Arts & Culture » Television

Season of Trump Baby

by Victoria A. Brownworth

Trump Baby was the highlight of TV coverage of Trump's visit to the U.K. Photo: NBC-TV
Trump Baby was the highlight of TV coverage of Trump's visit to the U.K. Photo: NBC-TV  

To paraphrase Robert Browning, "Ah to be in England, now that Trump Baby is there." There was something extremely satisfying this week about watching TV and seeing the U.K. treat Trump the way he should be treated, with maximum protests and utter disdain. But the Trump Baby balloon really was a fantastic touch, with his tiny, tiny hands gripping a cell phone for tweeting. Nailed it.

We watched the whole process of Trump Baby being raised above the crowds in London, where we lived for a time, and oh, was it fabulous. Bravo to London Mayor Sadiq Khan for giving the world this glorious effigy.

There hasn't been much to look forward to this summer, what with California on fire again, the U.S. Supreme Court literally being stacked against us, and the show-trial-style hearings of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in Congress being broadcast live in their surreal entirety.

The Strzok hearings comprised one of the summer's best reality shows. Who will ever forget "I'm a dentist, okay? So I read body language very, very well" as the Monty Python-esque capper on the Strzok hearing, where Strzok was asked to read texts aloud in which he called Trump an idiot and a douche.

While we disapprove of looksist shaming in most instances, in the case of Trey Gowdy and Louis Gohmert, we make an exception. If you were casting for the guy who looks like an alien playing a human, you get Gowdy. Looking for the guy who epitomizes the not-too-bright also-ran? Gohmert's your man.

But Trump Baby was the feel-good news story (after the rescue of those sweet boys in the Thai cave, of course) of the week. Although Sarah Palin getting punked by Sacha Baron Cohen was a solid runner-up.

The speed with which the Trump presidency destroys things we hold dear makes it difficult to focus on any one thing for even a full 24-hour news cycle. It is with that in mind that we revisit some news that was propelled out so fast by other daunting drama that the long-term impact might be lost.

Trump personally hired Bill Shine as his new Communications Director. The person who directs everything we see on TV and in print from the Trump White House. The person who feeds Sarah Huckabee Sanders her scripts. The person who will define the messaging from here on out: Bill Shine, former co-president of Fox News. It would be seriously worrying enough if Shine were merely a Fox News alum. But it's so much worse than that.

Let's remember that Trump's former Communications Director, Anthony "the Mooch" Scaramucci, was dethroned by Chief of Staff John Kelly after the Mooch famously declared that former Trump monster-behind-the-scenes Steve Bannon "sucked his own cock." Kelly, who would like to go back to a time when "ladies" were barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, queers were in the closet, and brown children were in cages, found Mooch's language offensive. So Kelly fired him.

Enter Bill Shine, who was briefly back in the news this week because it turns out his wife, Darla, is a bit of a loose cannon who thinks if women are in the Navy and on a submarine, they should expect to be raped by their male co-workers, because "horny guys" will do what they will, and if you agreed to that job, you deserve it. You cannot make this stuff up. But back to Shine.

Bill Shine is the guy who was such a terrible leader and human that he was "removed" from his job at Fox News and forced to resign. Shine is the guy who gave a hand wave to extreme sexual harassment and assault at Fox News while women - conservative blonde white women, who America actually gets incensed over when they get hurt - were being abused.

Jim Jordan is a scandal 30 years out (rightly, of course), but Shine gets the top communications job in the country after facilitating sexual harassment and assault in the workplace in one of the nation's top newsrooms. He was in that job until a year ago. If women were ever accorded justice, Shine would never have worked again.

"It's extraordinary that the president of the United States could hire someone like this," a senior Fox News executive told BuzzFeed News. "This is someone who is highly knowledgeable of women being cycled through for horrible and degrading behavior by someone [Fox CEO Roger Ailes] who was an absolute monster."

Larry Klayman, founder of the right wing Judicial Watch, was aghast at Trump hiring Shine. "Mr. Shine has been alleged to have been involved in some way in at least three lawsuits involving sexual harassment of women at Fox News."

In the era of #MeToo, three lawsuits may not seem like a big deal, but remember, this is Fox News, Roger Ailes was a kingmaker, and two of his victims, Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, received millions in compensation because the allegations were so extraordinary. According to men at Fox News, Shine facilitated those assaults.

One of the most egregious cases was that of Laurie Luhn, a former booking director at Fox whose sexual abuse was so terrible, she suffered a mental breakdown. She told The Daily Beast that Shine tried to have her father involuntarily commit her to shut her up.

This next tidbit should alarm everyone interested in a free press: Shine was also accused of hiring private investigators on the Fox News dime to harass journalists investigating the Ailes story. As one GOP White House source told Vanity Fair, "This guy is up to the eyeballs in shit."

Why did Trump hire Shine? Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly (who "resigned" from Fox News after a campaign against his advertisers was launched) told him to. O'Reilly himself was a serial abuser of women under Shine, and paid one of his own accusers $31 million to be quiet about "non-consensual" sex. Or, as the rest of the world calls it, "rape."

That this story was allowed to fly under the radar with almost no pushback is appalling. While the list of what is appalling under Trump grows by the day, Shine's history of harassing journalists and facilitating the sexual harassment and assault of women should have kept him out of polite society for the rest of his life. Instead, the very things that got him axed at Fox News made him a seductive choice for Trump. This is who our White House news is now being filtered through. Be afraid.


Dystopian future

Shine is the perfect segue to the Season 2 finale of Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale." The series has brought Hulu rave reviews and garnered Emmy nominations for both series and stars Elizabeth Moss, Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes when the Emmy noms were announced July 12. No spoilers, but the season finale, while prepping us for Season 3, left many (including us) scratching our heads and wondering in what direction Offred and the series will take us next.

"The Handmaid's Tale" has felt very much like a parallel storyline of our dystopian future under the Trump-Pence regime. Memes of the handmaids have peppered social media for the past year. So cues from the show are bound to raise eyebrows. If you haven't streamed this series, this is a good time to do so.

The Emmy nominations brought a much-deserved accolade to Darren Criss for his extraordinary work in "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story." Criss was nominated for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. There is stiff competition in the category, including Antonio Banderas for "Genius: Picasso" and John Legend for "Jesus Christ Superstar," among others, but we think the breadth of Criss' amazing performance, the nuance with which he presented Andrew Cunanan as both tortured, closeted gay man and vicious, sociopathic serial killer, deserves the win.

If you didn't see the series, binge it. Criss is mesmerizing. Our only surprise is that the Emmys didn't recognize some of the other players in that amazing series, notably Judith Light. The series itself is nominated for Outstanding Limited Series, and we don't see anything else in the category that is as good. Ryan Murphy and Bryan Falchuk should get the win.

One of the biggest news stories of the Emmy nominations is also one of the most outrageous. Sandra Oh is nominated for her incredible work in the stunning BBC America drama "Killing Eve." Does she deserve it? Pardon the pun, but oh yes. So what's the outrage?

It's 2018, and Sandra Oh just became the first Asian woman to be nominated for Lead Actress in a Drama. Ever. Oh was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress five times for her work as Dr. Cristina Yang on "Grey's Anatomy."

Only one Asian actress has won an Emmy: Archie Panjabi won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2010 for her fabulous performance as the leather-clad bisexual goddess Kalinda Sharma in "The Good Wife." Panjabi was nominated several times for the Emmy, as well as for the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award.

TV is notorious for whitewashing awards. When asked how she handled the weight of history with her nomination, Oh told Vulture, "I've got to tell you: joyously. I understand that people are going, Oh my God, it's 2018, what is taking the world so long? I understand that. But I am not there. I am just like, yay. Let's be happy that we have this moment. Let us build and have confidence and see ourselves in this moment." Amen.

If diversity isn't built into your series in 2018, you need to ask yourselves why. TV remains a blindingly white and straight landscape. There are still so many series with no actors of color at all. And while we know many states remain majority white, the three most populous are majority people of color. That should be a sign to producers, writers, directors, casting: We all deserve to be seen. Little Asian American girls too young to watch a series like "Killing Eve" will nevertheless hear of Sandra Oh's nomination. So we are with Oh: Yay! And also: Do better, everyone.

Some other notable nominations that made us happy were "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" for Comedy Series, "This Is Us" for Drama Series, and "RuPaul's Drag Race" and "Project Runway" for Outstanding Reality Competition Series, the gayest of categories.

Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie category has three of our favorite performances of last year in competition, and we wish all of them could win. Jessica Biel's performance in "The Sinner," one of our Top 10 series for 2017 (season 2 starts in August), was breathtaking. We still think of it often, it was that good.

Sarah Paulson was also superb as the lesbian you love to hate in "American Horror Story: Cult." In real life, Paulson's love affair with actress Holland Taylor is one of those love stories that warms our hearts on a regular basis; her performance in "Cult" was the antithesis of that.

Regina King is one of the best actresses on television. Her work in "Seven Seconds" is, like all her work, stellar. She's been nominated three times, and won twice in this category in the past three years, so Paulson, Biel and the other actresses in the category - Laura Dern, Michelle Dockery and Edie Falco - have her as their stiffest competition. We're not sure why King is the only black actress or woman of color in the category, but see above about whitewashing. We think Biel should win, but if we could give an award to Biel, Paulson and King, we would.

Other out actors and actresses who are up for awards include Lily Tomlin, Kate McKinnon, Tituss Burgess, Louie Anderson and Evan Rachel Wood. We wish them all luck. The Emmys air Sept. 17 on NBC, with "SNL" comedians Michael Che and Colin Jost hosting.

We're not sure what could be gayer than a series about making stuff. Amy Sedaris' fabulously quirky series "At Home with Amy Sedaris" is nominated for an Emmy for "Outstanding Variety Sketch Series," and deserves to win, it's so hilarious and different from anything else. NBC seems to have taken a page from Sedaris for "Making It," which debuts July 31. The promos are bizarre. The show is hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, and is (wait for it) a crafting competition! The very thing the TV landscape has been missing. Tune in to see if any straight people are involved other than Poehler (always hilarious) and Offerman. Think "The Great British Bake-Off," but with crafts and nicer hosts. How could it not be the gayest thing ever?

Hulu premieres "Castle Rock" on July 25. The much-anticipated series is based on the short stories of horror master and renowned Trump-hater Stephen King. The series is executive produced by the great JJ Abrams, and is described as "the mythological scale and intimate character storytelling of King's best-loved works, weaving an epic saga of darkness and light, played out on a few squares of Maine woodland." Yikes. The 10-episode series stars some heavyweights, including Oscar winner Sissy Spacek, André Holland, Terry O'Quinn, Jane Levy, Scott Glen, among others. We could use some solid scripted horror to balance out what's happening in Washington.

So for takedowns of the Orange Menace, madness on the floor of Congress, DIY gayness and a soupcon of horror, you know you really must stay tuned.

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