Stuff Moms Like: The New Adventures of Old Christine

 

So, when I started to brainstorm for the next septuagenarian to write about, I realized that the Future Golden Girl thing had already gotten a little gimmicky. Sure you know there’s a “Hot in Cleveland” post in me somewhere, and yes it’s likely that I will eventually want to sing out, sing out my love for Harold and Maude, but I don’t want to write about any old, well, old person, just because he or she is there. (I’m looking at you, Regis Philbin.) I’ve got broader interests—I like middle-aged lady things as well! Thus, the inaugural post of “Stuff Moms Like,” a (hopefully) regular feature dedicated to things that young girls (like me) don’t always appreciate, but older women (like yo’ mama) probably live for. First up, “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”

Why do I consider “The New Adventures of Old Christine” to be something moms like? Probably because my mom likes it. In fact, she really likes it, maybe loves it, and has definitely been going steady with it for sometime. I, sadly, have to admit that I never got into the show while it was still on the air. My mom used to watch it on demand, the second she got a free moment, and laugh her head off; I couldn’t be bothered until it started airing eight times a day on Lifetime. This doesn’t reflect poorly on the show, but rather on me (both for my stubborn unwillingness to give it a try and my slavish obedience to the Lifetime network). As it turns out, “Old Christine” is hilarious.

The show centers around not only “Old Christine,” played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but also a strong ensemble cast. In the earliest episodes, Christine is recently divorced from Richard, but hasn’t yet transitioned into legitimate single-hood. She’s enjoying a very amicable split that, in fact, looks a lot like marriage. She and Richard, who have an 8-year-old son, Ritchie, remain best friends, and even act affectionately toward one another. They have not yet confronted the awkwardness that ensues when one partner begins dating someone else…that is, until Christine learns that Richard has been seeing a cute twenty-something blonde, also named Christine. From there, the show becomes a study in the interesting dynamics involved in a series of complicated relationships. Introduced into the mix are Christine’s younger brother Matthew, who is as dorky as he is witty, and her best friend Barb, who is as witty as she is mean. Matthew and Barb are grounding forces in Christine’s life, although they, of course, have their own issues to work out.

The actors who portray these characters—Clark Gregg as Richard, Emily Rutherfurd as “New Christine,” Hamish Linklater as Matthew, and Wanda Sykes as Barb—help make these characters especially memorable. Each has notable comedic talent; although this is no surprise for established comedians like Wanda Sykes and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it is an exciting discovery in lesser-known actors like Hamish Linklater. Indeed, maybe because I have an awkward crush on him, I would argue that Linklater is the biggest find on this gem of a show. He is funny, endearing, and weirdly attractive at times. His Matthew serves as a great foil to perceived alpha male, Richard, and his creepy relationship with his mother (and at one point an Old Christine look-a-like) can always be milked for laughs.

Of course, Old Christine is the heart of the show, and in fact “The New Adventures of Old Christine” is probably best known as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s return to a successful sitcom. One of the great things about Louis-Dreyfus is that she plays Old Christine without a shred of vanity: she is more than willing to make a complete ass of herself. She can look like a total mess, a total idiot, or a total jerk, and yet still be endearing because she commits to it. This is not the kind of show that plays it safe with likable characters—everyone has a tendency to succumb to their insecurities and baser instincts, and that’s why it works. Perhaps this is what makes it more appealing to a slightly older audience: these viewers couldn’t care less what people think of them, and they can relate to that utter disregard for pretense found in these characters. Of course, the show can be appreciated by anyone who’s looking for something that’s just plain funny.

“The New Adventures of Old Christine” is a solid sitcom that offers thirty minutes of quality diversion. It can be picked up at any episode, and watched multiple times; it’s not to be appreciated so much for its continuity and story arcs as it is for its well-drawn characters and unexpected jokes. Currently airing on Lifetime about thirty times a day, it is both super available and super funny. And, at the very least, it’s not another rerun of “Reba.”

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

 

Recently, I had a chance to watch the Joan Rivers documentary that came out this year, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Although it did not get a wide release, it is now easily accessed through any Netflix-streaming device. I strongly recommend anyone with Netflix to check it out; it is currently listed on many year-end retrospectives as one of the best movies of the year, and with good reason.

The movie provides an intimate look at one year in the life of comedian Joan Rivers. At 75, Rivers is just as edgy and foul-mouthed as ever. The movie provides clips from her R-rated stand-up routines, as well as commentary from Rivers, and both showcase her signature voice. She doesn’t soften herself for the cameras, but nor does she seem to play some amplified version of herself. That is, we appear to get some version of the “real” Joan Rivers, even if it is just the side that emphasizes her dedication to her career.

Rivers is portrayed as a hardworking comic whose drive hasn’t slowed down with age or disappointment. As the film opens, we discover that although she is experiencing a lull in her career, she is determined to win her way back into public consciousness. The movie chronicles her attempts to do so, in the process becoming a document of the typical ups and downs of any show business career. The audience can’t help but become invested in Rivers’s struggles, and thus develop real sympathy for her.

Perhaps the genuine affection we feel for Rivers is the film’s greatest achievement. Its intimate portrait of the comedian’s triumphs, setbacks, and irrepressible work ethic ensures that we see beyond the plastic surgery for which she has recently become best known. In its place we find a genuine talent, as well as someone who is willing to put in the effort to foster her abilities. We cannot help but respect her for the way she meticulously files away every joke she has ever written, and fights for those jokes that she believes she has crafted to perfection. We recognize Rivers as someone with a great comedic history, someone who has earned, but often does not receive, the public’s admiration. It is easy to forget, since numerous surgeries have rendered her almost incapable of aging, that this is someone who has worked steadily for nearly half a century.

It is treat, especially for younger viewers, to see Rivers in her early days, when she was just starting to attain mainstream success. The film does a commendable job of chronicling her career throughout the years. It gives a taste of all the curious turns Rivers’s career has taken. Yet, of course, it cannot delve too deeply into any one aspect. For the receptive viewer, it should inspire a closer look at Joan Rivers’s impressive body of work. There is plenty more to investigate even after the movie ends. Those who only know her from her current television shows, “Fashion Police” and”Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best,” may be pleasantly surprised by her earlier works of dark comedy, like the cult movie The Girl Most Likely To, written by Rivers, and starring Stockard Channing.

Of course, even those whose interest lies only in the documentary should walk away positively swayed. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a loving look at someone who may indeed seem difficult to love. It pulls away the harsh exterior (particularly harsh in an unflinching opening shot of Rivers sans makeup), and reveals a woman who, though seemingly brash, opinionated and even offensive, is sensitive and complex at her core. She is, like all great comedians, that potent mix of vulnerability and anger, someone who  copes with the world by laughing at it. Once she is adequately demystified, we feel as though we can finally embrace her. We can pretend that we are in on the joke. Of course, it’s impossible to say if we ever reach the true Joan Rivers, if we can ever peel back all the layers, or if there will always remain more underneath. Still, we’ve peeled back that first layer, unmasked her, and beheld a truly sympathetic individual. If we can make no strong judgments on her character, we can still conclude that she is, undoubtedly, a “piece of work.”

 

What’s New, Pussycat?

So I figured the new year provided a golden opportunity for me to further develop my blogging prowess. I mean, why not? I read books. I knit. I watch Lifetime. Why shouldn’t I have my own place to share my wit, my wisdom, my stories? Picture it: Sicily, 1914. A young girl—

Oh, but that’s right. I’m not an 85-year-old woman, despite a wardrobe and eHarmony profile that provide strong evidence to the contrary. It would be cute if this were your grandma blogging. But I don’t have grandkids, a hidden stash of peanut brittle, or questions about how to change the ribbon on the computer keyboard. I haven’t earned the right to sit at home on a Saturday night watching reruns of “The Golden Girls” and knitting an afghan. When I do this, it feels sad, contrived, and maybe as if I am trying to affect some sort of hipster irony, but failing miserably. But in all honesty, I just like this stuff. Which is, perhaps, most pathetic of all.

I want to be a Golden Girl, and not a popular one either. Sure it’s in vogue for even high school quarterbacks to hang the Betty White calendar in their lockers, but I’ve never felt like a Rose by another name. With my bookishness, sarcastic wit, and physique that makes it look like I’m wearing shoulder pads even when I’m not, I’ve always identified more with Dorothy, the Golden Girl who I, as a child, once mistook for a man in drag. I want to be the old lady whose sass is always somewhat eclipsed by her imposing nature. I want to be off-putting—just a little bit scary. Can I accomplish this at 23? And without the rich baritone to match? Probably not, which is why I’ve fashioned myself the Future Golden Girl. Someday I’ll make it.

Until then, here’s a blog about all my elderly interests: knitting, hot cups of tea, the sound Werther’s Originals make when slowly unwrapped during the most dramatic part of a movie… I think I’m off to a good start (loved ones and psychiatric professionals may disagree). So, for anyone out there reading this, enjoy. And thank you for being a friend.

Exhibit A

 

Reason #1 why I am a future Golden Girl

(My current knitting project)

 

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