Fictional Places I’d Like to Work

In honor of the upcoming Labor Day weekend, here’s a short list of some fictional places where I think I might like to work:

  • Greendale Community College (Community) – I’ve mentioned before that I taught political science college courses for several years while I was pursuing my PhD. I loved teaching, but didn’t love everything else that went along with it – the department politics, the pressure to publish, the low pay – so I decided to pursue another career path. I don’t imagine most of those concerns exist at Greendale; the place is so poorly managed by the administration, especially the Dean, that I assume it is generally a pretty low pressure job. I’d be qualified, get to do what I love and participate in the school-wide paintball tournament every year.

Sure you have to deal with the occasional zombie invasion, but every workplace has its issues. I can totally see me chilling in the faculty lounge with the cast of characters that have taught at Greendale (including Betty White, John Oliver, Ken Jeong and Michael K. Williams).

  • The Bluth Company (Arrested Development) – I don’t know that I really have the credentials to be in the real estate development field, but I don’t think 99% of the people at The Bluth Company do either. You’d get free massages from Buster Bluth (“Hey Co-worker”), inappropriate Karaoke at company parties and occasionally some Office Magic from resident illusionist Gob Bluth.

The downside is that you’d have to endure the fact that your company was under investigation by the government, the constant rotation of leadership and having to work Saturdays, but I’m also sure you could get away with not doing any actual work for long stretches of time. You might even get to go to Catalina.

  • The Dragonfly Inn (Gilmore Girls) – I actually have some experience in the hospitality industry; I worked one summer as a chambermaid in a hotel in Saratoga during horseracing season. We’ll ignore the fact that I accidentally lost the master key to the hotel and locked myself in a linen closet. The food at the Dragonfly Inn has got to be fantastic and Lorelei Gilmore seems like she would be a fun person to work for. I don’t recall there ever being a lot of guests at the Inn so it wouldn’t be too stressful. But the biggest selling point would be proximity to the town of Stars Hollow, CT. That town must be located on oil or have a rich benefactor since they seem to have a town wide festival or celebration every single weekend. I’d never be bored. It also is home to a plethora of cute shops and restaurants and property values must be pretty low since just about everyone owns a home and/or a business.
  • Cheers (Cheers) – Who wouldn’t want to work someplace where everybody knows your name? If you are going to work in a bar, I think Cheers is the way to go. It’s the cleanest bar that I’ve ever seen in my life and in the 11 seasons that the show was on the air I don’t remember there ever being a barroom brawl or even any obnoxious drunks. I tend to have a heavy hand when it comes to making mixed drinks – my drink concoctions only come one way (strong) – but that wouldn’t be an issue at Cheers since everyone seems to drink beer. I’d get free advice from Frasier, get to talk about life in Major League Baseball with Sam and get my trivia fix from Cliff. Every year there is the opportunity to participate in the prank war with Gary’s Old Town Tavern, which would be a good outlet for my more diabolical tendencies. Plus you never know when something like this will happen:

I’d unfortunately have to put up with Red Sox fans, but I think it would be worth it. Despite my dislike of all the sports teams, I do like the city of Boston a lot. I’ve always thought I would do well in a sports bar, so I think Cheers would be an ideal place for me.

Enjoy the long weekend!

Fox Sneak Peek – The Mindy Project and Ben and Kate

In what has become a trend that I can wholeheartedly get behind, Fox has released pilots for two new comedies debuting this fall. I like the idea of being able to sample a show in the summer when there is less competition for my attention and I don’t have to make Sophie’s Choice-like decisions about what shows make it on to my Fall TV schedule. I can take a chance on a show that I might not normally have time to check out or that gets lost in the shuffle with the barrage of new programming come September. I’d love the networks to start doing this with some of the new dramas as well; hopefully there are plans to do that closer to premiere dates. But for now I’ll have to be satisfied with the comedies.

Both of these pilots – The Mindy Project and Ben and Kate – had some buzz associated with them coming out of the Television Critics Association summer press tour (no, I wasn’t there; somehow my invite got lost in the mail). I don’t currently watch much of anything on Fox other than their animated programming and sports, so I was curious if these sitcoms would appeal to me or not. After all, Fox was once home to Arrested Development and pretty much everyone in America knows how I feel about that show.

Of the two, I had the most hope for The Mindy Project. Mindy Kaling is probably best known to most people from her supporting role as Kelly Kapoor on The Office, but she is also a writer/producer on the show and has had various supporting roles in feature films. She is also an author (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – very cute) and fun tweeter. I have an enormous amount of goodwill toward her from all these projects, so I was definitely rooting for her when she received the opportunity to create and star in her own sitcom at Fox. So I was disappointed that I just didn’t connect with the pilot more.

In The Mindy Project, Kaling plays Mindy, a gynecologist that is trying to get her life together, get her practice off the ground and find love. She has recently been dumped by a live-in boyfriend and has sought solace in hooking up with a smarmy co-worker Jeremy (Ed Weeks) who isn’t boyfriend material (think Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones’ Diary). She has a combative relationship with another fellow doctor Danny (Chris Messina) and has two air-headed assistants.

The pilot had kind of a romantic comedy vibe, which is no surprise as Kaling is an admitted friend of the genre. Unfortunately for me, I am not. I generally avoid rom coms at all cost; they hold absolutely no appeal to me. I get that other people really like them, but I generally find them kind of insulting to women (and men to a lesser degree). It’s pretty obvious from the first few minutes of the pilot that Danny will be the potential love interest and much of the show will be waiting for that to play out. It’s just not my cup of tea. I enjoyed the first five minutes or so, but progressively lost interest.

That being said, I liked The Mindy Project more than I like most romantic comedies. Kaling has good comedic timing and the show clearly speaks with her voice. It’s also nice to see a show centered around a woman that is different than the usual standard on TV. Kaling is not “traditionally pretty” by Hollywood standards – which is ridiculous – and it is nice to see some diversity in a starring role. Messina and Weeks are also good, though I enjoyed Weeks’ performance more. Messina seemed to be trying a little too hard, but hopefully he will feel more comfortable as the show progresses. It wasn’t distracting, just a subtle difference. I wasn’t too impressed with the roles of Kaling’s assistants, but they also weren’t given much screen time. As presented in the pilot, they are a little like caricatures, but they may very well be flushed out more as the season continues. There are also some fun cameos scattered throughout the pilot; one of Kaling’s pals from The Office makes an appearance.

I wish Kaling much success with The Mindy Project, but it is unlikely that I will tune in again. The central premise just doesn’t speak to me. If you tend to be a fan of movies like Notting Hill and 27 Dresses or liked Sex and the City, you may enjoy this show more than I did. I don’t need to tune in once a week to see a professional woman trying to get her life together and find a boyfriend – I’m currently living it.

Ben and Kate focuses on the relationship between two siblings – Kate (Dakota Johnson) is a single mother who had to grow up too quickly when she became pregnant as a teenager and Ben (Nat Faxon) is her ne’er do well brother who has never grown up and probably can’t even spell responsibility. Each of them has a sidekick – Kate’s slutty pal BJ (Lucy Punch) and Ben’s BFF Tommy (Echo Kellum) who is in love with Kate. In the pilot, Ben has blown back into town to try and reconnect with an ex-girlfriend and Kate is considering getting serious with her current boyfriend. Things do not go smoothly for either sibling and Ben eventually decides to move in with Kate and help raise little Maddie (played by the adorable little girl from the Matt Damon movie We Bought a Zoo).

I didn’t especially connect with this pilot either; it’s harder for me to put my finger on exactly failed to appeal to me. There wasn’t anything inherently bad with the episode I saw, but I don’t feel like I was very interested in the characters and their journey going forward. I don’t know that the show has anything very original to say. I did enjoy Faxon’s performance as Ben, but I also feel like I’ve seen this character many times before. If used in the right amount, BJ could be a very funny supporting character; however, a little of her goes a long way. Kate is by definition more of the straight woman, but Johnson was given a few moments to be a little wacky as well. Maddie is very cute, but again, we’ve seen the precocious kid thing done ad nauseam. It all was fine, but not quite good enough to crack my already overcrowded schedule. I could see this show possibly turning into something that I might like, but there just wasn’t enough promise for me to fully commit.

If Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project are on brand for Fox, and I have no reason to suppose that they aren’t, then it is probably not a surprise that I don’t watch any of their other live action offerings. I don’t watch the majority of the CBS sitcoms because I think they are dreadful, but that’s not the case here. There is nothing inherently flawed about either of these shows. I’m just not the right audience for them and that’s absolutely fine. I’ll be interested to see how both of them wind up doing this season; I may check in on them to see how they have developed down the road. Perhaps they will evolve into something that is more up my alley, though for the sake of my time management I kind of hope that they don’t. I’ll be curious to see how they both do in their freshman season; if they can connect with the right people, I could see either one of these sticking around for a while.

Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project are both currently streaming on Hulu.com. Ben and Kate debuts on Tuesday September 25th at 8:30 pm (ET); The Mindy Project follows later that night at 9:30.

Bernie – A Review

Whenever a movie claims to be “based on a true story” or “inspired by actual events,” I am a little skeptical. The movie industry is a little free and loose with these words, to the point where they don’t mean much of anything. While there may be a germ of reality in these films, it is often unclear how much has been changed and what facts have been altered for the sake of storytelling. So I tend to take the proclamation with a grain of salt. After all, when it was first released the horror movie Hostel claimed to be inspired by true events. As someone who has stayed in an Eastern European hostel, I can assure you that the film was not inspired by what an actual hostel looks like. I would have taken my chances with a psycho killer for accommodations that were so luxurious.

So when I sat down to watch the dark comedy Bernie the other night and it claimed to be based on a real story, I had my doubts. I really didn’t know much of anything about the film other than the fact that it stared Jack Black and had received a lot of positive buzz from critics and websites that I respect and trust. My instinct was to pause the movie and investigate this claim, but I didn’t want to ruin the story by digging into how authentic it actually was. This is the downside of watching a film at home with your laptop inches away; it is tempting to use the technology to supplement your movie experience. So I resisted the urge to Google the facts. I decided to just let the film take me where it wanted and I would do my research later.

I’m glad that I decided to give Bernie my full and undivided attention, as it wound up being a wonderfully dark and charming movie.  I enjoyed it immensely and when I did finally look into the actual case, I was further delighted to find that the bizarre scenes that I had just watch unfold was actually very close to what happened in reality.

Bernie takes place in the small Texas town of Carthage. Bernie (Jack Black), the local assistant funeral director, has utterly charmed the entire community since he arrived in town with his sweet nature and nice disposition. He goes above and beyond in his kindness to people and is generally beloved. When he befriends the recently widowed Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), it raises more than a few eyebrows as Nugent is twice his age and notoriously the meanest woman in town. He becomes her constant companion and together they travel the world, all on Nugent’s dime. Bernie’s ambivalent sexuality only serves to increase the tongue wagging in town – are they romantically involved? Bernie is given full access to Marjorie’s bank account and lavishes her money on the people of Carthage, buying cars for those in need, providing seed money for a local business and making a substantial donation to the local church for a much needed addition.

And then things get even weirder. But to say more would ruin some of the fun of the movie.

Jack Black is not known for his subtle performances, but he gives the best performance of his career as Bernie. He is restrained and the usual Jack Black goofiness and over exuberance are absent. He is still funny and amusing when needed, but without the usual shenanigans. Who knew that Jack Black could really act? He portrays Bernie as a real person (quirks and all) without turning him into a cartoon character. There is a nuance to this performance that is very compelling to watch.

Shirley MacLaine is awesome as usual and plays the nasty Marjorie with similar restraint. Marjorie may not be a very nice person, but she is a person; MacLaine gives her a humanity that she might not have in the hands of another actress. It is a low key performance, but it is tremendously effective. The niece of the real Marjorie said that MacLaine had her Aunt down to a T, which is really the highest praise that you can give an actor playing a real person.

Matthew McConaughey also turns in a strong performance in a supporting role as Danny Buck. McConaughey is capable of some really solid work when he’s in the right roles and this is one of them. His natural good looks are downplayed and though his character is a minor player compared to Black and MacLaine, he is able to establish who Danny Buck is in just a few scenes. McConaughey is re-teamed with his Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater and theirs proves to be a fruitful collaboration. There should be more roles like this and less where he is teamed with Kate Hudson.

I also got a kick out of the talking head segments with the local townspeople who add a nice Texas charm to the movie; turns out that a lot of those people were actual Carthage residents who were Bernie’s friends and neighbors. It adds some nice authenticity to the film. McConaughey’s mom has a bit role as one of the residents; it is clear that family has a good gene pool.

Bernie was a pleasant surprise and one of my favorite movies that I’ve seen this year. I now look at Jack Black in a whole new way and realize he is capable of more range than I would have ever anticipated. They say that truth is stranger than fiction and Bernie seems to prove that rule. In some ways it reminds me of the documentary Tabloid, another film I recommend, in that it is hard to believe that what you are watching actual happened. This isn’t a laugh out loud comedy – I’m not even sure comedy is the right place to categorize it – but it was a delight to watch. I’d definitely recommend seeking it out; the film has just been released on DVD, but because it is a smaller film it is also just making the rounds of some art house theater (it just opened here in Albany). Whatever the venue, go see this movie. Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I did.

If you are interested in reading the Texas Monthly article that helped inspired the movie, you can find it here. But I recommend not doing so until after you have seen the film.