Monday, January 31, 2022

TV: Choices and realities

TV can pose many questions.  Such as: who do you trust? Who should you trust?



It's a question that THE CLEANING LADY poses.  This is a new series which started airing on FOX this month. Elodie Young plays Dr Thony De La Rosa who is a doctor in Manila but is currently in the US because her son has an autoimmune disease.  He needs treatment which brings her to the US.  Her visa expires and she's now not supposed to be in the US.  So she's betrayed by the medical system and by the US immigration system.  


Like so many in need around the world, she has come to the US and she's not trying to hurt anyone or cheat anyone.  But our policies do not work for her or for so many like her.  In the US, she's forced to clean bowling alleys and clubs and other venues.  


It's while cleaning, that she becomes a cleaner.


A cleaner?  


The first time this occupation really registered in a US film was in the 1993 Bridget Fonda film POINT OF NO RETURN where assassins played by Bridget and Lorraine Toussaint have to call in "The Cleaner" played by Harvey Keitel to clean a crime scene.  This film is a remake of Luc Besson's classic LA FEMME NIKITA from 1990 which also spawned the TV shows LA FEMME NIKITA and NIKITA -- as well as many other copycat productions that didn't give credit to Besson.  Two years later, Harvey Keitel pops up in PULP FICTION playing another cleaner who, this time, helps Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson)  Now, in 2022, the cleaner is played by Elodi Yung.

At work on an actual cleaning job, Thony sees a murder take place.  Gangster Arman Morales (Adan Canto -- who was so good in DESIGNATED SURVIVOR) didn't know she was present.  To save her own life, she swears she can clean the crime scene better than anyone.  She thinks/hopes its a one time thing.  

It is not.

She has to deal with another man,   Garrett.  Hes an FBI agent and played by Oliver Hudson whose demonstrated that he's got much more to offer than famous parents with his work on NASHVILLE and RULES OF ENGAGEMENT.  In fact, we sort of see Adam on ROE as his CATCUS FLOWER -- it's the dumb cute guy we wish he'd specialize in playing because he was so charming in that role.  But Oliver may be done with sitcoms and, after he appeared in that hideous SPLITTING UP TOGETHER (the problem there was not the acting), we could understand him being finished with that genre.  

Thony is married -- her husband's back in Manila.  And she may never couple up with either Garrett or Arman.  But there is tension there that indicates she will be drawn to one or both.

And Adan and Oliver are very good looking guys.  Aesthetically, you want to see her with one of them.

But which one?

Arman is a gangster.  He is a gun runner.  He kills people.  He probably breaks every law in the book.  So obviously, we don't want sweet and kind Thony with him.  Right?

The thing is, Arman cares about her.  He has twice stood up to his boss who wants Thony killed.   In addition, when she needed help with her son's doctor, he was there.  When her son got an infection, Arman was there.

B-b-but Garrett is a good guy!

Is he?

He corners Thony in the ladies' room and pretends to be someone he's not, acting smooth and pretending he just bumped into her before letting her know that he's FBI and he's investigating the murder (the one that made her The Cleaning Lady).  Then his partner let's him have it because what happened before the show started involved him being inappropriate with a female -- so inappropriate that, if their boss found out that Garrett was alone with Thony, Garrett would be removed from the case.

We're not done.  Garrett then descends upon the place Thony works -- she's off cleaning a crime scene -- and rounds up people who fear that they'll be deported if they don't cooperate.  Thony walks in on Garrett and his partner trying to intimidate and frighten her sister-in-law Fiona (Martha Millan) and she lets Garrett know just how wrong what he's doing is.

So we would argue Thony belongs with a gangster over an FBI agent?

How much difference is there?  At times, there's not a lot.


Howie Carr (BOSTON HERALD) noted two years ago:


And we thought the Boston FBI office was corrupt!

At least six local G-men were taking payoffs from the mob. They framed four men for a murder they didn’t commit and packed them off to prison for 35 years. One FBI agent died in an Oklahoma jail while awaiting trial on murder charges in an organized crime hit.

The local G-men were ratting out their own informants to be executed, setting up mob hits, planting fake car bombs, providing protection for cocaine offloads in Boston Harbor. …


Last July, Dana Kennedy (NEW YORK POST) addressed the alleged plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan:

But as it was revealed that the FBI had at least a dozen informants heavily involved in the Watchmen — including that Iraq veteran — critics say the G-Men did as much to prod the plot as they did to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The agents took an active part in the scheme from its inception, according to court filings, evidence and dozens of interviews examined by BuzzFeed. Some members of the Wolverine Watchmen are accusing the feds of entrapment.

One FBI informant from Wisconsin allegedly helped organize meetings where the first inklings of the Whitmer plot surfaced, even paying for hotel rooms and food to entice people to attend, BuzzFeed reported. The Iraq veteran, identified as “Dan” by BuzzFeed, allegedly shelled out for transportation costs to militia meetings and apparently goaded members to advance the plot.


Two years ago, Matthew Ormseth (LOS ANGELES TIMES) reported:

An organized crime figure paid an FBI agent $10,000 a month in exchange for sensitive law enforcement information, according to court documents charging the agent, Babak Broumand, in a conspiracy to bribe a public official.

Broumand was arrested Friday at a market near his home in Lafayette, according to Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI. He retired in January 2019, one month after agents served search warrants at his home and businesses. Broumand worked at the bureau for 20 years, most recently in national security investigations for the FBI’s San Francisco field office. It couldn’t be determined Friday if he’d retained a lawyer.



This week, Justin Ray (LAT) reports


An odd situation involving money from marijuana sales in California highlights the awkward tension between California’s progressive stance on cannabis and federal law.

The story begins in November, with an armored car carrying $712,000 in cash from licensed marijuana dispensaries. The car was heading to Barstow on a Mojave Desert freeway. The vehicle was pulled over by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies. They interrogated the driver, seized the money and turned it over to the FBI.

The same driver was pulled over again a few weeks later. During that stop, deputies took an additional $350,000 belonging to legal pot stores and gave that cash to the FBI, too.

The agencies are not returning the money. In fact, the FBI is trying to confiscate the nearly $1.1-million bounty, which it may share with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The FBI claims the money is tied to federal drug or money-laundering crimes. No specified unlawful activities have been disclosed, and nobody has been charged with a crime.

Who's the gangster?  Before you answer, let's move over to news provided by Michael Levenson (NEW YORK TIMES) from last week:

It is widely regarded as the world’s most potent spyware, capable of reliably cracking the encrypted communications of iPhone and Android smartphones.

The software, Pegasus, made by an Israeli company, NSO Group, has been able to track terrorists and drug cartels. It has also been used against human rights activists, journalists and dissidents.

Now, an investigation published Friday by The New York Times Magazine has found that Israel, which controls the export of the spyware, just as it does the export of conventional weapons, has made Pegasus a key component of its national security strategy, using it to advance its interests around the world.

The yearlong investigation, by Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti, also reports that the F.B.I. bought and tested NSO software for years with plans to use it for domestic surveillance until the agency finally decided last year not to deploy the tools.


[. . .]


The U.S. had also moved to acquire Pegasus, The Times found. The F.B.I., in a deal never previously reported, bought the spyware in 2019, despite multiple reports that it had been used against activists and political opponents in other countries. It also spent two years discussing whether to deploy a newer product, called Phantom, inside the United States.

The discussions at the Justice Department and the F.B.I. continued until last summer, when the F.B.I. ultimately decided not to use NSO weapons.

But Pegasus equipment is still in a New Jersey building used by the F.B.I. And the company also gave the agency a demonstration of Phantom, which could hack American phone numbers.


We could talk more scandals and we could talk ineffectual (it's not for nothing that the FBI is handing over $130 million to the families of Parkland shooting victims).

But really, who is the gangster?

Yeah, Arman is one.  But we're really not seeing clean hands on Garrett.  Did we mention that Arman is married?  And even that doesn't make us want to root for Garrett currently.


The world can be very ugly and THE CLEANING LADY captures that -- a mother has to travel to the US to get her child treatment, she has to bust her ass to make money, she has to fear being deported and the person being kindest to her is gangster Arman, not FBI agent Garrett.  We see a lot of reality in the drama, including that some times there are no good choices..  






IN THESE TIMES tries TV criticism and fails again (Ty, Ava and C.I.)

As many of you remember, a few years back, IN THESE TIMES was hyped up that they were going to be covering TV and showing us -- this site -- how it was done.  How it was supposed to be done, they announced in their e-mail.  They meant as opposed to Ava and C.I. who cover TV and the media here and have done so since the start.  Ava and C.I. offer a feminist take -- they've always said "a feminist take" and made clear that it was not "the feminist take" because feminism has many branches and opinions are not monolithic.  Feminism is an ongoing exchange, a conversation, that evolves is what they like to say.  While others with THIRD (Jim, Dona, Jess and myself) were offended by the e-mail from IN THESE TIMES, Ava and C.I. laughed at it.  They thought it was funny because it was from a man.  The magazine had hired a woman to cover TV and a man was trying to put her into a cat fight with Ava and C.I.  I wrote the e-mail response noting that Ava and C.I. wished the magazine's new critic all the best and looked forward to seeing some of her work (that was their attitude, I left unsaid what the rest of us thought about the e-mail).  And that was largely it.  They noted the critic once in a piece during her tenure at IN THESE TIMES but largely avoided her.  I'll get to that in our conversation below -- Ty


Ty: Trevor asks if you plan on taking on JUSTICE JUDY?


Ava: Life is too short and I don't think anyone  is unaware of Judy Sheindlin's strengths and weaknesses at this point.

Ty: Trevor believes that Yasmin Nair did a great job taking on the show at IN THESE TIMES.

Ava: More power to her, we haven't read it.  But good for her for tackling the show.

[I asked Ava and C.I. to read it and we took a break while they did so.]

Ty: Thoughts?

Ava: I've only seen two episodes of  JUSTICE JUDY.  Didn't watch  a lot of JUSTICE JUDY.  But I did watch two episodes to see if there was any real point in reviewing it.  We're always looking at stuff to see what could be the focus for the next piece here. 

Ty: C.I.?

C.I.: Can you pull up the show on AMAZON?

Ty: Yes.

C.I.: Yasmin Nair says it's episode 23.  The iron fence issue.  I've actually  seen one episode of the show and it was that one.  But it was episode 25 as I pull it up in my mind.  Am I wrong?

Ty: Looking at the summaries of each episode, you are correct.  Episode 25 deals with the fence.  Episode 23 is some young women renting a house or B&B.  

C.I.: So then I have seen the episode she talks about at the end of the critique.  Read that into this.

Ty: Sure.  Quoting from Nair's article:


Even physical labor doesn't impress Sheindlin. In episode 23, she looks at a photo of a wrought iron maker's gate and sniffs that the object -- simple but lovely -- isn't much by way of work (no doubt, her home's own gates rival those at Versailles).

C.I.: Again, I saw episode 25 and only that one.  Justice Judy never said that it wasn't much by way of work.  Nor did she say it was lovely.  The photos are brought in when the issue of damage to the gate was done.  I would urge everyone to stream episode 25 and judge for themselves but I'm reviewing that episode in my head and I've got a pretty good memory.  Martin Lucas was the defendant.  I've blocked out the name of the idiot woman who was suing him because she was so annoying.  But he was the defendant.  I would have sided with him because the woman lied repeatedly.  Including in her testimony which contradicted with her texts.  She was also a Karen.  She tried to boss around the bailiff.  But the point is, Judge Judy never said what Nair writes in her article -- that may be why Nair doesn't quote from the show.  No "simple but lovely."  Maybe Nair's confused that comment and it is made about something in a different episode.  But episode 25, the only one I saw, does not include a "simple but lovely" or "much by way of work."  I didn't hear Judy comment once on the work value or the pretty or ugly of the gate.  Didn't happen.  Not in court, not in the discussion afterward.  I was honestly surprised, when we just read over the review, that Nair didn't comment on the most obvious point: JUSTICE JUDY steals from PEOPLE'S COURT.  Marilyn Milian is the judge on that program.  After the case, she is in her chambers with her husband John Schlesinger -- who was also once a judge, federal level like Marilyn -- and they discuss the case.  Judy never did that on JUDGE JUDY.  She does it now on JUSTICE JUDY with her granddaughter Sarah Rose Levy.



Ty: Okay, Ava?

Ava: I don't think Nair has labeled her episodes correctly.  She didn't have the one C.I. addressed labeled correctly and I've pulled up AMAZON on my phone and she doesn't have the episodes I'm about to address labeled correctly.  Episodes 27 and 28 are the ones she refers to as Episodes 25 and 26. 

These episodes have Sheindlin facing down a group of Black single women for whom it can be presumed a dinner at Applebee’s is a treat and for whom the money they were scraping together for a big vacation was a chunk of their bank balances. At one point, Sheindlin tells the plaintiff’s sister, also a grown woman, to uncross her arms and tells the defendant’s adult daughter to stand up straight without resting her chin on her arms, which are propped up on the bench. Finally, after Sheindlin has spent time asking for needless details and watching videos of shouting matches between undifferentiated people (she takes their phones to watch) that don’t seem relevant to the case, she decides they’re all being much too unruly and loudly screams SIT! four times to three of the women. It’s a shocking sight, to see a white woman so brazenly treat a group of Black women as if they’re dogs in need of training. Sheindlin then turns and says smugly to the audience and to her staff, You see? I tried to play nice. If I can’t play nice, I play it any way you want to play it.”

Ava: I liked the idea of her reviewing before I read it.  First off, I did watch JUDGE JUDY a lot when we were on the road speaking, before the pandemic.  You'd get to the hotel, you'd turn on the TV for noise, you go with something familiar while you listen to your voice mails and kick off your shoes.  I bring this up because "uncross your arms" is not new.  Nor is it directed at women of color only.  On the previous show, it was directed at men constantly.  Young men of all kinds.  Especially, it seemed to me, Latinos.  However, at no point on the case in question did Judy tell "the plaintiff's sister, also a grown woman, to uncross her arms" -- did not happen.  Why do I say that?  The plaintiff was accompanied by one person and only one person -- her cousin.  Judy originally thought the woman was the plaintiff's daughter but she was informed it was her cousin.  From then on, throughout the two shows, Judy referred to daughters and cousins over and over.  The case in question, that two episodes were devoted to, opened with Judy noting that she had been advised that this was a high security case due to the ill will.  There had been violence between the two sides.  Not one incident of violence but multiple incidents of violence.  Over a period of weeks, fights have ensued, sugar in gas tanks, doors broken.  Mace has been sprayed.  Attacks with a dog chain have taken place, threats of beating people up, blunt trauma to the left eye, a black eye several days before, and there's even more.  But the point is, violence was just overflowing outside the court.  No judge was going to accept it in their courtroom.  Judy is right-winger, it's not at all surprising that she'd act the way she did.  I don't see turning Judy's sneering at defendants into a racial thing since she's that way with everyone.  Nair is on stronger ground when she talks about Judy's attitude towards the poor.  If you're on assistance, obvious on JUDGE JUDY, Judy sneers at you.   Now let me read from Nair's article:


Episodes 25 and 26, for instance, linger over a dispute between two Black women whose families had taken a shared vacation in Florida. The plaintiff appears to claim the defendant still owes her money, though it’s hard to tell what the real issue is even after multiple viewings — because matters escalate quickly, with everyone screaming. Sheindlin asks probing questions that are unrelated to whatever the case might be but allow her to moralize. At one point, she wants to know whether the plaintiff drank while at dinner at an Applebee’s. When the woman says she had a glass of wine, Sheindlin prods her into confessing she may have had two. Sheindlin, in the manner of a nun, points out that wine lowers inhibitions. None of this information is related to the case, but Sheindlin is a white boomer multimillionaire who appears to sincerely believe her success is owed to her and that anyone who suffers deserves it. She has the air of the elder white Karen stereotype, the one who wears expensive athleisure on morning walks and picks up errant tin cans and places them in the trash while looking around to see which person (preferably someone of color) can be glared at accusingly.

Ava (Con't):  I'm sorry that Nair couldn't follow the episode.  But even if the conversation was confusing to her, the exchanges, the reality is that this was a case about violence.  And this was made clear with captions on screen, titles such as "Suing for $4,171 for vandalism & assault" under the plaintiff's face when she is testifying. And, under the defendant's face, "Countersuing for $2,791 for assault & vandalism."  Yet Nair writes, "The plaintiff appears to claim the defendant still owes her money, though it’s hard to tell what the real issue is even after multiple viewings."  I'm sorry, but how stupid are you?  Truly, how stupid are you to not get what the case was about?  The testimony made it clear.  As for booze, when you're dealing with repeated violence among grown women who are supposed to be friends for decades, yeah, I'd want to know if booze was involved.  I'd want to know what kicked things off.  As for the videos, they are videos of fights.  The plaintiff and the defendant both want them shown.  And Judy watches them to see what happened and to determine who is telling the truth.  The two sides are neighbors and had been friends for decades.  Judy awards no money to either side and instead recommends that they both go to court as soon as possible to get mutual restraining orders.  

C.I.: Based on what AVa's noted and I what I observed, I'd argue that the review was poorly written at best.  At worst, she wrote what she wanted regardless of what she saw intentionally.  I'm not impressed.  Like Ava, I appreciated the effort more before I actually read the piece.

Ty: IN THESE TIMES had a previous TV critic.  You've largely avoided that topic but I'm going to write about it in the intro for this and I'd just like to get you two on the record of what was the final straw there.  Ava, C.I.'s nodding to you to start.

Ava:  I don't want to name the woman, people can look her up if they want, but we'll focus on the work itself.  I may pass that part off to C.I.  She's nodding that's fine.  Okay, so I'll focus on this.  We offer a feminist take, not the feminist take and as such we'd love to see a huge number of feminists weighing in -- female feminists, male feminists -- and being part of the ongoing conversation where we all grapple together to try to build our notion of a better future and how we get there.  The woman being at IN THESE TIMES was something in and of itself.  As we've noted many, many times, Terry Gross' hideous show has one male critic after another as part of its 'cast.'  So more power to IN THESE TIMES for hiring a woman and for a woman taking the spot.  That's true of Yssmin Nair as well. Tossing to C.I. 

C.I.: But our problem with the previous woman came down to her insisting she was a feminist while she promoted these shows where women did nothing.  I thought PUMA had a lot going for it -- including some righteous anger.  But what bothered me about PUMA is these women -- not all of them -- who felt the need to blog on Saturdays.  They would blog on Saturdays and promote their favorite films and their favorite albums.  And after six weeks, I had to call out the bulls**t.  Every album was by a man.  Every film was a story about a man.  There were no women in these films except as 'the girl.'  And this was coming from women in PUMA.  It was outrageous.  At some point, I'm going to be offline and so very, very happy to be.  And I will know that here with Ava and over at THE COMMON ILLS, I did my part to make the world a little better.  My writing with Ava and my writing solo recognized women.  Every reference point wasn't male, male, male.  And the woman in question, who was never PUMA, kept promoting shows as feminist when they had no lead characters who were women.  When it got to HANNIBAL?  We're talking about a violent serial killer.  Male, by the way.  I know people think SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, the film, is perfection.  It's sick as f**k.  I understand why Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan and others were not interested in being part of that.  It was anti-gay and it was extremely violent and glorified a serial killer.  Now that Jodie Foster is finally out, I think she needs to be asked -- and needs to answer -- how she justifies doing a film so anti-gay.  I'm no fan of the source material.  But to pass that male-dominated show off as feminism?  A show that glorifies a serial killer?  We've worked very hard, Ava and I, to create a body of work that uses women as benchmarks and references and that's authors, that's singers, songwriters, actresses, you name it.  Why are there so few women in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  Sexism, yes.  But are you using your voice -- whether you're a woman or a man -- to recognize women?  What we emphasize has an impact and I very much agree with Alice Walker that we are responsible for creating the image of the world we want to see.  Time and again, the writer resorted to covering shows starring men.  She appeared to be writing for men and focused on men.  And if you cover media -- we do -- you're going to have to cover some shows that are male dominated but this critic wouldn't even note that and would instead try to argue that this was feminism?  

Ava: Agreed.  I did not find her to be at all helpful.  

Ty: I'm thinking right now of one of the most popular TV pieces that you have written, about a male dominated show, from 2007's "TV: Aftermath leaves an aftertaste" about the TV show JERICHO:

Apparently, come the nuclear attack, all good and bad women are supposed to make like Bonnie Tyler and start rasping, "I need a hero, I'm holding out for a hero . . ." Since the best that fictionalized programming can offer up is Skeet, we'd suggest women learn to be their own heroes and strongly suggest you study just what uses Heddy (the always amazing Jennifer Jason Leigh) can find for a pair of stiletto heels in Single White Female.

The producers of this show know no Heddy, know no woman who can do a damn thing other than stand on the sidelines nervously while waiting for the men to do.

Consider us optimists but, in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, we would have thought a survival instinct would kick in. On Jericho, the women grab the pom-poms.

Ava:  Read that piece -- I haven't -- and you'll see a reference to Joni Mitchell, we're quoting her song of the same name, you'll see a reference to CHINA BEACH and Marg's character on the show, you'll see references to Gloria Steinem, Maxine Hong-Kingston and Robin Morgan It goes to context and to points of reference.  The IN THESE TIMES critic lived in a threadbare world and made no attempt to address feminism but wanted to cloak HANNIBAL in feminist garb to argue that it was a good show.  And C.I. talked about how this woman would just review male shows.  It was what men and women who tried to pass as men said mattered.  I'm sorry, half of that stuff is garbage and I'd rather watch, for example, FIREFLY LANE.  And I'd certainly rather use my space to promote a show like that as opposed to your typical sausage-fest. 

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