Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Wednesday, Jan 4, 2012
Endeavour gives the sense of conferring a privilege to viewers, a glimpse into a rarefied world running parallel to ours.

Based on the much loved Inspector Morse series, taken from the novels by Colin Dexter, Endeavour is a prequel, but to describe it as such feels a touch unjust. With a more imaginative title than Young Morse or similar, Endeavour is free to stand on its own merit.


As played by Sean Evans (Ashes to Ashes, The Take), a relative unknown, Endeavour Morse begins the series as an introverted young detective constable, unsure of his place in the world. He’s on the verge of leaving the force, for lack of an intellectual challenge, when called to join the search for missing schoolgirl Rose Tremlett. As with the original series, Endeavour is set in an idealised Oxford of cloistered colleges and leafy suburbs. The setting, lushly filmed, together with Endeavour’s careful pacing, gives the sense of conferring a privilege to viewers, a glimpse into a rarefied world running parallel to ours.


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Friday, Sep 30, 2011
Mainstream culture's failure to examine professional wrestling seriously -- in this case, workplace safety issues -- lets the WWE get away with all kinds of ridiculous villainy that no other media organisation could. And pocket a tidy profit while doing it.

Professional Wrestling may bristle at being marginalised in mainstream popular culture, but the benefits from being seen as a cultural irrelevance (while raking in millions of dollars and marketing all kinds of conservative values to the children – and adults – in its audience) also works in its favour as often as not. Mainstream culture’s failure to examine professional wrestling seriously lets them get away with all kinds of things that no other media organisation could, or should, get away with, and pocket a tidy profit while doing it.


Interestingly, last Monday on the WWE’s flagship show RAW there was an odd development – not the kind of outrageous, overblown sex or violence that sometimes draws the attention or ire of the mainstream media (something the WWE has worked hard to avoid of late), but a (relatively) quiet storyline development that showed something that’s rarely seen on mainstream television: a group of workers forming a small group and sitting down together to discuss workplace safety issues and getting legal advice on how best to deal with their problems.


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Wednesday, Jun 22, 2011
We stuck around for the whole season, got our hopes up when things improved in the last few episodes, and this is the way it ends? Ugh. Spoilers abound, of course.

In the space of a week, AMC’s The Killing was renewed for a second season and wrapped up its first season. And the conclusion was mightily unsatisfying. Most TV critics and discerning viewers gave this show a shot based on both its pedigree and its strong start. AMC has launched a small group of highly intelligent original series over the past few years, including Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and the unjustly-ignored, now-canceled Rubicon. At first, The Killing seemed to fit right in with that lineup. It was dark and uncompromising, purporting to follow a murder investigation over the long term, with each episode covering another day in the case. But the show wasn’t just going to stay with our intrepid detectives, the dour Linden (Mireille Enos) and the twitchy Holder (Joel Kinnaman). It was also going to follow the mayoral campaign of Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), the candidate in whose car Rosie Larson’s body was discovered. Most importantly, the show was also going to track the grief process of Rosie’s family, as they first learned of her death, through the funeral arrangements, and going forward.


This all worked beautifully for the first three or four episodes of the show. But things started to go astray in the middle of the season, as the detectives circled around Rosie’s teacher Bennet Ahmed (Malcolm David McLaren), a Muslim with a thing for pretty young students. Ahmed’s alibi for the night of Rosie’s death didn’t add up, but viewers knew that he wasn’t going to be the killer. So we spent a whole chunk of episodes as the show tried to convince us that it really was him, only to find out that of course it wasn’t. Things picked up again as the series entered its final stretch, with plot twists that seemed organic and actual headway being made in the case. An episode-long detour in the 11th episode, “Missing”, turned out to be valuable character development time as Linden and Holder spent the day searching for Linden’s truant teenage son. “Missing” was a great episode, far removed from the main premise of the show, and it would’ve fit nicely about halfway through the season to help us get to know our leads better. But coming two episodes away from the season finale, it almost felt like too little, too late.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Happy Endings essentially proved that anyone can fit into any kind of stereotype, which is pretty forward for a sitcom whose characters play off of archetypes like "the gay male best friend who gets around."

Even though ABC’s new sitcom Happy Endings has a bad name and isn’t particularly clever and gets details about Chicago wrong and is part of that usual trying-to-be-Friends genre, I watched five episodes on Friday, so it can’t be that bad (hint: yes it can).


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Tuesday, Apr 12, 2011
Glee's episode "Sexy" demonstrates how far television has come in its attempts to be culturally relevant.

When I was growing up, television shows used to advertise ‘very special episodes’ which meant that a sitcom character had a friend who got pregnant or a classmate who was being abused. The phrase was a cue that a popular series was going to highlight a social issue that was rarely discussed on television. The stories usually involved the secret abuse/pregnancy/addiction being discovered by a shocked main character. The effect however, was more of a ratings stunt than an important contribution to social dialogue.


Recently, Glee did its version of a ‘very special episode’ where the characters spoke and sang about sex—both gay and straight. It was thoughtful, funny and at times, touching. It didn’t, however, stage a shocking moment or a stunt. Glee‘s approach to the subject not only allowed the series to meaningfully add to the teen sex conversation, but also demonstrated how far television has come in its attempts to be culturally relevant.


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