Here For It w/ R. Eric Thomas, #91
Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: Sanaa Lathan opens up about doing what comes naturally, Michelle Obama is doing stadium tours, and the Bert and Ernie imbroglio!
I am unabashedly excited about the Magnum P.I. reboot. This is not a paid endorsement. I feel like I have to say that even though you and I both know damn well that CBS isn't calling me up like, "Hey, we could really use your support in your newsletter; can we send you $6 million dollars to drop us a mention?"
Anyway, I'm very very excited about Magnum even though it is on CBS and I haven't watched anything on CBS proper since Murphy Brown went off the air. Yes, I love The Good Wife but I was late to the party and only watched it on Hulu. Nowadays I watch Star Trek Discovery on CBS: All Access, their online-only platform that should be called CBS: How Does This Doo-Hickey Work Again?
I find CBS so interesting because objectively most of the people watching TV in America are watching something on CBS and yet no one talks about it. My mother loves The Big Bang Theory and all of the NCIS shows and I think she thinks that since I'm very into entertainment and I write for a magazine, this means I am up on the latest developments in those series. This is not a totally outrageous thought: they're among the most-watched shows on the air. But not by me! Frequently, my mother will call and ask "You see what Sheldon did this week?" And I'll say "Who?!" And she'll ignore that and continue, "It was so funny. I won't spoil it for you if you haven't watched it. I saved it on DVR for you."
My mother is always saving things on DVR for me. At her house.
I have nothing against CBS; I'm glad that people like it. I also hold the opinion that some of the best old-school vaudeville-esque comedic acting on TV is happening on Big Bang and Mom, the Anna Farris/Allison Janney show. I cannot vouch for the writing as, again, I am not sure my television even gets CBS, but from the clips I've seen and what I know of the performers, I can say that these people are being asked to sell a very specific and physical kind of classic comedy and I respect that. It's not easy to do and do right.
Even though I don't watch CBS, one of my other career goals is to get a supporting role on one of those drama that runs for 11 seasons and no one you know watches. Like, a lab technician or the friendly neighborhood criminologist. That would be, no joke, a dream. You show up to work on a series carried by a star whose heyday was bout 10 years ago and is now just interested in maintaining a certain lifestyle and getting home at a decent hour; you memorize your six lines (the max number of lines I can memorize); you often get to wear your regular clothes and never have to put on special effects makeup; once a season you're given a meaty B-plot in which your brother is kidnapped and you really have to throw your back into this whole acting thing and it's fun but you're really just here for the Craft Services Table and the residuals.
I don't know how accurate this is but I believe it with all of my heart and that's all that matters. Please cast me in a small part that requires very little from me, emotionally. I preemptively accept.
I would be especially pleased to have a role like this on the new Magnum, because it's set in Hawaii (although it probably films in California, but again, what do I know? Absolutely nothing.) The original Magnum was my mother's favorite show when I was growing up. She watched it religiously and taped it so she could watch it again. She'd discuss the "Infinity and Jelly Donuts" episode all the time with the same intensity and excitement that these days people talk about the finale of Lost or "The Boat Ride from Hell" on RHONY, or the twists on The Good Place. She would pop the tape in and play it all the time. She loved it.
It was one of those things that gave me, a child, a glimpse of my parents as humans. The enthusiasm that my mother had for Magnum--she was legit a stan--cast her in a new and really wonderful light. Watching the taped episodes of Magnum was my first exposure to complex storytelling and emotionally layered characters. Seeing my mother's investment was the first inclination that my parents had interests beyond me, which was--frankly--shocking. My mother's fandom created a bit of cognitive dissonance at first because I thought you were only supposed to be excited about things that were light and disposable. Magnum was a punchy procedural with a hot lead but it was also a thoughtful, mournful mystery about trauma, war, and regret.
I am eager to watch the new Magnum, I think, because it looks good and I really like Jay Hernandez, but also because it feels like a rite of passage. A show I can get hype about watching while not letting my brain atrophy. That said, much of the psychological ungirding of the original Magnum (and the impetus for a good deal of the overarching plot) was the haunting effects of the Vietnam war. The new Magnum updates it to the modern military actions meant to curb terrorism, but I realize I don't have the same connection to that as my mother has to Vietnam. She knew people who fought in Vietnam and some who lost their lives in the war. She protested the war as a young adult. She knew friends who'd returned as ghostlike shells. I don't have the same relationship and so the emotional background of the series doesn't hold the same resonance for me.
Had I a preteen who was casually observing my TV viewing habits I think the the thing they'd pick up how often I rewatch Parks & Rec and Will & Grace and how invested I got in Making It, the Amy Poehler craft show. So, instead of learning about the intertwining of dramatic resonance with satisfying pop culture, my kid would just intuit how great Amy Poehler and Megan Mullally are, which is fine. Of course, none of these shows are dramas like Magnum and so they don't inspire the urgency with which my mother tuned in every episode to find out how a cliffhanger resolved, but peak TV has done away with a lot of that. I really do miss having to wait for an episode, I think. I miss the surprise of it, the communal feeling. True, there's plenty of shows that still release week-to-week that I never miss, like Parks' sister show The Good Place, another favorite, or my Sunday night treat The Good Fight (I only watch shows that tell me they are good. It saves time. Please miss me with your dramedy entitled The Just Okay Family.) TV will never be what it was when I first discovered it, which is okay because where it is right now is pretty excellent. I'm just sad I don't yet have a kid in whom I can inspire an enthusiasm for a show or for the magic of television in general. I guess I'll just have to DVR it for them and wait til their born.
In this week's newsletter, I spent the day with Sanaa Lathan, we deserve better than Ernie and Bert, and the President wants to text you. But first!
Michelle Obama Is Playing Stadiums On Her New Tour Like the Beyoncé of Books
I am obsessed with Michelle Obama, objectively the best American, going on a tour of the nation's largest arenas to promote her upcoming book, Becoming, like the absolute rock star that she is. Can this happen all the time? Can we get Celeste Ng some lasers? I want to see Alexander Chee rappelling down on silks like a Pink concert. Every Samantha Irby reading should begin with her popping out of a trap door in the middle of the stage. We can make this happen! [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
We're Still Going to Keep Thinking Ernie and Bert Are Gay and There's Nothing You Can Do About It
LGBTQ people, like all peoples in positions of alterity with respect to a dominant culture, deserve more than having to imagine ourselves into the fictional worlds we're given. And we deserve more than the winking acknowledgment that has come to replace actual presence. Consider J.K. Rowling, who revealed that Harry Potter's Dumbledore was gay in 2007, after the last book in the series was published. While the thought is interesting and seemingly well-intentioned, without textual support it amounts to little more than fan-fiction. And how does it manifest it 11 years later in the forthcoming backstory Fantastic Beasts 2? Director David Yates, when asked if the film would acknowledge young Dumbledore's orientation, replied "Not explicitly." In the words of actual, explicitly queer icon Ira Madison, III: Keep it.
Sanaa Lathan Goes All-Natural
You have to see Sanaa Lathan do a photoshoot. When I entered the studio earlier in the day, she was already situated in a chair in front of a lit vanity, being fussed over by a trio of artists. Hair stylist Larry Sims, who also did the wigs for Nappily Ever After, put the finishing touches on her luminous afro. Stylist Chloe Flower popped on two Yves Saint Laurent earrings with diamonds arranged in a swoosh that calls to mind Hermes' winged shoes. Behind her, a shimmering gold Balmain mini-dress glinted alluringly. Lathan, still in sweats and chatting on FaceTime, looked like a goddess, and I practically duck into the photo studio to make sure they have an altar on hand.
She slipped into the Balmain and sashayed playfully across the floor, moving the gold fabric like wind across the surface of the water. She was feeling herself. She caught one last glimpse in the mirror and exclaimed, "I love my 'fro!" [READ THE FULL ARTICLE]
Trump Can Now Text You Directly So Phones Are Canceled
Honestly, I can't think of much worse in an emergency situation than receiving a grammatically questionable, conspiracy-filled text from Donald J. Trump. What's he going to write, "Call me, beep me, if you wanna impeach me?" I'd rather FEMA just send a "Molly, you in danger girl," GIF to my phone and call it a day. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Stormy Daniels Is Trying to Ruin Your Day With Her Description of Trump's Anatomy
Ugh. Sorry. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]
Let's Hang Out
Hosting The Moth in Philadelphia at World Cafe Live on Monday October 1st
Hosting The Moth Mainstage in LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS! on Thursday October 4th
Random Thing from the Internet...
Frasier is one of the very best TV shows every produced and this oral history of it is a warm-hearted delight.
I won't spoil it for you; it's on the DVR,