notes on the city trailer

October 22, 2008

  • watch the trailer here
  • the soundtrack to the trailer, “carousel” by paper route, probably won’t be the actual theme to the show but it’s interesting to look at the contrast with the hills theme, n. bedingfield’s “unwritten.” “unwritten” is all big, bold primary color emotions, the build of the verse into this explosion of feminine energy in the chorus – it’s the aural action painting of adolescence, it’s one of lauren conrad’s epic crying jags en forme de chanson. “carousel,” on the other hand, feels gentle, muted, impressionistic. there are no peaks, there are no valleys, there is no loud, there is no soft, there is only the middle. the hills might have been alive with the sound of music, big music that was necessary to represent its technicolor rainbows and hyperreal sunsets, the great bounty of this celluloid oasis in the western wilderness, but the city needs a different kind of music because it’s not about the earth or the soil or the sky, it’s not about nature at all, it’s about glass: auster’s glass, phillip’s glass, salinger’s glass. glass – in the right light it can be a mirror, but, mostly, you can’t see in it, you can only see through it. some musicians take glass to mean broken glass, shards of glass, they might see it as invitation to dissonant modernism but that wouldn’t fit this show. the city isn’t no new york, it’s yes, new york, it’s yes please, new york! can we take bets now about what kind of acoustic singer songwriter covers will soundtrack the ends of episodes of the city? i mean, the hills already used the nouvelle vague version of “heart of glass” but there are so many more options. what about “new york, new york” (the cat power song for a depressive sad girl evening of in-home camera posing, the ryan adams one for a montage of joyfully trying on expensive clothes)? the cowboy junkies’ “sweet jane” (or better yet, a young doe-eyed youtuber’s cover of the cowboy junkies’ cover of sweet jane!) a maroon 5 AOL acoustic session cover of “pale blue eyes”? will sonic youth show up for a cameo like they did on gilmore girls? WHAT ABOUT THE STROKES?!?!?!
    • and of course note the lyrics – “on and on and on we go / just like a carousel that’s lost control” – a pretty bold self-conscious reference to the fact that this is a “spin” off. it’s so self conscious but not self conscious in like a winking metafictive way but self conscious in the way a graduating senior might pause over the blank page of the one of her friends’ yearbooks, hoping, wanting, yearning to say something “original” or “creative” but, seconds later, the pause fast becoming awkward, still, stuck there, pen in hand, eventually hastily adding a double-coded tag at the beginning of her message: “Hey, I know everybody writes this same stuff but whatev! Have a great summer, BFF 4 life, SENIORS!”
    • (didn’t you miss my ability to make something out of nothing?)
    • (a long time ago i wrote a song about whitney that i still like even though ableton’s time stretch messed up some of the vocals.)
  • my impression is that, in a very significant way, the show isn’t actually more of the same, even though that’s how it will be spun by, you know, everybody. despite the bullshit about glass above, the form and aesthetic of the show will be basically identical to the hills – the production team has that shit on lock at this point, they could make three dimensonal tone poems out of you folding your laundry if they wanted to. the thing is, the aesthetic, while important, doesn’t determine the success or failure of the show. think about laguna beach season 3, think about newport harbor: the real orange county, think about nashville. all of these shows mined basically the same aesthetic territory as the hills and all of them were artistically and economically and completely and totally unsuccessful.
  • so what is the x factor? well, as i see it, there are two: the cast and the plot. (of course, this being reality television, the two are pretty inextricably related, but i want to talk about them separately)
    • the cast – some people just don’t have what it takes to be on this kind of show. lauren’s little sister in laguna beach season 3? didn’t have it. the casts of newport harbor and nashville? didn’t have it. it’s hard to say what it is, exactly – your cynical commentators will say something about the vapidity/glazed eyes/blah blah whatever. i’ve tried to codify it before but the trick to being captivating in the world of faux reality has to be some combination of an idiosyncratic physical expressiveness (whitney!) and maybe verbally the ability to have internalized womens’ magazine and hollywood romantic comedy clichespeak and have integrated it into your personality so that it comes out as genuine and true.
    • the plot – the problem with the aforementioned bad shows were that they were all ensemble dramas and it’s really hard to have an ensemble drama that’s only twenty minutes long. those three shows grasped for a narrative center but the results were uncaptivating and crappy. the genius of the hills was that it only had the pretense of being an ensemble drama, that there was always a strong center to the narrative and everything and everyone else (whitney included) were just narrative flotsam and jetsam, props to be brought in when necessary. in season one, the story was about the creation of lauren and heidi’s friendship. in season two, the story was about the dissolution of lauren and heidi’s friendship. in season three, the story was about what is life like after the end of lauren and heidi’s friendship and whether they could make new friends. in season four, well, hell, i don’t actually watch it, but based on the google alerts i get it seems that the story is going to be about the rebirth of lauren and heidi’s friendship. this is all so simple that even if you’re not smarter than a fifth grader, you can probably follow along.
  • SO THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE HILLS AND THE CITY: the main reason that i think the hills was so resonant (besides the reality-fiction thing) is that it was fundamentally about relationships between young women and more generally about friendship, about what friendship is and what it means and what is good about and what bad and when it ends how do you go on and so on and so forth. the hills, by focusing on this issue, tapped a really specific vein, scratched an itch that wasn’t being scratched. dramatic soap operas (the OC et al) have always put the spot light on romance, on the mushy heartstrings boy girl stuff. the hills was genius because it covered what wasn’t being covered, it took a new subject – it gave everyone the girl on girl action they’d been waiting for.
  • the city, on the other hand, seems to be not about female friendship at all (again, i’m extrapolating a hell of a lot from the trailer so take it with however many grains of salt you want). whitney’s female co-stars are at first glance pretty boring – the one with the bangs gets a cute line in the trailer but seems fairly blah (she’s just a sounding board – she’s whitney’s whitney!) and olivia palermo is actually really pretty but almost scarily so, like totally “femme fatale.” what i’m saying is i really doubt we’re going to have any transcendent female relationship scenes like lauren conrad was able to grace us with over the course of the hills.
  • no, the plot of season one of the city seems to be whitney working in new york and trying to decide between two very different boys she likes!
  • in other words, the plot of season one of the city of the city is the plot of the devil wears prada. i’ve discussed resonances that the hills had with the devil wears prada before (lisa love vs. meryl streep’s anna wintour, portrayal of intern life, going to paris etc.) but the city takes this referencing to a whole new insane level. in the devil wears prada, andy moves to the city, works a demanding job in fashion, and vacillates between the sweet, dependable boy she dated before she moved to the city (adrian grenier) and a bad, dangerous boy who intrigues her but will obviously fuck her over (that guy from the ring two). in the city, whitney moves to the city, works a “demanding” job in fashion, and vacillates between the sweet, dependable boy she dated before she moved to the city (the guy in the hat in the trailer) and a bad, dangerous boy who intrigues her but will obviously fuck her over at some point (the ugly australian guy in the trailer)
    • (side note about whitney’s boys: the cycle of recursion honestly gets kind of creepy sometimes. i’ve talked in the past about the repetition of lauren and heidi’s career opportunities in many distant cities (“just like lauren became “the girl who didn’t go to paris,” now heidi has become “the girl who didn’t go to vegas”) and about how lauren’s faux-beau doug reinhardt is really just a shitty copy of brody jenner, among many other things. now we have whitney falling in love with this rugged, scruffy, unwashed australian boy who seems like such a dead fucking ringer for lauren’s rugged, scruffy, unwashed parisian crush that it almost makes my head explode.)
  • but the idea of whitney at the center of a romantic plot seems absurd as the anchor of a series. i love her and i think she’s hilarious and wonderful and unique, but doesn’t seem to have any of the emotional juice that lauren exudes during her relationship scenes. there’s not enough soap opera in her, there’s not enough drama in her, that’s why she’s always been a secondary character. i actually read the book of “the devil wears prada” a couple of weeks ago. i really enjoyed it although i thought the movie was much better.  the sort of emotional emptiness and lack of drama that i expect from a whitney port relationship arc is mirrored in the ridiculous relationship between andy and her boyfriend in that novel. like, i don’t know if she even kisses him in the whole book, much less fucks him, much less has any realistic conversation with him. he is really the audrina to her LC, he seems to exist almost solely to allow her to vent and shit but then he gets fed up with it and leaves her. it’s ridiculous, anne hathaway and adrian grenier do it much better if only because they are actual three dimensional warm breathing human beings.  maybe i’m underestimating whitney – i hope so.
    • another interesting difference between the film and novel of the devil wears prada re: all the female friendship stuff above is that in the novel, the climax of the book actually is centered around female friendship. in the book, the reason andyleaves paris is because her alcoholic best friend gets in a car accident and andy realizes how she’s lost the important things in her life and blah blah blah. it was really where the book lost me because she’s like days away from this new yorker internship that she’s been suffering for for months and then her dumbass two-dimensional friend gets in a car accident and she throws it all away. i just don’t fucking buy it, sorry. it fails because the friendship is completely unconvincing.  the power struggle shit at the end of the movie was so much better.
  • yet, for all my worries about the city being the devil wears prada made real, this could also be the key to the success of the show. the hills and the city are as much fantasy as sex and the city and the devil wears prada, but all of those stories are fantasies that girls across the country want to make into their reality and are actively trying to make into their reality, trying to turn these images that they’ve watched in suburbs and small towns into real lived life. the city is just this, whitney taking a popular fiction and making it into her actual life. there’s very real potential for that to resonate with the aforementioned consumed consumers.
    • the problem i see with the show is the potential lack of conflict to drive the narrative. the devil wears prada is suffused with conflict, both the external conflict of andie trying to do this insane job for this insane boss and the internal conflict of her trying to reconcile the image she has of herself as an intellectual with this job she is doing at a “brainless” fashion magazine. i just don’t know if either of those conflicts can exist in the city. i don’t think diane von furstenburg is going to be playing a cartoony wintourian powerbitch like lisa love and kelly cutrone did. and in terms of the difficulty of the job and the stress and stuff, that drama is undercut by the clear fact that whitney is obviously not struggling to get by, that she is a popular television star. there’s the sense the DVF job needs her more than she needs it and that’s a drama killer. so without the catty girl drama, without the insane boss drama, and without any soapy romantic drama, the question I’m left with is what is this show going to be about?
  • i was going to do a bit about frank o’ hara’s walk poems and how they revel in the shining highlights of everyday life in new york and how that really resonates with the city‘s narrativising and aestheticizing and aerobicizing of quotidian banality but i don’t feel like it anymore. besides, i’ve just decided that the perfect soundtrack for the city would have to be lou reed’s “new york television conversation,” which i never made the connection until just now but really seems to be inspired by edie sedgwick in poor little rich girl. anyway, listen:

“I was sleeping, gently napping, when I heard the phone
Who is on the other end talking, am I even home
Did you see what she did to him, did you hear what they said
Just a new york conversation, rattling in my head

Oh, my, and what shall we wear
Oh, my, and whop really cares

Just a new york conversation, gossip all of the time
Did you hear who did what to whom, happens all the time
Who has touched and who has dabbled here in the city of shows
Openings, closings, bad repartee, everybody knows

Oh, how sad, why do we call
Oh, I’m glad to hear from you all

I am calling, yes I’m calling just to speak to you
For I know this night will kill me, if I cant be with you
If I cant be with you”

  • the song starts in this sarcastic mode and lou’s voice is gruff, hoarse, a little off key. he’s mocking it all, laughing along with the skipping bass line. at the end of the song, though, there’s a pivot, a turn at the end of the runway, and suddenly there’s this resolution into emotion and desire and pain and a need to love and be loved. out of the banality rises the revelation. let’s remember who whitney port is for a second, or more importantly, who she was. this was the girl who at the start of the hills just wanted to do her job at teen vogue, who hated the cameras, who didn’t want absolutely any of her private life shown on the show, who was the shy wallflower on the periphery. now she’s completely changed, now she has her own show that she will be the star of, where she will be the center of attention. something deep inside whitney has been transformed by our eyes and she’s decided that she wants them, she needs them, she loves them; she wants us, she needs us, she loves us. the question is, do we love her? check yes or no and pass it back.
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