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Saturday night was made for laughing

by Victoria A. Brownworth

"SNL" cast member Kate McKinnon does her impression of Marianne Williamson on "Late Night with Seth Meyers." Photo: Courtesy NBC-TV
"SNL" cast member Kate McKinnon does her impression of Marianne Williamson on "Late Night with Seth Meyers." Photo: Courtesy NBC-TV  

The 45th season of the longest-running comedy show in TV history begins Sept. 28. "SNL" returns not a moment too soon, with the political satire we so desperately need to offset the real-life political absurdities that include more than a week of Trump's Sharpie-gate lunacy, and 10 Democrats out of 20 still in the race despite polling at 1%.

We know we aren't supposed to complain about Democrats ever because Trump is president. We get told on Twitter all the time that saying anything negative about any Democrat will somehow result in Trump being automatically re-elected (it won't). But seriously, if you have been in this race for more than six months and you've never crested 1%, find another place for your ego. We really don't have time for your vanity run. We've already seen the $7 million-worth of Tom Steyer's ads on CNN, and we still couldn't tell you what his platform is other than "I have pledged to spend $140 million on these ads instead of doing something substantive with my obscene wealth."

So we want an "SNL" sketch that addresses Steyer and those other folks whom we bet you can't even name. Or at least we want some biting zingers from "Weekend Update." Just please give us a final sketch with Kate McKinnon doing her impression of Marianne Williamson first, because we saw McKinnon do that on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" and it was so hilarious and eerily perfect, we had to watch it five times. (It's on YouTube, watch.)

Meyers devoted his "A Closer Look" segment to Trump's "war on the truth" on his Sept. 6 show, where he took on Sharpie-gate and Trump's history of doubling down on his many egregious screw-ups. The former "SNL" head writer gave an intro into Trump's "life as a pathological liar" in the segment, which included some clips of Trump lies about nonsense that even we had forgotten about, including a whole rant on (wait for it) Canadians sneaking into the U.S. to smuggle shoes into Canada because the shoe tariffs are so high. No such tariffs exist.

"This whole thing captures the constant, exhausting bewilderment of living through the Trump era," Meyers said at the end. "There's a very real humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Bahamas, and a dangerous hurricane is threatening the mainland U.S. Meanwhile the president is obsessing about a map he doctored to defend an embarrassing mistake that he is now repeatedly lying about. Almost nothing that comes out of his mouth is true." That's why we need "SNL," right there.

So we watched the entire seven hours, start-to-finish, of the CNN Climate Town Hall, and had an "existential crisis" hangover for more than 24 hours after. There was a creepy irony that Trump was tweeting about Sharpie-gate throughout the Town Hall. There were also hourly news reports on the actual path of Hurricane Dorian. The one clear takeaway from the Town Hall was that the Democrats care enough about the issue of the planet burning up to spend seven hours straight talking about it, while the GOP climate denialists led by the Sharpie-wielder-in-Chief decided Democrats want to take away your cheeseburgers and plastic straws.

The planet is burning up. July was the hottest month on record. Pete Buttigieg talked about how he and his husband Chasten have concerns about their family's future (he is the youngest candidate, and at 37, four decades younger than Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders). He also called climate crisis a "sin" and spoke to how people of faith must address it. Buttigieg, who is a devout Christian, regularly calls out GOP hypocrisy on matters of faith.

Sen. Kamala Harris spoke about how California has been a leader on climate issues her entire political life, and how San Francisco led on banning plastics while she brought polluters to court as California AG. She also got the only LGBTQ question, from a disabled gay man. This gave Harris the opportunity to address both queer issues and promote her disability rights platform. She is, thus far, the only candidate who has one.

The less said about Biden's performance, the better, but the fact that every candidate stood throughout their 40 minutes except for Biden, and no one else got fed prompts and explanations from their moderator as Biden did from a clearly unsettled Anderson Cooper was telling. If you can't speak to the current climate crisis except to talk about what you did in 1986 (when Buttigieg was four), perhaps this isn't the race for you. Just saying.

We look forward to the HRC-sponsored Democratic Town Hall on LGBTQ issues hosted by CNN on Oct. 10, on the eve of National Coming Out Day. This feels momentous to us, and we can't wait to see our lives addressed with the attention they deserve. The new Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said the Town Hall "comes at a critical time in our fight to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in this nation. For nearly 40 years, the Human Rights Campaign has fought to realize a world in which LGBTQ people are safe, equal and free in every aspect of our lives. We are eager to hear from this field of Democratic presidential candidates about how they plan to win full federal equality, defend the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people, and protect the most vulnerable among us, both here in the United States and around the globe, from stigma, institutional inequality, discrimination, and violence."

At press time, CNN had announced six of the 10 qualifying candidates have so far confirmed their attendance. They are: Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, former Obama HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The debate will be held in California.

Any candidate who qualifies under the DNC's criteria for the October round of Democratic primary debates will also qualify to speak at the LGBT event. While we would like to see 40 minutes of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, she of the "homosexual extremists" commentary, being dragged for her destructive record on LGBTQ issues, she likely won't qualify.

Buttigieg appeared on "Late Night with Stephen Colbert" on Sept. 6, where he spoke with host Colbert about faith, Mike Pence and being stuck in fifth place in the polls behind Biden, Warren, Sanders and Harris. Buttigieg reiterated his points from the Town Hall, and said that the environment is addressed repeatedly in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer. "The biggest problem with climate change isn't just the planet, it's that we are hurting people," Buttigieg said. "I can't imagine that God will let us off the hook for hurting future generations any more than hurting someone right next to you."

Buttigieg recently challenged Vice President Mike Pence to a debate. (Pence was greeted on his Sept. 6 visit to Iceland with rainbow flags and the Icelandic President wearing an LGBTQ bracelet as a subtle call-out for Pence's notorious homophobia.) To Colbert, Buttigieg said, "I think Democrats have been a little allergic to talking about faith. At the same time as we see figures on the right fly in the face not just of my values, but their own." Buttigieg added, "It reminds me of the parts of Scripture that speak about hypocrisy. I think we have an obligation to call that out." You can watch the entire interview at CBS.com.

Focus group

In addition to the political season ramping into high gear, there are over 100 TV series, about 20% new and the remainder returning, on the fall landscape. This is both exciting and daunting as one tries to focus on what to watch and what to eschew. We have some suggestions.

"Unbelievable" is one of the most important series you will watch this season. The Netflix original is based on the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative article from ProPublica in conjunction with the Marshall Project, "An Unbelievable Story of Rape." After a young woman is accused of lying about a rape, two female detectives investigate a spate of eerily similar attacks. Inspired by true events, the series stars Toni Colette, Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever, among others. The series is written by award-winning novelist Michael Chabon, his writer wife Ayelet Waldman and Susannah Grant, and executive produced by Katie Couric.

If you are in true-crime mode (who isn't?), the second season of "Mindhunter" is just as superb, queer and unsettling as the first season. "Mindhunter" stars everyone's favorite out gay actor, Jonathan Groff, in a really complex role as FBI behavioralist Holden Ford, and Holt McCallany in a tour de force performance as Ford's gruff older partner, Bill Tench, whose family life is more unbearable than talking to serial killers. Anna Torv plays Dr. Wendy Carr, the icy lesbian Boston academic who drives the investigations into serial killers and whose partner is as controlling as she is seductive. Together they are charting new and volatile territory as they attempt to determine what turns men into serial killers.

Set in the early 1980s, the second season covers the Atlanta murders, Charles Manson and others. It also delves more deeply into the personal lives of Tench and Carr, which were mostly just outlined in season one. The show had focused on Ford's relationship with doctoral student Debbie Mitford (Hannah Gross). While that is still a storyline, Tench's marriage and his deeply disturbed adopted son are a major storyline that parallels his work as a behavioralist. Carr's lesbianism gets a much deeper delve in season two, and the complexity of her character and the role women have to carve out in what is considered men's work is subtly crafted. Directed by the brilliant David Fincher, which makes every detail more acute and irresistible to witness.

"Mindhunter" is disturbing yet fascinating TV, and the extraordinary cast and slightly washed-out cinematography that evokes old Polaroids and a kind of social ennui situate the story in a different time before weekly mass shootings and an unquantifiable epidemic of rape. The killers themselves are both terrifying and engaging as they discuss in grisly detail their behaviors and what led to their fixation with rape, murder and mutilation. The violence happens off-screen, but the descriptions are harrowing.

The third season of Netflix's controversial drama "13 Reasons Why" is out. Be advised that the following contains spoilers from seasons one and two, but not three. "13 Reasons Why" explains with understated clarity why teen dramas (and the young-adult novels they are based upon) are so compelling for adults. They allow for revisiting of our own often-damaged adolescences and a concomitant deconstruction that can be cathartic. They can also be triggering, so beware.

The series revolves around the suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who takes her own life after having to face a culture of gossip, bullying and sexual assault at her high school and a lack of support from her friends and her school. Before she killed herself, Hannah made 13 tapes calling out the people who contributed to her death: friends who abandoned her, boys who abused her, school counselors and teachers who failed her.

The depictions of teen violence are as realistic as they are brutal. The dominant jock culture, the nerds who don't belong, the gays who are ostracized, the girls who are objectified: it's all vivid, painful and very real. In one scene in season two, a fight breaks out in the hallway between the jocks and nerds, and two of the queer characters, the Asian lesbian Courtney (Michele Selene Ang) and the flaming queen Ryan (Tommy Dorfman), watch from a safe distance. Courtney says with utter disdain, "Fucking boys." Ryan replies, "Disgusting." Courtney pushes the fire alarm, and the two exit down a different hall. Coda.

One of our fave characters, Tony (Christian Navarro), is an incredibly handsome Latinx gay guy who is the bestie of Clay (Dylan Minette), who drives the narrative. Tony was Hannah's friend and confidant, and was tasked with making sure everyone on the tapes heard them and understood their roles in her suicide.

Tony beat a man nearly to death after he targeted Tony and Ryan one day as they kissed on a side street, calling them the f-word repeatedly. He is on probation for the beating, and it interferes in his new relationship with Caleb (RJ Brown), himself a victim of violence.

"13 Reasons" explores toxic masculinity in all its nascent forms. It also explores acquaintance rape, and rape as a punishment teenage boys use against other teenage boys to humiliate and brutalize them. The link between sex and violence is carefully but irrefutably connected in this series, and the fact of how much rape culture is part of the culture of turning boys into men is laid bare. And is it ever ugly.

"13 Reasons" has several queer characters, and delves into the conflicts around coming out as gay in high school, even now. Courtney fights her gayness because she's being raised by two gay dads and doesn't want to be labeled a stereotype. There is a cute scene when she finally tells them and they have a half-dozen lesbian films they have pulled up to watch with her.

There is a lot of violence in "13 Reasons," but it is real violence and necessary to the plot. The use of guns, how they proliferate in American society, how kids have ready access to them even in the families where no one would ever suspect their kid would have a hidden arsenal: it is all chilling. We witness the thrill of first shooting a weapon, then the first kill of an animal. Can humans be far behind? Watching beleaguered characters regain their power by shooting a gun is hyperrealistic. So, too, is one of the worst-bullied characters finally deciding to take revenge on the school where he was sodomized by planning to shoot up that school with his carefully built arsenal.

If you thought this series was for kids, think again. "13 Reasons" explores how we lose touch with what matters, how suicide is all-too-easy an option in a nation with as many guns as America, how self-harm is endemic, how boys are taught that sex is both a commodity and a weapon - it's all there. We watch kids form their own alternative families, just as so many of us who are queer and trans had to do. We also see the trajectory of how the ways in which we are broken as teens can follow us into adulthood. Underrated and immensely necessary, "13 Reasons" should be on your watch list.

On a far lighter note, ABC's "Mixed-ish" is the second series to be spun off the long-running ABC sitcom "black-ish." ABC describes the series, the promos of which are hilarious, as loosely based on showrunner Kenya Barris' real-life wife. "The series chronicles the early years of Rainbow Johnson as she recounts her experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the 1980s, and the dilemmas they faced over whether to assimilate or stay true to themselves when her parents move from a hippie commune (that was raided in 1985) to the suburbs." Starring Arica Himmel as the young Rainbow, and Tracee Ellis Ross in her Emmy-winning "black-ish" role as the adult Rainbow.

"Élite" is back for a second season. The Spanish thriller helmed by Carlos Montero and Darío Madrona is as queer as it is gorgeous, and even has a polyamorous story line. "Élite" is full of beautiful young Spanish men and women, and is a takedown of class struggles in an elite prep school in Spain. The show has already been green-lit for a third season because it is fantastic.

Oh, and Ryan Murphy is talking to Jessica Lange about playing Marlene Dietrich when she headlined in Las Vegas. OMG, right?

So for the relentless Sturm und Drang of 2020 politics, the satire of "SNL," as well as the dramas and sitcoms we need for balance, you know you really must stay tuned.

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