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That time Growing Pains taught me about racism

I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid. Also, my memory works in weird ways. So it is that I remember, surprisingly clearly, an episode of Growing Pains in which Mike gets a job at a convenient store. It was one of those that came to be known as a Very Special Episode.

I’m not sure if I recall all the details exactly, but it goes something like this: Mike’s coworkers are two young men who are black and about his age. The owner of the store is an old white guy who seems nice but says all these platitudes about “taking care of our own” that set off alarms even in the somewhat dim Mike.

The convenient store is open 24 hours, but despite being the new guy, Mike notices how he’s never asked to do the “graveyard” shift. He also notices how accommodating his boss is to him, but not his black coworkers. When he tells his parents, they seem to get right away that the dude is a racist. Then, a funny thing happens. (Not funny, “haha,” alas.) Turns out, that Jason and Maggie Seaver don’t want Mike to have to do the graveyard shift because they’re afraid it’s unsafe. They’re genuinely torn about how to confront obvious racism that is resulting in something they want and that benefits their son. (I may not remember everything about this episode exactly right, but I remember their moral dilemma. Through the decades, their unease about the situation stuck with me.)

Ultimately, through conversations with one of his black coworkers, Mike’s eyes are opened to the unfairness of the situation. Meanwhile, the store owner insists he’s just giving the new kid a break. Mike eventually takes matters into his own hands and deliberately messes up at work. When the boss finds the mess Mike made, while Mike is standing right there watching him, he immediately suspects one of the black employees and proclaims that the kid is fired. Mike confesses after this proclamation, and the boss shrugs it off and says, “um, OK, in that case, no biggie.” Mike immediately calls out the guy’s racism and quits.

The moral of the episode—because there was always a moral to Very Special Episodes—was that even when something that was racist, unfair or immoral helped you, it was still racist, unfair or immoral and had to be treated as such.

Growing Pains was the kind of show that is easy to laugh at now and to enjoy only if you do so with a sense of irony, one that acknowledges that it was actually terrible television.

Was it really terrible, though?

In this era of “Peak TV” wherein our stories are all subtlety and nuance and our heroes are dark and complicated and often make morally questionable choices, where would we put a half-hour of sitcom television in which two white, otherwise thoughtful and decent parents are forced to confront their privilege and resulting moral apathy? In which it’s the teenage ne’er-do-well, not the well-educated grownups (Maggie was a journalist and Jason was a psychologist), who realizes that racism is wrong and needs to be pointed out, even and especially when it’s giving you a leg up?

Nuance in art is a thing that I appreciate. And the reason we don’t like Very Special Episodes is that they rarely offered any. The lessons hit you over the head, and the bad guys were unmistakably so. There wasn’t a whole lot of nuance to Growing Pains, or this particular episode. We knew what the right thing to do was right away, and once Mike figured it out, he did it immediately and with admirable resolve.

In today’s cultural context, there would be nuance. The racist boss would be a hard-working blue-collar guy who had been left behind by the political ruling class and wasn’t a monster out to get black people. He’d hired black kids, hadn’t he? Maggie and Jason would be parents just trying to do right by their kids—their inner conflict about doing the right thing would be more complicated, more drawn out.

But their inaction would still be wrong. No matter how much more layered and subtle the story, ultimately, that would remain true. I know that thanks to, among other things, this Very Special Episode of Growing Pains that I watched when I was a kid. Yeah, After School Specials and Very Special Episodes and the ham-handed story-telling of the 1980s were all  terrible television. But would I have remembered any of this, otherwise? Would I have learned anything? These stories hit us over the head with their lessons, but sometimes, dare I say, I needed it.

Certainly, it feels like we all need it right now.

5 things in no particular order

1) Dreaming of a White Christmas

I grew up in a tropical climate, so the concept of a white Christmas was totally foreign to me until mom and I moved from Colombia to upstate New York. Snow was, indeed, a wondrous thing to a 9-year-old who had never seen it before. We also discovered, though, that however prettily it settles on the Christmas pines, snow can also be kind of a pain in the ass. For the latest proof see this week’s travel news out of the East Coast. Still, when you don’t have to fear its effects on your holiday itinerary, snow does add a certain charm to the season. Few things compare to burrowing yourself in a warm blanket, Christmas lights flickering, mug of hot chocolate in hand, as winter does its thing outside.

There was no such picture in our house this year. Denver weather, fickle mistress that she is, teased us with a cold spell early this month before temperatures settled into the 40s and 50s over Christmas, showing few signs of fluxuating too drastically before the calendar turns. Not that I’m complaining. I still get chills when I think about the winters hubby and I endured during our adventure in Chicago. There is cold, and then there is winter in the Midwest. Denver winters are much milder in comparison. That can be hard for some who don’t live here to believe since blizzards and bone-chilling temperatures have a reliable tendency to make an appearance when the Broncos are on Monday Night Football or the Rockies are playing October baseball and the rest of the country happens to be looking our way.

So a white Christmas is not exactly rare here, but it’s also never a guarantee. That I’ve come to expect, even wish, for one every year is a product of the very cold places I’ve lived since moving to the United States, but also an inclination that runs contrary to the Christmases of my early childhood in Latin America. I guess at this point in my life, I’ve spent more Christmases in cold weather so warmth feels like a novelty. Of course, when the cold does come around and I’m wrapping myself in several fleece blankets trying to keep my feet from feeling like icicles, I remember that my mind may have come to terms with weather above the Tropic of Cancer but my body still lives at the Equator.
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On Childhood, Smallville and Superman

I used to read comic books when I was a kid. I didn’t collect them per se. They were just more reading material, something my nerdy self always felt was in short supply. I read mostly stuff for girls like Archie, Betty and Veronica and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, although there were a few superhero ones thrown in, mostly Superman. I don’t read comics or graphic novels all that often now. I do enjoy superhero movies as much as the next person. When done well, they can tell incredibly compelling, highly entertaining stories. See Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

Batman has a lot of pop culture cachet right now, but as a kid I was partial to Superman. His tale is fairly straightforward and his motivations aren’t all that complicated, making him more accessible to those not quite old enough to get the demons that haunt his batty counterpart. Superman doesn’t hide behind a mask, the better for us to appreciate his rugged, farm-raised (if not quite farm-bred) good looks, and he is quite the American patriot. What other hero, other than the more obviously monikered Captain America, fights for truth, justice and the American Way? All of these things make Superman easy to love, and I did, especially when I saw him in the movies. The first came out the year I was born, so by the time I saw it, its imagery had already permeated popular culture in this country and the one I was raised in. The image of Christopher Reeve with his fists out in front of him and the red cape billowing behind, coupled with John Williams’ unforgettable score, may not have much on the special effects of today’s film industry, but to a little kid like me back then, it was magic. Thinking of it reminds me of playing with my cousins and pretending to fly and of my little brother, about a decade later, running around the house with a towel tied around his neck and screaming at the top of his lungs, “SUPEEEEEEEEEER BOOOOOOOOYYYYYYY!” My sister, who did everything he did, would be heard seconds later, screaming her own spanglishized moniker, “SUPEEEEEEEER BOYAAAAAAA!” It’s my favorite memory of them as kids. So while Superman may not seem all that compelling or complex to us now as adults, the devotion he inspired back then was deeply felt.

Given this childhood fondness for Superman and my love for shows about high school, it should come as no surprise to regular readers of this here blog (hi, mom!) that, given the promise of an angsty teenage Clark Kent, I took an interest in Smallville when it premiered back in the fall of 2001. I watched it off and on until about fourth season, when I started working nights and pretty much stopped watching television period. (Ah, newspapers, how I miss thee.) Cliched as the teen genre always seems, it was an interesting take on Superman, and now that the story is coming to a close as Smallville enters its tenth season, I’ve tuned back in to see Clark’s final days of youthful soul-searching before he fully takes on the mantle of the hero we all know and love (there’s also the allure of finally seeing Tom Welling in tights). Watching it again got me thinking back to what initially drew me to the show when it all started and why the origin of the man of steel is so compelling to begin with. This is a long one, so bare with me.

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New on TV this season: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Part 3

I welcomed this summer with high hopes of writing a whole bunch. Well, maybe not a whole bunch, but I did plan at the very least to write about three TV shows I watched last season and do so before the new TV season started. Alas, it was not to be. The new TV season begins in earnest this week, and the kids of One Tree Hill already are back to the usual over-the-top-but-would-we-want-it-any-other-way hijinks: Brooke is arrested and her business closed mid wedding-planning-turned-fantasy-tryst with Julian; Nathan and Haley tell Jamie he is going to be a big brother only to find that they have no answer to his subsequent question, “So, how does that work?”; Alex turns her other-woman routine onto Chase and Mia, the world’s most boring couple; Clay and Quinn make out and go skinny dipping in their subconscious while bleeding out on the floor of his bedroom; no word on Psycho-attempted-murderer Katie. But before we get too sucked into another year of middling soapy melodrama, we should take a moment to appreciate one actually good show that that didn’t get a chance to stick around longer than a season. Continue reading

New on TV this season: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Part 2

At the rate I’m going the new TV season will start before I finally finish my recap of the three shows I watched last season. New on TV this season: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Part 1, you can find here, dear readers (hi, mom!).

THE BAD: Life Unexpected (or Pacey meets Felicity, gets her pregnant and moves to Portland, with double the love triangles)

I learned about Life Unexpected via the constant promos on The CW when One Tree Hill was on the air. Eventually, they wore me down. I watched a preview on YouTube and read a few articles to see what all the fuss was about. The show, so I read, was a bit of a kick back to the angsty glory days of the WB—a cross between Gilmore Girls and Dawson’s Creek. That it starred Shiri Appleby formerly of Roswell and Kerr Smith, the one and only Jack McPhee of the Creek, enhanced this effect considerably. Also, it was set in Portland. Yes, I decided, I would be watching. The story, like the stars and the setting, seemed very promising, so the fact that it ended up in my “bad” pile is a bit unfair. It wasn’t bad per se, it just failed to meet expectations. I wanted for the show to be as good and delightfully comforting as it sounded to me. In the end, it only managed to remind me of the things that annoyed me about WB shows without adding anything fresh to hold on to. And, in all honesty, I didn’t exactly need another show about pretty people angsting over the generally good things in their lives. The Hill does that already while also bringing the annual “which recurring guest star will turn out to be the crazy stalker of the season” guessing game. But I’m getting off topic here. Back to Life Unexpected.

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New on TV this season: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Part 1

Back in the fall, the only TV I was truly looking forward to was the final season of Lost, which, if I can bring myself to tackle it, will get blog treatment at some point. Fox dropped the Glee pilot in early summer, but other than that, little else among the new offerings seemed ripe to catch my attention as the fall season approached. How starved for material was my DVR? One Tree Hill got a season pass. (Don’t get me wrong, the Hill and I have a long tortured history together that will end only when the show does, which might be never, but it’s not a show I am usually eager to record for possible repeat viewings. Once is embarrassing enough.)

As the TV season progressed, I realized there were a few gems I missed that I the boat on, chief among them Modern Family, featuring fellow Barranquillera Sofia Vergara. I may still try to catch up on it over the summer, but the the new shows I did dedicate attention to, for better and worse, were Glee, Life Unexpected and 10 Things I Hate About You. Here a little something on the first. The rest are yet to come.

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5 things in no particular order

1) It’s a wonderful time for Oscar! Oscar, Oscar! Who will win?

The nominations are out tomorrow, and though I haven’t had the time to blog about the Oscar race this year, I am as interested as ever. This year we get ten Best Picture nominations, instead of five. Many have complained that this dilutes the pool, but the nominees in this category are to be considered the best movies of the year and many other critical bodies pick top tens every year so why not THE critical body. (And by THE critical body I mean the Academy in that it gets to hand out what is considered Hollywood’s biggest prize, not in that their choices are always critically sound.) I like the idea of expanding the field so that we get a clearer sense of the film landscape over the entire year, not just the last three weeks of December. I’ll try to carve out some time this week to offer my ruminations on the nominations. For now I will only say that Anthony Mackie of The Hurt Locker TOTALLY DESERVES A NOMINATION, Hollywood. Ahem.

2) It’s a wonderful time for Austen! Austen, Austen! Who will marry?

Some mysterious yet benevolent force of the universe landed me on an Entertainment Weekly online post buried in the magazine’s Web site about a PBS Masterpiece mini-series of Jane Austen’s Emma mere hours before it began. It stars England’s most underrated actress Romola Garai as Miss Austen’s most capricious heroine and Jonny Lee Miller as a surprisingly sweet yet still stern Mr. Knightly. For most, Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy is the Austen hero to end all Austen heroes, but I would pick Mr. Knightly over him any day of the week. He’s not a snob, for one, and is willing to move into to Emma’s home upon their marriage so that she doesn’t have to leave her overly attached, overly protective father. Serious devotion. The miniseries, which ends next week, is a lovely depiction of a book and of characters I have long loved.

(Speaking of Emma, and to be filed under “Things that are awesome,” the In Memoriam montage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards included Brittany Murphy’s timeless “You’re a virgin who can’t drive” line from Clueless, the best Emma adaptation before this one. As good a delivery of memorable dialogue as any, and a great tribute to her short career. May she rest in peace.)

3) It’s a wonderful time for Conan! Conan, Conan! Where will he end up?

A lot of things have made me feel old in the last year or so. The transition from Jay to Conan, back to Jay on the Tonight Show means that John Carson was officially three hosts ago. Yikes! I was too young to have really watched or developed any sort of attachment to Johnny Carson, but he hosted the show late enough into my childhood that I knew who he was even before I truly became aware of pop culture in general. I never really watched Jay Leno, having never really found him all that funny. Conan, however, was supposed to be my Johnny Carson. He was they guy who would be the Tonight Show for my generation. At least until the suits at NBC decided that he wasn’t for a number of stupid reasons that have been explicated and deconstructed to the point I don’t need to bring them up again here. NBC is stupid and so devoid of creativity at this point in its existence that maybe hitting rock bottom without Conan is what the network really need. I hope he lands somewhere that lets him be the kind of guy my kids might remember as the guy who really did late night right.

4) It’s not a wonderful time for Tar Heels basketball so the theme for 5 Things is not going to work all the way through.

UNC basketball is pretty bad this year. NIT bad. This was to be expected, of course, even though the “experts” penciled them into the top five before the season started. Call it the Tyler Hansbrough over-correction. The last time the Heels were in post championship rebuilding mode, these same experts thought the Heels would spend the season in the ACC cellar. Freshman Tyler took care of that, sealing a 2 seed in the tournament with a win over top-ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on JJ Reddick’s senior night. The only win to top it in his career was his final one in Detroit last year. This year’s team was similar on paper, so they were given the very generous benefit of the doubt. It’s been downhill since. It should be no surprise, though. A very young team, no real leaders or go-to playmakers. It’s a low-pressure, post-championship year so I’m not minding it all that much. The bad years make you appreciate the good all the more. Still, it would be nice to have a win over Duke.

5) And I can’t not say something about One Tree Hill.

The fact that this show has been on seven years makes it one of the few constants in my life over a decade that saw a whole lot of change as adulthood hit head on. This last year was tougher than most, and maybe I’ve clung to the show especially hard this season (to the hubby’s eternal dismay) because I find comfort in its relentless sameness. Brooke is still stuck in a love triangle from hell, and Nathan and Haley are still the awkward girl and the popular boy who got together. Both were certainly true in tonight’s episode, a surprisingly effective tribute to the late, great master of angst John Hughes.

When Madonna covered Don McLean’s American Pie when I was in college, a friend of mine who really loved the song said that despite people’s protestations about the new version, he didn’t mind it. He liked the song so much, that he thought any version of it–even one by Madonna in the middle of her I’m British and really a techno geek phase–was good. The kissing over the cake scene from Sixteen Candles is one of the most iconic movie moments of my life as a film lover, and though I’ve seen it parodied and copied numerous times, I always love it. Seeing Nathan and Haley act it out it felt as real and honest and sweet as the original. It harkened back to who the characters were back when One Tree Hill first started while also acknowledging that such characters might not exist had John Hughes not been the first to breath life into them. To convince us that they mattered. May he also rest in peace.

There are no blondes in One Tree Hill—except Rob Buckley, and that is as it should be

One Tree Hill is back, y’all. (And, yes, the “y’all” is merited because the show is from the South and because it is awesomely cheesetastic. Call it the Britney Spears of television. Not exactly high art, but gosh darn it if your fingers don’t automatically go to the volume dial to turn it up when Toxic comes on the radio.)

It’s been such a surprisingly addicting season I almost don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with the obvious. Lucas and Peyton are gone, but not missed by me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Peyton and am very happy she got to drive into the sunset with the boy she loved. Still, once the tortured motherless child gave birth to her own, her story came full circle. To try to elongate it would have been silly, and wasn’t it nice that she took the annoying Lucas with her? Brooke, on the other hand, is still ripe with melodrama, especially now that she has found her true love, but also just found out she can’t have kids. Julian is still sweet with Brooke—if not always acutely aware of her needs. His side storyline with rehab-reject Alex would be more annoying if I didn’t find Alex kind of hilarious. Julian should be smart enough to see through her, but if people were smart, they wouldn’t live in Tree Hill. (Also, I’d like to point out that like Dawson’s Creek, the Hill has named a character for yours truly, and in both cases, the character was there to seduce the cutest boy on the show. Mark and Joe, you shouldn’t have.)

Alex and fellow newcomer Quinn are bouncy brunettes and join resident dark lovelies Brooke and Haley (who is actually kind of red-ish this year). That a show exists on television today without a single major female character with golden locks is a bit of a shock to me. On the Creek, poor Joey was surrounded by them. Being rather raven-haired myself, I could always sympathize—even if the blondes were sometimes smarter than she was. My guess is that Quinn was cast first, and when it came time to cast Alex, someone on staff noticed all the brown everywhere and pointed out that Alex had to be blonde to balance things out a bit. In response, a smarter someone probably pointed out that putting Brooke on the wrong end of a blonde-boy-brunette love triangle again was tired. I hope that smarter person got a bonus.

This lack of girl blondes gives the boy ones a bit more room to shine. There’s little Jamie, of course, and Robert Buckley, the best casting addition in prime-time soap opera land since Amanda Woodward. As Clay, he brings the kind of Pacey-esque sidekick-who’s actually-a-better-catch-than-the-alpha-male charm the Hill has always lacked. When the show premiered, Nathan and Lucas were presented as foils, but they were also both leading men. The Hill needed a guy there to be cute, crack jokes, be the lothario to Nathan’s family man, and also be a secretly sensitive puddle of goo ready to unleash his untapped sincerity at the hands of the right girl. Enter Clay. Then enter Jody Sawyer of the ballet classic Center Stage as his dead wife for a brief but awesome nod to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Then enter Quinn, one of Haley’s until-now-absent sisters. Clay’s budding romance with her is my favorite storyline this season—even if the writers telegraphed it from their first meeting and even if some Hill viewers don’t like it.

If you read any One Tree Hill message boards, you’ll find that Quinn hasn’t made a positive impression on most fans (at least the Internet-ready ones). I quite like her, though. She’s a wannabe starving artist photographer with a history of pot-brownie baking and an on-call psychic. Clearly, a mess, which is kind of a refreshing change for a show featuring a successful musician (Haley), a successful fashion designer (Brooke), a successful music producer (Peyton), an NBA player (Nathan) and a published novelist (Lucas)—all of whom are in stable relationships. Sometimes people don’t get rich doing what they love. And sometimes they get divorced. It happens, even in your mid-twenties. The show made kind of a ballsy move making her ex a sympathetic character and her reason for leaving him really nothing more than a quarter-life crisis, but in the end she feels more real as a result.

Last year, I was ready to kiss off this guilty pleasure until Austin Nichols’ Julian showed up. This season, Shantel Vansanten and Robert Buckley have upped the ante. The way Quinn and Clay are starting over together is making me think I will stick with the Hill for the duration. Who would have thought?

Welcome to the Dollhouse (tragically, without Dawn Wiener)

When the second episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired, I was confused, intrigued and irked — a combination of feelings fans of Joss Whedon, Buffy’s creator, will be familiar with. Out of nowhere, Whedon and his minions had inserted a new character, “Dawn,” Buffy’s younger sister, into the slayer’s universe and pretended this Dawn had been there the whole time. It all made no sense.

Three episodes later, I was amazed — another feeling Whedon tends to inspire in those of us who love him. Dawn was not really Buffy’s sister or even a human. She was a collection of energy called “The Key” that, in the hands of that season’s Big Baddie, Glory, would unleash all kinds of underworld awfulness. To hide the Key, the monks in charge of protecting it converted it into human form, inserted her into Buffy’s life and implanted everyone around her with fake memories. Suddenly, it all made perfect sense.

There are very few moments in my TV-watching history that left me absolutely floored in awe. That reveal was one of them. So if I didn’t love the pilot episode of Dollhouse, Whedon’s new show (I didn’t), I knew that I might still come to think it was brilliant eventually (we’ll see). That’s Whedon for you, asking the viewer to be smart and patient, two things not normally associated with anyone who watches popular television. The second and third episodes of Dollhouse offered no hugely awesome revelation, but there was improvement, so I’ll be sticking with it at least for a while. Whether Fox, the network that airs the show, will stick with it is another matter.

Dollhouse is about a company apparently hidden in plain sight that turns good-looking young people into blank slates and gives them temporary made-to-order personalities for the weekend enjoyment (or salvation) of those with the cash (and desperation). The show stars Buffy-alumna Eliza Dushku as Echo, one of the programmable “dolls,” who is “special” or so everyone keeps telling us. In the missions we have been privy to, she seems to transcend the personality she’s imprinted with to get the job done, but she also sees flashes of her old self and old missions, which is not supposed to happen. When not in use, the dolls have no personality and are likened by other characters to young, impressionable children. That we are supposed to care for Echo is obvious — shouldn’t we all want a woman to be rescued from what is essentially forced prostitution? — but without any knowledge of her past, of who she really is, we have little to hold on to except for the people around Echo, who care about her well-being to varying degrees.

There’s Echo’s handler, an ex-cop who appears increasingly loyal to Echo and less so to the company that employs them both (Boyd Langton played by Harry Lennix); the annoying geek-chic tech guy who imprints the dolls with their paid-for personalities (Topher Brink played by Fran Kranz); the sweet and scarred doctor in charge of keeping the dolls healthy and occasionally pretending she doesn’t know how they got injured when they ask her why their knees, for example, are sore (Dr. Claire Saunders played by Amy Acker); the muscle, who has already suggested he thinks that Echo is more trouble than she is worth (Laurence Dominic played by Reed Diamond); and the lady who runs the ship (Adele DeWitt played by Olivia Williams). We know she’s evil because she has a British accent.

There’s also an FBI agent (Paul Ballard played by Tahmoh Penikett) who has made it his Fox Mulder-ish mission to find the dollhouse. (Nobody else around him believes such a thing exists, and he can’t prove it does even though the clients appear to have no trouble finding it.) He might have a history with Caroline, Echo’s true self, but the details are unclear. All we know is that he has a neighbor who is nursing a serious crush or possibly spying on him. And finally, there’s Alpha, a rogue doll who escaped from the facility after slaughtering several other dolls, but making a point to leave Echo alive. He has made contact with Ballard about Echo/Caroline, pushing Ballard to keep looking, but Alpha’s true intentions are not necessarily for good.

The first episode opened with Echo as a random motorcycle rider’s dream date. (Tim from One Tree Hill? Now you’re just toying with me, Joss.) Later in the episode, she’s a hostage negotiator programmed to help rescue a 7-year-old girl from Mexican kidnappers, which was a bit silly. Dushku is a fine actress, and she morphs from one personality to another quite easily (and she has gorgeous hair). I worry, though, that her starting point — Caroline — is as yet mostly undefined. I am less interested in the clients, whose missions take up most of each episode (though, again, the second and third missions were more interesting than the first), than in how the operation came together, who the evil British lady answers to and how and why Caroline joined the company and allowed it to turn her into what she has become. Feeling icky about what she is put through doesn’t feel like enough to pin a show on, particularly since there’s not much grey area when it comes to humans being treated as slaves. It’s a challenging premise any way you look at it.

Whedon, though, is a master of finding the grey areas in human existence, he’s a proud feminist and he spins a mythology like nobody else. For now, then, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt, watching to see how it all unfolds and wondering when the musical episode will be.

5 things in no particular order

1) Life in limbo city

I’ve been neglecting this here blog recently. Last week, my excuse was that I worked all week, but this week has been much slower in that regard, so I should have been posting up a storm. Certainly, there is no shortage of topics: Michael Phels smokes pot, Alex Rodriguez was/is a juicer, hubby and I finally made it to some Oscar nominated movies that are begging to be reviewed and North Carolina’s class of 2009 just completed a perfect 4-0 run on the soon-to-be-renamed Danny G Court at Hansbrough Indoor Stadium, or HIS. Perfect acronym, don’t you think?

Nevertheless, it’s a hard time to get or remain motivated. Hubby and I still are waiting patiently to find out what will become of our employer, the travails of which, along with those of its competitor, seem to have become a veritable soap opera. We both like the newspaper too much to leave if we don’t have to, and there aren’t a whole lot of other jobs out there to be had anyway. (I’m looking at something else but don’t want to mention it quite yet, lest I jinx myself.) So we wait. Despite efforts to the contrary, everything else takes a dimmer tone as a result, and writing just doesn’t feel like a top priority. But enough about that because the only way to get past this funk is to put your head down and push through. Just like the Tar Heels did after starting conference play 0-2. Now, they are at the top of the ACC standings and not looking back. Let’s see how many times I can reference the team in this post. Onward!

2) 30 really does Rock

When Tina Fey’s 30 Rock premiered, another show-within-a-show about an SNL-clone was getting all the hype. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, written by West Wing wonder Aaron Sorkin and starring some of his absolute favorites (Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry, Timothy Busfield), was a surprising bust. Surely, if you consider the pedigree, you’d have to believe it was an a Emmy-winning hit waiting to happen right? Sorkin does have his haters and many critics didn’t like the show from the start, but few would have guessed that it would fail so thoroughly, not even making it to a second season. Tina Fey’s show did — though barely — and has been racking up the awards — if not viewers — ever since. I watched the first episode of 30 Rock and found it funny, but not nearly enticing enough to return. Part of the initial problem were the rumors about the retooling of the show by NBC before it actually came on the air. Namely, the recasting of SNL alumna Rachel Dratch, whose role was taken over by the prettier, blonder and less funny Jane Krakowski. Krakowski is fine on the show, and she can garner a laugh, but the change in Fey’s vision in such an obvious Hollywood way just didn’t sit right with me. And why Dratch didn’t go back to SNL, where she was hilarious, remains a mystery to me. So even as Studio 60 died its slow death, I watched. But even as 30 Rock got more and more critics to jump on its bandwagon, I didn’t.

One bandwagon I did jump on and enthusiastically was the one for Mad Men, which I adore. When I heard that star Jon Hamm was doing a three-episode run on 30 Rock, I had to tune in. And wouldn’t you know, it was awesome! Hansbrough-hitting-a-late-three-at-Duke awesome! Hamm is playing a love interest for Liz Lemmon, Fey’s character, but the true star of the show is Alec Baldwin and his storyline was Latino-aided hilarity. Currently courting a nurse played by Salma Hayek, Baldwin’s NBC-ish owning exec, Jack Donaghy, is unable to win over her Puerto Rican abuela. Her favorite telenovela stars an evil Baldwin clone (played, naturally, by a tanner, mustacchioed Alec). Jack buys the network and tries to fire his doppleganger, who in turn tries to foil Jack before offering to seduce a Latina woman of a certain age to win over the granny. Great stuff. Don’t know if I’ll keep watching once Hamm is gone, but at least I will agree that the critics are on to something.

3) Baseball has never been perfect, neither are the records

When it comes to steroids, everyone has an opinion. There are those who say, “The hell with it! Everybody juices! Just let them play.” There are those who say, “Ban those cheaters for life.” My opinion lies somewhere in the middle. I believe that before Major League Baseball pulled its head out of the sand, a majority of players in the 1990s juiced and that most of them were doing it not to get an edge, but simply so they wouldn’t get left behind. A soft view on the issue perhaps, but it’s true. For every Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez there were probably two dozen players just trying to get a job, keep a job, stay on the average. Is theirs less of a crime because they aren’t household names? No. It takes more than an single player to stain a sport. The masses, not the individuals, are who made the “steroids era” what it was. Bonds and A-Rod are merely two of many. They get the brunt of the anger because of the record books, but honestly, that’s the least of the issue for me. Those who urge the preservation of the purity of the records and rail against the lost sanctity of the game are naive.

There has never been “sanctity” in baseball. Beautiful though the game is, nothing about it — save maybe the starchy white uniforms on opening day — has ever been pure. Babe Ruth hit 714 homeruns, not a single one against a black pitcher. If the baseball of today is tainted by steriods, the baseball of the first half of the 20th century was tainted by racism, just like the baseball of the 1980s was tainted by cocaine use. I could go on. It’s a game played by humans, which means it’s never going to be perfect. Do I think it’s unfair for a player to use an illegal substance to make himself stronger? Sure, but I also think it’s unfair to compare millionaire athletes who train year-round and who live and breathe baseball and only baseball from childhood to the journeymen of the ’50s and ’60s who actually worked for a living in the off season, who took the subway in to the stadium along with fans, who didn’t have an army of trainers and coaches and massage therapists rubbing their every itch. Is it fair to compare Tyler Hansbrough’s all-time scoring record to the stats put up by the UNC greats who played before freshmen were allowed on the varsity? Times change, players change, expectations change. I don’t know what baseball should do with its records, but throwing out a person’s achievements because he played in a certain era seems wrong. We are nothing if not a product of our times. So why don’t we simply call the era what it was — add the asterix if we must — and move on.

4) Apologizing for being a kid

So much of greatness in sports is about projection, a desire to see someone achieve greatness and feel enveloped by the moment simply for having gotten to se it. “I was there” isn’t just about witnessing something — although that word, “witness,” has taken on added significance in sports thanks to Nike and LeBron — but validating it. Michael Phelps isn’t great merely because of his feats as an individual athlete. He is made great by the millions who watched him achieve those feats. The proverbial tree falling in the forest of sports. So what happens when the greats do something not so? Well, same principle applies. If the masses don’t see you. It didn’t happen, but if they do — as was the case with Mike and his now world infamous bong hit — they will let you know just how not great it was.

On SNL, Seth Meyers asked on Weekend Update what kind of a person it took to see Michael Phelps at a party and think “Ka-ching” instead of “Cool, I get to party with Michael Phelps!” A dick, he concluded, and he’s probably right. Mike, however, should have known better. Not about the pot-smoking (marijuana is less bad for you than tobacco), but about doing it in public. He’s been down this road before, having gotten a DUI (a much worse offense, if you ask me, given the dangers of driving drunk) after the Olympics in Athens. That he didn’t learn his lesson the first time shouldn’t really surprise. Being a great swimmer doesn’t make you any smarter than the rest of us. Mike’s problem is that he’s done all these amazing things — he’s a 14-time Olympic champion for goodness’ sake — but he’s still just a kid. He could retire now, at 23, and probably not live to see some of his records broken. To malign his achievements over a night of youthful indiscretion is just silly. Yeah, we all think that if we were that great at anything, we’d be smart enough not to be stupid. Yeah, right.

Maybe something good will come out of all of this for him. After Tar Heel point guard Ty Lawson got a DUI last summer (he wasn’t over the limit, but he was underage at the time, so any alcohol in the system was a no-no), he ended up dropping out of the NBA draft and coming back for his junior year. Now, he’s playing better than ever and, given the weaker class, will likely go higher in the draft than he would have last year. So hang in there, Mike. Win a few more medals in 2012, and the world will love you again.

5) The not-so-well-behaved college basketball fan

Hubby doesn’t like watching UNC games with me. I have stopped pointing out that I turned myself into a Broncos fan, sat through all those interminable games this season, for him. He seems unlikely ever to reciprocate. He says that I don’t seem to enjoy the games, what with my yelling at the TV and on rare occasion throwing the remote across the room. (I’ve actually only done this once, but it seems to have left a big impression.) Hubby has obviously never watched a game with my dad, who I get all this from. We are passionate people — Colombians, Obregons — so it can’t be helped. I certainly don’t enjoy watching the Tar Heels lose, but I do love to watch the games. And I love this particular team so much, I wish the season would just keep going and going. It can’t though, so I am trying to take hubby’s words to heart and enjoy every bit, even the stretches of terrible defense, the missed lay-ups, the stupid fouls, all of it.

I don’t even want to think about what might happen in March (except for the awesomeness of a Billy Packer-less NCAA Tournament) because then I’ll go back to being ornery. For now, I’ll say that the Heels have until Senior Night against Duke to get whatever losses they feel are necessary out of the way. After that all of them will be heartbreaking.