Question: On GOSSIP GIRL, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) is caught in a love quadrangle with the mercurial Chuck Bass, the erudite Dan Humphery (Penn Badgley), and a French Prince. Which man will she choose?
I’m voting for Dan. The prince is a shiny MacGuffin to distract us. Chuck and Blair’s love story has lost its appeal for me. His duplicity last season may not deserve forgiveness and this “powerful woman” business is just boring.
The slow building friendship and attraction between Dan and Blair has revived my enthusiasm for the show. So, I’m rooting for them and I have a great case: Blair Waldorf’s favorite film BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.
Fashion: Dan Humphery said it best, Blair Waldorf is an “evil dictator of taste” and cares about fashion more than most people. Her style is regal, flirty, and colorful. Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly made magic out of the little black dress. She uses simple pieces with elegant accents, jewels, and fabulous hats.
Writing: Dan was published in the New Yorker as a junior in high school. He’s dabbled in reporting and even play-writing (a collaboration with Blair actually). Paul Varjak (George Peppard) in TIFFANY’s put his passion for writing aside until he met Holly who sparked his imagination. Like Paul, Dan’s writing resurges as his friendship with Blair grows.
New York: Who wouldn’t want to fall in love in New York? Blair hails from the elite Upper East Side and loves to make sure Dan remembers he’s only from Brooklyn, but that doesn’t stop either of them from crossing the bridge to spend time together or exchange insults.
Like Dan and Blair, Holly and Paul’s attraction is based on similarities: Blair and Dan have intelligence, cultured interests, quick wit, reticence with relationships, and loyalty to friends in common. Over the other characters, they have the most in common and connect like Holly and Paul do in TIFFANY’S. Dan and Blair enjoy each other’s company, even if they are embarrassed to admit it. They have become confidants and are able to deliver incisive critiques because they have so much in common.
After they kiss, Holly hardens while Paul is confidently smitten: Maybe the Gossip Girl writers are following this plot because despite two kisses, Blair insists Dan is only a friend. Dan is clearly falling for her and struggling to hide it. In TIFFANY’S, our lovers eventually came together. Maybe the GOSSIP GIRL writers will remember BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and give their fans something fresh, compelling and lovely. Stay tuned.
The Masterpiece Classics seven part miniseries DOWTON ABBEY thrives by showing the interconnectedness of servants and masters at an English estate before the upheaval of World War I, women’s rights, and technological advances. The scenes of dinners, letter reading, and whispers in corridors never felt frivolous or repetitive because of the fleet of strong actors and tight narrative arcs. The story mostly revolves around the question of who will inherit the estate after Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham dies. With three daughters, the land and wealth of American Heiress Cora, Countess of Grantham all pass to distant middle class cousin Matthew Crawley. Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham becomes determined to see Downton passed to Lady Mary, the elegant eldest daughter of Robert and Cora. However, Robert resists finding a loophole for his daughter to inherit and insists on grooming young Matthew to take his place.
Downstairs, the employees of Downton Abbey take time between their duties to gossip on the events upstairs and play out their own power struggles. Robert brings in John Bates, a quiet man with a limp, as an unlikely valet replacement. At first, Bates is met with pity from the staff and hatred from Thomas and Sarah O’Brien. Thomas and O’Brien use relentless chicanery to get Bates fired, all foiled by his stout moral character and their own clumsy avarice. Romance, betrayal, secrets, human frailty, and ambition get their due downstairs as much as above.
Like my all time favorite series THE WIRE and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, DOWNTON ABBEY surprises us by showing the goodness in its villains and the pettiness of our heroes. Early in the show, we see Dame Maggie Smith’s character Violet as an interloping snob. She wonderfully upends our expectations in later episodes and forges relationships with unlikely characters. She delivers sharp zingers with bitchy relish and cuts people down with merely a look. Smith is a joy to watch.
Another standout is Jim Carter as Mr. Carson. A stickler for decorum, he chastises the staff for the slightest infractions. Yet Carson performs an invaluable narrative service in humanizing Lady Mary, the most divisive character. Mary rarely elicits our admiration and pity and we mostly want her to feel humiliated as she makes others. Carson has an avuncular affection for Mary, despite her faults and pretensions and wishes for her happiness. The final shot of Carson comforting Mary defines the story. The bond between those upstairs and downstairs is born of proximity, fostered by attentiveness, and forged by care. The best employers earn and sometimes return that devotion.
Season 2 cannot arrive fast enough.
Matthew Weiner is starting to scare me. How could he have known that I had spent the entire weekend watching all of “Twin Peaks” when he cast Madchen Amick as Don’s mysterious paramour in the elevator. I could barely contain my glee- “There’s Shelly Johnson!” Beyond that, episode 4 was AWESOME! I’m still pondering days later. Narrative style, character development, and story wise; everything was incredible.
Yet it was Joan’s story line that captured my special attention. From the pilot, Joan Holloway has been my favorite character. She’s bright and knows people - not just men- better than anyone else on the show. Back in Season 3 where Don and Co. wanted to start a new agency, I cheered when Joan came back to make their ideas into action. Joan is the definition of Margaret Thatcher’s quote,”If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” Not only that, she can effortlessly turn simple answers into sage advice or condemnation.
Despite my admiration, Joan’s marriage to Greg has always been a curious aspect of the show. Greg is more of a cipher for Joan’s discontent than an actual partner for our heroine. He rarely drives the story and barely offers any sort of real challenge to Joan. The nagging question around Joan’s marriage was never why she’s stayed married to him, but how much she is willing to sacrifice for her now hollow dream. When will enough be enough?
The answer is now. In one of the most thrilling moments of the show, Joan ends her disappointing marriage. It’s a reminder that these characters have complicated relationships with their past. On “Mad Men” the past is always lingering in the background and writers keep heighten even the smallest moments around whether a character will push against their former choices or submit to them. Whether a flash of recognition, a funny moment suddenly soured by a memory, or a silent reconciliation across the office lobby, “Mad Men” uses a character’s history to great effect.
Joan’s line of “You’re not a good man. You never were. Even before we were married and you know what I’m talking about” catapults us like a time machine back to the floor of Don’s office where her dreams turned into a violent nightmare. She doesn’t need to explain to Greg or us, because I’ve never forgotten her face in that episode (“In the Hall of the Mountain King”) and never will. Yet, that tragedy is replaced by another image in this episode: Joan lying in bed with her son Kevin and mother. Not quite the family she planned and worked to fashion, but a family all the same.
Joan Holloway is back.