Friday, October 5, 2007

TV & Hand-Holding: So Not Past the Jam Hands Phase

My future best friend forever, Jennifer Garner, has a quote I’d like to share with you. In an InStyle magazine from about three years ago, Jen said, “The first thing I notice about a guy is his hands. I imagine them picking up a baby; it’s a sensual thing.”

Like I said, this is from many years ago, so I’m sure it has nothing to do with Ben Affleck. If she used this theory on Ben, then she failed, because he has no baby-holding skills. (He is also completely inept at fixing Violet’s hair. Anytime Jen goes out of town, you can tell that an amateur is snapping in that child’s barrettes. And she’s almost two. I’m just saying.)

Anyway, this blog is not about Jennifer Garner.

It’s about hands.

I am just blown away with love for hand-holding. It’s a widely-accepted form of public intimacy, one that is shocking innocent in today’s world—and especially in today’s TV world. Hand-holding in private is just as sweet, as it demonstrates a relationship based on connection, not just sex. On TV, where the rules permit broadcasting pretty graphic sex, showing something as innocuous as hand-holding is really special and sweet.

Let’s start with Jim and Pam, who’ve been on hand-holding overload for the past eight days. In the first episode, I melted a little inside when Jim reached over to grab Pam’s hand as they took a slow start to Michael’s 5K. It was so sweet, just a cute little tender gesture of affection. Since they got together, we’ve seen one far-away peck on the lips and a little cheek kiss. But we’ve also seen quiet contented smiles, whispers over the reception desk, soda-sharing, lamp-buying, and the aforementioned hand-holding.

Jim and Pam are also found on the cover of Entertainment Weekly this week—holding hands, no less. I’ve already talked about the sweetness of Pam’s smile, Jim’s cardigan and OHmyGOD the HANDS my GOD, but I think it deserves another mention, particularly if we’re talking about the hands. This little grasp is more covert, as if they’re in a crowded space but can just get away with this simple display of affection.

Part of the fun of a new season is the lead-up to the premieres, which usually involves episode synopses, promotional stills, and perhaps the occasional video clip. Along with many TV addicts, I will overanalyze those episode stills till kingdom come. When it’s The Office, you look at desk arrangement; if it’s Grey’s, you focus on Patrick Dempsey’s facial expressions.

In any case, I’ll look at hands. Especially when there’s engagement/wedding rumors circulating, checking out fingers is an important part of analyzing these photos. Last year, pre-season Office set photos were a hot commodity, because we all wanted to know whether or not Pam and Roy had gotten married. (You might even remember that Jenna Fischer stirred up a little controversy when she posted a snapshot on her MySpace of herself on set wearing a wedding ring. She really played into Pam Ring Hysteria by removing, cropping, and reposting the picture with her left hand out of the shot.)

Hand!Watch 2007 is way more fun than that was. Rewatching last night’s episode this afternoon, I zoned in on Jim and Pam’s hands throughout the conference room scenes to make sure I wasn’t missing any Jam contact. Apparently even Office folk are focusing on Jam Hands—Phyllis sure showed her true colors when she concerned herself with Pam’s reception skills and asserted that she couldn’t see Jam’s (clearly tabled) hands.

Jim and Pam are the current king and queen of hand-holding, but they surely aren’t the first to hold the title. Let’s take a look at some more of my favorites.

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Well, of course there’s Carter and Abby, whose new relationship in season nine of ER was cute enough before “One Can Only Hope” (906), where they spent almost this entire scene with clasped hands. Carter has a cute line that “love makes you do crazy things,” and then he grabs her hands and gives her a little twirl—get it(!?!), a crazy thing. After they settle on the doctor’s lounge couch to talk about her brother’s weirdness (he has a milkshake obsession), they hold hands again and play finger-footsie throughout the entire scene.

It was one of the first times we got to see them talk as a couple about something serious, and it was so nice to see them be casual, together, and innocently intimate. Yeah I’m still hung up on Carter and Abby, and I often return to this poignant little scene to remind me of all that’s been lost.

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There are a lot of reasons why being single sucks, but one of the main reasons is the lack of a good nap partner. Sharing naps is maybe the greatest thing on the planet. I love co-napping, which is best—seriously wonderful—if your nap partner is skilled at the art of spoony hands. Spoony hands are found when the cuddly couple is not only spooning, but also holding hands, normally up by the inside spoon’s chest. It’s the most cozy, intimate way to sleep, and Derek and Meredith are particularly good at it. The episode “Six Days” (311 & 312) is framed by their unfortunate sleeping situation—she snores, so he escapes their bed to sleep on the couch—ultimately resulting in Derek wearing earplugs and some serious spoony hands.

You can see it here, and please comment if you do not explode with the sweetness of the spoony hands.

For a couple whose relationship started as a one night stand, Derek and Meredith can be very intimate and loving when they want to be. This scene shows the extent of their closeness and that they really extend past the sex part of sharing a bed.

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No one does desperate hands, however, like Lost’s Jack and Kate. For the first half of the third season, my all-time OTP was completely separated, and their two most poignant scenes were all about hands. The first, from the sixth episode (otherwise an awful, awful episode), shows Jack and Kate finally in the same room, but separated by a glass wall. As they have an emotional conversation (the Others are gonna kill Sawyer!), Jack and Kate place their coordinated hands up on the glass and cry. It’s as close as they can get to each other, and it kills them. I’ve long held that if that wall didn’t exist, the ridiculous cage sex would never have happened. However, without the glass wall scene, we wouldn’t have gotten the first lovely Jate!Hands scene.

The second of these is even more desperate, even more poignant, even more I-Do-Not-Understand-You-People-Who-Don’t-See-The-Inevitablity-That-Is-Jate. It occurs when Jack thinks he’s going to escape the island by submarine; Kate’s rescue mission is thwarted not only by the fact that Jack’s not looking to be rescued, but also by the Others. Again they cry, they exchange emotional words, they stare at each other, and they hold onto each other so, so tightly. They know they might never see each other again (despite Jack’s unbelievably moving line: “I will come back here for you”), so they cling to each other. Angsty, sexy, full of romance and sexiness, this scene just absolutely kills me.

As the only couple in this post who aren’t together, their tactile scenes are extra-sweet because their hand-touching is the only touching they’ve got, I guess unless you’ve got a handy dandy net trap. Jate!Hands is as close to sex as those two are going to get for a while, and damn it comes pretty close.

If they’re this precious as just friends, what could they be if they really expressed their feelings?

These couples teach an important lesson: that television romance doesn’t have to be all about sex. Audiences follow celibate couples through the torture of will-they-or-won’t-they, yet producers expect us to find sex and nudity a necessary part of their viewing experience? Not true. Sure, we occasionally like to see our OTPs touch more than just hands, but we’re okay with innocent tactile sweetness, too. Particularly spoony hands.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Private Practice: This is What They Call Hero Worship

Perhaps my favorite part of having three part-time jobs is having three watercoolers. Although only one of my offices has an actual device, that doesn’t stop me from having light TV conversation with any colleague who seems particularly interested. Oftentimes, it’s frustrating because I’m a pretty serious TV watcher (hello, I have a blog) and I have to try not to come across as an asshole when I, for instance, talk about the Grey’s chronology with my work friends. (Look here for my recent take on the Seattle Grace calendar.)

However, sometimes they bring up really excellent points. My friend and I were discussing the Private Practice premiere, and she said she was blown away by how much she cried while watching last week’s episode. “Pilots shouldn’t make you cry. It was unnatural,” she said.

It’s true. In that same bitchy Grey's blog, I also talked about pilot magic, and Private Practice, at least in my opinion, definitely had it. (Dirty Sexy Money, meanwhile, did not. But that’s a story for another post.) The episode had humor, likeable male characters, and a hero who I am totally ashamed to have hated.

I liked that it didn’t rely too heavily upon the spinning-off episodes of Grey’s, which had that whole elevator-as-conscience storyline and, oh yeah, a different Naomi. Speaking of which, Audra McDonald is way better than Merrin Dungey in that part. First of all, she fits the age better; Merrin seemed a little too young for the role. She also has a much more versatile range of facial expressions, a warmth that I can connect to, and the poise of a brilliant fertility specialist.

Plus, she’s an AMAZING singer. Her rendition of “Stars and the Moon” from Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs for a New World” is beautiful. I love when my favorite Broadway actors get Hollywood jobs; I can’t wait to see Norbert Leo Butz (“Wicked,” “The Last Five Years,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) play Steve Carell’s brother in “Dan in Real Life.”

Seriously, Private Practice, figure out how to get Audra and Taye Diggs to sing a duet. Stat.

Anyway, this is not supposed to be about my love of musical theatre (which is unflinchingly rigid), but I digress.

I love Tim Daly’s character, too. He’s sweet but not all up in Addison’s business, and even though his medicine is weird, he himself is the polar opposite of weird. I think it’s funny how similar Tim Daly’s return to TV is to Patrick Dempsey’s. Both were big a dozen or so years ago, disappeared, and when Shonda Rhimes rediscovered them, there was a definitely “Oh! You!” moment. There’s so hot, I have no idea why they weren’t getting jobs for so long. (Ooh, good job being superficial, Caroline.)

Competing for preciousness is Cooper. He’s a little more rough around the edges than Pete, but oh-so-sweet (especially to Violet). As they highlighted in tonight’s episode, he’s such a brilliant contradiction between stripper-hirer and kid doctor. (Doug Ross, anyone?)

And then there’s Addison.

She is such a beautifully multifaceted character. She’s not so good at relationships (but a great friend), a team player, a strong voice, a vulnerable lady, a brilliant doctor, a confident and proud professional, a sympathetic listener with a comforting bedside manner, and a truly gorgeous woman. What’s not to love?

At the end of the first episode, I really felt like she had emerged as this show’s hero. She’s someone we can rally around, who’s got flaws for sure but, let’s face it, is a hell of a lot more generally likeable than Meredith Grey’s ever been. (I still think McDreamy chose correctly, don’t get me wrong.) Fascinated as I am with her, I’m not clamoring to grow up like Meredith, whose character traits include a near-pathetic inability to commit (unless the guy’s seriously about to leave her for aforementioned hero), a horrible attitude toward family, and a strong affinity for tequila. (For more on Meg’s lack of role model skills, read this.)

Centering a show around Addison was risky, sure, as she’d previously been known as simply a member of the ensemble, and a relatively late-joining one at that. Executives have no real way of knowing if an ensemble player can function on their own. However, Private Practice is great because it was so quickly built around a new ensemble, one that I am just as drawn to as the doctors of Seattle Grace. And, again, Addison is just plain awesome.

And rather than competing with Grey’s, Private Practice offers a completely different approach to the medical drama. It still combines patient and doctor storylines, but the pace is decidedly different and the characters don’t seem like mere counterparts of Grey’s doctors.

Overall, it’s been getting pretty mixed reviews, but I’m quite enamored by the Oceanside staff. I don’t even have a problem with the fact that I cried at the first episode.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Office: Unexpected...Sadness?

I am so not one of those people who turns the TV off when "will they or won't they?" concludes with a sweet "they will." Alan Ball once said, and I can't find the exact quote so bear with me, that he found the drama of staying together much more interesting than the drama of getting together. I agree. I was most entrenched in ER, Gilmore Girls, and Alias when the couples weren't involved in love triangles, but rather were making it work together.

Then WHY am I so saddened by the premiere of The Office?

Ostensibly, I got everything I wanted. Jim and Pam are together--and decidedly precious--kissing, sneaking around, having lunch, holding hands (aww), and buying lamps. Who didn't die a little inside there when he grabbed her hand walking down the street? My heart just skipped a beat remembering it. I want Jim Halpert to grab my hand and carry my lamp and "help me with that research" (wink wink).

However, lurking in the documentary format is the Achilles heel of my relationship with Jim and Pam. There's so much more to their relationship that we're just not going to get to see--and it KILLS me.

First of all, the fact that the writers skipped several weeks (maybe even months) of time means that we didn't get to see their first date, their first kiss, their first...lots of other things. However, with Jim and Pam trying to subvert the efforts of the cameras, we probably wouldn't catch that anyway, I guess.

The Jim/Pam relationship in the early days was easy to appreciate through the documentary style, because, as "just friends," all of Jim and Pam's relationship ostensibly took place in the office. Now, though, that they're presumably going on dates, hanging out at home, and (gasp!) having sex, their most intimate--their most important--moments are going to happen after the camera crew goes home.

The producers seem to be dealing with this in a pretty logical way: creating reasons for Jim and Pam to stay at the office. Upcoming episodes bring an Angela office party--in which we might find Jim and Pam escape to the roof and recreate some "first date" magic?--and a Jim/Pam overnight getaway to Dwight's beet-farm-turned-B&B. Hopefully these reasons will be enough to keep the happy Jam (or PB&J) alive. I'd love to see a return to their early-season-two days, only now their touches can linger a little longer (again with the hand-holding!) and the episodes can end with them heading home to their cute little house and even cuter and even littler babies.

While we're on the subject of Jim and Pam, how 'bout that Entertainment Weekly cover? AGAIN WITH THE HAND-HOLDING! Good God, I could stare at John Krasinski's face all day. Not since TV Guide's ER cover from five years ago, in which Noah Wyle declared Maura Tierney "the Molly Ringwald to my Andrew McCarthy," have I felt so filled with glee over a piece of paper. (Michael Scott would be so pleased.) With his cardigan and rolled-up sleeves and her sweet secret smile, the picture conveys something so innocent, so precious. It's their little smiles and MY GOD their clasped hands and the caption ("Jim and Pam pretend not to notice that their hands are sweaty") that makes me know that, even if we don't get to see the cuteness than I'm sure is Jim and Pam watching movies and eating ice cream out of the tub, this season of Jam is really going to be something.