Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Brand New World

                                       (Call sheet thanks to Shane Buttle)

If you've ever seen a science fiction movie in which Something Big and Bad has happened that radically changed the world the characters knew -- Children of Men, for instance -- and wondered what such a world would really be like, just look around. That's us, right now. My favorite film critic described our current situation as "the new abnormal," adding: "Though we will miss the old ways of two weeks ago and look forward to their return, we will not lack for entertainment."

That about sums it up. We now stay at home, wash our hands every five minutes, and if/when daring to venture out, remain at least six feet from all our fellow humans -- especially strangers, although the deadly virus could just as easily slip behind our hastily erected Maginot Line defense on the hands, lips, or cough of someone we know very well.

AIDS is an insidious disease, spreading via the most elemental forms of physical intimacy -- activities so pleasurable that most young (and not so young) people are pretty much hard-wired to indulge whenever opportunity arises -- but this new virus is even more disruptive. Other than hookers who walk the streets or toil in bordellos, few of us have sex with a dozen different partners every day, but our lives revolve around the endless meeting, greeting, and mingling with other people. We evolved as social animals, a trait that allowed us to work together in attaining and enjoying a high level of civilization, but now this innate, familiar, and highly productive mode of group behavior suddenly represents a lethal threat.

I was a bit blasé about Covid 19 at first, assuming that the appropriate government agencies would spring into action to nip it in the bud -- but not this time. Our feckless leader fumbled this one for weeks, allowing the virus to get a running head-start, and now it's ripping through our population like a greased pig at the county fair.

Not that many of us will be seeing or attending any county fairs this summer, mind you.

It wasn't until this week that I finally grasped just how deep all this had penetrated my own psyche. While watching the new season of Better Call Saul the other night, the network ran a promo for the third season of Killing Eve, a clip that ended with the April 26 premier date filling the screen.  My first thought wasn't "I'll have to set the DVR to record this show," but rather "I wonder if I'll still be around to see it."  This wasn't a panicked response, laced with any sense of fear -- quite the contrary.  Considering my age, and the nature of this threat, not being here a month from now is an entirely reasonable possibility. Being old isn't all bad, but it's not all that good either -- and now the heavy burden of years on my shoulders puts me in the second highest-risk pool for lethality with this virus, along with most of my friends. As the kids say these days, the shit suddenly got real.

At this point, I just hope to live long enough to see the rest of Better Call Saul.

Ah well, at least we still have technology, and the myriad streaming entities that emerged in the wake of the digital revolution. As this crisis moves towards a tsunami of illness, misery, and death, there's no shortage of indoor entertainment to distract us from the approaching horror, assuming we can afford to pay the monthly streaming bill.

Now that Tim Goodman (who once wrote for the SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and The Hollywood Reporter) has left us in the lurch for some mysterious new venture, I'm relegated to reading other critics, including James Poniewozik. In a recent piece for the NY Times, he describes the New World we now occupy, and the suddenly poignant nature of watching television in the Age of Corona.  It's a thoughtful, well written piece, but I wasn't fully on board with his conclusions until I turned on the Toob later that night, and found myself -- for the first time since DVRs became ubiquitous -- actually watching the commercials rather than fast-forwarding through them, simply because it felt like looking through a telescope back at the way life used be: people smiling and laughing while leaning in close to speak, touch, and caress each other, sharing beer, food, phones, or whatever product the advertiser was trying to sell.

That's when it hit me: I was experiencing a glossy, high-def vision of the way we were, but no longer can afford to be -- a world now lost to us for God knows how long. I thought of the old parable "You don't miss the water 'til your well runs dry," then was reminded of Soylent Green, and the famous scene where Charlton Heston's elderly friend, Saul (wonderfully played by the great Edward G. Robinson), drinks a suicide potion to "go homewhile watching glorious, full-color film of the natural wonders that blessed our earth before the crushing pressures of global over-population consumed it all. Overwhelmed by a depth of beauty he had no idea ever existed, Heston's character begins to weep, choking out "How could I know?"

We're not yet at the point of eating our fellow humans for sustenance, but the rest of this ugly vision  is beginning to seem all too plausible, because as bad as Covid 19 may be, the worst is yet to come. Although the Glorious Leader in the White House laughs it off as a hoax, global warming doesn't care what he thinks -- it's coming, like it or not -- and we won't like it one little bit. Unfortunately, we appear unwilling to take any truly meaningful action to stave off the worst effects of planetary warming until the shit has well and truly hit the fan, and by then it will likely be too late.

Ah well, humanity had a good run. Maybe it's time for a full reboot anyway, so the cockroaches, rats, and crows can fight it out for evolutionary dominance on a ruined planet. They certainly can't fuck things up any more than we have.

Ahem.  Pardon my digression to the nightmare world of our shared future. Now -- my gleaming  Hollywood smile firmly back in place -- we return to our regularly scheduled programming...

With so much that we once took for granted now locked behind glass, the much-ballyhooed era of "Peak TV" will pay unexpected dividends, since -- like every other "non-essential" industry -- Hollywood is shuttered. Nobody knows when things will start up again, but it probably won't be anytime soon, which means you have time to catch up on many of the shows you missed over the past ten or fifteen years. I've worked my way through the first three seasons of Bosch thus far (on Amazon Prime,) and love the show. After the demise of Southland, I never thought I'd watch another cop drama, but Bosch is an order of magnitude better than the usual book-'em-Dano police dramas, and somehow manages to make LA look so good I'm almost tempted to move back.


Why is Bosch so good?  The usual suspects: excellent writing (based on the books of Michael Connelly), letter-perfect casting, wonderful acting from every member of the cast, and terrific production values. For a short, incisive, spot-on analysis of Bosch from a most unlikely source, check this out.

There are many more excellent shows out there to keep us entertained while the Covid virus picks us off, one by one, so take advantage of this opportunity while you can, because who knows what snarling Dogs from Hell may emerge to torment us in the not-so-distant future?  If fate should take our electricity and internet away, we'll all be back to reading by candlelight as the wolves howl outside the front door. But look at the bright side -- if this was seven hundred years ago, we'd all be grimly slogging through the cold, muddy misery of daily life in fear of the Black Death, with no pillowy soft rolls of Charmin waiting in the bathroom, and no television to distract us.

Still, if sitting in front of the Toob hour after hour isn't for you -- and assuming you have the requisite skateboarding skills -- there are other ways to endure the Coronapocalypse.*

However you choose to deal with these strange times, count your blessings for being born in the Age of Hi-Def television, keep your distance, and try make the most of this Brand New World.

Stay healthy, people.

* Thanks for the link, Stu!

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