times called "Frazzled Moms Push Back Against Volunteering," and I was pushing my take that this was Mean Girls All Grown Up.  The article started with the heartbreaking tale of a mommy who was so busy planning fund raisers and designing t-shirts for the school that she didn't have time to help her own kids with homework. So she bravely took the radical step of cutting back on volunteering and now she has time to play ping-pong and Wii.

And then her kids come home and she plays with them too!  Buh dum BUM!

I was snarky about this article.  It pushed my buttons, and I went to town with my thesis that this was just another round in the "Mommy Wars" in which Stay at Home Mommies and Work Outside the Home Mommies accuse each other of being Worst Mommies and making Bad Choices about their priorities. 

It seems I've missed the point.  A Daddy went out of his way to point out to me that "the article was really about how schools are asking too much of their parents, and volunteer burnout is an issue."

Just like a man.

Because I don't think men get this--this exquisite sensitivity that women have to being judged by other women.  Maybe this goes back to our different formative years on the playground.  Boys went out at recess and played "King of the Mountain," where they literally hit each other over the head and pushed each other off whatever pile of dirt they were claiming, and this did not affect their friendships.  Meanwhile, back in Girl World, the mere comment "nice knee socks" meant social death for the rest of the school year, if not longer.

So was I surprised that a Daddy didn't get the nasty digs and social posturing inherent in the "Frazzled Moms" article?  I was, but I shouldn't have been.  Because a man doesn't vibrate to the same resonances of social status as women do, and a man's identity isn't as tied up in his self-image of "Good Daddy" the way a woman is in her image of a "Good Mommy."  A man can read that article and actually think that the pressure to over-commit to volunteering comes from the school and not from the other over-committed  parent mother volunteers.

Let's take a look at what the article gives us.

First, there is that heartbreaking story of Jamie Lentzner, who once she stopped volunteering went home, played ping-pong and hosted Thanksgiving dinner for twenty-seven relatives and friends.  This is not a woman who was forced by her school to overcommit--this is a woman who can't say no.  Who hosts Thanksgiving dinner for that many people?  Someone who likes to do that sort of thing, and would rather do that sort of thing than help her kids with school projects.  This was not the school's fault.

Next up, a case of heartbreak and woe from the American South:

“Volunteerism is way down at our school this year,” said Gary Parkes, the PTA president at Carmel Elementary School in Woodstock, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. At the school’s recent annual fall festival some games had to be closed down because of a lack of adult volunteer supervisors. 

Did they cancel the "fall festival?"  No.  Did they fail to raise funds?  No.  Was this part of the school curriculum?  No.  Was there even a district employee interviewed?  No. This was a case of a slightly smaller "festival" run by the PTA.  Was this even a case of "frazzled moms" refusing to participate in a school's excessive demands for volunteer time?  Not according to PTA President Parkes--there are fewer volunteers available because the economy sucks and they had to go get jobs to keep their families afloat.

Our next guest at the pity party is a former PTA president from Los Angeles who estimates that she attended over one thousand meetings in ten years as a volunteer.  So that's an average of 100 meetings per school year.  Consider, then, that California has only 180 mandated instructional days, and you realize that this insane woman was at meetings 55% of the days her kids were at school.  That's not a volunteer position, that's a more than part-time job.  And who did she compare herself too--the teachers?  The principal? 

“I know a woman — the work she did for the public schools was so critical — she made me look like a loafer,” Ms. Auerswald said.

So who exactly is setting this women up for self-destructive levels of volunteering?   Is the school really demanding that mothers leave their children at home with babysitters, or is this a Competitive Mommying Olympics? 

The next Martyred Mommy ran a book festival.

Ms. Jones is a mother of two in Keller, Tex., who works part time as a booking manager for professional speakers. This fall she was co-chairwoman of the Scholastic Book Fair, a commitment of five full days on top of the multiple meetings required to organize the event. And the decorating. 

Her kids didn't even attend the school any more--they had moved to a charter school, and rather than find a substitute to take her place, Ms. Jones decided to keep volunteering.  At a professionally sourced book festival that is a fund raiser run by Scholastic Books as a business proposition to sell their inventory and incidentally a way to raise some money for the school.  Take a look at the Scholastic web site and tell me that this is something the school is asking parents to do.

Even when her kids changed schools, Ms. Jones couldn't break her volunteering habits.
“Selfishly, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is my chance for a clean break,’ ” she said. “I thought, ‘I can go somewhere where no one knows me, and I can sit silently under the radar and not volunteer.’ ” But, she explained: “My kids really like me volunteering. Their faces light up when I’m there.”

There are two more sob stories--the woman who was so busy she didn't have time to celebrate her own birthday, and the woman whose email filled up because the other volunteers didn't know the difference between "Reply" and "Reply All."  The latter woman saw a need and developed volunteer coordination software which has become a business opportunity.

You know what is missing from these stories?  Teachers.  Classroom volunteering.  Actual requests from the educators.  It's all parent committees and PTA and extra-curriculars, and people who have no limits, but are unable to take any responsibility to Just Say No.  (So why do we think this will work to keep kids drug free?  Don't get me started.)

With the smallest of exceptions, the article presents a dichotomy of volunteering vs. staying home and raising your children.  It's presented as an all-or-nothing situation: either you volunteer and leave your kids with baby-sitters and feed them frozen pizza, or you stop all volunteer activity and stay home to teach your kids to read.  Because the author of this piece isn't actually investigating anything about how volunteers actually assist in supporting cash-strapped schools, or analyzing return-per-volunteer-hour of fund raising.  Instead, it's a case of Judge-y McJudgerson disapproving of the way certain mothers spend their time, when they should be home with their children--playing ping-pong, and hosting enormous Thanksgiving dinners.

I myself am a "former volunteer."  But I did volunteered doing things I enjoyed doing, and I said "no" to things that would demand more time than I wanted to give.  I worked for years on the school book festival, but I never chaired it.  And after my kids left the school, I stopped volunteering.  Some things stopped entirely, or were radically revised, to reflect the interests and availability of the parents.  Just because something has been done doesn't mean it needs to be perpetuated, and I am fine with change.  I have always been fine with that. 

Some parents (mothers) I know disapprove of the changes that came after they (and their kids) left the school.  "The book festival doesn't raise nearly as much money as it used to when we were in charge" or "I can't believe they don't even bother to hold Teacher Appreciation Day every month!"  They apparently think that some volunteers don't work hard enough.  I have also heard parents (mothers) complain that some events are too lavish and labor intensive.  Maybe they are all right.  But this is the kind of catty innuendo that is the equivalent of "nice knee socks."  It is not the fault of the schools.

Think about it--what is a school supposed to do to save these women from their own excesses?  The PTA says "we'd like to raise money to pay for new library books/art supplies/band uniforms and we'd like to have a book festival/fall fun fair/Doughnuts for Dads program that we will organize and staff with our volunteers."  Who at the school do these people suppose is going to say "No!  Stop!  Don't raise money!  Don't donate!  Don't try to fill a perceived need!  You might make some kid eat frozen pizza for dinner if you do!"

Sure, maybe somewhere in this great country of ours, there are schools that really do specifically ask parents to volunteer in order to make ends meet.  And maybe there actually are educational institutions that over-tax their volunteer base and need to deal with volunteer burn-out.  This article, however, does not make that case in any way, shape or form.  Instead, it uses innuendo and blame to turn The Woman Who Didn't Have Time To Wii into a victim of the American educational system.

I get what the article was pretending to do--it was pretending that this was a real problem with the way schools are run, and that's what the Daddy saw.  What he couldn't see was the insidious smear campaign against women who are So Selfish as to do something outside the home, which invariably leads to the children suffering!  Men leaving their wives!  Broken homes and broken hearts and frozen pizza for the children!  Stop the insanity and go back home, you selfish volunteering mommies!  Your children are crying for you!

And don't tell me that I missed the point.  Because I didn't.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mommy Wars Take No Prisoners: "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"

Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua has decided to step outside her profession and training, and offer a parenting manual based on the extensive data set and broad longitudinal studies of . . . herself.  We here at Chez Evil are cackling in glee and issuing an invitation to join our club.

We extend this invitation based on the article printed in Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal last Saturday, titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior."  This is an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, which is itself titled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,"  which we here at Chez Evil look forward to reading.  Here are some juicy tidbits from the WSJ article:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.

 As an Evil Fairy, I look forward to reading the thoughts of such a obviously like minded individual.  I do have some concerns, however, and so I offer Professor Chua some advice for some changes that should be in the next edition.

The title must be changed.  Compare the strength and hostile offensiveness of the WSJ title--"Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"--to the weak and near literary metaphor of the book title.  Sure, maybe tiger mothers are fierce, or something, but who can get immediately insulted and angry about that?  It lacks the open aggressiveness of the article's claim of superiority, coupled with the racial and ethnic stereotyping inherent in limiting that superiority to the mothers of only one nation.  Sure, Chua pretends that there are other, not-strictly-from-China mothers who "qualify," but that's just giving up the high ground.  The book should just go for the jugular and call itself  "Why Your Kids Are Genetically Inferior And You Suck At Parenting."

Correct the nomenclature.  Chua calls Sophia and Louisa her "daughters."  The correct term is "minions."

Drop the euphemisms.  Chua offers this anecdotal definition of "strictness:"

[M]y Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.
 Can we do away with the pussyfooting around the term "practice their instruments?"  The proper term is "enhanced interrogation," also known as "waterboarding."

Expand the principles outside schooling. Chua has missed the opportunity to apply her principles outside the limited scope of raising children in an environment where education has a positive value.  Take what she says about the value of repetition:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

This is precisely the principle I use to run my successful Evil Enterprises. How do they expect to get any better and shoveling coal if they don't keep working at it?  Whiners.

Once this little girl is good at shoveling coal, she will enjoy it and I can make her work harder.

Apply these principles to adult work.  Look, it's obvious--what works for kids should also work for adults. Chua clearly sees how things like "union-mandated work breaks" are just caving in and creating failure.  When her minion daughter had trouble learning a piano piece, Chua knew that the only solution was to bear down.

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.
"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.
"You can't make me."
"Oh yes, I can."

This is why I just go ahead and chain my minions to their workstations--it cuts down on the backtalk.  Chua continues:

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom.

Because nothing fosters a successful business like dehydrated and urine-soaked workers.

Chua has simply failed to lift her sights high enough with this book.  Because isn't it obvious?  We are the ones who know what is best for those little people, and we don't need to put up with their complaints.  They owe us because of all we have done for them--the spying, the interrogation, the abusive personal relationships.  We don't do that for our own satisfaction!  Absolutely not!  We do it because it is for their own good, so they can be successful and get into law schools, where they can come out to a paucity of jobs and crippling debt, because that's success, baby!

NYT Re-Ignites the Mommy Wars

Well, it's been a while since I've found myself in the front lines of the Mommy Wars--you know, that never ending battle about what women "should" be doing with their time, once they've reproduced.  Because god knows we can't seem to allow women to make choices or -- the horrors! -- make mistakes and learn from them.

No, women are obviously better served by media outlets focusing on a small collection of unhappy women and then self-righteously smacking them down for daring to live their lives.  The latest is this article "Frazzled Moms Push Back Against Volunteering."

I wish getting seriously pissed off counted as cardio exercise.  Then I could recommend clicking on the link and reading that article.  As it is--not so much.  It's another salvo in the "Stay at Home Mommy" vs. the "Working Mommy" war--a war with no winners and a pointlessly inflated casualty rate.  The twist here is that the "working mommy" isn't actually working at all--she's volunteering!  At her kids' school!  But lest you think that school volunteers are a good thing, the article writer manages to find over committed volunteers doing "unnecessary" things!

So, pared down to its essence, this is an article about women who should be at home tending to their husbands and children, but have the audacity to do something else with their time.  And yes, the article includes the obligatory story of a Man Who Left His Wife Because She Spent Too Much Time Working.  Women!  They just don't know their place.  Good thing the New York Times is here to Explain It All.

You see, these women are doing something outside their own homes.  They are doing volunteering, but their time is spent on activities that the NYT reporter thinks are frivolous.  Class T shirts, for example, or Teacher Appreciation Day, or Doughnuts for Dads Day.  The implication is that these women are wasting their time, neglecting their families, and can't be trusted to make good decisions about how they spend their time.  So their husband will leave them and their kids will be improperly parented and all of us NYT readers will be justified in our self-righteous condemnation of these Stupid Women.

This obviously pushes a bunch of buttons for me, and I just can't let it lie.  Because articles like this are a big part of the problem that makes women's lives untenable right now--because life is uncertain, and we want the security of One Right Way to lead our lives that will guarantee a happy family, healthy and successful kids, a strong and lasting marriage.  It's just not possible, of course, but that doesn't mean it's easy to accept.

 Look, if everybody was exactly the same, this would be easy, right?  If your marriage and my marriage were identical, we would have been able to create The Perfect Marriage under laboratory conditions and there would be no divorce.  If every child needed the exact same education and home life, we wouldn't have parenting books and school would be a matter of making sure each kid had the right number of Learning Calories and life would be predictable.

Boring.  But predictable.

But life isn't like that, and my solution isn't your solution.  Or, as my mother used to say, "That's why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream."

You know what?  Some women are driven and controlling, and they are going to exist in the workplace and as volunteer parents at your kids' school.  If they are making volunteering miserable for you, then--don't volunteer.  Just say no.  Or limit your involvement to what you think is meaningful and valuable.  Consider that the uber-volunteer isn't doing this just to make your life miserable.  She's handling her own life and her own issues the best she can.  Maybe she's wrestling with issues about her own parents, and wants to be involved in her child's life in a way her own parents weren't.  Maybe she can't say no, and so has to take on everything she is asked to do.  Maybe she just has a high metabolism and just runs faster than you do. 

Is she judging you?  Sure, probably.  After all, you are judging her.  Fair's fair.

The problem is that this article is little more than snotty coffeeklatch gossip dressed up in respectable clothing and published in a newspaper as if it is journalism.  Dressed up in the smart couture of a NYT article, it seems like it's something that deserves consideration.  But if you took this article and put it into Betty Draper's mouth, you'd reject its conclusions and despair that these women didn't have anything better to do than complain about such small things.

Remember this article, because next we're going to tackle "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Because Doctors are Cool

What do you get when you cross a quintessentially British Doctor with a quintessentially American Doctor?

Available for purchase from artist Bill Mudron here.

Linky goodness discovered via Pajiba, io9, Bleeding Cool, and Bill Mudron.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Journal of Interesting Things--Old Navy Techno Hoodie

Wandered into Old Navy and found a wall display of "Techno Hoodies" on sale so I bought one.  Because I listen to my iPod while walking the dog, doing housework, falling asleep (but only sometimes).  So I thought I'd try a zippered hoodie with built in earphones.

I love it!  The earbuds are wired through the drawstrings, and are as good as the ones I usually use: hardly Bose quality, but good enough for me.  The connector sits in the front pocket, which is large enough to hold my iPod Touch, and hey presto!  I have audio without a dangling wire to get caught on things and rip the buds out of my ears!

An added feature is that I can plug into my computer as well, without having to untangle wires and sort the plug from the earbud ends.  It's incredibly convenient.  The hoodie is rather light weight, not the warmest sweatshirt that I own, but fine for layering and wearing in the house. 

The only drawback?  I only bought one, and it does have to go into the laundry occasionally.  And they aren't available on the website anymore.

Steven Moffat's "Jekyll"--A Review

Before he took over running "Doctor Who," Steven Moffat brought us "Jekyll."

The English are apparently more comfortable experimenting with format than Americans are; it is almost impossible to imagine American television executives green-lighting a "series" of only six episodes.  What would we call it?  It's not a "made for TV movie;" since it's more than two hours long .  It's not a "mini-series," a format exclusively for filming trashy novels by Judith Krantz.  Even sporting events are shorter than that!  There's simply no American broadcasting model that would accept a six-hour, self-contained television show.

Thank god for the BBC, then, because Jekyll was fascinating.  And while it kind of ran off the rails in the last two hours, it was definitely worth watching.

The Plot In Brief

Contemporary scientist Dr. Tom Jackman has a split personality that behaves badly.  He's given up the rest of his life (wife, kids, job) in order to control the monster and hires a psychiatric nurse to manage him. As the violent personality become stronger, Jackman learns that he is a direct descendant of Dr. Jekyll and he's experiencing the Mr. Hyde--the novel wasn't entirely fiction after all!  And now, mysterious people are after him.  So this is a sort of a contemporary riff on "Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" rather than an adaptation or remake.  What is the connection between Jekyll and Jackman?  Who are the people in the black van? 

Stop reading right now if you haven't seen this series and want to remain unspoiled, because brother am I going to spoil the hell out of it from here on. Just go stream this from Netflix and come back later.  It's definitely a fun ride.  If you do read on--don't say you haven't been warned.

The Plot In Not So Brief

In the brilliant first two to three hours, we are thrust headlong into the chaos that Jackman is trying to manage.   The series opens with the mild mannered Jackman interviewing a psychiatric nurse while simultaneously strapping himself into what looks like an electric chair.  Right away, we are shown the techniques Jackman is using to cope with the fact that half the time his body is running around with all the self control of a toddler but the authority of an adult.  Just take a look at the face of James Nesbitt and you have to agree--he totally nails that "Dangerous Toddler" thing.

Awww! He's even got dimples!

The two halves have come to some sort of arrangement, but they don't get along.  Jackman hides his family, his home, even his name from his other half.  Hyde orders vicious drink combinations in order to leave Jackman with a hangover the next morning, and takes delight in forcing Jackman to "come to" in difficult situations. Middle of a date?  In a room with a prostitute?  In one instance, Jackman hisses "Just once could you tell me where you parked the car?" as he wanders forlornly clicking the key remote until a car responds.  This was so much fun to watch as Jackman had to find new ways to outwit himself.

Jackman is married to Claire, played by Gina Bellman, who might actually be Sofia Coppola.

Gina Bellman

Sofia Coppola
They are estranged, and he won't tell her why he's left her and their boys.  So she (quite sensibly) hired a private detective and is infuriated that there's not even an affair.  For some reason, the detective didn't tell Claire about the Hyde thing, so he goes to find out why.  On his way, he spots an omnipresent black van that has been following him, rather obviously, which he snots at the detective is a bit of a give-away.  She asks him to sit still for a minute, and then drives away for good: because the detective agency doesn't have a black van.  BAM!  Brilliant set up!  We have suspense, we have conflict, we have mystery!  We have Moffat at the helm and we have James Nesbitt having obvious Big Fun! playing Hyde.

Sadly, what we don't have is a coherent plot, and the series runs off the rails as too many ideas are shoe-horned into the script, which will be discussed later.  Let's finish the recap first.

Claire's detectives have been paid to follow him, and then paid even more to stop following him.  Being detectives, they are do a bunch of internet research and inform Jackman that he is the last decendant of Dr. Jekyll, who died in Edinburgh in 1876, and he has his own Mr. Hyde.  The company Jackman works for exists solely for the purpose of re-creating Mr. Hyde and then exploiting the genetic result.  Curing cancer for start.  They're the ones with the black van, and have been following him around trying to catch him as Mr. Hyde.  When that hasn't worked, they take the wife and kids hostage and then there is a bunch of running around and putting people into life support machines and revealing secret basement laboratories with dripping water and plastic sheeting and things that jump out and scare you.

Skipping over the problematic parts of the plot, what seems to happen is that Jackman turns out to be (coincidentally) an exact genetic copy of the original Jekyll.  The corporation tried to clone Jekyll, but wasn't successful--and the mistakes are kept in the secret basement lab and used to create extremely lucrative drugs that cure all kinds of things.  It turns out Jekyll/Robert Louis Stevenson lied about the potion that brought out Hyde:  there was no potion.  Rather, it was the result of his falling in love, so the Evil Corporation cloned Jekyll's love-- Claire. Claire learns to accept Hyde as a part of Jackman, although there are limits.  There is a lot of running from Bad Guys with Guns, a Big Bad female executive with an atrocious "American" accent.  During all this, Jackman and Hyde have somehow integrated their personalities a bit, while separating their bodies, so in the end, Hyde gets shot and killed, but Jackman is uninjured.

In a silly epilogue, Jackman finds his biological mother, who is herself a Jekyll/Hyde and turns into the Big Bad female executive with the atrocious accent.  Dunnn dunn DUNNNNNH!

The Problems With The Plot

God forbid we complain about too many ideas, but there are really just too many things left dangling.  Not just "unresolved" so much as "WTF was that all about?"

A.  What the heck is Hyde?
Traditionally, Hyde is interpreted to be the uncontrolled "dark side" of civilized humans--what Freud would have labelled "the id."  Mama Jackman says that isn't the case here--Hyde is the fury and violence of love.  Her proof is that the first time Claire realized she could kill someone was when she became a mother.

But wait--Hyde isn't just a manifestation of Jackman's violence--he is actually physically different from Jackman.  Several characters point out that he's taller, narrower through the shoulders, has different eye color and a different hair line.   (Did Hyde go get Nesbitt's hair transplantsnerk)  This distinction is even demonstrated a few times as Jackman's wedding ring falls off Hyde's finger. This is later reinforced when they discover that they don't have to share injuries--Jackman notices that Hyde has a cut on his hand that Jackman doesn't have.So the two sort of share a body, but sort of don't, and that paradox continues throughout.

Then, Hyde "gets loose" and starts leaving messages all over the lab to the effect that "I am coming."  It shows up on cell phone messages, computer screens, and bulletin boards.  "He's in our heads!" exposits the head scientist.  So, if he's just a genetic mutation, how does he do that? 

B.  What the Heck is the Deal With Mom?

Throughout the first three hours of the series, we are told that Tom Jackman was a foundling, abandoned at a train station: no parents or family at all.  There is a raggedy old lady who shows up and claims to be "the closest thing you have to a mother."  Then it turns out that she IS his mother.    And she's been dead for fifteen years after an auto accident, but looks exactly the same as she looked 15 years ago.  And she can disapparate from locked security rooms.  AND she's got a Mr. Hyde side too, that has somehow picked up an "American" accent that carries quite a few English vowels, in addition to travelling from the Old South to New Texas and back within a few sentences.

So, why is there so much insistence on Jackman having no family at all if we are going to have Mom showing up?  Why does everybody simultaneously insist that Jackman is actually a descendant of Dr. Jekyll--if all we know about where he came from was that he was left at a train station?  And when Mom turns out to also be the Evil Head of the Evil Corporation--didn't anybody notice that she had a baby?  

This is never explicated--any of it.  But it does start to smack of the "Hyde syndrome" as being some sort of science fiction-y invented thing that simply cannot be explained by "genetic coding."  In which case, why does Jackman have to be an exact duplicate of Jekyll anyway, because there is no way MOM is the a genetic duplicate of Jekyll--so where does Hyde come from?  See also, supra.

C.  How Incompetent Are Mercenaries Anyway?  (Tale of a Red Shirt)

I have to admit I was not excited about the flashback/Apocalypse Now nonsense about the security head in the last episode.  Sorry, but the guy was obviously a red shirt, and nothing about the set up scenes made him anything more than cannon fodder.  Was the point to make this guy somehow seem more dangerous than the previous Heads of Security?  It didn't, just reinforced the cliche of a "bad ass mercenary" who for all his "highly trained strike force" set up actually did the obviously stupid thing and walked up to stand next to Hyde with no weapon, no security plan, no evidence of considering the guy in any way dangerous.  So what happens?  What you expected to have happen.  Let's briefly reconstruct the scene:

Ext. shot, rooftop.  The Jackman wife and kids have just been whisked away by helicopter by the bad guys.  Hyde is left standing in a sliced and bloody shirt on the edge of the roof, head down in an attitude of dejection.
Symes: The word is "now."
Mercenary: (Steps out from behind balaclava clad ninja gunmen.  Mercenary is wearing ordinary fatigues--no body armor, no helmet, holding no weapon.  Approaches Hyde, and claps a hand on Hyde's shoulder.)  I have waited a long time to do this.
Hyde: (Raises his head, bares his predator teeth, roars, grabs Mercenary by the throat and throws him over the roof.)  Is that the best you have?

I call shenanigans!  There is no way some guy--hired solely for the job of taking Hyde alive--acts this stupid.  It's not just that the guy was hired for this job, but that he was hired and given a year to train and plan for the apprehension.  He's given all the money and weaponry he wants, he's got a dojo of muscular guys and over a year to plan for how he's going to do this.  Surely he didn't think that "Kindly Irish Cop Taking Keys From Maudlin Drunk" was the right strategy to capture a psychopath?  Hell, it doesn't even work on maudlin drunks very often either.  It certainly doesn't work on the edge of a roof, when your only back up is a bunch of guys holding automatic weapons they've been ordered not to fire.

I mean, there are so many other ways to actually apprehend somebody!  Incapacitate this dangerous guy before you get to close!  Why do you think cowboys and Wonder Woman use lassos?
It's oddly difficult to find a picture of her actually lassoing somebody!

 If you've got guns, use them to weaken the guy before you get within arms reach--like gangsters who shoot knee caps.  In the Harry Potter books,  Hermione Granger used a Full Body Bind spell.  Even Winnie the Pooh dug a Heffalump trap, and he's a Bear of Very Little Brain!
Pooh, Piglet and the Heffalump Trap
So when the hard ass mercenary guy gets a four minute introduction and background, and then screws up the ONE thing he's supposed to do -- that's when I say "Now you're just jerking us around."

D.  Important Plot Elements Introduced RIGHT Before They Are Necessary

There are a couple of these: Jackman mentions he's claustrophobic mere minutes before he's locked inside the containment box, meaning that Jackman goes mad and dies, leaving Hyde alone in the body.  We couldn't have had that information in an earlier episode, even as character development from back when Jackman first meets Claire?

Similarly, we find out that injuries on Hyde suddenly don't show up on Jackman: a new fact that gets revealed in the last episode, right before we need Hyde to get gunned down and die but Jackman to live.  This is a problem, because if Hyde and Jackman aren't linked, then they might as well be two different people as far as dramatic tension goes.  All that "Hyde drinks to give Jackman a hangover" stuff is erased if "Hyde gets injured but Jackman doesn't"--the rules of the game are changed midway.  Then, if something bad happens to Hyde, it doesn't happen to Jackman, so the physical peril that occupies so much of the last three hours of the series doesn't have a pay-off.  And that's what happens.  Hyde gets shot (multiple times), but Jackman's got a Get Out Of Jail Free card, because they don't share the injuries.

Moffat Trademarks?
There are some narrative tricks that show up in other Moffat works.  Some of them struck me as treading the line between being "trademark" and being "cliche," but I do have to acknowledge that Moffat hasn't yet crossed the line permanently.

A.  The Impossible Conversation
There is a frightening sequence when Jackman first tries to catch a glimpse of himself as Hyde, and sets up a video camera to watch himself sleep.  The next morning, as he watches the tape, he finds himself carrying on a dialogue with himself that is chronologically impossible, since Hyde was taped several hours before:

Hyde: Pick a number!  I bet I can guess it!  Go ahead, pick a number!
Jackman: (whispers) 108.
Hyde: One hundred and eight!  I got it right, didn't I?

Where have we seen that one before?  Oh yes, in the fabulous Blink from Doctor Who, where David Tennant's time traveler is trapped in 1968, and has taped half a conversation that gets played off DVD easter eggs in 2007--and creates a coherent conversation with Carey Mulligan.

B.  Dangerous Man in a Box

Late in Jekyll, Jackman gets put into a life support box of some vague technological purpose, which is tipped to vertical and dramatically opened--much like the later Pandorica.

C Eidetic (photographic) Memory

Hyde emerges from the box independent of the more restrained Jackman, and suddenly gains the ability to DVR his own memories and rewind, pause and zoom them.  This allows him to go back to past events and re-view them to pick up on missed clues: both the Eleventh Doctor (in The Eleventh Hour) and Sherlock Holmes (in Moffat's brilliant Sherlock series) do this as well.


So, I've done a lot of complaining, and it would be reasonable to conclude that I didn't like it--but I did!  James Nesbitt was such fun to watch as he transitioned between the mild mannered Tom Jackman and the dangerous Billy Hyde.  The plot twists were fun as they happened, even if they don't hold up to examination. 

There was some discussion about whether there might be a Jekyll 2, which hasn't happened yet, and frankly I'd just as soon Moffat focusing on Doctor Who.