The Americans is a spy-drama FX series set in the Cold War of the 80s. I previously blogged about how good Season One (2013) was (four stars out of four), and now I just finished watching Season Two (2014). Although I was told by a friend and several critics that Season Two is even better than the first, I disagree. As I noted in my previous blogpost, I loved the first season, not because of the spying, but because of the interesting, albeit strained marital relationships of the Soviet spy and the American counter-spy. In Season Two, that strain seems to have squeezed much of the love out of those relationships, and that is difficult to watch. Kind of like Brodie’s marriage in Homeland. And House of Cards. That is why I give Season Two only three stars out of four. But I haven’t given up on The Americans and am anxious for Season Three, which starts in late January 2015. (Incidentally, I binge-viewed Season One on Netflix, while watching one episode at the time for Season Two. Binge viewing is much better and that could have factored into my comparison of the Two Seasons.)
State of Play is an HBO documentary series produced by FNL’s Peter Berg on a variety of sports issues, such as concussions and retirement. This week’s episode – titled “First Ladies” – examines the lives of three sports spouses. The subjects are DeLana Harvick (husband Kevin is a NASCAR racer), Kiya Tomlin (husband Mike is an NFL coach), and Megan Lehnhoff (husband Scott coaches a high school football team in the SA area). Megan is a regular at my yoga practices at Lifetime Fitness, and the HBO people took some video at a couple of our practices, but that video went directly to the editing floor.
Even before watching the episode, I was a little turned off by Kiya Tomlin because a pre-show article in the Pittsburg media noted that she didn’t allow HBO to film her house or her kids because that was something she didn’t want to share with the public. If I were HBO, I would have told her that her private life, not her budding career as a designer, was the reason that HBO was interested in her. The same Pittsburg article had her suggesting that she was the only wife of an NFL head coach that currently “works.” According to that mindset, DeLana and Megan weren’t “working” either, but I doubt they would agree with that. (Despite my antipathy toward political correctness, I might be guilty of that a bit here because I have become so sensitive to anyone diminishing the stay-at-home mom. I still remember Hillary Clinton saying, “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession.”)
Early in the show, Kiya seemed to quickly dismiss being a stay-at-home mom:
- “I just started working again once my daughter went to kindergarten, and I’m very happy to be working. (Big laugh.) The routine of laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning gets old. (Big laugh.)”
When Coach Tomlin was interviewed, he quickly revealed himself to be a charming, self-deprecating guy:
- When Mike is asked Kiya’s football interest, he notes, “She never cared; she’s artsy. I’m somewhat of a caveman, you know. She cleans me up.”
- When Mike is asked about his role in running the house, he says, “I do nothing. I go to work. I come home. I don’t know what the phone bill is; what the mortgage is.”
When Mike and Kiya go to a restaurant for dinner, Mike carries the conversation by solicitously asking her about the logistics of an upcoming trade show. And then she takes a couple of business call during the meal. Talk about role reversal! Seems to me that Kiya is not comfortable being married to a man as successful as Mike Tomlin (even though she says that his success is a joint achievement), and she is trying mightily not to be overshadowed by him.
DeLana Harvick is similarly driven. Her family was involved in racing, and she followed the family tradition:
- “I never wanted to get married; never wanted to have a family; that wasn’t in my frame of stuff I needed to do. And it happened.”
When she started managing her husband, she admitted that people in the business would say, “She’s a bitch, she’s a hard-ass. Whatever, I don’t care.”
Megan Lehnhoff is the polar opposite of Kiya and DeLana. The show begins with Megan saying her pre-children job in the energy industry, “felt like such an important job, but once I became a mom it just seemed way less important.” When she decided to become a stay-at-home mom, she and Scott were worried about the economics because, “They fire coaches if you don’t win around here.” Despite the stress, Megan begins her pre-dawn day with some yoga meditation and a run amongst the deer in typical suburban Texas.
In one scene, Megan asks Scott if he will be home at four or leaving for home at four, and Scott dourly says, “Either or.” That is typical of the repartee that Megan humorously recounts in her Blog in the “Scott says” section, which reminds me of George & Gracie Burns at their best. (HBO failed to mention the Blog in show, and I wonder if they were aware of it.)
Megan told HBO that Scott doesn’t discuss football with her, either because he thinks she doesn’t know enough to discuss the subject intelligently or because he wants a respite from thinking about it. Almost on cue, though, in the next scene Megan then asks Scott a football question at lunch (“At the risk of sounding stupid, what is the scout team?”), and Scott ignores the question. Only after she repeats the question does he finally give her an answer. Shortly thereafter, baby Rex has a diaper blowout and there is no question that Megan is going to change it even though one of the diner patrons suggests that Scott should take care of it. (I don’t think I ever changed diapers when my ex- was present, but I know that my oldest son often does.)
Toward the end of the documentary, Megan offers a couple of far-sighted insights that are sad:
- “I don’t see the time commitment ever getting less. If anything, it’ll probably just get more, so we’ll just miss more and more of him.”
- “I mean, I’ve always thought about, like what if he were to go into college or to another level of coaching, he will be sacrificing his family and time with his kids, but also part of me whatever he wants to do. We’ll cross that bridge if we get to it.”
Following the video part of the documentary, Peter Berg has a panel discussion with the three spouses. The questions were OK (role model, roller-coaster life, etc.), but they didn’t generate many insights other than Megan’s little nugget regarding the roller-coaster life:
- “You take joy in little things, that doesn’t have to be living this giant adrenalin lifestyle all the time.” (Berg responded jokingly, “Doesn’t it? Are you sure?”)
Her advice to someone preparing to be a sports spouse:
- “I feel like it’s such a negative answer. You aren’t going to see him much, and be prepared for that. And be prepared for [the Roller coaster].”
And finally, Berg asks the spouses if they would change their husbands’ occupations if they could. Berg seemed to recognize that the question was almost nonsensical to the driven, intense Kiya and DeLana. But Megan said:
- “He would be miserable. It wouldn’t be worth it.”
Although Megan is much younger than the other two first ladies, she seems to have a better grasp on her situation. It must be the yoga effect.
Belle (2014) is a period drama that reminds me of Pride & Prejudice because it deals mostly with arranging marriages amongst the landed gentry in England in the 1770s. Belle’s story is complicated because she is a naval gentleman’s illegitimate mulatto daughter who is handed over to be raised by his powerful uncle. In his fine household, she is treated as less than a lady, but more than a servant. The storyline is further complicated because her uncle is the country’s most prominent judge confronted by a case relating to whether slaves should be treated as people or property. The problem with this movie is that Belle is supposed to be turned off by an arranged, loveless marriage to a gentleman and drawn to an idealistic young lawyer fighting against slavery, but because of bad casting or acting, the supposed loveless gentleman is more interesting and charismatic than the Pollyannaish sap. The Rotten Tomato critics loved the movie at 83%, along with an audience of 84%. By contrast, I can’t get past the sappish knight in shining armor and give it only two stars out of four.
I’m not sure how Bye, Bye, Love got into my viewing queue of highly rated, recent movies. It was neither (19% by the Rotten Tomato critics, 50% by its audience), nor recent – 1995. The movie is a light-hearted look at three lifetime friends – Matthew Modine, Randy Quaid, and Paul Reiser – dealing with divorce. The problem with the movie is that, although the three guys are skillfully drawn and played, they are so flawed as to be almost unlikeable. The Modine character is so dissolute that he reminds me of Californication’s Hank Moody; the Quaid character is a grouch; and the Reiser character is a pusillanimous wimp. None has integrity. By contrast, their ex-wives are not fully drawn, but they seem to have integrity and perspective. I agree with the audience and give it two and a half stars out of four.
The Lunchbox (2013), according to Wikipedia, is an “epistolary romantic film.” I had to look up “epistolary” in the dictionary to learn it means something carried on in writing, and it is used accurately here. The movie, which is set in Mumbai, India, concerns an old, widowed insurance claims guy (Irrfan Khan) whose personalized lunch is delivered every day from a caterer, which seems to be a widespread practice in parts of India. One day, he accidentally receives a lunch that was intended by one of the caterer’s employees (Nimrat Kaur, from Homeland season four) to go to her husband. The old guy loves the lunch and sends a complimentary note to the employee, who is a young woman married to a cold, dispassionate young man who never much like the lunch she made for him. She appreciates the complimentary note and begins to prepare the claims guy’s lunch every day, and each day she includes a note, and then he includes a note in the empty metal containers that are returned to her each day. Although they are both by nature formal (they are Indians, after all), they eventually make an emotional connection. The Rotten Tomato critics love the movie at 96%, and the audience is almost as favorable at 87%. I agree with the audience and give it three and a half stars out of four because this story of loneliness involves a couple of stars that you learn to care about.