Being the Ricardos

BEING THE RICARDOS is a straight-to-Amazon movie, the latest from playwright turned TV show creator turned screenwriter turned director Aaron Sorkin. It tells the story of one week in the lives of ‘50s sitcom icons Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, when a radio show had reported on Ball registering to vote as a communist in 1936, and they went ahead preparing an episode of I Love Lucy thinking their careers might be over.

Because this is Sorkin, and a movie, it’s about how a beloved American icon could’ve been taken down by the red scare, but it’s also about the nature of comedy genius, the struggle for artistic freedom, workplace dynamics, and marital strife. Sorkin piles on the separate events of Lucy telling the network she’s pregnant and of discovering Desi’s infidelity, leading to the end of their glorified-on-television marriage. I spent the whole movie thinking “These couldn’t possibly have happened in the same week, could they?” and of course no, they did not. (He also changed which episode was being filmed.)

Promoting the film, Sorkin told Collider

“I thought, ‘Well, I’m not perverting history, or defaming these people, if I take those three events and make them happen during one week, compress time, and have the whole thing take place during one production week of, I Love Lucy, Monday table read to Friday audience taping.’ So that’s what I did. Dramatists get to do that.”

But the first line of the movie is “It was a scary week,” and Sorkin intercuts between a bunch of fake documentary interviews of actors playing older versions of the I Love Lucy crew all agreeing “it was a scary god damn week” while giving figures about how many people watched the show compared to a popular show today. The movie is absolutely saying “Let me educate you on this, truth is stranger than fiction, can you believe all this happened in one week?” And the answer is no, actually I can’t.

I honestly went into this thing very open-minded, but was rolling my eyes at one of my absolute most hated narrative conventions. If there’s a value to having fake interviews about a real thing, it is not demonstrated in this movie. If you’re going to dramatize these events then accept the responsibility to dramatize these events.

Many rejected the casting of Nicole Kidman (BATMAN FOREVER) and Javier Bardem (THE COUNSELOR) as Lucy and Desi, which I agree is distracting at times. Kidman is such an identifiable actress that it’s hard not to see her constantly peeking out from behind the makeup sculpting her into the shape of an even more identifiable actress. And since pregnancy is such a big part of the story it’s hard to forget about these two being 12-15 years older than the ages they’re playing (with larger gaps in the flashbacks).

When you can get past that, though, I do think they’re both good in the roles, with Kidman doing a better Lucy voice than you might expect, and Bardem really capturing that vibe of a guy who is so used to getting what he wants from his outsized charisma that he lets his weaknesses get out of control. Which is at least how the character is portrayed here, and I don’t really remember what he was like on the show, I didn’t watch Nick at Nite that much.

J.K. Simmons (THE LADYKILLERS) and Nina Arianda (RICHARD JEWELL) play co-stars William Frawley and Vivian Vance. The latter has conflict with Lucy over her looks. She’s sick of jokes about her character not being pretty enough, so she’s been losing weight and trying to change her wardrobe. She thinks Lucy is jealous because she’s sending others to trick her into eating more, and then Lucy insults her by telling her she’s an identification character for regular, not-pretty-enough viewers. I’m unclear whether this is based on known facts about Vance’s feelings on the matter, or if it’s Sorkin’s attempt to interrogate and/or find drama in the treatment of female sidekicks in ‘50s sitcoms, but it kinda works as behind-the-scenes drama.

Frawley is portrayed as an alcoholic grump who insults everybody but is warm and supportive of Lucy when it counts, a formulaic role that of course Simmons can do in his sleep. He’s a professional, though, so he stays awake.

Tony Hale (AMERICAN ULTRA) plays the showrunner/co-creator who’s always exasperated with Lucy and Desi and trying to stop them from doing what they want to do so he doesn’t get yelled at by the network or the sponsor, Philip Morris. (The cigarette, not the guy, I think.) Pretty sure this isn’t an autobiographical character for Sorkin. There are lots of scenes about going in and out of offices and writer’s rooms as he argues with the stars and with the two writers, who are portrayed as hating each other. Bob Carroll is the kind of semi-likable but oblivious doofus that Jake Lacy (CAROL) excels at, while Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat, WHIP IT, GREEN ROOM) is the wittier, more acerbic one with higher standards for the jokes, who seems to annoy the men by pointing out power imbalances, but also gets into it with Lucy.

I believe Sorkin has already done three TV shows about the making of TV shows, the comedy one being Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which morbid fascination caused me to watch in its entirety. Launching the same season as 30 Rock, it was the one hour drama version of the “behind the scenes of a Saturday-Night-Live-like live sketch show” premise. The actual comedy writers behind 30 Rock were smart enough to make any sketches seen or referred to on the show intentionally dumb – Lamazwell: Lamaze class meets Roswell, Prince William and Prince – Time Traveling Fart Detectives, etc. On Studio 60 the unfunny sketches seemed like they were meant to actually be funny, because so much of the show was characters pontificating about the artistic genius, edgy subversiveness and massive historical, cultural and political importance of their show.

One Studio 60 detail that stuck with me enough that I already brought it up in my review of the Sorkin-scripted STEVE JOBS was when the cast member played by Nate Corddry mentioned Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” routine to his parents and, because they were regular working class joes from Ohio, they had no idea what he was talking about. As if it’s some kind of arcane text only known to the most dedicated scholars of comedy history, and the guy didn’t realize this because of the comedic greatness bubble he lives in. Though Sorkin is good at writing witty quips, he just has an odd view of comedy, the making of comedy, and what other people know about comedy.

Another Studio 60 example that’s relevant to BEING THE RICARDOS is the ongoing story about Sarah Paulson’s character being a cultural phenomenon because she’s a conservative Christian and yet undeniably funny. But of course, she does not seem to be a funny person. BEING THE RICARDOS continues that strange perspective of funny being an innate talent for understanding a set of mathematical formulas that really smart people love to dryly explain in long motor mouthed monologues. Like all Sorkin characters Lucy has smart ass quips, but she’s a genius because when they’re working on the show she will go into a daze staring at a board and telling people to be quiet, and then suddenly joylessly announce what she’s come up with (which we are supposed to take as unfathomable brilliance, though we don’t get to really see what’s so funny about it).

For all I know Sorkin researched the shit out of this and has portrayed each one of these individuals with utmost authenticity. However, much of it does not ring true to me.

One of the threads is Lucy insisting that “we should go back to the dinner table,” a scene everyone else is satisfied with that she keeps trying to modify. It seems like she’s channeling her stress about other things into perfectionism, but they have a hard time convincing her of that. It culminates in a scene where she has discovered evidence of Desi’s infidelity and then drags her co-stars out of bed in the middle of the night to go over the scene again. She makes all these changes and, while picking up on the emotional crisis she’s experiencing, they’re also in awe of her improvements to the scene.

Which is fine, but the first of her changes really got me. In the blocking session Frawley and Vance sat at the front of the table with the camera looking at the backs of their heads, but now Lucy moves them around to the other side. It’s supposed to be like “Ah ha! She makes this one subtle adjustment, and the whole thing transforms like magic!” But of course it’s more of a “No fucking shit” situation. You’re telling me it took a middle of the night burst of inspiration by a legendary comic mind to figure out that the characters in the scene should be facing the camera!?

Of the many Sorkinian preoccupations explored in the movie, maybe the most interesting is the political conflict between Lucy and Desi. Lucy doesn’t want to fudge the details of what she did to make it sound better, because she doesn’t think there was anything wrong with it, and thinks it would be an insult to her socialist grandfather. Desi keeps minimizing it saying that she just checked the wrong box by mistake, and seems like he’s just trying to protect her image until he blows up and yells about his family fleeing communist Cuba. It doesn’t really seem like one of them is more right or wrong than the other. Sorkin also seems to admire his fictional Frawley for hating McCarthyism even more than he hates commies.

The title tells us this is about a state of being, specifically a state of being The Ricardos, and I found the relationship story fairly compelling. I like that their first scene turns into passionate couch sex. The old way of doing this was to try to show the bowdlerized image of American family life in ‘50s TV as hypocritical. This part, at least, shows that not being like their TV counterparts isn’t a strike against them. It just means they know that sex can be fun and good.

Unfortunately, some of the portrayal of Lucy becomes retroactively silly when you realize it’s all structured around forcing deep meaning into the catchphrase “Lucy, I’m home.” An idea so corny I never saw it coming.

Studio 60 had an arc about everyone being sure Paulson’s character’s career was going to blow up after starring in a biopic of Anita Pallenberg. Even if Sorkin burned that idea as a movie-within-a-show instead of trying to make it for real, I am positive he ruined a few dinner parties monologuing about the BARBARELLA villain who dated two Rolling Stones. In my review of his directivational debut MOLLY’S GAME I wrote, “Sorkin seems like a guy who obsesses over some story he read about in a magazine a while back and he won’t fucking shut up about how fascinating it is and you’re like ‘Okay Aaron… sounds great Aaron anyway I gotta get going,’ but then when he makes the movie you realize he was right, it really was a compelling story when presented exactly as he knew how to present it.”

Except this time it’s a little less clear that this was a movie and not an anecdote, at least as he presents it. It’s also a little bit like his second movie, THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, in that it’s about topics I accepted as important while growing up on boomer-based media, but returning to them now makes me think maybe it’s time to move on from “Can you believe it, they couldn’t say ‘pregnant’ on TV! They had to have separate beds!”

But that part’s on me. I didn’t have to watch this.

I don’t want to sound like I don’t respect Sorkin. I think THE SOCIAL NETWORK is incredible, and I also liked MONEYBALL, STEVE JOBS and MOLLY’S GAME. And I know many people who love two of his shows that are not Studio 60. When his stuff works it really works. But when it doesn’t, the distinct in-a-committed-relationship-with-the-sound-of-his-own-voice, mansplaining feel to his writing becomes overwhelming. (Variations on “here’s what you got to understand” in this one: 5.) Here’s hoping on the next one he stares off into space for a while and then suddenly formulates the perfect way to do it.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 5th, 2022 at 9:28 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

43 Responses to “Being the Ricardos”

  1. Crushinator Jones

    January 5th, 2022 at 10:04 am

    I actually had no idea Sorkin directed and wrote this. I don’t like him at all as a person but I find his stuff generally interesting. The American President is a fascinating encapsulation of a certain mindset (I’ll spare you my judgements on that mindset) and had the prescient to make a decent chunk of the movie about a bill to address global warming. It’s still worth watching today, even if some of it is rather dated.

    Vern, you’re right that Sorkin has rather loose standards with the truth. His CHICAGO 7 movie is, to put it nicely, full of beans on multiple fronts. He’s one of those dudes that always chooses drama over truth and that’s fine and dandy if you know it going in. But putting fake doc-style interviews in to support your manipulated timeline seems a little too far, IMO.

  2. I didn’t watch any TV for about a decade starting in the mid-90s, so I had no idea who this Sorkin guy was during his heyday as a genius. Then by the time I learned who he was and that he might be somebody worth checking out, everybody decided that, actually, he’s an embarassing blowhard who sucks, so I never bothered. To this day the only Sorkin thing I’ve seen is that clip from THE NEWSROOM that made everybody fully turn on him. I don’t feel like I missed much. If anyone anywhere in any context has ever said anything about him or his work that doesn’t make it sound utterly insufferable, I haven’t heard it.

  3. Crushinator Jones

    January 5th, 2022 at 10:56 am

    Oh he’s absolutely a blowhard and has a very bad case of The Smugs but he can occasionally write something profound and/or interesting. Or could. I dunno, I’m not really a fan and don’t follow his career at all, but CHICAGO 7 wasn’t horrible and I liked THE SOCIAL NETWORK. I should say that the Newsroom clip is him at his absolute stinking worst and shouldn’t be used as a condemnation of his entire work – I don’t think it’s fair to the artist to take his most useless 15 minutes and use it to bash the literal hundreds of hours of other shit he’s done. Talk long enough and you’re eventually going to say something really stupid.

  4. But A FEW GOOD MEN still kicks ass right?

  5. I forgot he wrote that. So I guess I have seen a Sorkin. And it’s not bad for a movie with one scene in it.

  6. I’ve liked some Sorkin stuff, like The American President, A Few Good Men, and The Social Network. And I used to halfheartedly defend him on the basis of those movies, but recently I realize that I dislike far more of his stuff than I like. Molly’s Game, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Steve Jobs all kind of sucked. I tried to watch The West Wing, and I may have gotten through two seasons, but it’s absolutely insufferable now. While I’ve never watched The Newsroom, I’ll admit that every now and again I’ll fire up that scene on the airplane for a pick me up, because it’s so genuinely terrible.

    And he represents such a terrible, toxic version of neoliberalism. It’s this same ideology that has basically taken over the Democratic party and allowed Republicans to run roughshod over them for over two decades. And you can’t even separate it from his films. They’re such an obvious extensions of his worldview in the same way that his characters all speak in that self-assured, smarter-than-you way that Sorkin himself wishes he could off the cuff.

    I don’t want to be overblown here, but if American democracy doesn’t survive, I do think Sorkin’s legacy will be as an example of the kind of weak liberalism that couldn’t stand up to a totalitarian right. It will give future film and pop culture academics plenty to mull over, if we even have universities in the future, that is.

  7. On a pure “can’t believe a human being made this” level, Majestyk, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip might be the Sorkin that’s worth your while. Not that I’m a fan of the guy overaall- I don’t find his style similar enough to human behavior to consider it engaging or good- but Studio 60 is the one thing he made that I’m glad I watched, just because it feels like an unwittingly honest depiction of full-blown Hollywood ego showing its ass for maybe-unprecedented stretches of time. Up to and including dialogue that might as well read ‘”Look! Look at my ass!” [Rugged protagonist heroically shows ass, bravely, and for all world to see, despite mortal/career consequences incurred]'”.

  8. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

    Arrrghhh, thank you!! For like a month, I’ve been trying to remember the name of this program, and it’s been driving me crazy (but not crazy enough to, y’know, look it up)

    Wow! Did I fucking hate that show! It was the kind of show characters would declare “Wow! This skit is incisive, lacerating, comedic brilliance!!!” without a hint of irony during a scene where the skit was being written. Then you’d see the aforementioned skit, and it’ll be sub-Krusty the Klown in “the Big-Ear Family”

  9. I liked the first few seasons of The West Wing when it was brand-new, but it skidded off the road, slammed into a tree, burst into flames, and started a thousands-of-acres forest fire long before the end (the post-9/11 Very Special Episode was a very special nightmare), and I haven’t watched even the episodes I liked since.

    I remember watching Studio 60, too, and wow, did it suck. And I wasn’t that into THE SOCIAL NETWORK. I’ve never seen The Newsroom or A FEW GOOD MEN.

    Basically, if I had to save anything Sorkin’s touched, it would be MALICE and MOLLY’S GAME, and the former is a lot better than the latter.

  10. In all fairness RE THE WEST WING: Sorkin was only involved until the episode where the president’s daughter gets kidnapped*, which is the season 4 finale. Personally the point where I stopped watching was the last season, when their main focus was Jimmy Smits election campaign and every episode seemed to be about a bunch of guest stars, driving through small towns and discussing their campaign strategy. But I admit the show as a whole was a bit easier for me to watch, because it didn’t air here until 2007 or 2008 and then they showed 5 episodes per week in the late afternoon. I guess stretched out over several years it’s be pretty tiresome, especially when you have to wait half a year for new episodes and they are not as good as they used to be. But watching the (almost) whole thing within less than a year while eating dinner, is pretty easy.

  11. There were so many fudges of the timeline on this that I half expected Gene Rodenberry to show up in a scene and start pitching Wagon Train to the Stars. I know it’s easy to criticise something for not being something else, rather than for what it is, but I do think that Sorkin either missed the point of this story, or told it badly.

    Lucille Ball, like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, changed the culture and the media landscape, only she did it 60+ years ago and as a woman. So you don’t really need to show how Jobs and Zuckerberg have affected things, as we all remember the before times, but for Ball you really need to explain more, as we’ve grown up in a world that Ball helped make. And sure, Sorkin has lots of dialogue that tells us what a business genius Arnaz was and what a comedy genius Ball was, but the examples where these things are actuall shown are, as noted in the review, fairly facile.

    I think Sorkin opted to tell the wrong stories. “Star accused of being a communist” and “Star has cheating husband” are stories we’ve seen before, and certainly better. Now, admittedly, “Woman is pregnant” is hardly a new story, but clearly “Woman is pregnant on TV” was a massive story back then and could’ve made for a much more interesting main plot. Combine that with genuine attempts to show us “Woman owns TV studio” and “How the making and marketing of sitcoms was changed forever” and this might’ve gotten a little closer to the greatness of Lucille Ball.

    I get that this is BEING THE RICARDOS, not Being Lucille Ball, I just think that that choice may’ve been a mistake.

  12. RBatty024 or anyone else who can answer I guess- I see a lot of pejorative references to Sorkin being “neoliberal”, is there a new more informal definition of neoliberal I’m not aware of? Because I understand Neoliberal to refer to the pro-free trade, privatization-happy economic theories of Milton Friedberg and others, as typified by the administrations of Thatcher and Reagan, and on the more moderate/liberal side I guess Clinton. I don’t really see how his movies intersect with that to any dominant degree, so is it that Neoliberal in this context essential means millimetres-left-of-centre? Or is it that people feel they can infer that economic worldview from his work? I understand a big grudge with Sorkin is that TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 portrayed Abbie Hoffman as the kind of Robin-Williams-Patch-Adams of rebellion, rather than the more thoroughly counterculture figure he supposedly was (as perhaps more accurately reflected by Vincent D’Onofrio in STEAL THIS MOVIE!, a truly noxious boomer fart cloud of a film). I get the grudge, but is that “neoliberal”?

    The thing about STUDIO 60 is it made you think it was going to be a somewhat decent show for an episode or two, or at least a show written by people you would recognise as humans with the accompanying thoughts and emotions we associate with such creatures, but then they unveil their big sketch which is going to redeem the head writer for a public scandal following a drug bust, and it’s an opera choir singing Gilbert and Sullivan, but they change the lyrics to “I am the very model of a major network TV show, we’re sorry that our writer was caught doing blow”. There’s really no coming back from that. I could only stomach the first episode of THE NEWSROOM, and I saw bits and pieces of THE WEST WING back in the day but had no idea it had shit like the daughter’s president being kidnapped.

    Despite all that, I quite like some of Sorkin’s films. SOCIAL NETWORK is obviously good, and I liked STEVE JOBS a lot too, MOLLY’S GAME was more forgettable but fine. I thought this was fine too, although it helps that I’m interested in the subject; I’m not sure I’ve seen a full episode of I LOVE LUCY, it was never run constantly here like it was in the US, we’re more of a PHIL SILVERS SHOW nation, but I am interested in the early days of TV, even if it’s heavily fictionalised it’s still an engaging subject to me. I admit I did believe while watching it that they just so happened to film this particularly famous episode while Lucy was being investigated by HUAC. I feel kind of dumb in retrospect, but oh well. I didn’t buy the fatal phone call.

    Not to get all ranty YouTuber but it did stick out to me that Ball/Kidman asked Arnaz/Bardem to stop “Gaslighting” her. I know the term comes from a 1944 film, so it’s not impossible but… come on.

    The thing with Baby Boomer filmmakers still stuck on obsessions formed c.Woodstock is an interesting phenomenon. I was one of the few people alive who kind of dug the George Clooney joint SUBURBICON, but if felt about 30 years too late with it’s “sit down guys, but the 50s were actually probably no more innocent than our own times! And a lot of people back then were pretty racist to boot too!” message. OK, there are quite a few people out there who could do with learning that even now, but are they really the same people who are going to see a Hitchcock pastiche in 2017? The same 12 people?

    In conclusion, Fred and Wilma shared a bed in some episodes and they rule.

  13. Pacman, when the movie came out, someone on Twitter had the same problem with the use of “gaslighting” and judging by a dozens of people in her replies, it was actually commonly used in the 50s, then fell out of fashion like so many other phrases of that time, until it was recently rediscovered by the public. I guess it’s a bit of an “I drink your milkshake” situation, where the use of it sounds like the worst fucking anachronism, but is actually accurate.

  14. In any case, I think the term “gaslighting” predates the Bergman-Boyer movie, as that was already the second filmed version, with both following Patrick Hamilton’s play Gas Light of the 1930s.

  15. Also, I remember I Love Lucy regularly screening in the ’70s on the BBC in the early Saturday evening, post-Grandstand slot, although I can’t find anything online to back me up on this, and it may have been later Lucille Ball vehicles. That was a regular slot for The Pink Panther show too, I seem to recall. According to Television Heaven, I Love Lucy was the first US sitcom screened on ITV, in 1955.

    But yeah, The Phil Silvers show – Bilko – was always on, well into the late ’80s, possibly later.

  16. CJ/Borg9- Interesting information on the term, thank you both of you. Although it looks like this tweet attracted enough attention for Snopes to write an article about it, and they’re a little more sceptical.

    Did People Refer to Gaslighting During the Era of 'I Love Lucy'?

    A stray piece of dialogue from the 2021 biopic "Being the Ricardos" set off a fascinating online debate about a cultural anachronism.

    Also, I did not mean to imply I LOVE LUCY wasn’t a thing *at all* here; I actually watched this film with my mother (born in 1958) who watched it at some point and was able to confirm for me that “Lucy stomps grapes” was a real moment from a memorable episode of the show, just that it wasn’t a rerun (or as we and many an angry Radio Times letter writer would call them “repeats”) juggernaut to the that-joke-in-CROCODILE-DUNDEE-extent that it apparently is/was in America. But I was born at the end of 86 and saw plenty of Bilko episodes growing up. BBC Genome site suggests the last time they showed any of it was in late 2004. Apparently they showed a single episode of I LOVE LUCY in 1996 for an evening hosted by French and Saunders, but I would have been in bed by then.

  17. What is neoliberalism is a big debate obviously, and I would agree that it’s more than just being slightly left of center, although most of those people would be neoliberals. The simplest definition I might rattle off from the top of my head is seeing the world through free-market economic terms. In our neoliberal world, we’re no longer complex actors part of a webwork of relationships and overlapping identities; instead we perceive ourselves as wholly disconnected individuals trying to maximize our economic potential and further our personal “brands.” A great example of neoliberal thinking is how we discuss school. It’s never about students learning for knowledge’s sake or for personal growth and introspection or understanding how the world works or becoming an engaged citizen or any other of a million things education can accomplish. It’s simply about job training. The neoliberal aspect of education basically eclipses everything else.

    There might be other examples from Sorkin that people might point to, but for me Molly’s Game seems like a neoliberal film. It’s about this brilliant individual who we’re supposed to admire simply because she figured out how to make money illicitly. I simply didn’t understand why we were supposed to care about this woman who came from a privileged background. What is she accomplishing? But in a neoliberal worldview, simply figuring out how to make individual economic gains should be lauded, even if it has no positive social impact. They even have Idris Elba’s daughter look up to her for whatever reason. She’s the ultimate “girlboss” (which I know is maybe overused, but it truly is a great example of neoliberal thinking).

  18. I see, thank you.

  19. Having rediscovered the joy of sitcoms during the pandemic (love the nostalgic feeling I get from half-remembering jokes and plots I saw as a kid, also love the fact that they’re short in length and super easy to watch), I totally loved this movie. The idea of doing a biopic of a sitcom star as basically a long sitcom episode, complete with a plot set in motion by a “misunderstanding”, corny one-liners, and a wacky supporting cast that always has the perfect snappy line to say – like most Sorkin ideas it sounds f’ing terrible but it’s also kinda ingenious and I wonder why more biopics aren’t done this way. Full Disclosure: My favorite biopic will always be Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which kinda has the same approach to its subject, and I’ll admit these aren’t for everyone. But to me, wondering if the timeline of events is accurate or if Lucy and Desi really acted like broad caricatures of themselves 24/7 is like asking if Bruce Lee really had to beat the shit out of someone every 10 minutes in real life; i.e. you either go with it or you don’t, and I totally went with it.

    Everyone is on fire here – Tony Hale is amazing here, and I have no idea who Nina Arianda is but she’s incredible! And how is JK Simmons playing the most stereotypical JK Simmons role ever, but doing it in a way we’ve never really seen before? I love how the plot is basically just a collection of subplots (I feel like a new subplot is introduced in almost every scene) except sometimes Lucy is the hero in one plot, sometimes she’s the villain in others. It’s a bizarre structure that unfortunately/inevitably ends in disappointment – there’s sort of a “that’s it?” feeling to the end, like Sorkin is spinning plates and keeps adding plates all the way up to the last ten minutes, then lets them crash and the movie is over.

    That’s not my only complaint – I’m with Vern that the talking-head documentary structure is kinda terrible – look, I love Ronny Cox and I’m glad to see him return to the screen, but dude, don’t get him to play some “real life” studio exec in a documentary because we know it’s Ronny Cox! Also, Lucy’s “Dom in Fast 4” super power of piecing together genius comedy bits by staring off into space is so goofy I’m not sure it’s not supposed to be another joke in itself. But whatever, I loved this movie that I can totally see winning a bunch of Oscars or winning a bunch of Razzies, which makes it very special indeed.

  20. Neal, that’s the best pro-RICARDOS take I’ve seen. I didn’t pick up on it being “basically a long sitcom episode,” but that is a great way to look at it. And a rare case where that could be used as a compliment.

  21. Thanks Vern – I don’t think I would have even noticed the sitcom structure if me and the wife haven’t been mainlining old Wings and Golden Girls episodes every spare moment we can get. (Also just started Wandavision and still have Matrix Resurrections on the brain, which probably helped me accept the surreal meta vibe of this movie) I also gotta wonder if Sorkin ever considered breaking it into 5 sitcom-length episodes (a la Steve Jobs), one for each day of the week leading up to the big show. Or maybe the movie actually is structured like that but all the days (and flashbacks) run together for me unfortunately.

    Speaking of the sitcom vibe, in a time when it’s a really common complaint that mainstream movies have gotten too glib, and almost every genuine emotional moment gets undercut with a jokey one-liner (everyone including me complains about this when it comes to Marvel movies or Dwayne Johnson movies), I weirdly respect Sorkin for leaning into the cheap laughs and eye-rolling comedy during what would normally be big Oscar-clip emotional scenes in any other movie. I probably laughed more during this movie than most “real” comedies – it’s definitely the funniest Oscar bait movie in recent memory, if not ever.

  22. Now I can’t remember what it was specifically, but I know one of the big emotional scenes in THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE ended with a line that made me laugh, but rather than undercutting the emotion I felt it added to it by making me feel sort of guilty about laughing. So that’s another biopic/arguably-Oscar-bait type movie with an interesting tone. I didn’t feel I had a full review in me but I did a decent sized writeup on Letterboxd:


  23. The fake writer interviews really pissed me off. If the actual writers are no longer with us there is l literally no reason to use a documentary format only to cast actors to play them. And that was so annoying it didn’t even register that it was a fake week on top of that! So even if the real writers were alive and available it would be irrelevant!

  24. I have not watched the film but am feeling commenty.

    Neoliberalism is a global phenomenon, with US and UK having major thought leadership influence. It is driven by the interests of capital/business (vs. labor/workers) and involves deregulation, privatization, and trade liberalization (tarriff elimination and such). It also involves tactics to undermine unions. Arguably, in the US it started under Carter (who pushed to deregulate trucking iirc) and was heavily influenced by the stagflation crisis of the 70s and early 80s. It gathered major steam under Reagan.

    Clinton and Obama were both neoliberals, with Clinton having to define himself in the context of Reagan and the aspects of Reaganism that resonated with Americans. One strong indicator of the strength of neoliberalism’s influence is that Obama’s health and economic policies — or policy instincts, at least — were arguably significantly more conservative than Nixon’s (i.e., the so-called “Overton window” of political acceptability had shifted righward in a more market-centric direction, as per Rbatty). It was the Nixon administration that gave us the first major environmental legislation, the founding of the EPA; he also flirted with universal healtchare and a modest basic income.

    Things like WTO and various free trade agreements and the move toward aggressive intellectual property laws, and efforts to undermine labor protections and collective bargaining among working class (e.g., contract work, privatization, gig work) were central. Protectionism for capitalists, intellectual property, and white collar well-lobbied professions (e.g., doctors, the financial sector, pharma) and aggressive “free” competition between first-world wage laborers and slave-wage laborers. Also, a strong push for Asia, Africa, and Latin America to open its markets to US and Western Europe, often leading to rapid but bubble-y economic development, followed by crashes and the need to borrow from more developed Western countries (via, e.g., IMF) pon conditions of further opening and privatizing markets and punishing domestic government budget cuts (austerity).

    That is the US-centric version, but makes enough sense to follow the US version as central, since it was the dominant economy at the time neoliberalism gathered steam and so had subsantial influence on the global economic world order.

    Mostly a bad thing, imho, unless you work in finance or already have a high net worth or manage to have special skills working in a well-lobbied profession (e.g., doctors in USA, who make about >=2x what other countries make without obviously better health outcomes).

    This is why I tend to get grumpy about culture war stuff, because I regard it as mostly a smokescreen that ends up dividing groups of appeal who are all to some degree oppressed by the wealthy and well-connected (though some more oppressed than others on average, to be sure). For example, this is why I went ahead and stepped in it by taking the gadfly position that Scarlett Johannsen (misspelled I’m sure) vs. Disney for equitable pay is a stupid stand-in for real issues of economic oppression, because she’s one of the statistically least economically oppressed human beings in history (even if she is “oppressed” relative to Robert Downey, Jr.). So, given “what is neoliberalism?” prompt I thought I would seize this opportunity to unpack my thoughts, which are the subtext for my frequent curmudgeonly grumpiness about Disney and similar pseudo- Fox News grumpiness about left culture war issues that seem to dominate the conversation relative to broader economic justice issues.

    Um, … the end. :)

  25. Speaking of grumpiness and subtext for other comments, although I have not seen this film, I think it is a good illustration of the fact that a lot of my “old man yells at cloud” hand-wringing about the dominance of Disney and franchises has less to do with an actual lack of other viewing options. This film about the Ricardos, or the Michael Keaton thing about opioids on Hulu, or any number of other things (MARRIAGE STORY, THE IRISHMAN) are still getting made, and there are a million streaming shows out there. I think I’m just bummed that they don’t go to theaters anymore but instead are scattered around all the streaming services, which I find overwhelming and depressing. I think I honestly miss the monopoly constraints where you had to go to a theatre or else wait and then had to go to a video shope (or even send away for a Netflix disc).

    What I miss about that time is probably general nostalgia and a sense of my own mortality and middle-aged-ness in large degree, but I think the other piece I miss is the communal, getting-out-of-the-house outing / social aspect of it, plus a certain amount of cost one had to pay in dollars and effort before watching a good movie. That is ironic to be bummed out about the overall cost of high-quality stories going down over time, but it is true: I liked it better when there was less and it was more expensive and harder to get, I think.

    I’m sure I’ve said that all before on this sight but felt like saying again, so, thanks for indulging.

  26. I had a similar thought the other day. I was watching some 20-year-old LORD OF THE RINGS special features and Elijah Wood breaks out a big fat book of CDs in the makeup trailer and I got this blast of nostalgia. Its amazing nowadays that the entirety of recorded music is available at all times, but there’s also something to be said for the days when the music you had was ALL the music you had. See these 50 discs? That’s it. That’s me. Let’s you and me find something in here that we have in common, or let me introduce you to something you never heard before, or even better, you break out your big fat CD book and play me my new favorite song. Sure, all of that can be done online, but is it? Do we bust out our favorite albums because that’s all we’ve got or do we say “Alexa play hip hop” and listen to a bunch of songs we’ve either heard a million times or will never hear again because it’s all just an ephemeral breeze blowing through the dream of our lives, never taking hold, barely even stirring the leaves around before exiting forever, another forgotten wisp in the digital hurricane? There’s something to be said for “This is my music. I have found it and carried it with me both physically and spiritually and now my friend I will share it with you” that cannot be replicated with streaming, and I think the same can be said of other art forms. It’s why I would always choose a bar with a disc-based jukebox over one of those digital monstrosities. The former gives the venue its own character; the latter sounds exactly the same anywhere you go.

  27. Yes, for sure. I was reading something the other week, and it was talking about how center-right THE ECONOMIST -type economists value choice above all else. This was particularly central to Milton Friedman’s thought — he is one of the big bad intellectual pubas behind neoliberalism and was actually allegedly a good actual monetarist economist (probably second only to Keynes in modern history) who became more and more of an ideologue. He had a book and PBS series called FREE TO CHOOSE and was a tremendous influence on Reaganism and the modern Fed. Also an early propoent of a basic income.

    Anyway, to agree with Majestyk and, oddly enough, to bring my two seemingly unrelated previous posts together: One of the core features of the ideology that underwrites neoliberalism is choice. The idea that more choices are better — more competition, more options, more integration, more stuff, more kinds of stuff. Cheap mangoes and Toyotas (GATT, NAFTA) and then cheap rentals and rides (Uber, AirBnB).

    And it largely works in achieving it’s goal of giving you more and more variety of stuff at lower financial cost, but then there are all kinds of bad externalities.

    The problems of more choice in media are in some ways unique, and they are diverse and nuanced. For example, the breakdown and balkanization of news media is what gives us siloed ideological communities (filter bubbles and whatnot), but it is also what allows for the Outlaw Verns of the world to carve out a space. I think it’s definitely bad for political and current event journalism and certainly local news — at least in the current short-run. I’m more mixed about it for entertainment. At the same time, it does open up more opportunities to challenge a single dominant, bullshit narrative, and single dominant bullshit narratives are definitely a big part of got us into the War in Iraq and other things. So, there are positive aspects to the relativization of things and the idea that Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather had an objective “view from nowhere.”

    I don’t have good answers. In the case of movies, so, maybe we are evolving to a place where only giant tentpole films that are best on the big screen are good candidates for the big screen. Maybe that’s okay. You go to the theater for something that is a big screen type “event,” and you stay home or have a watch party at home for things that are less of a mass cultural event and more of a niche cultural event. And you stay plugged in to people like Vern or just do a bit more active searching to learn about your weird niche shit. And you still do have your periodic NOBODY or GET OUT or HELL-FEST (which I thought was mediocre, but I’m glad it exists). I’ll try and see if I can convince myself that’s okay. Not sure I’ll succeed.

    In conclusion: More choices are good in theory, and maybe they’re even good in practice, but they are overwhelming and have a way of diluting the prospects for something weird and subversive to bubble up (Unless it’s, like, South Korean pop or something.). We can still find plenty of good stuff in the indie, streaming, VOD creates, but our big shared, outside-the-house cultural moments seem more processed and junkfoody and panderingly fan-servicey and less truly challenging, weird, upsetting, provocative, or quirky (vs. a T2, a Carpenter, DARK KNIGHT saga, Coens, Tarantino).

  28. I think Skani has a great definition of neoliberalism here. Well done, sir.

  29. Thank you, scarhead. In an ideal world I’d be more concise and make fewer typos and word salad errors, but I’m glad something of substance got across to someone!

  30. Can someone tell me what this infamously awful Newsroom scene is?

  31. YouTube

    Share your videos with friends, family, and the world

    In short, a newsman tells some airline staff Bin Laden has died as if he we’re telling them they’d all won the lottery. Probably not the best description, but no description could do it justice.

  32. Oh? Somehow when people mentioned “Newsroom” and “infamous” scene, I thought they were referring to the Jeff Daniels speech that was a Whatsapp staple a few years ago. Something that incensed right wing dicks like Steven Crowder to make rebuttal videos of their own

    "America is not the greatest country in the world anymore" - The Newsroom 2012 - SUBTITLES

    From the series "the newsroom", the beginning scene (EDITED). America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. SUBTITLES

  33. That was the most famous scene from the show at one point, and maybe still is, but the Bin Laden one has become “popular” in the last few years. If you look at the comments for that video the ones from the mid-10s are all along the lines of “this scene always makes my cry!”, and the ones from the last few years are mostly “lol”. I do envy the former set.

  34. Although I’ve just ctrl+f’d this sucker and no one referred to Bin Laden, so you may be correct, I just assumed they meant that scene. I had seen that scene, but I was a year or so late on the What’sapp train, so I may have missed the sharing videos and saying “This! This!” phase.

    The Bin Laden scene is worse though right? The “America used to be great” scene can have holes a million holes picked in it with like three words, and it’s very illustrative of Sorkin’s sensibilities that are all over CHICAGO 7, but the Bin Laden one is just something else.

  35. I was referring to the big “The world sucks now and it’s all the fault of you people far too young to have any real power to change anything” speech. I never heard off this Bin Laden scene but it sure sounds like it sucks too.

  36. I was actually referring to the Bin Laden scene earlier, which I find to hit that sweet spot of so bad it’s good. I would highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t. Like I said, I’ve even watched it as something of a pick me up in the past.

    But I do remember people sharing that initial clip of Jeff Daniels ranting before the show even aired, and it made me absolutely certain I would never watch The Newsroom.

  37. On top of all the historical perspective feeling off and phony, they gotta try and make us swallow that that J Edgar was a swell guy at the end of the day? Fuck right off, Sorkin.

  38. Brian – Ah shit, I totally forgot to mention that part. Made even more befuddling by the fact that it was completely made up!

  39. I saw this last night and wasn’t impressed. It pretends to give a behind-the-scenes, nuts-and-bolts look at the production of a sit-com, like some kind of Arthur Hailey novel, but you just get the sense that Sorkin is making things up on the fly. The most ridiculous bit is the one that Vern singles out, Lucy’s big epiphany that the actors’ faces should be in view of the camera, but there are moments like that all the way through. I can’t fathom why Sorkin is so fascinated by the business of making comedy when he clearly doesn’t understand it. “Snappy” he gets, “wry” he gets, but the larger contours of “funny” evade him.

    And the framing interviews were spectacularly pointless. Why are they there? Just so Sorkin can lecture Gen Z about the size of I LOVE LUCY’s audiences? If so, there are less distracting ways to do it.

    Now that I’ve heard the “gaslight” dialogue in context, I don’t think there’s a case that it’s appropriate to the period. Yeah, people occasionally used it in the ’50s if someone was being tricked into doubting their senses or thinking they were insane. That’s not how Lucy uses it here. She uses it in the modern way, where “gaslighting” seems to mean “lying in an emotionally manipulative way,” or maybe just “lying.” I thought the earlier “Don’t fuck with the Cuban” line was just as bad — in an era where The Naked and the Dead couldn’t be published without changing “fuck” to “fug,” there’s no way Philip Morris officials were using obscenities in a telegram.

    I never watched THE WEST WING. I’ve seen a few clips, like that famous one where Bartlet is talking to God and listing his accomplishments, and he’s done next to nothing. (I just looked the speech up, and he even boasts about creating “3.8 million new jobs.” I mean, I guess that’s better than Trump.) And isn’t there an arc where there are two vacancies on the Supreme Court, so he decides to give one to a liberal and one to a conservative? No idea whether Sorkin was responsible for those episodes, but they seem pretty asinine.

    As for the “neoliberal” discussion …. Like “gaslight,” the word has two meanings. There’s the poly sci meaning — using private markets rather than government spending to solve problems. Privatisation, deregulation, austerity, upper-class tax cuts, reducing the social safety net. Reaganism and Thatcherism.

    Then there’s the way “neoliberal” is used in online discussions, where it’s sometimes used with the above definition, but usually just a pejorative for the centre and the centre left. The giveaway is that Republicans, who are pushing for all of these policies in full view, attract the label much less often than Democrats.

    Skani: I don’t know where you picked up this stuff about Nixon being further left than Obama. It’s not the first time I’ve seen that claim made. But whoever it was, you might want to re-evaluate that source, because it’s absolute nonsense. Nixon, as he told Ehrlichman, thought environmentalism was “crap” for “clowns,” but at the time the Democrats had a veto-proof majority in Congress and were passing environmental legislation. Sometimes, as with the Clean Water Act, Nixon tried to veto it anyway. Sometimes he didn’t. That doesn’t make him an environmentalist.

    Nixon also vetoed a minimum wage bill and a national day care bill. His proposed health care plan called for privatising Medicaid, which sounds suspiciously neoliberal to me. In any case, he didn’t really care about health care reform; the plan went nowhere, and was just intended as a distraction from Watergate. Obama expanded Medicaid and tightened regulation of private health insurance, which is precisely the opposite of neoliberal. Granted, you can point to Obama positions in other areas that are neoliberal (charter schools, for instance). But overall? Nah. There’s no sensible way to define “neoliberal” in a way that includes Obama but excludes, say, Jimmy Carter, let alone Nixon. The word is much more useful if we save it for people like Rahm Emanuel, Newt Gingrich, and Donald Trump.

  40. Wait a sec, the Hoover thing was made up? Now I dislike this movie even more.

  41. I might regret posting this but I don’t know if I’d say this movie is presenting Hoover as a swell guy exactly. It’s a very strange (and ridiculous) scene, but I would guess Sorkin trusts his audience to know the deal with Hoover without needing to represent it by cutting to him stubbing out a cigar on one of his assistants while he’s on the phone or something. It seems fair to assume most people who’ll be interested in a film about the behind the scenes of I LOVE LUCY will know about Hoover at this point, right? Are there still people out there who defend Hoover? Probably.

    I’ve seen similar concerns that people think Rupert Murdoch is portrayed as “saving the day” in BOMBSHELL, but I think he’s just a guy who makes a cold commercial decision in a film that isn’t really concerned with him outside of that context. Similarly some people seem to think VICE is somehow a work of Cheney apologia, I guess because he gets a soliloquy at the end, and the audience is (for once in the film) given a slight pause to consider if it’s redeeming or chilling. And I get why people aren’t in the mood for this kind of stuff (and none of these are great films), but I personally don’t begrudge them for it,

  42. Both Bombshell and Vice are centrally about the toxic environment and vacant, greedy, craven people. This movie is only sometimes about anti-red hysteria, and it is dealt with in a way–again very Sorkin–where a towering institutional figure shows up and makes sure all goes right. (HUAC doesn’t do anything wrong in the movie either. It’s merely a small detail that a crazed media figure picks up on exploits to hysteria rather than the congressional committee doing much wrong directly, besides maybe leaking closed testimony.) Maybe Hoover calls in because Desi hates communists, is a prominent Cuban-American, and the Cuban revolution is ongoing. This movie doesn’t go out of its way to show us Hoover was an asshole and authoritarian. Vice certainly goes out of its way to show Cheney as a loathsome human being who damaged the country. And if Sorkin is going to make something up, why not just have Ike or VP Nixon call in? It’s gotta be the law enforcement/national security institution? LOL. The ridiculous scene mostly seems like it’s there to tidy up the loose ends and to echo the earlier scene where Desi skips the chain of command and shows how he’s a rainmaker, who shouldn’t be underestimated and who can cut through the red tape, so to speak, and get what needs to happen done.

  43. I’d sort of go to bat for Sorkin…he still makes movies I like seeing, and they have good dialogue and are entertaining and I like banter. He can also be really trite, and yeah his thoughts on comedy are sooooo Ivy League lame. Like his infamous Sunset Strip pilot where they were KILLING themselves to come up wit the perfect bit, then it was like a fucking Pirates of Penzance parody…Jesus Christ, only the bluest of bluebloods would even find that wry, much less fucking funny. What an asshole. Still, it’s not hard to find comedicans who take their shit WAY too seriously. Listen to Marc Maron’s podcast to see how some overly serious sadsack does comedy, or watch totally lame unfunny comedian Joe Rogan wax on about his art, which he SUCKS at. Plus Lucy was never a comedian anyway, she only became one…I do wonder if she was a fan of it, but it’s funny seeing her in her early dramas, where she’s good but maybe doesn’t stick out.

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