Alyssa Rosenberg hosts conversations on movies, TV shows and other pop culture phenomena.
On Critic Proof, Alyssa and Willa discuss the women of HBO’s True Detective. Alyssa worries that the dark, popular new show could all fall apart in the finale. How do professional critics experience TV differently than ordinary viewers? They turn to American Hustle and other Academy Awards nominees, and Willa praises the nuanced moralism in The Wolf of Wall Street. They close by wondering: Are critics trying to take something away from fans? (Spoilers throughout.)
On Critic Proof, Alyssa and Matt consider the sexual assault allegations against Woody Allen in the context of the culture wars. Matt recalls growing up in a conservative home and finding Allen’s films offensive. Is the liberal elite turning on Allen because of the emerging celebrity of Ronan Farrow? To what extent are Allen’s films based on his real life? Next, they remember Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a heroin overdose at 46. Has the coverage of the circumstances of Hoffman’s death been appropriate? Why are so many great artists also substance abusers? Can any actor of Hoffman’s generation fill his shoes?
On Critic Proof, Alyssa and Dan discuss the cultural impact of the late Nelson Mandela, beginning with Dan’s memories of the campus anti-apartheid movement. They marvel at Mandela’s transformative prison term and the complex role of his wife Winnie. They then turn to the new pop culture focus on Mandela, including the Idris Elba biopic, Invictus, and World War Z. How does Mandela’s family compare with other political dynasties? They also discuss South African movies such as District 9. Pivoting wildly from Mandela, they consider the controversial emergence of Love Actually as a holiday classic. Plus: The bumper crop of political TV shows, in particular House of Cards. (Spoilers throughout.)
On a spoiler-filled episode of Critic Proof, Alyssa and Sean voice their disappointment with the series finale of Breaking Bad. Alyssa suggests that the finale is an example of why television is seen more as entertainment than great art. What was the point of introducing neo-Nazis into the story? Alyssa and Sean praise the show’s visual ambitions, which are more reminiscent of comic books than other prestige TV dramas, but they mock the finale’s use of Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” to spell out exactly what Walter White is thinking. Finally, Sean considers whether the show’s critics have gotten too moralistic.
On Critic Proof, Alyssa and Scott dissect the shocking Breaking Bad episode “Ozymandias” (contains spoilers). Why are some viewers still rooting for Walter White? They compare Skyler with Carmella Soprano, and Breaking Bad and The Sopranos more generally. What will the show’s ending say about Breaking Bad‘s moral universe? Moving on to the new TV season, Alyssa and Scott eviscerate Dads but are optimistic about Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They discuss whether Masters of Sex represents an evolution of the prestige drama, and close by offering some recommendations for other new shows to watch.
On Critic Proof, Alyssa and Emily talk about why Sex and the City deserves to be considered part of the golden age of television. Is Carrie Bradshaw an antihero like Tony Soprano? Was the show glamorizing the wealthy Manhattan lifestyle, or satirizing it? Why has mocking SATC fans become a trope on HBO’s The Newsroom and Girls? Did the show have to end with true love prevailing? Alyssa argues that the show is more generous to its male characters than many prestige dramas are to their female characters. Emily talks about how the show grew on her and encourages skeptics to give it a chance.
On Critic Proof, Alyssa asks Marc about his recent article on the looming “Daddy Wars.” Why aren’t men having the same conversation as women about having it all? They explore how sitcoms portray fatherhood, and focus in particular on the tragedy of 30 Rock‘s Jack Donaghy. In the wake of James Gandolfini’s recent death, they discuss the complex depiction of fatherhood on The Sopranos. Finally, they consider Don Draper’s parenting skills in the just-concluded sixth season of Mad Men. (contains spoilers)
On Critic Proof, Alyssa and Sonny talk Man of Steel (includes spoilers) and offer an intellectual defense of Zack Snyder, the film’s much-maligned director. They discuss what Man of Steel gets right about female characters, and whether mass-casualty action sequences have gotten out of hand. Can Hollywood drop the three-part origin story and start telling superhero stories in better ways? Plus: Could patrons like Samsung and Megan Ellison make pop culture more interesting?
Spoiler alert! On Critic Proof, Alyssa and Sean dive deep into the infamous “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones. How did the climactic scene compare to the book? Has the show done a disservice to the character of Catelyn? They discuss how GoT portrays spectacle and extreme violence on a limited budget, compare Walder Frey and Craster, and analyze the series’ portrayal of the evils of war. Turning to Sunday night’s other prestige drama, they wonder whether Mad Men is stuck in a rut and guess where the show will go next.
On Critic Proof, Alyssa and Noreen compare New Girl creator Liz Meriwether with Girls creator Lena Dunham, especially in terms of their presentation of sex on TV. Alyssa describes how New Girl has grown on her despite her apprehensions about star Zooey Deschanel. She also discusses Mindy Kaling’s show The Mindy Project. Why are the breakout characters on the new crop of female-centric comedies mostly male? Is charm on the decline among men? Is the “unromantic comedy” on the rise? Are traditional romantic comedies bad for women? Turning back to New Girl, they suggest that romcoms could succeed by becoming more realistic about love and life.
On Critic Proof, Alyssa talks to Marc about his article on the possible end of blogging. They compare their respective experiences with the medium, focusing on the unique relationship blogging creates with readers. Is blogging a sustainable profession, or does it inevitably produce burnout? And is it especially hazardous for women? Turning to the NBA, they discuss Jason Collins’s decision to come out of the closet. Why has it taken so long for professional sports to catch up to the rest of the culture?
On Critic Proof, Alyssa and Scott start by discussing the season premiere of Game of Thrones. Is the show just too complicated for the average viewer to follow? Alyssa thinks the show has responded intelligently to criticism of its frequent female nudity. Is it possible to imagine a happy ending to George R. R. Martin’s bleak fantasy landscape? Next, Alyssa explains why Mad Men is trying her patience. Has the show been about feminism all along? And what should we hope to see in the new season? [Spoilers throughout.]