The Wife:

I think I’ve found the one episode of Gossip Girl I really don’t like. And believe me, I desperately wanted to like the “backdoor pilot” of the Untitled Gossip Girl Spin-Off About Young Lily Rhodes, but I didn’t. I liked what they tried to do with it, but the execution just fell utterly short. For instance, it made sense that, as Lily leaves her daughter in jail to think about her actions, she reflects on her own relationship with her mother and the night she spent in jail as a teenager. Premise = solid. In fact, the cast = totally solid, too. I like Brittany Snow. I like Andrew McCarthy. I like Cynthia Watros. I like Ryan Hansen. I love Krysten Ritter. But there was something about the writing of these characters that just didn’t work. Part of the point is that Lily as a teenager was very different than the Lily we know now, the one who ultimately fulfilled her mother’s wishes for her by marrying up, marrying someone grand (or several someones, as the case may be), but it was hard to see a connecting point between teenage Lily and adult Lily, other than that their both blonde and like men who wear leather jackets more than men in Don Johnson suits.

So as Serena sits in jail (by choice, in fact, to prove to her mother that she can make adult decisions such as serving her time, which means she’ll miss prom), Lily reminisces on her past. About how she got kicked out of boarding school (Santa Barbara’s Thacher School, which is real and thus I must give unlimited props to the attention to detail there) because she wanted to live with her dad, a music producer. But Daddy Andrew McCarthy doesn’t have time for his daughter, other than to tell the good folks at the Thacher School that she was acting out because her parents divorce was adversely affecting her, effectively getting her back in after a brief suspension. (Sidenote: I miss Lipstick Jungle.) Her mother is callous and inattentive, and her sister had the wherewithal to remove herself from that life altogether years ago, which Lily feels was a worse form of abandonment. So Lily, sensing her life kind of sucks, disobeys her parents and goes to find her sister in L.A.

No Doubt, I have a date with you July 21. Be ready. I will be.

No Doubt, I have a date with you July 21. Be ready. I will be.

Lily finds one of Carol’s coworkers and he agrees to let her borrow her sister’s clothing from her locker (she changes at work a lot because she’s constantly going on auditions) and escorts her to a Snowed Out show where Carol and her boyfriend/not boyfriend Shep would be in attendance. First of all, Krysten Ritter was amazing. Adorable. Funny. Perfect casting choice for the artsy, free-spirited older sister. But an even better choice was casting Veronica Mars‘ Ryan Hansen as Carol’s sort-of boyfriend. Hansen is amazing at playing self-absorbed jerkmeats, and here he was a self-absorbed jerkmeat with a bad Billy Idol pompadour. Genius. Carol wants to help Lily and be a good big sister and everything, but she can’t at the moment because she and her friends are on their way to crash a music video director’s party so they can get back the tape he took from them, which they paid him a good $500 to shoot. That music video director, by the way, is a Van Der Woodsen, channeling James Spader as Stef in Pretty in Pink. And he really likes to do coke. And he fucked Lily’s sister, which I think, if that turns out to be the Van Der Woodsen that Lily eventually marries, IS SUPER FUCKING AWKWARD. Owen and Shep pick a fight with Van Der Woodsen and his cronies, which Lily gets into to defend her sister. Van Der Woodsen calls the cops, and Carol has to bail her little sister out of jail when their mother won’t, opening up the possibilities for a string of Rhodes sisters adventures in LaLaLand.

Other than Ryan Hansen being a dick and dancing around to “The Safety Dance,” not very exciting. And even less exciting was the modern-day prom storyline. Someone might be sabotaging Blair? Well, no, not really, because it’s just Chuck making her prom dream scrapbook come true by forcing her choices to lead her to the dress she’s always dreamed about (which is fab), the date she wanted to have (Nate), the mode of transport and the glittery princess Prom Queen tiara that Nelly Yuki almost stole from her had Chuck not taken the stuffed ballots. He even gives her the key to his suite at the Plaza, because that’s how she wanted her perfect prom night to end. But instead, she ends it by breaking up with Nate. (Hooray! Because we all know she should be with Chuck, the man who made her 12-year-old prom dream come true!) Serena even makes it out of jail in time to attend the dance because her former lover/almost step brother bails her out. I mean, why? Why even bother with the prom in this episode? It was so insignificant, and wholly, completely understated. While I liked the thru-line of the big band at the prom playing “Stand and Deliver,” I have a very difficult time believing that a prom for Constance and St. Jude’s would have looked like that prom looked. We know their winter formal looks a lot more stunning than this did. This was so cheeseball in its attempt to be elegant, adult and understated that I just didn’t know what to do with it. I hate to say it, but I think the 90210 prom is going to be a lot more believable.

If Blair designed that dress when she was 12, shes a better designed than Little J ever was.

If Blair designed that dress when she was 12, she's a better designed than Little J ever was.

There’s nothing technically wrong with the L.A. Lily storyline. And nothing wrong with the grainy film wipes they applied to her memory (which works for me because she’s a photographer). It just fell really flat. And even though there was a lovely resolution in which Serena, sitting with Blair outside prom, acknowledges that she knows her mother had her arrested out of love and concern while Lily apologizes for her entire tenuous relationship with her own mother, there were no real risks in telling either story, nothing to lose or gain, which means . . . no drama. And that means boring. I’d like to see the spin-off succeed, though, because I’m very curious about the timeline of Lily’s life, which was something my sister-in-law brought up last night. The music they chose last night put us pretty solidly in 1986, and we’re assuming that Lily was 16 or 17 then. And Serena was born in 1991 if she just turned 18 this year, so Lily was bearing Van Der Woodsen children by the time she was 20/21. Now, that’s perfectly plausible and all . . . but does that really give her enough time in L.A. to cultivate a career as a rock photographer and follow Lincoln Hawk and Nine Inch Nails around? I had assumed her wild years lasted much longer than this, at least until her mid-20s. If anything, I need to spin-off to help me flesh that out.

The Husband:

I do feel a definite disconnect between the present Lily and the 1980s Lily, and I definitely have a hard time believing that whatever Cynthia Watros was doing would ever lead to some of the horrific displays of behavior and evil that modern-day Celia is capable of (I point you toward the Debutante Ball episode from s1), but I also think I liked the backdoor pilot far more than my wife did. It shows a good deal of promise, and while they might be getting their years a little iffy as far as much is concerned, I think it could be a pretty wildly fun program. They just need to bridge the years a little bit better, because otherwise it’s barely even a spin-off so much as an entirely new show. (Like how Mork & Mindy is technically a spin-off of Happy Days. Say what?)

Or maybe it’s just because I really like 80s Los Angeles movies, like Less Than Zero and, as the title would suggest is an influence, Valley Girl. The city still feels dangerous and open in these narratives, not like the plastic, cultureless meh I lived in for five years.

And yes, I love Krysten Ritter too, but I’ve loved her for a few years now. And she is definitely one of the main reasons I thought Confessions of a Shopaholic was such a blindingly underrated film. (Yeah yeah, I am in fact male – don’t let my endorsement of that movie fool you.)

But other than Blair and Nate breaking up, nothing really vital happened to anybody in modern day GG land. Save that for next week.

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The Wife:

I had a conversation with my friend Drew over Facebook this morning about the weirdly uneven storytelling in last night’s episode. This was a three-patient episode, with three stories in it that felt somewhat rushed. Nip/Tuck has given us multiple patient stories before, but, usually, they’re a little better balanced between two patients whose stories last for the entire episode, rather than what occurred last night:

Jennifer Coolidge’s Candy Richards came back, after having discovered her African-American heritage, and has decided to reinvent herself as rap/hip-hop artist Hot Coco. After spewing what I believe was a largely improvised list of reasons she knows she’s black (example: she has always loved chicken and waffles), she asks Sean and Christian to give her butt implants. She has her surgery and then completely disappears. For what it’s worth, though, during the surgery, the team listens to Coco’s new single “Yo Stank Bitch,” and we get to see the entirety of the music video, which is priceless, especially because it contains the phrase, “Whadja do? Smuggle garlic in your cooch?” (Husband Note: I equally like the new term “Dubba Deez.”)

Olivia, meanwhile, wants plastic surgery so she can look ten years younger before moving to New York to teach at NYU’s medical program. Although this is an inherent contradiction because she teaches Eastern medicine, she feels like she’s aged ten years and has the surgery despite Julia’s protestations. And then, after a freaky little hallucination where Sean imagines Olivia begging him to kill her on the table, she goes into cardiac arrest during surgery and dies somewhere off screen, presumably with her forehead still hanging off her face.

At his breast cancer support group, Christian meets Roxy St. James, a totally hot lady who lost both her mother and her sister to breast cancer and irrationally fears that she, too, will die from the disease, even though tests to see if she’s a carrier for the cancer gene continually show up negative. After some totally sweet cancer-survivor sex, she asks Christian to perform her double mastectomy. He signs on for it, but then listens to Liz’s misgivings about performing such a radical, irreversible surgery on someone who seems to be mentally unstable. “You can’t cut the fear out of you by taking off her breasts,” she warns. And then the greatest thing I’ve EVER SEEN ON TELEVISION HAPPENS: After waking up from her “surgery” totally distraught that she still has breasts, Roxy later barges into McNamara/Troy, asks the receptionist for an open outlet, plugs in an electric turkey carver AND SLICES OFF HER OWN BREAST IN FRONT OF A WAITING ROOM FULL OF PEOPLE. I wish the interwebs had a clip of that, but for now, I can only give you the seduction scene she has with Christian:

After watching that scene, I went to bed last night proclaiming that this episode was a tour de force, a return to form for Nip/Tuck. This episode was funny, not just because of Coco, but because Christian’s banter was some of the best it’s ever been. This episode was totally disgusting and weird, what with Sean’s open-faced Olivia hallucination and the self-breast augmentation. Sean was as needy a giant man child as he’s ever been, especially when he tries to get Julia to stay in L.A. by passionately kissing her, as though one passionate kiss is going to erase the fact that she remembers the fact that their marriage failed. And yet the episode was still tempered with a couple of superficially deep thoughts about keeping one’s scars and furthered the deepening relationship between Christian and Liz.

But for all of those things I really liked about it, it was uneven in terms of storytelling. Coco’s plot and Roxy’s plot could have each had their own episodes, although if this episode had decided to balance the two of their stories, it could have worked out a little bit better. At the very least, while the women’s stories and desires are unrelated, I think that having the two of them share an episode would have at least balanced out the concept of ornamentation vs. purposeful disfigurement. It was an odd choice to leap into her plot so quickly, with only one minor protest from Sean about how asking to become more ethnic in appearance by getting butt implants and wearing gold teeth is one step away from putting shoe polish on and performing in blackface. There was a much better execution of this dilemma back in season three, when Matt starts dating Neo-Nazi Brittany Snow and she rightfully questions McNamara/Troy’s policies regarding ethnicizing surgeries. Ariel (Snow) wonders why its okay for people to have their features made to look more white, including through skin bleaching procedures (one of which Ariel herself will test out), when it isn’t okay to have one’s features made to look more black. Sean balks at her accusation that his surgical practices are racist and homogenizing, even though, in essence, she’s right. Plastic surgery is about homogenization. (Although in another episode, Sean willingly agrees to add a slight slant to a patient’s eye so that his bride-to-be’s Asian parents will be more willing to accept him.) But rather than dwell on that dilemma again, Christian reminds Sean that they’re surgeons, and if a white lady who didn’t think she was black wanted butt implants, they’d do it. So in the scope of minutes, they agree to Coco’s surgery, perform it and are entirely done with her.

Roxy’s plot was probably the only one of the three surgeries in this episode that was fairly well-paced, although, considering how psycho this lady is, I would have been happy to see more of her. The writers could certainly have done more with her story, but I think the climax of Roxy St. James makes up for any inadequacies in her narrative. People mutilating themselves with turkey carving knives? That is precisely why I watch Nip/Tuck. I certainly haven’t seen something that outrageously grotesque in a long time, and that scene alone is a tour de force. At the cancer support group, Christian callously told the women there that it’s only natural for their husbands to be disgusted by their scars, failing to understand why they wouldn’t get their chests reconstructed. “Any woman who chooses disfigurement,” he says, “chooses to be a victim.” No one is a great illustrator of this point that Roxy. There was nothing physically wrong with her at all, but she intentionally chose to mutilate her body. Having lost her mother and sister to breast cancer, she was already a victim of the disease although her own body never made her suffer. And for Roxy, there was no other way to be. I think there’s a lot of richness in this plot, and it poses a lot of questions about how we read the disfigured female body. That’s me mentally bookmarking this episode for later research.

Moving, on though, there’s one plot that just didn’t make sense in this episode at all, and that’s Olivia’s. It’s clear that this was just a way to get Olivia out of the show, and to establish the negative relationship between Sean and Julia that has driven the show for so long. Sean and Julia just don’t work when Julia’s working from a tabula rasa, so something needed to happen to make their relationship volatile again. And that thing had to be Olivia’s death. When she’s pronounced dead, Julia rails against Sean for intentionally killing her lover to try and get her back, but the autopsy later reveals that Olivia had neglected to tell the staff at McNamara/Troy that she was on anti-depressants (another thing that contradicts with her Eastern medical practices), effectively resigning herself to death via surgery. However, other than the spectre of her dead self that we see when Olivia looks in the mirror with her plastic surgery roadmap marked on her face, we had no idea that this character was going through this at all. Her death is a development that came out of nowhere, a machination to move the plot along. And that kind of sucks. Even Eden, who has been busy making porn in Europe (i.e. working with far less attractive script material over on 90210) dropped by to claim her mother’s ashes and couldn’t adequately explain why Olivia wanted to die. Taking advantage of Julia’s amnesia, Eden tells her that Olivia had been depressed for the last six months because she had been drinking, and shot Julia by accident, thus actually erasing the blame from the person who pulled the trigger: Eden Lord. Then Eden tosses Olivia’s ashes on Julia and Sean, a gesture which says, “Here! Take my mother! Please!”

I don’t understand anything about this plot at all. There had to have been a better way to deal with this, because while I’m willing to believe a lot of stuff, I am not willing to believe that Portia DiRossi would ever need plastic surgery. None of it makes any sense. And I’m going to choose to believe that Eden shot herself like I thought she did at the end of the first half of season 5, because that makes much more sense than her continued career in EuroPorn. After all, being on 90210 is like being dead anyway.

Christian Troy, you're the only man for me. And I mean that.

Christian Troy, you're the only man for me. And I mean that.

Outside of the patients, this episode did have one really great thing going for it, and that’s the continued trajectory of Liz and Christian’s budding relationship. Liz continues to experience her sexual identity crisis, wondering if men were the answer to why, after living as a lesbian for 20 years, she never found the right girl to settle down with. Christian suggests that they sleep together again as a scientific way of seeing if it’s just his cock that has “mystical powers” over Liz. Instead, she goes on a date with Bizarro Christian, an anesthesiologist who dresses and looks like a less wealthy version of the man with the mystical penis. She later tells Christian, as they sit and read the newspaper together in an adorable scene that made for a nice counterpart to human turkey carving, that Stephen’s penis also had mystical powers, but later admits that she lied about this, telling him that he’s the only man she likes. Christian, too, admits that the depth of their relationship is stronger than either of them realized, and he and Liz walk hand in hand to his bedroom.

Drew told me that he felt like this was the only plot that really got proper attention in last night’s episode, but still felt that Christian and Liz’s relationship rang a little false to him. I disagree with that last point – I think that Christian and Liz have always had a teasing, playful relationship that would evolve into something like what they currently have, and I’m willing to believe that his cancer was the catalyst for that transformation. She’s totally the opposite of everything Christian says he wants in a woman, but I think that’s one of the reasons why they work. I’m interested to see how their relationship will play out over the remainder of this season.

Without the Olivia stuff, this could have been a much stronger episode. It would have still been uneven, but not, say, lopsided like you’d just cut one of your breasts off with an electric turkey carver.

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