ReasonForOurHope

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Best: Sitcoms of All Time #7 - The Cosby Show

8 SEASONS
(1984-1992)


The Cosby Show sometimes takes hits with TV critics for being too milquetoast, too normal.  But that is exactly the show's strength.  It is a show based on universal experiences of family that are told through the lens of the greatest stand up comic of all time.


Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad gave us in Cliff and Clair Huxtable role models of successful parents.  And by "successful" I don't just mean financially.  They were successful parents in that their children had strong values and character, even at their worst.

But it would be a mistake to lump in this show with the overly sappy and bland family comedies of the 1950's.  The Huxtables were a non-dysfunctional family, a rarity in TV today.  And yet there is part of its genius: making the seemingly normal hysterical.

To be sure, there was a lot of hyper-reality stretching, such as the day they all played make-believe that Theo was living in the "Real World Apartments" or where the family got to meet Stevie Wonder.  But beyond that, The Cosby Show drew its humor from they every day insanity of family life in a way that few other family sitcoms had.

A note should be made about "The Cosby Kids."  The show was famous for featuring an incredibly young cast of children that was ever expanding with husbands, nieces and cousins.  It should be noted how talented these young performers were and how they grew in their comedic instincts.  Even when they weren't the most ranged actors, they could still elicit great laughs from simple line delivery.  One double-take from Elvin or a confident smile by Theo could set off major laughs.

Some people might mis-remember Cliff Huxtable as being a fun, indulgent dad.  But re-watch the show and you will see a tough father, one not afraid to yell and make waves.  The children are constantly hitting the parents with the insanity that only children can bring and Cliff and Clair react with amazing deadpan exacerbation.

I should also note something about race, in that it was mostly a non-issue for the show.  That isn't to say that The Cosby Show shied away from its African-American heritage.  Not at all.  Instead, it embraced the heritage and history of the Huxtables in a way that made the audience appreciate their own heritage as well.  The Huxtables were America's family for 8 years.

But above all, the show was funny.  Even after being off the air for over 20 years, every episode still holds up as if it were filmed this year.

And there are too many great moments to count, like: the horsey ride, Cliff's vacation, the Gordon Gartrell shirt, Mrs. Westlake over for dinner, Vanessa introducing Dabnis, the Pinocle game, Kentabo, the wilderness store, Sandra and Elvin's apartment, Cliff and Olivia and the cake, the romance contest, Sondra's engagement prank, "We heard there was going to be a rainstorm so we thought we'd watch," and so on.

TV THRESHOLD
Pilot (1x01)

Everything you needed to know about The Cosby Show and its greatness was in that first episode.  You immediately understood Cliff's relationship to his wife and each of his children while understanding his success and his frustrations.  And of course, what sets it all apart was the two scenes with Theo:

The first has one of the funniest bits in the entire series where Cliff lays out to his son how limited his options will be if he does not get an education.

But its that second scene that sets it all apart.  Theo gives a heartfelt speech about he should be loved and accepted not because of what he does but because he is Cliff's son.   Listen to how the audience applauds with approval to that monologue.  To which Cliff responds: Theo… That's the Dumbest Thing I've Ever Heard In My Life."  And it was at that moment that we understood that Cliff was not an idiot.  This was not going to be one of the shows where the children are wiser than the parents.  This was a show that reminded us that in a parent-child relationship, the parent needed to be the adult, and sometimes the bad guy.  And all the while it was clear that it was done out of complete and utter love.

JUMP THE SHARK
Period of Adjustment (7x04)

The Cosby Show took flack for adding a younger child in Raven Symone to bring back the funny bits that Cliff used to have with Rudy.  But little Olivia was a welcome addition to the cast and served the dynamic well.  But in the 7th season they added cousin Pam (Erika Alexander), who had a harder edge than the other Cosby kids.  This was an attempt to bring a little more sharpness to the series just when shows with more aggressive humor like The Simpsons started to become popular.

However, Pam never really clicked.  It felt a little like pandering and it began to feel like the show was running out of ideas.

BEST EPISODE
Denise: The Saga Continues (6x01)

There are so many fantastic episodes of The Cosby Show.  But the one that drives home the humor at the heart of the show is this episode.

Cliff and Clair paid for their second oldest, Denise, to take a trip to Africa to "find herself" expecting her to return home and continue on with college studies.  Instead, she turns up married to a divorcee with a 3-year-old daughter.

I would encourage anyone to watch the show again.  One of the great things is how Cosby himself recedes into the background and let the other actors do most of the dynamic work.  And yet the biggest laughs come from he and Rashad reacting to the insanity around them with patience pushed to the limit.

You can see the joy and hope deflating out of them like a leaking balloon especially with the realization that this is going to mean that they will have to continue to support their daughter and her new step daughter.

Everything about this episode is funny!

OVERALL

I don't think I will ever see a show like this again.  Too often, sitcoms feel like they need some sort of twist or edge to make sitcom families look like a modern family.

But there really is no trick to it.  Bill Cosby understood that if you made a show that was universal in theme and outstanding in its comedy, then people will come to love and respect it for years and years.






Friday, October 17, 2014

A Note on My Wife

(originally posted 1 year ago)

If you do not like sappy stuff, skip this post.


I was reflecting a few days ago on marriage.  I told my students that my wife and I never fight and they were incredulous.

But it is true.  We have never had a fight.  I attribute this to 3 things:

1.  We don't have kids yet.  I can imagine that when our children come into our lives and learn how to try and play one of us against the other, it may fray a few edges.  The fatigue alone might wear away at us.

2.  Faith.  We dedicated our marriage to the Lord and pledged to do our best to love each other as Christ loved us.

3.  Her.  I often fail at the pledge mentioned in #2, but she has not.  I often marvel that out of all the men in the world, she chose me.  I feel like George Bailey saying to his wife, "You could have had your pick of any guy in town...why'd you pick a broken old guy like me?"  But she did.  And when I screw up, act thoughtlessly, interrupt her plans, ask more of her than I ought, she is kind and patient and giving.

Everyone who knows us can see how blessed I am with her.  (Meanwhile they give her that pitying look of "Well, if that's who you want, who am I to judge?")

I often think how close we came to not meeting.  I was signed up to make a retreat weekend where my best friends were not going.  It was the first time I had been on my own like that.  I honestly don't know why I went.  Based on who I was at the time, I shouldn't have and yet I did.

And that is when I met her.

My life has never been the same, nor will it ever be.  Even with all of my recent struggles with my health, I can honestly say that my life has gotten better each day because there is more of her in it.

She is irresistible, iridescent, and irreplaceable.

And I am blessed to say that she is my wife.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Either He Looks at Porn or He Looks at Me."

I have refrained from commenting on the recent celebrity picture hacking that occurred recently.  I couldn't think of anything productive to say.

But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence spoke about her experience and what she thought and felt about how this affected her life.  There are many things that she said that people have already discussed.  And there are some who criticize her speaking out about naked photos being published while being photographed naked for Vanity Fair.   I am not interested in those topics.

Instead, I would like to focus on something that she said about why the photos were taken at all.  She said that she was in what she called a "healthy" relationship.  Her boyfriend was away at the time, so she took the photos of herself to give to him to look at.  Her rationale was this:

"Either he looks at porn or he looks at me."

Let preface what I am about to write by saying that I am not interested in judging Miss Lawrence.  Objectively, engaging sexual relations with someone with whom you are not married is always wrong.  But I do not know her soul and her conscience.

Instead, I want to talk about the attitude that she has adopted that I find so pernicious because I think it has infected much of society.

Notice her attitude regarding pornography.  It has become so pervasive that she assumes that it is simply what men look at.  It is accepted as fact that men will look at illicit images online and all she can hope to do is slake his lust with images of her body and not that of another woman.

Now, I don't claim that she is wrong that many men are enslaved to lust and pornography.  Fr. Larry Richards once said that there are men who go to daily mass who struggle with pornography.  I actually feel great pity and sympathy for women whose significant others are involved with pornographic media.  And as Fr. Larry said, there are men who want to break free but cannot seem to end their addiction.

My problem with what was said is not that the sin is a reality.  My problem is with the idea that the sin is acceptable.

Miss Lawrence throws up her hands and takes for granted that her man will engage in that activity.  I am overcome with a great sense of sadness that she and others like her would think that this would be okay.

I could imagine that it must be heartbreakingly difficult for a couple where one person is enslaved to pornography.  The woman must feel betrayed and unloved.  The man must feel guilt and shame.  I can understand the temptation to try and avoid the negative feelings by saying that the pornography is not a sin but an expression of "healthy" sexuality.  I can imagine that it is similar to the temptation for those with homosexual loved ones who decide that sex between those of the same sex is not a sin so as not to deal with the negative feelings.

But the problem is that simply because we decide something is not a sin does not therefore make not sinful.

Sin isn't just something that is morally bad.  It is bad for us.  It is a disease of the soul.  And just like physical disease if ignored will do great damage to the body, moral disease will do great damage to the soul if left unchecked.

Lust, even in marriage, dehumanizes the other because it turns a human being into an object.  Acknowledging that your significant other has lust is difficult.  But to feed him pornographic images will not make his struggles any less.  It will make them worse.  There is a train of thought that says that giving him that outlet will take away his temptations to stray.  But I have never heard of any addiction where feeding it makes it weaker.

It saddens me so deeply that the coming generations, raised on the internet and the illicit material found there, will think that pornography is a de facto activity of men.  Watch most prime time television shows, and you'll see that not a single one comes down on the side of pornography as an evil.  That '70's Show, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Blackish, and others tell us that women should just accept that men will watch porn.

And this cripples the ability of both men and women to live virtuously.  If we accept that men will objectify women sexually, women will begin to accept being treated as objects.

I wish there were easy solutions.  The answer is simple, but not easy.  Simply, we need to keep striving for chastity.  But that is much easier said than done.  The more and more of us that are raised in what some have called "Generation Porn," the struggle for natural and virtuous sexual identity will become harder and harder.  The sexualization of culture has not slowed down since the 1960's.  And more and more people have fallen victim to it.

But how do you deal with such an intimate problem?  There are several ways, I think.  Above all, there must be a constant struggle, no matter how many times failure occurs, to return to the grace of God.  As I wrote above, I do not judge Miss Lawrence and others like her and her boyfriend.  I feel incredibly sad.  It must be such a struggle.

But I do know that surrendering to pornography will not appease its pull on the soul.  Instead it will take over more and more of the person until it becomes impossible to experience true love and intimacy.  So therefore, no matter how hopeless it may seem, we must fight on.

Let us pray for all those struggling with pornography and those who love them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Movie Talk - Civil War, Justice League, and Dr. Strange



There has been a lot of comic book movie news that's dropped recently.  Here are the biggest ones:

1.  Captain America: Civil War.

The big news earlier this week was that Robert Downey Jr. confirmed that he would be returning as Iron Man outside of the Avengers movies.  And the movie he will appear in is the 3rd Captain America.  Apparently this will not be a cameo like Cap in Thor: The Dark World.  This will be a full blown leading part.  This has led many to believe that Captain America 3 will be based on Marvel's Civil War storyline.

I think that this is a terrible idea.

Civil War is a story that centers around a conflict between Iron Man and Captain America over the Superhero Registration Act.  It is a dark and tense and emotional story.  And I hated it.

Hated.  It.

This story was one of the reasons that I decided to land firmly into the DC camp.

And I think that this would be a terrible idea for the Marvel movie franchise.

SPOILERS FOR THE NEXT PARAGRAPH

Civil War, at its heart, is a story about how there are no heroes.  There are only destructive people with super powers.  The story is wasteful and pointless.  They could tweak the story, but if they follow the through line, audiences will either hate Captain America or Iron Man.  And essentially this story would make Iron Man just like Hydra.  This story would clearly make him the villain of the movie.  That is a horrible thing to do to your audience and your brand.

END SPOILERS

Marvel has taken some big risks, and they've all paid off.  But this just might be a bridge too far.

2.  Justice League Part I and II

Aintitcool.com posted today the planned schedule for DC movies.

Here are a few highlights

-The big news is that the Justice League movie is going to be divided into 2 parts.
   -Part 1 comes out in November of 2017
   -Part 2 comes out in June of 2019
   -the first part will be preceded by a Wonder Woman movie (June 2017) instead of following it.
   -in between the two parts we are going to have a Flash movie (March 2018), an Aquaman movie (July 2018), and a SHAZAM! movie (April 2019).

-Apparently they've already cast The Flash.  His name is Ezra Miller and I have not seen any movies he's been in.  My first impression is that I don't like it.  But I wasn't keen on Grant Gustin as the TV Flash, but I like him now.
 
-in 2016, the same year as Batman v. Superman, they are going to be doing a Suicide Squad movie.  This is a bold choice and difficult to pull off.  For those who don't know, the Suicide Squad is made of imprisoned super villains who go on highly dangerous missions for the US Government in exchange for reduced sentences.  If you don't hit the right tone, this could be a mess.  But if done well ala Gail Simone, it could work.

-Cyborg is set for a solo movie in 2020.

-Green Lantern is going to get a full reboot in 2020 as well.  I understand, but it really hasn't been that long since the under appreciated Ryan Reynolds film.

-They are also developing solo Batman and Superman films.

Overall, I am super excited, especially by the idea of dividing the Justice League into 2 parts.  I hope that means that they won't try to cram too much exposition into one movie.

3.  Dr. Strange Casting

Marvel's first choice for Stephen Strange, Joaquim Phoenix, passed on the role.  Rumors were flying that Keanu Reeves was considered, which I actually think would have been a good choice.
photo by Nicolas Genin

But inside word is that they are serious about landing Ewan McGregor.  I can completely see him as the Sorcerer Supreme.  I thought he was one of the best things about the Prequel Trilogy (which I love) and he would bring a great acting presence to the role.

Thoughts?



New Evangelizers Post: On the Necessity of Petition Prayer

I have a new article up at NewEvangelizers.com

In a previous article, I wrote about how there is no prayer too small to be brought before the throne of God.  I wanted to follow up a bit more about the concept of petitionary prayer and why we need it.

There are generally four types of vocal prayer in Christian spirituality (by “vocal prayer” we refer to that type of prayer where we speak to God):
  • Praise = giving adoration to God in His Glory
  • Thanksgiving = give gratitude to Him for all of his blessings
  • Penance = asking God for forgiveness for your sins
  • Petition = asking God for your needs
We are called to ask God for our needs and the needs of others.  We pray for peace in the world, the healing of the sick, for our daily bread, etc.  We are commanded to bring our desires up to the Lord.

But the question arises: why?  

Doesn’t God already know what we need before we ask it?  In fact, the Bible tells us this very thing.  Jesus says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” (Matt 6:8)  
So if God knows what I need, why do I need to ask?  Is God like Jack Nicholson’s character from A Few Good Men who sits up there looking down on us saying, “You gotta ask me nicely”? 

Of course not.  God does not ask us to do that which is pointless.  Here are some reasons why petition prayer is necessary.

You can read the entire article here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Newsflash: The Church is STILL Catholic

For anyone freaking out about all of the news that's been coming out of the Family Synod at the Vatican regarding same sex relationship, adulterous communicants, and "living in sin," there are a few things to keep in mind.

1.  The document that was recently issued was a summary of the DISCUSSIONS that the bishops had.  It was in no way binding or doctrinal.  We should be glad that the bishops are open-minded enough to look at different possibilities and examine them before making a decision.

2.  A lot of what has been published is already what the Church teaches.  For example, the Church should be welcoming and accepting of those with a homosexual orientation.  The Church already teaches this.

3. We must be prayerful and ask that the Holy Spirit guide the bishops in their pastoral judgments.  From everything I've been gathering, the big news issues would be shifts in POLICY not doctrine.  Whether those policies will or won't change and whether it would be wise or unwise remains to be seen.

4.  We have to remember that the media will distort everything.  There is a narrative floating around that Pope Francis is someone who is a breath of fresh air who will change Catholic doctrine to be more in line with what the secular world wants.  Anything that supports that narrative is upheld.  Sometimes though, they are grasping at straws.  For those who don't remember, Pope Benedict XVI once said that a male prostitute who insists on using condoms so as not to infect his costumers is making a first step towards love because he is thinking about someone other than himself.  What did the media hear?  "The Pope said I can have the condom!"


Anyway, that is my understanding of what has been happening.  If I am wrong, please correct me.

New TV Show Mini Review - The Flash


"My name is Barry Allen.  I am the fastest man alive."

I was very surprised when the CW announced that they would be doing a television show of The Flash.  Some might remember that this super hero had his own TV series many years ago in the post-Batman world.  That pilot had the distinction of being the most expensive pilot ever shot up until that time.  But the show flopped and was cancelled after 1 season.

So based on the pilot, how is this Flash for the new millennium?

Wonderfully fun.

The show is from the same producers as Arrow.  While it has the same aesthetic, the tone and tempo are much different.  Whereas Arrow would sometimes go for gritty realism (though in an comic booky way), The Flash fully embraces the world of super powers.

The show focuses on Barry Allen (Grant Gustin).  We see in a flashback how he was a physically slow but moral strong child.  But then his mother is murdered under mysterious circumstances and his father is wrongfully convicted of the crime.  By the way, it is a wonderful bit of casting to have John Wesley Shipp who played Barry Allen in the old Flash TV show to play Barry's dad in this incarnation.

Barry becomes a perpetually tardy forensic scientist for Central City.  One of the parts that I really dug was watching Barry's mind work as he figured out the details of a crime scene.  It reminded me of how the way they show Holmes' mind observe evidence on the BBC show Sherlock.

The connective tissue of the series is an explosion that occurs at a particle collider at STAR Labs in Central City.  A giant wave of energy is released that causes a freak lightning bolt to hit Barry and give him super speed.  But the energy also triggered unexplained powers in people all over the city.  This will be the main driving force of this series: Barry encountering and dealing with people with powers like Smallville's meteor freaks.

The biggest drawback of the pilot is that it feels like a 2-hour story cramped into 1 hour.  There is a lot of exposition and tons of character relationships to set up, all the while highlighting The Flash's visually stunning powers.  I'm hoping that the other episodes do not feel as constricted.

The cast is fantastic.  Gustin has this youthful openness and optimism that fits perfectly with Barry Allen.  Most heroes are dark and brooding, even Superman in his latest movie.  But Barry has always been different.  And even though he has a tragic and emotional backstory, there was always something a bit lighter about the character.  It is refreshing to see a super hero show that has a little fun to it.

Jesse L. Martin is a great piece of casting as Det. Joe West.  He carries with him a very grounded Law and Order vibe that anchors the show in a strong suspension of disbelief.  Candice Patton has great chemistry as Iris West, the girl that Barry pines after.

At STAR Labs Barry finds a support team in the hipster techie Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker)  who foil each other nicely as the perky and the dour respectively.  And then there is Tom Cavanaugh as Dr. Harrison Wells who has been riding in a wheelchair since the STAR Labs accident.  Cavanaugh's performance is actually wonderfully layered the more you watch.

Thematically, I like the idea of Barry struggling with what responsibility he has with his powers.  Wells talks about the greater good, but Barry wants to help out the people immeadiatly in the area.  Neither is wrong, but it reminded me of the Catholic need to help people out in the concrete, not just the abstract.

As a comic book geek I noticed a ton of inside jokes and gags.  But even for the uninitiated, there is plenty of fun.  The special effects are excellent for television.  The adventures seem fun while keeping an emotional core throughout.

Right now, it is one of the shows I already most look forward to each week.

(oh, and if you watch the pilot, watch until the very end, post end logo scene)

4 out of 5 stars

CHECK IT OUT