January 7, 2013

Once, summer was dead. Heat choked New York City, forcing culture-consuming citizens to flee boiling theaters for polo grounds of the Hamptons or the sideshows of Coney Island. Even after air conditioning made culture possible year-round, the arts have never really given up the summer break. Opera is strictly a cold-weather pursuit. Almost no Broadway plays dare risk a July opening. Until cable TV upended the schedule, summertime on the tube meant reruns, game shows and more reruns. Even film, which feasts on summertime, follows its own nine month schedule, with January, February and March serving as the dead period.

There is something reassuring about all this. How nice it is, at season’s end, to look back over the last nine months and remember when it all began. To rank your favorites, to remember the worst of the bunch, to mourn those plays or television shows that closed before their time. But even better is to be where we are now—in the middle of it all. The holidays, thank God, are behind us, and the next great wave of new stuff is about to hit. We have new plays, new operas, new TV shows, and the worst movies we will see until August. Some of it will be worth remembering—most of it will be trash. In either case, this is what I’m looking forward to loving or hating, across four formats—because in 2013, all culture is the same, so long as it’s longer than 140 characters.

Broadway: Lucky Guy. Today’s announcement that Courtney B. Vance and Maura Tierney are joining the cast of this April production is icing on what is already a rather stacked cake. The play, a comedy about 1980s tabloid wars, was written by the late Nora Ephron, stars Tom Hanks, and is directed by George C. Wolfe, an accomplished director whose name makes me think of George C. Scott. This will be Hanks’ Broadway debut, and will hopefully mark his return to being funny. He used to be funny—remember? Ephron’s only other Broadway play, 2002′s Imaginary Friends, bombed hard. Expect critics to be kinder to this one.

Television: Smash. I watched every episode of the first season of Smash, and I could not tell you how it ended. Ellis got fired, I think, and that’s all that sunk in. Doesn’t matter—I’ll be glued to the set for season two. The first season of this show was some of the most remarkable television I’d ever seen, in that each episode contained one or two moments of real quality, and seven or eight of absolute, unutterable garbage. Replacing the Broadway-savvy Theresa Rebeck with Gossip Girl veteran Josh Safran suggests that the scale may have tilted farther towards garbage. Even so, I’m locked in through episode three.

Opera: Giulio Cesare. My personal cultural season runs like this: baseball in the summertime, and opera the rest of the year. They have more in common than you might think. They each run about three hours, bore the pants off the uninitiated, occasionally rise to the level of transcendental beauty, and offer employment opportunities for freakishly talented fat men. Trying to watch more theater has kept me away from Lincoln Center this season, but there’s lots to look forward to this spring. If I drop the ball completely, my firewall will be Handel’s Giulio Cesare, a beautiful opera which is being treated to a new production. If the stars align, on April 4th I could go straight from the 1:10 game at Citi Field to the 7 o’clock opera at Lincoln Center. Culture doesn’t get any more convenient than that.

Film: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Okay, you caught me. There’s no way I’m going to see this movie. But as the most abysmal film on the January calendar, it marks the official start of Hollywood’s fallow season, and I can’t wait to read the reviews. A blatant attempt to cash in on the non-success of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, this air-headed “continuation” of the Hansel and Gretel myth is too stupid to be real. And yet, it is. As theater, television and opera kick into gear, film is about to get as dumb as it possibly can. January—what could be more fun?

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