NEW SERIES: ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM
9 p.m. Sundays
I've often been heard to call TLC "The Freak Show Channel" in this space, owing to its tendency to peek in the back door of rather odd American subcultures. While there's plenty of room to mock TLC for that — I have to cut it some slack. In showing non-mainstream relationships and family structures, TLC is actually helping take away the "Other" factor from American lives that some might consider bizarre, and giving folks an opportunity to consider why the people living those lives choose to live them in the first place. Now TLC is turning its lens on a group that is routinely ignored and/or reviled in this country: American-born Muslims. In their new show "All-American Muslim," TLC takes their cameras to Dearborn, Mich., which currently has the highest concentration of Muslim-American families in the country. The show follows the fortunes of five fairly well-to-do Lebanese-ancestry clans in Dearborn. The blogosphere has caught fire about the show since it debuted last week, with Far Right poo-in-hair whackjobs decrying it as part of the creeping Islamization of America, the middle calling it groundbreaking TV, and some Muslim critics complaining that making a show about upper-crust Lebanese families living in a Muslim-majority enclave and calling it "All-American Muslim" is like saying the women on "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" represent the goals and aspirations of every woman who ever lived. I share some of those concerns after watching the pilot episode, though the show does have its surprising moments. The best story seems to be that of Shadia Amen — a heavily tattooed and pierced young Muslim woman — and her fiance, Jeff McDermott. Jeff is a white dude, and he has made the decision to convert to Islam in order to marry Shadia. Watching him try to navigate his Love Boat through the waters of a culture not his own in coming weeks will surely be one of the best reasons to tune in. It's definitely worth checking out at least a time or two if you don't mind the reality format.
Writer/Director Christopher Nolan has become a big wheel in Hollywood these days, directing back-to-back blockbusters that redefined and significantly boosted the IQ of the "Batman" series, then following up that with "Inception," which will surely be studied by overly-serious film students from here until the end of time. Every director has to start somewhere, and the good news is the two films that served as the jumping-off point for Nolan's stellar career are both on Netflix Instant. The first is his 1998 micro-budget feature "Following." The film details the odd existence of a young writer named Bill (Jeremy Theobald), who picks out random strangers in public places, then follows them to their homes. One day, Bill follows a man named Cobb (Alex Haw) who turns out to be a burglar. Cobb agrees to teach Bill the tricks of his nefarious trade. Before long, Bill has been sucked into a world of deception and murder, with the film standing as a clear signpost in the direction of Nolan's future use of themes like the nature of truth and who you can trust. Nolan's 2000 follow-up, "Memento," chases those themes even further down the rabbit hole, and the result is a brain-cramp of a film that turns the formula detective thriller on its head the same way "Inception" would later stir-fry the heist flick. "Memento" follows Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) a former insurance investigator who loses his ability to make new memories after being beaten during an attack in which an assailant raped and murdered his wife. Determined to get revenge for her but unable to recall even the slightest detail for more than a minute or so, Leonard resorts to tattooing the information he uncovers about her killer all over his body and taking photos of everything he thinks is relevant with an Instamatic camera. If that wasn't weird and awesome enough for you, "Memento" is actually two films in one: A black and white film in which time runs forward from the point of Shelby awaking in a crummy hotel room, and a color film where time runs backward from the point of a cold-blooded murder in an abandoned building. While that might sound weird enough to make you never want to watch "Memento," give it a chance. Nolan pulls it off brilliantly, and where those two time streams converge is one of the most incredible and bizarre conclusions ever committed to film.