There are a lot of good things to say about the new USA show Mr. Robot, but my inner-ten-yea-old wants to just revel in the fact that it features my first and true celebrity love, Christian Slater, drinking appletinis. Someone out there is picking up what my childhood psyche is putting down.
Very early in the second season of the sitcom Taxi, Elaine
Nardo (Marilu Henner) has a mental breakdown. Stressed out raising two kids,
working as a taxi driver, and trying to make a name for herself in the gallery
world, she hits a wall on the night of the big art show she’s been put in
charge of and tells her art gallery boss in a very dramatic way.
Alex (Judd Hirsch), who is her closest friend at work, piles
her into his cab and tries to take her home. Distraught, frustrated, and still
out of sorts, she makes a pass at him. While flattered, he refuses and thinks
she is just running from her problems, looking to distract herself with him.
The rest of the show follows Elaine as she visits a
psychiatrist for the first time, which is both a funny and heartbreaking scene
about a divorced woman trying to balance her priorities and the needs of her
family. The episode concludes with Elaine talking with Alex at the taxi
dispatch center about her progress and how much better she is getting.
Then something even weirder than Elaine’s behavior
happens—the show continues on as if Elaine never had this setback in her life.
It doesn’t really get brought up again and Elaine, while her neurotic self at
times, seems generally well-adjusted. She had a brief lapse from her normal
self and now she is back to her old self.
If you’ve ever known someone who struggles with mental
illnesses, you’re chuckling at the preposterousness of this whole thing. I have
to give one of my favorite sitcoms credit for even tackling the subject for an
episode back in 1979. When I look around the classic TV landscape, I struggle
to find women who are struggling. Yeah, Mary Richards was single, but look at
her adorable apartment and her life filled with friends, joy, and the best
winter coat collection I’ve ever seen. Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca Howe on Cheers
was a little hapless at times, but she wasn’t teetering on the edge.
I guess there is Marcia Cross’ Kimberly Shaw on Melrose
Place, but she was not some sympathetic heroine. She plants a bomb, she runs
down people with cars. This is not someone girls sympathize with. I will also
give the GOAT (sorry HBO and Mad Men fans), The Dick Van Dyke Show, some
serious credit, as in the 1950s they regularly returned to the unhappiness,
loneliness, and frustration of Sally Rogers, the single gal in the writing room
who was one of the boys, couldn’t relate to the girls, and couldn’t seem to
find a man. Thing is though, Sally, while lonely, was always presented as happy with bouts of sadness.
She is a self-assured girl who can get down on her situation, but
ultimately appreciates what she has.
All these women were so fundamentally capable though. They
got along fine. They were happy with their lot, even when it wasn’t much.
I don’t think I’ve mused much on Buffy in here before, so it
may surprise some to hear the huge impact the show had on me as a teenager.
This was a girl who was given a lot in life, being the slayer, that she
categorically did not want. In the first four seasons, she managed to both kick
ass and have a semblance of a life, but then things got dark. Really dark.
(Spoiler alert, non-Buffy watchers).
In Season 5, Buffy loses her mother in one of the most heart-wrenchingly
accurate and honest portrayals of losing a parent. The show didn’t stop there
though. At the end of the season, she dies. Then, when UPN saved the show from
cancellation, the show brought her back to life at the start of Season 6. Her
friends “saved” her from the afterlife, but she doesn’t tell them that they
didn’t help as much as they thought.
And for the next two years Buffy Summers was seriously damaged
goods. She managed to keep it relatively together around her friends, and she
certainly continued to kick ass, take names, and save the world. But behind
closed doors, she was a wreck. She made terrible relationship decisions, she
punished herself and hurt herself to numb the pain, and she felt completely
Moreso than her superhuman strength or her ability to save
the world, I admired Buffy’s strength in being able to put on a brave face and
go back in the world even when she didn’t want to. Unlike Elaine Nardo, who had
a brief lapse then returned to her normal chipper self, Buffy the Vampire
Slayer finally had a female admitting she is putting on a face most of the time
that hides how she really feels—which is miserable.
Then came Carrie Mathison of Homeland. This wasn’t just
Buffy dealing with a lot of shit. This was a chick with a mood disorder she’d
been dealing with her whole life, a disorder that inhibits her day-to-day life,
but also makes her exceptionally good at her job. As someone with bipolar
disorder, Carrie has periods of mania, where her intense concentration helps
her see things her peers at the CIA may not. A recurring storyline throughout
the first three seasons is her unwillingness to medicate because she feels it
clouds her ability to do her job well, and since her job is something basically
a dozen of people in the country are even qualified to do, she is kind of
justified in not wanting to put feeling happy first.
Yes, seasons 3 and 4 of this show go way off the rails and I
think Carrie goes from being relatable yet unstable to, well, Kimberly Shaw,
but for that amazing first season, Claire Danes justifiably won every
performance award because she was a wreck, a hero, a woman, and totally
Now, my capable mess du jour is Shiri Appleby’s Rachel
Goldberg on Lifetime’s UnREAL. Don’t let the Lifetime or the reality show
premise fool you—this is an incredibly perceptive and well-written show
starring a wholly unglamorous girl who is barely holding her shit together, but
has one saving grace: she is incredible and finding ways out of messes and at
doing her job. The more we get to know Rachel, the more we realize that, like
Carrie, the things that make her good at her job as a reality show producer are
what her friends and family think are mental defects in her mind that need to
be fixed. Unlike Carrie though, she isn’t as sure that she wants these parts of
her mind running at full speed anymore. She isn’t really sure what she wants at
all. All she knows is how to survive, and how to do it on her own.
While Elaine, Buffy, Carrie, and Rachel all vary a lot both
in how their mental anguish is handled and what the “normal” version of them
looks like, the uniting factor that makes me love them all remains: sure they
ask for help from time to time, but when push comes to shove, these women, no
matter how “damaged” they may be, handle their business themselves. They don’t
need a guy, they don’t need a prescription, they just need their own skills,
some good decision making, a few supportive friends, and their own drive to
just get through life, as rough as it may get.
I may not be as into time travel movies as my dear friend BJ
Nemeth, but there is a specific set of time travel pop culture I can’t get
enough of, and those are the small-scale time travelers. Not Terminators on a
mission to destruct, but more quaint time-travelling stories; the kind where
the hero returns aiming to correct one mistake rather than save the world or
throw the universe in parallel.
I didn’t realize how preoccupied I was with the small-scale time
travel movie initially, but looking back (as one is wont to do when dwelling on
time travel), I realize that I rank The Time Traveler’s Wife in my top five
books, movies I adore include The Lake House, About Time, and the
quintessential second chance movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.
As someone who constantly goes over and over decisions in my
head both before and after I make them, the lure of getting to go back and
change something is a fantasy I don’t want to pass up.
My butterfly effect fantasies and my nostalgia for days gone
by means that the VH1 scripted show Hindsight (now available on Hulu) is one of the better pop culture
products to happen to me in the past year. The show is based around a woman,
Becca, who magically passes out in elevator in present day the night before she
is to get married for the second time only to wake up on the day of her first
wedding back in 1995.
It isn’t much of a spoiler to say that, given the do-over,
Becca decides to bail on the wedding, thereby sending her life in a whole new
direction. Thing is, the more Becca thinks she has things figured out based on
her experience from the future, the more her attempt to auto-correct her life
choices has unexpected results. Some work out fine, others blow up in her
face, and some are yet to be determined.
While most time travel fantasy allows the viewer to believe
you can just go back and fix things, this show frequently reminds us that what
may seem like the easy spot to flip the switch and change things won’t
necessarily be an easy fix. I can pinpoint with eerie exactness the four
moments in my life I would go back and change. Oftentimes, I’ve relived these moments, dreaming they would work out
differently than they did, and I never think too much about the future
repercussions. I mostly just want the missed opportunities, regret, pain, or
anger that stemmed from these moments to dissipate. I think about what bothers
me the most and what I could change about the present, then I work backwards through my decision
making to a point that would have made a difference. It is a terrible hobby and I advise none of you take it up. Trust me, just watch Hindsight and let Becca do enough revisionist history for the lot of us.
When talking with my friend about what moments we would
change, he tried to guess my four, immediately assuming one would involve my
father. I felt a little horrible to admit he wasn’t on the list. It isn’t
because I don’t miss him or wish he was here, it is more that I don’t know what
I could’ve done as an eight year old to change his cancer. I will always regret
not giving him a proper goodbye, but beyond that, there was nothing I could
fix, as I was eight, not Doogie Howser. I suppose if I could wave a magic wand, I would wish him back to life, but
I would do so knowing how scary the results may be. If he had lived, I would
have left Kentucky at the age of 11, I probably would have never fallen in love
with movies, and I think I would be more of an entitled, spoiled competition
dance girl than I want to admit to. It is also entirely possible I never learned about sarcasm, if you can believe that. In other words, I would bear no resemblance
to the person I am today, which is a little frightening to consider because I
miss my dad more than I can describe, but I have also grown a little accustomed
to the me that grew up without him, and I think the me that had him would be
lacking a certain amount of mental fortitude and cynicism only losing a parent
at a young age can instill.
Therein lies the wonder of “Hindsight”. Sure, Jimmy Stewart
and the people of Bedford Falls showed how much one life can change things and
Ashton Kutcher made that Butterfly Effect thing, but this show explores the
tiny shifts one decision can make, and how some things can’t be escaped no
matter what you change. In the show, Becca learns that this can be both a blessing
and a curse. So, the show is more than just a fantasy. Unlike other time
travelers, Becca has no mission, in fact, she is not sure why she ended up back
in the past at all. She gets a chance to try again, but there is no roadmap to
success, no end goal to achieve, just a long list of regrets and what ifs.
The other wonderful aspect of this show that revolves around
one character’s future is its nostalgia for the past, namely the 90s. The crux of the show is Becca’s attempt to fix her past mistakes and the 90s setting has its moments and jokes in the spotlight. (”Patrick Dempsey got hot. Trust me, no one was more surprised than me.”) Some of the limited technology of the 90s plays a huge and sharp role in the plot, namely in Becca’s career. Rather than pull a Biff and buy an almanac, she uses her advanced knowledge in a much more creative way. Plus, the various romantic storylines are complicated by the uncomplicated technology around dating 20 years ago. Imagine
dating without texting or the internet. I actually might add a fifth moment to the
list where I go back in time and somehow sabotage texting technology so dating
could be a little simpler and maybe wouldn’t involve the word “swipe” so much.
It is a fun romp through an era that hasn’t been quite as commodified as the
80s. The 90s was an era I’ll always sentimentalize because at a time in my life
where I was skeptical about everything and skepticism was embraced as the norm.
There was no guarantee the future would be big and bright, so we looked through
the past, trying to cultivate the unexplored and awesome things that had
already transpired rather than blaze trails in the future. I wore hippie clothes from Gadzooks, listened to grunge
covers of School House Rock, then went home and watched Nick at Nite. I wasn’t
interested in the present, let alone the future, so of course now, twenty years
later, I am completely invested in a show about shaping your future entirely
set in the past.
You don’t need to be a dweller in the past or an old soul to appreciate this show. It is for anybody who wished for a do-over every once in a while. And people who get Melrose Place jokes. Both crowds can find things to like about this show, but if you fall in both categories I will go out on a limb and say this is a gem of a show you are truly going to love.
Leave the road and memorize This life that pass before my eyes Nothing is going my way