1. Lodge 49
Full disclosure: this show was created by a guy I’m friendly with. A friend? We hung out at a writers’ conference and text maybe once a year. We’re friendsly. So while I’ve always been eager to support Jim’s pilot he was trying to sell, I didn’t necessarily have to like it, much less love it as much as I do to now want to come on here and write about how it’s one of the most important series I’ve seen a while.
Lodge 49 ran for two seasons on AMC and is now bingeable on Hulu. It’s about another Pollyanna: Dud, a surfer in Long Beach trying to recenter his life after his father dies, who wanders into Lodge 49 of the Order of the Lynx—something like the Lions or the Masons or what have you, but women and people of color are also allowed in.
That aspect of the show shouldn’t be undersold. Watching Lodge 49, I was repeatedly reminded of something Tina Fey writes about in Bossypants, about the total absence of what she calls “human faces” on TV. Instead we get Hollywood Faces, and I’m sensitive about the effects on us humans of watching so many unhuman faces perform at us what they consider the everyday drama of being human. Instead, look at these people:
Those are the stars of the show. That’s the main cast. Here’s maybe the secondary cast, “led” by Liz, the sister of Dud, also grieving her father’s death:
Lodge 49 shows us, without fanfare or self-righteousness, what kind of TV stories we can tell when we start assuming diversity as a fact of the U.S. present, and understand that while racism is real, not every POC narrative is about identity struggles. Here’s something Lodge 49 cast member Vik Sahay posted on social media about it:
Again, this isn’t “race blind” casting, it’s casting with an eye on the realities of the time and place the show is set in: Long Beach, CA in the 21st century—another thing I don’t want to undersell. TV does a much better job of this than movies, but how many shows do you love that are on the air right now are about real people living in the here and now? I don’t want to disparage sci-fi or fantasy or historical dramas, but more and more I feel that Hollywood (or all of us, in the art we choose to consume) has outsourced the task of telling stories about our collective present to the news.
I understand how, say, Lovecraft Country or The Crown are about back then but are really about right now, the way all sci-fi is So Totally About Right Now If You Look At It Right. What happens here is that art becomes partially an act of translation toward commentary. We watch the story we’re given with an eye on what aspect of our present is being satirized or critiqued.
What we don’t do is watch people live lives that could be happening right down the road from us. Any potential curiosity or imagination about our present is squelched in another exercise of receiving an opinion of it. And I for one feel there’s a dearth these days of us imagining others’ lives alongside or even into our own.
Lodge 49 gives so much to its viewers, and it seems to have given a lot to its cast. Maybe it was engineered to give character actors depths that other gigs don’t give them—look especially at the very funny David Pasquesi in pretty much every scene they put him in. Liz, played by the really good Sonya Cassidy, was probably my favorite character, someone we just never get to see on TV—an unambitious woman who is mostly fine with her choices and often perhaps because of that the wisest person in the room.
I haven’t even touched on the alchemy. I’m so glad AMC gave Lodge 49 a chance, if even only for two seasons. It’s streaming in its entirety on Hulu—which if you’ve decided you don’t need because you have Netflix I can tell you that Hulu has better shows: The Great, What We Do in the Shadows, Rick & Morty, The Golden Girls, The Joy of Painting, Bob’s Burgers. Go get Hulu, and then go binge Lodge 49. No need to thank me.
2. The Criterion Channel
Neal got me this for my birthday back in May, and I spent much of the summer watching every Mike Leigh movie. My favorite of his used to be Career Girls but now it’s without question Happy Go Lucky—a movie committed to how an unending sense of humor forms you into a serious and compassionate person (and how the lack thereof can do the opposite). Watching them all within a couple months, screen up close to my nose on my laptop, helped me see the quirks and beauty of his cinematographer, Dick Pope’s, careful framing. E.g.:
Now I’m watching every Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie in order. I’m sure I must have been told how queer Fassbinder was, but I must not have paid attention. Queers in every movie, and they’re not all getting beat up or killed—some are even our heroes! I’m bored, chiefly, by ’69–’71 avant-garde Fassbinder. Warum läuft Herr R amok? has a juvenile, Solondzian understanding of violence that I’ve read Fassbinder gets smarter at later in life. Whity is a racist mess, but I did like the gorgeous pastiche of The Niklashausen Journey (some of these I had to find elsewhere; The Criterion Channel has most but not all Fassbinders). My fave so far has been Katzelmacher, where all the disaffected touches seem to smartly condemn the youths embracing them, in their xenophobia against the title role.
Plus Fassbinder can get it:
At any rate, coming up are the mid-70s Sirkian domestic dramas: Petra von Kant and Maria Braun and all them. By my count there are 31 movies to watch, the last of which is Querelle, Fassbinder’s adaptation of Jean Genet. I’m looking at it off in the distance as like a champagne bottle at the finish line.