By Guest Contributors Kendra James and Jordan St. John and Managing Editor Arturo R. García
In case you hadn’t guessed, the TV Correspondents here at The R watch a lot of television. Unfortunately, not everything of interest makes it into article form and, with that in mind we present the weekly TV Roundup: a catch all of televised pop culture tidbits that might not warrant a full column, but you still want to know about. Big SPOILER ALERT in place for the items under the cut.
Mad Men: There are tentative plans for a mid-season roundtable on this show this year, what with the unexpected addition of an African American secretary, Dawn Chambers, to the pool at Sterling Cooper Draper Price. The period piece finally seems ready to delve into civil rights as other plots being to head down a darker path (pun unintended). This week’s episode juxtaposed the fear of the race riots in Cleveland with the fear brought on by the Richard Speck murders in Chicago. As we’ve covered before, when asked why the show never focused on the lives of African Americans in the 1960s show creator Matthew Weiner insisted that it wasn’t racially driven and that it just simply wasn’t the story he was looking to tell yet. His story is about white Americans. I found almost this exact viewpoint being expressed by the characters on the show in watching their reactions to each of the mentioned current events. The race riots weren’t their main concern, and they weren’t elaborated on by anyone but Dawn, who was so aware of the tension that she was afraid to go back to Harlem by herself at night. The others–the white employees–forgot about the riots as soon as news of Richard Speck started spreading. Peggy’s friend Joyce even announces that she’s sure the gruesome pictures of the murdered women will knock the riots off the front page. Like everyone else in the room, she’s excited about it.
We’re only four episodes and three weeks in, but look for more on Mad Men later this season. – KJ
Glee: First of all: There’s no Six Flags theme park in Ohio. And now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk casting. Matt Bomer (White Collar) guest-starred this week, playing Cooper Anderson, older brother to Darren Criss’ Blaine Anderson. Criss is Filipino and white, Bomer is white and, while they’re both incredibly attractive, I quickly realised during their first Duran Duran number that they actually look nothing alike. It puts into question whether or not Criss’ heritage is something the writers of the show are willing to acknowledge, or whether Tina and Mike Chang (unrelated and of different nationalities…not that that matters) fill their Ohio Asian quota. Whitewashing actors of color is nothing new but, as someone who was really hoping that Lea Sal0nga would eventually be tapped to play Mrs. Anderson (and following her twitter on Tuesday nights makes me wonder if I’m not the only one…), this potential erasure is a little disappointing, if not unsurprising. (Whatever happened to Charice, anyway?) – KJ
Justified: The season came to a “disarming” (a bad, bad pun for the bloody, strangely comic climax of the finale) conclusion this week. Although Rachel Brooks (played by African American actress Erica Tazel) has been a minor character this season, the introduction of Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson, b/k/a Bubba from Forrest Gump) as leader of an all-black criminal sect made this another must see season. Far from the conventional choice of a central-casting gangbanger, Limehouse seemed to be Justified’s take on a black, southern Don Corleone. While billing himself as a simple head cook and owner of a popular barbecue spot in Noble’s Holler, an all-black enclave, Limehouse actually serves as an underworld asset manager keeping money for the many criminal factions in the show’s setting, Harlan County, KY.
To my delight all season, Limehouse was given all the contradiction, wit, and complexity I have come to expect from this show. Also, I was pleased the show touched a bit on the glorified “I’m just doing what I can in an oppressive system” racial justification sometimes passively ascribed to various criminals of color. Yes, perhaps Limehouse and his predecessors had to adopt some of their unlawful ways to protect their community in the racially charged South but, like most good intentions that require illegal actions, they have gotten off-track. Despite Limehouse’s lofty ideals and protestations of looking out for his flock, the show still puts him in the same class with the other criminals in the series, and the fallout from his illicit choices continues to threaten the community he claims to want to protect. I sincerely hope he comes back next season. Meat cleaver always in hand, calling people “Mister” even when promising a man they won’t find his soon-to-be dismembered body, Limehouse is a welcome diversion from the one-dimensional thugs I have grown sadly accustomed to seeing. – JSJ
Being Human (U.K.): This past weekend many American fans caught up with their English counterparts and said goodbye to the last member of the show’s original trio. In keeping with the sweeping expansion and redefinition showrunner Toby Whithouse engineered this year, Annie (Lenora Crichlow) finally made her way through her Door into the afterlife, after saving the world–by killing her adopted daughter Eve and preventing the vampire apocalypse we first encountered in the season premiere. (In fairness to Annie, an alternate-future version of Eve told her to do just that, giving her–and us viewers–quite possibly the nerviest hand-wave of the past few years.)
Though it’s tough to figure out how much of Annie’s arc was set in stone before co-stars Aidan Turner, Sinead Keenan, and Russell Tovey left the series (can you imagine an American show replacing 75 percent of the core cast going into its biggest season?) Annie’s decision fulfilled the vampire Wyndham’s prediction in Season 3: that she would be more powerful than she ever imagined. Of course, the show’s constant shuffling of guest players throughout the season telegraphed Annie’s exit as soon as a new ghost, Alex, stuck around. Nontheless, Annie didn’t just go out with a bang–she dropped an F-bomb to go along with the other explosions, making her sendoff worth checking out.
The most discouraging thing about Crichlow’s departure is, the series will now continue with an all-white set of protagonists: Kate Bracken as the ghostly Alex, along with Michael Socha as werewolf Tom and Damien Molony as Hal the vampire (who, thank goodness, managed to be more than Not-Mitchell). Here’s to hoping Whithouse doesn’t neglect characters of color in the midst of resetting the BH‘verse next year. – AG
The Legend of Korra: For those of us who still get genuinely excited about cartoons (you’re in good company), the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered on Nickelodeon this weekend! Korra not only focuses on almost exclusively non-white protagonists but centers around a lead female hero. Premiering while kids are still high on The Hunger Games can only work in its favor–and hey, Korra looks way more like book Katniss than Jennifer Lawrence! For a full recap of the first two episodes check out Lori Sammy and Marissa Lee’s annotated viewing over at Racebending. – KJ
Saturday Night Live: And finally, I’d like to give a quick shout out to Jay Pharoah for, to my complete surprise, appearing in more sketches in one night than it sometimes feels like he’s in in the span of a few months. After taking a moment to google furiously and make sure that Keenan Thompson was still alive and well, I sat back and enjoyed Pharoah’s much-deserved moment in the spotlight. His Jay-Z, Will Smith, and Kanye West impressions (all featured in separate sketches this week) are spot-on, and while the final sketch of the night featured SNL’s usual inappropriate/unfunny humor, Pharoah’s standout ‘Principal Frye’ reminded me, in the best ways, of both Eddie Murphy and Kel Mitchell (of All That fame–I’m young, all right?). The cast also took on the Trayvon Martin story (Pharoah appears in this sketch as Kanye West) and proved that they can’t have their cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, Pharoah was excellent. On the other hand, despite Zimmerman’s arrest this week, is it too soon to be making sketch-comedy jokes? – KJ