2012: The Year in TV Moments
Entry 11: Rachel Maddow makes a cocktail.
MSNBC, Aug. 3, 9:55 p.m.
The host of The Rachel Maddow Show did much commendable work this past year. Covering Hurricane Sandy, she demonstrated a talent for framing big pictures, looking ahead to questions about infrastructure before floodwaters had begun to recede. Anchoring MSNBC’s election night, she was the picture of relaxed command, balancing analytic cool with her own sense of fun. Her combination of perspicacity and personability is rare in itself, but also it says something delightful about her temperament that she extends the definition of hosting duties to include checking up on your glass.
Maddow sometimes wraps up a Friday show with a “Cocktail Moment,” chatting about the proper preparation of a mixed drink as she fixes one, sometimes slightly improperly, with her occasional little spills and acknowledged procedural goofs contributing an endearing flavor of home cooking. Though Maddow always shows respect for the ingredients and for the audience, her tone is never highfalutin, as indicated by the logo for the segment, which is dominated by the pink profile of a neon flamingo. It is refreshing to see a political-news personality devote a few minutes to a hobby. The personal is not political, and this rounder portrait contributes to the sense of cozy chumminess Maddow generally projects.
In 2012, she shook up a stinger and a Frisco, and she improved our understanding of the improved whiskey cocktail, but perhaps the best introduction to Maddow’s mixological charms is her tribute to the obituary, which she delivered late in the summer. Her approach here was oblique: Maddow first explained that her staff has been having a fine time getting grossed out by a Scandinavian licorice-type treat one producer brought into the office. The candy is not dandy, though the host’s spit take was, and on the theme of anise, she pivoted to the drink, which is effectively a martini variation involving a quarter-ounce of absinthe. She fixed the thing right at her desk, with one of the cameras peeking over her shoulder, the awkwardness of which heightened the charm. Implicitly arguing that the correct martini is five parts gin to one part vermouth, explicitly acknowledging her nervousness, filling time by scolding James Bond for ordering such things to be shaken, she refreshed the televisual palate. In general, Maddow does not make time for the frivolity that so much cable-news programming exists to perpetrate; she instead serves it in distilled form. It goes down smooth.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.