Lip Service

02.24.14

Do Not Defy Ronan Farrow’s Power Pout

Ronan Farrow debuted his show on MSNBC Monday. Are viewers looking beyond his beauty to take him seriously, and will he address his family scandals on air?

Do not defy Ronan Farrow’s lips. They are insistent, candy-pink pillows of power. And, cheez, can they ever pout. People bemoan how beautiful news anchors have to be these days, but it could be that Ronan Farrow is too pretty to present a news show on MSNBC, the first edition of which premiered Monday. MSBC’s newest presenter is 26, and looks 17: Death in Venice’s Tadzio reborn in a button down shirt and sports jacket. He may well have been born in high-definition.

We know Farrow is smart and funny: he brilliantly tweeted about doubts over his own paternity. We know he’s sharp: he also tweeted his disgust about Woody Allen, who may or may not be his father, who may or may not have abused his adopted sister Dylan.

Farrow, following in the activist, campaigning footsteps of his mother Mia Farrow, has been a UNICEF Spokesperson for Youth, a Special Adviser for Humanitarian and NGO Affairs in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and—when she was Secretary of State—Hillary Clinton’s Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues and Director of the State Department's Office of Global Youth Issues. It’s an illustrious progressive pedigree, and inevitably for such a well-connected brainbox hottie, now he’s got his own TV show.

There was a tension in the show between the prattling and gimmickry of the cable news furnace and Farrow’s own intellectual enquiry and commitment to reporting the un- or under-reported.

Those lips, stung by a thousand now-exhausted, venom-free bees, come with eyes that aren’t so much soulful as yearning, petulant, restless. Farrow smiles and butterflies flutter and stars shoot across the night sky. But when he wants answers, which is most of the time, he pouts, bringing a dramatic edge to discussions about the Ukraine and U.S. military cutbacks. In an interview about the minimum wage (with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell) Farrow quite properly asked Markell about why Delaware hadn’t raised the minimum wage to President Obama’s desired $10-plus level. All I could think is: Does Ronan Farrow even shave?

Sadly for gossip-hounds, there was no way Farrow was airing any family scandal on-screen, in this first show at least. But his gilded youth, the benediction of a celebrity upbringing and privilege and ease with power, was evident in his smooth marshaling of interviews with high-profile talking heads in and out of the studio, like former Obama and Clinton advisor David Axelrod and former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen. Farrow was showered with congratulations by guest upon guest, so much so that they got in the way of winding the segments up.

If Farrow’s sexuality is, as yet, publicly unstated, this first edition of his news show made matters perhaps clearer—unless he is taking metrosexuality to a new, intriguing level. His tone is peppy, tart, impatient. Grrrl sure loves her zingers. “She also has amazing hair,” Farrow said of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. He gave a campy edge to President Obama’s line that the U.S. governors were sizing up the drapes of the White House, savoring the repetition of “drapes.” To take us into one break, Farrow said, “You’re going to totally want to hang around for that.” In bars, he must be a nightmare flirt.

Of the $10,000 bounty Jezebel had offered Lena Dunham for un-retouched photos of her from a Vogue shoot, he said, “I mean I love her, but she isn’t that cheap.” Next, he opined that Dunham was indeed a “modern feminist,” who was “happy with her body, and also happy with a little retouching. Aren’t we all?” This facile, fallacious, beyond-gay banality actually produced a howl from deep within me. Just to prove we were back in high school, Dunham was Farrow’s “hero” while his “zero” was El Chapo.

Despite his Legally Blonde *snaps*, Farrow’s first MSNBC show at least wouldn’t be the day that he would reveal the extremely un-shocking news that he might be gay, despite being beset by gay-themed stories, with homophobic bills threatening to pass in Kansas and Arizona, whose Gov. Jan Brewer’s big blonde hair went tellingly unremarked upon.

Poor Farrow stands at a desk, like so many anchors today, being assailed by “breaking news,” a relentlessly rotating hamster wheel of global dysfunction that he understandably seemed to half-welcome and half-be-irritated by. On this first day, he tripped over links as various instructions were shouted in his ear; none of these stumbles were terrible and always came with one of his winning smiles. However, this viewer was alarmed every time after a commercial break at his wide-eyed and slightly too earnest, “Welcome back,” like a hostess concerned she might lose a guest midway through the main course.

Farrow was also desperate to make it clear that he is young and the show is young: the screen was a blizzard of images of burning buildings, guns, and gas masks—for Ukraine and much more. There is a partnership with social media start-up Vocativ: the resulting report, which seemed to be about cannabis and Colorado dumpsters, wasn’t immediately arresting. Much more intriguing might be a report Farrow has for tomorrow about American food being sent to Africa actually being bad economic news for the continent.

You sense that Farrow out in the field reporting will be a potential strong seam. Like many of its compadres, his show is weakest when it stops doing news and—like the worst, smuggest coffee klatch—brings in pundits to discuss things that have just been pundited anyway, and will likely be pundited on for the next two hours. And so Farrow chummily talked to ex RNC chairman Michael Steele and fellow MSNBC anchor Alex Wagner about gay rights and Kansas’s bid to make extreme spanking legally protected. This did lead Farrow to ask Steele if he had been spanked (he had), and Wagner too (wisely, she gave no answer), while nobody asked Farrow if he had been. Another Farrow/Allen publicity nightmare averted.

The show’s oddest conceit is “Battle of the Day,” in which viewers are invited to tweet, in Monday’s case about who is looking tougher in the Ukraine: the U.S. or Russia. (The U.S. won.) This was designed to show the “importance” of those watching at home (“YOU,” exclaimed Farrow’s plump lips patronizingly), which of course is nonsense. Such exercises are time-killing illusions of political participation.

This laziness extended to another segment where, under the guise of a “call for action,” Farrow asked viewers sinking under student debt to send pictures of themselves to the show, which the show would then tweet out. A handsome staffer was then wheeled out with his own debt story—when you have people on the show as guests, something has gone awry with research—but what effective, practical “call to action” would result from these pictures was unclear.

There was a tension in the show between the prattling and gimmickry of the cable news furnace and Farrow’s own intellectual enquiry and commitment to reporting the un- or under-reported. Can these two purposes be married happily? There could be an intriguing show here, if Farrow’s viewers can look past the lips.