Thoughts on TV: The CW’s “Riverdale” Turns The Archie’s Comics Into Teenage Noir

 

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What happens in Riverdale…Doesn’t always stay under the surface.

The new show on the CW, “Riverdale,” based off the characters in the Archie comic universe, is the next show in a line of teenage drama’s with noir*ish tendencies.

The show, which is the latest turn of changes to the Archie brand, is proof that you can bring a 75 year old institution into the 21st century without doing too many changes to the fundamentals that made Archie and the gang, a paragon of All-American wholesomeness that even a city kid such as myself found endearing.

I even remember the first Archie comic I read, which was Archie Andrews doing his classic double-booking of dates with the two women in his life that he just can’t seem to stay away from, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.

But enough about the comics, let’s talk “Riverdale.”

So I’m limited to just one episode so this review will rely on the characters and the plot so spoilers. The episode begins with the drowning of Jason Blossom, (Trevor Stines), on the 4th of July. His twin sister Cheryl, a delightfully bitchy Madelaine Petsch, claims Jason fell into the Sweetwater River when he tried to retrieve a dropped glove.

The story then flashes towards the first day of school and Veronica Lodge’s (Camilla Mendes) introduction into Riverdale. Veronica and her mother Hermione  (Marisol Nichols) have escaped New York City due to scandal. Veronica, realizing that while this “In Cold Blood” town is not her “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” she decides to use it as a fresh start and be a better Veronica. She does this by befriending Betty and getting them on the cheer squad, much to Cheryl’s chagrin.

Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) herself is trying to be the perfect daughter after her older sister Polly, crashed and burned. Alice, Betty’s mom (Mädchen Amick) ups the ante by foisting prescription meds on her. She pines after Archie but lacks the courage to get those pesky three words out of her mouth.

The only true friend and confidante Betty has is Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), the schools openly gay student. Who just so happens to find, Jason’s body, with a gunshot wound to the head, while attempting to get it on with school jock, Moose Mason, (Cody Kearsley) after the fall dance. Well, at least someone is trying to get lucky.

 

Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), my favorite character from the comic book universe, doesn’t get much screen time in this episode. However, he gets the important job of narrating the can of worms that will inevitably burst open.

The show runners have amplified Jughead’s aloofness to 11. He still hang’s out Pop’s burger joint but, instead of scarfing burger after burger, channels his energy into writing a true crime novel about the town and somehow manages to keep up the pace. The bond that Jughead and Archie shared appears to be strained but I’m in the dark about this so I hope we get a reason why soon.

Another radical change to the Riverdale universe are the band Josie and the Pussycats, who have been made into an all African-American girl group. They, like Jughead don’t get much screen time but Josie McCoy herself, (Ashleigh Murray) shuts down Archie’s attempt at learning music from her. It might come off as snobbish at first, but Josie makes it clear to Archie that the band and the brand that she is creating will not be ‘culturally appropriated’ or be Archie’s stepping stone on his path to stardom.

And then we have Archie (K. J. Apa) himself. Of all the overhauls and changes done to his friends, Archie’s doesn’t jump out at much, save for his hot for teacher summer romance with Ms. Geraldine Grundy, a MUCH younger Ms. Grundy, played by Sarah Habel. One character trait of Archie’s that has entered into the show is his annoying indecisiveness. But instead of it being just between choosing Betty and Veronica, it’s between choosing his dad’s company, his hidden talents as a musician or becoming the jock hero since Jason is now out of the picture. In short, the character hasn’t really changed, the setting and the stakes have. Yet, Archcie’s stakes are still kind of low compared to everyone else’s.

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The Primary Cast at Pop’s

As for Betty and Veronica’s friendship, it seems to be the strongest part of the show so far. While generations of girls wound up with the annoying binary choice of choosing which one fits with their personality, the show re-orients their personalities so that Betty wants to be assertive like Veronica and Veronica, learning some humility from the scandal tries to be a bit like Betty. This allows for more nuanced look at girlhood and promotes character growth.

Veronica’s perception of the bad girl, makes her the more compelling one simply because we’re all going to wonder if a leopard and truly change her spots, while Betty simply wants to break free and quite give a little less f***’s sometimes. Betty just wants to be herself even if she doesn’t know what exactly that is.

That’s what makes the show, to my surprise good. “Riverdale” deftly attempts to juggle the darkness of the plot, with it’s winks to elements that influenced the show’s look. Reading review after review from The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine and MTV, affirms the mash-up of the Archie universe with Twin Peaks (Amick, herself, being an alum of the cult hit), but also gives nods to the great teenage angst film like Mean Girls, Clueless, Heather’s and even the Twilight  film series that came before. New York Magazine writer Jen Chaney suggested that the show come with footnotes for it’s high volume of pop culture references and influences. The noir like touch gives the show the seriousness that just couldn’t exist if the old formula was still the driving force of the comics until a few years back.

The winks and homages gives the viewer a primer to the characters and the setting. It’s also nod to the past show’s that made it into the zeitgeist but at the same time affirming that it’s 2017. Changes such as complex women characters, stronger minority presence, i.e. LGBT characters with an active sex life, are part of this zeitgeist. We revere the older ones because they changed what was considered conventional. The Mad Men references are particularly noted because that show reexamined the forces of conventional thinking  during postwar America. The only flaw with the pop culture stream is it’s overwhelming whiteness. Hopefully, that will get corrected in subsequent episodes.

At the end of the day, “Riverdale” is a teen drama with a sophisticated sense of self-awareness that is it’s beating heart. A heart that it proudly wears on it’s sleeve. Hopefully the show will maintain some level of cool and who know’s someone somewhere in America has read an Archie comic and actually knows of the pop culture references that pop out every second.

-AJS

Thoughts on Film: Bad Moms

 

Sometimes it’s good to be bad.

That’s what our overworked heroine Amy Mitchell discovers in the new female driven comedy “Bad Moms.”

Now with the end of the Summer movie season approaching, I’m finding my options to be a bit limited. Sure there is Suicide Squad and Jason Bourne, but where I live, movie going is very expensive and that’s not including the popcorn.

Nonetheless, with a very rainy Saturday and with after work activities, I made my way to my favorite movie theater on the Upper West Side, hoping I made a good choice.

The film focuses on a trio of moms in the suburbs of Chicago. Amy, played by Mila Kunis, is a part-time worker at a coffee company, run by some stereotypical lazy millennials and still is a full-time mom. Her two kids Jane (Oona Lauernce) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) are polar opposites, Jane’s the overachiever and Dylan, at a very young age, has all the markings of a slacker in progress. Her husband Mike (David Walton) is as inattentive to his kids as a 1950’s father so there’s no hope there. In fact he’s finally busted for having a cyber-sex affair.

After having the day from hell, Amy is late to the school’s PTA meeting lead by uber-mom Gwendolyn, an icy Christina Applegate. Gwendolyn, declares Amy should head the ‘bake-sale police,’ as punishment for being late. Amy, fed up with what has happened, declares no and heads to the first bar she finds.

There she meets Carla, a hilarious Kathryn Hahn, a single mother and is soon joined by Kiki, Kristen Bell a stay-at-home mom. The three share their mom fantasies and complain about trying to be the perfect mom.  The next morning, Amy begins to rebel against mommy-hood and takes a personal day. Going to the movies, having brunch, telling her boss to f*** off from a meeting and even getting Jane to relax at a spa.

She even catches the eye of one of the dads, widower Jesse, Jay Hernandez, who’s had a crush on her and is the epitome of the hands on dad. Everything seems to be going well until Gwendolyn, sensing a threat, tries to squash the rebellion of bad moms. Will Amy, Carla and Kiki save the day or would they be forever enslaved to mommy-hood?

To start the film has a good premise and the three leads work very well together. While watching Hahn’s character Carla, I began to imagine Melissa McCarthy’s character Megan from “Bridesmaids.” Loud, unpredictable and yet fiercely loyal to her friends. Carla, as crazy as she is, is someone I want in my corner.

For a comedy, the film keeps an even pace, but it’s all too convenient plot left me wondering if the writers, who are men, really managed to scratched the surface. And even though they wrote the film as a paen/apology to their wives, I wonder if they actually read the script aloud to their wives who could have at least given them some pointers.

The film’s overall message is that you can get loose but not too loose. You can drop the deadbeat husband but must pick up the next available man. You can rebel against the system but you must take control of it until the next rebel comes on the scene.

That’s not to say the women in ‘Bad Moms’ lose the battle of mommy-hood. In fact they have some wins and there is a balance back to the force. But in a weird, roundabout way they argue, a bad mom is the best mom.

Best Moments and Lines*:

“A mom party is the best because it always ends at 11 p.m.”: Amy

“I think you just got be pregnant”: Jesse after he comments Amy on her sexual performance

“You took weeks off to morn the loss of John Snow”: Amy on her colleagues at work.

“I have six of these before 10” : Martha Stewart, commenting on her Jello Shots at the impromptu party that Amy throws to counter Gwendolyn.

Bad Moms is rated  R- Restricted. Contains several cuss words, sex jokes and drinking. Yet only one hangover and Martha Stewart’s Jello Shots.   

Thoughts on Film: All-Female “Ghostbusters” answers the call.

Who ya’ gonna call!

As far as remakes go, they’re only two camps a remake can fall in; they’re sloppy homages to the original with little originality or ones that try to rise to the occasion and bring a new generation into the fold yet fall a little short.

That being said the new “Ghostbusters” film, I’m happy to say, falls into the latter camp. It might not quite top the original in people’s hearts but it’s most dynamic change, an all-female team, is not a liability.

This re-boot of the beloved 80’s franchise keeps many of the tenants of the original in balance with a new look and attitude, that’s leaner, focused and even zanier than the original.

As the story goes, Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wigg) a professor approaching tenure at Columbia, thought she buried her ghost searching past and her book “Ghosts from our Past: Literally and Figuratively,” behind her. Only to be dragged back in by the book’s co-author and former best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who now works at a junior college.

Despite herself, Erin encounters a ghost at an old mansion with Yates and her assistant, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Their encounter is posted to YouTube as proof but both are fired from their position. Realizing if they had proof, people would actually take them seriously, the ladies decide to go into research on their own.

Added to the team is MTA transit worker, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who had a separate paranormal encounter of her own while at work and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their handsome yet dim assistant.

As they experiment with new tactics of ghostbusting, thanks to Holtzmann’s insane cache of weapons, they deal with a mysterious occultist named Rowan (Neil Casey). Rowan is silently planning an apocalyptic new world order to make himself a god. They also deal with a reluctant city government trying to deny the existence of ghosts “Men in Black” style. And we thought the guys had it rough.

Kristen Wiig as Dr. Erin Burnett

The cast gels remarkably well with each of them contributing zingers almost every minute of dialogue. Even the sit down with the mayor, played by an equally charming yet stern Adam Garcia, provided some gags.

Wiig is surprisingly good at playing the straight person in the film and her character has a slowly evolving arc from frumpy professor to kick-ass ghostbuster. McCarthy, on the other, serves as cheerleader-in-chief, which doesn’t have much in the comedic department but she gets to be possessed by a ghosts which was crazy in it of itself but showcased her physical comedy.

Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates and Lesile Jones as Patty Tolan

The can-do attitude of the women on the film is as constant as it is infectious for they battle not just the ghosts but the even the men who get in their way.

The film’s true breakout character however, lies with Holtzmann; who McKinnon gives an inspired performance for young women everywhere. The fact that she is quite possibly the first queer Ghostbuster adds a new dimension to her character. It might be easy to compare her to Egon but no she is her own woman and it’s no surprise that her character will be the one that future queer women will look upon her and have their sexual awakening.

Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann

[Sidebar: Dear Sony please give Holtzmann a girlfriend so queer women are better represented in film. It will make us, the movie going public, happy to see something new and say suck it to meninmists everywhere!]

The cameos, some worked well, like Bill Murrary’s which he played a debunker of the supernatural and Ernie Hudson playing Tolan’s uncle who loans them their car. Dan Akroyd’s cameo was perhaps the most New York thing in the movie which he plays a cabbie and Sigourney Weaver as Holtzmann’s mentor symbolized the official passing of the torch to the new generation. The best one however, goes to the late Harold Ramis who is a bust in the beginning of the film.

Chris Hemsworth as Kevin Beckham

Of course when I said try earlier in the post I meant that the reboot has a few missed opportunities. Compared to the original, the film saves much of ghost-busting towards the end of the film a missed opportunity of sorts, since the first film used a montage of them finding ghosts as a way to show their rising popularity.

Their choice of filming in places to fill in for New York, while important for expanding the Ghostbusters universe, also subtracts from the setting since New York has always been a major character in many films. The adventures from the first two Ghostbusters had that classic ‘only in New York’ quality which gave their plots a sense of time and place the current one sort of lacks.

Another missed opportunity, is perhaps the most obvious, the characterization of Patty. While Jones herself defended the decision of the working-class origins of her character it still would have been nice if she still could have been a scientist and still be well Patty.

I left the theater wishing more was done for her since she has definitely more screen time, compared to Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore, who by the way had the best lines in original.

The only redeeming quality is that Patty comes up with a few ideas that contribute to the team effort and is extremely protective of the team, particularly to well you guessed it Holtzmann.

Fieg is great as a comedic director but he is not an action director nor do I want him to be one. If there is to be a sequel, please let someone direct the action scene’s, it worked well for “West Side Story” and they had 11 Oscar nominations to prove it.

However, considering how much of the deck was stacked against them, this Ghostbusters rises to the occasion, reminds us that we all can be Ghostbusters and that films that are remakes can also break ground. But most importantly I just wanna have fun at the movies.

So, “Who ya gonna call???!”

Grade B

Ghostbuster is rated PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned. Light cussing, but inventive use of the middle finger, a theater manager who screams like a girl and ghosts in green, blue and Pilgrims?   

Thoughts on TV: Younger Returns For Season 2

Oh the fun they are going to have. Photo from Pinterest

IT’S BACK!!!

“Younger,” the critically acclaimed comedy about a 40-something, rediscovering her life by being a 20-something again, returns to TV Land for its second season.

For those who were living under a rock, the show’s main character, Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), a recently separated suburban housewife, returns to work in publishing with a catch; she’s pretending to be 26, when in fact she’s 40. At the end of season one, her boyfriend Josh (Nico Tortorella) found out the truth, and things were somewhat left in the air but, it looked as if Josh was coming around to the idea.

Now Liza has to navigate the new reality of her relationship with Josh and still keep the secret from her co-workers, Kelsey (Hillary Duff), Diana (Miriam Shor), and Charles (Peter Hermann) at Empirical Publishing.

Complicating matters, her daughter Caitlin (Tessa Albertson), has returned from India, and knows nothing from her new life.

TV Land was nice enough to show two episodes, “Tattoo You” and “The Mao Function,” for the second season premiere, and it appears the show has not lost its touch. Some of the funniest lines from I’ve heard from the show so far have come from these episodes.

In “Tattoo,” Liza welcomes her daughter Caitlin but has not told her about her new life as a 26 year-old single woman. Josh on the other hand is unresponsive and blows her off after an attempt to straighten things out between them. In fact his text makes it sound as if he broke up with her!

Diana is still trying to get her hooks onto Charles, and when a dentist of Bobby Flay (yes the Bobby Flay) tries to make a move, Trout sends her to New York hell, Time Warner Cable! We knew Trout was cold but damn that was genius.

Kelsey meanwhile, is attempting to bring Empirical Publishing some millennial flavor, by making a book from the Tumblr account, “100 Things Women Think About While Giving Blowjobs.” The idea get shot down by Trout, but at least we get this delightful clapback from Kelsey, “I wouldn’t classify oral sex as pornography.”

Score one for positive sex! However, the idea gets picked up by a rival publication, which is leaving Kelsey feeling frustrated, and feeling unwanted.

Finally, when Liza discovers Caitlin’s new tattoo, she inquires where she got it, and figures out it was Josh who gave her the tattoo!

After confronting Josh about the tattoo and the fact he broke up with her via text, Josh admits that he didn’t know it was her daughter but, states he didn’t break up with Liza. When Liza asks about the text, he explains that it was Caitlin that prevented him from seeing her at the bar, and texted that they couldn’t meet because of ‘work’. Liza points out the grammatical error, she works in publishing after all, and Josh, surprisingly he fesses up to it.

Now we know from season one that Josh isn’t always that bright but, he and Liza make up, and for now Liza and Josh are back on. So does that mean everything all is hunky dory? Nope, Caitlin is looking at them making out through the window, and oy that must have been awkward for her.

This leads us to “Mao Function” where more of the groundwork of season is being laid. First, Caitlin heads back to Jersey with her father David (Paul Fitzgerald), so for now, that problem is at bay but, like Maggie I think she will return to give her mother an extra dose of drama.

On the other hand, Josh is learning the ups, kicking ass at trivia night, while Liza learns the downs, the very annoying age comparisons Josh makes, of spilling the beans. This make Liza question the whole situation even more. How can she have a relationship if Josh can’t respect the age difference rather than make cracks at it?

Kelsey has lost another client to a rival publishing company but her former client offers her the chance to jump ship. So naturally she asks Liza for advice. Kelsey explains to Liza that without Charles, she wouldn’t have her shot as a book editor, but she feels undervalued because of her age. Turns out ageism can go both ways.

During the function, Josh gets a taste of what Liza had to deal with when she kept her age close to her chest. When Kelsey, Lauren, and Thad ask about the breakup, he had to come up a lie to explain their break-up was over a deceased cat. Josh leaves the function in confusion and before Liza can deal with that problem, she has to deliver a manuscript to Charles.

Charles reveals to Liza that he is aware of Kelsey’s offer and asks Liza what he should do to counter it. Liza, ever the good friend, puts in a good word for Kelsey and suggests that Kelsey should be given something that plays to her strengths.

While Liza and Josh don’t fight about what happened at the function, he did suggest that Liza should at least tell Kelsey. Just when she was finally going to come clean to Kelsey, she bring big news! Charles gave her an imprint, or a division of Empirical to run herself and wants to bring Liza along for the ride! So that secret might stay under wraps for a while.

So what to look forward this season:

Potential Love Triangle. It’s clear Josh is going to be uncomfortable at times with the age difference and Charles is looking like a potentially better candidate in the love department. He values her input, he’s also a divorcée, and also has a kid so they’re areas of common ground. Also Trout will try to make a move and from what happened in “Tattoo” is any guide it only can go south from there.

Lauren + Maggie? Well it looks like Maggie is taking a dip in the younger pool. After Lauren made out with her under a drug induced haze, Maggie finally brought her to the loft. Does this mean Lauren, who is sexually fluid, willing to settle? Not sure where this leads to but it is nice that the writers are acknowledging an LGBT relationship. It was one of my gripes with season one, with the fact that while Liza and Kelsey were getting some action with their perspective partners, Maggie and Lauren were left out of the relationship department. I’m quite curious to see where this will lead.

The return of Martha Plimpton! There is one more person who know who Liza truly is and that is Cheryl Sussman (Martha Plimpton), a former colleague of Liza. She tried once to blackmail Liza to spy for her and while it didn’t succeed their last encounter did leave the door open for her return. I was not disappointed when she showed up in the promo for the rest of season two so I can’t wait for them to see where they take that next. All I know is it sounds like she will blow the whistle on Liza!

Will the truth come out? It’s not sure how but it’s implied that Liza will have to tell the truth to someone else in the cast. The two most likely candidates are Caitlin and Kelsey but potential dark horse could be Trout.  It would be in Liza’s best interest to get an ally in Empirical especially if Sussman goes after her again. Trout is the only other person who might have some leverage against her due to their personal animosity towards each other.

Most of all as long as the show stays fun and interesting, I will stay tuned to “Younger.”

Follow me on Twitter at @AJStevens50 and on Instagram at ayindestevens.

-AJS

Thoughts on Books… “Career of Evil”

 

U.K. jacket cover for “Career of Evil” 

Before you read further “Career of Evil” is the third in the Comoran strike series which debuted in 2013. The review for the first book “The Cuckoo’s Calling” here  in an article I wrote at my college paper. It should also be used for background on some of the characters and for continuity. Sadly I did not review “The Silkworm” when it was released last year.   

In Robert Galbraith’s (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) new crime novel, “Career of Evil,” pits London detective Cormoran Strike with three men from his past all with an ax to grind.

The story begins with the musings of the murderer, who is pained that Strike took away the everything from him and is now going to return the favor. With a sick and twisted game that seeks to tear apart everything Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott have worked hard to build in the past year.

And it all starts with a leg.

Robin arrives to the Strike private investigation office and picks up a package addressed to her and when she opens it, a severed leg tumbles out with lyrics from the song “Mistress of the Salmon Salt” by the band Blue  Öyster Cult. The lyrics were also a tattoo on Strikes mother.

Strike knows that the murderer knows his past and is going to use Robin to well strike back. He also further deduces that they’re three men are the most likely to have it out for them. Two of the men come from Stike’s past in the military, prior to the blast that blew his leg off and the third is none other than Strike’s stepfather, whom Strike is still convinced that he killed his birth mother.

Each man is morally depraved in their own ways, as the novel progresses you begin to understand who these men are and how they have affected Cormoran as a person. All of them on some level are sociopaths, narcissistic and manipulative creatures that are pure evil.

The killer wants to use Robin to be the linchpin of Strike’s downfall so its up to Strike and Robin to discover the killer’s identity before he can get to Robin.

However, the case allows several fault lines to surface, the first is the underlying romantic tension that exists between the two. Robin knows who Strike is, his unconventional past and understands him more intimately than his own friends after working for him for just a year. Strike likes his compartmentalized life but has discovered a kinship with Robin he hasn’t had with anyone except for perhaps his mother.

The other fault line involves Robin. it’s in this book we discover why she never finished college. She was the victim of a violent sexual assault and only survived because she played dead. The assault derailed Robin’s life for a year and it took away her confidence. Yet, despite that she has fought back and knows she’s a survivor.

Robin, as it turns out has dreamed about being a detective since she was a girl. However, her family and fiance Matthew have tried to dissuade her for years. And while she has helped Strike in the previous books, Robin truly craves the need to solve this one with Strike and on her own terms. The book makes it clear she will not be victimized again. It’s the first time we see Robin rebel against Strike as she tries to assert herself as a partner and asset not a liability.

The final fault line is Matthew himself. It’s become quite clear that Strike and Matthew are the dominate men in Robin’s life. Neither of them like each other and worse still Matthew is quite apprehensive about Robin working for Strike. He takes every opportunity to belittle Robin’s decision to stick with Strike. The reason, is that he is threatened by the new-found confidence that comes with being in the detective business. Which proves that the biggest villains are often the ones in plain sight.

“Career of Evil” shows what Rowling does best, which is to create the world of the characters and our emotional reactions and attachment to the heroes and villains in the each installment. I’ll admit I hated Matthew more than the killer himself since you can’t prosecute an insecure twit but you can prosecute a serial killer.

Also Rowling has greatly improved on the series as she creates several twists and turns with this book. I honestly couldn’t figure out which one would be the killer even with the clues dropped when the story shifted to his perspective, a smart move on her part. There’s also a foray into a sub community of admires of Strike that we get into that you have to read to believe it but don’t judge it.

I wonder where they will go next?

Grade A

-AJS

P.S.  I also want my dear readers to stay tuned as I take on another project.  HINT: it involves walking.   

  

Thoughts on Books: The Big Town

 Cover of The Big Town Images courtesy of Amazon.com   

I’ve always had a fascination with the 20th century. It might be that with me being born at the tail end of that century that I find myself looking backwards sometimes rather than looking to the future.

That being said, I’m not the only one with the longing for yesteryear. With television shows like “Downton Abbey,” “Call the Midwife” and “Mad Men,” for example, we look to the past to answer the questions of the present.  Of course the world has changed in so many ways since then but, a trip down memory lane doesn’t hurt.

Although, before I go any further, I should point out that saved for two episodes of “Midwife” I haven’t seen the other shows despite the fact that they are quite good. Having Doctor Who, a head trip in its own right, is enough.

Which, leads me to a book I found in the shelves of the New York Public Library. Called “The Big Town,” it’s a novel set in the summer of 1929, with the main character Harry Hennessey trying one last ditch effort to make it big in a fictional American metropolis simply called “The Big Town.”

 Times Square Image courtesy of the Associated Press

The plot and tone of the novel is reminiscent to iconic 1920’s novel’s like “The Great Gatsby” or “Babbitt,” from which, the writer Monte Schultz takes some inspiration from. As someone who has read “Gatsby” three times in his educational career, you find yourself feeling drawn to this familiar world of flappers, fast cars, skyscrapers and gin.

Harry, a traveling salesman from Illinois, arrives in the city to make more money for his family. However he gets distracted by the mysterious flapper named Pearl. While Hennessey is not immune to comfort of other women in his travels, Pearl is different, she won’t let go. Despite being barely legal herself, Pearl becomes his companion and guide to the city she has called home. And urban Beatrice to his Dante as the book described her.

Due to her influence, we as the reader see the big town in both its light and dark points from gangsters to wealthy businessmen, from the immigrant poor to the nouveau riche.

As the novel progresses, we learn that Charles Follette, the head of the American Prometheus Corporation and the landlord of the storage facility Harry is renting from, is searching for his ‘long-lost niece’ Olive and offers Harry $5,000, if he finds her. However, all is not what it appears and soon Harry discovers that Pearl may or may not be connected to Follette a bit closer than at first glance.

It’s up to Harry to protect Pearl from a pair of goons who are hell bent on winning the $5,000 and try not to succumb to what’s behind Pearl’s skirt.

Meanwhile, Schultz paints a broad canvas showing a 1920’s city more fantastical than Sinclair Lewis of “Babbitt” could ever imagine. I found myself trying to map the city in my head, where Legion Park should be, or what architectural style is the Washington Bridge, or where the sanitarium hospital where Pearl’s mother lives.

The city itself might appear Midwestern but I found it had elements that gave it a Northeastern touch, such as reference to ocean liners and the amusement park Shepard’s Island, a reference to Coney Island in New York.

 Coney Island, 1912 image by Irving Underhill 

The book slowly meanders mostly with Schultz’s descriptions of the big town but also Harry’s thoughts and philosophy on life. His thinking’s, we discover, are clearly out of sync with the metropolis he’s entered into. In more than one instance, Harry bumps into the harsh realities of the darker elements of the city. Elements like gangsters, con-men and the very businessmen who Harry idolizes.

All within the theaters, streetcars, diners, mansions and skyscrapers of this so-called metropolis.

While cities may be seen as the future of the Great Republic, a term not used these days, Harry becomes disillusioned with the city for seeing it for what it is not for what it ought to be. Feeling that the city isn’t for him, Harry begins to feel the loneliness that could only be solved by Pearl’s companionship. Something that Pearl is only too happy to oblige.

Which leads me to this case of nostalgia. Schultz, who wrote the book and two others as part of a homage to his parents growing up in the 20’s, uses the traditional and somewhat overdone trope that the city is a dangerous and corrupt place. A place that those who arrive from small towns and cities are ill-equipped to handle the people who inhabit them. It’s a trope that as a city dweller, I’ve always find offense to. For these tropes are used at the expense of the city. All of those pesky stereotypes and perceptions that still permeate the city to this day. Sometimes you have to mix the good with the bad, if only the bad wasn’t 60/40.

Yet, in the middle of all of this, we follow the everyman Harry as he is thrust into the big beast. We as readers can only guess whether or not he will make it out on the other side. And in there lies the story.

AJS

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Review: Kragman scores in ‘Odd Mom Out’

Image courtesy of the New York Times by Barbra Nitke of Bravo

“You have to apply to a cemetery.”

Yeah that’s how crazy it gets in the new Bravo scripted series “Odd Mom Out,” starring Jill Kargman. Kargman plays Jill Weber an Upper East Side mom, who is literally not like the other moms.

She dances, doesn’t exercise, her hair is black, her best friend is a doctor, who still works and she is *gasp* Jewish. She is designed to stick out like a sore thumb in the world of stereotypical self-absorbed wives of the Upper East Side.

Jill who was okay rich marries into the STUPIDLY wealthy Weber family and has to contend with their rules, rituals and charity events that keep these wives busy. So busy in fact, they have to hire nannies. Oh the horror!

Jill also has to contend with her in-laws. Her mother-in-law Candace, (Joanna Cassidy) and her brother and sister-in-laws, Lex (Sean Kleier) and Brooke (Abby Elliott) who are as self-absorbed as they come. They even changed their names to the Von Weber’s just to elevate their status in the neighborhood pecking order.

Lex, for example, is a successful hedge fund guy, who sold a bagel company to China. A deal so big Jill’s husband Andy’s (Andy Buckley), own mother think this is more important than his rise to partner. And to prove how dumb he is, he think Mexicans deserve Chipotle. Dude, they invented the burrito!

Brooke on the other hand is literally trying to groom herself into the mold of the perfect Upper East Side wife. She also sees it as her job to make Jill conform to the standards that the other wives and Candace have long adhered to.

But you know what, Jill fights them off with every fiber of her being. Her actions state that while she may agree with getting her children into a good school, she will do this on her own terms.

This is actually the second comedy Bravo has created in recent years, the other being Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, another Kargman inspired show. Yet this show plays closer to Kargaman’s vest because while she actually wrote the books that inspired both shows, this one unlike Girlfriends feels more natural. Kargman herself grew up on the Upper East Side, she refers to it as ‘Down under the Roosevelt Island tram overpasses’ or Durito lol.

The show pokes fun of the über-wealthy of the Upper East Side and its denizens some up with some hilarious results. For example, the third episode ‘Dying To Get In,’ Jill has to impress an exclusive cemetery, aptly named Green Acres. At the same time Jill is waiting for the callbacks for her kid’s kindergarten. However, things don’t go as planned and Jill goes as so far to hire the funeral directors a Capella club to curry favor.

Finally, what has truly elevated the show is the book Primates of Park Avenue, the book from Wednesday Martin, which for at least a few weeks had everyone talking. Until, that is everyone realized it’s more of an ethnography and memoir smashed together. Meaning it’s too biased for its own good. Something about the so-called ‘wife-bonus’ rubbed a lot of people a wrong way.

Yet this hilariously biased show somehow feels just right.