As regular readers/depressives have no doubt surmised, most every weekend around here is about reading the New York Times — that is, ogling the pictures and sniffing the newsprint — and convincing ourselves that, just like Harry Hurt, we could do interesting things if we wanted to, that we aren't just inputs to an industrial contraption presently on a 48-hour cigarette break. The glossy girth of the Sunday Times serves such purposes quite well (so stay in your lane, weekday colleagues); the flimsy flaccidity of Saturday, not so much. Take today's Arts section, which contains reviews of four television programs premiering this weekend. Three of them — 75 percent! — are shows about animals.
What does it all mean? Have we become a species that can no longer face itself? More pressingly, should you tune in to Unforgettable Elephants (PBS) or Cat-Minster (GSN) tomorrow night? Answers follow.
Regarding WNET's The Gefilte Fish Chronicles (also Sunday night), Times critic Ron Wertheimer opens with some negative ontology:
Why is this documentary different from all other documentaries?
Indeed, indeed. Also, the answer is Gefilte fish, or rather, "a loving look at one extended family's 100-plus years of celebrating Passover." But, about the fish:
Preparing the meal is as important as eating it. Homemade gefilte fish is ground out by the tubful. "Cleaning the 18 chickens becomes a ball," Peppy says. Not to be confused with the uncountable matzo balls.... This record of a family and its joyful ritual is reality television in the best (and realest) sense. The celebration is leavened, but with heart. And that's kosher.
But might celebrations be leavened with...tusks? For, as Neil Genzlinger argues, Unforgettable Elephants might be just as touching a family-friendly Seder tale as Chronicles:
He succeeds by devoting most of the film to a single elephant family in Amboseli National Park in Kenya, following its wanderings, births and deaths for 15 years.... Mr. Colbeck presents a series of vignettes from the family's life, making a convincing case that the elephants display love, loyalty, humor and an array of other emotions, often in greater depth than many humans you could name.
And what of those cats? Ginia Bellafante's take on Cat-Minster: CFA International Cat Championship:
Cats of distinctive, potentially prizeworthy pedigree look like fat monkeys, old men or anorexics. And it must be said: the owners are very weird.... If dog shows reek of their own aristocratic leanings, cat shows betray a different element of class consciousness. What "Cat-Minster" largely reveals is regular working people desperate for the imprimatur of a certain kind of rarefied prestige.
Thus it seems that fried fish and pachyderms and felines are kind of like people, but also very different, and hard to understand, or maybe not meant to be understood at all. They are also all on TV, and of course you'll watch. And so once again, the Times aggressively reminds its readers that they've grown up to become hermetic cat ladies.