Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Death & destruction in Trump's USA


Bill Weir of CNN, reporting from Puerto Rico, has brought the crisis home in human terms. Photo: Courtesy CNN
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The stories that have anchored every TV news & cable show for the past week say way too much about how America got Trump for POTUS: the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico and the controversy over black athletes taking a knee on the field during the national anthem.

It's instructive that both issues have at their center people of color. The NFL story began well over a year ago with San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick voicing his protest over police violence against black Americans. Kaepernick's been a free agent (and unhired) since January, but facts never hold Trump back. His weeklong racist rant about the NFL was the signal focus of all media, making mainstream TV news guilty of failing the people of Puerto Rico, too.

Among the best reporting we've seen from Puerto Rico has been Bill Weir of CNN. Weir's emotional reports have been gutting and brought the crisis into heartbreakingly human terms. Twelve years ago when we were writing in this column about the failures of the Bush Administration to aid New Orleans, we never thought we'd witness anything like that again. During the aftermath of Katrina it was CNN's Anderson Cooper who blew up FEMA's lack of services and illumined the horrors of the Super Dome. Who could have imagined a reprise with three times the number of suffering Americans?

Myriad TV, film and other celebrities have pledged aid or, as in the case of "Shark Tank"'s Mark Cuban, sent their own private jets down to do what our government has failed to do. Ricky Martin, a native Puerto Rican, was on Ellen DeGeneres' show pleading for help for his native island. Jennifer Lopez, whose parents are both from Puerto Rico, pledged $1 million. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have pledged aid. A full week before he did anything, Hillary Clinton tweeted a plan to Trump of what he should do, all of which he eventually did, but eight days after she laid out the clear plan.

The American crime of structural racism is alive and well, fomented by the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Watch this space and your favorite cable news spot (yeah, it's Rachel Maddow) for updates on the news you're not seeing.

Our fave quote of the week on Trump is from out gay actor Jussie Smollett, who plays gay scion Jamal Lyon on "Empire," which returned for a fourth mesmerizing season on Sept. 27. In an interview with Michelangelo Signorile on SiriusXMProgress radio, Smollett went off on Trump. "He's a pig, a racist, a horrible human being," Smollett said. "To me, Colin Kaepernick is very patriotic. He's doing what he's supposed to be doing as a citizen of this country. If anything, sadly, the person who was falsely elected to be president of the United States is actually the least patriotic person that we've seen in a long time." Co-sign.

On Sept. 28, Emmy winner and fave comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Veep") announced on Twitter, in a signed statement, that she has breast cancer. "1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today I'm the one."

We will never forget the day we were the one. We have been fighting breast cancer and calling attention to the high risk for lesbians ever since. According to the American Cancer Society, 230,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 (the latest statistics available). More than 50,000 women died that year from breast cancer. We were almost one of those 2015 stats, so we related both to Louis-Dreyfus' announcement and to her call for action.

October is breast cancer awareness month. As Louis-Dreyfus has used her platform in the past to address political issues from LGBT rights to the creeping fascism of the Trump presidency, she used her own personal trauma to be a voice for others by calling for universal health care. She's added her voice to that of Jimmy Kimmel, whose ripping of Sen. Bill Cassidy and every other GOP trying to pass the killer Graham-Cassidy bill was a thing of beauty. It's a statement, and not a good one, that the best voices on healthcare in America have been comedians, not our elected officials. The Trumping of America is one of the ugliest things we've ever witnessed on the tube.

In other news, NBC thought they had plucked a pearl from Fox News, but as we predicted several months ago, Megyn Kelly looked so good at Fox because her only competition was Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. Her Sept. 25 debut on "Megyn Kelly Today" was less than stellar.

NBC was synching their "Will & Grace" re-boot with Kelly's debut. The new anchor had the entire cast – stars Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally – on for a group interview. For fun, Kelly invited Russell Turner, a longtime super-fan of the original show on to meet his crush, McCormack. Kelly joked, "Is it true that you became a lawyer and you became gay because of Will?" Wait, whut?

Turner took it well. "I look at Will Truman, I'm like, 'He has it made: lawyer, best apartment in New York City, and gay?'" he quipped. "Come on, trifecta."

Kelly then offered Turner tickets to one of the "W&G" tapings in Los Angeles, to wild applause. Kelly turned to the audience and said, "I think the 'Will & Grace' thing and the gay thing is going to work out great."

At $20 million, Kelly is the fourth highest-paid host on TV, making considerably more than Anderson Cooper, Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Shepard Smith in news, as well as Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon in late night. She now makes the same as Ellen DeGeneres, who has been on daytime since 2003 and won a bazillion Emmys.

Meanwhile, Rachel Maddow doesn't even hit the top 20 in pay, yet subsumed Kelly's prime time cable-news ratings spot almost immediately after Kelly left. We doubt that will change, as those who claimed Maddow was fixated on Russia are seeing she was onto the story well before anyone else. (Hillary Clinton's interview with Maddow proved to be groundbreaking: Clinton asserted that the single most important story of 2016 was going to be how Facebook, Twitter and Google's fake news and fake ads created discord between her supporters and Sanders' supporters. That's been proven correct this week.)

It's been useful to watch "The Vietnam War" and realize that it was just as awful then as it is now. After four students were shot to death during a protest at Kent State in May 1970, 60% of the country thought that was a suitable response from the National Guard. The students were unarmed.


Grace notes

All of which is why we need scripted TV. We've watched a ton of TV in recent days so you don't have to pick through the chaff to find the wheat. Unsurprisingly, much attention has been on the "Will & Grace" reboot. Our report is mixed. We watched the first six seasons of "W&G" back in the day, but moved on in the final seasons. We are not saying don't watch. "W&G" is still funny, and the foursome feels like old friends we haven't seen in years, re-connected on Facebook. But as with some of those re-connections, you may find that you remember why you fell out of touch. We still love the gang, but we have our own lives now and we're not sure they do. We're not ready to quit them just yet, since the actors are so fabulous. On Sept. 28 Messing, a staunch LGBT supporter, called herself out for being on Megyn Kelly's show, noting that she thought it was the "Today" show.

Some new shows you can just pass right over. All have a comedic and/or superhero stamp on them. We wanted to like "The Orville" and "Inhumans," but we're here to tell you, even if you love Seth McFarlane and really love Marvel, you will hate both these shows. There's a lot of good TV out there. This ain't it.

The jury is still out on "The Good Doctor." When so many Americans are neuro-atypical, including many in the LGBTQ community, we want to see autism on the small screen. But all these years after "Rain Man" and "Doogie Howser, M.D.," is this as far as we've come?

We loved Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates in the five creepy seasons of "Bates Motel," so we were willing to give "Good Doctor" a look. But where Highmore's open stare and blunt delivery worked brilliantly in "Bates Motel," we find overemphasis of those speech tics in "Good Doctor" much less engaging. We will watch a few more episodes, but this is not the autism we wanted to see on the small screen.

Nor did we want to see "Young Sheldon" present "The Big Bang Theory"'s Sheldon Cooper (out actor Jim Parsons) as something other than autistic. But the new sitcom presents an irritatingly arrogant young know-it-all who doesn't explain the adult Sheldon's behavior, which has often been read as being on the autism scale. While Iain Armitage is very good as the nine-year-old "Young Sheldon," this show was a miss for us.

We're happy to have several other sitcoms we love back. ABC's "black-ish" just started its fourth season, both the funniest sitcom on the tube and the one with the most relevance. It never ceases to be hilarious and has everything you want in a sitcom, including some gay actors and characters.

"American Housewife" was one of our two fave new sitcoms last season (ABC axed our other fave, "Downward Dog"). Katy Mixon ("Mike & Molly") is back as the all-American mom. Mixon's timing is pitch-perfect, and hers is an incredibly relatable character. "AH" also co-stars fab San Francisco comedian Ali Wong as Doris, one of Katie's two besties (the other is her black lesbian friend Angela, played by Carly Hughs). One of Katie's three kids, Anna-Kat (the quirky Julia Butters), has OCD and maybe autism, it's not spelled out. But Katie's attention to her neuro-atypical child is something to watch in this watchable comedy.

How watchable is FX's dramedy "Better Things?" We love it. The Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon series stars Adlon as depressed and searching single mother of three complicated kids, including the non-binary, gender-non-conforming Frankie (Hannah Alligood). "Better Things" is very much a cable event seeking a specific audience. It's found it in us. Adlon's character, Sam Fox, is utterly relatable and seriously funny in a darkly savage way. Not for everyone.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" is back on HBO and with it is the addition of Julie Goldman ("The Big Gay Sketch Show"), butch Jewish lesbian comedian we need to see every night, but we'll settle for here.

Showtime's "Shameless," which has a slew of queer characters, is headed back for its eighth season, bringing with it a new lesbian character, Nessa (Jessica Szohr), to be lesbians with Fiona (Emmy Rossum), who was playing with Veronica (Shanola Hampton) last season.

We're giving "Law & Order: True Crime" a pass. We've tried hard to like it, but despite a stellar cast that includes Edie Falco and Josh Charles, we're just not that into another re-telling of the Menendez brothers' story. There's just far better true crime shows out there, so while this is a solid B+, in the current glut of great TV, we feel it's missed an opportunity to be great. The wig Falco wears as Leslie Abramson is so distracting, it's its own character.

The best new drama is HBO's "The Deuce" from David Simon. This foray into sex and drugs, HIV and pornography circa 1970s-80s New York is immensely compelling, as is all Simon's work. It's a little slow to connect the characters, but devotees of Simon's work know that's part of his thing. The issues raised could not be more timely, even though this is a period piece. 

ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder" returned for a fourth season Sept. 28 to remind us of why the Emmy-winning, NAACP Award-winning, GLAAD Award-winning series is so very good. Even if the show didn't have one of the most interesting gay male romances on the tube, it has Viola Davis and Cicely Tyson (she's 92, still one of the best actors on any screen). "HTGAWM" also has a gay showrunner, which means we stay in front of the camera and don't get killed off.

"Grey's Anatomy" launched its 14th season Sept. 28 with a storyline to remind everyone we are still in a war in Iraq, and it's still wounding people irreparably. On a happier note, the series, now the longest scripted series on ABC and still in the Top 10 grossing shows on TV, gave Arizona a sexy Italian doctor playmate after giving her the worst-ever lesbian partner last season.

After Arizona realizes she's been ghosted, she goes out to drown her sorrows at the local gay bar where she meets Carina (Stefania Spampinato). They go home together, but Arizona's sexy straight roommate, Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti), turns out to be the baby brother of Dr. Carina DeLuca. Carina, an ob-gyn and sex researcher, is in Seattle to woo the hospital into paying for her new project, figuring out how to help women have orgasms and possibly create a female Viagra for the ladies. She gets the gig, and women have to get into the MRI and masturbate while Carina monitors their brain scans.

That's why you really must stay tuned. Because there's a lot of fun happening on the tube, and we need fun more than ever.


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