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TV Quickshots #11

Pregnant in Heels (Bravo; 2011-Present)

Pregnant in Heels might be the clearest demonstration of the abiding madness of the monied elites that current American popular culture has to offer. Worse yet, it shows with distinct disquiet that those same mad elites are breeding. The wise fool at the centre of this circus court is Rosie Pope, a self-styled “maternity concierge” (I think of Sherlock Holmes whenever I hear that employment title: “I’m the only one in the world, I invented the job”) who runs a toney Manhattan fashion and accessories boutique for expectant mothers and consults certain wealthy neurotics on how to overcome their self-absorbed personalities just enough to raise their forthcoming child.

Pope herself is a bit of a ridiculous figure. Her mania for children (she has three of her own) is considerable, and her famously bizarre speech intonations (roughly summarized as those of a Mid-Atlantic Valley Girl moments after accidentally biting her tongue) are endlessly lampoonable. Still, she is an anchor of sanity relative to her clients: recent episodes have included a viciously jealous lap dog assaulting baby stand-ins, a New Jersey couple that suspects their future nursery is haunted, and a South American trophy wife who considers acquiring a black market wet nurse. She does seem to help, but then it hardly takes maternity or psychological expertise to diagnose the disconnected mental malaise of the 1%. Pope even allows herself moments of borderline snark about her kooky clientele, although the safe harbour of melodramatic cliches is ever her final port of call. Despite this, the domestic portrait that Pregnant in Heels provides of New York City’s sheltered rich is sociologically valuable even while it falls firmly under the aegis of disposable trash television.

The Singing Detective (BBC; 1986)

Well-respected British writer and dramatist Dennis Potter’s career highlight wields a pen as sharp as a doctor’s scalpel or a knife in a dark alleyway. The Singing Detective features the future Dumbledore Michael Gambon as a writer of hardboiled detective fiction who suffers from a painful case of psoriasis (as did Potter himself). Philip E. Marlow is confined to a hospital ward full of sad bed-ridden cases, determinedly earnest but helpless doctors, and a pretty nurse (Joanne Whalley) who cover his whole afflicted body with soothing balm (the latter occasioning hilariously encyclopedic mental lists of unarousing things to keep erections at bay).

Gradually drawn out of his medical cage by lessening symptoms and by probing sessions with a Scottish shrink (Bill Patterson), Marlow nonetheless was escaping his condition long before through both memory and fantasy. He has flashbacks to his youth in wartime Gloucestershire as well as plays out scenes from the film-noir world of his fiction, following the titular gumshoe alter ego (also played by Gambon) in investigating the case of a mysterious, menacing bachelor (Patrick Malahide) who is the last person to see a Russian escort alive.

These three narrative frames reflect each other, and meld and trespass freely in the best post-modern tradition. The writing in the detective section is laced with the witty zingers and nocturnal intrigue of the genre, while the helpless pathos of both the hospital scenes and Marlow’s confused childhood is dramatically moving and quirkily funny in equal doses. The entire show is suffused with Freudian psychoanalytic assumptions to the point of being one heaping metaphorical symptom. Although most fiction, whether on the page or on the screen, seeks the implication and identification of its audience, The Singing Detective entertains with a highly singular and entirely personal set of psychological neuroses. For Potter, this series seems to have been the best cure.

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