Culture weeknote 4

Sunday Mar 6

AFTERNOON Quick news brief @ at the NYT before heading out. Some people REALLY do not like Janette Sadik-Khan, queen of Bloomberg's surface streets. She's the one who blocked off that huge swath of Broadway for people who like to sit on Broadway. I do not, particularly, but I'm in favor of anything that promotes pedestrian justice and the vaunted traffic calming while sticking it to the perpetrators of car alarms.

EVENING Rain rain rain rain rain, so I host my own Veronica Mars season 1 mini-marathon, which gives that beachy soap vibe a thin layer of smartypants teen angst that does not include Mischa Barton. Of course, I also have The O.C. on DVD. As Woody Allen says, the heart wants what it wants, and sometimes the heart wants Peter Gallagher. But tonight it wants a mouthy underage PI with a pit bull sidekick and sass to spare, because I also like to remember a world in which skinny jeans hadn't yet been invented.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the best bloggers around, is reading Jane Austen. Here he addresses the unintended whiplash effect of assigning books to the higher-ed canon:

It's not like I wasn't reading. I read Gatsby on my own. I read The Sound and The Fury on my own (though I wish I hadn't.) I read Moby Dick on my own. Ragtime on my own. "London" on my own. Thinking back on what compelled me, all I have is various people who I respected essentially saying, "This is beautiful, and you might like it because you like beautiful things."

This is not a post about how you "fix" higher education. This not a post about the constant travails of "young black males." I am not, in this instance, particularly concerned with the "achievement gap." What happened between me and school is something particular which may, or may not, have broader application.

But I do wonder what might have happened if, instead of droning on and on about recognizing  foreshadowing and allegory, someone had said, this is the work of a fantastic stylist. I do wonder what might have happened if Jane Austen had been more than just another name on a "need to know" list.

Bedtime reading: True Grit by Charles Portis. I think this fell out of print for a couple of decades, until the Coens turned it into a hugely entertaining film. Turns out the book is just as entertaining. Crazy!

Monday Mar 7

MORNING This Chicago Sun Times article on framing in The Social Network leads me to why David Fincher is the best design thinker in Hollywood:

Faced with the merciless constraints imposed on him by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin -- a relentlessly talky script, a suffocatingly insular setting, barely any "action" to speak of -- Fincher finds solution after elegant solution. The Winklevoss twins' rowing competition scene stands out: the relentless music strains along with the twins in their bid for Olympic glory, but the tilt-shift cinematography makes everything in the scene look small and toylike. Their whole world is, literally, child's play compared to what Zuckerberg is building -- they just can't see it yet. It's cool, cruel and perfect.

AFTERNOON More from The Social Network, a gift that just keeps giving: lunch with Sean Parker. Here's Sean Parker on the film's most famous line:

So is a billion dollars cool? He ponders the question carefully. “No, it’s not,” he says. “It’s not cool. I think being a wealthy member of the establishment is the antithesis of cool. Being a countercultural revolutionary is cool. So to the extent that you’ve made a billion dollars, you’ve probably become uncool.” He laughs at his retort to Aaron Sorkin.

Flipping through LUCKY magazine. I unilaterally decide that spring coats count as culture since I frequently wear them in the public sphere, and often to cultural events.  After that I attempt to dig my way through Susan Sontag's famous essay "Against Interpretation" and surrender in the middle. Did Susan Sontag have a sense of humor? That's the essay I'd like to read.

EVENING Oh no! Angela Gheorghiu strikes again! Pulling out of next season's Faust at the Met, approximately one week after dropping out of this season's Roméo et Juliette.

Ms. Gheorghiu’s manager, Jack Mastroianni, said she could not abide the production, which is being directed by Des McAnuff. Mr. McAnuff has moved the action from its more typical 19th-century setting to the World War I era.

“She felt uncomfortable with the concept,” Mr. Mastroianni said. “She conceives of the work in a more French Romantic way, in the period, as opposed to something being updated.”

Angela Gheorghiu is the kind of artiste who refuses all sorts of things for artistic reasons. When she toured with the Met as Micaela in Carmen in the '90s, Franco Zeffirelli wanted her to wear a blonde wig and she refused until General Manager Joseph Volpe told her "That wig is going on with you or without you." When she finally gave in, she just pulled the hood of her cloak up to cover the wig. They don't call her "Draculette" for nothing.

Watching last week's Law & Order: UK, which is wildly, needlessly complicated, something about the killing of a pregnant doctor in a parking garage which is somehow connected to the same type of crime committed by two young boys a couple of decades earlier. The only good thing about it, besides Dame Harriet Walter, is learning what a life licence is. All things considered, not much of a consolation.

Bedtime reading: a New York mag feature on Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose new musical The Book of Mormon is in previews on the Broadway. Mostly I like that the only person they won't make fun of is Andrew Sullivan.

Tuesday Mar 8

AFTERNOON My subscription to the New Yorker has mysteriously dried up, so in its absence I have to make due with their blogging engine. It's not the same, but otherwise how would I have learned I'm a book slob? My apologies to all, I guess, but I am not running a museum here, or even a library. I don't dust, I don't practice spine control, and they're taking sun baths all the livelong day. Sometimes I just toss 'em on the floor, and some of them I end up leaving on the sidewalk or dumping in the recycling bin. Oy, the horrors.

Over at the Guardian, they tell me Münchausen-by-Internet is a real thing.

Whereas Münchausen syndrome requires physically acting out symptoms to get attention from doctors, online scammers just have to be able to describe them convincingly. There's a potentially limitless audience of sympathetic ears, and success can be quantified by the number of concerned emails and message board posts generated by your lies. Some even go so far as to fake their own deaths, reading their own obituaries and observing the torrent of grief from the comfort of their living room. If they are rumbled – and they rarely are, conclusively – they just go to another support group, and to a fresh batch of trusting victims. The people they've fooled rarely find it so easy to move on.

EVENING Apple TV renting Morning Glory, which is a satisfactory comedy if not a great film. Rachel McAdams has the smarts necessary to play a smart character (thumbs up), but she's not slapsticky enough to be believable as a bumbler. I'm not sure why we need slapstick anyway, since there is more than enough female bumbling on film these days, but as always, props for a film focusing on a female character whose sole object in life is not a man, although she gets the man, too. This is Hollywood! Work and friends are not enough! (It's okay, she doesn't have any friends.) The whole thing would have been more interesting had it been about the two crabby anchors played by Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, but since they are both over 60, I will dream on.

More True Grit. This book should be stocked on YA shelves; the heroine Mattie Ross is a budding proto-feminist with zero sense of irony. A real ankle-biter. My favorite passages are those where she's "negotiating" with Colonel Stonehill, the auctioneer:

He worried with his eyeglasses for a minute and then said, "I will pay two hundred dollars to your father's estate when I have in my hand a letter from your lawyer absolving me of all liability from the beginning of the world to date. It must be signed by your lawyer and your mother and it must be notarized. The offer is more than liberal and I only make it to avoid the possibility of troublesome litigation. I should never have come down here. They told me this town was to be the Pittsburgh of the Southwest."

I said, "I will take two hundred dollars for Judy, plus one hundred dollars for the ponies and twenty-five dollars for the gray horse that Tom Chaney left. He is easily worth forty dollars. That is three hundred and twenty-five dollars total."

"The ponies have no part in this," said he. "I will not buy them.

"Then I will keep the ponies and the price for Judy will be three hundred and twenty-five dollars."

But wait, is Mattie Ross a feminist? I guess so: she cries over her horse!

Reading on the iPad. Vogue's Grace Coddington is "elusive, severe, silent," according to the late Liz Tilberis. She is also a scene stealer.

Wednesday Mar 9

MORNING Epic day for the battle of the bike lanes! Hoo boy, can open, worms everywhere. Writes A Driver at the New Yorker:

Undoubtedly, during all those years, I should have been paying higher gas prices to cover the putative costs of cleaning up the carbon emissions I was creating, but that doesn’t diminish an important point: Americans love their cars for good reason. They are immensely useful and liberating contraptions.

Part of my beef, then, is undoubtedly an emotional reaction to the bike lobby’s effort to poach on our territory. But from an economic perspective I also question whether the blanketing of the city with bike lanes—more than two hundred miles in the past three years—meets an objective cost-benefit criterion. Beyond a certain point, given the limited number of bicyclists in the city, the benefits of extra bike lanes must run into diminishing returns, and the costs to motorists (and pedestrians) of implementing the policies must increase. Have we reached that point? I would say so.

How noble! As one of those beleaguered pedestrians, I'll concede that bikers can be annoying as shit (see also: Central Park as racing track), but compared to DRIVERS? In this city? Please. Buy yourself a pair of feet and then shut the fuck up.

And here's something that should scare the everlovin' crap out of all: Facebook wants to be the internet.

Facebook is reaching its tendrils into every single thing we like about the internet, far, far beyond the actual reasons we rolled up to Zuckerberg's site in the first place. IMing? Check. Email? Check. Photo sharing? Check. Apps? Check. Location check-ins? Yup. Twitter ripoff status updates? But of course! What Facebook hasn't stuffed into its maw by its own will, it's given developers plenty of incentive to do so themselves. The consequence? Over a decade after the web portal stopped making sense, Facebook is trying to assemble itself, like some ill-conceived Voltron, into the next.

After AOL began its decade-long implosion, gradually descending out of relevance, the real internet sprang up in the fertile mush that'd been left behind. AOL was hemorrhaging money like a hemophilic boxer, but the rest of us were having too much fun with the tools we'd be introduced to by this collapsing corpse to notice. IMing, emailing, video, websites, games—AOL didn't invent any of these things from thin air, but it brought them all together in one convenient (when you had a dial tone), hideously-90s Mecca. It was easy! It was slow! It was familiarly and comforting—and stifling. AOL's vision of the online world was what AOL deemed worthy of its walled topiary garden. It was closed—locked up tight. Integrated tightly, but, in retrospect, really pretty mediocre.

AFTERNOON Ordered tickets to Good People (Frances McDormand!) and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (Lynn Nottage!)

Lots of comebacks to the bike-hater:

Now, if drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, then it might be worth asking what the optimal level of bike lanes to have is and discussing whether the lanes themselves are subject to rising congestion and need to be priced. Of course, if drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, there would be fewer drivers complaining about bike lanes and more people using them. As things stand, given that cyclists help alleviate some of these externalities (a cyclist takes up dramatically less road space than a car, doesn't use on-street parking, does not emit ozone, and does not contribute to climate change) it seems quite sensible to allocate a larger share of New York's roadways to lanes for cyclists. From an economic perspective.

I'm gonna buy a bike this summer, and then I'm just going to stand around with it in parking spaces all across the city.

In other news, this list of sitcoms that will still be funny 20 years from now unsurprisingly includes That '70s Show, which is now playing in blocks on MTV. I would also put Scrubs on that list if it isn't already. 

The NYT has an interview with Tom Stoppard on Arcadia, which SarahB and I are seeing in previews tonight:

“When you write, it’s making a certain kind of music in your head,” he explained. “There’s a rhythm to it, a pulse, and on the whole I’m writing to that drum, rather than the psychological process” — the time it takes for one character to digest and respond to what another said — “which creates its own drumbeat.”

EVENING ARCADIA!!!!! Reviews aren't out yet, so I'm mostly snapping my trap. It's a beautiful play and the production is lovely, the acting is strong (with some reservations), but if you want to see it, I'd wait a month or so. I think the cast needs a little more time to cohere in order to speed up the pace a bit.

Thursday Mar 10

MORNING Oh, Wisconsin. Way to stick it to all those high-living, hedonistic, speedboat-loving teachers in order to save billions. Oops! You mean they removed the budgetary incentive in order to ram this through the legislature and achieve the singular GOP goal of weakening the unions and further strangling the middle class? (See how well I've rehearsed my rabid lefty talking points!) Lesson: VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE.

From Gail Collins at the NYT: Q: what could possibly go wrong with guns on college campuses? A: Nothing!

The core of the great national gun divide comes down to this: On one side, people’s sense of public safety goes up as the number of guns goes down; the other side responds to every gun tragedy by reflecting that this might have been averted if only more legally armed citizens had been on the scene.

I am on the first side simply because I believe that in a time of crisis, there is no such thing as a good shot.

“Police, on average, for every 10 rounds fired, I think, actually strike something once or twice, and they are highly trained,” said Bill Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner.

Concealed Carry on Campus envisions a female student being saved from an armed assailant by a freshman with a concealed weapon permit. I see a well-intentioned kid with a pistol trying to intervene in a scary situation and accidentally shooting the victim.

Lesson: VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE.

And the real news of the day: AHHHHHHHHH! COFFEE IS IN DANGER! Better keep these people away from guns.

Also: flushing Julie Taymor down the toilet. What do you do when you're a committed perfectionist whose creative vision by all accounts is wrapped in a package labeled "do not bend"? The problem is that commercial theatre is a collaborative effort that must, almost by definition, bend in a thousand directions at once. Blinded by her own science, I guess.

AFTERNOON Reading Time Out New York on the subway, including (as never before) the dance section, which features an interview about a Black Swan parody called SWAN!!! Choreographer Jack Ferver, who plays Lily, is especially enamored of the ending:

It's a terrible thing to realize that you've lost your mind. I think everyone has felt that to some degree. But that moment is the most important in terms of commenting on what it is to dance. You see that you've really, really hurt yourself… [Pauses] And then you reapply your makeup.

My, but this week is rich with internetual ripostes. Here's Roxane Gay at The Rumpus on careless language in the New York Times' coverage of the "alleged" sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl in Texas:

The Times article was entitled, “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town,” as if the victim in question was the town itself. James McKinley Jr., the article’s author, focused on how the men’s lives would be changed forever, how the town was being ripped apart, how those poor boys might never be able to return to school. There was discussion of how the eleven-year-old girl, the child, dressed like a twenty-year-old, implying that there is a realm of possibility where a woman can “ask for it” and that it’s somehow understandable that eighteen men would rape a child. There were even questions about the whereabouts of the mother, given, as we all know, that a mother must be with her child at all times or whatever ill may befall the child is clearly the mother’s fault. Strangely, there were no questions about the whereabouts of the father while this rape was taking place.

And also this, from Mac McClelland at Mother Jones, on the Times' "rape-friendly reporting":

This is the point at which, as the writer's editor, I would send him an email. "Dear James," it would say. "Thanks for getting this in! I have some concerns that we've only got quotes from people who are worried about the suspects ('The arrests have left many wondering who will be taken into custody next') and think the girl was asking for it, especially since, even if she actually begged for it, the fact that she is 11 makes the incident stupendously reprehensible (not to mention still illegal). We don't want anyone wrongly thinking you are being lazy or thoughtless or misogynist! Please advise if literally no other kinds of quotes are available because every single person who lives in Cleveland, Texas, is a monster."

That leads to a round robin of old articles on the coverage and reactions to the 2009 arrest of Roman Polanski, including this one at Salon, which simply begins with "Roman Polanski raped a child."

Friday Mar 11

MORNING Save to Instapaper:

And here's the only good thing in tech this week: Google Chrome now lets you block search results from certain sites. You can also install the Google Personal Blocklist extension. So long, HuffPo! Screw you, eHow!

Back to fashion at The Cut. Men wearing ladies' shorts? I'm all for subverting gender roles in the interest of forming a more perfect union, but this is a very bad idea. Actually I don't even want to see women in those shorts. They are terrible.

AFTERNOON Finally Parks and Recreation is getting the notices it deserves. Its best feature? It isn't cynical, nor does it play any character (save Jerry) strictly for laughs:

Amy Poehler, the show's star, plays Leslie Knope, a preternaturally effervescent Indiana bureaucrat who is neither lovable antihero nor bewildered straight woman. Leslie defies all television (and cinematic for that matter) tropes. She is not a figure of fun — she may be perky, but she is not stupid — and does not have a hidden psychosis or agenda. She is just a regular gal, a solid B student, who believes in the power of positive thinking and is surrounded by a disparate, and at times desperate, group of people including the sweetly goofy Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), the hilariously troubled Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and the mildly normal Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones).

Get this: fake freckles! As a person of freckles, I find this offensive. I'm as insulted as I am by right-sighted people who wear glasses as fashion accessories that have nothing to do with impending blindness. It's all fun & games 'til the lord refuses to taketh away.

EVENING Attended a Noah Himmelstein-directed reading at a black-box up at Columbia, featuring Strindberg's The Stronger, Cocteau's The Human Voice, and a new piece by Danny Mitarotondo titled The River Has No Water. An elegant, delicate production guided by a sure hand and a clear vision.

After that we jet over to the Upper East Side to see Kate Baldwin perform at Feinstein's in a show dedicated to the work of lyricist Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me, Fiorello!, The Apple Tree, etc.). About a quarter of the way in, Sheldon Harnick joins her on stage, where he duets on most of the remaining numbers, and performs "If I Were a Rich Man" as a solo.

The two of them end together with a gorgeous "Sunrise, Sunset," and then we float out into the night. Pure magic from start to finish. Feinstein's does it again!

Culture weeknote 3

The latest in a series tracking my weekly cultural intake. Basically, anything goes.

Sunday Feb 13

3:00 P.M. Read The Seagull. That's all I have written down: "read The Seagull." It's a short book, so it couldn't have taken that long. Maybe I was subconsciously resisting the impulse to wikileak every detail of my existence. Otherwise I was napping.

Anyway, I've thoroughly enjoyed this Stage Edition series of Chekhov translations by Laurence Senelick. He provides a handy pronunciation guide of character names for non-Russian-speaking dum-dums like me, and a solid introduction to the play's background, historical setting, and themes. I'm a huge Cliff's Notes fan (as supplemental to the source material!), so this is right up my nerd alley.

Monday Feb 14

Morning. Compose a neo-pastiche aria/military anthem titled "Coffee, My Friend, Climb Into My Cup." Perform it before an inanimate studio audience that includes but is not limited to my coffee. Others in attendance: the stove, the TV, a laundry hamper made of wicker, eight million clumps of dust. The floor lamp remains stoic in the face of artistic élan, and the fireplace refuses to applaud. Up yours, non-functioning flue!

Afternoon. Is there any civilization the Internet isn't simultaneously enabling/destroying these days? To wit: this Don Norman article "I have seen the future and I am opposed to it." As if opposition is an option, says Jeopardy!

But what about the Internet, an open system, with open standards where any browser has instant access to all of its delights? Isn't this the wave of the future? Yes, but this future is in danger of becoming one of walled gardens, where different services are contained within the bounds of subscriptions. Want one group of television shows? Join this garden. Want another? Join that garden. Want news articles, there is yet another garden to join. Want to buy a book or magazine for your electronic reader? You might have to match the item to the reader, the service provider and perhaps even the device. Different items will be sold through different distributors and not all will work on your particular brand of reader. We will all have to purchase multiple brands of readers.

This leads me right into an interview with Alexi Murdoch in Time Out New York, which describes his "tiny seaside house facing the Hebrides, seven miles from the nearest village and with nothing but water separating it from Canada." I daydream about places like this all the time, where I would eschew modernity and eke out a bleak, ironic existence on some unforgiving coast like a character in a Penelope Fitzgerald novel, an isolated target of scurrilous village gossip who travels only on foot or by ancient motorbike, the handlebars of which I would decorate with plastic carnations and dried chili peppers, and maybe a couple of shrunken heads. Yet I hesitate. Could I get my Lapham's Quarterly delivered out there? Where would I buy hot dogs? Who will save me from snakes? These questions and more must be answered before I withdraw from the future.

Evening. Read Tom Stoppard's translation of The Cherry Orchard. This is the version I saw at BAM two years ago with Sinéad Cusack, Rebecca Hall, Simon Russell Beale, and Ethan Hawke. I'm tragically disappointed I didn't read it before I went — I missed all the poetry and nuance. God, why was I so stupid in 2009?

Watch The Kids Are All Right. Lisa Cholodenko does it againand bless her for spelling the title correctly ("shadowy acceptance" aside). I love films without villains, in which everybody acts like an asshole at one time or another and makes mistakes that can't be rewound by a pat, sentimental ending. Everything about this is note perfect, from the way Annette Bening silently implodes at the dinner table ("The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing / Alive enough to have strength to die"), to Julianne Moore's "I work in landscape design" costume, to the irresistible, irrepressible sweetness and arms-wide expectation that is Mark Ruffalo. Nobody starts out wanting to damage the people they love, but we do it anyway, all the time, every day, and survive. This would be in my top five for 2010 (rounding out The Social Network, Greenberg, Please Give, and ... I guess there's only four.) 

Start Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, which opens next month (previews begin next week). Oh, boy. I am in for it with this one, I can tell already.

Tuesday Feb 15

6:30 A.M. Finish Arcadia. No energy for news this week. This happens sometimes: the mind must purge itself of contemporary tragedies. And I'm deeply in love with this play.

10:00 A.M. Doing some recon for tonight's Nixon in China. The Met has posted some great video clips online, my favorite of which is "Flesh Rebels." Is the accent on "rebels" a noun or a verb here? A little of both? Also, Madame Mao was known as "the white-boned demon."

11:00 A.M. Order a ticket for The Queen of Spades. Tchaikovsky is too good to resist.

12:30 P.M. "What else is there in life but time and irony?"

5:00 P.M. Re-read Arcadia alongside the Faber Critical Guide to Tom Stoppard. I descend into what I call Immersion Tendency Madness when something strikes me the way this play does, where the love fans out almost immediately into obsession. And there's so much to dive into! Classicism vs. Romanticism, Determinism vs. Free Will, Order vs. Chaos, Thinking vs. Feeling, math as sex, science as sex, duality, simultaneity, the history of garden design, Lord Byron, where is your heart and what is the proof? And yet none of it reads like a speech or didactic window dressing: that's the difference, I think, between a comedy of ideas and a drama. At least that's what I'm hoping. I haven't even seen it yet, but this is it, my perfect play. Divine.

8:00 P.M. Nixon in China. Unexpected Mao sex! I have a terrible habit of looking for narrative where there is none, and the post-tweens surrounding us distract to no end. Would I have liked it more if I were seated in the orchestra? If I had a more sophisticated ear? But the music was gorgeous! I confuse myself.

Wednesday Feb 16

10:30 A.M. I don't know what to say about Borders. I've run out of space for books in my apartment; this is a limitation. I don't go to the library because I need to write in my books; this is either a choice or a character flaw. Dear Pen Pal: what are my options?

1:30 P.M. The Met announces its 2011–12 season amid a Twittering flurry. Such excitement! Please come see Rodelinda. You will fall in love. And look at this amazing shot of David Daniels and Joyce DiDonato from the world premiere of The Enchanted Island. EEEEEEEEEE! They're pushing Netrebko hard next year.

6:30 P.M. Re-read Arcadia. Again. I've underlined and annotated almost every page by now; it's impossible to decipher (best of luck, SarahB!). And here's where the difference between printed books and e-books runs right into the wall. There's no efficient means by which to browse an e-book; you can either search for something specific, provided you have the proper search term in mind, or you can "flip" from page to page by way of the forward/back buttons or by swiping the screen of an iPad. But the control is out of your hands; you can't leaf a finger into a page to mark your place, you can't reference two or three pages simultaneously, and whether or not you actually find what you're seeking is up to the luck of the mechanical draw. Again I have no answers, only questions.

9:00 P.M. Terrible episode of Modern Family. I'm a little tired of all the plot point redrawing from last season, although I guess it would be fine if any of it were that funny. Shelley Long was way over the top, Matt Dillon was miscast, and Fizbo needs to die.

9:30 P.M. DVR last night's excellent bug-centered, adult-Asperger's episode of Parenthood. More people should be watching this show. It's consistently satisfying, although I'm not sure why Coach and Holly McClane can't share the screen more often. Is there some kind of separation clause in their contracts? Is it a budget thing? It's noticeably weird.

10:30 P.M. Start Kenneth Tynan's piece on Tom Stoppard in Show Peoplewhich I was surprised to find I already ownI'm so awesome that way! Stoppard used to play cricket with Harold Pinter, who skips the match Tynan watches, since his estranged wife is also expected to attend. (This is the wife he pitched over in favor of Lady Antonia Fraser, whose recent book about her life with Pinter, Must You Go? also waits patiently in my Kindle queue). Here's Tynan's description of Pinter:

Pinter has two basic facial expressions, which alternate with alarming rapidity. One of them, his serious mask, suggests a surgeon or a dentist on the brink of making a brilliant diagnosis. The head tilts to one side, the eyes narrow shrewdly, the brain seems to whirr like a computer. His stare drills into your mind. His face, topped by shiny black hair, is sombre, intent, profoundly concerned. When he smiles, however, it is suddenly and totally transformed. "Smile" is really the wrong word: what comes over his face is unmistakably a leer. It reveals gleaming, voracious teeth, with a good deal of air between them, and their owner resembles a stand-up comic who has just uttered a none too subtle sexual innuendo. At the same time, the eyes pop and lasciviously swivel. There seems to be no halfway house between these two extremes, and this, as Pinter is doubtless aware, can be very disconcerting.

I like that very much, especially the whole "dentist / drill" callback.

Thursday Feb 17

Morning. On the subway: the chances for Middle East democracy in The New Republic. "[W]ithout economic justice—that is, without the hope of making a decent living, receiving adequate medical treatment, and no longer living in squalor—these democratic dreams are likely to benefit only a small minority of the population, even if, in a country as populous as Egypt, that is still a great many people in absolute numbers."

Back home: Matt Taibbi on David Brooks, re: the work ethic of the rich vs. the working class:

Most of the work in this world completely sucks balls and the only reward most people get for their work is just barely enough money to survive, if that. The 95% of people out there who spend all day long shoveling the dogshit of life for subsistence wages are basically keeping things running just well enough so that David Brooks, me and the rest of that lucky 5% of mostly college-educated yuppies can live embarrassingly rewarding and interesting lives in which society throws gobs of money at us for pushing ideas around on paper (frequently, not even good ideas) and taking mutual-admiration-society business lunches in London and Paris and Las Vegas with our overpaid peers.

Matt Taibbi is gleefully unconcerned with kissing asses.

Ordered a ticket to see Tom Stoppard at TimesTalks. Not one of those Somethings I Can Pass Up, even on a Running Team Tuesday.

Afternoon. Chris Rock in Esquire on optimism in the time of the Tea Party:

Kids always act up the most before they go to sleep. And when I see the Tea Party and all this stuff, it actually feels like racism's almost over. Because this is the last — this is the act up before the sleep. They're going crazy. They're insane. You want to get rid of them — and the next thing you know, they're fucking knocked out. And that's what's going on in the country right now.

BOOK FLIGHT TO PARIS!!!! SarahB and I are going in May for Sweeney Todd, "Le Diabolique Barbier de Fleet Street." It's directed by Lee Blakeley, who also did the gorgeous Night Music I saw last year.

Evening. Finish Tynan's essay on Stoppard and watch Parks and Recreation. I wonder how Kenneth Tynan would feel about Parks and Recreation? Did he own a TV?

I also watch today's episode of Coach, and realize I love Coach because Luther reminds me of my father.

Friday Feb 18

Morning. Back to the news in bed: Rick Gekoski at the Guardian says we over-praise books. I don't know, I think the world has other problems, so I'm not gonna worry too much about this one. I could be out over-praising Two and a Half Men or something.

A surprisingly well-tempered prediction for the future of books from the recently unemployed at Powell's:

I don't have a Kindle, but I'm not resistant to the idea. I'm more interested in content. However, I see a lot of people attached to the concept of a book. People have a hard time curling up in bed with a piece of metal and a monitor. I just don't see people going en masse to ebooks. Maybe in 10 years, Kindles will be a little more prevalent, but Powell's will still be downtown selling lots and lots of books. I'm excited to see what's going to happen. I think these kinds of changes are natural processes.

Afternoon. Anne Enright reads John Cheever's "The Swimmer" for the New Yorker podcast. (Omilord, Cheever in Irish!) She calls him "companionable and social." Ian Crouch says "Cheever writes like a slightly demonic contributor to some suburban social register."

It takes me a while to realize this piece on Angela Carter in the London Review of Books was also written by Anne Enright; Carter was her tutor for a semester at the University of East Anglia back in the '80s. Enright's recollection of one session with Carter, the purpose of which was to review Enright's novel-in-progress: "She indicated the pages with a graceful hand. She said: 'Well this is all fine.’ And then we talked of other things." It's gentle, this meeting: "The most important thing I have to say about Angela Carter is that she was kind to me. She read my work. She said: ‘Well this is all fine.’ "

Thus far I've read only Carter's Wise Childrenit's about a pair of quasi-abandoned theatrical twins trying to chase down their father over a long span of decades and countries and lovers. The hyper-dexterity of her pacing is right in line with the whiz-bang of her plot, but it scared the crap out of me, a little.

Evening. The Arcadia dumpster dive continues. Skidmore College has a great online analysis of the themes in the play from various perspectives — scientific, historical, mathematical, etc. The introduction reprints part of a speech Stoppard gave at the University of Pennsylvania in 1996, on the difference between drama and theatre:

Years and years ago, there was a production of The Tempest, out of doors, at an Oxford college on a lawn, which was the stage, and the lawn went back towards the lake in the grounds of the college, and the play began in natural light. But as it developed, and as it became time for Ariel to say his farewell to the world of The Tempest, the evening had started to close in and there was some artificial lighting coming on. And as Ariel uttered his last speech, he turned and he ran across the grass, and he got to the edge of the lake and he just kept running across the top of the water -- the producer having thoughtfully provided a kind of walkway an inch beneath the water. And you could see and you could hear the plish, plash as he ran away from you across the top of the lake, until the gloom enveloped him and he disappeared from your view.

And as he did so, from the further shore, a firework rocket was ignited, and it went whoosh into the air, and high up there it burst into lots of sparks, and all the sparks went out, and he had gone.

When you look up the stage directions, it says, "Exit Ariel."

Later. Raúl Esparza at the Allen Room, singing Cuban classics and Sondheim showtunes. Have I mentioned he's playing Valentine in Arcadia on Broadway? Do you see how this magic all comes together?

Saturday Feb 19

Afternoon. A Netflix of The American starring George Clooney, which could also be titled "George Clooney Walks Around." I'm so over the "assassin who no longer wants to be an assassin" sub-genre of assassin films (is there any other kind?), as well as this recent "George Clooney refuses to smile" phase of George Clooney's oeuvre.You got the teeth, honey, please remember how to use them.

Evening. Kate Baldwin plays the Allen Room. We love Kate Baldwin and will be seeing her again at Feinstein's — with Sheldon Harnick — in March (you should come!).

Tonight she's seven months pregnant and sings a song called "What the Fuck Was I Thinking?" at Lincoln Center. It's a perfect synchronicity of time, place, and performer, and she's got the wit, delivery, and cute little expectant tummy to both charm and disarm an audience of the standard age and temperament typically drawn by Lincoln Center (i.e., mostly gray, plus us). It makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.

Culture weeknote 2

The latest in a series tracking my weekly cultural intake. Basically, anything goes.

Sunday Feb 6

9:30 A.M. On weekends, the bad news comes late. Unsurprisingly, Frank Rich takes a dim view of American media coverage in Egypt: "Even now we’re more likely to hear speculation about how many cents per gallon the day’s events might cost at the pump than to get an intimate look at the demonstrators’ lives." Oh, America. Why can't you do anything right?

Download The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, which argues that social media use in totalitarian societies may benefit the regimes more than the peopleFrank Rich owes me $9.99.

2:30 P.M. Reading magazines at Penn Station while I wait for the Super Bowl train that will deliver me unto New Jersey. Joan Acocella's New Yorker profile of J. R. Ackerley (and his over-familiar relationship with his dog Tulip) is a sharp contrast, on a sentence construction level, to a piece in Vanity Fair about the filming of Thelma & Louise.

Here's Acocella in The New Yorker:

He knows that there is a measure of comedy in this passion of his for a dog, and that, to observers, the comedy was magnified by the fact—which he reveals only gradually—that Queenie was a nightmare to have around.

See how she tucks in the aside as a way to reveal a surprise, a sort of pow! that ends the sentence? It adds both textural and dramatic effect.

And here's Sheila Weller on screenwriter Callie Khouri in Vanity Fair:

She had, though—after a childhood in Texas and Kentucky as the daughter of a Lebanese-American doctor and a southern belle, and three and a half years at Purdue—studied acting and done a little theater.

This interstitial contains the critical information but its treatment only adds clutter and annoyance, and it interrupts the flow for zero payoff. The whole article reads like a sloppy first draft.

6:30 P.M. An evening in New Jersey. Packers win! Packers win! Even in New Jersey. I eat approximately 4500 Italian meatballs and a billion buffalo chicken hot "wings" the size and shape of golf balls. Those buffalo chickens are my albatross.

Monday Feb 7

7:45 A.M. Hauling it back from the Garden State. Manage to snag a lucky seat on the train and read about L.A. socialite Janet de Cordova in Vanity Fair. She's famous for having been married to Tonight Show producer Fred de Cordova, and also for following her retired maid back to Mexico, where she lived out the rest of her life in this woman's home. I didn't really get it; when a maid retires, is it not implicit that they don't want you tagging along until you happen to die in one of their beds? Bananas. Mark Wahlberg has a much happier tale of the vicissitudes of fame and fortune. I always forget he produces In Treatment. Renaissance man!

9:30 A.M. Sifting through post-game Packers coverage and the Bitch magazine kerfuffle, i.e., how a well-intentioned but strategically lazy YA reading list for feminists goes very, very awry.

11:00 A.M. Attempt to send a sexy Metropolitan Opera e-card of Armida to Roxie in anticipation of her pending first-time visit to the Met. The email is delivered sans sexy image of e-card. Sexy is inappropriate anyway. I just wanted friendly and enthusiastic!

4:00 P.M. Field periodic emails from SarahB at the Drama League's We Love Patti LuPone Gala, where she's working the tables.

6:00 P.M. Enjoy early, unsanctioned Spider-Man reviews, in which spectacle trumps story—and still fails. Surprise!

From Bloomberg.com: "After all this expenditure of talent and money, “Spider- Man” is probably unfixable because too much has gone into making humans fly, which is not what they are good at."

From The Washington Post: "If you're going to spend $65 million and not end up with the best musical of all time, I suppose there's a perverse distinction in being one of the worst."

Style over substance: all thumbs down. Opera blogger Sieglinde highlights a similar problem plaguing the Met's glossy new production of La Traviata:

The other problem with "concept" productions is that you end up expecting to be dazzled and surprised at every turn, so that the opera seems engaging only during special effects moments or dynamic staging (like Robert Lepage's undulating Das Rheingold platform spines) but can quickly become staid and dull when things stop moving or changing.

8:30 P.M. I've Netflixed my way through half of the BBC series Foyle's War over the past few months. It's about a small ragtag band of police detectives in the English coastal town of Hastings during World War II, starring the lovely and amazing Michael Kitchen as internally conflicted Chief Inspector Foyle. (Michael Kitchen probably has an ankle tattoo that reads "Internally Conflicted.")

You would not believe how many Familiar British Faces show up in these BBC miniseries. Guest stars for tonight's episode include Dr. Harrison from Cranford, as well as Dame Harriet Walter's late love Peter Blythe and Dame Harriet Walter's Law & Order: UK costar Bill Paterson. Turns out life is constantly throwing unexpected Dame Harriet Walter festivals. Attend, attend!

10:00 P.M. Reading Arts Reviews by Celia Brayfield, spurred on by this article "Narcissus Regards a Book":

Now the kids who were kids when the Western canon went on trial and received summary justice are working the levers of culture. They are the editors and the reviewers and the arts writers and the ones who interview the novelists and the poets (to the degree that anyone interviews the poets). Though the arts interest them, though they read this and they read that—there is one thing that makes them very nervous indeed about what they do. They are not comfortable with judgments of quality. They are not at ease with "the whole evaluation thing."

I absolutely have this problem. Apart from going back to college and starting over, I do not know how to solve it.

11:00 P.M. Rereading Clouds of WitnessLord Peter races to save his dum-dum brother Gerald from the gallows, when really his only offense is adultery. Still: you do the crime, you do the time, brother.

Tuesday Feb 8

6:30 A.M. More Arts Reviews. I'm not sure this is the book that's going to save me.

7:30 A.M. News on the iPad: BBC America, Slate, NY Times.

11:30 A.M. Download The Cut iPad app from New York magazine, spend 30 minutes browsing impossible clothes. Fall in love with 90% of Rachel Comey's spring line.

7:00 P.M. Meet my running team. We run three miles back and forth on the 72nd Street Transverse in 20 degrees of terrible wind. I'm lucky to leave with my face.

9:00 P.M. Rerun of Martin Sheen on the Graham Norton Show. He proudly displays his student I.D. card from the National University of Ireland, Galway, which he attended for a full semester in 2006. It reads "Ramon Estevez." Everything about him is adorable. He tells Graham Norton that the best thing about marriage is the sheer joy you get from being with the person you married. Sadly, I can't think of many couples who would say that.

10:00 P.M. Parenthood. This show is having a really solid season, and Lauren Graham just gets stronger and stronger. I used to be put off by her "dramatic turns" on Gilmore Girls, because she was such an unnatural crier. Here she cries all the time and totally nails it! Maybe Alexis Bledel brought out the fake crier in her, who knows. And here comes John Corbett as her ex-husband Seth. He does not look like a Seth. I shall continue to know him as Chris in the Morning, thank you.

Wednesday Feb 9

7:30 A.M. News on the iPad.

11:30 A.M. The problem with remaking Prime Suspecteverything. Can you imagine this series on NBC? A network that had to farm outFriday Night Lights to DirecTV in order to make it financially viable? It's the running theme of the week: commercial interests piss on quality.

More of the same, regarding the AOL/Huffington Post merger:

The results pretty much conform to the old maxim that you get what you pay for; the best Patch journalism almost invariably is being done by experienced journalists who do the work out of idealism or desperation. What happens when that pool of exploitable surplus labor dries up — as it will with time — is anybody's guess, but the smart money would bet on something that isn't pretty.

That's borne out by a memo from AOL Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong on where his company's journalism is going. It's fairly chilling reading, ordering the company's editors to evaluate all future stories on the basis of "traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turnaround time." All stories, it stressed, are to be evaluated according to their "profitability consideration." All AOL's journalistic employees will be required to produce "five to 10 stories per day."

Note all the things that come before the quality of the work or its contribution to the public interest and you've arrived at an essential difference between journalism and content. It may start with exploiting reporters and editors, but it inevitably ends up exploiting its audience.

12:00 P.M. That said, you probably don't want a job in the arts.

2:30 P.M. Ordered tickets for War Horse and Arcadia. I'm not at all wild about the artwork for Arcadia; it looks like one of those pamphlets they hand out at funerals. Is that the intention? Must read before I go.

5:30 P.M. I DVR Coach every day on WLNY. In today's episode, Hayden and Luther do something stupid, and I laugh and laugh and laugh. Is this quality? What is it doing to my brain? I have no answers, I just like Coach.

6:15 P.M. On the subway, heading downtown for a running clinic, I read about unpopular new schools chancellor Cathie Black in New York mag. No good news here, either.

7:00 P.M. Gait and breathing analysis: I have a limb length discrepancy and breathe too fast. My life is over!

9:30 P.M. Subway. New York mag article on mental health in the military. I don't like crying on the train, but for fuck's sake. Look at what these people go through in our name.

The Army’s own research confirms that drug and alcohol abuse, disciplinary infractions, and criminal activity are increasing among active-duty service members. Most ominously, a growing number of soldiers can’t handle the strains of war at all. Until three years ago, the suicide rate of the Army, the branch with by far the most men and women in this war, was actually lower than the American population’s—a testament to the hardiness of our troops, given that young men with weapons are, at least as a statistical matter, disproportionately prone to suicide. But in 2008, the Army suicide rate surpassed that of the civilian population’s, and the Marines’ surpassed it shortly thereafter. So grim is the problem that this summer, the Army released a remarkably candid suicide report. “If we include accidental death, which frequently is the result of high-risk behavior (e.g., drinking and driving, drug overdose),” it concluded, “we find that less young men and women die in combat than die by their own actions. Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy.”

11:00 P.M. Clouds of Witness. Lord Peter is a little turned on by his brother's wild-wood mistress. I'm a little creeped out.

Thursday Feb 10

7:30 A.M. News on the iPad. I've never seen an episode of American Idol, but I do still have a mid-80s crush on Steven Tyler. I'm a product of my times.

I also enjoyed reading about this goofy midtown club for aging intellectuals who can't agree on whether or not to cut ties with another club in London that won't admit women:

Fans of the Garrick grumbled that politically correct Centurions were waging “cultural imperialism,” by trying to bully the English club into changing its policy. “I have been on the barricades of feminism and civil rights,” a male member said, “but I don’t believe in forcing them to do something they may be slower to do.”

The Garrick Club was founded in 1831; exactly how slow are its members?

I was all ready to get up in arms about this, until I remembered the Dame Harriet Walter Society is ladies only, and that the door to that club ain't cracking open for nobody. So, dear intellectual morons: do whatever stupid things you want.

8:30 A.M. Egypt still in trouble, but NY dickwad resigns. I'd like to think that's progress, but progress would be keeping your shirt on. Oh! and not cheating on your wife, you asshole.

10:00 A.M. New issue of GOOP arrives! I have a weird affinity for Gwyneth that even her Vogue "interviews" can't seem to kill. I don't give a shit what she spends her money on, although I enjoy her weekly missives from Neverland. Today she tells us that you are the river. I disagree: I am the hot dog, but who's counting.

6:30 P.M. Run in the park: 3.5 miles, dragging my limb differential around for the whole world to see.

8:30 P.M. Hart to Hart reunion on the Graham Norton Show. The audience is filled with international female fans, many of whom have every episode of this 30-year-old series memorized. You can just tell they would call the actors "Jonathan" and "Jennifer" to their faces. I don't get this at all: at what point do you not realize what you're watching is fiction? (says a founding member of the Dame Harriet Walter Society). Robert Wagner seems bored. Stefanie Powers knows most of the audience members by name.

9:30 P.M. Parks and Recreation. I'm just gonna say it: too much Tammy.

Friday Feb 11

9:00 A.M. This is the only article I can read on the end of Friday Night Lightswhich airs its final season on NBC starting in April. This is what's wrong with America.

LATER Hmmm...

1:10 P.M. Finally saw The King's Speech. It's a solid, sturdy, charming, utterly conventional film stuffed with great actors giving great performances—aside from which none of it would register above anything Masterpiece Theatre turns out regularly. (You know you're in blah-blah land when the main character, struggling to overcome a speech impediment, actually gives himself an epiphany by shouting "I have a voice!" in the middle of an argument.) I stand by my Americans when I say The Social Network is technically, narratively, emotionally, visually, viscerally, a superior film.

9:30 P.M. More Foyle's War. Foyle almost gets a girlfriend, and the guy who killed Leonard Bast in Howards End makes some very big mistakes.

Saturday Feb 12

Philadelphia (literally).

Culture weeknote 1

Trying a different tack here, since my interest in blogging has been reduced to all front-end tweaking and no back-end writing, which I'm sure is fun for everybody. Clearly I need a focus, and one that's easy to maintain based on existing lifestyle factors and available free time.

The Paris Review Daily runs this regular feature called The Culture Diaries, where different writers track their cultural intake for the week. They're huge fun to read for a nerd like me who loves scannable lists, diaries, and recommendations, so I'm going to steal that stocking and stuff myself inside it. These will be long, so I guess you'll be in trouble if you don't like reading long, but I like the idea of keeping notes rather than throwing up all these disparate short posts during the week, so we'll see where it takes us. Wonderland, I hope! only on more of a hobo level than most of the writers engaged by the Paris Review. I'm also working backwards here from what I remember of the week, so it's weighted towards TV and missing a lot of reading. Next week I'll try actually taking some notes.

Saturday Jan 29

2:00 P.M. Post-morning run, had to catch up with my Netflix queue, so I tore through Easy A and Gone Baby Gone while I painted my nails and read Runner's World. I'm a passive-aggressive Netflix user: the DVDs sit for days and days and then I watch them all in a tawdry hedonistic celluloid overdose. There was also a nap in there someplace.

Easy A was better than I expected, thanks mostly to Patricia Clarkson in a great turn as Emma Stone's mother, all girl-power support and slutty nuance. Stone was delightful, too, but the set-up was way too drawn out and over-explainy. I guess people really don't know what The Scarlet Letter is about? That's sad.

Gone Baby Gone was slightly worse than I expected, since it's approximately three movies tied together in a totally implausible way. I say pick one ending and make me believe it. Thumbs up to the Brothers Affleck, though, and to Amy Ryan for going all-out hateful and never looking back. Wow. That is one barn-burner of a performance.

7:00 P.M. Attended a fifth anniversary "It's Angie Day!" party, which was also the first anniversary of anybody being invited to this party, or even knowing it existed. The world needs more parties like this. In celebration of Angela Lansbury, we drank champagne and watched The Manchurian Candidate on SarahB's brand new LG HDTV, which has this awesome tracking aspect that makes everything look like it's filmed on a Twilight Zone sound stage in the 1950s. Very up close and personal. We also brainstormed a couple of fringe show ideas, including my favorite, Angela Lansbury's Anchor Babies. Look for it next August in a basement near you.

Sunday Jan 30

2:00 A.M. Slumber party! Watched Gaudy Night on DVD. Since it was late, we fast-forwarded to the good parts. There aren't many.

10:30 A.M. Coffee and the latest episode of Law & Order: UK. As always, we will take any excuse for a Harriet Walter Weekend.

12:00 P.M. Roxie and I ate mini-quiches in our sofa bed while SarahB sat on hold with the Kennedy Center to order our tickets for Follies in the spring. It's been a long time since I've taken a Sondheim road trip. Too long, really.

3:00 P.M. Home. Read Can You Forgive Her? on my iPad. I started this in early December but my used paperback copy was so old the binding came apart in my Incredible Hulk grip. I downloaded it FOR FREE instead, which is one of the 10 Wonders of the Kindle store. The book is like a million pages long and is only the first in a series of six, so this will take a while, a sort of quasi-forced servitude that one enters into willingly knowing very well it may never end. And no, I didn't forgive her. I was so very glad to see her go.

While I was at the Kindle store, I downloaded the rest of the Palliser series, along with The Way We Live Now. Free Trollopes for everybody!

7:30 P.M. Attended the closing performance of A Small Fire at Playwrights Horizons. This is one of those shows that I hate to see end; it's just painful to me to think that there's a world out there now where this play isn't happening. Theatre's a real heartbreaker like that.

Monday Jan 31

6:30 P.M. Read this week's New Yorker and New York magazines. It's my Monday night ritual, along with a big ol' glass of Monday night wines.

9:00 P.M. Watched the final episode of Downton Abbey, which is a massive PBS editing failure. So bad! It takes all these huge unexamined leaps forward in time and then asks you to care about a pregnancy that lasts all of five minutes. At least I'm hoping it's the PBS cuts that are bad, and not the episode itself, which would be disappointing any way you slice it. The series as a whole was phenomenal. Me want more! (They're filming more.)

11:00 P.M. Started my nighttime Dorothy L. Sayers read-through again with a chapter of Whose Body? It's relaxing, since I know all the stories, yet I always find something new. Plus I like going to bed with Lord Peter.

Tuesday Feb 1

I have zero memory of this day even happening.

Wednesday Feb 2

2:00 P.M. Thanks to the Mighty Blizzard of Chicago, I got to enjoy a snow day with the rest of my Illinois brethren, only missing this, of which I would have had a front-row view from my old apartment. I spent the day as one should, reading Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist and downloading the full UK version of Downton Abbey from iTunes. I only made it through three episodes, though, because it was my night for The Merchant of Venice on Broadway, which just reopened after a month-long hiatus.

7:30 P.M. Long play short: pretty hateful, huh? I need to start reading classic plays before I see them, especially Shakespeare, since I usually sit there all "Who's this dude?" and "What the fuck just happened?" My mind doesn't thread the needle the way it used to (old brains), especially in the balcony at the Broadhurst, where the lady next to me was fitted with an assistive listening device that belched forth the reverb in all directions. Distracting! Lily Rabe was wonderful, in a Stockard Channing punctuating-by-pointing kind of way, but is also the kind of naturalistic stage actress who should be miked (or miked better), because she speaks in a lot of asides that are impossible to hear from the balcony. Al Pacino does not have this problem. The bathroom queue at intermission was a mess. Terrible line control.

11:00 P.M. Came home and read this article on crowd dynamics in The New Yorker. According to John Seabrook, most crowd disasters aren't "panics" but "crazes," where the "people are usually moving toward something they want, rather than away from something they fear." Since the folks at the rear have no idea what's happening at the front, they'll reflexively press forward when the people in front of them press forward, and can't tell when the front meets an obstruction. The ones who get caught up in the wave can literally be swept out of their shoes and off their feet, and those who die are usually suffocated, not trampled.

11:30 P.M. More Whose Body? What a cheery night.

Thursday Feb 3

9:30 P.M. Parks and Recreation time. Chris Pratt scrambling down the hallway like a monkey in Rob Lowe's "adventure shoes" was the funniest thing I've seen on TV all season. Andy was my least favorite character when the show started, but now I love him more than hot dogs. He's a completely realized nutbar in an assorted bag of treats.

10:00 P.M. DVR of Cougar Town. Yes, I'm finally loving Cougar Town, right before it heads off on a two-month vacation. Love the guy playing Bobby (I think his name is Bobby).

11:00 P.M. More Whose Body?

Friday Feb 4

6:00 P.M. Received an excitable mass family e-mail from my father predicting a huge win for the Packers on Sunday:

I just heard they are going to have Bill Murray in to give the motivational speech from "Meatballs." Oh boy is this gonna be great. Oh no, that's from "Animal House." Oh well, I think you are starting to get my point, I'm pshcyhed. Don't know how to spell that but I think you get the point. We are gonna win by at least 2 touchdowns. Mark my word!!!! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. love, Dad

Hardly any of that makes sense, but Kyle replied with "It just doesn't matter!" Meatballs counts as culture in my family. I'll be watching the Super Bowl from New Jersey, obviously.

11:15 P.M. Law & Order: UK on BBC America. They put Harriet Walter in a turtleneck for once. Yes to more flattering sweaters and fewer ill-fitting manly suits, and more Jamie Bamber crying. I love him as Detective Superintendent Matt Devlin but hated him as Apollo on BSG. That American-in-space accent must have strangled something vital.

Saturday Feb 5

12:30 A.M. Finished Whose Body? It gets really good at the end, when Lord Peter has his shell-shock breakdown and then almost gets poisoned by Julian Freke. The character really doesn't come together until you get his backstory and all that World War I stuff. I'm also a big sucker for long written confessions by criminal masterminds, especially when Sir Julian writes, "In spite of the disastrous consequences to myself, I was pleased to realize that you had not underestimated my nerve and intelligence, and refused the injection. Had you submitted to it, you would, of course, never have reached home alive."

1:00 P.M. Abbreviated Parks and Recreation season two marathon, followed by a nap. (This maiden voyage of weeknotes has purposely omitted a lot of naps.) I've volunteered to start writing reviews for Parks and Rec at Give Me My Remote and need a refresh on Pawnee history. My favorite cold open is from the episode "Kaboom," when Leslie's on speakerphone with a credit card rep who lists all these purchases she suspects are fraudulent, including Jessica Simpson hair extensions and tuition to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The look on Leslie's face when she tells Tom she majored in potions at Hogwarts is priceless. Amy Poehler is such a versatile comic actress, heads and tails above Tina Fey (much as I love Liz Lemon). Unfortunately these episodes also remind me how much I miss Louis C.K. as Leslie's cop boyfriend Dave.

3:30 P.M. Read Three Sisters on my iPad as part of my Wednesday night resolution. I've never seen a production of this and have in general been a little meh with Chekhov onstage (sacrilege!). It's so easy to get tripped up by the names, first of all, and the relationships between characters are seldom obvious to a novice, all these soldiers passing through and random hangers-on starting anecdotes in medias res. There's a great introduction to this translation by Laurence Senelick, which gave me a solid base to start from and a list of things to watch for.

8:00 P.M. Saw Three Sisters at Classic Stage Company, with Maggie Gyllenhaal as Masha and Peter Sarsgaard as Vershinin. Look at all those a's, of course they had to get maarried. It was written in the cosmos.

My early study helped immensely, as I was alert to the Themes ("I feel as I have always felt") and could follow the flow of the narrative rather than getting stuck on the occasionally far-out lingo of the updated text by Paul Schmidt; Marin Ireland in particular had some ear-clanging lines ("Hey, Andy!" etc.). Gyllenhaal and Juliet Rylance, as youngest sister Irina, were marvelous, as was Paul Lazar as the willingly cuckolded Kulygin, who insists on being happy no matter what. George Morfogen's teeny tiny role as the servant Ferapont really blew me away, though; you could tell he was operating on a whole different level of understanding with this story, that it was leaking out through his bones or something. 

At intermission, the ladies next to me chatted about the New Yorker article on crowd control. We all agreed it would be a horrifying way to go. Željko Ivanek was in attendance and I passed Kevin Kline on my way out the door. Nobody in the crowd panicked.

11:30 P.M. Taxied home to find a postcard of this Vermeer from the Frick in my mailbox from SarahB, who lives five blocks to the north: "Something has to be said about living in a city where you can walk 10 blocks to see something like this up close and in person all within a lunch break. Damn it's good to live here!" Amen to that, sister.