Oy, I’ve never conducted an interview in my life and suddenly I’m Barbara Walters! First I get to send some crazy questions to the great AmbivaBlog and post her replies and then I had the pleasure yesterday of doing a Q&A with Jill Soloway. Jill is the co-executive producer and writer of what I consider to be the best show on television, “Six Feet Under.” The show is about to call it quits after five intense seasons. Jill wrote a novella called “Jodi K” that was just published in an edited collection by Susie Bright called “Three Kinds of Asking For It.” It’s a wistful story of longing and innocence that delves unabashedly into the taboo topic of what happens when a 14-year-old girl starts fantasizing about her best friend’s father. In the fall, Simon & Schuster will publish Jill’s brilliant memoir called “Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants.” Not since David Sedaris have I read a book that made me laugh so hard that loved ones were concerned for my health! Jill covers all sorts of topics in her “womanifesto,” from her obsession with celebrity (why would I relate to that?) and her earliest sexual exploits, to summer camp, sororities, and Monica Lewinsky.
Jill wrote some of the best episodes of “Six Feet Under” including the third season finale called “I’m Sorry I’m Lost” in which Nate’s wife, Lisa Kimmel, bit the dust. Lili Taylor’s Lisa was one of my favorite characters on the series and I often found myself defending her in the same way that I stood up for Baroness von Schrader in “The Sound of Music.” Most people I know saw Lisa Kimmel as Nate’s shrewish ball and chain but I always found her to be one of the most appealing characters on the show and the best thing that ever happened to tortured Nate. Why shouldn’t someone call him on his shit? I couldn’t bear the idea that Lisa had killed herself (she never would have left her daughter, especially knowing that her arch rival Brenda would likely step in) and I was “relieved” in Season 4 to learn that she had been offed by her brother-in-law with whom she was having an affair (now that I could believe—I never said I thought Lisa was perfect!). Am I the only one who is creeped out that Maya is calling Brenda “Mommy” this season? It’s not like she was an infant when Lisa died. At least Brenda had the decency in a recent episode to talk to Maya about her dead mother.
When I was with Jill I considered chloroforming her and holding her hostage until she told me whether Nate died at the end of last Sunday’s episode but I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Jill’s mom Elaine lives near my sister in Chicago and after the Season 3 finale we practically forced bamboo shoots under Elaine’s fingernails to make her cough up what happened to Lisa Kimmel but Elaine wouldn’t budge. Those Soloway gals sure know how to keep a secret! Remind me to hide in their attic during the next Holocaust. Oh wait, never mind—they’re likely to be on the Nazis’ short list too, especially since Jill admitted that she is becoming more Jew-identified the older she gets. Some of the funniest parts of her book are the ways she describes the difference between her Gentile boyfriend’s family (“where he’s from, people feel it’s rude to ask anything more personal than ‘care from some sweet tea?’”) and the boundary-free, total disclosure zone that is Planet Soloway. The original title of Jill’s memoir was “Why Do Jews Go to the Bathroom with the Door Open?” but it was changed when the publisher worried that people might think it was too Jewish or full of jokes to read in the john! I could so relate to Jill’s accounts of how her family members spent hours talking about what they were going to do or just did do in the bathroom. This must be a Jewish thing. The other day I was listening to a tape recording I found of my family from March 1, 1960 (I was six months old and can only be heard burping and farting) and half of my parents’ questions to my brother and sister are about being on the toilet. “Did you make today, Susie? What did you make? Where did you make, at Buba’s house? Brucie, do you have to go pish?” Why are we Jews so obsessed with going to the bathroom? My siblings answered these questions on the tape as non-chalantly as if they were being asked their favorite color.
I think there are four more episodes of “Six Feet Under” left and I’m already experiencing withdrawal. Has there ever been a better depiction of family dysfunction? The show has one of the best casts in the history of television. Don’t you love that Frances Conroy’s Ruth Fisher and Lauren Ambrose’s Claire really look like they could be mother and daughter? As much as I wanted to hurl myself into the TV set and become one of the Waltons when I was growing up, I never thought those people looked anything like each other, even with their red dye jobs. At least the Brady girls looked like they could be related. Jill Soloway first rose to prominence when she and her talented sister Faith produced “The Real Live Brady Bunch” in which they got their actor friends to present actual “Brady Bunch” scripts as live theatre. It was a brilliant concept that appeared at just the right time for aging baby boomers and the show became a phenomenon across the country, leading to other Soloway collaborations that skewered pop culture such as “The Miss Vagina Pageant” and “Not Without My Nipples.” But it was Jill’s infamous short story called “Courtney Cox’s Asshole” that landed her the plum “Six Feet Under” gig. (Oy, the search engines are going to go nuts now that I’ve used “vagina” and “asshole” in the same paragraph!)
In addition to Lauren Ambrose and Frances Conroy, I’m really going to miss Rachel Griffiths’ troubled Brenda, Justina Machado’s fiery Vanessa, and Joanna Cassidy’s brilliantly twisted Margaret Chenowith. If Cassidy hasn’t won an Emmy yet for her magnificent portrayal of Brenda and Billy’s psychiatrist mother, I’m going to break into Lucille Ball’s crypt at Forest Lawn and steal her one myself. Oh, and don’t forget the superb recurring characters played by Patricia Clarkson and Kathy Bates, both featured in Jill’s recent episode “The Rainbow of Her Reasons.” This episode included the tour-de-force ballad that Lauren Ambrose belted out on top of her desk (to the tune of “You Light Up My Life”) at her miserable temp job as she struggled with her dreaded pantyhose:
Most of the female characters on “Six Feet Under” could be categorized as “difficult women.” As if we’re not all “difficult” in some way. The one character who seemed to represent simplicity, George’s daughter Maggie, just jumped in the sack with Nate while his pregnant wife dragged herself to the Maggie’s reviled Quaker meeting at Nate’s request. Oh, Nate, that is so low! On the other hand, I’m happy to see that all of the expectations we had for these characters at the beginning of this season are being blown to bits. Interesting that David and Keith now seem the most traditional of the lot. As gay TV characters go, they’re so well written that they make “Queer as Folk” look like a minstrel show.
Yikes, I could babble about “Six Feet Under” for hours on end, until the same white obituary notice from the beginning of every episode appears on your computer screen, only this one will read, “Danny Miller’s Blog, 2004-2005.” I’ll post a link to the Jill Soloway article when it comes out. The only bad part of the interview is that now I have to listen to my own voice on the tape as I transcribe it. What a nightmare, especially as I realize that I talked way too much and kept interrupting my subject with anecdotes of my own. So much for my interviewing skills. As Kendall’s Texas relatives would say, “that boy missed a great opportunity to hush!”
I was driving through Beverly Hills this morning and stopped at a light on Santa Monica Boulevard. When the light turned green I almost didn’t see that someone was still crossing the intersection in front of my car. The 70-year-old man gave me an accusing look through his oversized glasses before moving on. And then I realized—it was Larry King. Was that a sign that my interviewing days are numbered?