Bruno Mars, Canadian Television, and Other Heart-Warming Substances

Happy New Year, Dames Nation!

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

It's coming (and if our cephalopod overlords are part of it, so much the better).
GIF by Celine Loup

2017 kicked off #MeToo. 2018 will start the process of seeing it through. We were very pleased to see Queens of Hollywood (including Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon, Gina Rodriguez and many others) announce Time’s Up, a collective focused on making it easier for women of all income levels and across all industries to call out and fight back against sexual harassment and assault in their workplaces. This is not just about women wearing all-black on awards show red carpets this season, it’s about a legal defense fund, resource partnerships with other feminist organization, and concrete support for women who want to come forward in this moment of reckoning.

Of course, black dresses on red carpets _are_ a part of the reckoning. To be taken seriously, we have to look the part. Eva Hagberg Fisher’s essay How I Learned to Look Believable beautifully, painfully concretized the minute, often unconscious process of deciding what to wear. So many of us undertake this process daily, making subtle adjustments based on who we’ll see & the impression we want to convey. What will be the venue? Is the event primarily social, professional, or somewhere in the murky area where those two overlap? Will we be in charge, or an underling? Are we negotiating? Demanding? Supplicating? What to wear isn’t just a personal decision, and it’s not only a political one. It’s both, and it’s more, and it’s often hard work. We both felt so seen & understood when we read this essay. Maybe you will, too? Onward.

Ask Two Bossy Dames!

A state Your Dames are rarely stricken with. You’re most welcome to try, though!

Do you have a burning question about culture, fashion, career, romance, or...pretty much anything else? As long as it’s not legal or medical, we’d love to offer you some friendly advice about it!Just fill out this handy formand we may include it in our January 19 issue.

Dame Margaret Makes Like Someone Who Hosts a TV Podcast

The best way to spend the days between Christmas and New Years: Alone, on your couch, recovering.

As I would hope all of you know by now (BUT MAYBE YOU DON’T, hey, some of you ARE new?) in addition to writing this here newsletter once a week, I also co-host a weekly TV podcast called Appointment Television, on which the running joke is that I watch far too little TV to be an effective host. Well, THE JOKE’S ON MY CO-HOSTS, because apparently I watch enough to be invited onto my local public radio station to discuss THE YEAR IN TELEVISION, and I have to say, I'm pleased with the outcome. Inspired by WBUR’s faith in me, I am going to provide you, our beloved readers, with a list of 4 TV shows that are perfect for this time of year (because they are entirely undemanding but somehow always better than they need to be) and one TV show that is just plain perfect (because it is, don’t you @ me). Wrap yourself up in your warmest blankets, place your favorite snacks within arm’s reach, and prepare to binge the following:

  • In the category of undemanding-yet-better-than-it-ever-needs-to-be television, perhaps no show delights me more than Elementary, CBS’s Sherlock-Holmes-as-a-modern-procedural show. When it was announced, I was appalled by it, thinking it no more than a crass American attempt to grab onto the prestigious coattails of the BBC’s Sherlock, then still a creatively thrilling show with sparkling dialogue and brilliant acting. But while Sherlockhas largely fallen apart thanks to Steven Moffat’s addiction to melodramatic plot twists and allergy to plausible female characters and coherent emotional arcs, Elementary has plodded away in the background, delivering delivering five seasons of shows that feature both the necessary satisfying 45-minute puzzles a procedural (OR Sherlock Holmes story) ought to provide AND sneakily devastating emotional arcs for nearly all the main characters-- the decision of how to characterize Holmes’s arch-nemesis, Moriarty, is a particular favorite of mine. I am particularly impressed by the shows unwillingness to let Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock stagnate in featureless assholetry simply because he happens to be brilliant-- he continues to be a source of chaos, yes, but he is also required to evolve emotionally and recognize the needs of those around him. With all five seasons currently available on Hulu, I would heartily recommend this one to anyone with an appetite for detective television or an interest in beautiful clothing, as Lucy Liu’s wardrobe as Joan Watson is one of the best on television.

  • The next show I would place in this odd canon is Younger, TV Land’s implausibly premised but ultimately great sitcom about a stay-at-home mom who, post-divorce, must pretend to be 26 instead of her actual age of 40 in order to get an assistant job in a publishing house. Created by Sex and the City’s Darren Starr, Younger has all of the frank discussions of sex, strong understandings of female friendship, and cringeworthy puns that make that show worth revisiting, plus extraordinarily incisive jokes about literary New York that would be sure to tickle Book Twitter’s funny bones. And, at its heart, there’s just the fun of seeing terrifically funny and charismatic actors like Sutton Foster (the 40-year-old-26-year-old), Debi Mazar (Sutton’s also 40-year-old BUT avant-garde lesbian artist best friend, FINALLY being given a role worthy of her talents), and Hilary Duff (as Sutton’s actual 26-year-old best work friend and just as delightful as she was when she made me fall age-inappropriately in love with the Disney Channel’s Lizzy McGuire). There is definitely some iffy ageism in the shows establishing episodes, but it dissipates almost immediately and instead finds a way to be interested in and compassionate about the challenges of being female at both ages-- and, with short cable seasons of 12 episodes at a cool 22-minutes apiece, the four seasons available on Hulu go by at a breakneck pace.

  • In a similar, but more dramatic vein than Younger, let me sing to you of The Bold Type, a 45-minute gentle drama about three young women working at a Cosmopolitan-esque magazine called Scarlet. The single season currently available on Hulu manages to be earnest without being humorless, didactic without sacrificing nuance, and somehow makes a virtue out of the fact that Cosmo’s former editor Joanna Coles is a producer, leading to a female editor character who bypasses all the Miranda Priestly stereotypes and instead can just be simultaneously businesslike as a boss and nurturing as a mentor to the show’s leads.

  • And, rounding out my list of Better Than They Need To be Restorative TV Shows, permit me to recommend Netflix’s revival of Norman Lear’s classic sitcom One Day at a Time. In the first few episodes, the predictable family sitcom beats and intrusive laugh track could be off-putting for those of you raised on deadpan single-camera fare like 30 Rock and The Office, but if you can surrender to those rhythms, I challenge you to remain aloof to the excellence of Justina Machado, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, and the incomparable Rita Moreno as a Cuban-American family trying to sort out living together in the wake of Machado’s military deployment and her split from her military contractor husband. The show is warm and funny and brilliantly uses the somewhat musty structures of an old-school sitcom to address very modern ideas, from coming out to post-traumatic stress disorder. If you’ve finished Jane the Virgin and need a Villanueva-esque family to fill the whole in your heart, this show is a great one to try out.

  • AND FINALLY: Thanks to a helpful Appointment Television listener, I recently received word that Slings & Arrows, one of my favorite television shows OF ALL TIME, had just been added to YouTube, where the whole 6-episode first season can be streamed, LEGALLY (and where the show's two subsequent seasons will be available shortly). This show, about a wunderkind director tasked with running the Shakespeare festival that literally drove him mad as a young actor, while being haunted by the hammy ghost of the festival’s old director, is just as perfect now as it was the first time I watched it 10 years ago. It’s funny and profound and makes a case for the power of Shakespeare that’s astonishingly unpretentious and deeply persuasive and PLEASE go watch it, then come shout about it with me at your earliest convenience. And if you don’t like it? Well, my enthusiasm will be UNDIMMED so, in the word’s of Darren Nichols, Slings & Arrows’ resident batshit auteurist director:

Dame Sophie's Groovy Link Buffet

Me, all day, forever

Bruno Mars convinced Cardi B to guest-rap on the remix of his new single, Finesse, out this week. Look at this video. LOOK. AT! IT!! Visually, Bruno & Cardi are bringing back In Living Color and I am into it. Sonically, they’re bringing back New Jack Swing, a genre of music you might not even be aware that you love, but trust me: you love it. Do you love Keith Sweat’s “I Want Her”? How do you feel about Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison”? Do you flip out when “Rhythm Nation plays? If you started shimmying your shoulders or said “that’s MY JAM” in reference to any of these songs, then you love New Jack Swing. As well you should! Keeper of Prince’s flame Anil Dash & everyone’s favorite cousin that they crush on Lin-Manuel Miranda put together a very solid playlist of classic NJS tracks for you to rock out to while you read this amazingly in-depth thread on the history of the genre by Twitter music historian Naima Cochrane, complete with illustrative video selections so you can revel in the fashions, dances, and video conventions of the era. Immerse yourself!

Is Man Of The Woods (An Album by Justin Timberlake) the Young Pope of 2018? Facebook’s On This Day feature keeps reminding me of how obsessed I was at this time last year with the utterly bananas-looking Young Pope series on HBO. It looked so bizarre and compelling: Jude Law sporting casual cashmere hoodies, a sunhat straight out of Beyonce’s “Formation” video, and making a bold, if misguided, attempt at a Brooklyn accent! Diane Keaton as a nun who sometimes wears a t-shirt bearing the slogan “I’m A Virgin. But This Is An Old Shirt”! Papal intrigue! Dream sequences! As I wrote last year, I was smitten. Then the series debuted, I watched perhaps 2.5 episodes and zzzzzzzz. Wow, was it boring. So, so boring. I have not watched any further episodes. Now, Justin Timberlake has unleashed a preview for his forthcoming album, Man Of The Woods, which seems like he is trying really hard to Lemonade, while also being in many significant ways, A Very Average White Dude.

I am usually all for being at least a little bit pretentious in major endeavors, because I view it as trying, which is a thing I appreciate. Making an effort is good! I believe in one’s reach exceeding one’s grasp. At this point, the meaning of pretentious has kind of been absorbed into being extra, encompassing a lavish, self-aware over-the-top-ness that is frequently both eyeroll-inducing and also rather endearing. See: Harry Styles & his suitsBeyonce & her twins pregnancy announcement, Bruno Mars & his devoted re-creations of 1980s & 1990s musical styles, et al., etc. So, yeah, shoot your shot, man, go for it! Do the the thing! But something _here_ strikes me as very off. This pretentiousness doesn’t seem ambitious, it seems...absurd. Anne Helen Petersen gets at some of what’s so troubling about Justin’s highly segregated woodsy pursuit of masculine “authenticity” schtick, as does DamesFav and past guest editor Willa Brown in her prescient piece on LumbersexualityMan of the Woods is out February 7, and I just have a feeling that, like The Young Pope before it, this album is going to wind up being a very big, thinkpiecey deal before it happens & then land with a wan little fizzle.

Are any of my fellow Dames Nationals watching Grown-ish? It’s a spinoff of the great sitcom black-ish, in which eldest daughter Zoey goes to college & begins to take some baby steps towards figuring out what kind of person she wants to be away from her family,  where she’s the coolest, prettiest, and most popular of her siblings. The first two episodes have aired & are streaming on Hulu (for $) and Freeform (for free!). I really like it so far: Zoey is a complete mess, the entire supporting cast is a delight, and in lieu of the voiceovers black-ish uses, Zoey addresses the camera and audience directly. That might seem gimmicky, but it’s not any more gimmicky than a voice-over, and given that Zoey thinks a lot and earnestly about self-presentation and personal branding, it makes perfect sense to me that she would do away immediately with any pretension that there’s a solid boundary between herself and her audience. That shit is a semi-permeable membrane, at most. I look forward to the rest of the season & to rewatching all of A Different World (handily streaming on Amazon) in 2018.

Aaaand finally, I leave you with a life-changing product endorsement: behold, the contemporary hot water bottle. Oh, sure, you may think you know all about them thanks to your grandma. Let me assure you, this is a wholly updated heating enhancement accessory. A hot water bottle used to be made out of rubber, which was fine as far as it went, which was maybe two hours after you filled it with hot water. Outside that window, you’re resting your tootsies on a bag of cold water. Where’s the pleasure in that in January, in the Northern Hemisphere? The contemporary hot water bottle is made of some magical, otherworldly resin a highly insulated thermoplastic that keeps your hot water comfortingly toasty for over 12 hours. It also comes with a cozy little turtleneck sweater-bag, which it probably doesn’t need, but which is adorable. My husband & I bought two of these last winter (after seeing one of the nuns clutching one on an episode of Call The Midwife) and the upgrade they represent cannot be overstated. Fiona at The Strategist is right: this thing’s incredible.