Thursday, March 27, 2008

Martha Stewart Living

Growing up working-class in Jersey City, her mother, her namesake, taught her how to sew. Her father, a Willy Loman-like salesman and failed doctor, instilled in her an intense ambition, as well as a passion for gardening. Her grandparents taught her how to can and preserve foods. Her elderly neighbors next door taught her to bake pies and cakes.

It was a perfect storm of home economics.

A serious child, she went to Barnard on a scholarship and made money as a part time model. After college, she began a career as a stockbroker and moved to Connecticut with her husband. They restored and moved into a now-200 year old farmhouse.

It took nothing less to produce the most prominent professional homemaker the world had ever seen.

She became an editor at House Beautiful magazine and published the combination cookbook/party journal Entertaining. She became a common name in the New York Times and a common face on the Today Show. In time, she partnered with K-Mart, got her name on four magazine imprints, authored countless books, sold a nearly infinite range Martha-brand kitchen supplies, started a regular blog that she allegedly authors, stamped her name on a 24-hour satellite radio channel, founded a wine label, makes regular public appearances...

and was standing right in front of me a week ago, talking on the phone. That's part of the show. Her producer had a baby. The first five minutes of the show was Martha talking on the phone with her producer. I could read the teleprompter. Martha used it for talking points for the phone call, but she didn't follow it to the letter. She interrupted the new mama frequently.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, some stats:

Place Martha's show would get if I ranked all other shows in order of which has the brightest and cleanest studio:1

Number of apparently functional rooms that exist as a working part of her set: 4 (show kitchen, back kitchen, craft space, greenhouse)

Gifts I got: (1) small bottle of water before the show, (1) dog leash, given out frantically during commercial break by the warm-up guy, (1) ticket to the Bronx Botanical Garden

Anyway, the studio: way too much legroom. The windows are huge and bright and painted fairly convincingly like the Manhattan skyline. A hallway that cameras will never show is decorated with bookshelves and cabinets and carpet rather than being neglected. Much thought was put into this design.

The warm-up guy was short, stubbly-bearded, beady-eyed, and bespectacled. He sported a thick New York accent, mildly effeminate mannerisms, and a painful need to please everyone, especially if that means running around in circles, moaning, flustered. He smiled too much and would most likely give a foot massage to every elderly woman who asked. He shouted"ladies!" when he wanted everyone's attention. He would not have been out of place on Sex in the City; in fact, he seemed out of place for not in the company of Ms. Bradshaw and her friends. In short, he seems less a natural human being than a carefully constructed character whose main purpose is to get women from middle America to exclaim, "oh, I just love New Yorkers!"

He told lousy jokes and danced the same funny neck dance several times. We waited for Martha. Jennifer Lopez and Jay-Z blasted over the speakers.

Martha came out and talked a lot about cookies, how to make her version of Girl Scouts' thin mints (she claims hers are better), and her new cookie book. She spoke, as usual, in that weird low voice. That "I caught a cold in the 4th grade and never remembered to get over it" voice. That "I'm actually a dead person and this is how dead people talk, didn't you know?" voice. She used spatulas. She had four sizes, each available in either wood or plastic, and she talked about how each one could be useful. She hawked that shit like a street vendor. Her media company is called Martha Stewart Omnimedia. That, to me, is a fine example of futuristic terror.

I wish I had scathing criticism of Martha's show. I wish I had stunning revelations. But to be honest, it's very tightly run and it delivers on its promises (boring though they may be to straight men). If Martha's your bag and you're visiting the New York City area, I can honestly recommend her show.

I leave you with Conan O'Brien visiting her on her 500th show, then a list. The clip isn't scandalous or even insightful. Instead, it's harmless, current, and mildly entertaining.

A list of things that prompted applause (not comprehensive):
the show cutting to commercial
the show coming on after commercial
a doily
a basket

List of things that failed to attract applause besides a single clap from me (which was quickly followed by embarrassment):
Patricia Clarkson announcing she's in the new Scorsese film

Tune in next week for 106 and Park (BET's version of TRL)

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