Why Are The Emmys Honoring Rape Scenes?

Before reading this, please note that I am not trying to take a stance on whether rape should or should not be portrayed on television. I understand that it is a severe crime that happens all too frequently in the world, but I also understand that it has become a go-to plot line for many of today’s most popular and critically acclaimed series.

To begin, let me note that four of the six nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series play characters who are raped on the screen. Anna Gunn, as Skyler White in Breaking Bad, is raped by her husband in Season Two, as he attempts to take out his pent up rage in the couple’s kitchen. Joanne Froggatt, as Anna Bates in Downton Abbeycaused two waves of controversy – once when Season Four’s fourth episode was released in the UK and again when it aired in the US – when her character is violently raped in the servants’ quarters. It was one of those scenes that never seemed to end. Christina Hendricks, as Joan Holloway Harris in Mad Men, is raped by her husband when he drunkenly visits her in her office. Lena Headey, as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, is raped by her brother and secret lover Jamie beside the corpse of their dead son, Joffrey.

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Each of these incidents mark a powerful character arc for the women involved, who end up forever scarred by the attacks.

After the nominations were announced, many fans of Scandal took to the Internet to vent about the snub of Bellamy Young in the same category. She portrays the First Lady of the United States, Melody “Mellie” Fitzgerald, who is raped by her father-in-law in a flashback.

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Another show that garnered a lot of attention from the Television Academy this year was FX’s American Horror Story: Coven, raking in 17 nominations. This twelve episode mini-series includes three separate rape scenes – the victims being Madison Montgomery, Queenie, and Kyle Spencer.

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Again, I do not believe I am qualified to judge whether or not these scenes should be so prevalent on our television screens, but it seems as though today’s most complex narratives are involving rape, and the actresses portraying the victims seem to be getting recognition for their work. Is it good that these women are helping to expose crimes that they are often forced to keep secret? In the example of Anna Bates, a married woman living in the 1920s, admission of being raped would mar her reputation and Lord Grantham would have no other option but to relieve her of her duties in order to avoid a scandal (something that household knows a thing or two about). On the other hand, is it becoming too normalized? Should we have expected Madison Montgomery to have been raped at the frat party?

I apologize if this post was a little heavier than usual, but I saw the trend in the nominations and thought it would be interesting to bring up.

A Little Song & Dance: MAD MEN Mid-Season Finale

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I apologize to my readers who haven’t had any posts to read over the past few months, but I’m back with a take on last night’s Mad Men mid-season finale.

The episode, entitled “Waterloo” brings us full circle with Peggy’s decision to give up her child in the first season, as she shows remorse when her neighbor/quasi-son Julio hugs her goodbye and she gives a rousing presentation to Burger Chef about families from a mother’s point of view.

Then, Bert’s death makes Don realize two things. First, that he is to Peggy as Bert was to Roger: a mentor. Second, that “the best things in life are free.” Sure the moon landing cost $35 billion (according to the Francis-Draper houseguest that Sally didn’t get with), but the feeling of togetherness that the historic moment brought to the country and its families was priceless. Everyone was watching the moon landing with their families (even Roger and Mona), but Don was alone in his hotel room calling his family from half-way across the country.

Bert’s post-mortem song and dance at the end of the episode reemphasizes how Don is spiraling into insanity and falling further from the facade he has held up all these years as Don Draper. Maybe it’s time for Dick Whitman to come back?

Now, let’s look further at what’s to come from the final episodes next Spring. Don ended things with Megan last night (or the other way around), which I believe will set us up for a tragedy next season. With his new wisdom from the ghost of Bert Cooper, I think that Don will fly to Los Angeles to surprise Megan, only to find her victim to the violently brutal Charles Manson killing spree (the signs have been adding up for multiple seasons at this point). And with Betty fighting with her new husband, maybe Don will go crawling back to his family – it’ll be like Bobby’s summer camp all over again.

Let’s not rule out big changes to the show’s other leading protagonist, Peggy. She’s sacrificed everything a woman should have for the times – a husband, children, a home. The show can go two directions. Either praise her for her independence, or lay on the societal pressures to make her leap from the windows of Sterling Cooper & Partners – a homage to the “Falling Man” from the show’s title sequence.

The first half of the season started slow, but ended with some nice, original Mad Men vibes. Let’s hope Weiner and Co. keep up the good work for the last seven episodes, slated to air Spring 2015.

 

HOUSE OF CARDS : Binge 2

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Francis Underwood makes Don Draper look like a loyal husband, Nicholas Brody a valiant marine, and Walter White an innocent schoolteacher. Claire Underwood makes Carrie Mathison look sane, Sister Jude kind, and Cercei Lannister just. House of Cards Season Two has raised the bar for television without ever being broadcasted on the seemingly outdated technology.

In this modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Francis Underwood, the majority whip in the House of Representatives, works with his wife to toy with the other members of government and the media to advance his political career. In Season Two, Underwood is named Vice President of the United States, a leap closer to his endgame: the Oval Office. However, with a team of budding journalists on his tail for the murder of Pennsylvania Governor candidate Peter Russo, Underwood takes, well, swift actions to wipe his slate clean.

Meanwhile, Claire Underwood, who last season built up her Clean Water Initiative to an international scale, drops the project to pursue a personal vendetta. During a CNN exclusive interview, she announces that a recently pinned general raped her in college, which leads her to push a bill for civilian oversight through the House. Her biggest obstacle? A female war veteran by the name of Jackie Sharp. Jackie is named majority whip when Francis advances to act as the Veep, but her fickle, backstabbing ways shine when she goes against Claire’s bill.

Over in civilian territory, Peter Russo’s ex-prostitute Rachel Posner is attempting to start life anew, but Underwood’s chief of staff, Doug Stamper, has developed an obsession with her. As Rachel enters into a relationship with Lisa, her friend from the church fellowship, Doug’s jealously boils and drives the two apart.

The biggest, non-death related surprise from this season involves Francis, Claire, and their Secret Service Agent Meechum, in a three-way-to-end-all-three-ways.

By the end of the season, Francis and Claire have maneuvered their way into the very office they have longed for: the Oval Office. With a swift “knock, knock” we close the season – which only took me about five days to complete. But they were a good five days.

Assuming Netflix follows the same pattern of releasing each House of Cards season in February, we’ll have to wait a full year to see what’s next for the Underwoods. Will their fate mirror the Macbeths? If so, yikes.

Top Ten Shows of 2013

It is a great time to be an audience member right now, as network television starts to fight back against the domineering cable powerhouses like AMC, FX, HBO, Showtime, and, now, Netflix. And because we live in 2013, I decided to make a list about it. So here you go, Internet. Here’s a look at my top ten picks for the past year in television:

10. The Mindy Project

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In her quest to take over Hollywood, writer/producer/actress Mindy Kaling and crew step up their game big time in the sophomore season of The Mindy Project. With the addition of Adam Palley (Happy Endings), the cast finally seems complete and grounds some of Mindy’s pop culture rants. While most people have written off this show as a mind-numbing sitcom, Kaling brings a hint of her Dartmouth intelligence to the mix, crafting the lovable Nurse Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) and the bromance to end all bromances between Dr. Castellano (Chris Messina) and Dr. Reed (Ed Weeks). Mindy’s biggest problem is that she only appeals to the Generation Y – my mom doesn’t get half the jokes.

9. American Horror Story: Coven

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There is a house in New Orleans…and shit hits the fan. Ryan Murphy’s latest installment of the horror series follows the struggle between the witches and voodoos in the great Mardi Gras city, all while juggling massive themes of racism and acceptance. Sarah Paulson, who shined in Asylum, takes a back seat in this chapter, letting veteran Jessica Lange battle it out against industry staples Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett. With an eclectic group of supporting characters like mind-reader Nan, human voodoo doll Queenie, Fleetwood Mac-inspired Misty, and vagina-killer Zoey, the women of AHS take a stand, once and for all.

8. Top of the Lake

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Speaking of women taking a stand, let’s take a moment to talk about Elisabeth Moss, who killed 2013. Like, the reason 2013 is coming to a close is because she killed it. Moss stars in this surreal Sundance drama as a Detective Robin Griffin, who looks into the disappearance of a twelve-year-old pregnant girl, and uncovers the dark underworld dealings of rural New Zealand. Better yet, Holly Hunter delivers the performance of her career in the best side-story of the year as GJ, the psychedelic con artist who leads troubled women into the plains of Paradise. With a supporting cast comprised of Peter Mullan, Thomas Wright, and David Wenham (Lord of the Rings). In a sort, Elisabeth Moss’ Robin Griffin was everything that Claire Danes’ Carrie Matheson wasn’t this year… I still love you, Claire.

7. Modern Family

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We’re keeping it in the family this year with yet another amazing season of ABC’s Modern Family. While their Emmy days are starting to fade (even though they won Best Comedy for the fourth year in a row), the show remains strong as ever. As always, Phil and Claire Dunphy (Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen) bring the show to a whole new height, with the sadly realistic mix-ups that occur daily in households across America. Even Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) has stepped up her A-game. If you disagree with me, go rewatch “ClosetCon” and then we’ll talk.

6. Please Like Me

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“The Best Show That You’ve Never Heard Of” award for 2013 goes to the Australian comedy Please Like Me. While most Americans knowledge of Australian television extends as far as Chris Lilley’s HBO partnerships like Summer Heights High and the recent (flop) Ja’mie: Private School Girl, this is one show you should add to your list. It stars Josh Thomas as a twenty-something who realizes he is gay when his girlfriend dumps him over a seventeen-dollar sundae. It’s the intricacies like the seventeen-dollar sundae that make this show so great! Josh goes to stay with his depression-stricken mother, as his father lands himself with a young Thai woman. With the help of his best friend Tom and his new ex-girlfriend Clare, Josh attempts to navigate the world as a gay man – and he’s very bad at it. You can find Please Like Me on the new Pivot channel – check your local listings and whatnot. This is one show that’s too smart to miss.

5. Game of Thrones

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Red Wedding. While this episode of Game of Thrones was truly a masterpiece, I now forget what happened in the rest of the season. I’m sure it was good, but then again I do recall a lot of Jon Snow/Ygritte whining, awkward Brienne/Kingslayer conversations, and general Joffrey bitchiness. Eh, it still deserves a spot on my top ten, I suppose.

4. House of Cards

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House of Cards made history by winning Netflix’s first ever Primetime Emmy Award, which went to David Fincher for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series. That aside, Kevin Spacy and Robin Wright are cruelly captivating as Congressman Francis Underwood and wife Claire. This dynamic duo brings a new spin on the anti-hero, since the majority of the spouses of today’s most complex anti-heroes are not in on their secret vices (think Don Draper, Walter White, Nurse Jackie, Nicholas Brody, etc.). This show exposes the underworld-like dealings that occur in our nation’s Capital. With the addition of budding reporter Zoe Barnes, played by Kate Mara (not Anna Kendrick), we see how the media influences political dealings and ultimately lead to national cover-ups. With the convenient “Play Next” button, it’s hard to resist watching the first season in one sitting.

3. Veep

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My favorite comedy of the year goes to another story of political intrigue, Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as the manic Vice President of the United States in the second season of this HBO comedy about the day-to-day dealings with her political team. This year, Tony Hale was the breakout-star (even though his work in Arrested Development has already been universally appreciated), earning him an Emmy in September. Dreyfus also took home an Emmy this year, as her character strived to appear sane in the public eye through a slew of scandals from the ill-timed pig roast to “the song” to the tit grab. Assisted by Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, and Matt Walsh, the show’s fast pace has become its saving grace because there’s never a dull moment. Looking ahead at 2014 – Selina’s running for president, and I can’t wait.

2. Breaking Bad

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We bid a tearful farewell to many shows this year (30 Rock, The Office, Dexter), but none of were able to live up to American audiences’ expectations quite like Breaking Bad. In its final stretch, the AMC drama heated up as Walter White ping-ponged with his own destiny, coming full arc to admit to his wife that everything he has ever done has been for himself and not for his family, as he reiterated time and time again throughout the series. His sidekick Jesse, receives redemption of sorts – but at what cost? Two girlfriends, countless bystanders, and his own sobriety. All the while, Anna Gunn brilliantly embodies the hollow shell of Skylar White, the overtired wife of America’s most wanted criminal. Farewell Walter White; we’ll see you in Godzilla.

1. Orange is the New Black

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At number one comes the most groundbreaking television series in some time: Orange is the New Black. Debuting on Netflix early this summer, social media exploded with glowing reviews and raves about the dramedy, which tells the real life story of Piper Chapman, an inmate at an all-female correctional facility. This show encompasses the ultimate “stranger in a strange land” mantra audiences have come to love over the years, but at the same time makes this prison and its eclectic group of inmates somewhat familiar. We see the human side of these women, as we delve into flashbacks of their lives pre-orange jumpsuit. Taylor Schilling just received a Golden Globe nod for Best Actress, and there’s no doubt America will be rooting for her all the way to SHU with her bloody, tooth-marked knuckles.

Some honorable mentions that didn’t have great seasons, but great episodes:

The Office – “Finale”

Homeland – “The Star”

The Middle – “The Jump”

Downton Abbey: Series 4 – “Episode 4”

Girls – “One Man’s Trash”

Mad Men – “In Care Of”

My Open Letter to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association

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Dear Hollywood Foreign Press Association,

Did you watch this season of Homeland? Like, actually, did you watch it? Even past the first seven episodes? It got better, you know. How about Game of Thrones? Does the phase “Rains of Castamere” not sing “Golden Globe nomination” to you? Oh, here’s another one: Did you watch Mad Men this season? It was a lot darker than usual, so maybe you turned it off because you got a little scared. The Hershey Pitch? Anyone? 

On the other hand, did you per chance watch Downton Abbey? Maybe you were just watching Joanne Froggatt’s heartbreaking performance in episodes 4-8. Because other than that, the season was shit (no offense, Downton, I still love you). And Masters of Sex? I know you like to give experimental shows a chance, but not this year. Not when the three most talked about dramas are left out in the cold. Just throw a nod at Lizzy Caplan and call it a day. Just kidding, you didn’t do that either. How about Anna Gunn? Wasn’t she great on this season of Breaking Bad? It’s like she was SO GOOD she won an Emmy for it, or something. I see you gave some love to Taylor Schilling for Orange is the New Black, but, as the also-snubbed cast of Arrested Development would say, “Her?” Really? You had an entire ensemble of amazing breakout artists (Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, etc.) and you only shed light on Schilling? Shame on you. Shame. On. You.

You’re lucky Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are hosting, because their comedic gold will make me forget about all the wrongdoings you have done this holiday season.

Best,

Rob Zappulla

 

My Quest to “Get that Reference”

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I’ve been on a quest for some time now – a quest to, “Get that Reference.” Everyday, people everywhere have conversations and in those conversations people make references. From here, there are three branches in which a conversation can deviate. In the first world, the reciprocator understands the reference and retorts with yet another reference, leading to a spiral of references. In the second, the reciprocator pretends to understand the reference; they nod, smile, giggle, twitch a little, then excuse themselves for the bathroom. The third scenario – the bane of my existence – occurs when the reciprocator asks what the reference was about then immediately blocks their ears screaming, “SPOILERS!” And because I don’t like to be “that guy” mentioned in the third scenario, I’ve made it my quest to “Get that Reference.”

This past year, I managed to watch the entirety of the Emmy nominated dramas – Breaking BadDownton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards, and Mad Men. That makes me cool, right? I know all those references now! But, alas, my quest continues. 

This weekend, I reviewed my Netflix Instant Queue (now called “My List,” but I don’t like that name) to see what shows I should pick up. I tried three episodes of the critically-acclaimed comedy Louie and I elicited no reaction…aside from cringing at the unnecessary sex scenes. Thinking it was just a fluke, I moved on to the first two episodes of the cult comedy Freaks and Geeks. Again, no reaction. “This can’t be, I should try watching The IT Crowd,” thought Rob. Nope. Nothing. What is going on? How am I supposed to understand the constant references to these shows? I guess I’ll have to resort to the uncomfortable giggling, twitching, and frantic fits to the bathroom.

Check out this amazingly accurate Portlandia sketch about spoilers:

I Like MASTERS OF SEX

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I feel uncomfortable saying this, but I watched Masters of Sex and I ilked it. The new Showtime drama (really a dramedy, but who’s counting) follows the true story of Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and his assistant Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) as they embark on a scientific escapade to discover what happens to the body during sex.

The duo truly shine in terms of acting, but the supporting cast is very hit or miss. Caitlin Fitzgerald plays Libby Masters, Dr. Masters wife, who blames herself for not providing her husband with a child. Fitzgerald’s performance is reminiscent of January Jones’ portrayal of Betty Draper in the first few episodes of Mad Men, so hopefully we can see her become a more dynamic character. The biggest casting mistake for this show is Nicholas D’Agosto playing Ethan Haas, a resident under Dr. Masters and the unrequited romantic interest of Virginia. Signing an actor whose film credits peak at Final Destination 5, Fired Up, and a reoccurring role on Heroes (where his very essential character disappeared from the plot) probably wasn’t the best decision. Thankfully Lizzy Caplan is able to counter some of his inexperience – especially in the powerful “slap” scene.

So far, I am impressed with the pilot. It has a very Mad Men feel to it, except instead of being ad men, they’re sex doctors. The second episode is entitled “Race to Space,” which indicates that the writers might try to intertwine the historical events that shaped the ‘50s and ‘60s, much like Mad Men played on JFK, MLK, and the like.

You can watch the full pilot of Masters of Sex for free here.