By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
THERE IS ANOTHER SORT OF SPECULATIVE FICTION that instead of imagining the future refigures the past, providing new explanations for old acts. Such are The Artists' Specials-- and its companions The Composers' Specialsand The Inventors' Specials-- HBO series for kids that write a young person, or persons, into the life of a historical figure, in order to make history live.
In Mary Cassatt: American Impressionist, star Amy Brenneman (Your Friends and Neighbors, NYPD Blue) finds her atelier upset by the unexpected arrival from Philadelphia of her brother's family, including a snobby sister-in-law so horrible it's hard to reckon why someone hasn't taken a plank to her head, and three children who get underfoot, make fun of modern art, fight and sulk (teenage Katherine is missing the social season back home, while trying to deny the rough charms of young Gilbert the gardener), until they quite expectedly begin to improve each other's lot. There's Mary working away in somber tones to please the taste of the Salon, when little Elsie, sprawled in what art fans will recognize as the exact attitude of Little Girl in a Blue Armchair(with that painting's little dog, here called Wags -- and a bundle of trouble, you can imagine -- plopped nearby), asks, "Why are you using all dark colors? . . . I like bright colors. Blue is my favorite, but I like yellow and red, too." "So do I," says Aunt Mary, and -- voilà! -- a masterpiece is born. Katherine, meanwhile, sets about trying to engineer a love connection between Mary and Edgar Degas, represented by Thomas Jay Ryan (of Hal Hartley's Henry Fool) as a kind of cute grump, allergic to flowers, children and dogs. (Though I happen to know that not only did Degas like dogs, he arranged to get one for Cassatt.) He utters his famous line about refusing to believe a woman could draw so well, offers practical advice about painting light coming through curtains ("give the paint in the background a scrubbed look") and doesn't change her name to his -- though it looked to me they might well sleep together after the show.
It's a silly thing, generally, but it stands up for the spiritual over the material, inner life over outward appearance, merit over class, talent over sex, the individual against (high) society, and for-art's-sake art as a human good, and aims to make creative eccentricity heroic. Such insanity is always welcome around these parts.
THUG LIFE IN D.C. HBO | Various times through May 25
TOTAL RECALL 2070 | Showtime Fridays around 11 p.m. (time may vary slightly)
MARY CASSATT: American Impressionist | HBO | Premieres Tuesday, May 11, 7 p.m.
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