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by Meghan Lewit

14 Dec 2009

Last Sunday, two girlfriends and I met up for a hike, followed by lunch. While we huffed and grunted our way up hills, and then proceeded to replace the calories we’d burned with burgers and fries, we talked about the usual things: our relationships, our careers, whether we want to have kids and when, our frustrations with the adult world and all its associated problems and responsibilities.

And then, on Monday, I watched the three main characters of the new TNT show Men of a Certain Age do pretty much the exact same thing.

The show has certainly generated some early buzz, partly because it features three highly recognizable actors and has been relentlessly promoted, but mostly because everything about Men of a Certain Age—from the title to the Wonder Years-esque opening credits to the characters’ discussions about the size of their manly posteriors—evokes a kind of touchy-feeliness that has historically been the domain of female-centric shows like Sex and the City or Grey’s Anatomy.

The low-key dramedy centers around three middle-aged friends (Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher) who are dealing with marital rifts, faltering careers, receding hairlines and thickening waistlines. They are indeed men of a certain age—pushing 50 with trepidation and mired in emotional baggage. For anyone who laments the erosion of traditional masculinity in American culture, this is not the show for you. Based on the promos, a friend of mine suggested the show would be better titled, “Men with [lady parts].”

The show’s premise appears to hinge on this conspicuous upending of TV gender roles. (Meanwhile the ladies of cable TV, Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter, continue their regularly scheduled program of kicking ass and taking names.) I’m no proponent of hyper-masculinity, and I think there certainly is a place in the television landscape for a show that explores male relationships outside of the testosterone-fueled, eternal frat boy model. The best thing Men of a Certain Age has going for it so far is that it’s refreshing to see men on TV actually acting their age. The pilot’s greatest flaw is that I don’t believe that men of a certain age—or of any age for that matter—really relate to each other this way. Moments like the one where Romano’s character gazes wistfully out of the diner window and muses, “you look in the mirror, you see yourself . . . you recognize yourself, and there’s that little bit of you that you don’t”, strike me as deeply disingenuous. For most of the episode it feels as though the show is working too strenuously to hone in on the expansive female angst market.

Men of a Certain Age isn’t even television’s first foray into this arena. Way back in 2001, NBC brought us The Other Half, otherwise known as “The View With Dudes”, featuring Mario Lopez, Danny Bonaduce, and Dick Clark as hosts of the morning chat show. In 2007, Dylan McDermott and Michael Vartan starred in the short-lived Big Shots about a group of CEOs with girl problems. Neither of these efforts proved very successful, but Men of Certain Age has a better pedigree and garnered a solid audience and generally positive reviews for its pilot episode, so it will be interesting to see how things progress. Maybe the world is finally ready to watch a group of straight guys obsessing about the size of their butts. However, given that I am decidedly fed up with the hysterical aging woman stereotype (I’m talking to you, Courteney Cox), I can’t say that I see much appeal in watching these characters follow their female peers into a tired trope.

If you want to watch men talking to each other in a diner, I suggest watching the 1982 Barry Levinson film Diner instead. The film captures the depth of male friendships in a way that feels more authentic, with less angst and more funny.

by Bill Gibron

14 Dec 2009

Even to this day, Gigantor looks like nothing in late ‘50s/early ‘60s animation.  With their early comic strip influences (Little Nemo was a clear reference point) and the comic book like reliance on panel type reactions shots (lots of electrical sparks, lightning bolts, and energy lines here), these fuzzy, foggy black and white beauties represent the growing pains of anime. The added content present on the DVD also emphasizes the novelty and initial reaction to the show. In conjunction with the original volume, which brought the first 26 shows to viewers, these box sets cement the status of Gigantor as an innovative and true original.

And yet one wonders how the fanboys will react to this obvious blast from the past. Anime has grown by leaps and bounds since the days of Tetsujin 28-go and its forerunners, and by today’s standards, this obviously tinkered with title looks positively primitive. It can’t hold a future shock illustration to something like Appleseed. And yet that’s also part of Gigantor‘s charms. Like the roots of rock and roll, or the foundations of film itself, the beginnings of the Japanese cartoon format are fascinating in their stylized shortcut mentality. Unlike Disney who sweated every detail, the Asian aesthetic was one of punch and power. Getting to the meat of a situation was far more important than languishing over a beautifully painted backdrop. Gigantor gets massive kudos for clearing the way to this new and important genre. That it also stands on its own, beyond said novelty, is a very nice surprise indeed.

by Katharine Wray

14 Dec 2009

This book is for the recent grad who can’t find a job, for the artist waiting - sigh - for inspiration, for the person in mid-life who’s contemplating a serious career-change—providing each has some sense of humor when handed this book. This is a tale of failures rather than successes, but failures not without original inspiration from the inventors who dreamed up these crazy ideas. Indeed, their stories manage to inspire with each inventor’s determination to—why not?—give something new a try. As the title suggests, even the greats fell flat their faces before picking themselves up, dusting off, and setting about one’s life, again. Indeed, there’s a ‘forward and onward’ spirit to be found here. So in a way, it’s a pick-me-up for someone who may be feeling a bit blue.

by John Bergstrom

14 Dec 2009

cover art

Depeche Mode

Sounds of the Universe

(Mute/EMI)

Review [19.Apr.2009]

What of interest can a 30-year-old band bring to the table on its 12th studio album? To a lot of Depeche Mode fans, Sounds of the Univere was a disappointment because it didn’t represent a logical progression from 2005’s Playing the Angel. For a globally popular band, though, Depeche Mode have rarely made the expected, path-of-least-resistance move. Instead of dismissing the meticulous, streamlined, analog synth production, though, why not embrace how eloquently it meshes the band’s earliest sonic tendencies with the emotional maturity and songwriting development of later years? “Wrong”, for example, was a brilliantly terse, tongue-in-cheek perversion of the band’s, and its fans’, doomy image. Just as impressive was the emergence of singer Dave Gahan as a songwriter nearly on par with old hand Martin Gore. Instead of loathing Songs of the Universe for not being another Playing the Angel or Violator, why not love it for what it brought to the table? And that was plenty.

by Dave Heaton

14 Dec 2009

That Dolly Parton’s first hit, in 1967, was called “Dumb Blonde” seems appropriate in retrospect, because she spent her career defying that image while visually embodying it. It and subsequent hits caught Porter Wagoner’s ear, which took her to the Grand Ole Opry, to a successful career as a singer, and beyond. Way beyond, to a career as one of country music’s legendary performers and best songwriters, to the status of larger-than-life pop-culture icon.

This four-CD set Dolly starts even before that beginning. “Dumb Blonde” is the 11th track in what amounts to a comprehensive musical biography of Parton’s career. The earliest songs were recorded in 1959, when she was just 13. Dolly starts this early in Parton’s life because it is the music-product equivalent of the bio-pic (or auto-bio-pic, truly), taking us from the humblest of beginnings to the highest of heights. It’s all capture here, beautifully.

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