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All in the Family and The Jeffersons translate surprisingly well to 2019

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Every week, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for May 19 through 25 is the ABC special Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons.

Is nostalgia all we have left? If you were to watch Live in Front of a Studio Audience — a hyper-earnest attempt to replicate episodes of two of Norman Lear’s hit 1970s sitcoms with popular, contemporary actors — without recognizing its source material, would it make any sense to you? Would you know who Archie Bunker was without me saying, “the bigot who represented greatest generation conservatism in the 1970s mega-hit All in the Family”?

Probably. The storytelling of these old shows is rock solid, and so long as you’re at least somewhat familiar with what America’s cultural and social mores looked like in the 1970s (although if that’s the case, you likely also know the shows of Norman Lear), you could follow along just fine.

But there’s something so fetishistic about TV’s increasing reliance on resurrecting its own past by any means possible. Live in Front of a Studio Audience almost reminded me of a high school play version of M*A*S*H I once attended, where every performance felt like a copy of a copy of a copy of Alan Alda. It felt reanimated, right down to the ways that the various performers were doing spins on what the original actors brought to the roles. It’s all a little bit ghoulish, right?

Nah. I kind of loved it!

America’s very overt longing for the easy dominance of the monoculture is getting pretty embarrassing, huh?


All in the Family

The cast of this reanimated All in the Family gathers for a big group scene.
ABC

I should note here that Norman Lear is a living treasure. He’s the man behind One Day at a Time, Maude, Good Times, the underrated movie comedy Cold Turkey, and so many other films and TV shows. And that’s in addition to All in the Family and The Jeffersons, the two shows that Live in Front of a Studio Audience recreated. The former is one of TV’s greatest sitcoms, while the latter (an All in the Family spinoff) isn’t quite at the same level of quality, but is endlessly watchable and stacked with great performances nonetheless.

Lear will turn 97 this July. He’s still spry as can be, but still — he’s almost 97. He appeared during the special to talk a little bit about All in the Family and The Jeffersons and what they meant to him in his heyday, and what they could mean to America now. I love the guy, and maybe that’s why I gave Live in Front of a Studio Audience, clunky though it was, a bit of a pass. (Hell, host and producer Jimmy Kimmel’s obvious affection for Lear even made me like Kimmel at least a little bit more.)

There’s a charming optimism to Lear, even now, and it doesn’t take more than a few moments of the special’s reenactment of All in the Family to notice. Watching its spin on All in the Family’s season four episode “Henry’s Farewell,” the mentions of Richard Nixon’s wars with the press that open the episode have a very “same as it ever was” feel. You start to sense how a 96-year-old might look at our current political landscape and say, “Psh. I’ve seen worse.”

When I first heard about Live in Front of a Studio Audience, it seemed like one of the more overt examples of America — or maybe just broadcast television — doing its damnedest to resurrect the monoculture that presided over the country in the ’70s and ’80s. Back then, broadcast networks were the dominant social force, and the fact that All in the Family and The Jeffersons’ scripts weren’t going to be updated at all for the present era made me fear that the project was a simple nostalgia play.

But the actual effect was something far more complicated and fascinating. By dragging these episodes out of the 1970s and into the 2010s, Live in Front of a Studio Audience offered some reassurance that our problems are not unique to our era, that we are not exclusively gifted with a world that seems to be falling apart — while also subtly insisting that overreaching presidents and the vast income gap between white and black Americans will always be with us. But if you think about that a little more, you start to realize how depressing it is to be reminded that our problems are not unique to our era, that we are not exclusively gifted with a world that seems to be falling apart.

There’s a certain optimism to be found in realizing that the past isn’t as rosy as you remember it, but there’s also a kind of glum realism that sets in when you realize the script for the Jeffersons pilot — in which a newly rich black couple tries to find their place in a high-rise building — would require only the most minor of tweaks to work in 2019. Institutional racism still exists, no matter how many jokes old sitcoms told about it. So one obvious argument you can take from this special is that our problems never really get solved. They just mutate.

The result is that Live in Front of a Studio Audience created a kind of nostalgia for the monoculture, but mostly for the monoculture as a vehicle through which we could talk about all of this stuff. Our political discussions are so fraught in 2019 that it’s tempting to long for the heated shouting of Archie Bunker and his son-in-law Mike. At least their anger was occasionally punctuated by audience laughter.

But how were the performances?


The Jeffersons, Live in Front of a Studio Audience

But also Marla Gibbs was there!
ABC

The weirdest thing about Live in Front of a Studio Audience was that so many of the actors were doing rough spins on the shows’ original performances, while some were more comfortable inventing their own spin on these roles. It created an interesting clash of acting styles — one part nostalgic pander, one part genuine attempt to update two classic TV shows. (I should also note here the special was directed by James Burrows, probably the best sitcom director of all time.)

By far the most adept performances came from Marisa Tomei as Edith Bunker and Wanda Sykes as Louise Jefferson. Both women presented basic riffs on the work that Jean Stapleton and Isabel Sanford offered on the original shows, while maintaining just enough of their own star personas to counterbalance what would otherwise be a straightforward impersonation. (Both also proved how adept they are at the stagier aspects of working in front of a live studio audience, something that a few of the younger actors in the cast struggled with.)

The weakest performance, somewhat surprisingly, came from Woody Harrelson, a guy who spent almost a decade on Cheers, another classic studio audience sitcom, and a terrific actor who’s found the complicated soul of tricky characters like Archie Bunker. Unfortunately, he got lost in trying to do an impression of Carroll O’Connor, which is perhaps understandable (O’Connor’s is one of TV’s all-time great performances) but still left me wishing Harrelson had departed further from the original.

But that wasn’t really the point of this special, was it? Live in Front of a Studio Audience was mostly designed as something that balances nostalgia with the thrill of what amounts to a sitcom cameo — you know, when the front door opens, and everybody says, “Will Ferrell?!” and the studio audience cheers.

Those cameos are what so much of this special amounted to, especially in the more overtly goofy Jeffersons episode. That riff on the show’s pilot featured Ferrell and Kerry Washington as the Jeffersons’ neighbors the Ellises, who are in an interracial marriage (an incredibly daring move for TV in the ’70s) and also allowed viewers to hear Washington call Ferrell a “honky,” if that’s something they’d been longing for. But the real thrill came with the realization that Will Ferrell and Kerry Washington signed on to dutifully play sitcom characters who have been with TV fans so long they almost feel mythic.

Maybe, then, the level of the mythic is the level on which we should appreciate Live in Front of a Studio Audience. This is a clumsy 90 minutes of television (66 without commercials), but it made me immediately start fantasy-casting new versions of classic episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, of Cheers, of The Cosby Show. (Of all classic TV shows, Cosby is perhaps the one that could benefit most from new actors presenting exactly the same scripts — for hopefully obvious reasons). And the smash hit ratings for the broadcast similarly suggest that an audience (and a surprisingly young one, at that) definitely exists for this kind of show.

Is this what we want? An endless repetition of stories we already know, because we find some sort of comfort in feeling our way toward an ending we’ve heard before? Live in Front of a Studio Audience’s big ratings mean the sitcom curiosity will almost certainly become the next trend that TV runs into the ground, like the live musical and the sitcom revival season before it. But I hope everybody realizes there’s something special about this particular idea.

We’ve always repeated our stories, over and over, until we know them backward and forward. This special might have grown out of nostalgia, or Jimmy Kimmel’s ego, or a genuine desire to fete Lear while he’s still alive. But there’s a comfort in ritual, in recreating the same basic ceremony over and over again. And what is a TV rerun if not the ultimate ritual?

You can watch Live in Front of a Studio Audience on Hulu.

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Internet Users Shared Their Head-Scratching Findings That Are More Like Riddles Until You Realize What They Actually Are

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You can find nearly anything on the internet. And people who bump into something unusual turn to it to find answers. On Reddit, there’s a topic where users easily solve challenging riddles. They know everything about mysterious marine creatures, extraordinary tools, and exotic musical instruments.

Bright Side likes to learn more and more about this world, and internet users are ready to share their knowledge with us. Enjoy!

18. “Found these unusual scissors. They’re uncomfortable to hold, in either hand, 2 or 4 fingers.”

These are children’s training scissors for preschoolers. The extra holes are needed to let a grown-up co-scissor and help the child.

17. “What is the purpose of these mirrors? I came across them in Trosa, Sweden.”

In Sweden, these mirrors are called “Skvallerspegel” which can be translated to “gossip mirror.” In the Netherlands, they’re called Spionnetje, or “small spy.” These mirrors allow you to see what’s going on in the street from the comfort of your couch. They can be also found in Norway and Finland.

16. In Spain, why are there water bottles outside all the driveways and entrances?

Citizens use this approach to fight cats’ and dogs’ urges to mark their territory. Maybe animals don’t want to pee where they can drink water or the bottles serve as obstacles that confuse them.

15. “I found this in an old church.”

This is used to fill multiple communion cups with wine at the same time. The way this tool works is depicted in this picture created with the help of Photoshop.

14. “My girlfriend found this shell on the beach.”

13. “What is this tube full of balls in the wall?”

This is a tool that helps to detect termites at home. Its indicator lets you know if there are termites in your house.

12. An unusual tree

It’s the Agave Americana in blossom.

11. “What is this animal? This image was caught on a trail camera.”

This is a fisher, it’s a member of the mustelid family. Sometimes it’s also called “pekan.” Despite its name, the animal doesn’t always eat fish.

10. “I saw this in a shop near Manchester.”

It’s a tool that helps you get your boots on and off. The way it works is shown here. Inside the tool there are hooks that help you put your boots on.

9. “20 years of research and the internet is my last hope!”

These are the teeth of a Black Drum fish, they’re also called corbs.

8. “Found this at an antique festival near Atlanta. It’s 17” by 5.5″.”

It’s for rolling newspapers into a “log” for the fireplace.

7. I found some kind of jellyfish on the beach.

The Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis) is a marine hydrozoan (invertebrate.) A big transparent bladder is filled with gas, which lets it float on the water’s surface. Its tentacles have stinging cells and the poison is dangerous for human beings.

6. “My friend found this thing in the water.”

This is an Orisha figure used in Santeria. One hand holds a snake, the other hand holds a mask. These figures are kept in water 100% of the time in accordance with the rules of the religion.

5. “Something’s falling out of the sky.”

No, it’s not a UFO. It could be a condensation trail produced by an aircraft. Contrails are composed primarily of water, in the form of ice crystals.

4. “Found this in my grandfather’s basement.”

This is called an ocarina, and it’s an ancient musical wind instrument. It’s used all over the world: in China, Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. In Europe, this instrument is more like a toy for kids.

3. “Found this figurine in the forest near my house.”

It’s a broken part of a candle holder. Though some people use it as an ashtray.

2. “I found this on the Caribbean side of Eleuthera in the Bahamas at low tide.”

It’s a sponge. They don’t have nervous, digestive, or circulatory systems. They consume oxygen, filtering water through their bodies.

1. “What is this fish for?”

Iron deficiency is a serious problem in developing countries. These fish help people get enough iron if they boil these figurines in water.

Have you ever found anything unusual?

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14 Ads From Marketing Gurus Who Are at the Top of Their Game

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It’s great that commercials are no longer something unbearable or something that distracts you from watching your favorite movie. Modern marketers sometimes create such amazing masterpieces that they captivate your attention and you forget that this is just something that is supposed to sell you a product.

You probably already know that the Bright Side team loves advertisements that are made by talented people. So we would like to highlight these commercials that we think you might love.

1. The IKEA designers recreated the designs of the living rooms from The Simpsons, Friends, and Stranger Things

2. Adidas inspires you to climb all the mountains.

3. BMW: More power, less consumption.

4. The National Geographic Wild channel shows predators and their prey.

5. McDonald’s is sure that children love Happy Meals because they can be eaten with their hands.

6. This is LG’s way of telling you that delicate and non-delicate fabrics can be washed together.

7. Rota Uniprag pest control will make all the bad insects leave your house.

8. This bookstore knows that some books trap you from the very first pages.

9. Burger King, for those who love grill

10. Stabilo: highlighting the most important things

11. There is no way you can miss this STIHL blower magazine ad.

12. Nivea’s way of letting you know they can help you get rid of cellulite

13. Wilkinson Sword shows us how individuality is created.

14. PlayStation is the best way to train your fingers.

Which of these commercials do you think deserves a round of applause? And we would also like to know if you have ever bought things because of good commercials or do you always try to shut down your emotions while shopping?

Preview photo credit Sony

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Big Little Lies season 2, episode 2: “Tell-Tale Hearts” recap

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If Big Little Lies second-season premiere was the calm before a storm of consequences, then the second episode, “Tell-Tale Hearts,” is a whole new maelstrom of melodrama.

This episode sees our five scheming socialites falling deeper into the web of secrets and lies that have surrounded them, as family tensions, spousal betrayals, and devastating reveals about sexual assault and domestic violence all churn to the surface. It probably shouldn’t be as fun to watch as it is, but Big Little Lies has always been pretty gleeful about its sordid affairs.

Strap in, because a lot happens in this episode.

Celeste and Bonnie are both trapped in isolating guilt spirals

“Tell-Tale Hearts” gives everyone a squalid tale to tell, and the result is that their stories spill forth almost immediately. This is partly because, as the bard once said, “Children will listen,” and all the kids of Big Little Lies have not only been listening to their parents, but also talking among themselves. The repercussions are significant, and I’m excited to watch how the sons and daughters of the group, who are now dubbed “the Monterey Five,” deal with the sins of their parents.

Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is still so plagued with guilt and tortured memories of her late husband, Perry, that she’s having trouble sleeping. But while on Ambien, she sleep-drives and crashes her car in the middle of nowhere, leaving her searching for a way to explain her behavior to Perry’s already suspicious and ever-watchful mother, Mary Louise (Meryl Streep).

While giving Celeste a lift home, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) spots Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) walking aimlessly along the deserted highway. Bonnie’s own spiraling guilt over Perry’s death at the end of season one has left her increasingly listless and disconnected from her friends and family. While Bonnie resists Madeline’s concerned scrutiny, Celeste seems to know exactly how Bonnie feels. “That woman’s not well,” Madeline tells Celeste, ignoring the obviously unwell woman right next to her.

In another parallel with her kindred spirit Celeste, Bonnie’s emotional detachment has caused her husband, Madeline’s ex Nathan, to call in Bonnie’s mom, Elizabeth ( Crystal Fox), to come stay with them, without telling Bonnie in advance. Her mother’s arrival — and her practice of witchcraft, which leads her to do things like sneak around at night, leaving animal bones in Bonnie’s room — only escalate Bonnie’s unease and exacerbate the tensions between Bonnie and Nathan. But Elizabeth does identify the basic thing that’s wrong with her daughter, the thing no one else seems willing to say outright: She saw Perry Wright die (at the end of season one), and she’s traumatized.

Bonnie’s mom seems to be the only person willing to fully and openly discuss what’s going on under their noses. That is, apart from the kids. And when the kids start talking, the dominoes start to fall.

The spilling of one closely-held secret causes a cascade of new problems

When she’s back home, Celeste dodges Mary Louise’s questions, only to have to break up an increasingly familiar bout of violence erupting between her sons, twins Josh and Max. This time, Max hits and swears at Celeste, who reacts by pushing him away and accidentally knocking him to the ground, screaming that she won’t let Max become like his late dad. Tick another box in the obvious mental checklist — “Signs your daughter-in-law killed your son” — that Mary Louise is keeping. (Oh, and she’s making plans to rent an apartment nearby, so that she can continue to keep an eye on Celeste.)

Dire as this situation seems, it’s just the beginning of new troubles for Celeste. Josh and Max have been picking up gossip from Madeline’s younger daughter, Chloe. Thanks to Madeline’s glib discussion of her friend circle and its fraught dynamics, Chloe’s sussed out that the twins’ late dad, Perry, is also the father of another boy at their school — Ziggy, the daughter of the fourth member of the Monterey Five, Jane (Shailene Woodley). Now she’s shared the big secret with the twins and Ziggy, unbeknownst to their parents. Josh and Max have, in turn, told their grandmother about their other brother.

The repercussions of this revelation are immediately sobering. Mary Louise is understandably confused about why Celeste didn’t tell her that she has another grandchild. This means that Celeste has to tell her the truth — that Ziggy is a product of a sexual assault. Jane is also thoroughly shaken by the news that Chloe, Josh, and Max are all privy to the secret of her son’s paternity — one she had wanted to tell Ziggy herself first. She makes the difficult choice to be honest with him about how he was conceived.

Meanwhile, Madeline, in the middle of trying to scold Chloe for spreading private secrets among her classmates, runs into trouble with her own husband, Ed (Adam Scott), who’s weirdly shocked and angry that Madeline didn’t tell him about her friends’ big secret. (Ed is presumably meant to seem hurt by his wife shutting him out of her life, but he mostly just ends up looking like a giant gossip, because, as Madeline points out, he’s asking her to fill him in on her friend’s sexual assault. Not cool, Ed!) This uncomfortable moment of conflict between Madeline and Ed is rapidly overshadowed by a revelation from the elder of Madeline’s daughters: While high school senior Abigail continues her ongoing argument with her mom about why she doesn’t want to go to college, she lets slip that Madeline had a short-lived affair last year with the local theatre director … and Ed overhears her. After processing this second, more legitimate bombshell, he tells Madeline their relationship is over.

And the hits just keep coming: When Celeste tries to talk to Mary Louise about Perry’s sexual assault of Jane, Mary Louise flatly rejects the idea that her son could be capable of committing rape and labels Jane a liar. She also implies that Celeste is disloyal for believing Jane, and then goes even further by disbelieving Celeste herself when Celeste tells her that Perry has a history of domestic violence. Insisting on branding Jane’s rape an “affair,” she coaxes the confession out of Celeste that she only learned of the assault the night of Perry’s death.

This is clearly a smoking gun to Mary Louise in terms of motive. Armed with all this new circumstantial evidence and an incendiary timeline, she tells Celeste she’s going to the police to report all the secrets that Celeste has been keeping: the existence of Perry’s other son, their combative history, and Celeste’s secret plans to leave him once and for all — arrangements Celeste was making last season on the eve of Perry’s death.

This episode asks whether the family that shares its secrets can survive them

The spilling of all these secrets all tie into the episode’s overarching theme — the concept of family and what the hell that even means, anyway. “Tell-Tale Hearts” suggests that there’s ultimately not much difference between a dysfunctional family that shares its secrets and a dysfunctional family that doesn’t. In an early scene, Celeste tries to tell her sons that they can talk to her about their dad, only to have them accurately inform her that she’d rather avoid the whole subject. “I shouldn’t do that,” she admits. “Families should be open with one another.”

“I don’t think we’re that kind of family,” her son Max replies shrewdly.

He’s echoed later on by Ed, who coldly challenges Madeline’s idea that there is an “us” during their breakup. “What does that even mean?” he asks. “It can’t mean honesty, truth, or trust.”

But if this episode makes a pretty strong case that the only way to keep your household happy is to never open your mouth, it also reminds us that, even then, the truth will come out. Which brings us to the fifth and final member of the Monterey Five. Just as she’s on the cusp of national prominence, Renata (Laura Dern) finds out that her useless husband has been committing fraud — when the feds show up to arrest him. Not only that, but he’s been squandering her fortune as well as his.

Renata reacts to his confession by flying into a hilarious rage and yelling, “I will not not be rich!” This is highly relatable, and also amazing — but she still winds up bailing him out and giving him a lift home from jail, which, let’s face it, is pretty much as great a show of loyalty as this show can deliver.

So far this season, Renata has mostly popped into the unfolding drama of her friends’ lives to be busy and important, which is typical Renata. I’m intrigued to see how the show will weave her storyline back into the larger narrative, but even if it doesn’t, and Laura Dern’s job this season is to drop in and have empowered tantrums every now and then, Big Little Lies will be five-star viewing. The crime melodrama is one thing, but if you can’t have a self-aware sophisticate screaming about her right to a slice of the patriarchy, what’s the point?

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