Antihero Worship – The New York Times


The Emmy Awards are on Monday, after being postponed four months because of Hollywood’s labor disputes.

I’m tuning in to see the actors and creators of “The White Lotus” and “Succession” walk the red carpet in fancy dress, after which they will, with any luck, make some witty or inspiring speeches when they win their awards. These are two shows that I loved obsessively while they were on, and mourned ridiculously when they were over.

One of the most common criticisms I’ve heard from those who can’t stomach these shows is that they’re devoid of likable characters. The navel-gazing vacationers of “The White Lotus,” the scheming Roy family — these people are self-centered, they’re cruel, they’re hardly the type of people you’d choose to spend time with in real life, the complaint goes.

Yet if you’re looking for friends, the other nominated shows offer few options. In fact, unless you’re looking to befriend complicated, dangerous men, you’re out of luck. We’ve got “Barry,” (a hit man trying to exit his sordid metier); “Dahmer,” (a biopic on the serial killer); “The Old Man,” (a former C.I.A. operative with a dirty past); “Better Call Saul” (a crooked lawyer connected to a drug cartel); “Shrinking” (an ethically diminished therapist); and “Ted Lasso” (a criminally nice soccer coach). OK, maybe the last one isn’t so bad, but you get the idea. Ethically compromised, if not psychopathic, company abounds.

My question for those who don’t care for these shows because of the characters has been, “Why does a character have to be likable in order to be compelling?” Though I’ll admit this posture is a little condescending; it suggests I’m appreciating these shows on some higher aesthetic plane wherein I consider the art alone, without bringing a mundane desire for empathetic connection into the mix.

I recently happened on a piece in The Times that made me reconsider my position. In “Are We Too Concerned That Characters Be ‘Likable’?” from 2013, the authors Mohsin Hamid and Zoë Heller each take up the question. Heller dismisses the notion that caring about likability is silly, calling it “faux-highbrow nonsense.”

She cites David Foster Wallace, who wrote of John Updike’s 1997 novel, “Toward the End of Time,” that Updike’s characters had become increasingly unlikable, “without any corresponding indication that the author understood that they were repellent.” Wallace didn’t like the narrator of the book, but it was Updike’s apparent endorsement of the narrator’s horribleness that rankled him.

As I think more about the characters in “Succession” and “The White Lotus,” I realize it’s not that I’m unconcerned with whether they are likable. The truth is, I think I actually like them. I don’t see their solipsism and immorality as irredeemable, but as magnifications of my own flaws and those of the people I love. I also experience, as Hamid describes it, “a desire, through fiction, for contact with what we’ve armored ourselves against in the rest of our lives.” That kind of contact is exhilarating.

Perhaps this is why I experienced such grief when the shows ended, and why I’m looking forward to the Emmy Awards a little like one would look forward to a reunion with old pals.

  • The British Museum started a search for a new leader, four months after the last director resigned over revelations that a curator had looted items from its storerooms.

  • Franz Welser-Möst, the Cleveland Orchestra’s ​longest-serving conductor, is beginning to wind down his career.

  • The Field Museum in Chicago covered several display cases that feature Native American cultural items, as a federal law took effect requiring museums to obtain tribes’ consent to display their artifacts.

  • Sinead O’Connor died from natural causes, according to a London coroner’s office. The singer died in July at 56.

  • Video game developers are increasingly selling unfinished games — a practice known as an “early access” release — which helps them finance their work and identify bugs.

  • Álvaro Enrigue has long been obsessed with the first meeting of the Aztecs and the Spanish conquistadors. His new novel, “You Dreamed of Empires,” brings the moment to life.

  • Amalija Knavs, the mother of Melania Trump, died this week at 78. She was a formative influence on the first lady’s sense of glamour.

  • Lois Kirschenbaum was known as a steady presence in the cheap seats at the Metropolitan Opera. So New York arts groups were surprised to learn she had left them $1.7 million in her will.

  • The Directors Guild of America awards nominations were announced, with Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig and Yorgos Lanthimos in the running for the top award.

An American warship launched a missile on Friday.Credit…U.S. Central Command, via Reuters
  • The U.S. carried out strikes against the Houthi militia in Yemen for a second day, continuing the effort to degrade the group’s ability to attack ships in the Red Sea.

  • Since the Oct. 7 attacks, President Biden has endeavored to avoid a wider war in the Middle East. Now, the question seems to be: How wide will it get?

  • F.D.A. scientists recommended removing marijuana from the nation’s most restrictive category of drugs.

  • Russia has regained the upper hand in eastern Ukraine. Its troops are on the attack as Ukrainian supplies and morale run low.

  • Millions of Taiwan’s citizens lined up at ballot booths today for a presidential election that could shape the island’s tense relationship with China.

  • Heavy snow fell across much of the northern U.S., disrupting schools and making travel precarious. A frigid mass of Arctic air will descend on the country this weekend; see how cold it will be in your area.

  • Microsoft topped Apple as the world’s most valuable publicly traded company, driven by the success of its A.I. business.

📺 “Sort Of” (Thursday): Even the nicest comedies have to end sometime, but three seasons seems too few for this mellow, finely observed series, which aired on the CBC and is now streaming on Max. Gentle, sardonic and imbued with the bittersweet tang of lived experience, the Toronto-set series stars Bilal Baig as Sabi, a queer, nonbinary Pakistani-Canadian nanny. This season finds Sabi wrestling with grief and mental health struggles as they step (in some very cute shoes) more fully into themselves.

📚 “More: A Memoir of an Open Marriage” by Molly Roden Winter (Tuesday): The marriage plot has taken on a few more complications in recent years. This new memoir about the author’s experiments with polyamory explores these twists. I’ll confess that I’m especially interested not only because of a deep curiosity about other people’s intimate relationships, but also because much of its action takes place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, my own neighborhood. This book ought to make the people-watching at P.T.A. meetings a lot more interesting.

Some weekends are made for long, involved cooking projects. But then there are the other, lazier Saturdays when you need a dinner so easy it practically cooks itself — preferably from pantry staples that don’t call for a trip to the store. Ready in 30 minutes, my recipe for rosemary white beans with frizzled onions and tomato is a savory mix of canned cannellini beans, browned onions and fresh or dried rosemary, simmered in olive oil until the beans turn creamy and rich. Serve it with slices of toasted country bread drizzled with more olive oil for a meal you didn’t have to do very much to produce.

Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs, N.F.L. playoffs: At times this season, it seemed as though nothing could slow down the Dolphins’ offense. But what if they’re too cold to move? Mother Nature is most important player in tonight’s first-round matchup, as the temperature in Kansas City is expected to be below zero degrees Fahrenheit at kickoff, making it one of the coldest games in N.F.L. history. (With the wind chill, it could feel between -20 and -30 degrees.) That could be bad news for Miami, who have lost the past 10 times they played in a game below 40 degrees, according to SB Nation. 8 p.m. Eastern on Peacock

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