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Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

‘The Closer’–And Why Confession Is Good for the Soul

posted by donna freitas

The promotional campaign last summer for TNT’s “The Closer,” a Law & Order-like crime-solving drama (but way, way quirkier), featured the show’s main character, Chief Brenda Johnson (played by Kyra Sedgwick), announcing: “Confession. It’s good for the soul.” For those of you who ignored her appeal and missed this excellent show, you have a second chance to tune in (and confess away): Season One of “The Closer” is re-running now on Tuesdays at 10 p.m., in preparation for Season Two, which starts this summer.

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I happened to catch the pilot episode in June and was immediately addicted to Chief Johnson’s humor, no-nonsense crime-solving style, and Southern charm, as well as the show’s totally engrossing stories. And as I kept tuning in, week after week, to see what cases came across Chief Johnson’s desk, I couldn’t help but notice, during the commercials, how TNT was using Chief Johnson’s trademark style–sweet talking the suspect into spilling the beans–as a means to lure viewers into watching this confession-centered drama. Time after time, Chief Johnson would appear on screen to advertise “The Closer” and announce in her syrupy Southern drawl that confession is “good for the soul.” And every time she said those words, I thought about the paradox this set up. In Christianity, confessing is literally a means of soul-cleansing and a way of gaining God’s forgiveness–truth-telling your way to liberation–but on the show and in Chief Brenda Johnson’s mind, confession might indeed make you feel better, but it will inevitably land you in the not-so-forgiving slammer.

All paradoxes aside, it’s a fantastic show. Give it a chance.

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An American at Home in India: Sheetal Sheth in “Looking for Comedy”

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Albert Brooks may be getting all the press for “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,” but his costar, Sheetal Sheth, deserves a moment in the spotlight, too. In the film, Sheth plays the young assistant hired to help Brooks in his mission to discover what makes Muslims laugh. It’s her highest-profile role to date, and she handles it gracefully–just as she does the press junket in which a bunch of reporters, including me, screamed questions at her for half an hour.

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“Looking for Comedy” opened to lukewarm-at-best reviews–including that of my colleague Dilshad Ali–but Brooks and Sheth are obviously proud of the film and discuss it passionately. You can read what they had to say about “Looking for Comedy” here, but since much of what Sheth talked about in the interview was interesting but off-topic, here are some interview “outtakes,” Idol Chatter’s version of DVD extras.

As a young actress trying to establish herself, Sheth has had to battle Hollywood’s pigeonholing of people of color. An NYU film-school graduate born in New Jersey, she’s often forced to audition for “ethnic roles”–only to be told that she’s not actually “ethnic,” despite her dark skin and Indian heritage.

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“A lot of times what I find is that when they want to cast ‘diverse’ or ‘ethnic’ they think it means black. I’ll literally go in for something, and they’ll say, ‘You’re not ethnic,'” she says. “It’s funny they even think like that. I go through interesting things every day in terms of that whole thing.”

And then there are the times when directors are looking for someone who looks just like her–but putting on an exaggerated Indian accent is the only punch line in the script.

“There’s a difference between something being funny because of the character vs. the ethnicity,” she says. “And then I’m like, ‘Here’s the deal. I’m not funny right now because of what you’ve written or because of the character. You’re laughing at my accent and this persona you have, the idea of this stereotype, and I’m not interested in it.'”

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“Looking for Comedy” offers her a role with a funny character and an Indian accent, Sheth says. As someone who’s spent extended periods in India visiting family, the question, she adds, was what that accent should be.

“I didn’t want to do this very general accent that you hear a lot, that’s this kind of stereotypical thing that you hear a lot, like Apu from ‘The Simpsons,'” Sheth says. “And so it felt like, from her education and the way she was brought up, it’s very British influenced in India, and so we needed to be that.”

With roles in indie-flicks like “ABCD” and “American Chai“–together with her appearance in “Looking for Comedy”–Sheth says she’s been happy with the work she’s found and is working full-time as an actress, despite the hurdles she’s faced. So whatever the accent she uses, you may be hearing Sheetal Sheth’s name more and more in the coming years–though, if she’d listened to the veteran show-biz people who advised her in years past, it would actually be some other name you’d hear.

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“When I graduated from NYU, and I was meeting people, and I met with my very first manager… we had this great meeting, and at the end of the meeting, she’s like, ‘Great, can’t wait, so excited, which one of your names are you going to change?'” Sheth says. “It may sound naive and silly, but it really never occurred to me it would be a conversation I would have to have as often as I do… All of a sudden, I’m a professional actor, and it’s something I deal with every day.”

You can watch a clip of Sheth in “Looking for Comedy” by clicking here.

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The Real Questions of ’24’

posted by doug howe

Watching this season of ’24’ continue to unfold, I’m moved to continue the debate I’ve been having with fellow Idol Chatterer Donna Freitas on the show and its hero, Jack Bauer. (Read my original posting here, and her response here.)

This year’s storyline is based on Jack’s having begun a new life as a humble day worker, complete with a girlfriend and her adolescent son. In last year’s finale, we saw a hero who was willing to risk his life and career—and sacrifice his identity—to save the President, and eventually, millions of people in the path of a nuclear bomb. Now, he seems more than content to have left the daily do-or-die decisions of CTU (the Counter-Terrorism Unit he worked for) behind him and engage in a more normative lifestyle. It took the deaths of several of his friends and the assassination of the former President to bring him out of hiding, and it took a false accusation of multiple murders to to re-engage him in the kind of antics that make the show what it is.

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While the plot twists and internet guessing games about what will happen to his character continue, I hope the conversations among spiritual journeyers will move to the more compelling questions the show asks:

1. What, really, do we believe is worth fighting for?
2. What, really, do we believe is worth dying for?
3. What, really, am I personally responsible for?

At a time when American soldiers are risking their lives every day and what passes for Intelligence is at the center of several national debates, this is a show that brings to light the complicated questions about what it takes to protect a nation, more so than any show I can remember since the end of “Three Days of the Condor.”

With all respect to Donna, I don’t believe that the character of Jack Bauer is a “martyr in the making” so much as he’s a fanatic about the responsibility he’s taken on, a trait that more of us could and should incorporate into our spiritual journeys and lives. The “human side of heroism” has included, for Jack, the loss of family and friends and a reluctant re-entrance into the hidden world of terrorists and spys. Each of us who aims to be spiritual should take inventory of the responsibilities placed in our path and consider our own levels of commitment and willingness to sacrifice, and examine how our courage can make the world a better place.

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Mormon Movie Massacre

posted by burb

The culture has been furiously digesting religious fundamentalism of late, and that process hasn’t been kind to Mormons. The history of the Church of Latter Day Saints, after all, has plenty of violence and controversy, and besides, they live way out in Utah. The media, at any rate, seems to regard them as fair game. As this New York Times article makes clear, the Church of Latter Day Saints’ anni horribili continue with a movie due out this Spring about the Mountain Meadows massacre of 1857, when a group of Mormons joined forces with Indians to kill 128 non-Mormon emigrants passing through on their way to California.

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Mormon faithful might be made hopeful by the fact that Jon Voight, fresh from his role as Pope John Paul II, plays a fictional LDS elder in the film, called “September Dawn.” Hopes may be crushed by the fact that the film’s director previously worked on such thoughtful screen gems as “The Next Karate Kid” and “Gone Fishin.”

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