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Home » Culture and Criticism

TV Question Qorner: family affairs, charisma vacuums, and my busted gaydar

Submitted by on May 25, 2009 – 7:52 PM43 Comments

robkitI moved, I went to California for a week, and I've only just now started digging my way out from under a pile of season finales. And I have some questions. Answer them for me, won't you? Or just rant nearby, that's fine too.

Brothers & Sisters. How exactly does Kitty think it's reasonable to blame the estrangement in her marriage on Robert running for governor? It's not as though he woke up one morning after spending his adult life as a florist and decided to spend their life's savings on a quixotic quest to run the state; they met while she was working for him in his capacity as a politician. Yeah, okay, he lied to her about it — I would have too! She's being a pill about it, with no basis!

Why does either of them think it's a good idea to have the wife's brother, who works for the husband, mediate their separation? Why does anyone in the writer's room believe we'd buy Kitty running after the helicopter based on what amounted to a ten-word conversation with Sarah? What's with the slo-mo? We saw this already with Buffy and Riley; we didn't like it then either! And then moments later she's reminiscing happily on the bus about summer camp? Buh fuh?

Why do they have to get to "Justin proposes to Rebecca in front of the whole family" via "Rebecca has a bratty 'fiiiiine, I guess you don't want to marry me at all if you're not comfortable doing it right this second in Mexico when we've only been back together for 18 minutes' meltdown"?

Even if anyone did care about fucking Tommy, which: no, why does the entire family have to troop down there and "rescue" him? He's an adult, who left his family — both families — of his own volition; he's cleared of the charges, but he didn't come back, probably because he's a pussy. Who gives a shit? And are we supposed to find it touching that he's bawling like a little bitch to his mommy? "Oh I am so sad at the turns my life has taken as I am sitting here on this log oh boo hoo hooooooo!" Can that guy not go away and stay gone?

Would anyone like to peruse my proposed severance package for that greasy little creep Ryan? It involves a size nine and the seat of his pants; it does not involve Saul, and could someone explain to me why Ron Rifkin's agent can't throw a foot up someone's ass and stop this madness? This is the best you can do with that actor — "I feel ret-con-sponsible, out of overgrown left field, for the death of a character we never met, whose son is a character who not only needs, but is, a wedgie"?

I'm giving them two episodes next year to turn this shit around, but I don't know why I'm bothering, because I don't see how it can be done at this point. Bah.

Conviction. I didn't watch this when it originally aired, but figured that, as a Law & Order product, it couldn't be as bad as people said.

It isn't. It's worse. Now I find myself mesmerized by the badness, the absoluteness of the lack of flavor in either the writing or the acting. Even the few, the proud, the ordinarily competent members of the cast suck in Conviction — yes, Balfour too, in part due to the attraction his character is required to feel to Julianne Nicholson, who has all the sexual charge of shredded iceberg lettuce.

nicholsI'd only recently begun to question Nicholson's competence. She practically holds the patent on failing to register on Criminal Intent, but I never blamed her for that before; I blamed her awful haircut, and the show's insistence on pairing larger-than-life autodidacts and moody problem children with female partners who inevitably paled in comparison. (Erbe is the exception, but the effort is painful to watch at times.) But Nicholson's character isn't only a non-entity because she's onscreen with Noth or Goldblum, and we don't only not care about the failed attempt to give Wheeler depth via an extraneous pregnancy B-plot because nobody cared about her fraudster boyfriend back when the writers ripped him from the headlines of Anne Hathaway's life, so nobody's going to care any more now that said fraudster had implausible sex at least once with a dormouse like Wheeler.

No, we mostly don't care because Nicholson is not interesting onscreen. She's an adequate line-reader; she's not bad, she's not ugly, she just has no charisma.

Milena Govich is slightly less boring, by virtue of being many times more irritating. This is partly her fault and partly not; writers frequently fall into a particular trap when writing for a female character who enjoys postmodern, no-strings-attached sex, namely that they confuse writing a woman who acts like a guy in that way with writing a woman who acts like a guy who is a tactless dick. Inevitably, the actual guy is supposed to become enamored — she's hot and emotionally self-sufficient! dude-nip! — but the writing gives the actress all these blunt/borderline rude lines, so pulling the character back to "my apathy towards the social contract will play as tomboyishly fascinating because I'm so hot" is the best the actress can hope to do with it.

So that's the problem generally. The problem here specifically is twofold: Govich is not actually hot enough to get away with treating Anson Mount like a pesty piece of meat (she's fairly hot, but…not hot enough) (also: hee, "Mount"); and that bitchily challenging line reading is the only one Govich has anyway. I haaaaaaated her on L&O: Mothership; I hated her more than I hated Max Greevey, which was a lot.

But picking on Govich and Nicholson misses the point; every character on the show is a collection of only-on-TV behaviors and the sorts of clichés that manage not to seem realistic despite being clichéd, handed to seat-fillers like Jordan Bridges who have no hope of adding any dimension.

Fringe. Did anyone else have a really emotional response to the finale? I think it's probably just me.

The finale's revelation about their relationship aside, the Bishops have a weirdly sentimental effect on me that is (I should imagine) unique among the viewers. Joshua Jackson has always reminded me of my brother; he and Mr. S don't look anything alike, but Jackson is reminiscent of Mr. S, in a way I can't explain and that nobody else sees. (I couldn't moderate the more X-rated aspects of the Pacey threads on the TWoP forums for this reason. They'd start down that road of talking about licking his treasure trail or whatever damn thing and I'd have to IM Wing all, "I extra can't go there, please tag in.")

People I've mentioned it to will politely pretend that they sort of see it, but then say that if Mr. S resembles anyone famous, it's Seth Rogen, which is true, in its way, but again, it's not an issue of resemblance. Jackson and Stupidhead have similar noses, but it's not that, it's something else.

I'd forgotten about it until Fringe, where the man playing Jackson's father, bizarrely, is an inverse of that: John Noble does bear a strong resemblance to our father, albeit a hairstyle ago, but the character is his complete opposite. Whatever else is going on, I've liked watching Bizarro Science Dad going on about snacks and LSD, and then when the show went into the alternate-reality arc, it struck me as even funnier, because: seriously. They look the same, they dress the same, but if My This Reality Dad began caring that much about sugar cereals, we'd take him to the hospital.

noblenobleCome the revelation at the cemetery, I said out loud, "Ohhhh, of course," and then the episode moved along while I felt annoyed that I won't get to see how that plays out until the fall, and then Nimoy came out of the shadows and the camera pulled back, and I knew immediately from the shape of the windows the building Olivia was in, and as the zoom kept going out and the Towers resolved on the screen, I just burst into tears. And it's not the first time. Fringe does these tableaux sometimes that kill me, like, "Here's a snapshot about finding family out in the world, and we put a little cello with it. Kleenex?" Yes, please. [hahhhnk]

I also cried at that X-Files episode, "The Unnatural," with Jesse L. Martin as the Negro League player. Sobbed, in fact, so maybe I'm just a weirdo. Call it.

Prison Break. Nobody else saw it through to the end, so I'll keep this short: all that, and he dies of a fackin' nosebleed?Jesus H., show.

Southland. The show doesn't seem to know, or have enough confidence in, what it wants to be yet; I like it anyway, because the cast is so strong, and it's nice to see a bunch of actors I enjoy getting lead-role time (Michael Cudlitz, Arija Bareikis), but the plot beats felt much, much too big for a show this new. It wants to hook people quickly, fine, but a big shoot-out and Officer Drunk Ponyboy going soapbox-derby bonkers on his partner and Tom Everett Scott getting Tom Everett Shott is too much for the finale of a mini-season.

And the writing doesn't need to go there in the first place, because the cast can work the nuances — and in a few cases, put in nuances the script might not have given them. Give the "now I will stare disapprovingly at my partner as he once again picks low-hanging grief fruit" moment to anyone but Regina King, it's going to play very obviously, but the writers trusted her to sell it, and she did.

I'll stick with it next year, in the hopes the show trusts the smaller scenes more and backs off the soapy (the "Moretta's sister is his daughter" twist, though played well, was not earned), the kooky (uch, Emily Bergl — fire your stylist, lady), and the tired (the cop's daughter's wild ways expose his hypocrisy? Come on: we've seen it before, and when Christopher Meloni is putting it over with more subtlety than you, you gotta call the editing bay and tell them to cut it).

The more-than-occasional ham-fistery makes it hard for me to understand, then, how I completely missed that the Cudlitz character is gay. I mean, I'd have gotten it by the finale, probably, but Jeff had to explain it to me a couple weeks ago."Uh, when he was in a gay bar?" Gay b– oh, okay. Did not get that at all. I see now that that guy was cruising him, but total strangers ask the credits cast leading questions designed to point up their emotional turmoil all the time; if they'd saddle the guy with an addiction to painkillers, I just assumed they'd go there with it too. But no, there I am in a bar, shouting, "Wait, Brenda Walsh's prom date is gay?"

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43 Comments »

  • Kizz says:

    I took the final scene of Fringe as more of a kick to the sternum than a kleenex moment but it was unexpectedly powerful. I can't decide whether to be disappointed in or mad at or in love with Abrams' choices.

    I inexplicably love Southland even though the heavy hand keeps aggravating my sternum bruise from Fringe.

    Brothers & Sisters? Oh for the love of Peter, Paul & Mary they've entirely lost the freaking plot.

  • Joe R says:

    It really was funny to watch the Cudlitz reveal register on your face. Yeah, he's still kinda fox– wait, who's a gay?" Hee.

  • Shissher says:

    Your memory of Michael Cudlitz is that he was on 90210, and NOT Bob from Grosse Point Blank? Every time he comes on the screen, I think of him reading his poetry, while coked out of his mind, reading his final line, "for a while."

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Shiss: Never got through that movie. (Don't forget my Cusackophobia.)

  • sam says:

    I thought they played the cudlitz reveal really well. First the gay bar (gay?), but then the ex-wife (straight?), then the tenderness towards the drag queens (sympathetic?), then buying pills at the gay bar (straight but gets his drugs from his gay dealer?), and then the final episode subtle reveal. I was going back and forth all season about whether he was or wasn't.

  • Rachel says:

    You… kept watching Prison Break? I applaud! I had to stop after the third or fourth episode of the third season because it just got too weird for me. I'm all for suspending disbelief and will happily do so with tasty eye candy (Wentworth Miller and Fitchner? Happy times!) but Oh Mah Gah, they bust out of prison only to end up all together in another prison? And then Dr. Sara's head but not really and what the who? Wha? I might go read the recaps and I might maybe look up the episodes on the internet, but… there will have to be a whole lot of nothing going on for me to do that. Sticking it out until the end must have taken some serious dedication!

  • Cij says:

    I have this awful feeling that somehow Rebecca is suddenly going to become bi-polar (or has been). Gah- could this show become any more melodramatic?

    I'm glad I haven't been watching Fringe because I am still very 9/11 sensitive.

  • Bo says:

    I gave up on Brothers & Sisters early on this season. I'm tired of Kitty making choices and then pretending she didn't. Tired of pretty much no one having the common sense not to play in traffic. But was the show ever really better? It's been so long I can't quite remember if I was just misguided all along.

  • patricia says:

    @Sars: I cannot believe I've found someone else who never got through that movie. For me, it's not Cusak (though he's not a draw). It just…didn't look interesting to me. Still doesn't. I've had so many people do the "*gasp* You have GOT to see that movie!" thing to me regarding GPB, but still- not interested.

    And I also found the last scene in Fringe to be incredibly powerful. With Kizz that it was a kick in the sternum.

  • MCB says:

    Oh god, Conviction. That was when I stopped trusting the NY Times on anything television-related. Everyone and their mother said the show sucked, but the NY Times liked it, and like Sars I had serious L&O blinders on, so I watched the first episode. So, so terrible.

    But now I see it's been added to Netflix On Demand … yikes. It's a slow week for me, I may have to re-watch it to see if it's really as bad as I think it is.

  • zh says:

    I cried too; you are not alone.

  • marion says:

    Anyone who didn't feel at least tempted to tear up during "The Unnatural" lacks a soul.

    …okay, that may be a little harsh, but that is a powerful episode on multiple levels.

    (And, to tie this all together, I own the DVD of the short-lived "Lone Gunmen" series and have now watched an airplane ALMOST fly into the WTC a few times. The commentary, unlike the original series pilot, was recorded after 9/11, so the weirdness of the coincidence is discussed, but still, kick in the gut.)

  • Nina A says:

    Ugh, Conviction, shudder. However, although I haven't watched Fringe, I weep like a baby over that X-Files episode too. damn, I think I have to re-watch it again.

  • Jenn says:

    you moved again?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Jenn: Yes, earlier this month (after living in the same spot for 4+ years; I didn't move twice recently).

  • bristlesage says:

    marion, I was just coming in to say, "There are people who didn't cry at 'The Unnatural'?!"

    Though I admit when describing the plot to people, it does sound a little goofy.

  • Terry says:

    I adored the end of Fringe, from Nimoy, to the revelation that Peter doesn't remember being sic becuase this Peter never was sick, to the still standing Twin Towers, to the blink and you miss it newspaper article about Obama moving into the new white house. There was so much packed into that hour. My fingers are crosses season two kicks ass.

  • avis says:

    RE: the WTC shot in Fringe. I had the same kick in the gut at the end of Benjamin Button when I realized that the mom and daughter were in a hospital in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina was hitting the city. When the nurse said they were going to try to "ride it out" at the hospital – I could barely breathe. Knowing whay happened at all of those hospitals and having lived through a part of it (in Baton Rouge, so we got hit but less so and then flooded with people who managed to make it out) it just hurt to watch.

  • Lisa says:

    Dude, I missed the gay reveal, too. And I WENT BACK and WATCHED IT AGAIN.

    Never caught on, am turning in my gaydar because I am hopeless.

  • Karla says:

    So……when are we going to hear about your new apartment? How did Hobie and Little Joe deal with the move? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • attica says:

    Bull Randleman is gay?!?

    Sorry. My Cudlitz recog only goes to Band of Brothers.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    A column on the "cats + patio" equation is forthcoming.

  • Ah! Thank you for pointing out who Michael Cudlitz is! I was watching the 90210 prom episode a little while ago for Cathy Dennis related reasons (where did Cathy Dennis go?!) and for some reason thought Brenda was at the prom with Biff Tannen from Back to the Future!

  • Drew says:

    @ attuca: I remember Cudlitz from 90210 and Grosse Point Blank, but I'm right there with you. I re-watched Band of Brothers this past weekend, and he (along with just about everybody else in the cast) is damn awesome in it. To this day, I will give any show or flick that stars one of those guys at least a look (Not always a good thing. See: "Dreamcatcher," starring Damien Lewis and Donnie Wahlberg).

    The reveal was sort of a surprise to me, although one of the reviews I read of the pilot while browsing Metacritic several weeks ago sussed it out straight away. Still, most of the hints dropped throughout the seven episodes were subtle enough that I kind of waffled back and forth on whether he was right up until the end of the finale. I didn't pick up on the fact that there was no one of the female gender in the bar until the second or third time they showed him there.

    Overall, I dug the show and plan on watching again next season. A few reviewers (Slant.com comes to mind) have commented that it's like a TV version of "Crash" (yes, I know there actually is a TV version of crash)–all style, with a suggestion of deeper substance that actually isn't there but makes the viewer feel like they're watching something important. I can sort of see that, but I've never approached the show with an expectation of it being "deep"). For me, it's just an entertaining cop show.

    The episodes work well as standalones as well as they do as part of a story arc, despite the fact that I still haven't figured out all the characters' names (I keep referring to Cudlitz and Ben McKenzie's characters as Officers Bull and Atwood). In that regard, it's actually a lot like BoB, which took me until soldiers like the the third extra from the back in that one scene in the middle (TM TWoP) started getting killed to figure out who was who.

  • K. says:

    Totally agree about Emily Bergl. Her hair is a big ol’ no. Kudos to her, though, for making me terrified every time she does anything – I am just WAITING for her to snap. I actually love that the "Cooper is gay" reveal was subtle (I got it the first time he was shown in a bar full of dudes and I never questioned it, even with the ex-wife reveal – my mom has a friend who came out after 20 years of marriage and three daughters), and I am very eager to see how he comes out to Sherman. (And by the way, who knew Ben McKenzie could act? Good for him.) I really like the show – Regina King’s character is amazing.

    I saw Prison Break all the way through (I don't even really know why) and don’t really care that Michael died (I was never one of those “Michael and Sara have the Greatest Love of All” people given that they knew each other less than six months – I also didn’t care when we thought Sara was dead); what annoyed me is that I’d forgotten all about Sophia, so when she was being threatened I was like “Who? Oh, right, she and Linc are in love, I think. Hey, you know what would be more effective? Threatening Linc’s SON.” I guess the actor had conflicts, but geez.

  • dotsara says:

    I love love the way "Southland"'s playing Cudlitz's Cooper. That so many people didn't catch on is, I think, a good sign. I was a wee bit terrified they were going to beat the audience over the head with it, but making it slightly murky (ex-wife!) was the right call.

  • RJ says:

    I absolutely LOVED that episode of X-Files with Jesse L. Martin!!! He did such a fabulous job; also, I was in the throes of Yankee fandom (still a fan, just nowhere near as active as I was back then) when I saw this episode as a rerun. Terrific, terrific storyline & acting. I got emotional too!

    I don't watch most of the shows you mention (no TV at home – too poor), but it sounds like (from TWoP) that a lot of people loved the "Fringe" finale too. Also, I never watched "Conviction" because it's against my personal convictions to willingly watch anything that features Eric Balfour in any context, even as a corpse (not that I want him to die or anything – I just don't want to have to see or hear him, personally).

  • Dude, i watched Prison Break all the way to the end too and I had the same reaction. Nosebleed? Seriously. Lame! Also, Mahone and what's her face?!?!? Really?!?!? Lame.

    I had to watch to the end, cause I'm a completist, but wow am I glad its over.

  • JenV says:

    Add me to the list of people who never finished Grosse Point Blank. That's because I've never started it in the first place. I never thought it looked that interesting to begin with, and then the more people urge me to watch it, the more resistant I become. Heh.

  • Sherri says:

    Regarding Fringe and Peter not being Peter:

    What made me laugh in retrospect was Walter's first comment on seeing Peter: "I thought you'd be ….. taller".

    I am eagerly anticipating what will happen next season. So happy to hear that it was renewed.

    The WTC shot blew me away. It was mind boggling to think of a world where that hadn't happened. So many changes …. all of the "what if it hadn't happened" thoughts.

  • Sandman says:

    @ Bo: "I'm tired of Kitty making choices and then pretending she didn't"

    Oh, my GOD, this is exactly it! EXACTLY. I can't bear what the writers are doing to this cast anymore. @Cij: No, they really can't make Brothers and Sisters any more melodramatic. At all.

    I've always liked both McKenzie and Regina King. Southland is a lot less formulaic than it has any right to be, just on the strength of the cast. I even like Tom Everett Shott – er, Scott. (Which, heee. Nice.)

    And, dude, I totally cry at "The Unnatural," and I have nothing like your investment in baseball.

  • Sandman says:

    Oh, and "ret-con-sponsible" might be my very favourite TN-ism of all. It's hilarious, brilliantly succinct, and it's exactly what's going wrong in the writers' room. Thank you.

  • Gina says:

    Regarding Fringe: I have been saying that Peter is not the Original Peter since, like, episode 2 or whatever where Walter says that there is an anomaly in his medical records. Of course, I thought that Original Peter died and Current Peter was his clone, so I wasn't entirely correct, but hey, a least my Plot-Device-Sense was tingling.

    Although I didn't quite cry at the WTC reveal, I did definitely feel the sucker punch, and sat on my couch going "not cool, not cool!" for a good long while afterward. They set the entire goddamn show in Boston, and then use the finale to tug on New York's heartstrings? I'll say it again: not cool.

  • Claire says:

    I LOVED the Fringe finale. I've been watching it all season with my best friend and just before they pulled I said "The Twin Towers are so going to be there" , which then led to the obvious screams of "OH MY GOD"

    Also, how awesome is it that Walter just went to an alternative universe and stole a new Pacey? I would love to see how that went. "Oh my son's dead, so I'm taking yours. Later!"

  • Kim says:

    I too knew where the Fringe finale was going the instant I saw the shape of the windows. I think I've come around to loving the ep in its entirety, although at first I found myself shouting, rather randomly, "oh no oh no" at the television–just not ready for that mule-kick of realization. The shot was so gorgeous, though, so lovingly composed, that I finally took it as a love letter…what if, WHAT IF so tempting an alternate reality existed? Would we try to go there? Would I pull a Walter, try to retrieve something I'd loved and lost? It messed with me, in the best possible way.

    Meanwhile "The Unnatural" makes cartoon hearts pop out of my eyeballs. Oh, Duchov, you horny beautiful clever bastard.

  • Andrew says:

    Uh-oh, I actually genuinely like Nicholson on Criminal Intent. I mean I'm certainly not watching the show because of her, but she gives the role everything it requires, and when the writers ocassionally throw her a bone, she makes the most of it. As for Conviction, I quit that show at the pilot stage, but she didn't seem notably worse than anyone else in that Godforsaken monstrosity.

    As long as we're talking about something vaguely L&O-related, am I the only one that thinks that the Mothership has actually been the best procedural on television for the last two seasons? They've finally got a cast where there isn't a weak spot in any of the six slots and brought back a showrunner from the early years. I never would've thought such an old show would be capable of such a resurgence. If they keep this current group together until the end, it'll go out strong rather than with the whimper that was seeming inevitable.

  • Rinaldo says:

    @Bo: "But was [Brothers and Sisters} ever really better? "

    I think it was, for half a season (maybe less) at the beginning. It had promise, which it occasionally lived up to, of being a thoughtful drama with comedic elements and some depth. But, whether through network interference or taking the cheap way out or going more and more with what "worked" on a shallow immediate level… it almost immediately became this grotesque sitcom mutant (the wacky hijinx! none of them can keep a secret, can you believe it?) that won't even cop to what it is.

  • attica says:

    I haven't ever been a fan of Nicholson. Ever since she wept her way through a Mothership episode (she must be related to Wolf– does any body else give her work?), I've been put off by her. I guess that her being an unattractive crier is a stupid reason to dislike a performer, but there it is.

    Oh, don't tell me you don't have reasons that are as nonsensical as that. I live in the world, and I know better. ;)

  • AmandaJeanne says:

    i did cry during that last ep of Fringe, surely i did. but i must confess that i teared up a couple of times during the season, most notably when they found the boy underground.

  • Sue says:

    The only part of Nicholson on L&O that I've enjoyed recently is watching everyone else try not to say, "so, how far along are you?" and then Goldblum busting in full throttle. She's hooooorrible.

    And, really? a nosebleed? REALLY? And the crane on the top….yeesh. Couldn't stop watching, though, (the pretty!) so I don't know what that says about me.

    Adored Fringe, but saw the reveal coming a ways back. Still, pleased it's coming back.

  • CJB says:

    I also felt kicked in the gut by the Fringe finale and the WTC reveal. My first reaction was to (mentally) scream, "TOO SOON!", but after thinking about it, I think it really really worked. And the Peter-is-from-an-alternate-universe thing…eek and awesome (and I also sort of called it, but not exactly the way it turned out, which was cool).

    I was so, SO mixed on Fringe at the beginning (to the point where I had basically decided to stop watching but hadn't gotten around to canceling the series record on the DVR, and then watched because it was there). I've fully come around. I think it's great and I can't wait for next year.

    More love here for "The Unnatural." I also think fondly of it because it was the first time I learned that smarmazoid Duchov is really a giant ball of schmoop. I already knew he was witty and blah blah blah, but I never expected that episode to have such a soft lovely heart. He also was one of the only people on that show who, I felt, was able to write Mulder and Scully in a kind of natural, affectionate, regular-human-beings way (which makes a kind of sense as he was one of the human beings playing them).

    Anyway, sometimes I feel all nostalgic for the old-timey days of baseball (a game I enjoy but don't follow especially ardently), and it's because of that episode and A League of Their Own, pretty much.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    "No, we mostly don't care because Nicholson is not interesting onscreen. She's an adequate line-reader; she's not bad, she's not ugly, she just has no charisma."
    But OMG, she was fanfuckintastic in that 'er' ep in which she had convulsions whenever she held her baby. I was riveted.
    Maybe I really just want to like her because she looks just like Chopper, my pre-K BFF. (Who was also an unattractive crier, if I remember…I know I certainly am!)

  • Tara says:

    I like Nicholson, but it's also not really implausible she would have sex with the British guy — the actors are married. I just wish they would write for the girls. They write for Olivia! Terribly, most of the time, but still.

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