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Entertainment & Arts

Column: Season of the Grouch: When the Santa Anas blow, even pop culture seems like a wasteland

Host David Harbour
Host David Harbour as Oscar the Grouch during the “Joker” sketch on Saturday Night Live.
(Rosalind O’Connor//NBC)

When the Santa Anas blow, Raymond Chandler famously wrote, “every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.”

Oh, Raymond, always so dark, always so dramatic. But I know what he means. I no longer attend booze parties and my husband’s neck is safe — I only have an electric carving knife and I never know where it is until I turn out every drawer five minutes after the Christmas roast comes out of the oven.

But what with the dry mouth, migraines and ironic rain of dead pine needles every night, many previously enjoyable, or at least tolerable, things are just not any more. While I am deeply grateful that I do not live in the path of a fire at the moment (and am sending thoughts and prayers to those who do, as well as all the heroic firefighters battling blazes around the state), I am also wildly cranky.

Like SNL’s recent Oscar the Grouch cranky.

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Saturday Night Live - Season 45
SNL host David Harbour as Oscar the Grouch.
(Beth Sacca//NBC)

There’s the ongoing horror show in Washington, of course, where the term “Ukrainian oligarch” appears to have become shorthand for American foreign policy. Then there’s the constant friction of outrageous presidential tweets and the 7,000 pieces of commentary that inevitably follow each and every one of them, which continue to chafe the country so bloody that we cannot even unify for five seconds around the destruction of a highly influential and effective terrorist. Who wants to live in a country where the president is so unpopular he is righteously booed at a baseball game? What have we become? Great Britain?

And somewhere, one hopes, Ted Turner is regretting the creation of the 24-hour cable news cycle, which is now, officially, 5% news and 95% opinionated blather. At this point, I don’t even want to hear from Rachel Maddow unless she is telling me something that is actual news. (This, in fact, she recently did by calling on any NBC employees who experienced sexual harassment by Matt Lauer to break their NDAs. So I guess I will still listen to Rachel Maddow.)

When the Santa Anas blow, it isn’t just the news that gives me migraines. Everyone is very excited about Robert Pattinson and Willem Defoe in “The Lighthouse” and all I can think is, “Have we really told so many stories about white guys that we are reduced to sticking two of them in a lighthouse to see what will happen? And, then, find it a revelation that masturbation and madness are two of those things?”

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Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in “The Lighthouse.”
(A24)

Tom Perotta’s “Mrs. Fletcher” debuted on HBO, and while I am always happy to see Kathryn Hahn in anything, do I want to see the story of a divorced woman rediscovering sex as envisioned by a man? No I do not.

Maybe we can blame the Santa Anas for the recent Martin Scorsese bashing. The director recently riled up “the internet” by suggesting Marvel movies are more amusement parks than serious cinema. Well, he didn’t just suggest it, he said it, outright and then was forced to “clarify” his remarks by explaining there was nothing wrong with amusement parks.

First off, if I see one more story in which “the internet” has an opinion — for the record, the internet cannot have opinions, it can only display them — I will scream. Secondly, how is the fact that Martin Scorsese doesn’t think much of superhero movies surprising in the least? And thirdly, Marvel needs defenders like Jeff Bezos needs a Kickstarter campaign to cover legal fees. Save your outrage for things that matter, like the fact that Ukrainian oligarchs are, apparently, continuing to influence our elections.

I haven’t seen “The Morning Show” on Apple TV+ yet, but the new bragging wars over which television show is as, or more, expensive than “The Crown” has become irritating and worrisome. For years now, television has basked in the new-found glories of being “cinematic,” and now, if “The Morning Show” and “The Politician” are valid indicators, it has fallen into the deadly trap of assuming the bigger the budget, the bigger the splash. You know what makes the biggest splash? A belly flop.

Also, as much as I love the fact that my children are discovering “Friends” and other hits of my youth, there is such a thing as cultural regression. How important is it, really, that future generations be able to bask in the wonders of “The Big Bang Theory” and do we need a remake of “Dune” or, dear God in heaven, “Cliffhanger”? The “Lord of the Rings” is about to start production for Amazon and guess what? It’s going to be more expensive than “The Crown.” Maybe it will be great, and maybe we, as a culture and a society, just need to move the heck on.

See, this is what happens when the Santa Anas blow; the biggest Tolkien fan this side of Middle Earth gets grouchy about a “Lord of the Rings” remake. I’m set to see a screening of Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” this week, and now I’m wondering if I should wait. For the winds to die down and the mood to pass. Because if “Little Women” makes me grouchy, there’s really nothing left, is there?

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Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in “Little Women.”
(Wilson Webb/ Columbia Pictures)
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And I think I just remembered where I put the carving knife last Christmas.


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