"Boston Legal" and "30 Rock"; "Twilight" and "True Blood"
As a white male of a certain age, I don't find much on prime-time TV to amuse me. "Boston Legal," which ended its five-year run earlier this week, did. It was hardly a perfect show; it had its cartoonish aspects. But the dynamic between William Shatner as Denny Crane and James Spader as Alan Shore, Shatner's sly ditziness and Spader's stem-winding liberal court orations, had just enough of a weird charge to transcend the ridiciulous, and several of the subsidiary characters over the years -- one thinks of the elegantly charismatic Tara Summers last year and this -- were touching or funny or disturbing or some combination thereof.
My wife and I don't watch much primetime TV, separately or together, but we made it more or less of a ritual to watch this (she and a friend make "Lost" a quasi-religious ritual, but I never got into that, and neither she nor I got "The Sopranos"). I make periodic stabs at trying to appreciate "30 Rock," newly inspired by Tina Fey's Sarah Palin. It's a cute show, but Alec Baldwin brings just enough strange tabloid baggage to trouble the effervescent mood and the various characters don't quite gel into a coherent ensemble.
Still, "30 Rock" is another grownup show. But to prove the catholicity of my tastes (or that I am a dirty old man), a word on the film "Twilight." This is based on a series of vampire novels aimed squarely at girl tweeners, and many critics have made much of the supposed antispetic quality of the central couple, a pale vampire and an even paler human girl, who yearn for sex but never quite get there: something to do with his fear that if fully aroused he will run amok and nibble her into cursed immortality. Most of the movie, outside the couple, is Hollywood silly.
But the young actress Kristen Stewart -- who really is still a teenager, unlike her vampire boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, who like most male Hollywood teenagers looks (and is) in his 20's -- has made a speciality of overtly erotic yearning. She did it in Sean Penn's film "Into the Wild" and she does it again here. Who needs nudity, who needs porn, hard or soft, when desire is this apparent?
The film was written by a woman based on a novel by a woman and directed by a woman. Women seem to get filmic eroticism better than slam-bam men. The director, Catherine Hardwicke, has dropped out of the two sequels, after a fight with the (mostly male) producers. We shall see if the aura can be maintained. At least Stewart will be back.
What is it these days with vampire movies and vampire television? Cloaked weirdos puncturing and draining the throats of nubile young women have long been a cinematic staple. I used to enjoy imitating the sound of Klaus Kinski gleefully moving in on the arched throat of Isabelle Adjani in Werner Hezog's "Nosferatru": a loudish "clunk" followed by furtive little slurp-slurp-slurps.
Anyhow, a down-home, quasi-trailer-trash parallel to "Twilight" can be found in the HBO series "True Blood," currently on hiatus but soon to return for a second season. In both cases the vampires, or at least the good vampires, have forsworn attacking humans, either through moral will power or the availability of an artificial blood substitute. In "True Blood" the nubile, more knowing and full-blooded human female is Anna Paquin, with Stephen Moyer as her pale lover. In "Twilight," Pattinson can read minds; in "True Blood," Paquin can, though love blocks the telepathic receptors.
I find "True Blood" kind of dumb, myself, without Stewart's redemptive qualities. But it's up for a lot of awards, so maybe I must just be on the wrong side of the demographic divide.
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.