TV pet peeve #4: The ‘Magnolia’ moment

Anyone who saw Magnolia will remember Paul Thomas Anderson’s crowning preciosity, the pan-diegetic sing-along (featuring none other than Crazy Wanda from Big love and everyone’s favorite Dr. Steve Brule!):

Very clever and very Oscar-tempting way back in 2000.  The sing-along schtick was still viable in 2004, when transposed to the small screen and folded back into a specific story arc via a collective tryptamine experience:


Less convincing in 2006.


And fully expired by 2007.


On a related note, the comedic sing-along does manage to avoid peeving, if it’s done well.  Sing-alongs sustained one season of Flight of the Conchords


..but then turned around and killed the second.  They have also propelled some very strange British comedians to (well-deserved) stardom:



J.C. Freñán


‘Family guy’ and post hoc cultural relativism

Family guy may well have exhausted its own formula of non sequitur pop culture reference, say, two seasons ago.  There was a moment earlier this season, though, that has managed, briefly and unexpectedly, to restore some of Seth McFarlane’s charm for me.  Toward the end of “Baby on board,” Peter Griffin launches into a line for line recital of a pivotal scene from Planes, trains and automobiles. I hadn’t actually seen Planes before the Family guy parody (despite my father’s repeated exhortations) but at the time, even just the sudden change in Peter’s tone — the hurt in his voice, particularly — struck me as hilarious.  Hurt feelings always make me laugh.

But there’s also a beautiful, unintended consequence to (or rather, for any Derrideans in the crowd, an intertextual dissemination resulting from) McFarlane’s parody.  By re-presenting the original so faithfully, by going so far as to include the Dream Academy song that graces the scene in Planes, the parody has effectively back-contaminated that song’s three-chord progression, stripping it of its sentimentality and reinscribing it with the over-the-top goofiness of the Family guy bit.

Enter my own non sequitur experience of pop culture: as I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve begun working my way through the early seasons of nip/tuck.  Throughout the first few episodes of the second season, the show’s original music purveyor, James Levine, has seen fit to sprinkle his own synthesized rendition of that same three-chord progression onto several different scenes.  The most egregious of these (for a number of reasons) is from the episode “Manya Mabika,” which features former Talk soup hostess Aisha Tyler as the titular patient.  After the surgical reparation of her vaginal infibulation, Tyler chokes through (what presumably passes for) a Somali accent, describing the near-divine beauty of her first orgasm.

"It was like God was waking up inside of me."
"It was like God was waking up inside of me."

Now, thanks to Family guy, we’re in a much better position to reject this clumsy attempt at grafting sentimentality to the scene via its soundtrack.  More awesome still, we’re also in a position to infect the entire episode with our skepticism, and consequently to question the profound ethnocentrism comprehending it (and most any putatively liberal discussion about female genital cutting).  Of course, my very Butlerian reading of this particular moment from nip/tuck depends entirely on my also having seen that particular episode of Family guy.  But such is the encyclopedic breadth and depth of TubaTV, folks.

– J.C. Freñán

The sun over Miami, or, The threat of non-diegetic time

I was pumped when the third season of Dexter made a conscientious effort to incorporate a more substantial Cuban American dimension to the political economic landscape of present day Miami.  Former Oz castmates Angel Batista and Lt. María Laguerta just weren’t doing it for me.  Jimmy Smits wasn’t half bad as the Assistant D.A. with serious anger management issues —  because all Latinos are calientes, sabes? — but the real windfall of this post-Ricky Martin renaissance of Latin@ consciousness was Smits’s onscreen wife, played by sleeper hottie Valerie Cruz.

Headshot ca. ¿quién sabe?
Headshot ca. ¿quién sabe?

The appeal of Cruz’s character, it seemed to me, was precisely her sobriety, her nonchalant elision of Latina stereotypes.  She also had a certain hardbody MILF quality that never fails to please.  You can imagine my delight, then, when I finally got around to watching the first season of nip/tuck and discovered that Cruz was a regular cast member.  My curiosity was piqued, and I schlepped over to IMDB to see what other projects she’s currently spicing up: apparently she’s slated for a cameo on an upcoming episode of Dollhouse.  I was more troubled to learn, though, that Ms. Cruz is putatively just a hair older than myself.  (And hence eminently dateable, right?)

Dr. Grace Santiago, ca. 2003
Dr. Grace Santiago, ca. 2003

This screen capture is from an episode of of nip/tuck that aired in September 2003.  Presumably it was shot well before that, let’s say summer of 2003.  If Ms. Cruz is indeed 32 today, she would just have turned 27 when this scene was shot.  Now, I’ve never been good at guessing people’s ages, but I always thought one of the benefits of having mestiza blood was that pigmented skin tends to age better.  ¿Qué onda, nena?  Either your agent has grossly overestimated how much he can fiddle with your reported age, or you are in some serious need of a better sunblock and a twice-daily regimen of Créme De La Mer, the concentrated stuff.  Or maybe the good Dr. Troy could echarte la mano with a chemical peel or something?

(Don’t even get me started on Cruz’s butch turn in The Dresden files.)

I’m still working my way through the first season, but for anyone keeping score, nip/tuck may well edge out Dexter as TV’s Most Interesting Miami-based Serial Drama.  (Michael C. Hall will always be David Fisher for me, six pack or no.  Sorry, dude.)  Incidentally, my vote for the Absolute Worst Serial Drama On Television goes to yet another Miami-based production, Burn notice, a show so unredeemably bad it doesn’t merit further discussion.

– J.C. Freñán