Mandel Maven's Nest Remote Patrol: Quality Television
I am as much an auteurist with TV as I am with movies, as TV has become a writer's medium, even though I can’t keep up with all the quality series.
from NYU Alumni Magazine, Issue #20, Spring 2013 (I’m University College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 1973)
[Q]uirky shows . . . always test poorly. They need time to build an audience. . .I don't want to be one of those "hour" guys who is all bitter about reality TV. . . The slot machine of television. Keep feeding it quarters and eventually you'll hit the jackpot. But if a network like Fox can't nurture and properly launch a scripted hour--it's becoming the network that develops interesting programming, then drops it. The network where I don't want to watch what's cool, because my heart will be broken. . . I am ready. I have now made my bones. I've worked with great people, proven that I can run a show, and it's time for me to create my own. Well, you know-- it seems like a really weird time to try to do that. . . I'm too tired to be mad. It's hard to be mad when they pay you this much money. . . You know, if you position the thing to fail it's going to fail. . . And it's like "More proof that something odd can't survive" -- when you have your hands around its throat.
---Tim Minear, producer of the quickly cancelled by Fox Wonderfalls (complete unaired season out on DVD; all rerun on Logo network) and Firefly, by Emily Nussbaum, "Same Night, Same Channel, Same Giant Bummer," in The New York Times, 4/18/2004
[John] Landgraf, [the president] of FX. . .raised a more basic point for the basic cable channels: “One of the challenges everyone faces is, are there more quality shows than the audience can humanly watch?” in “Cable TV Is Having Breakout Summer”, by Bill Carter, The New York Times, 8/9/2007
NO! (especially if they are available On Demand for time-shifting DVR or streaming online, even with ads)
Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer for Netflix said: "[A]fter licensing the North American rights to 26 episodes of [the American version of House of Cards]: 'The economics of serialized one-hour dramas are not looking great for networks, but they’re really popular for viewers. . .We can be the savior to this genre of television.'” from "Netflix Gets Into the TV Business" by Brian Stelter, The New York Times, 3/18/2011
From the days that Stephen Cannell put his mark on Wiseguy by creating the arc to Steven Bochco's revolutionary continuing story lines of Hill Street Blues (2 seasons out on DVD) to the revealing domesticity of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick in thirtysomething and My So-Called Life (in DVD box set), I learned to follow the writer who chooses to work in TV as an art form, particularly those with a vision and a story to tell in dramas. So my Q or whatever scores are also high for: Paul Abbott, J. J. Abrams, Judd Apatow, Paul Attanasio, Alan Ball, Edward Bernero, Henry Bromell (R.I.P.), Chris Carter, David Chase, Robert Cochran, Tom Fontana, Jane Espenson, Diane Frolov, Bryan Fuller, Vince Gilligan, Michael Hirst, Tim Kring, Lynda LaPlante, Michael Loceff, David Milch, Ronald Moore, Ryan Murphy, Siobhan Byrne O'Connor, the Palladinos, David Shore, David Simon, Jill Soloway, Aaron Sorkin, Thania St. John, Joel Surnow, Kurt Sutter, John Wells, Joss Whedon, Jacqueline Zambrano.
Many of these who have had hit shows are interviewed in
Showrunners: A Documentary Film and its companion book by Tara Bennett Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show.
Every time you watch a so-called reality show you're giving these brilliant architects less real estate in the TV world to build on! (let alone other creative union members.) Here's my recommendations on the writers to watch what they have to say. (updated 10/31/2013) Full creative credits are at the IMDb. All times are Eastern.
Lilith Watch: Critical Guide to Jewish Women on TV
American Born Chinese
- In AMERICAN BORN CHINESE: Michelle Yeoh and Jim Liu - Disney/Carl Lopez-Calleja
(8 episodes on Disney+) A high school comedy that’s on-target about mean girls and guys vs. the different kids (Ben Wang as sophomore "Jin Wang"), disguises a clever tripartite story about Asian-American representation on American TV that makes this for more than a teen audience. Based on Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel, that I haven’t seen, showrunner Kelvin Yu, and a mix of many different Asians, work on the creative staff and all-stars on screen.
The second layer is a play on the Chinese classic Journey to the West, that has been re-interpreted countless times-- a new Chinese student (Taiwanese Jim Liu as "Wei-Chen") is really the rebellious son of the Monkey King Sun Wukong (Hong Kong films actor Daniel Wu). Almost an entire episode takes place among the feuding gods to contextualize the supernatural father/son and thwarted friends and enemies, wigs, costumes, martial arts, and all. Seen in the above still is the inestimable just-Oscar-crowned Michelle Yeoh as she shifts her two guises on earth as an “Auntie” and as the goddess "Guanyin" (loved the amusing scene of her frustrated superpowers at trying to put together an Ikea table), and of course she gets in some kick-fighting.
Most original is the third element, a biting satire of a typical old sit-com, that featured an Asian-American male character "Freddy Wong” as an immigrant nincompoop – even as we also see that the actor who played him (Oscar-winner Ke Huy Quan) became a Shakespearean teacher. There’s a related side story of the high schooler’s mother "Christine Wang” (Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann) gaining entrepreneurial confidence while bickering with her husband "Simon Wang” (Singapore actor Chin Han)’s lack of initiative at his job, though his story line was clearer than hers, maybe because of the seeming shortage of female writers and directors in the series. (5/24/2023)
Arrested Development (I haven’t watched the streming seasons. As to the original episodes: All 4 seasons out on DVD, plus a “making of” documentary. According to Hollywood Reporter 7/27/2006: "licensed simultaneously to Internet portal MSN, and cable channels HDNet and G4 for a three-year period starting in September . Comcast-owned G4's deal covers basic cable rights to the series, which ran from 2003-06 on Fox, while HDNet will have exclusive high-definition television access to the show. G4 will begin running the series daily in a primetime slot in October ; HDNet will air the show with two back-to-back episodes on Wednesday nights starting in September . MSN will debut its presentation slightly later than the other two licensees because it is creating an interactive, fully featured environment in which to show "Arrested." All of the episodes will be available on demand throughout the license period rather than scheduled to be shown one at a time." I have not yet seen any of the subsequent seasons shown on various streaming and other services.
Fans are anxiously awaiting the feature film follow-up. Brash, satirical way to deny that a grossly fiscally irresponsible real estate family named "Bluth" whose family patriarch, as usual in TV Land written by Jewish men, here produced by Mitchell Hurwitz, is played by a distinctively Jewish actor (Jeffrey Tambor-- and his wife is played by Jessica Walter who also frequently plays Jewish mothers) but he was cast at the last minute) converted to Judaism in prison and uses it as shrewdly entrepreneurially as Madonna's kabbalah promotions. It is blessedly free of a laugh track, tapes on many sets and has an absolutely delightfully absurd dysfunctional family. Jason Bateman, as the sane keystone--as sane as a widower with a teen son can be bicycle-riding in L.A. while living in a model home with one's adult siblings-- is an adorable, simply lovable straight man who gets off wry zingers as the others throw impossible situations at him. Also love the jabs at corporate malfeasance a la Tyco etc. One of the few sitcoms since Seinfeld where you can re-watch episodes and laugh just as heartily again and again. (updated 1/28/2018)
Better Call Saul (on AMC, 3seasons on DVD) How improbable that a follow-up prequel to the brilliant Breaking Bad could be not just good, but enthralling and poignant, thanks to Jonathan Banks as future scary hit man enforcer “Mike Ehrmantraut” and especially Bob Odenkirk as the conscience-stricken shyster lawyer who used to be “Jimmy McGill”. (updated 1/28/2018)
Chernobyl (mini-series on HBO) – Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid. An absolute wow! Not only did my husband also watch, which is highly unusual, but we both listened to the podcast discussion with the creator Craig Mazin, whose previous credits give no hint to me that he could do such a well-researched docu-drama, let alone with such superb casting of riveting actors in main and secondary parts, all within a mind-blowingly credible production design. (7/2/2019)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (on HBO - repeated various times throughout the week and On Demand. 9 seasons on DVD.) Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, takes his homage to George Burns's groundbreaking TV persona and techniques even further. I was no fan of Seinfeld when it was on first run, finding the four lead characters just too misanthropic. But in living a Groundhog Day experience of my family forcing me to watch the reruns every night, I've started to laugh at them. Curb is even funnier, as it creates more sympathy for the curmudgeon "Larry" character as it shows him and his actual pretty obnoxious friends amidst the foibles of life in contemporary, successful L.A.-- --after all he is the one who blows up over the waiting procedures in his doctor's office, uses a water bottle and a collectible doll in unlikely places, and makes sort of un-PC comments in a PC group--who is a victim of very funny coincidences that he's not entirely innocent in fomenting. The showdown Larry accidentally set up between the survivor and "The Survivor" was bust a gut funny in the penultimate episode of the 4th season. I keep specific tabs on the hilarious Jewish woman characters Susie Green, Anna, others in L.A., and others in NYC. (updated 6/6/2012)
Disclaimer: Not only have I missed Seasons 7 – 11 and have yet to watch them streaming on HBO Max, I only learned in late 2009 that Emmy-winning executive producer David Mandel is my second cousin once removed. (updated 7/10/2022)
Dark Winds (on AMC, 2nd season Summer 2023) While the “name” executive producers are Robert Redford and George R.R. Martin in acquiring the rights to Tony Hillerman’s “Leaphorn & Chee” mystery book series for TV, co-showrunners Chris Eyre and Graham Roland bring indigenous authenticity to the sophisticated writing, dynamic casting (particularly lead Zahn McClarnon as “Joe Leaphorn"), directing, and the New Mexico setting that leaves John Ford movies way behind. (updated 5/22/2023)
David Makes Man
Docu-Series It took me awhile to parse the differences between contrived reality series and “docu-series” that are more like documentaries chopped up into episodes, usually with too much narration and repetition, that are like descendants of PBS’s progenitor An American Family. In addition to general PBS series of feature and short documentary films on Independent Lens and POV, and on its digital World Channel Doc World, America ReFramed, Pacific Heartbeat, and Reel South:
On commercial television:
Welcome to Wrexham (on FX, 2nd season planned) – While too highly edited and un-chronological to be considered “reality TV”, this crosses into documentary by how it follows the purchase of the oldest Wales football clubs by Hollywood actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, along with the team members, staff, crew, and especially the fans. Surprisingly entertaining! (10/7/2022)
Keep This Between Us (on FreeForm/Hulu) – Dumped during Summer 2022, and ironically shown on a channel that shows just the kind of fiction with teacher/student affairs that this documentary decries. Executive producer/filmmaker Cheryl Nichols tells her story of “grooming” by her high school teacher (a bit repetitively over four episodes). But she well succeeds in filling out the truths behind and around her own abuse, as well as drawing out other victims on theirs. The first episode was co-directed by Amy Berg, who has specialized in documentaries on pedophiles, and the others were directed by Jenna Rosher. Revelations go beyond the abuser to how fellow teachers, principals, administrators, and those above them keep these situations so quiet that abusers can easily move from school district, even within states, let alone elsewhere. (9/27/2022)
The Preppy Murder: Death in Central Park (at 2019 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival)
Finding Justice (on BET) – Aimed at young adult African-American audiences, this six-part docu-series includes talking head journalists, activists, and academic experts with, most effectively, very immediate footage of discussions, protests and constructive actions taken on these issues as they play out in such cities as Tampa, St. Louis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Baltimore, and how young African-Americans are working for change. Episode 1: Stand Your Ground; Episode 2: Cash Bail; Episode 3: Voter Suppression; Episode 4: Criminalization of Kids; Episode 5: Police Brutality; Episode 6: The Lead Paint Crisis. The series is credited to celebrity Executive Producers Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, and dream Hampton, among others. (updated 4/13/2019).
The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook (Shown on Oxygen Channel in the U.S.) Produced, directed and co-written by Sally Aitken, the six episodes covered the people and places, past and present of all of Cook’s voyages throughout the Pacific Ocean, to south, north, east and west. Sam Neill was a charming and genuinely interested guide, with fascinating emphasis on indigenous cultures and experts for information and perspectives. (updated 7/18/2021)
Surviving R. Kelly (On Lifetime) Over six episodes (Ep 1 “The Pied Piper of R & B”; Ep 2 “Hiding in Plain Sight”; Ep 3 “Sex Tape Scandal”; Ep 4 “The People vs. R. Kelly”; Ep 5 “All the Missing Girls”; Ep 6 “Black Girls Matter”), this unsual docu-series, executive produced by hip hop journalist dream hampton, interviewed victims, family members, former employees and collaborators (only one with a hidden identity) – all African-American-- with the most frank and explicit descriptions of sexual abuse, let alone on minor girls, that may have ever been heard on television, and music and entertainment journalists, as well as activists against abuse of females and African-Americans, particularly #MuteRKelly and #MeToo. (Only rock critic Ann Powers was not African-American, as she compared his behavior and the acceptance of his being surrounded by teen girls to many pop/rock musicians since the 1950’s.) The footage included on-camera efforts by parents to try and contact their now over-18 years old daughters in Kelly’s entourage, who have they had not been able to contact for years. However, there was a tabloid/reality TV aspect to the series, including the constant repetition of answers, and the lack of provision of tissues to weeping witnesses. I also wonder if each interviewee was promised or what to have some kind of make-over, because each woman had elaborate wigs or hair-stylings, long fake nails, and clothing that seemed oddly salacious, such as a victimized minor in a dress that barely covered her and a regretful aunt/back-up singer in a transparent dress with a strategically placed bib and dyed blonde hair, and a heartbroken mother in a fringed skirt. This is significant because an elderly white man who was a juror on Kelly’s child pornography trial said he did not believe the witnesses, including the aunt, so that such appearances could have influenced him. Right after I posted my recommendation of the series on Facebook, I saw an angry series of Tweets by African-American colleague Dr. Sami Schaik that really annoyed me when she started in on what “white allies” aren’t doing: “Most black folks I know have posted about the docuseries in the last few days…In contrast, nearly all white folks I know are not even acknowledging the docuseries, nothing. This divide/contrast reminds me that white people are not required to know what’s happening to and among black folks.” And she went on and on about unfounded fears of being called racist and the demands of intersectionality. The follow-up in January 2020, broadcast over three nights, answered some of these issues in Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning (Ep 1: “It Hasn’t Stopped”; Ep 2: “The Settlement Factory”; Ep 3: “Please Come Forward”; Ep 4: “After the Rescue”; Ep 5: “Bring Our Girls Home”) I cried. (1/7/2019 and 1/3/2020)
Why Slavery? (Seen in the U.S. on BBC World Channel) The latest broadcast project (across BBC entities) in cooperation with The Why Foundation, this is an extraordinary series of international investigative documentaries on modern slavery. Some were separate films by documentarians: Bernadett Tuza-Ritter’s A Woman Captured (Egy nö fogságban) (Hungary) that I saw at 2018 Panorama Europe Film Festival at Museum of the Moving Image (and was also shown at 2018 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival). Other film directors’ personal work was Pakaj Johar’s In Selling Children (India) and Roger Ross Williams’ Jailed in America. Others were eye-opening reportage: Maid in Hell on the Middle East’s abusive Kafala System; I Was a Yazidi Slave; Dollar Heroes about North Korea’s explorted workers. The Why Stories in 2021 included people confronting personal stress, Kurdish director Diako Yazdani’s Gay in Iraq, The Rescue List (Ghana), and Favela Frontlines (Brazil). (updated 7/5/2021)
Watergate (on History Channel) (Preview at 2018 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center)/ Watergate: Blueprint For A Scandal (on CNN, June 2022) – While producer/director Domini Hofmann’s work is mostly “reality TV”-based, this 50th anniversary of the “break-in” chronological telling is a very useful overview. The story is mostly told in four-episodes by on-camera narrator John Dean from his perspective as the then thirty-something White House Counsel, buttressed by The National Archives’ recently digitized recordings of President Nixon, interspersed with interviews of other contemporaries, and ironic comparisons to Trump and his White House. (updated 7/10/2022)
Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story (on Paramount Channel) preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival
Two similar series with mixed race stand-up comedians/political gadflies became more and more relevant during the 2016 election and 2017 presidential administration: United Shades of America (on CNN) with W. Kamau Bell, and Hate Thy Neighbor (on Viceland) Jamali Maddix as they visited racial extremists to hear their points-of-view. Viceland’s Rise was also an excellent and timely (re: Standing Rock) survey of indigenous people’s activism. (3/18/2017)
OJ: Made in America (on ABC (Part 1 only) and ESPN) The first documentary mini-series in ESPN’s 30 for 30 Film Series, started in celebration of the networks 30th anniversary. Having witnessed the news cycles as the story played out and then being riveted by FX’s superb docu-drama The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, I never thought an ESPN-sports promoting documentary could add any insight – let alone a five-part, seven-hour series. But not only does it add biography and interviews with friends, relatives, corporate allies, and seemingly anyone else involved, this puts his life and crimes squarely in the context of race relations in Los Angeles, and the U.S. as a whole, during these years. Because this specifically shows the power of the docu-series format, I object that the producers stuck it into a theater each in NYC and L.A. to qualify for the Academy Awards’ arcane rules as a documentary film. Consequently, many critics’ and their groups deemed it a Documentary Film of the Year – so it can effect double-dip for the Emmy’s and the Oscars. I think that is a miscategorization, unfair competition for genuine documentary films made without network resources, and minimizes its achievement in television, particularly as a model for future genuine documentary, as opposed to reality, TV series. (updated 12/7/2016)
Boomtowners (on Smithsonian Channel) (good context for the long-distance Amtrak travelers seen in In Transit I previewed at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, with my additional notes, and The Overnighters I previewed at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival).
Hard Earned (on Al Ajazeera America) More didactic discussion than cinema verité reveal, the perspective of those living on the edge of the economy is a sobering look at their difficulties.
Edge Of Eighteen (on Al Ajazeera America) Diverse high school seniors from across the U.S. were trained as self-documentarians by noted filmmaker Alex Gibney (of Finding Fela, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God, Catching Hell,Freakonomics, Casino Jack and the United States Of Money). As depressing as it is informative, though it did make me appreciate what I was able to do for my kids at that age. (10/7/2014)
Last American Cowboy and The Last Alaskans (on Animal Planet) (though I think I only watched one season); Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (on TLC, from the British Channel 4, though the series went on too long with less effective extensions); Big Ballet (on Ovation, from the British Channel 4) Hopkins/Hopkins 24/7 that focused on the staff of Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital (on ABC, repeated on OWN); Whale Wars (on Animal Planet); 24 Hours in the E.R. (shown in the U.S. on BBC America); Morgan Spurlock Inside Man (on CNN); Catfish (on MTV) is the intriguing follow-up to the same-titled documentary, that, for all its voyeuristic reality TV melodrama about naïve online behavior, has taught me useful lessons for being suspicious of “friend” requests on FaceBook. (updated 2/8/2017)
Generation Cryo (on MTV) is the intriguing TV version of the documentary Donor Unknown that I briefly reviewed at 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, including a Jewish mother and half-siblings. (updated 12/10/2013)
On Death Row is the accompanying Investigation: Discovery TV docu-series to Werner Herzog’s documentary Into the Abyss, that I previewed at 2011 Doc NYC Festival). The intriguing Sundance Channel series Rectify (renewed for a 4th season), created by Ray McKinnon, is almost a fictional follow-up on such cases where The Innocence Project succeeds, imagining a man “Daniel Holden” (played rivetingly by Aden Young) uncomfortably returning to his very unsettled small Texas town after his conviction is overturned. The System with Joe Berlinger (on AlJazeera) is like a follow-up to his Paradise Lost justice-denied trilogy. (updated 7/15/2015)
As someone turned off on food and cooking as a result of undiagnosed celiac disease until late in life, I’m not usually interested in such programs, but some series rise to the level of anthropological documentation of immigration, business, and health: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (on ABC), revealing as much about school bureaucracies as school lunches; Jamie Oliver’s American Road Trip (on BBC America) – where he even came here to ethnic Queens; and Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (on the Food Network), which is a fun travel guide (he even came to our favorite Ben’s Deli in Rego Park, Queens) but frustrating for me as I can’t eat much of what’s featured. (updated 1/8/2013)
The genealogy series: Who Do You Think You Are (the American version of this British show was on NBC, then moved to TLC, with limited streaming episodes) – I note the celebrities who track down their Jewish fore-mothers at Lilith Watch: Critical Guide to Jewish Women on TV; and on PBS: African American Lives (1 and 2); Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates Jr.. As Gates expanded his celebrity research, I’ve commented on how he’s dealt with the women with Jewish ancestry, or on how Jewish men refer to their Jewish women ancestors. But the Sony hack revelation that he agreed to suppress Ben Affleck’s slave-owning ancestors was rightly condemned by PBS. Seeing how different celebrities react to that revelation has been part of the reason to watch! (updated 1/28/2018)
With none or few commercials:
The Last Movie Stars (on HBO Max) 6 episodes: Chapter 1: “Cosmic Orphans”; Chapter 2: “A Star Is Born”; Chapter 3: “The Legend of Paul Leonard Newman”; Chapter 4: “Paying the Price”; Chapter 5: “Against the Sky”; Chapter 6: “Luck Is An Art”. Rather than just playing to Hollywood nostalgists, Ethan Hawke zooms in with actors who effectively voice transcripts from a rescued memoir, and then discuss what they knew personally or professionally about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, with additional interviews. The emphasis on Woodward’s talent, sensuality, and the sacrifices she made for him and their/and his children are very unusual. In addition to perfectly selected illustrative clips of movies and TV interviews, the archival footage are rare finds. (Even my high school friend’s mother who resented how he’d treated his first wife would have liked it, as she, the divorce, and their kids get legit attention.) For days after, I couldn’t even stand to watch a movie with today’s “stars”! (8/1/2022)
The Beatles: Get Back (on Disney+; Ep 1 – 157 mins, Ep 2 – 173 mins, Ep 3 – 138 mins) For an original Beatles fan, seeing John, Paul, George, and Ringo once again in their fashionably mod prime is a wonderful trip into the time machine. Peter Jackson’s annotated edit of the film footage of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1969 verité making-of the January 1969 “Let It Be” album and audio tapes are informatively fascinating, with his access to every knowledgeable technical and family consultant. As they are still missing the organizational wizardry of their manager Brian Epstein who had died two years earlier, you pretty much see the band split up in front of your eyes, as they go through many permutations of the project. While tensions were certainly aggravated by the cloying presence of Yoko Ono and the other spouses, some soon to-be-ex, the project’s pressured one-month deadline, dramatically shown on –screen by crossing off each calendar date, was set because the otherwise-genial Ringo Starr thought his comic acting career would be launched with Terry Southern’s script for The Magic Christian, that started shooting immediately after for release that year. But we also see that Paul McCartney could be very controlling about the arrangements, which he could achieve with his own band Wings in 1971; that George Harrison was restless, both creatively by already planning his solo, non-instrumental album “All Things Must Pass” that would be released in 1970, and personally as his band-mates just barely tolerate the presence of his Hare Krishnas and his Maharishi Mahesh Yogi-influenced vegan eating habits; and that John Lennon just really loved to cover the songs that would be his “Rock ‘n’ Roll” album in 1975. Yet, almost miraculously, they come together, accidentally facilitated by the calming and musical presence of keyboardist Billie Preston. For one last time they finally revel in the joy of making new rock ‘n’ roll music together, a nirvana now preserved for their fans. (11/28/2021)
Obama: In Search of a More Perfect Union (on HBO/Max, 2021))
100 Foot Wave (on HBO/Max, 2021) Six episodes, all directed by Chris Smith: Ep 1: “Sea Monsters”; Ep 2: “We’re Not Surfers”; Ep 3: “Mavericks”; Ep 4: “Dancing With God”; Ep 5: “The Circus”; Ep 6: “More Than A Wipeout”. Heavier on interviews than cinema verité, they did give the best explanations of surfing expressions, issues, and competitions than I’ve seen in any of the many, many surf documentaries I’ve seen, particularly focuson on how “Big Wave” surfing is different.
Philly D.A. (on PBS, 2021) – an unusual 8-episode docu-series on Independent Lens, following newly elected progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner as he works to change the entire focus of every aspect of the prosecutor’s office to implement the goal of striking down mass incarceration – all in front of the cinema veritè cameras of directors Ted Passon and Yoni Brook. Complicated legal concepts are explained through intimate examples of the people they impact, including staff and victims. (5/20/2021)
Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children (on HBO, 2020) (While strung out to 5 one-hour episodes, with the reality TV trope of repetition to catch up the irregular viewer, this still wallops an emotional impact. (7/3/2020)
College Behind Bars (PBS) (brief review at FF2 Media) (preview at 2019 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center) (10/28/2019)
Portraits in Architecture (on some PBS stations). I had not only not heard of any of these anti-modernists, but I was particularly interested to learn about the the work of the only woman included Nadia Breitman-Jakov. (7/30/2019)
Passing: A Family In Black & White - All six episodes of Robin Cloud’s documentary web series, of which the first two episodes premiered at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, are streaming on Topic as of 7/26/2019.
When They See Us (on Netflix) Per director Ave DuVernay on Twitter: “We shot it like a film. Scored it like a film. Mixed it like a film. Color timed it like a film. Same process. So when my 15-year old family friend passionately + proudly told me yesterday that she binged all parts ON HER PHONE... I just blinked hard and said “Wow! Wonderful!” But this reconstruction of the infamous “Central Park Jogger Case” from August 1989 is a docu-drama series. The first episode is about the night of the crime and the travesty of the arrest of the “Central Park 5” innocent African-American teen-age boys; the second episode is the railroaded court case; the third episode is about the experiences of the three jailed as juveniles, in prison and immediately after when they are labeled felons and sex offenders; the fourth is about what the boy suffered as he grew to adulthood in adult prisons – the years going by are barely indicated, except for the morning of 9/11 when the only humane guard turns on the TV for them. The director says it was one of these men who asked her to do the series, and they all fully cooperated, though I haven’t read yet all the many promotional interviews she’s given, because they seem to be more political than substantive. For all care to protest the mass incarceration of black males in the 1980’s and the 1990’s especially as labeling them “animals”, it still doesn’t capture the city-wide mass hysteria about the case. (6/2/2019)
Leaving Neverland (on HBO) One can debate if this is a film, as conceived and directed by Dan Reed and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, or a docu-series shown in two-part, two hours each episode of interviews with two now young men who detail their grooming and sexual abuse by mega-star Michael Jackson. The resulting national impact was not just about Jackson, but about how a pedophile, especially one with unlimited resources, acts on a family and his target victim. Following was an Oprah Winfrey session, in front of an audience of mostly men who had been sexually abused as children – but she never took responsibility for interviews she had conducted in the past with Jackson where he kept declaring his innocence and fondness for children who came to his personal amusement park. (3/8/2019)
Enemies: The President, Justice & The FBI (on Showtime, 4 episodes) Alex Inspired by Tim Weiner’s Enemies: A History of the FBI that I haven’t had a chance to read yet, the insightful emphasis is on the relevance of each situation of the President’s relationship with the FBI to the situation now under the 45th President. Alex Gibney is an executive producer and director of the final episode that brings the historical context up to the present. Each episode includes interviews with insiders who have intimate knowledge of the case, FBI agents who worked directly on the investigation, journalists who covered the story, with carefully chosen archival photographs and news clips. Episode 1 "A Cancer on the Presidency" How the FBI realized that the President could be held accountable in the Watergate case – more of Nixon’s incriminating tapes are heard about the break-in and cover-up than even in Charles Ferguson’s recent Watergate, and more revelations. Episode 2: “That's What Friends Are For” President Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal showed that the President and his devoted aides could lie, break the law, and get away with it, helped by an Attorney General with no ethics who did not see his role as upholding the law. Episode 3: “Witch Hunts” An examination of the 1998 impeachment in light of today's investigations. Episode 4: “You're Fired” – To analyze the present, this first goes back to 9/11 and the White House reactions. (1st episode at 2018 DOC NYC Festival) (updated 1/5/2019)
America To Me (on Starz, 10 episodes) – Director Steve James follows African-American kids at the integrated Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF), on the Chicago border, over the course of an academic year, smoothly combining observational footage with interviews, with the kids, their parents, coaches, and teachers. This is quite a frank, absorbing look at racial issues! (updated 1/4/2019)
The History of White People in America (shorts made for PBS) (previews at 2018 and 2019 Tribeca Film Festival) (updated 7/30/2019)
Under Her Skin (streaming on The Front) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish woman) (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival)
The 99 Names of God (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival)
The Fourth Estate (on Showtime) (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/30/2018)
Bobby Kennedy For President (streaming on Netflix) (preview at 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/30/2018)
Carrier (on PBS, out on DVD, and streaming on Hulu) for its post-9/11 personal and professional close-up of the military at sea; The Staircase (on Sundance Channel); Brick City (2 seasons on Sundance Channel – CNN’s imitative Chicagoland wasn’t as good because of too heavy editing and didactic narration); Nimrod Nation (on Sundance Channel)
Living Cultures (shown in NY on CUNY-TV, originally produced for French television channel ZED) that showcases 13 of UNESCO’s “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity"
Invitation to World Literature (13 episodes repeated in NY on CUNY-TV and sometimes the other PBS stations), as enthusiastically moderated by Prof. David Damrosch. In the episode on My Name is Red, I spotted an academic expert who was editor of my high school newspaper when I was on staff, Susan Yelavich. (Our Fiction Book Club read a different Orhan Pamuk novel.) (updated 3/23/2014)
Loved all 15 episodes of The Story of Film: An Odyssey on TCM as documentarian Mark Cousins narrates his visualization of his 2004 book that traces the history of world cinema? I learned a lot – especially how to find programs on TCM when they kept changing the timing of the series to later in the evening as the film clips got more contemporary, so more nude and violent.
America Divided - TimeWarner Cable threw in premium channel Epix with our upgraded box and I discovered this Ford & Kellogg Foundations-funded series where celebrity activists -- Norman Lear, Jesse Williams, Common, Zach Galifianakis, Peter Sarsgaard, and America Ferrara -- do legit investigations of community controversies and try to confront those responsible. The 2nd season format was contained, single-issue investigations – Gretchen Carlson on sexual harassment in Congress; Alaskan Native American actor Martin Sensmeier caught racism on camera in examining the Bear Ears Monument controversy. I cry and learn. (updated 5/25/2018)
Cool Spaces (PBS) Contemporary architectural education.
Mondovino: The Series - I missed the showing of the full 10 hours at MoMA, but now Jonathan Nossiter’s multi-lingual, global tasting of wine and the people who grow, drink, buy, and sell it, is available in a 4 DVD set. More delightful and promotional, but also informative, is The Wine Show (Ovation), where actors Matthew Rhys (bearded) and Matthew Goode are tutored by a connoisseur who brings back wines and knowledge from around the world. (updated 7/2/2018)
Documentary Now (on IFC) is a spot-on parody of noted documentaries, as enacted by Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, let alone the perfectly-toned introductions by Dame Helen Mirren. (updated 10/23/2016)
Fargo (on FX, 3 seasons on DVD) Achieves the absolutely impossible – matches its source material, as the prequel to the Coen brothers’ movie. Not only brilliantly acted (if Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton weren’t so good, I would have put this under under HALL OF DAMES for Allison Tolman) and written with acidic darkness, but the cinematography and camera work is stunning. Was that the first film noir scene in blinding white snow? Plus a devlish image of a dentist for TV. The 2nd season, set in 1979, featured brilliant unstereotyped roles for minority actors, who clearly relished the opportunity: Zahn McClarnon as Native American hit man “Hanzee Dent” and Bokeem Woodbine as Kansas City gangster “Mike Milligan”. (updated 1/28/2018)
Homeland (on Showtime, 8 seasons out on DVD) Anchored by a wow performance by Claire Danes, a scarily Manchurian Candidate Damian Lewis, and a mentoring Mandy Patinkin, this reflects some of its 24 showrunners, but the story line recalls more other series that didn’t get enough attention at their time, Sleeper Cell (2 seasons on Showtime) and Rubicon (on AMC, that I never got around to writing about its one season as well). But this one was a real nail biter with a twisty plot. I’m behind on watching seasons, but I’ve commented on the Jewish women in the 1st season, 5th Season, and 6th Season. (updated 1/28/2018)
I’m also commenting on the Jewish women in the Israeli TV series Prisoners of War (Hatufim) it’s based on (streaming on Hulu, both seasons out on U.S. DVD), 1st season and 2nd season. (updated 10/16/2014)
Imports: can now be seen more widely than ever before, including Sundance Channel originals, MHz Networks “International Mysteries”, and other distributors, PBS’s Walter’s Choice (and as part of a monthly subscription to PBS “Masterpiece” Amazon Prime Video Channel), and Ovation’s (variously named) “The Best You’ve Never Seen” and “Mystery Wheel”.
Streaming Series: Many international series are now available on more streaming options, including Netflix, that I seem to never have the time to explore and read the subtitles intently, and many other specialty services. Now with streaming, the distinction between “film” in theaters and “series” blurs more and more:
Labyrinth of Peace (Frieden) (2020) - Distributor Menemsha Films reports that Petra Volpe’s 6-episode Swiss series is “a big hit for us on the Festival circuit”, with over 30 bookings at Jewish film festivals. I binged a preview at the 2022 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center/ The Jewish Museum, while it was also at Miami Jewish Film Festival virtually. You can re-live 1945 in Switzerland on the subscription streaming service ChaiFlicks beginning April 2023. (1/15/2022/ updated 3/15/2023)
Burning Bush (Hořicí Keř) (2013) – played in theaters then, as director Agnieszka Holland was known primarily as a filmmaker, that I previewed at 2013 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center;
the German Generation War (Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter) played in theaters and and German cultural outposts. (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish women)
American director Steven Soderbergh’s Che (2008) blurred the demarcation between TV and movies
Some played as multi-part films: the British Red Riding Trilogy – 1974; 1980; 1983 (kudos to the cinematography of Rob Hardy in 1974) (previewed at 2009 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center) and the German Dreileben: Beats Being Dead (Etwas Besseres als den Tod), Don’t Follow Me Around (Komm mir nicht nach), One Minute of Darkness (Eine Minute Dunkel) (briefly reviewed at 2011 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center); Bruno Dumont’s L’il Quinquin from France, through Kino Lorber (previewed at 2014 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center) (updated 1/15/2022)
PBS’s Walter’s Choice is mostly an incentive for viewers to become members so they can stream and binge full seasons via “Passport”. I know nothing about “Walter Iuzzolino a TV connoisseur who has scoured the globe for compelling hits”, albeit ones that are several years old, and now PBS is promoting that there will be a lot more available. Here’s the ones I’ve seen so far and recommend:
The Hunter (Il cacciatore) (Season 1 originally shown on Italian TV in 2018, “Passport” is also streaming Season 2 from 2020, and Season 3 from 2021 that are altogether a continuous story-line to a finale. Binge worthy!) Based, with dramatic license, on the true events of the Anti-Mafia Task Force detailed in Alfonso Sabella’s Cacciatore di mafiosi. Le indagini, i pedinamenti, gli arresti di un magistrato in prima linea, not available in English. The Bad Guys have their real names; for The Law only one real name is retained, that of the central bodyguard who has died from natural causes after these events, at least that I can tell. Sometimes the stressed, obsessed lawyers get so nasty that I start sympathizing with the ancillary Bad Guys. PBS censors so the conversations are frequently “***” Amidst lots of Palermo settings, the large cast of characters and places is confusing, but on-screen graphics in English help with nicknames and crimes, and familiarity increases through the episodes. The central couple are romantic ballast no matter their status -- prosecutor “Severio Barone” (Francesco Montanari) is mesmerizing, especially when he agonizes over his job vs. his relationship with his very independent partner “Giada Stranzi” (Miriam Dalmazio). It did take me awhile to figure out the tantalizing flashbacks driving them in S1, but that highlights the grueling sacrifices the prosecutors had to make as their and their families’ lives are threatened. (And presumably why the Sicily tourism agency is sponsoring the PBS showings.) Even when there’s no screen time for personal lives, two women in the Law rise up to powerfully insist on being seen and heard-- young lawyer “Paola Romano” (Linda Caridi) and aggressive police detective “Francesca Lagoglio” (Francesca Inaudi), while a Mafioso comes to regret his culture’s male dominance. The head writer is female, Silvia Ebreul, in partnership with Marcello Izzo, who then collaborated on the odd, also violent, internationally-cast spaghetti Western series That Dirty Black Bag, S1 shown on AMC. (updated 5/24/2023)
Astrid (Astrid et Raphaëlle) - French policier series (Season 1 originally produced in 2019-20, Season 2 in 2021, Season 3 in 2022) Co-created and written by a woman Alexandre de Seguins that intriguingly pairs up two women: autistic researcher “Astrid Nielsen” (played by Benoit Michel) with a break-the-rules/divorced mother “Detective Raphaëlle Coste” (Lola Dewaere) -.
La Otra Mirada (A Different View) - Spanish series, filmed in Seville, set in the 1930’s - Season 1 originally produced in 2018, through Season 3 in 2022; 2nd season broadcast on PBS) Male created, but female featured, at a girls’ finishing school, where a rebellious spy “Teresa” (played by Patricia López Arnaiz) gets herself hired as an iconoclastic arts & literature teacher. Love the costumes! (updated 1/20/2023)
Seaside Hotel (Badehotellet) - PBS is irregularly broadcasting all episodes of each year’s 2013 -2022 nine seasons’ series of this Danish series that follow the guests and staff from 1928 and into the 1940s, considerably lighter than the other fare he picks, but more like popular Masterpiece Theater. Seasons 1 – 9 are already streaming via PBS Passport; all the seasons are available on the subscription channel. (updated 1/20/2023)
Thou Shalt Not Kill (Non uccidere) (Seasons 1 from 2015, 2 from 2017, 3 from 2018) A tough woman detective (played by Miriam Leone), from Turin, Italy. Do the subtitles accurately reflect the dialogue? (updated 3/4/2022)
No Second Chance (Une Chance De Trop) - a 6-episode French thriller from 2015, based on a Harlan Coben book, centered around a professional woman central character “Dr. Alice Lambert” (played by Alexandra Lamy), trying to solve who killed her husband, nearly killed her, and kidnapped her baby- whew!
Before We Die (Innan vi dör) (Season 1 – 2017; Season 2 - 2019) - a gritty Swedish cop show, with an unusual mother/son focus, where the mother cop is “Hanna Svensson” (played by Marie Richardson) who is SO tough she arrested her son “Christian” (played by Adam Pålsson) for drug-dealing in order to get him into rehab. And that’s before Season 1 opens with the rebellious son undercover with Croatian mobsters. Season 2 continues the story line by putting him undercover with a corrupt cop ring even as the Croatians are seeking revenge, with the mother ruthlessly responsible for ever more deaths, as she both sacrifices and protects her increasingly PTSD-riven son. The series is written by Niklas Rockström, who also wrote the original Nordic Noir version of Wallander. PBS Masterpiece began playing S1 of the 2021 British adaptation March 2022, with Lesley Sharp as “Hannah” and Patrick Gibson as her son “Christian”, written by Matt Baker, who also adaptated Professor T, Baker usefully clarified some plot points. (updated 3/23/2022)
Modus (Season 1 – 2015; Season 2 - 2017) – Swedish serial killer mystery. Season 2 co-starred American actress Kim Cattrall premiered on PBS February 2020.
Professor T (Season 1 – 2015; Season 2 – 2016; Season 3 - 2018) – Belgian police investigations with idiosyncratic OCD criminologist “Jasper Teerlinck” (played by Koen De Bouw), and distinctive female characters. PBS picked-up S1 of ITV’s 2021 British re-make, starring Ben Miller, under its Mystery umbrella. The Czech version next?
Line of Separation (Tannbach) (Season 1 from 2015; Season 2 from 2018) – German look at a small town from 1945 through the construction of The Wall, that includes the star of Deutschland. The episode length shown on PBS varied from the original as listed on IMDb, so I do wonder if we saw edited versions of the six episodes. I have yet to figure out if some outlets showed Season 2, and I have yet to catch them on PBS’s “Passport” service available to members.
Résistance (One 6-episode season – 2014) (updated 7/11/2021)
Lady Scarlet and the Duke - PBS’s Masterpiece/Mystery usually features British non-commercial co/productions. So thanks for something new: from Ireland, filmed in Dublin, via A & E International, an original story by showrunner Rachael New. Yes, the feminism of feisty “Miss Eliza Scarlet” (British Kate Phillips) to be in early 1880’s Victorian London’s first female private detective would earn a place in my HALL OF DAMES. But her chemistry and argumentative partnership is dynamite with Scotland Yard’s “Detective Inspector William ‘The Duke’ Wellington” (attractively bearded Scottish Stuart Martin), who is dealing with his own class glass ceiling and machismo issues after being mentored by her just deceased father. With just six episodes in Season 1, I hope that the pandemic only slows when Americans can see Season 2, even if their romance, sigh, is not in the cards, because I’m as obsessed with this series now as I have been in the past with Poldark. The showrunner is very thoughtful about TV’s past in this 2/22/2021 Salon interview why they should just stay “friends”, but I disagree! Why not explore a working relationship?
Ovation Channel expanded imported shows (some previously seen on BBC America) under Mystery Wheel, including :
Canadian feminist HALL OF DAMES PI in the 1920’s series Frankie Drake Mysteries (2 seasons that also played on PBS), which is by the same production company as the charming, continuously renewed Murdoch Mysteries, an 1890’s-CSI detective in the Toronto Constabulary, based on novels by Maureen Jennings that I haven’t read, that effectivelyintegrates historical figures into its stories.
Some choices are light TV fare, some are well-cast crime shows with international casts such as Crossing Lines, and a few are outstanding series, including Allan Cubitt’s BBC Northern Island 2013 – 2016, 3-season noir The Fall (re-plays on some PBS stations) with terrific cast of Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan, and John Lynch, and the 2014 Australian The Code. Looks like there’s a couple of the imports I haven’t seen yet but hope to catch.
Though not a mystery, I’m grateful Ovation included for streaming all of the episodes of the wonderfully cast and filmed 2011 Australian mini-series online Cloudstreet, adaptation of the Tim Winton novel that I had seen a play version at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (updated 7/6/2021)
MHz Choice specializes in bringing international TV mystery and thriller series to the U.S. is expanding its accessibility, including on Amazon Prime:
Wallander - 13 episodes of the original Swedish series ran in NYC on CUNY-TV, albeit with the profanity quaintly blurred in the subtitles, allowing for comparison with the BBC versions shown here on PBS. Not only do we learn that the correct pronunciation is to accent the 2nd syllable of the titular detective (played by Krister Henriksson), this original has a much feistier daughter detective (Linda, played by Johanna Sällström) compared to the helpless addict in English, though almost too independent romantically speaking. But can I, and the series, recover with the gutsy tragedy of one of my favorite characters shaggy, volatile “Stefan” (played by Ola Rapace, who went on to another of these mysteries for me to be enthralled by). (updated 1/9/2015)
MHz releases of international TV series with Jewish characters I follow in some detail, streaming and on DVD:
In the Face of Crime (Im Angesicht des Verbrechens) (from Germany)
A French Village (Un Village Français) (from France) – Season 1 – 1940/1941 and Season 2 – 1941 and Season 3 - 1942; Season 4 -- 1943 and Season 5 -- 1944; Season 6 -- 1945 and the final Season 7 (updated 1/28/2018)
Looking forward to watching (and reviewing) other notable series now available from MHz Networks “International Mysteries” and their subscription streaming service: Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter (from Sweden, 2 DVD set available for review) of TV movies Paradise and Deadlines, by the director of Under the Sun (Under solen), based on the novels by Liza Marklund; Arne Dahl (from Sweden, 1st season available for review); Blood of the Vine (the 3rd season, from France); Borgen (the complete 3 season series in a box set, from Denmark); The Bridge (Bron/Broen) (Seasons 1 and 2 from Denmark/Sweden); The Churchmen (Ainsi soient-lis) (from France, 1st season – 3 DVD set);Crimes of Passion (Mördaren ljuger inte ensam) (from Sweden, based on Maria Lang’s novels); The Eagle (Ørnen: En krimi-odyssé) (from Denmark, 1st season); Fjällbacka Murders (from Sweden) based on the mysteries by the renowned Camilla Läckberg, whose hometown on Sweden’s Atlantic coast is Fjällbacka and whose crime novels I have downloaded on Kindle but haven’t read yet. Available on DVD in the U.S.: On Set 1: The Hidden Child, The Eye of the Beholder, and Friends for Life, on Set 2: The Sea Gives, The Sea Takes, The Coast Rider, The Queen of Light; The Heavy Water War (Kampen om tungvattnet) (from Norway, 3 DVD set);The Legacy (Arvingerne) (from Denmark, 2014); Look of a Killer (Tappajan näköinen mies) (from Finland, 1 season in 2011); Mammon (From Norway, 3 DVD set); Maria Wern (from Sweden, episodes 8 and 9 available for review), Sleepwalker and Not Until the Giver Is Dead, based on the crime fiction of Anna Jansson; Marie’s Mind for Murder (The Marie Brand series) (from France, 10 episodes in 2 volumes); ;Nicolas Le Floch (from Germany, set 1 with 10 episodes); Spiral (Engrenages) (from France, seasons 3, 4 and 5 available for review); Unni Lindell: The Cato Isaksen Mysteries (from Norway, sets 1 and 2), and Unit One (3 sets, episodes 1 – 32, from Denmark)
I usually figure that international TV comedies don’t travel well, but the satirical Kaboul Kitchen (from France, Season 1, 3 DVD set) looks like an exception with its 2005 Kabul, Afghanistan setting. I’m not usually a fan of series with dogs, but I’ll try Inspector Rex (Kommisar Rex): Season 1: Vienna (from Germany, 4 DVD set) (updated 4/13/2016)
On Sundance Channel: [caution: Episodes stay On Demand or Streaming for free a very limited time!]
Deutschland 83/Deutschland 86/Deutschland 89 (from Germany; first season on DVD and On Demand through Kino Lorber; the series became a trilogy, available streaming on AMC+) Opening just like the latest season of The Americans ended, with Communist spies watching in horror Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, I expected Cold War noir. Instead it’s as historical as it is an amusingly satirical culture clash of a young East German, recruited for the HVA (Hauptverwaltung Aufklaerung) comparable to the CIA, trying to fit in undercover in West Germany while trying to steal nuclear secrets, then in overseas misadventures, before returning for the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was intrigued enough from the beginning to download co-creator American novelist Anna Winger’s book This Must Be the Place, and continue to follow her career. Too bad there’s so many white-on-white subtitles, as seen on Sundance. Kino let me know: “Kino is not responsible for the show's subtitles on TV: that's Sundance Channel's job/responsibility. Our iTunes subtitles are improved and up to iTunes' specs.”
Deutschland 86 (updated 10/24/2020)
The Bureau (Le Bureau des Légendes) (France, via Kino Lorber) The first two seasons first ran on the subscription channel Sundance Now, but for a brief window, were binge-available before the 3rd season; subsequent seasons back on subscription only. With every operative speaking their native language (French, English, Arabi, Farsi, Russian, etc.), this feels very authentic. This is a dense lesson in the necessarily merciless ethics of “hum-int” human intelligence gathering (and the impact on those so employed, particularly Mathieu Kassovitz as ”Malotru”) is serious, and not played for cheap thrills and American-style violence. The women play substantively important roles. (updated 11/18/2018)
Last Panthers (multi-European) So Interpol and governments go full press about a diamond heist because a child is inadvertently killed? Just another day in the U.S. But the movie stars (Tahar Rahim, Samantha Morton, John Hurt and the pan-European cast in varied settings makes this worth watching. (4/29/2016)
The Honourable Woman (From U.K.)
The Returned (Les revenants) (1st season on DVD) Three cheers for foreign-language TV series making it on to our U.S. TV sets! (I’m OK with having to use the DVR because Time Warner’s connection with Sundance Online is unreliable.) While I haven’t yet watched the DVD I bought of the original French film (2004) this is based on, I’m even tolerating the intrusive commercials in this cool series – for the actors, the intriguing set-up, and the landscape. The A & E remake follows the same scripts, but doesn’t have quite the same spookiness, so I haven’t made too much of a point to watch for comparison. Unfortunately, the 2nd season didn’t quite live up to the build-up, even as the secrets were climaxing to revelation. (updated 5/2/2016)
Top of the Lake (from Australia/New Zealand) A brilliant mini-series that reinforced that TV is not only the place where a writer/director like Jane Campion can stretch out, but can also star women in complex roles, here the ferociously stunning performance of Elisabeth Moss, more known for Mad Men, as “Robin” a prodigal daughter turned avenging detective facing difficult men all around her: a sexist (and worse) boss “Al” (played by David Wenham), a drunken patriarch “Matt” (Peter Mullan further developing his scariness from Tyrannosaur), and a guilt-stricken former boyfriend “Johnno” (the very appealing Thomas M. Wright), to solve problems of pedophiles and domestic violence.
So cinematic, the series theatrically binged at 2014 Film Comments Selects of Film Society of Lincoln Center) (updated 3/7/2014)
City Of Men (I reviewed all 4 seasons on DVD.) (emendations to review coming after 10/4/2007) The team behind City of God (Cidade de Deus) continues the saga of the children of the favelas. Just from viewing Episode 1 - "The Emperor's Crown" you knew this was different than anything else on TV as it took a dry lesson about Napoleon's conquering of Europe and Brazil and brought it to life as battles between drug-dealers for hills, money and obeisance. Season 1 consists of episodes 1 – 4. Season 2 is episodes 5 – 9. Season 3 is episodes 10 – 14. Season 4 is episodes 15 – 19. The full arc concluded in the film City Of Men (Cidade Dos Homens). Antônia is a femme take on musical life in the favelas, first as this film, then as a follow-up TV series – will Sundance bring us that too? (updated 2/29/2008)
Best of Youth (La Meglio gioventù) was an early example of a mini-series first shown in the U.S. (theatrically in two seatings of 3 hours each and on Netflicks as 2 separate requests, and then shown on the Sundance Channel as originally shown in Italy. Out on DVD.) It proved that Italians have learned the art of the long-form television mini-series that the British have long mastered.
Covering a somewhat same period of the baby boom generation as In A Land of Plenty, it has more of the generational feel of individuals caught up in history as we have usually seen in British mini-series about end-of-the-eras or World War I, such as Brideshead Revisited and Jewel in the Crown. U.S. mini-series were more successful as sweeping historical epics, even when they were also family sagas like Roots and Centennial; when the networks tried to interpret more recent history, as in The Sixties, the set characters sped through Zelig and Forest Gump-like in happening to be at the right place at the right time; perhaps the several seasons combined of the NBC series American Dreams could be considered comparable in showing how the times that are a-changing affect a family.
Best of Youth, though I'm not sure even shown in two parts of three hours each how edited it is from the original format, as other grand European mini-series like Berlin Alexanderplatz, Das Boot and Fanny and Alexander were originally only shown in the U.S. in truncated theatrical versions as even PBS seems averse to television with subtitles so we rarely get to see the best of world television. Comparison to the Italian film The Leopard is unfair as that was not created in the same format and covers a shorter period of historical time.
Best of Youth combines charismatic acting, leisurely directing amidst beautiful scenery in several parts of Italy with writing that takes the trajectories of complex yet consistent characters' lives believably and searingly affected by uniquely Italian experiences of the baby boomers' young adult years through middle age, without the American tendency to reject or regret youthful ambitions, through the lens of local natural disasters, violent political activities, judicial battles against the Cosa Nostra, European economic changes, with regional variations, that Americans rarely see in movies.
The focus is primarily on two brothers from the 1960's almost to the present, played by two actors who must be the equivalent of George Clooney and Richard Chamberlain in Italian television. Alessio Boni in particular as Matteo captures the screen with such tortured macho dynamism that it's no wonder he's gone on to play Heathcliff and Dracula in other mini-series. His Paul Newman-like startling blue eyes become a talking point of the series and a continuing visual leitmotif. Similarly, the physical differences between the two actors help to point up the different paths the brothers take through life, even as the casting of other family members to look like them is eerily effective.
The series is particularly good at capturing the camaraderie amongst old male friends over the years and the intimate interactions of members of a family, particularly with children, with a strong theme of the importance of both as an anchor. Unlike in American TV where women are adjuncts as the girlfriend/wife/mother, the key women here are crucial fulcrums in the brothers' lives and have separate intellectual, psychological and emotional demands.
The emotions are important here -- grief is shown very movingly, with more pain and tears than American culture usually allows. In one extended scene, we see a grieving mother walk slowly up a long flight of stairs in numbed silence and gradually see her revive as she learns of surprise news about her son.
There are of course some coincidences of family members' and friends' paths crossing at key junctures, but the story overall grips us.
The pop music selections, American, European and Italian, are wonderfully evocative. (3/19/2005) (updated 10/22/2014)
Trapped (the first fiction series on Viceland Channel; Seasons 1 and 2 are on Amazon Prime) Scandinavian Noir via Weinstein TV from Iceland is a complicated mystery raising many international issues, with no conventionally perfect-looking actors, so you really feel their stress. It’s hard enough to even find Viceland, that took over the History2 Channel, too bad it’s confusingly presented, on the busy Sunday night of quality TV, sometimes one episode, sometimes two or three – so even with DVR-ing watching On Demand can be necessary to keep up with the case. (updated 1/15/2022)
On HBO – Co-Production with Sky: Chernobyl - Even as some complain of composite characters and some dramatizations for effect, this was a startling re-living of the first nuclear plant fail, that is presented here as leading to fall of the USSR as the lies could no longer be sustained. Over five episodes, terrifying and gipping! (6/4/2019)
On Logo: Cucumber and Banana -- These paired British limited series written by Russell Davies, the original creator of the U.K. version of Queer as Folk (that I have on DVD but haven’t yet watched) is refreshingly not about gorgeous men sleeping together. Cucumber starts at the break-up of a middle-aged male couple, with the focus on“Henry Best” (played by Vincent Franklin) re-learning the ropes of gay romance in a new age in Manchester. Banana is an anthology series, with each episode focusing on different gay characters, including several on lesbians, of different ages, and most working class. I discovered the series after its first-run, and didn’t take my own advice to complete the series before all the episodes were taken off free On-Demand or free streaming, so I only got to watch half, and missed a key episode, though I got a sense that the two series crossed paths. Oh well, maybe they’ll be repeated. (updated 7/5/2015)
Starz has been featuring excellent British mini-series that tackle serious subjects with superb acting and writing: Dancing on the Edge and The Missing (2 seasons).
A Young Doctor's Notebook - Thankfully, Ovation is repeating this series, now that TWC let it back in the cable house, based on Mikhail A. Bulgakov’s comic short stories, with Daniel Radcliffe as the Young Doctor surrounded by winter, morphine, syphilitic peasants, and the Russian Revolution and Jon Hamm as his Older Conscience looking back from his own 1930’s problems. (9/2/2014)
BBC series on BBC America:
The Hour (both seasons out on DVD) at first seemed like the British Mad Men, with its look at the birth of TV investigative news in the late 1950’s and it’s great to watch the terrific cast get to stretch beyond their usual roles, especially the women --a maturing Romola Garai and Anna Chancellor as an experienced foreign correspondent—the ever handsome and arrogant Ben Wishaw, Dominic West, and an almost unrecognizably serious Peter Capaldi as their boss. But as involving and challenging as the stories are, one can’t help but wonder how they would handle the BBC’s avoidance of the pedophile in their midst at the time. (updated 1/4/2013)
With Broadchurch (2 seasons on DVD), it’s great to see actors playing against type: Olivia Coleman (of the comic 2012 satire and the dramatic film Tyrannosaur, David Tennant (of Dr. Who etc., and is in the American re-make on Fox Gracepoint), and Andrew Buchan (of Party Animals, see below). (updated 5/6/2015)
Glasgow Kiss was promoted as a "love story for grown-ups," this has a lot in common with Once and Again as these are two complex, mature folks with relationship and family baggage. The brogues are thick and the slang and geographical references go right past me. (I had to go to "The Scotsman" newspaper to learn that: "A 'Glasgow kiss', after all, is a hardman's calling card – a headbutt. It's a phrase that sums up all the knee-jerk prejudices outsiders harbour about the dear green place. We prefer a square [huh?] go to a snog [see what I mean?]. If a Glaswegian takes a lunge at you, the intention is more likely to be criminal than carnal. However, in this case, we're being double-bluffed – because this is a literal-minded interpretation of the cliché. Glasgow Kiss is about people kissing in Glasgow. It's making the point that even in a city notorious for its violence, tenderness and romance and non-threatening, made-for-each-other Mills and Boon eroticism can flourish.") But the romance and the reality are both charming and poignant, such as the passionate cri d'coeur by (BTW hunky) Iain Glen on the pain his mother-in-law causes him with her constant grieving over his late wife. And the career woman has much more competence than the love-tossed executive of Ally McBeal.
Another lovely, similarly romantic one-season series so in effect was a mini-series was NY/LON, with Rashida Jones as a Lower East Sider and Stephen Moyer as a London investment banker, even if it left us, boo hoo, hanging at seven episodes. Maybe the American re-make with Elisha Cuthbert will last longer to let us know what happens.
Though BBC-A’s sometime "Crimes of Passion" label is an anthology excuse for showing one-off TV movies as mini-series. are terrific slices of grit, but almost all of them feature appealing hunks. British series at their maximum are much shorter than the U.S. standard season so BBC A has to keep importing many series, though they don't always bring us all of the episodes and some are brutally cut incomprehensibly to fit in the commercials. But these are deliciously franker than U.S. procedurals or TV murder mysteries, from language to gore to situations. Some are repeats of series previously seen without commercials in the U.S. on PBS, such as the original version of Touching Evil and Second Sight.
But they are also terrific tales -- from Waking the Dead (2 seasons on DVD), Silent Witness, Vincent, Eleventh Hour (which was a bit science-silly and was re-made for U.S. TV) and Wire in the Blood (6 seasons on DVD) which go way beyond CSI in emotionality; Night Detective (which was franker about racial issues than most U.S. cop shows); Murder Prevention Unit (which shows cops as violently compromised but more tortured than on The Shield as they violate what would be 1000's of U.S. laws in a Minority Report crossed with Prime Suspect - and an American version was developed and quickly died); Sea of Souls (darker than Medium and more intellectual than Supernatural) and the similar Afterlife, to Vice (which really got into how that beat can affect the cops, like L & O: SVU); to Murphy's Law (which the last season was very-The Wire-like in getting down and grubby in the drug world as it played out like a mini-series with one complicated case, fueled by a magnetic James Nesbitt miles away from his comic turns in the likes of Coupling - especially cynically having an Afghan drug importer claim terrorism info to help the Brits get in good with the Yanks). Murder City is more imitative of U.S. TV cop shows. Innocent is almost identical to a brief similarly titled U.S. series. The terrific Jekyll was played as part of Supernatural Sundays, but was also On Demand. (updated 8/25/2009)
Life on Mars (2 seasons available on DVD) is a neat splicing together of CSI and NYPD Blue as a DCI gets transported back to the bad old days of instinctual, low tech, sexist, cigarette-smoking cops so he comes across to them as Sherlock Holmesian. American re-make being prepared, even with an interesting cast it’s having problems. The filmed-in-NY American version was almost as good, but lost too much of the weirdness and comparisons between past and present policing. (updated 11/26/2009)
But BOO to giving us a very cut up version of the otherwise mesmerizing Conviction! They showed us Bodies extended with commercials so why can't they give us all of this twisty tale that's hard enough to follow as it is. Worst editing botch they've ever done, and that's saying something. They're as bad as AMC with Hustle and A&E with MI:5 (Spooks). (updated 8/25/2009)
U.S. TV has intermittently seen the lanky appeal of Scotsman John Hannah, who in his native TV series is as incomprehensible to the American ear as Robert Carlyle is (similarly seen on BBC A in Hamish MacBeth - 3 seasons on DVD). Various PBS stations and BBC America are playing Hannah’s frank medical examiner investigative series McCallum (all out on DVD), where he seems to spend as much time naked in bed as he does in his lab -- and I cannot keep straight his character's on-again, off-again relationships. BBC America at various times is rerunning the four episodes of Rebus, based on the Ian Rankin novels (and new ones with a different actor), where he plays a seriously flawed detective in an Edinburgh that I had no idea was as drug and organized crime infested as the Baltimore of The Wire, when I can figure out what's going on through the thick Scottish brogues (so now I want to read the books the series is based on), though we'll be getting a new Rebus soon. Bravo has shown his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He popped up in a couple episodes of Carnivale on HBO. He even took a small role as a friendly cop in an episode of the new Miss Marple series on PBS's Mystery.(updated 10/27/2007)
Ovation’s The Best You’ve Never Seen brings international TV mini-series to American audiences. Nice to be able to see the likes of the Australian Cloudstreet, and the UK/German The Sinking of the Laconia (out on DVD). As Time Warner cut the channel, I won’t know if they went beyond the usual British dramas, but it was a misnomer to include the version of Moll Flanders that was already shown on PBS. (updated 1/4/2013)
Prisoners of War
Party Animals (1 2007 season on BBC) I found streaming on Hulu after their algorithm presciently suggested I’d like it – I loved it! I first was caught by the Aaron Sorkin-like whip-fast dialogue on lobbyists vs. Labour vs. New Labour vs. Tories, where everyone gets compromised and manipulated, but sure got involved in how the sexy personal got tangled with the political, particularly with Andrew Buchan, who I recognized from the just shown in the U.S. The Sinking of the Laconia (2011). I enjoyed his dimples showing up as his Labour operative “Scott Foster” kept mis-crossing yet fell in love with hot shot Tory “Ashika Chandirimani” (Shelley Conn, much better here than in the several subsequent Brit and U.S. TV series I’ve seen her in), while his brother “Danny” (Dr. Who’s Matt Smith) engagingly struggled with principles vs. positioning for a stressed woman Member of Parliament. I gave up on trying to get any work done on the computer, and pretty much watched the 8 episodes in a one-day marathon. Then re-played, and trolled a fansite of those with shared fondness for certain scenes (and where else to learn his off-screen connection to Downton Abbey). In order to get back to work, I bought the Region 1 DVD (yeah, with deleted scenes), and also the 3 seasons of the irresistible Buchan as the titular early 19th century lawyer in Garrow’s Law (BBC, 2009 – 2011, 3 seasons on DVD) that was only shown in the U.S. streaming on Amazon not for free (hmm, so I ended up spending the same amount anyway to see it?). (updated 8/9/2012)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (now on FXX, repeated frequently and earlier seasons in syndication on Comedy Central, 9 seasons on DVD, bonus scenes and episodes pop up online.) I watch few sitcoms, but I admit that I have caught and laughed with most of these outrageously misanthropic episodes. I cannot figure out how their underused bar stays in business, and I thought the addition of Danny DeVito in the 2nd season would be a silly gimmick, but these three clueless guys with their sister/gal buddies (married couples now in real life) and dad just keep sinking lower and lower in what they’ll do for their own selfish purposes – hilariously. They poke fun at every sense of ethics and political correctness. Even their promotional ads are funny. Like the Marx Brothers, they even test out material live on the road.
I may have missed several seasons or at least many episodes, but I try and catch up as I can, because I always expected to see a Jewish woman as the butt of their scabrous humor, but didn’t catch one until the 11th season. (updated 3/26/2016)
Mr. Robot (on USA, 1st season on DVD) Too almost realistic to be categorized with Sci Fi, let alone that this doesn’t qualify for my HUNK 'O' METER, even with Christian Slater as the mysterious titular character. Because the central mesmerizing character “Elliot Alderson” is played by the, well, kind of odd-looking Rami Malek, both when he’s on screen and his paranoid narration. Critics who say this is the first prominent hacker in a series are wrong (they’re in every kind of show these days), but the computer security issues are so up-to-date that I can barely follow the conspiracies. However, I’m not as rapturous as some critics, because once the twists and turns played out over the season, the revelations are what I expected from the first episode. (updated 1/1/2016)
The Mysterious Benedict Society (7/2/2021)
Ray Donovan (on Showtime, 3 seasons on DVD – I’m behind a season or 2) Whatever the plots (and the ethnic and criminal resonances with the real case of Whitey: United States Of America V. James J. Bulger are colorful), the casting and acting are a treat to watch – especially a macho Liev Schreiber in the ethics-challenged title role. (updated 11/21/2015)
Shameless (6 seasons ran uncensored on Sundance Channel, unlike just the edited 1st season shown on BBC America. All 11 (!) seasons are streaming uncut on Hulu, catching up, presumably, with the last of the 2013 British episodes.) Yes, the Manchester accents are virtually indecipherable, and I may just have to figure out how to get closed captioning onscreen. Paul Abbott's semi-autobiographical tale of a large family of siblings largely fending for themselves though fiercely protective of each other and their drunken father is outrageous and completely unpredictable, going beyond any family on U.S. broadcast, basic cable or premium TV. Even though I wait breathlessly for each moment that James McAvoy is on the screen (falling in love in real life with his onscreen co-star) and he’s probably the reason Sundance picked it up, but I love the roller coaster ride that is this rambunctious family that quirky doesn't even begin to describe, as even the most serious issues and unexpected behaviors are fodder for blunt and pointed humor and poignancy. The scabrous Christmas special was only played once overnight on BBCA during the holidays and of course I managed to tape it wrong so didn't get to see the whole thing so I was thrilled that my new DVR worked so that I could catch the Sundance Channel repeat of that too even while I was out of town. OMG – did I cry when in the 2nd season “Steve” had to leave “Fiona”! And then again when she left to join him! One season got silly, but then wham bang it got back to more comically dramatic outrageousness.
John Wells seems to have developed the American version (on Showtime, 6 seasons on DVD) so closely with Paul Abbott that it's a bit of a shock to hear them talk the same lines in American, albeit not even as with comparably thick Chicagoland accents. But the characters are given more psychological motivations for their somewhat bizarre actions in the U.S. version. The series now emphasizes how rarely we see poor white people on TV. Yes – in Season 5 “Rite of Passage” episode that was our cousin Alan Blumenfeld as the gay porn film producer. (updated 1/1/2016)
Skins (originally shown very censored on BBC America. At least 4 –by Brit count-- uncensored seasons out on DVD, but with different music due to rights issues – with all seasons were streaming on Hulu in 2012, but by 2013 only 1 season was available on Hulu Plus.) Covers some of the same ground as Shameless, adolescents discovering sex and a lot of other issues, but with cool music. BBC A is thoughtfully providing a slang glossary and some subtitles, when the accents get the most impenetrable, but the censorship makes for a lot of silently moving bleeped mouths. MTV's version was set and filmed in Baltimore, also with actual teenagers (more controversial in the U.S., but on basic cable they will still be bleeped, with character differences, including a Jewish girl. (updated 7/13/2013)
A comparable funny gay series that managed to be outrageous and sympathetic was the brief Beautiful People, (shown and repeating on Logo) inspired by the adolescence of window dresser Simon Doonan in Reading, England. Sundance Channel is also showing the somewhat macabre Ideal about an obese agoraphobic marijuana dealer and his outrageous customers and neighbors, but the slang and accents are harder to penetrate. (updated 5/11/2012)
Silicon Valley (on HBO) A contemporary half-hour sit com, boys’ club version of the earlier-set Halt and Catch Fire. Though the Nerds are a bit bit too
much like The Big Bang Theory, the satire of the boom and bust of the venture capitalists, personality-driven CEO’s, etc. of the tech industry in California is funny satire. (5/22/2015)
Star Wars/prequels/sequels/series: I have got behind on the feature films in the “Star Wars Universe” beyond Star Wars: Episode I - Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and occasionally catch some episodes of the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars. When I have press access to Disney+, and can watch complete series, in order, here’s the ones I love!
The Mandelorian (Seasons 1 – 3 on Disney+) this TV series ups the ante with feature film level credits – as created by writer/director Jon Favreau, with impressive other directors, including Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Rodriguez. The episodes neatly fit in and around the earliest, and best of the Saga, with marvelous references to characters and situations, while bringing new, 3-dimensional characters and tensions, most notably a proto-Jedi that fans first called “Baby Yoda”, whose actual name was revealed in S2, who bonds with the titular foundling turned knight (played by the charismatic Pedro Pascal, even when the audience can only identify him by his voice under his armor). Secondary characters are marvelous, including Gina Carano as the tough fighter “Cara Dune” (I was expecting some romance), Giancarlo Esposito as the villain “Moff Gideon”, Temuera Morrison as the warrior “Boba Fett” accompanied by the sharpshooter “Fennec Shand”, played by Ming-Na Wen, and the ever amusing Amy Sedaris as the handy ship repairer “Peli Motto”. Sure there’s lots of action and battles per episode, but the very involving relationships and antagonisms develop despite special effects, heavy costumes and make-up. (9/7/2021)
The Book of Boba Fett (2021) – under the direction of Robert Rodriguez
Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022 mini-series) With the most convincing child actress in Vivien Lyra Blair as “Leia Organa”
Andor (2022) Besides the incredible production design, complex plot, and characters (including females, and in a couple), Diego Luna is all in as the title character, and I’m in love as much as when he’s on the Big Screen. (1/10/2023)
Taboo (On FX) If this was just about watching Tom Hardy as half-breed, African traveler and shaman “James Keziah Delaney”, it would just rate on the HUNK 'O' METER. But it’s also fascinating imperial and colonial British history with a terrific supporting cast. While many of them got killed off (some characters deservedly as revenge), Season 2 will set sail for America to his Native American roots. (3/8/2017)
The Terror (On AMC) While this is an anthology horror series with changing showrunners, there’s historical resonance. In the first season (based on Dan Simmons’ novel that I haven’t yet read), it posited that indigenous spirits in Canada resisting colonial intrusion doomed Captain Sir John Franklin’s expedition to the Arctic in 1845-1848. The second season Infamy ratchets up beyond the terrific acting and production design by setting the ancient spirits in a Japanese citizen internment camp during World War II, and battle theaters, with an almost all-Asian-American cast, with at least half the dialogue in sub-titled Japanese. (9/3/2019)
This Is Us (On NBC) In the tradition of such family dramas as 30Something and Parenthood, an irresistibly, but somehow not schmaltzy, wonderful multi-generational through audience time-travel portrait of a ultra-complicated extended family. The actors are familiar from other TV series, but, gosh, this is the best work they’ve ever done! Each episode leaves me in tears! (11/28/2016)
True Detective (On HBO, 2 seasons on DVD) Series creator Nic Pizzolatto moved to my Auteurs To Watch List! (And I downloaded his novel and short story collection to keep the feel going when these eight episodes, of what is more like a mini-series, are over.) Despite a kooky serial killer premise, his language is extraordinarily exquisite. Not only is the use of the Louisiana landscape not just for the tax credits, but a palette for film director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre) to play out extraordinary images and moving camera (The “Who Goes There” episode is like rural Scorsese). But two Texas-born actors give performances (actually, two each, playing young detectives AND the burned-out middle-aged versions of themselves 17 years later) that define how the New Golden Age of TV matches the best of cinema: Matthew McConaughey is draw-droppingly harrowing, matched step for step by a fraying-til-wit’s end Woody Harrelson.
Becoming an anthology series, like the uneven American Horror Story. the 2nd season, set in a sleazy Los Angeles very much like sequel to Chinatown, the episode-recapping audience, unfortunately, was unwilling to be patient with an auteur-driven series that takes time for character development, resonant mise en scène (great use of the settings), gorgeous cinematography, bon mots dialogue, darker music, so that solving the case (amongst cascading numbers of bodies) became secondary. The visuals were spectacular: a massive shoot-out on a mid-day city street; another lit only by flashlights in dark tunnels; a gangster left for walking dead in a desert talking to people from his past; and a shoot-out in the forest that was a direct tribute to Bogart in High Sierra laid low by his fondness for a dog (here it was his son). The attractive cast – Rachel McAdams, Colin Farrell, and Taylor Kitsch as the titular characters, and Vince Vaughn-- playing against Hollywood type as grungy and damaged. Somehow the female characters staggered out alive. (updated 1/1/2016)
The Walking Dead (On AMC. 5 seasons on DVD.) (My commentary forthcoming.) Even without reading the graphic novel for comparison, I love how each season explores the zombie apocalypse in fascinatingly different ways and means, even as it kills off beloved characters and adds new ones, balancing intense emotional psychological development and gory action. Amazingly, not only did the series get stronger into the 6th season, but the surviving women’s roles, young and mature, got stronger and stronger, not just the samurai warrior “Michonne” (played by Danai Gurira) but the scarily practical middle-aged “Carol” (played by Melissa McBride). What a surprise that the Mayor of Alexandria “Deanna Monroe” was so shrewdly played as a true political leader by Tovah Feldshuh. Not only is the Talking Dead Aftershow terrific fan therapy (Chris Hardwick is better here than elsewhere), the best outside guest panelist is Yvette Nicole Brown, but it’s fun hearing “How-We-Did-That” from the director/SFX crew.
Fear the Walking Dead (off-shoot on AMC, 1st season on DVD) What a surprise that a simultaneous story in California could be just as good, with a separate cast of characters coping with the same unfolding catastrophe from their different situations and backgrounds, including complicated Latinos (kudos to Rubén Blades) and more strong women (kudos to Kim Dickens). (updated 11/30/2015)
Watchmen (On HBO) Within a mind-bending, time-traveling context, barely related to the graphic novel, the story and multi-generations of impact of the murderous white riot against the citizens of Tulsa and its “Black Wall Street” on May 31 – June 1, 1921 is the anchor for this mind-boggling, strongly cast, alternative, sci fi history of vigilantes and societal control. After the 2020 #BlackLivesMatter uproar against police brutality and racial discrimination, HBO made the series available for free. (7/3/2020)
Yellowstone (On Paramount) Created by one of my favorite progenitors of the “new Western” Taylor Sheridan (writer/director of Wind River, writer of Hell or High Water), this Big Sky country violent melodrama, with great scenery, is not just HUNK 'O' METER material, what with the “Dutton” patriarch played by Kevin Costner, his two adult sons “Jamie” (Wes Bentley) and especially PTSD-suffering former Navy SEAL (sic) “Kayce” (Luke Grimes), and their henchman “Rip Wheeler” (unrecognizable Cole Hauser, in what may be his first seemingly evil role – but he shows heart-grabbing vulnerability in S2). For a show touted by the network for attracting more young male watchers than female, the women are strong – the politicians are female and the Dutton daughter/sister “Beth” (Kelly Reilly) is scarily MBA-tough in negotiations, let alone in physical confrontations. While Sheridan has said in interviews that “Beth” is his favorite character to write dialogue for as the free-est who doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks, he says the true leader of the family was the late matriarch, and the family has been slowly dying since.
Unusual on TV are the Native Americans scheming to get their land or its value back, including “Thomas Rainwater” (Gil Birmingham). While I’m still working out the not fully plausible chronology of their back story that’s been revealed in drips and drabs, the chemistry between “Kayce” and his Native American wife “Monica” (Kelsey Asbille) is irresistible! (Grimes in promotional interviews described them as Romeo & Juliet for a start, because they are from different backgrounds.) The patriarch, in effect, bribes her to come off the reservation (where she was already disturbed by her sister-in-law’s suicide and violence at her school) to bring her husband and son to the ranch by getting the high school teacher a professorship in Native American history at the local university. While the cliffhanger to S1 was her leaving him altogether – and heck I wasn’t sure I’d continue watching the series, in promotional videos, the actress described the negative in-person fan reactions as more negative about the wife seeking to be independent of the Duttons. A typical online comment I saw was criticism of the wife as “pouty”.
In Season 2, Sheridan was more showrunner than auteur in the first half, as he focused on a cowboy competition series I have no interest in, though he did co-write key episodes, so some relationships got confusing. Even as “Beth” and “Rip” became my surprising 2nd fave couple, my first fave suffered dizzying vicissitudes. Though “Kayce” can’t ride away from the ranch that his wife calls “a giant Alamo”, wounded “Monica” reluctantly used the patriarch’s connections at the local college, but on her terms with the college president: Which version of Columbus's history am I teaching? Yours, Mrs. Dutton. Long. My last name is Long. It used to be "Long Spear," until my grandfather was taken from his parents and sent to a Catholic school funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where they changed his name and tried to teach him how not to be Indian. I look forward to teaching young minds all about the man who introduced genocide to the Western Hemisphere. She takes the mostly white students to a traditional horse-riding relay race (invited by her flirtatiously handsome physical therapist “Martin” (played by Martin Sensmeier) and in “Behind Us Only Grey” a holiday festival on the reservation with angry red hip hop. She tries grooving on the politically-charged songs -- performers included Joely Stylez doing “Save Your Soul” and Drezus doing “Warpath” -- surrounded by young Indigenous pumping their fists in the air. She is still wearing a red “Native Love” T-shirt when she gets into bed with her husband. In the next episode “Enemies By Monday”, the sisters-in-law bond in surprising solidarity against racism, when “Monica” calls “Beth” for help, and even though she herself is barely recovered from her own violent confrontation, “Beth”s scathingly intimate knowledge of the now-snobby women in town helps: You used to babysit her husband! The 2-part finale, co-written by Sheridan, was not only horrific, but resonated over the historic abduction by authorities of native kids from their mothers – particularly those with white fathers – here by a white nationalist “Montana Free Militia” hired by the Duttons’ dastardly business enemies (sociopathic brothers who Sheridan says were inspired by a real duo). Intriguingly, “Rainwater” pretends to the patriarch that he didn’t know the Dutton Family now includes Native Americans, which he knew from S1 Ep1, and sends his best warrior, as it were, to help. (I first just watched the last 10 minutes to be sure the kid survived before I dared to re-play the whole episode.)
While the network’s head hopes the series will continue for 6 – 7 seasons, even in S1 Native American issues on/off the reservation were raised not usually seen on TV, such as kidnapper/rapists, drone-flying treasure hunters, teacher shortages, poverty, lack of job opportunities, cultural insensitivity to traditional practices by the health system, and negative presumptions about behaviors. But only after S2 concluded did I learn that the noted Saulteaux First Nations (and under-utilized) actor/activist Adam Beach objected to the casting of “Monica” before the show aired, and into 2018: “Failure in diversity. I’m asking my Native Actors to stay away from this project. Yellowstone is telling the world that there are no Native actresses capable of leading a TV show. Unless your great-great grandparents are Cherokee.” (AKA “redwashing”.) While she was also cast as a Native American in Wind River, her background is ambiguous. Her father’s roots are in Taiwan (in her earlier Disney Channel days she used his last name of “Chow”), while she says her mother is part Cherokee – but is that in the sense that Senator Elizabeth Warren had to learn not to claim? Formidably studying for her bachelor’s in indigenous rights at Columbia University (I checked – this is presumably through CSER, the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race) while continuing her acting career, her comments before S1 aired to Last Magazine were articulate, but avoided the key issue: “’In terms of identity, mixed race identity, and talking about identity that falls outside traditions, it’s a confusing process and at least I’m in good company.’ Asbille does not take her heritage lightly—she learns Cherokee online, in a structured course provided by the Cherokee Nation, and she has a tutor to teach her Mandarin. ‘We’re kind of the black sheep in the family,’ she says, abashedly. ‘We’re the only ones in the family who can’t speak Chinese.’ But she acknowledges that it’s a process: “I just went to China for the first time at twenty-five and meeting some of my family there was a learning experience. As you get older, you learn what it is that defines you.’ She points out, positively, that at the very least conversations about these topics are happening and she appreciates cinema’s role in sparking the discussion. ‘The exploration can be painful, but in the end, I think it’s a blessing.’” The actor who portrayed her alternative love interest is also of mixed background, though identifies more explicitly in bios as of Tlingit, Koyukon-Athabascan, and Irish descent.) I have not seen discussion of the issue continuing into S2; we’ll see the reaction to S3 when Q’orianka Kilcher is added to the cast; her bio identifies her background as a Peruvian indigenous father, of Quechua-Huachipaeri background, and a mother of Swiss descent. By the ever more violent Season 3 and its repercussions in Season 4, “Monica” brings her husband closer to her Native American tribe. (updated 1/10/2022)
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: WATCH FOR REPEATS ON CABLE OR ON DVD/VIDEO/STREAMING
24 (on Fox. A & E is running earlier seasons and other days are in syndication -- I have no idea how you folks watching it that way can keep of which "day" you're watching. 7 seasons out on DVD, 1st season re-released enhanced. Soundtrack available. The producers of La Femme Nikita rebound from that cancellation (so why can't they find a role for "Michael"?) by sticking it in the eye of the imitative Alias with this thrilling, complicated, violent ride through a single exhausting day in the life of a government agent trying to prevent an assassination (the first season) and a nuclear bombing (the second season) and a plague (the third season) which was really a devilishly clever way for the producers to get a 24-episode commitment from Fox. On Charlie Rose in May 2005, producer Joel Surnow explained that Season 1 was influenced by movies, like The Day of the Jackal, In the Line of Fire and Three Days of the Condor, but since 9/11 they've been more influenced by the real world.
I originally filed this under HUNK 'O' METER because not only do we get Kiefer Sutherland and Carlos Bernard, but also in the first season a coupla hunks with Eastern European accents who kept getting killed off, and a few other hunks who it took awhile to figure out if they were good guys. But the stories are just so gripping, involving, and creative that I now officially consider this "quality." The multi-tasking screens remind me of the 1965 World's Fair's dazzling showcases, but actually serve a simultaneity purpose. The 2nd season closer twist really got me looking through past episode guides to figure out where that loose assassin came from in the 1st season. The former Penney Johnson should have gotten nommed for an Emmy for her turn as Lady MacBeth -- whew, and folks used to criticize Hilary? Loved her version of Bette Davis in The Little Foxes.
The third season played very effectively on our current fears about terrorism and hazards and really giving Reiko Aylsworth a chance to show her stuff. Ah, the fourth day is once again full of Lady MacBeths and Damsels in Distress! As Frank Rich wryly noted in The New York Times on January 9, 2005: "As 2005 begins, we must confront the prospect that a fictional TV action hero is more engaged with the war on terror than those in Washington who actually have his job." Yeah for "Tony" --much embittered by his experiences --to returning to save the day -- but once he declared his love to his ex we knew he was doomed as everyone other than "Jack.") But Season 6 is no longer "the worst day of my life" - so which one was?
Oh no – Day 8 is threatening to blow-up my neighborhood of Forest Hills! (updated 3/2/2010)
The Wall Street Journal on 3/24/2006, The Pilot Season's Magic Number by John Lippman, finally took notice of 24's impact on TV networks: (fair use excerpt) "A TV show with a dominant, continuing story line 'works like a 13-hour or 24-hour movie,' says [agent] John Bauman. . .And that has attracted talented screenwriters. 'Writers really want to write for these shows because they are character-driven.'. . .TV writers. . . say they find the serialized format a breath of fresh air in the Hollywood smog of formulaic dramas. 'You can develop a character and that's pretty interesting,' says Jack Orman, a former executive producer of E.R.. . .
But attracting writers isn't the main thing driving these shows. As with most things in Hollywood, economics is key: 24 has become a big seller on DVD, and DVD sales are a growing part of TV industry profits. The sale of TV shows on DVD last year rose 19% to an estimated $2.6 billion, accounting for nearly 20% of the overall DVD sales market, according to Adams Media Research, which tracks the video market.
But unlike buyers of traditional TV shows on DVD, who typically want to rewatch favorite episodes, a large number of 24 DVDs are catching up with episodes they missed, so they can join in seeing the live broadcasts, says Mike Dunn, president of Fox Home Entertainment. [Lippman conveniently doesn't point out that this math only works for a vertically integrated product of studio, network and distributor, such as also with HBO, which not all quality shows have the luxury of being birthed in such a conglomerate.]
So far, consumers have bought nearly three million DVDs of 24--equivalent to the DVD sales of a movie that has done about $50 million in ticket sales. That accounts for 'a large chunk of the revenue for the show,' Mr. Dunn says. In addition, although reruns of such dramas traditionally fare poorly on broadcast TV, they can perform well on cable networks since they have the flexibility to run a marathon of back-to-back episodes, as Fox's FX channel has done with 24. [Not since Season 2, I think.] Overall at Fox, sales of popular series repackaged as DVDs now generate more than $200 million annually, the company says, about the amount it used to earn from sales to local stations of reruns of such shows as Cops and The Simpsons before the syndication market cooled in the 1990's.
Excerpted from The Longest Day Enters the Hardest Season, by Joe Rhodes in The New York Times, December 5, 2004, on how producers Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow keep "a comprehensive episode-by-episode cheat sheet of the actions and interactions of every major character, the pivotal plot points, the timing of every twist. . .Hard as it is to believe - and Mr. Cochran says no one from the outside ever believes it - the writers of "24" are pretty much making it up as they go along, this year more than ever.. . . ."Sometimes the show runs strictly on adrenaline and velocity," says Howard Gordon, who shares executive producer credits with Mr. Cochran and Mr. Surnow. "Our job is to make sure the train is moving fast enough so that, even if there's a hole in the track, it'll keep going. And all of that, Mr. Gordon believes, hinges on Mr. Sutherland's portrayal of Jack Bauer, an intense and often grim character constantly forced to make horrible choices - sometimes including the killing of innocent bystanders – to save lives and protect the people he cares about. "Jack is this really tragic character," Mr. Gordon says. "He's really the walking damned. He can't have the life the rest of us have. He kind of bleeds for our sins."
See Character Surviving So Jack Bauer Can Live Another Day, by Coeli Carr, The New York Times, January 15, 2006 for an interview with Carlos Bernard, who plays my favorite character "Tony Almeida" and his surprising survival. So while everyone else cringes at the torture and right-wing conspiracy politics, I still watch for the hunks, and the strong women who love them on this show – every fan was thrilled when "Bill Buchanan" (played by James Morrison, who I've loved watching since Space: Above and Beyond was revealed in Day 6 to have married the now promoted to National Security Advisor “Karen Hayes” played by the non-young, non-dumb blonde Jayne Atkinson. The New York Times noticed him for a TV character profile on 4/1/2007 by Walter Dawkins in Walk Tightropes. Teach Yoga. Fight Terrorists.
100 Center Street (A & E) Feels like the prequel to Oz. It's both grittily realistic and theatrical. Creator Sidney Lumet combines the '40's TV feel of 12 Angry Men with contemporary language and situations, though the new season is going more for sentimental poignancy. While there are some ethnic stereotypes, this put NYPD Blue sharply in its place. Alan Arkin leads an interesting, multi-ethnic ensemble in his best performance in years. Lumet was even more actively involved in the second season, with the positive of more interesting dialogue and drama -- but a stale feeling of naive, out-of-date liberal causes and issues (how is that free legal service paying for itself?), and intentionally no mention of post-9/11.
American Crime (on ABC) I’m just glad to see John Ridley back writing, plus directing, on network TV, but the handling of incendiary issues to make everyone sympathetic seemed strained against the plot. (3/6/2015)
American Family (on PBS stations various times. Rerunning on Si TV) The first season last year (available on DVD) started out as run-of-the-mill soap opera with the PC gimmick of a Latino cast and a video journal, probably because it was developed for commercial television. But by the last few episodes the creator, noted filmmaker Gregory Nava, rose to new cinematographic and storytelling heights, particularly in a breath-taking one-take episode, "Silence of God," (sadly neglected at the Emmys) that also served as a catalyst for all the characters, and on into emotional episodes recalling the Zoot Suit Riots ("The Hat"). Season #2 is now billed by PBS as a 13-part mini-series "Journey of Dreams." Featuring many of the hunks from the disappeared Showtime series Resurrection Boulevard, it jumps a bit pretentiously between past and present, reality and dreams to try to present perhaps a too sweeping account of The Chicano Experience in war and peace, but is certainly the most beautiful show on TV since Carnivale. It's also nice to see a more realistic view of the impact of 9/11 and of soldiers in the Iraq War than such jingoistic shows as JAG. (updated 2/18/2006)
At Home with the Braithwaites (BBC America. 2 seasons out on DVD.) Utterly charming! Both LOL funny and poignant as each member of the family goes through hysteria and happiness. How typically un-American that a family comedy can have bad language, a lesbian daughter, a knocked-up sister (though with the usual TV outcome at a clinic), and a husband in an affair. As a fund raiser, I was impressed how accurate the story line was about the difficulties of setting up a foundation, from legalities to accounting to program evaluation and nepotism issues as the housewife tries to keep her lottery winnings secret from her family. The first season is a marvelous introduction to setting up a philanthropy; the second season got a bit silly. The Welsh Mine All Mine (mini-series on BBC America also very amusingly deals with a suddenly wealthy family but one with no philanthropic interests. (updated 3/24/2006)
Attachments (mini-series was on BBCAmerica but seemed unfinished, as apparently the BBC didn't renew it for another season) The first dot-com drama. The varied Brit accents are a bit thick and BBC America's censorship of language was annoying, but you can still figure out the VERY frank, very original, very contemporary roller coaster situations (stopping a porno site squatter, cyber sex with a venture capitalist, payola deals with old friends, siblings, friends and lovers intruding with various sexual proclivities).
BallykissAngel (rerun on BBCAmerica various times; also on some PBS channels. 4 seasons out on video/DVD, and a soundtrack.) Characters have come and gone, actors have died or moved on to movie careers (yes, we BallyK fans will have known Colin Farrell before he became a hot Hollywood hunk), but now through six seasons the tone and gentle realism of this small titular town continues to charm and absorb. Don't let the "G" rating fool you; this is sophisticated family fare. Also on BBCAmerica (repeated now and again) has been Haimish MacBeth (2 seasons on DVD), a similar take on a Scottish village, with a surprisingly calm Robert Carlyle, but with heavy brogues all around the town.
And Monarch of the Glen (7 seasons on DVD, with an extra bonus of The Last Monarch: A behind the scenes special featuring members of the original cast, soundtrack album available. Pops up both on BBCA repeats and PBS.) is another cute collection of quirky characters with the added touch of class and tradition vs. modernity conflict in the Scottish highlands, and isn't the Laird of the Manor cute so no wonder he had several ladies interested --even if the resolution of the relationships wasn't as interesting as the competition. But they do keep coming up with new interesting faces. And even when he's gone for good they manage to rope in other easy-on-the-eyes relatives to carry on and keep the stories both sweet and poignant on the clash of tradition and modernity. (updated 10/27/2007)
Boardwalk Empire (on HBO, Sunday nights, and On Demand (with bonus scene analysis by writers/directors), 1st season DVD with lots of bonus material, though the Blue-Ray version has more: featurettes on the 300-foot Boardwalk set, the main characters, Atlantic “Sin” City in the 1920s, speakeasies in Chicago and New York, plus six audio commentaries including actors Steve Buscemi, Michael Kenneth Williams and Michael Shannon, creator/writer/executive producer Terence Winter, director/writer/executive producer Tim Van Patten, writer/supervising producer Howard Korder and directors Brian Kirk and Allen Coulter; 4 seasons on DVD.) (Appreciation forthcoming) Kudos to Steve Buscemi, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Pitt, Michael Shannon, Kelly MacDonald and the superb production design and historical incorporation.
Commentary on the lack of/glimpses of Jewish womenin the series, and final inclusion.
Coincidentally, just as the 2nd season started, on PBS Ken Burns’s Prohibition provided the historical context, and he discussed the cross-over in a brief Drama Meets Documentary commentary. I’ve haven’t yet read the non-fiction history that inspired it: Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson. Plus my commentary on the references to real dental history in the final season. (updated 1/18/2016)
Boss (on Starz – both seasons on DVD) I worked for one of the last of NYC’s bosses, whose name became unmentionable, and this series captures a lot of the machinations, and it’s only barely exaggerated for dramatic effect. (updated 4/11/2013))
Breaking Bad (on AMC, complete series on DVD.) Not just another desperate, drug-cooking suburbanite. The Everyman with his back against the wall, but a head on his shoulders, Bryan Cranston is not just terrific as the cancer-ridden chemistry teacher with problems at home and a DEA agent brother-in-law. The sun-beaten look of the show matches the extreme plots with their riveting comparisons of his split lives. Over three seasons, Aaron Paul as his young partner has also stupendously grown his character from slacker to really trying to be an entrepreneurial mensch, just never succeeding. Both grab our hearts, even as they deal in deadly merchandise with a diverse array of lowlifes.
From "'Breaking Bad' creator talks finale, next season" in Hollywood Reporter Vince Gilligan interview with James Hibberd, 6/14/2020: “Q: The opening segment of the show have increasingly become these little stand-alone vignettes this season. Was that an intentional evolution? A: I learned that from Chris Carter working seven years on The X Files. In fact, I imported the whole teaser and four-act structure from The X Files into Breaking Bad. One of the things I hold firm to from Chris is that storytelling should be visual. I love the idea of finding a visually interesting way to tell what the characters are thinking and that extends to the teaser. We really have fun coming up with them, we want to tease and hook the audience, and we sometimes spend days on these teasers -- is this as interesting it can be, is it as funny, is it as dark, is it as clever?"
My son the PhD Chemist applauds that all the chemistry in the series is accurate – and reports that it’s a fave among his colleagues, what with a ”Maven of Meth” as their chemistry consultant.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (on Netflix) was a satisfying fantasy ending to the series. (updated 10/19/2019)
The Bridge (2 summer seasons on FX, 1st season on DVD) Despite the ridiculous serial killer story-line, this Tex-Mex border story and casting is riveting! Demián Bichir was charismatic in the satirical Weeds, but as Mexican “Detective Marco Ruiz”, he really gets a TV role he can sink his acting chops in beyond being a hunk. Diane Kruger’s role as Texan “Detective Sonya Cross” as something of an idiot savant borderline Asperger’s Syndrome blonde should have been ridiculous, but she adds such depth and dimension, aided by the paternal guidance of “Lt. Hank Wade” (Ted Levine showing macho can be tender). All this amidst a social consciousness about fraught border issues and gorgeously noir cinematography.
I have 2 seasons on DVD of the original, Bron/Broen, set on the Danish/Swedish border, available as part of MHz Networks expansion of bringing international TV mystery and thriller series to the U.S, but I haven’t watched them yet for comparison.
The series was again closely re-made and shown in the U.S. on PBS, as The/Le Tunnel, with the crime set in the middle of the Channel Tunnel with a competing/cooperating team of British and French detectives. (updated 6/29/2016)
Brotherhood (on Showtime. Full series on DVD.) Another Son of EZ Streets (3 episodes available on DVD; also showing on Sleuth TV). Won a 2007 Peabody Award for: “Uniformly splendid acting and a strong sense of place characterize this serial drama about two Providence, R.I. brothers, a rising politician and a smalltime gangster, and their morally compromised pursuits of the American dream.” More theatrically operatic than the more realistic The Wire, but wonderfully uses Providence, RI for rich local detail and incestuous claustrophobia of a small, corrupt city almost as well as that uses Baltimore. It builds on Showtime's own Street Time for family criminal issues, crossed with the bare knuckle politics of The Yards, which understood Queens the same way. Annabeth Gish is again a politician's wife as she was on West Wing, but her character has more layers and she explodes on screen here with drugs and lovers, and has become the captivating, tightly wound center of the series. The wives cross the lines of the old neighborhood connections as much as the guys, though Fionnula Flanagan may chew the scenery as a mother as those on past Showtime series -- Sharon Gless in Queer as Folk or Blythe Danner in Huff. Jees, Showtime doesn't even on its Web site give us the Biblical quotes whose citations are the title of each episode. You have to go to TV.com for that.
So we got to see Jason Isaacs be as sexy as he was even briefly in Nine Lives and an arc on West Wing even if his character is full of vengefully brutal violence -- but with a college student? What a relief to hear him a few episodes later explain why he's taken up with his married ex: It's good to talk to a grown-up. And how do they deal with two Jasons while filming - by their last names? Philip Noyce is an executive producer and directed the first episode is how they found yet another Aussie to take over our TVs and hearts, Jason Clarke from Down Under.
"Sanyutta II:10" was unusual, and not just because the title referred to a Buddhist text rather than the usual Christian Bible, but that it was written and directed all by women -- the writing/producing team of Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin and director Leslie Libman, who has been involved with a lot of my favorite gritty shows that are usually seen as male bastions but have strong women characters, including The Wire. So it was particularly significant that the closing scene was one of the most powerful and complex sex scenes I've seen on TV since La Femme Nikita. Husband "Tommy Caffee" (Clarke) had to pick up wife "Eileen" (Gish) in the middle of the night at a distant police station after she was found angry in the woods and use his political connections to gloss things over. She was high on cocaine and guilt after dumping a kitten there, but she would only admit to the latter. The camera looks in on their kitchen the next morning as she is the über dutiful mother sending off their three daughters efficiently to the school bus. He wanders in (looking quite sexy in his undershirt). She takes his shirt from a hanger and, back to him, almost embraces it. She brings it to him: I ironed your shirt for you. (The last time we saw them make love was while changing the sheets on their bed.) She helps him on with it and the camera caresses the shirt. They intently look at each other - you can certainly tell they are not thinking about putting that shirt on but taking it off. They very slowly kiss in close-up, then the camera is back in distance as they all out lustfully embrace full body to every body part, he spins her around to go at it on the kitchen counter, her shoes falling to the floor and her legs clinging to his thrusts. He comes fast but does she? Is this amends? Payback? Her desperately seeking from him the thrills she's been getting from drugs and the lover who now won't return her calls? He slowly kisses her again and they each methodically re-button their clothes. He struts off to work as she smoothes down her clothes, left there alone in the kitchen. There's a fine line between anger and lust.
She hit rock bottom by the end of the first season with a druggy affair, so her husband rejected her through most of the second. But in the penultimate episode “Call Letter Blues 1:2-6” by Henry Bromell she forcefully re-staked her claim: You, me, the girls, this insignificant little house, I’m not sure my life doesn’t have anything outside of it. So I’ve decided to fight for it. And the episode closed with her looking like a still life portrait from an Edward Hopper painting, as directed by Alik Sakharov. This season also featured really cool music over the closing credits in each episode, though Showtime’s web site doesn’t provide a music guide for this show that it does for it’s others. (updated 2/9/2008)
An analysis that crosses from TV to film - Fighting Irish: A new clan is muscling in on Hollywood's Italian American gangs, and they're not singing soprano by Lynn Smith in The Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2006, (fair use excerpt):
. . .These characters drink hard, fight hard and love hard and think nothing of settling slights with violent payback. Their families are often large enough to include criminals, priests, cops, politicians and the labor movement in the extended clan, though any of them is as likely to be crooked as any other. With histories tying them to their communities over generations and with so many tendrils of connections, these Irish American clans open a wide swath of story possibilities to explore, at a time when Mafia families appear to have run their course. David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos 'has killed the Italian mobster for all time,' said Blake Masters, co-executive producer of one of the new Irish-themed TV shows: Showtime's Brotherhood . . ."The Caffees'" extended family lives in a working-class neighborhood in a dense, industrial-looking section of town with vestiges of powerful public unions and ward politics. The city's decaying homes, shops and factories suit its characters, who are marked by resentment and suspicion, good and evil, Masters said. 'Tommy"s family may be upwardly mobile, but success isn't necessarily the goal. 'In the Irish ideal, you're going to get beat down by the cops, you're going to get your neighborhood stolen, of course you're going to lose your job, so you bond in these clans,' Masters said. 'And so the style with which you go down swinging is important.'
. . .Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco [producers of the failed The Black Donnellys] have visited this territory before: EZ Streets, a short-lived 1996 series, told sophisticated and brutal tales of Irish American cops who infiltrate a gang. Three years before The Sopranos, it was 'way ahead of its time' and frightened advertisers, said Joe Pantoliano, who played the gang leader and went on to play a mobster on The Sopranos. . .
Brotherhood also tries to avoid stereotypes; for instance, the writers said they deliberately did not include a priest in the family. The "Caffee" women also feature prominently as a drug-addicted wife and a shrewd matriarch. To inform the 'texture' of their production, Masters and co-executive producer Henry Bromell (Homicide) said they interviewed the governor of Rhode Island, state senators, representatives and police chiefs. But they had to be careful, Masters said. 'I didn't know who was on whose side.' . . .Neither is it easy to find American actors with the lived-in faces to play strong men with family obligations and battle scars. 'Most young American actors have been boys all the time,' Masters said. His two leads, Jason Clarke ("Tommy") and Jason Isaacs ("Michael"), are Australian and English, respectively. However, two other actors, Kevin Chapman (who plays crime boss "Freddi Cork") and Brian Scannell ("Silent John"), grew up in rough neighborhoods in Boston and offer a rare touch of authenticity, Masters said. Authentic Irish American actors were in such demand, in fact, some were also cast in The Departed, which was shooting at the same time. They had to travel back and forth from Providence to Boston, Masters said.
Director of Made, a 2001 comedy about low-level gangsters in New York's heavily Irish and Italian Hell's Kitchen. . . Favreau suggested the success of the projects has less to do with how well they mine reality and more with the myths and legends that surround Irish crime — and how well filmmakers make use of them. If it doesn't work out, he suggested another frontier to be explored: Jewish gangsters. 'They were pretty tough.'"
Carnivale (HBO still repeats it; both seasons on DVD. According to a Reuters/Hollywood Reporter piece by Andrew Wallenstein on 7/17/2005, HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht "deemed [it] ultimately too expensive to continue given its huge production costs and ensemble cast. 'It's not a big show in the foreign (market), there's not a lot of investment to recoup from that." HBO was talking about a 2-hour wrap-up movie, but the creators rejected that as too short and are exploring a graphic novel finale instead. I went back and forth of judging this as quality vs. under my HUNK 'O' METER. It didn't completely live up to its promise, as it was obvious that the producers were changing the story line as they edited to string us along. But over time, I've come to admire it more (and not just because I love the wool souvenir cap I bought.)
It was certainly worth watching because of cute Nick Stahl, as I join with the showgirls' admiration of him. Not as deep as other HBO dramas, it was basically another The X Files (which had its fair share of episodes set in freak shows), with its own iconography. Snatches of Katharine Dunn'sGeek Love here and there, and you can hum David Bromberg's "Sharon (Main Street Moan)": "She was wearing nothing but a scarf and a sneeze... Roared that red-headed bear -- 'What do you do to these men/You know that same rowdy crowd that was here last night is back again'. . . When the carnival left town it took a little bit of my heart." (BTW Bromberg in an interview notes that this song is inspired both by the Coasters' "Little Egypt" and his dirty-dancing sister-in-law Sharon. He prefers the recording on Fantasy rather than Columbia.)
The Depression-era look, feel and sound is what makes the series superior. HBO provided amusic guide to the period (Dust Bowl) pieces. The second season tried to make the whole mythology make sense, yeah right – but it was even more turgid, confusing and complicated. At least Stahl got to change his shirt finally and looked mighty fine even when the poor guy was filthy. That was surely the sweetest, most romantic what we certainly thought at the time was incestual coupling on "The Road to Damascus" ever seen on TV. The second season finale wasn't particularly satisfying as it seemed a bit desperate to make a cliffhanger though renewal prospects are dim. (updated 8/26/2009)
The Chris Isaak Show (Showtime reruns it in slapdash scheduling on various channels) I initially just put this under the HUNK 'O' METER because it's so gentle in its humor --the producers are after all Northern Exposure alumni--and not as satirical as it could be about the rock 'n' roll life. In addition to Isaak sort of playing himself (and I'm a fan who has all his albums), his real and pseudo-band mates (particularly adorable Jed Rees as his morally challenged, supposed keyboard player) are fun to watch, and sometimes even touching. Especially heart-tugging is the wonderful actress playing "Yola" his woebegone manager, Kristin Dattilo, who attempts to have a moral, conventional life and romances while being surrounded by sex, drugs, rock 'n ' roll, a mother in full mid-life crisis, and a temptingly cute, younger male competitor in her office. The musical and Hollywood guest stars a la The Larry Sanders Show are entertaining (but how come no soundtrack of the duets out?), but the nude counselor is just plain Showtime-typical gratuitous. Nice arc to the last season that led to a surprising, yet satisfying conclusion. (updated 3/28/2004))
Cold Feet (rerun on BBC America various times and they sometimes dole out fresh episodes now and then. 1st season out on DVD, but it's not clear to me how the Brit seasons match up to what we've seen here in terms of number of episodes.) A case study of how a British original is better than its American imitation. The quickly-cancelled American version of this show had a too pretty cast, cut down on the randy language and action, and slowed down the sprightly, crazy pace. The editing is key to what makes this older show being replayed after being on Bravo, quality, with its quick cutting of points-of-view among three friendly couples at different stages of relationships, marriage and children-raising. While some of the accents are hard to interpret for American ears, the character actors (some familiar from Brit TV shows previously shown here) are marvelous. (updated 2/18/2006)
Cracker (repeated occasionally on BBCAmerica. All episodes on DVD. The quickly cancelled American re-make is also out on DVD.) Finally being shown uncensored for language in the U.S. that other basic cable shows like The Shield think they're now daring for using, this classic cop show simply broke the genre mold and invented the TV forensic psychologist as well as Grit Brit cop shows and the flawed hero, such as House, M.D.. It has since been much imitated but re-watching amazes me that it's still powerful and original, as no other show has dared to have a lead character as flawed and unlikely as "Fitz" (Robbie Coltrane) and have such psychologically brutal interactions among the ensemble players. The personal literally bleeds into the professional and vice versa. Other shows have gone beyond with the visual violence, but this is still more shocking. I also think it was influential way beyond it's initial U.S. audience -- would James Gandolfini be possible as destructively flawed, un-matinee-idol-looking "Tony Soprano" without Fitz? Too bad Granada used cheap video so it looks like old kinescopes.
Quibblers online say the first episodes written by creator Jimmy McGovern were superior to later episodes by Paul Abbott (who also writes Shameless, as well as one of the American scripts), but I was so struck by the latter that I now will watch anything Abbott writes, and even American imitations of what he wrote, such as USA's gussied-up, watered-down, but still flashes of effective version of Touching Evil (one episode on DVD). (updated 8/25/2009)
Dead Like Me (SyFy Channel reruns the whole series at various times. Both seasons out on DVD.) While I was disappointed that I couldn't put this under HALL OF DAMES because the lead girl "George" is exactly like the sullen teenager I always warn my friends who are considering "having a baby" is what they'll really end up with for more years, the quirkiness of the whole mise en scène (the living and the dead) is charming. Though I cannot keep track of all the rules in this After World. So nice to see Mandy Patinkin --he only got to sing a bit at the end of the series-- and Cynthia Stevenson back on TV. Callum Blue's Brit "Mason" is kinda endearing. The second season charmingly developed each character, including their back story, as well as George's family, even if the deaths of the souls they reaped more and more became like Six Feet Under.
SyFy in 2009 showed a bleeped version of the movie Life After Death that was produced for the possibility of a renewed series without Patinkin, but instead Bryan Fuller explains: Pushing Daisies “came out of a spin-off idea for Dead Like Me. And then when I left that show to do Wonderfalls I just put it in my back pocket where it was gestating. And when I went into Warner Bros. to talk about pilot ideas, I pitched out six or seven ideas and this is the one that [they] actually championed. . . We would have set it up so in season two George would have met this guy, discovered what he could do and touched her, she would get her life back, go back to her family for an arc of episodes. And then he would touch her again because she would have left all of her responsibilities behind. [It designed as] part of her growing up in the series. And he would have gone off to his own show. That was the plan. It kind of worked out that way. But not exactly as planned. [Laughs.]” (updated 8/25/2009)
Deadwood (on HBO, may repeat On Demand. All 3 seasons out on DVD. Soundtrack out. Still up in the air are two concluding two-hour movies.) I was at first truly torn whether to put this under HUNK 'O' METER as it does have captivating guys in Ian MacShane as the villainous yet complex opposite of his affable Lovejoy and beyond even his Power and Glory head lawyer in Trust, Keith Carradine for the first four episodes, and most especially a piercing Timothy Olyphant in an exquisite Dance of the Alpha Males. But David Milch is not just reinventing the Western -- he is demonstrating how an amoral, lawless, vividly profane, mostly male environment gradually lurches towards civilization and self-government, a sort of Lord of the Flies in reverse that John Ford implied in his Westerns and sexual tension that's straight out of Jane Austen. His extravagant effort to keep to historical accuracy in dirt, characters (like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Sheriff Bullock, etc.), sets, profanity, and body count is riveting -- rivaling Oz. The highly stylized period language, which has much in common with Milch's earlier work on NYPD Blue can be hard to follow. Halfway through the first season the women started to get more complex as well, powerfully influencing events and emotions, and are even more active in the second season. The cinematography even looks like daguerreotypes.
While the opening music is by David Schwartz, HBO finally started IDing the musical selections with the third season, which is useful as they are not of the period. I picked up additional info at the HBO Forums from one of the producers, Jody Worth, who, along with a couple of the actors, started posting with the airing of Episode 3. He says that "all the end-credit songs were drawn from a list suggested by the journalist Jane Wallace":
In Episode 4: "Here Was A Man" -- when the town is reacting to Wild Bill's murder the mandolin music is "Iguazo" by Gustavo Santaolalla.
Michael Brook's music was featured, among other times, when Hickok's body was being viewed in the tent at the start of Episode 5: "The Trial of Jack McCall."
Snippets of the closing song of Episodes 1 and 10, "Hog of the Forsaken" by Michael Hurley, can be heard from the album Long Journey.
There's an error posted in the music list for Episode 11: "Jewel's Boot Is Made For Walking" - it's in fact "Snake Baked A Hoecake" performed by Calum McColl, from a children's album credited to Mike and Peggy Seeger and family. The Mississippi John Hurt song actually closes out Episode 12.
The title of the operatic season finale Episode 12: "Sold Under Sin" comes from the apostle Paul in Romans 7, 14-15: "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." The fife and drums are playing "Lillibulero."
According to the actors who post, "Mr Wu is probably the only actor on the set who writes most of his own dialogue," as he speaks in genuine Cantonese. Two of the actors are in bands "with a mutual love of loud rock and roll and Townes Van Zan[d]t": John Hawkes' ("Sol Star") band is Space Brothers (so I guess he's really playing the drums in A Slipping Down Life) and W. Earl Brown's ("Dan Dority") band is Sacred CowBoys.
It helps to know that the second season takes place about six months after Season 1 concluded, so tensions and emotions that were building exploded easily. I could no longer keep up with the HBO Forum and won't even try to do any commentary compared to all that gets discussed there, including interaction with actors and writers. Coming someday: my transcription of David Milch's comments at the 92nd St Y on September 15, 2005 on "The Jewish Experience in the Old West". The George Hearst character had pithy advice for My Son the Election Law expert: Elections cannot inconvenience me. They ratify my will or I neuter them. (in "A Constant Throb" by producer Mark Tinker) followed in the season finale by an ominous look to his future as he responds nastily to the editor who has recovered from the beating Hearst ordered: I've stopped reading your paper. I'll have my people here start another one to lie the other way.
That finale, "Tell Him Something Pretty" by producer Ted Mann, also included what passes for poignant romantic banter in this searing series: The ex-prostitute "Trixie" is graphically explaining her strategy to get her paramour "Starr" election votes which will also expose her to the vengeance of Hearst, whom she had just tried to assassinate: "Starr": You selfish cunt. "Trixie": No one asked you to put me up. "Starr": That's right, my fucking choice. I'm not fucking afraid. "Trixie": I guess maybe I'm not either. "Starr" (choking): Not to die. "Trixie": Why ain't you clever. Ain't you fuckin' clever, you deep thinkin', fuckin' Jew. "Starr": Why bother with your boots then, Trixie, if you're goin'? "Trixie": Let me walk out myself! "Starr" throws her out the door: The fuck I will. At least I can say that I threw you out because you'd rather die than live with me! He sits and weeps. There's a knock at the door. He opens it to her -- and they embrace and cry. – but in the meantime Milch’s writing and much of the cast could be seen on the head-scratching one-season John From Cincinnati).
10th Anniversary Oral History, as told to Kimberly Potts, 4/7/2014, in Yahoo TV. (updated 4/12/2014)
Dexter (on Showtime, repeated frequently and On Demand, so I can catch up. All 8 seasons on DVD.) From the serial killer's viewpoint, set in Miami, the first season was based on the first book in what became a series Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, and is an excellent adaptation into a mini-series format, retaining strong colorful characters and expanding situations very cleverly (particularly with the flashbacks to step-father "Harry", the threatening ex-boy friend and extending the murders and the interaction with the murderer even surprisingly changing the ending). I don't usually like TV shows or movies with narration but this one very effectively maintains the arch tone of the first-person book. I presume the next season will be based on the next book, so I'll wait to read that one until afterwards. Jimmy Smits was a riveting ally, and more, in Season 3, and John Lithgow a riveting adversary. (updated 6/4/2013)
Epitafios (Epitaphs) (on HBO Signature Channel and repeated On Demand with English subtitles, 1st season repeating on HBO 2. New season, promoted as "The End Now Has Two Faces", starting September 2009.) Kudos to HBO for bringing us unilinguals international television! Produced in Argentina for HBO Latin America, this is noir, serial killing revenge episodic television that tells one continual story, like 24 and Prison Break, (though sometimes the camera work drags out the tension or really manipulates our POV). Gliding camera work, beautiful urban settings (Buenos Aires), characters haunted by their pasts and their past relationships, with intriguing, charismatic actors. Julio Chávez is channeling Jean Paul Belmondo and the sexual tension is really maintained through to the very end. Of course it has HBO-frank sex, violence, heartbroken romance and language (with only a few laughable mis-translations in the easy to read yellow subtitles), but this is was beyond CSIs and feels more like such recent European crime thrillers as The Memory of a Killer (De Zaak Alzheimer) or gritty Brit mysteries with way higher body count. (And cigarette smoking.) Lots of plot twists and dead bodies but completely addictive! Even as we learn more and more about the serial murderer (we meet him about half-way through) and ever more macabre imaginative ways to kill people and get away with it (even if a couple of times it was a bit too slippery that he got away).
The success of this series also encouraged HBO to put up On Demand another cool noir, albeit Spanish-dubbed, Brazilian series Mandrake, among others from south of the border. (updated 10/28/2013)
Easy Money (too quickly cancelled from The CW's brief 2009 experiment in renting out Sunday night to Media Rights Capital) I realize I'm about the only one who watched let alone liked Diane Frolov's and Andrew Schneider's quirky take on a loan sharking family in ground zero for the subprime economy of the southwest. So I was glad when CW at least showed the unaired episodes over the summer. Laurie Metcalf's red-haired matriarch of compound interest "Babette Buffkin" would have faired better on cable. Jeff Hephner as her son "Morgan Stanley" was not just appealing, in his love for an academic geneticist whose DNA research discovered his adoption, but heck if he wasn't good at his job, too. (8/26/2009)
Flight of the Conchords (on HBO - repeated various times throughout the week and On Demand. All are asking the creators for a third season – but they refused. 2 seasons on DVD. EP of studio and live recordings and album available.) It took me almost the whole first season to really get into this satire of the music business. At first I thought “the fourth most popular folk music parody duo in New Zealand” were a one trick pony of satirizing old music videos. And I didn’t particularly like all of Eagle vs. Shark which co-starred deadpan Jemaine Clement and was directed by Taika Waititi (though listed on the IMDb with the last name Cohen) who also directed several episodes of the TV series. But Bret McKenzie is so endearing and their Consul Manager “Murray” (Rhys Darby) so hapless, that I really got into their very funny efforts to build their fan base beyond their one sycophantic groupie “Mel” (Kristen Schaal) and to get gigs. Plus I like the filming on the Lower East Side. So the music video satires became just an added benefit. Thanks to my nephew Eliav for alerting me to their A Texan Odyssey satire of SXSW. I do enjoy wearing the "Not Australian" T-shirt souvenir I bought at the HBO store. (updated 8/25/2009)
Friday Night Lights (Complete series on DVD. After NBC, then DirecTV. then NBC, then repeats on ABC Family, then repeats on ESPN.) Based on and having some of the same problems as the film Friday Night Lights (though I haven't yet read the same-titled book by Buzz Bissinger that also had the subtitle A Town, a Team, and a Dream). So I originally had this under HUNK 'O' METER because the eye candy is irresistible, from Kyle Chandler (who I've been a fan of since Homefront through Early Edition (2 seasons on DVD), both of which show up on various cable channels now and again, and was so sorry he was quickly killed off with no comment on Grey's Anatomy) and long-haired Taylor Kitsch and the other young football players, especially the shy second-string QB "Matt" with his thing for ‘Julie”, the daughter of the coach, who is late to realize the implications when he advises the kid to let off steam: Do you have someone you're interested in? Get her into the back seat of your car. In the second season, “Leave No One Behind” by Aaron Rahsaan Thomas had me in tears for “Matt” with his weeping line Why does everyone leave me? . The second season episode “There Goes the Neighborhood”, as written by David Hudgins and directed by Jeffrey Reiner, teased us girls and women who watch the show for Kitsch as “Tim Riggins”, by having the daughter and aunt ogle him, even as the mom chides them for inappropriateness, as in real life he My Scion’s age.
As the 2007 Peabody awards said: “No dramatic series, broadcast or cable, is more grounded in contemporary American reality than this clear eyed serial about the hopes, dreams, livelihoods and egos intertwined with the fate of high-school football in a Texas town.” The coach's wife (played by Connie Britton) is definitely not a Barbie doll, and her prickly but loving relationship with him while exploring her new guidance counseling job and wifely obligations is key to making this more about small town life than just about football. Even the coach had to admit My wife is always right. (in "Nevermind" by Jonas Pate, the same episode where "Lyla" tried to get her crippled boyfriend to watch a quad sex ed tape) when she insisted that the "no pass, no play" policy had to include the ballplayers actually doing their own school work - can they read? But the directing, production design and community feel in Texas are wonderfully involving. Nice expansion into the Murderball-like story line for the injured player, like the side story of Josh Henderson's injured vet in Over There. And I do know zilch about football - even though I did join the Pep Club in high school to sincerely try to learn but the guys who were explaining rules, plays and strategies to us were so condescending that I gave up. But every now and then there's recognition that this does take place in a school and there might be classes in math, English, social studies, etc.
”It’s Different For Girls” by Andy Miller may have been a bald effort to try and get us chicks to watch and turn the tables by having the football team attend the cheerleader competition (though shown as a ploy by the coach to keep his intellectual daughter “Julie” away from the sweetest replacement quarterback in sports – though his “Matt chat” backfires when she rebels and –shock—starts taking an interest in football with him). But heck if its focus on the double standard in a small town even makes us sympathize with perfect cheerleader “Lyla” as the Mean Girls escalated their war against her as a slut for cheating on the crippled quarterback with his best friend (who really is desperately in love with her in a poignant triangle as he altruistically reaches out to both of them to reconcile amidst The Scarlet Letter opprobrium going on, though a few weeks later we learn he never actually read that assigned book). Are the father/daughter relationships as the anchors, not with the mothers, to appeal to the guy viewers? But the post-partum mother/daughter stuff in the 2nd season has been really raw. It was a bit forced for the Coach to suddenly point out that she had been on her college’s varsity volleyball team, though it does make sense that they shared a sports interest when they met, but the volleyball team that he oversees as the forced-to-be-aware of Title IX-Athletic Director does bring girls, like the tall bad girl “Tyra”, into the sports story line well (though the continuation of her romance with “Landry” doesn’t really make sense.)
Nice upgrade of the usual music on the show with Jose Gonzalez’s “Storm”, and so a music guide is helpful. (updated 10/2/2011)
The producers are about to learn the lesson of Homicide and Boomtown that Nielsen families don't like shaky camera work. Jason Katims defended the style in a TV Guide interview: "One is that it's not being done for the sake of doing arty-looking stuff. What I respond to stylistically is that it doesn't feel like a typical television drama. You feel like you're really in this world. We shoot on location in Texas, and we haven't built a single set. That said, there are moments when the camera movement gets in the way and we have definitely made adjustments to ensure that the camera doesn't get in the way of enjoying the show. It will be a little less dizzying, but we are not changing the style. It's shot 95 percent handheld in real locations, largely in available light. To me, focusing on somebody's foot tapping or how somebody's holding their hands does inform you about what's going on in the scene. In quiet scenes there will be less jumpy camera movement. It's still the same style; we're just taking care to make sure that we can slow the camera down at moments."
The series is so belovedly iconic that it was the perfect foil for a devastating parody in Inside Amy Schumer – 2nd Season, "Football Town Nights” sketch where the coach shakes the town up by insisting on a no-rape policy.
Glee (on Fox, all 7 seasons on DVD) Rachel Berry as an unusual young Jewish woman on TV, though there was the odd addition in the 3rd season of Sugar Motta. The quality tapered off even more in the 4th season, 5th season (albeit with a touching tribute to the real death of lead actor Cory Monteith, by also dealing with the death of his character, the quarterback “Finn Hudson”), and dragged through the 6th season, as they kept following the graduates onto performance studies and careers, and the use of oldies the kids wouldn’t even know seemed too stale, until it mercifully ended with the 7th season. Creator Ryan Murphy is using American Horror Story: Freak Show (on FX, 2014 season) to continue his tradition of incongruous covers of songs, here as performances in a bizarre carnival.
So Smash (on NBC, 2 seasons on DVD) became more fun musically, let alone with grown-ups not pretending to be kids, but was a ratings failure, though is being rerun on music theater-friendly channels. (updated 5/26/2015)
Going to California (Showtime finished its first run after cancelling it but it is popping up every now on then on Showtime's extra channels) One showing of this whimsical series, which has a similar feel to The Chris Isaak Show and the movie Diner and I was already sold by its rock 'n' roll sensibility, sharp writing and of course guys who are easy on the eyes. Peter Himmelman is doing the music, like he does for Judging Amy. But I don't know if he's also picking the soundtrack selections, let alone the rock 'n' roll script references coz they're marvelous. But it's executive produced by a co-writer of High Fidelity screenplay so it just may be that Scott Rosenberg is knowledgeable. The characters do High Fidelity type lists like "4 hottest chicks in movies" with a debate about whether the gay guy in the car has a right to make a list on only aesthetic grounds. Crucial discussion was on whether it's enough in life to know that you can see Springsteen on tour every 4 years or if one should expect more from life. I thought this was just gonna be a guy road trip, but the lessons they learn from the women along the way (and the girlfriend still back home) are very moving, thanks to the women writers on the show. That's Old '97's, one of my faves, doing a specially recorded theme song "Let's Get Lost Along The Way". Who would have predicted that the Air Supply song "I'm All Out Of Love" could provide the best screen epiphany since John Cusack held up a tape playing "In Your Eyes"? (and what a surprise for a song I can't get out of my head - turns out they're an Australian band). And here's two-degrees of separation to Russell Crowe:
Russell as rocker hits a Sundance high note by Mark Caro, in Chicago Tribune, January 21, 2002 (more than fair use excerpt):
"The Sundance Film Festival is all about discovering the future stars of film, but, still, everyone gets a little giddier when the current ones show up.. . And late Thursday night, the Yarrow Hotel's lobby and entrances were crammed late with dozens of parka-wearing festivalgoers, mostly female, who were desperately seeking tickets for a documentary about a rock band that has sold about as many albums as Britney Spears sells during a costume change.
If these fans couldn't snag a ticket for this 11:30 p.m. screening in a 250-seat function room, they at least wanted a glimpse of the band's lead singer-songwriter, who was due to introduce the movie. Russell Crowe has fronted Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts since it formed in 1984, and Texas, produced by the band, shows the fellas recording, rehearsing, swearing, goofing off and playing a concert in Austin.
"This is a home movie," Crowe, having survived the fan gauntlet, told the audience before the screening. His face was sporting what looked like a week's worth of beard; his hair was longish, flipping up at the back of his neck; and he wore a red flannel shirt and dark overcoat as he stood in front of the screen and lit up a cigarette. No one was about to ask him to put it out.
From the moment Crowe stepped to the microphone, audience members began snapping away like wannabe paparazzi until he stated with typical brusqueness, "No camera flashes while I'm talking." "This is not about superstars," Crowe told the crowd. "This is not about cutting-edge film technology. It's a slice of life."
Still, the vanity-project aspects are unavoidable; if not for Crowe's star power, no band of similar stature and quality would be able to get Sundance and Miramax to promote such an advertisement for itself.
That said, the movie does pretty much what it intends to do: It makes a good-humored case for TOFOG (the band's almost-catchy acronym) as a cohesive, rocking band that honors the tradition of storytelling compressed into three-minute pop songs. Crowe gets across his love for music, even if he probably didn't envision playing concerts where the crowds appear to be about 85 percent female. . .
After the screening, Crowe, several of his associates and Miramax and Sundance representatives retreated to a club on Main Street. It had a small stage, but Crowe said performing without his band mates -- who weren't in town -- would defeat the point.
Instead, none other than Graham Russell, half of the legendary Air Supply, played a solo acoustic rendition of "All Out of Love," and much of the club, including Crowe, joined in on the chorus. In fact, sing-alongs to sappy classics was a festival mini-trend; a few nights earlier, Swinton joined in a spontaneous, table-wide outbreak of "The Greatest Love of All" at a dinner for her new film "Teknolust."
But when Graham Russell entreated his friend Crowe to join him on stage for the end of the song, Crowe muttered one of his trademark salty phrases and stayed put. Afterward, the singer returned to the table, and Crowe said dryly, "Next time I show one of my movies, I'll stop it before the last reel and ask you to come up and act it out."
Copyright (c) 2002, Chicago Tribune
Homicide: Life on the Streets (Sometimes repeats on Sleuth TV, except for 4 cross-over episodes with Law and Order that have run on TNT to high ratings -- leading Fontana to say: "The show still has life and they should show it on TNT." 7 seasons on video/DVD. Special complete series DVD package has: all 122 episodes plus all three Law and Order crossover episodes and the follow-up Homicide: The Movie, on a separate disc, the made-for-PBS documentary Anatomy of a Homicide, which covered the Emmy-winning subway episode, and other supplements, in a 35-disc set in a pressboard case designed as a filing cabinet with a drawer that slides out of the slipsleeve; Commentary on six episodes; Interviews with Barry Levinson, Tom Fontana, Henry Bromell, David Simon, and James Yoshimura; Episode from the A&E Series American Justice; Superbowl XXVII commercials for Season One premiere; Song listings about "The Board"; Inside Homicide with David Simon and James Yoshimura) So the head of NBC sends out a tape of The Sopranos and asks his suits why can't they come up with a series as good as this? Bone-head -- you had one and killed it with time changes, interference, and finally cancellation! So good it inspired the British TV writer Paul Abbott to create such series as Touch of Evil. Even the Emmy's mostly ignored it because it was shot grittily in Baltimore not L.A. (except for two writing awards for episodes that were breathtakingly superb--"Three Men and Adena" and "Subway" which was even the basis for a PBS documentary examining how brilliant it was and final acting awards for a masterful Andre Braugher). This series took the ensemble arc concepts into its characters' very souls with unsolved crimes and crimes that affected their very cores.
The use of music was brilliant. This reference site as to what's played may be the best, but I'm not sure it's as complete as the original official web site. I don't know if the repeats or DVDs include all the original music, as there's rights issues in syndication. There's a fan companion book that brings the music guide through a good part of the last season; the DVDs are also listing the songs. From The Village Voice 8/11/2004, Out of the Box by Joy Press: "Homicide: Life on the Street, which hit the air in 1993[, c]reated by Barry Levinson, the series single-handedly introduced many of today's top American independent filmmakers to television: Mary Harron, Whit Stillman, Ted Demme, Steve Buscemi, Lisa Cholodenko, Barbara Koppel, and [Miguel] Arteta all directed episodes of the show. 'Homicide was one of the great training grounds for indie directors—it was really a rite of passage for so many of us," says Arteta. "We were all broke after our movies and they gave us a chance and paid us. The show's style worked well—it was rough and handheld and it was about getting interesting performances.'" (updated 8/25/2009)
Aw, here's an unexpectedly romantic and artistic side story:
Dan Futterman, actor and Oscar-nommed scripter for Capote met his wife Anya Epstein (of the Casablanca/Boston Red Sox Epsteins) when he appeared on a 1999 Homicide: Life on the Street episode she had written. "For a writer-producer of a television show, there's no scarier phrase than an actor saying, `Listen, I have a great idea for a screenplay,' but she decided to take it seriously, for one reason or another. . . And she was extremely clear with me about the fact that I needed to have a narrative drive, I needed to have an outline where one scene led to another ... And that was a revelation to me. It's probably perfectly obvious to anybody who's written a screenplay before, but I hadn't. I think had I not met her at the beginning of this process, it would never have gotten done." From 'Capote' Screenwriter Humbled by Oscar Nod by Douglas J. Rowe, AP, 2/23/2006
Danish director Lars Von Trier cited Homicide as inspiring his Dogme 95 for movies principles, in an interview in the docu-series The Story Of Film: 1990-1998 - The Last Days of Celluloid, Before Digital, shown on TCM, November 2013.
House, M.D. (was on Fox. 8 seasons on DVD with extras. Rerunning on USA, Bravo, let alone Oxygen.) Ho hum, I thought, another medical procedural. Then my eye caught the long-haired (since trimmed unfortunately) Aussie hunk (who you can see a lot more of in Swimming Upstream) on the show, Jesse Spencer (as "Dr. Robert Chase") -- and how come all the nurses etc. aren't hanging all over him? He's GOT to be the best lookin' guy at the hospital! At least "House" does tease him about conquests but in the first season we only saw him ONCE flirting with an X-ray technician and ended up doing an angiogram on the patient's wrong leg and was then terrified that "House" will fire him (an ongoing fear that led on him to spy for the not unrealistic fundraising machinations of Chi McBride and the Board of Directors.). He at least got some personal time off skiing - -in Switzerland? --just to be set up as the rich kid vs. Omar Epps as “Dr. Foreman” though in "Forever" we got mysterious hints that I'm not rich. when he uses vacation time to get extra work. They played on his looks in the 2nd season episode "Autopsy" by producer Lawrence Kaplow. The dying 9 year old patient flirts: I like hearing you talk. and, as a colleague comments to "House" She stole that kiss from Chase. What have you done lately? He got to do a U.S. take on the kind of mistakes that happen weekly in the BBC America series Bodies in a way that tied in his haunted relations with his super doc father “Dr. Rowan Chase” played in “Cursed” by Matt Witten and Peter Blake, by Patrick Bauchau, similarly imperious in The Pretender, where we found out “Chase” has surprising depths of anger issues because his father abandoned him to his alcoholic mother, who drank herself to death when he was 15. There’s a foreshadowing line from “House” that this woeful tale would make him appealing to “Cameron”.
But then I fell in love with Hugh Laurie as "Dr. Gregory House" setting me on the frustrating alternate plane of reality goal of how the heck would I get this character to fall in love with me? (In the 3rd season he proffered an anagram for his name: “Huge Ego, Sorry”.) He's smart as heck and actually seems interested in intelligent women so I'd have a chance right? Listen for dialog that has a lot of R's because Laurie says that as a Brit that's the hardest American accent he has to do, as in "federal court order." Will the writers try to do R-less or R-dominant scripts for him? He says he gets cranky motivation by resenting that Spencer gets to talk with his natural accent. (And he plays a mean air keyboard as a fan of The Who -- though it was a bit confusing that he would have the same theme as CSI: NY. So why do they have him listening to opera in the 2nd season?) In the 3rd season finale “Human Error”, when “House” victoriously diagnoses God’s error, at the expense of keeping his team, nice conclusion of his playing a new time-for-a-change-guitar along to Josh Ritter’s “Good Man” from Animal Years (which was on my Best of 2006: “These chords are old but we shake hands/'Cause I believe that they're the good guys
We can use all the help we can/So many minor chords outside/I fell in love with the sound/Oh I love to sing along with you/We got tunes we kicked around some/We got a bucket that the tunes go through/Babe we both had dry spells/hard times in bad lands/I'm a good man/for ya, I'm a good man”). The brief music selections are terrific for a show for grown-ups.
The wonderful Robert Sean Leonard is ostensibly playing a Jewish doctor - huh? named "James Wilson (" (fans think maybe his mother was Jewish), whose name is more significant for standing in for “Watson” with “Holmes”. But I even matched the POTW – Patient of the Week with celiac sprue and I didn't see that coming as the key to the mother/baby intestinal problem! And again in Season 5’s “The Itch” by Peter Blake. (As in Lou Beach’s illustration from The New York Times, 2/5/2013):
"Three Stories" by executive producer David Shore was so fascinating - what a great surprise that he did win the Emmy for writing (plus the Humanitas Prize). His writing supervision was described at the 2008 Banff International TV Festival: "Shore doesn't care about the medicine," said [writer David] Hoselton in his standing-room-only session, referring to the show as more of a character study. "I don't think the audience cares about the medicine. A few people are really fascinated, but generally we care about characters.” Hoselton called Hugh Laurie's titular character an "iconic figure" who half the viewers love and half love to hate, but all find fascinating. "When the other characters are trying to get at House's emotional core, trying to analyze him, figure out what makes him tick, those are the most satisfying scenes. Shore will always say, 'Where's the heart in this scene? Where's the heart in this story? Why does House care about this case? Why do we as an audience care about this patient?' If the patient lives or dies, we want the audience to have an emotional reaction to that, even if House doesn't. House might not care if the patient lives or dies, he just wants to solve the case. But if the audience feels that way, then we've lost them." Hoselton expanded on the writing process in this interview, as did Pam Davis.
Hip hip hooray to the producers for bringing in my favorite Sister Sela Ward as an age appropriate ex! And her past is linked to his pain --. The second season Sweeps Week sexual tension not only had Ward's "Stacy" doing match and point with Greg -- just as she was wavering, she shut the door over his unethical use of her private shrink records - so she's as good at solving legal mysteries as he is medical. Apt characterization in "Failure to Communicate" by Doris Egan when "Stacy" compares "Greg" to "curry vindaloo", whew, yeah he could burn the roof of your mouth.
Please Sela come back! In "Skin Deep," nice use of Ryan Adams's "Desire" (from Demolition) to hint to the audience that "Dr. Wilson" is right that his post-"Stacey" pain is psychological, but surprisingly no reference to Lot's daughters. Bringing her on helped divert "Dr. Allison Cameron" (Jennifer Morrison as the weakest link in the series) from being annoying stops in trying to find his soft heart, if not more, under his gruff exterior, though her efforts to use negotiating strategy with him were amusing. Thank goodness he found a way to get her to stop trying to date him, though I got foreboding when she sweetly told him: I realized it's not that you couldn't love anyone. It's just that you couldn't love me. When she quit at the end of the 3rd season, she just as sweetly put her hand on his arm with I will miss you.
So why isn't this just in the HUNK 'O' METER? Because with quality co-producers Shore of Traders and Paul Attanasio of Homicide this is one of those shows where good writers are subverting the procedural format to tell good stories about complicated people. Even though my friend The Infectious Disease Specialist says the medical information and diagnostic procedures are grossly inaccurate (confirmed in a recent TV Guide piece) which is probably why sometimes it's impossible to follow - but could that be because he has a certain amount in common with "Dr. House"? John Mankiewicz's (of Karen Sisco) script for "Socratic Method" had me in tears three times!
For Sweeps Weeks there's episodes focusing on the attractive residents – or maybe just to borrow a successful ratings page from the sex-obsessed Grey's Anatomy, and heck every one else on the Web drools over Laurie so no point here repeating here why he's a frequent guest on Jay Leno. The Ms. Goody Two Shoes resident --we learned the previous week that she didn't cheat on her dying husband, whom she had married only out of sympathy, though she in the 3rd season claimed it was The Real Thing, even though she had fallen in love with his best friend--goes through an HIV scare on "Hunting" by Liz Friedman, gets doped up on E and sexually attacks the Aussie, who diagnoses her wide pupils just before he lets her tear off his clothes. He later gentlemanly pointed that "the sex didn't suck", even as she later in the season belittled the length of coitus; so far that's mostly used to damage their reps within the hospital - though I may be the only one watching the show for Spencer, I was the last show fan to know that the co-stars were dating in real life shortly before they were engaged and I did think that would kill any on-screen chemistry or writers' temptations – hmm, will their later break-up make things more difficult on set? For Valentine’s Day, the series winked at this relationship, and on “Chase”s image by having “Cameron” continually be the aggressor in the third season’s “Insensitive” by Matthew V. Lewis: “Dr. Cameron” talking uncharacteristically very quickly: I still think true love is out there. I just think it’s very far away, possibly in another galaxy. We may need to develop faster than light travel before we can make contact. So I’m thinking we should have sex. “Dr. Chase” quizzically: That makes sense. “Dr. Cameron”: Despite the wisdom of pop songs, there’s no point in putting our lives on hold until love comes along. We’re both healthy and busy people, and we work together so it's convenient. “Dr. Chase”: Like microwave pizza? “Dr. Cameron”: And of all the people I work with you’re the one I’m least likely to fall in love with. “Dr. Chase”: Like microwave pizza. “Dr. Cameron”: The point here is to make things simpler, not more complicated. Some day there’ll be a time to get serious about someone. Meanwhile, we’ve already had sex once and didn’t get weird about it, so… “Dr. Chase”: I get it, I get it. So, what if I’m offended by your judgment? “Dr. Cameron”: Then you’re not the man I’m looking for. She walks away. He hesitates for a moment, then smiles and follows her. While everyone else follows the arc of “House”s addictions and revealing lines about “Cuddy” and “House”s relationship, I may be singular in enjoying how the series continues to play on the real off-screen relationship, as in “Top Secret” by Deran Sarafian, when they are bored watching a patient in the overnight sleep lab and she gets up to leave because she thinks he just wants to prove “House” and “Foreman” wrong: “Cameron”: Well, it’s not his sleep pattern. “Chase”: We can’t leave. If we don’t monitor the whole test House won’t accept the results. He’ll just make us do it over. “Cameron”: It doesn’t take two doctors to monitor what is clearly going to be a normal polysonogram. “Chase”: Oh, so you want me to stay. “Cameron”: You’re the one who said there was something wrong. < “Chase”: I never said it was a sleep disorder. “Cameron”: You want to flip for it? “Chase”: Just go. “Cameron”: Oh, come on. Don’t be a baby. Fine, I’ll stay. He smiles with satisfaction. She gets a glint in her eye and arches her eyebrow towards the bed: You know what we could do. He: Here? She: Why not? We’re surrounded by empty rooms with beds in them. He: Yeah, and video cameras too. She: So we’ll turn them off. He: Yeah, that’s all I need, House or Foreman walking in on us. She: We have the keys. He: No, what if he wakes up? She, slowly extending her long legs on the counter: All right, suit yourself Next they’re passionately kissing while coming into another room with a bed while quickly undressing each other, he looks up at the camera and she throws her blouse over it. And of course Foreman walks in to the monitoring station to find the patient calling desperately for help. The two, disheveled, come in asking what’s going on. “Foreman” is pretty suspicious afterwards, and excuses about going to get coffee aren’t flying. “Cameron” to “Chase”s wide-mouthed amazement: All right already, we confess. You caught us. We snuck into one of the sleep labs to have sex. We shouldn’t have done it while we were supposed to be working and we’re sorry. Now can we move on? “Foreman” laughs: House will do Wilson before you do Chase. “Cameron”: No. You will do House and Wilson before I do Chase. Now can we get back to work? “Chase”: She did me once. “Dr. Foreman”: She was stoned! The couple are arguing in the office- She: So what did you want me tell him? The truth? He: No, but you didn’t have to be so convincing. She: Don’t worry, I’ll make it up to you. He, uncomfortably twitching: This is getting out of control She, taking off her glasses and leaning in to him seductively: Don’t pout. He: A patient came down with an infection while we were getting our rocks off. She: Do you want to stop? He: No, but I don’t want to get caught either. She: Do you think I do? He: You certainly didn’t go out of your way to keep the volume down when we were in the sleep lab. She, laughing: I couldn’t help that. Why would I want to get caught? He: Maybe you want to give House a reason to get jealous. She: I’m over House. All this is is uncomplicated sex. Don’t try to make this anything more. He, trying to be, um, firm: I’m not doing it at work anymore. She, with a smile: Wanna go grab some lunch? When they come in late to review x-rays, “House” is suspicious as they’re a bit mussed: Where have you two been? “Cameron”: Lunch, why? What happened? She later challenges him on his requests for information about a patient until “House” yells at her to follow his orders, while “Chase” gives her a look, I didn’t feel the need to ask him personal questions. She, defensively: I’m over him. He: Just making an observation. At the conclusion, “Superfly” plays on the soundtrack and “House” realizes his residents are missing without having cleared off their desks. “Chase” is half-undressed in a dark janitor’s closet passionately kissing “Cameron” when “House” walks in on them: Sorry, looking for an extra large trash can. “Chase”, abashed: Since when does he clean anything up? “House” walks away with a very satisfied smile.
In the following “Fetal Position” by Garrett Lerner and Russel Friend, the couple is nervous. “Cameron”: That was weird. He caught us with your hand up my shirt. He’s got to have a reaction to that. Think that’s what the vacation [plan] is? “Chase”, very sarcastic: Yes, the pain of losing you has obviously forcing him away. She: Maybe he’s planning something He: Maybe he just doesn’t give a crap. She: Do you think he just stumbled into that closet? He knew that we were there, and he wanted us to know that he knew. He: Or, you wanted him to know, and now he does, and you’re annoyed because he doesn’t care. “House” uses their secret against them to his boss when she says both “Cameron” and “Chase” came to her protesting his procedures: Cameron had concerns. Chase just agreed with her because he didn’t want to lose his all-access pass to her love rug. “Cuddy” is startled: They’re sleeping together? “House”: If by sleeping together you mean having sex in the janitor’s closet. “Cuddy”: Here? “House: No, the janitor’s closet in the local high school. “Cuddy”: I’ll deal with them after I deal with you. “House:” Aw, come on. Let’s gossip some more. “Cuddy” confronts “Cameron” in an unexpected way: Dr. Chase, dating Chase? Can only end in one of two ways. “Cameron” is open-mouthed: House told you? “Cuddy”: You get married and live happily ever after. Or somebody gets hurt and you two can’t work together and I have to fire somebody. “Cameron”: I would hate to see my personal life become such a burden to you. “Cuddy”: I’m telling you this for your own good. “Cameron”: Then I assume you’re going to have the same conversation with Chase for his own good. “Cuddy”: Chase isn’t the one going to get hurt here. Is this sexism or that everyone thinks he’s the dog and not, in fact, her? “Cameron” confronts “House” while he’s in some machine: My social life is my social life. “House”: Couldn’t agree more. What goes on in the privacy of a janitor’s closet is nobody’s business except-- “Cameron”: She told me to end it. Is that what you want? “House”: I was actually hoping she’d fire one of you. “Dr. Chase” is giving a procedure to the pregnant patient, a famous photographer who has said she gets good shots by waiting for the truth to appear in her subjects, when he happily spots a lovely photo of “Cameron”: When’d you take this? The photographer: You should keep it. “Chase”: Oh, I see her all day at work. I don’t need it. Photographer gets ready to sneak his photo, as he smiles while looking at the picture: Maybe you want to see her after work? I’m right, right? I saw the way you look at her. He smiles at “Cameron”s photo and murmurs thanks as he takes it away. Which leads “Chase” to ask “Cameron”: Did House say anything else? about us? “Cameron”: I thought you didn’t care about his reaction? Trying to make him jealous? He: I like my job. She, hmm, not revealing the truth: He can’t fire you just because we’re together. He:We’re not together. And House can do whatever he wants. When “Chase” supports “Cameron”s diagnosis, “House” is sarcastic: Oh! Sticking up for your girlfriend! Who says chivalry’s dead? “Foreman” is taken aback: He’s not joking? “House”: Be patient. She’s going through all of us. She’ll get that jungle fever eventually. That gets “Cameron”’s goat: I’m not going through anyone. “House” points at “Chase”: You love him? That sure startles “Chase”. “Cuddy” tries to get them back on the emergency: This can probably wait until after you biopsy Emma’s liver right? “Foreman” quizzes “Chase”: So the sleep lab? You and Cameron not sleeping? How serious is it? “Chase”: It’s nothing. She’s only doing it to make House jealous. “Foreman”: So why are you doing it? “Chase”: You kidding? “Foreman”: Better not hurt her. “Chase”: She already has a big brother . . .You obviously care very deeply about her. “Foreman”: I’m not protecting her. I’m protecting myself. A heart-broken, love-sick Cameron? She’ll be more unbearable than she is now. The patients are saved and “Cameron” is packing up the photographer’s camera as “Chase” casually asks: Wanna grab a bite? then offers to walk with her to bring the bag. “Cameron”: When did she take this picture of you? You look so . .? “Chase”: I’m smiling. I have a nice smile. “Cameron”: No, I’ve never seen you like this. She got you to glow. What were you doing? Wha’d she say to you? He realizes, but protests: I always glow. and he gentlemanly takes the camera bag. In the closing, to Lucinda Williams’ “Are You All Right”, we see that the photographer has taken another candid of the couple doing a procedure together, with “Chase” clearly looking longingly at the oblivious “Cameron”.
In “Airborne” by David Hoselton, the cat (“House”) is away so the mice are playing, or as most fan sites refer to them as, the ducklings. “Foreman” groans at their joint diagnosis Anything else you two guys want to agree on? “Chase”: What, you have a problem with us agreeing? “Foreman”: No, I have a problem with the other thing you are doing which makes me question your motive for agreeing. The couple searches the patient’s house for clues. “Cameron” asks him: Is Foreman right? Did you agree with me because of our relationship? “Chase”: Relationship? She: You know what I mean. He: You mean because of our lack of a relationship. She: I mean because we’re having sex. He: Yes, Foreman’s right. I thought you were completely wrong about the medicine but I agreed with you because I thought you’d do me in some new way. She smiles seductively and startles him by taking him by the lapels and pushing him onto the bed: Then well-played. He: Come on, we’re supposed to be looking for toxins. She, playfully and pushes on top of him: I thought we agreed it was a brain tumor. He’s nonplussed by the cat and whispers: He’s watching. She, starting to take off his clothes: Haven’t you had anybody watch before? She turns him over with a giggle. Back at the hospital, “Foreman” is even more annoyed as their giggling at the lab like high school dates in bio class. She to “Dr. Wilson” about their search for toxins: Big waste of time. “Chase”: Medically. “Foreman” has been warning “Cameron” and she is dismissive: It’s just sex. “Foreman”: There’s no such thing. “Cameron”: Are you saying that women can’t separate the physical from the emotional? “Foreman”: No one does it well, women do it worse. “Cameron”: You just want it to stop because you think it’s affecting-- “Foreman”: Me! Yeah! Amidst a heated diagnosis debate, “Cameron” turns to “Chase”: What do you think? “Foreman” is very sarcastic: Here’s a cliffhanger. When “Chase” does agree, “Foreman” shakes his head: The sex better be damn good. Later, “Cameron” concedes: We were wrong. Which means Foreman was right. “Chase”: Maybe Foreman’s right about us too. Maybe we should just stop all this. I mean if it’s affecting our jobs. She: It’s not affecting our job.. He: We had sex in a patient’s bedroom, a bedroom we were examining for toxins. Yeah, now our judgment is right on. She: All right, no more sex in patients’ bedrooms. No more sex in patients’ homes. No more sex with cats watching us. Any where else you want to cross off the list? And the cat reference gives him the clue to the source of the patient’s problem. “Chase” to the rescue! Leaving for the night, with him gentlemanly opening the door, she, with a mischievous smile: Nice catch. I think even House would be impressed. . .Any idea how you want to celebrate? He: I want more. She: I thought you were getting a little worn out, but. . He: That’s not what I meant. She: I know. I was just hoping you’d take the hint and pretend you hadn’t said that. He: I want this to be more than it is. She: I thought we were clear. He: In the beginning but you can’t tell me you--. She: Yeah I can. And I don’t. It was fun. That’s it. Now it’s over. And she walks away, while A Fine Frenzy’s “Hope for the Hopeless” plays in the background, from the appropriately titled album “One Cell in the Sea”. TV Guide 4/20/2007 included the scene (at least I think they meant this one, not the following week’s) as a “Watercooler: What We’re All Talking About” moment photo of the close-up of the shocked face of “Dr. Chase”: “Love Hurts on House-- Everyone warned Cameron about hooking up with Chase. But it was Chase who got his heart broken when he asked to take their fling to the next level. The scene was so brutal we forgot the actors are a real-life couple.”
Their strained relationship helped “House” solve a testosterone mystery in “Act Your Age” by Sarah Hess. The two residents are arguing about a possible diagnosis, getting louder and louder. “Foreman”: Enough! I take it you two aren’t sleeping together anymore? We test for everything. “Chase”: Good! Then I can go home. She: Since when does ‘we’ not include you? “Chase”: House is going to call us idiots. Might as well be a well-rested idiot.Good work. for handing “House” the useful pathology report. She, furious: He went home! “House”: Work smart, not hard. . . And take ‘Employee of the Month’ with you. She protests about them working together, “House” smirks a I know. and the couple exchange murderous looks. They are again arguing about the case, about the sick kid’s parents, but now even in front of “House” who protests: Hey, don’t make me turn the hose on you two. Chase is right. Go check the house. She: You’re intentionally punishing us. “House”: By making you do mean do your jobs? It does seem kind of cruel don’t it? They stalk out to the elevator together, she throwing him an angry look. But the kid’s older brother stops her with a bouquet: Dr. Cameron, I got you flowers. For what you did for my sister. “Cameron” smiles broadly: That’s so sweet. “Chase” is suspicious: Does your dad know you’re down here? and finds and reads the note, giving her a sarcastic look: ’Congratulations on your bundle of joy.’ Something you forgot to tell me? She laughs indulgently: Take these back to where you found them. “Chase” calls over a guard: Could you be sure these flowers and this kid get back to where they belong? But she asks them to wait, takes out one flower, bends down to the boy and gives him a kiss on his cheek. He looks triumphantly at “Chase” who glares back. They are at the kids’ house searching for toxins, but “Chase” is bugged: Why did you take the flower? Why did you kiss him? She: Because he was sweet. And he’s 8. He: You’re trying to make me jealous, aren’t you? She, sarcastically: Oh yeah, I want you to profess your love for me. Oh wait, you already did that and it caused me to end our relationship. He calling after her as she walks away: You’re enabling a thief. And a delinquent. as he reads out teacher notes about the boy’s fights and detentions. I know, bad boys, hard to resist. She: It’s a crush. Harmless. He: It’s never harmless. She: So I’m learning. He: So this is us now? We snipe at each other? He continues, softly, as they’re looking for evidence cramped under the bed. This isn’t right. You dumped me. You don’t get to be mad. She: We had a really good thing. You broke the rules. I’m angry. I’ll get over it.
“Foreman” is suspicious that they are agreeing again, when they come back about what they found. “Chase” and “Foreman” are doing a scan together and “Chase” is defensive, even as “Foreman” claims he’s not interested: For the record, Cameron is the one who broke it off. . . I wanted more. She didn’t share my feelings. “Foreman”: I feel like I’m in a similar position. . .You’re an idiot. Either she’s lying or she’s actually emotionally detached. Which one sounds more like Cameron to you? “Chase, confused by the differential diagnosis: Neither. “Foreman”: You’re may have to choose one. “Cameron” is on her way in and challenges the brother for being on the wrong floor, who asks back: Is that other doctor your boyfriend? She insists no and says he should go back to dad. He persists: But do you like him? She: He’s a friend. The boy persists: But do you like him like him? She’s weirded out a bit, as he notices her attractively tight pants. I could be your boyfriend. She’s nonplussed: I think that wouldn’t be fair to the girls your own age. He sounds sage: He seems like a tool. She protests that he’s being rude, but he pats her ass with a grin. As the ducklings figure out it must be an environmental source from the samples she has brought back from their home, “Foreman” rolls his eyes at another late night ahead: I’ll leave you two alone. She: You’re kidding me right? Later, exhausted, she offers “Chase” a tip on a broken coffee machine. You were right. The 8 year old kid grabbed my ass. I shouldn’t have encouraged him. He grins, relaxed: I was a boy once. I know how they think. She smiles: You were a pervert at 8? He: Hmm, maybe 11. She: I didn’t realize you were going to get hurt. I’m sorry I’m missed my cue. (Not sure I heard that line correctly.) He: You didn’t. You have feelings for me. You come back to me again and again. She, backing off: For sex. It’s a simple -- He, taking her hand: Come on, you have feelings for puppies and patients that you barely know, yet when it comes to a guy that you worked with for three years, had sex with, spent the night with? You’re telling me that you feel nothing? Absolutely nothing? And the boy comes charging down the hall yelling at the top of his lungs: Get away from her! Don’t touch her! I’ll kill you if you touch her! and attacks “Chase” onto the floor and bits him on the arm. She calls “House” at home as he watches wrestling: The big brother has a crush on me and he bit the crap out of Chase., who accuses the kid of being a sociopath. “House” calls back: He’s got a crush on you. He’s acting logically. He’s being aggressive about it. Hormone-aggressive. Better figure out what’s killing the girl because her brother has it too. I agree with “House”s comment about possible symptoms to her: You’re much too skinny to be menstruating. but even he is taken aback when she plays “the dead husband card” to get the father to consent to extreme surgery. She walks into the locker room, as “Chase”’s getting ready to leave, he’s anxiously looking at her as she notices flowers on top of her locker with a note “Not Stolen”. She smiles: They’re beautiful. I thought about what you said. And I really don’t want a relationship with you. He, trying hard not to look crushed: Hmm, Allison, I know you liked flowers. He walks off and she keeps looking at the flowers. “Dr. Cuddy” sums up the episode’s story lines: So many people. So much energy and drama just trying to find someone who is almost never the right person anyway. It just shouldn’t be so hard.
But then in “House Training” by Doris Egan, “Dr. Chase” persists while they’re monitoring a scan: Also, I just wanted to let you know, should you change your mind, I’ll be available. She, exasperated: Don’t you get tired of hearing me say it? I have no intention of going out with you, or having sex with you or doing anything with you except work. He: You don’t have to make a big deal about it. I jut thought I’d let you know I decided that Tuesdays would be a good day to do that. (Joke – that’s the series’ broadcast night.) She: You did not suddenly fall in love with me. You were looking for something and I happened to be there.. He: OK, that’s fine. No need to go on about it. She: We need to put this behind us. He: OK, understood. She: But you keep bringing it up. He: You’re the one still talking. Look, I’m not demanding anything from you. I’m not following you home. I’ve got no expectations. A gentle, polite reminder once a week is hardly stalking. She’s open-mouthed stumped until they get a surprise result on the scan. He continues in the next episode “Family” by Liz Friedman in between testing samples: And it’s Tuesday. Got nothing to do with Foreman or House, just it’s the day I remind you I like you and I want us to be together. She, sarcastically: Thank you. I’d forgotten. . .You really going to do this every Tuesday? He: If I take the day off. I could say it Wednesday. She: Why don’t you just say it four times now and leave me alone for a month? “House” amusingly refers to their relationship in an interchange about work relationships: “Dr. Wilson”: How many hours a day do you have to spend with someone before they're basically family? “House”: Good point. But first, I gotta tell Cameron and Chase that they're violating God's will. The following week in “The Jerk” by Leonard Dick, “Chase” managed to continue wooing through gritted teeth even amidst a heated argument, when “Cameron” accused him of sabotaging “Foreman”s NY job interview: You think I’m a petty vindictive jerk? It’s Tuesday. I like you. She retorts: I know. See you next Tuesday.
The 3rd season finale “Human Error” by Thomas Moran and Lawrence Kaplow brought their relationship to a crisis when “Chase” angrily speaks up about “House”s misbegotten efforts to retain “Foreman” – and “House” immediately fires him: You’ve either learned all you can. Or you haven’t learned anything at all. Either way it’s time for a change. She’s quite flustered when he informs her and Foreman: It makes no sense. . .He always makes sense., but when she turns around “Chase” is gone. She confronts “House”: Why’d you fire Chase? “Dr. Cuddy” immediately comes to his office as well: Why’d you fire Chase? “Dr. Wilson” immediately comes in: What the hell is wrong with you? You fired Chase? “Cuddy” instructs: Unfire him! He: Sorry you're in the wrong room. My name on the door, my team, my decisions! “Dr. Cuddy”: My building, my floor, my people! He obnoxiously stands firm, even calling “Chase” to ask for a test result: You’re indispensable. But you’re still fired.
“Cameron” is so mad that she won’t even help “Foreman” with a procedure, convinced he was complicit. Later she gives him a going away present, but she has her jacket on to go out, as “House” comes in, being his usual medical detective: Say ‘Hi’ to Chase for me. You’re wearing lipstick. She does find “Chase”, calmly enjoying a big sandwich and fries at the local diner, and they exchange “Hey”. He’s surprised to see her: You look great. She: You know that House firing you had nothing to do with you. He: The why doesn’t matter much. She: You’ll only wind up staying. House will call you and probably yell at you for not showing up. He: It’s OK. He’s right. It’s time for a change. And you were right too. The whole Tuesday ‘I like you’. It was silly. Don’t give me that look. Don’t feel sorry for me. Getting this job was the best thing that has ever happened to me. Everything about it. And losing it, well I think it’s going to be good too. She: I’ll miss you. He, ever hopeful: Have you got time for a drink, or something? She, pulling back: I think I should go. He shrugs a yeah and goes back to a relaxed lunch. I think the next sequences were edited a bit out of order, based on what she’s wearing, but we next see her very nervously outside a door. It’s his and when he answers, for some reason still wearing his cap. She: It’s Tuesday. He, slowly, taken aback: No, It’s Monday. She: I know, just I didn’t feel like waiting. He grins, puts his hand to her head and kisses her quite sweetly out on the stoop. She is next quite happily handing her resignation letter to “Dr. House” in his office: I’ve gotten all I can from this job. “House”: What do you expect me to do? Apologize and beg Chase to come back? She: I expect you to make a joke and go on. I expect you to be just fine.
I am disappointed that the 4th season only gave us glimpses of “Chase” and “Cameron” amidst the somewhat silly American Idol try-outs of the fairly bland new team, where everybody gets a chance to tell “House” off about what the selection process really reveals about him. But by the end of the season, the new personalities had all jelled, as the writers figured out how to have them all play off “Dr. House”, climaxing in the surprisingly emotional and creatively shot Season 4 2-part finale. It was actually almost creepy that “Chase” and “Cameron” further confirmed their relationship in Season 5’s “The Itch” by Peter Blake, what with the actuals broken-up, a la One Tree Hill
I commented on “Dr. Lisa Cuddy” as a Jewish woman character: in the 5th season, in the 6th season, and in the 7th season, her last in the series as a regular. She did not return for the finale, though my other 2 favorite female characters did show up in his hallucinations. (updated 8/22/2012)
For a more positive take on "Dr. Cameron" that doesn't even mention how jealous she was of "House"s ex: See She Has a Thing for Older Doctors. Especially Jerks. by Joyce Millman, in The New York Times, March 26, 2006
There is a pattern of the patient, let alone the doctors, having a crucial secret in each episode (hoo - "Dr. Chase" knew the dominatrix!), but it's still surprisingly moving. "House"s mantra that "Everybody lies." (memorably in “Fetal Position” he added: Even fetuses lie.) caused a blow-up over a decade ago between me and my heart-attack stricken sister-in-law's cardiologist, who had the same philosophy, but she's since apologized. A Colleague of My Infectious Disease Dr. Friend agreed more with Magical Medicine on TV by Sandeep Jauhar, M.D, in The New York Times, July 19, 2005.
House of Lies (on Showtime, 5 seasons out on DVD) This series gives me major flashback when I worked with and for management consultants, all right, for nonprofit organizations about development and boards, but the ethics-challenged firms I worked with were so much the same as these guys that I would get panic attacks around them.
My commentaries on the Jewish woman character “Sarah Guggenheim” in her 1st season, her 2nd season, 4th season, and on dental references. (updated 1/28/2018)
In A Land of Plenty (10-part mini-series was on BBCAmerica) A very frank, contemporary Upstairs, Downstairs that looks at dysfunctional, entwined families in pre, during, and post-Thatcherite England. Literately written, as it's based on a novel by Tim Pears, it benefits from the book's central organizational mode of being narrated through the eyes of a character who hides behind his camera, so TV is ideal for showing and focusing on the images as they're taken and for memories. The directing style changes to reflect each time period, from the slow languid days of childhood to punk rock rebellion and on to adult realities. The story is told somewhat chronologically, but also as flashbacks with flashforwards, as we see how childhood traumas and relationships are played out over their lives. The large, complex ensemble is brilliant, letting shine character actors we've gotten to see in much smaller parts in other TV series. Particularly outstanding are the poignant pathos of Mary McCrory and Shaun Dingwall's sympathetic portrayal of her favorite son maturing over 15 years. (We've only seen him previously here as the secondary sidekick who shockingly died at the end of the Touch of Evil cop mini-series.) It was a bit confusing sorting out how the adult actors related to their child counter-parts, particularly as BBC America didn't do a "previously on. . ." or any voice-over explanation. Watching it once a week proved challenging to keep it all straight, so I taped it weekly then watched the bulk in an enthralled marathon. This is the inheritor of the excellent Brit mini-series tradition of The Jewel in the Crown and Brideshead Revisited.
The Job (Available on DVD) A half-hour sit com on ABC that felt like a cable dramedy. Denis Leary and writing graduates of The Larry Sanders Show stretched the boundaries of a cop show in many ways -- no laugh track, humor and pathos all mixed up, rapscallion characters, crude language in outrageous situations. (updated 5/23/2005)
Kings (cancelled quickly from NBC) I too at first dismissed Michael Green's effort to transpose the story of Saul and David to a sort of contemporary fictional city that looked a lot like the NYC where they filmed, recalling Hamlet (2000). I didn't think it went far enough and Christopher Egan as young "Captain Shepherd" and Allison Miller as "Michelle Benjamin" didn't grab me at first (but I was comparing her to a radical re-evaluation I'd read of Michal as the only woman in the Bible to choose love, and then be punished for it), so I watched the remaining episodes were aired in the summer at first for Ian MacShane as "King Silas Benjamin", who would grab attention reading the phone book, and Susannah Thompson as his Queen, despite the stilted dialogue she had to breathe fire into. But then I got caught up in the vision of war, peace, treachery, and bought a Butterfly Kingdom T-shirt being remaindered at the NBC Store. I'm sure when I wear it no one will recognize its provenance. (8/26/2009)
The Knick (2 seasons on Cinemax) set in 1900 at a downtown New York City hospital The Knickerbocker where medical doctors are pioneering risky surgical and experimental procedures and treatments, but have retrograde social and racial ethnic and class biases, started out slowly, and covered some ground covered with more action in Copper and Ripper Street, what took over my attention more was the creatively gorgeous editing and directing of executive producer Steven Soderbergh. Give him the Emmy now for the “Get the Rope” episode, even as it brought to life a real race riot. Cliff Martinez’s electronic score is like nothing else heard on TV series! I’m not actually as thrilled with Clive Owen as in his British series, as the focus on his cocaine addiction seems conventional. But turns out its based on a real physician addict, so now I intend to read the biography of the inspiration for “Thackery” in Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber, M.D. Plus commentary on the references to real dental history in the first season. (updated 3/23/2017)
The Leftovers (on HBO, 2 seasons on DVD) I only caught this way after its 1st run on HBO Go, avoiding spoilers, let alone I didn’t yet read the Tom Perrotta book it’s based on. If Justin Theroux hadn’t surprised me by being so good in the central role of “Sheriff Kevin Garvey” (OK, his son “Tommy” is played by the hunky Chris Zylke, but he’s not on screen enough), I would have categorized the 1st season under HALL OF DAMES, because the women are mesmerizing: Ann Dowd is a chilling force as the almost-silent cult leader “Patti Levin”, dominating Amy Brenneman, as the Sheriff’s wife “Laurie”, in her best TV role ever, also almost silent; her rebellious teen daughter “Jill” (played by Margaret Qualley); “disappeared” benefits interviewer/legacy “Nora Durst” (played by the superb Carrie Coon). Even Liv Tyler popped up in one of her best roles in years as the cult convert “Meg Abbott”. The limited episode structure has benefitted creator Damon Lindelof over the lessons learned from the over-extended questions in Lost. (updated 1/30/2016)
Lodge 49 (on AMC – only 2 seasons) I liked the first episode of S1 so much, I avoided watching the rest because I was sure it was going to pulled at any time, let alone not renewed. But – surprise—the kind of quirky, unpredictable show with an ensemble of odd-ball characters played by non-famous actors got renewed. So I even had to PAY Amazon to watch the rest of S1 before starting S2 free. (updated 12/22/2019)
Lost (Complete series on DVD. Rerunning in syndication and on the SyFy Channel.) We not only get sweaty hunks - the heroic doctor, the blue-eyed loyal brother, the sulky blond (and yeah, I want his dimples and rebel attitude to win over the woman he Humphrey Bogart-ish calls "Freckles"), the guilty father, the domineering husband and the adorable Hobbit -- who will get even more appealing as their beards and hair grow out on the island, but strong and/or interesting women characters with secrets and a sprinkling of Australian accents as the doomed plane was taking off from Sydney. I love that the mysterious island is part magic realism, part Stephen King-spooky, part Lord of the Flies gritty. It's probably best to see it as an extended mini-series if the writers (yeah - including Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum David Fury now getting to play at the grown-up's table) can keep it going, including flashing back to the characters' previous lives. Surely among the rest of the other 44 are two Jews who can build separate synagogues that the other refuses to enter, per the old joke. Abrams smartly brought on board as producers, directors and writers fellow "genre geeks" from Joss Whedon's universe of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The kind of folks who pick characters' names with all kinds of symbolic significance, like The Frenchwoman Rousseau vs. Locke, etc. etc, more than I can keep track of. I want it clear that I was voting for "Sawyer" --James" to stay alive on the island! And yeh he finally got the girl in the 3rd season in the midst of his whole Cool Hand Luke/Planet of the Apes animal-instinct cages thing going on. Grungily, but sexily. There's so much exhaustive analysis of this show online that I'm not even going to try to keep up comments. As “Kate” said in “Left Behind” in the third season, by Damon Lindelof & Elizabeth Sarnoff: He didn't exactly tell me. Welcome to the wonderful world of not knowing what the hell is going on. Maybe listening to the songs of Previously on Lost will help. (updated 4/3/2010)
The web is full of discussions of its philosophical underpinnings, like the significance of Bible references. The fan love fest at the producers' last presentation at the 2009 ComicCon shows that the concerns were allayed as expressed in this excellent analysis of how it compares to other of my favorite sci fi shows by Matthew Gilbert, Getting 'Lost': Show pursues TV's most elusive genre -- mythology. Or maybe that's not it all. in The Boston Globe, October 27, 2004: (fair use excerpts):
"Mythology shows tend to attract lively, game audiences. Nighttime soaps such as The O.C. and Everwood, require a similar commitment to ongoing plots, but they don't ask viewers to do a lot of work along the way. They explain themselves. A mythology show, however, makes its viewers into cosmic Sherlocks who must keep finding the hidden truths in an only partially recognizable universe. Mythology writers expect rigorous, un-couch-potato-like viewing -- and they get it, sometimes in spades. There are countless websites devoted to the likes of The X Files, Lost, Millennium, and Dark Angel, where avid fans turn their theories into communal-shrine art. Many of these sites also publish "fanfic" -- fan fiction -- that finds members spinning their own tales about a show's characters. Unlike most TV viewers, mythology devotees are not passive listeners to the stories the box is telling them. And with such dedication to labyrinthine puzzles, mythology fans deserve a payoff. It behooves TV mythology creators and writers eventually to unite years of disparate plot tips and evasive disclosures. They don't need to force events to a hokey resolution, but they do need to reward viewers with a glimpse of the big picture. . .And, the best mythology shows are truly about unique vision. Usually tinged with the supernatural, if not out-and-out science fiction, they are to the medium what Star Wars is to the movies, or what Ursula K. LeGuin novels are to literature, or what comic books are to the magazine rack. They look altogether different from the rest of television, with highly stylized set designs that suggest distant, even surreal territories. Carnivale is a visual masterpiece that takes you far away in time and place as it showcases the catastrophic tension between the preacher and the outlaw. It's set in an evocative, alien location -- a world invented by show creator Daniel Knauf, who had far less fortune with Wolf Lake.
. . . Mythology TV worlds are more organic products of the imaginations -- and some would say the collective unconsciousness -- of its creators. They're pure figments of human fantasy, nightmare, wish, fear, rapture, grief. Remarkably, many of TV's mythology shows are contemporary iterations and revisions of the sort of archetypes Joseph Campbell once mapped out. Most of them are built on Campbell's Hero journey -- the Hero's initial refusal of the call, for example, which last week found Jack (Matthew Fox) on Lost vehemently -- but temporarily -- rejecting his role as leader of the survivors. Abrams has given us the archetypal animal in the enchanted woods, if, of course, that presence is indeed an animal. And he has given us John Locke (named after the "tabula rasa" philosopher and played with keen ambiguity by mythology icon Terry O'Quinn, whose TV credits include Harsh Realm, Millennium The X-Files, and Alias), who could be Jack's Mentor, and who could also be the Shapeshifter of the piece. After all, Locke did rise from his wheelchair after the plane crash.
It would be quite an exaggeration to suggest that mythology shows, which include Angel and Farscape , are as enduring as the myths we've inherited from the ancients. In thousands of years, Sydney on Alias will be electronic dust, while the goddess Diana may still be alive in our cultural memory -- the name of a moon shuttle company, perhaps. Television is a medium of transience -- less so, as it stretches its shelf life on cable, DVD, and Internet fan sites, but still fleeting. And while myths are told and retold and kept alive by interpreters, TV's mythology shows are told only once. Attempts to duplicate them and expound upon them can lead to copyright problems. Even fanfic is discouraged by studios; disclaimers must appear on stories, and no profits may be collected for them. But still these shows have ancient archetypes at their root, as they update and perpetuate them.
Like their heroes and heroines, mythology shows are the antithesis of prime time TV's big monsters, Scylla (crime dramas) and Charybdis (reality shows). Unlike the CSI and Law & Order series, they don't solve a murder and then provide viewers with a tidy denouement. And unlike Survivor and The Apprentice, they evade direct statement and self-analysis. They deliver their realities in the peripheries of the storytelling, in the hints that are dropped ever so carefully over time.
That's why the instant success of Lost is as surprising as it is deserved. As each episode explores its characters' back stories, and adds to a dramatic tapestry that will include events both off and on the island, it doesn't grant the instant gratification of most shows. It invites us to imagine possibilities, welcoming our crazy theories about Purgatory and alien abduction and government conspiracy. For an hour a week, it encourages us to get lost in a few uncommon daydreams."
Louis C.K. (on FX) A very personal – by the lead actor/director/writer/editor – that constantly reinvents the half-hour comedy set in NYC with a inspired-by-real-life as a comic. And then it all vanished when he admitted to sexually harassing women comics in clubs. (updated 1/28/2018)
Lucky (cancelled by FX) Most women would categorize this under HUNK 'O' METER due to star John Corbett, and yeah I'm a fan of his since Northern Exposure, though I thought his Aidan never really made sense with Carrie on Sex and the City. But it's the dramedy writing, tone, unconventionally looking for TV eccentric secondary characters, along with the charming Ever Carradine (the younger girlfriend on Once and Again) that moved this over into quality after a few episodes. It took me awhile, but it grew on me. Similar sensibility to the also quickly cancelled Keen Eddie from the broadcast Fox arm. These shows were just wrong fits for their networks.(updated 9/7/2003)
Mad Men (On AMC, Sundays, repeated overnight and also look around for free On Demand on digital cable. 6 seasons on DVD. Soundtrack and Original Score Vol. 1 CDs out.)
After one viewing I was hooked in the scathing satire of 1960 Men in Grey Flannel Suits, all the sexism, cynicism, racism, anti-Semitism, etc. Looks great, acted great! I finally got the triple pun in the title (Madison Avenue, Ad Men, crazy), that has enthusiastic online fans and guides. But here's a grumpier view from Kurt Brokaw, who was himself a Man in a Gray Flannel Suit (and there's additional background on Mad Ave site.) But I think he was always comparing this agency against the best in the business then, not the second-tier with flashes of brilliance that they were. See the documentary Helvetica for background on the design changes the series illustrates. Peabody award winner 2008.
I gave a critical look at the Jewish women characters Rachel, others, and into dd>the last season.
Creator Matthew Weiner noted on Charlie Rose in July 2008, that the first season was about establishing identity. Season 2 opens 18 months after the Thanksgiving cliffhangers of Season 1, at Valentine’s Day 1962 and was about transition. That season proved to be very powerful, even devastating, in understanding what was behind The Feminine Mystique, which influences the show, according to this Wiener interview, much more than the documentary about a mother at that time, 51 Birch Street, and more like the mother's experiences revealed in Must Read After My Death and Phyllis and Harold.
The mouth-dropping third season was about change, promoted as "The World's Gone Mad". USA Today's Pop Candy's Whitney Matheson on 10/26/2009 asked Wiener "How do you choose the songs at the end of each episode? Well, No. 1, there's always the major artistic concern, which is, "Can we afford it?" My music supervisor, Alex Patsavas, is really gifted at finding cues throughout the show that we can use at a reasonable rate. And I'm not gonna lie, one of my favorite parts of The Sopranos was when the show ended and you're just like, "This is what's gonna bring me back next week." Non-verbal communication: It's that song that comes on in the end. I try to not be limited to the period or anything like that, I try not to have any rules. But a lot of it is I have an iPod like everybody else, and I try to find something that resonates. People try to suggest things, but it's always a very personal choice for me."
In the 2nd season episode “The Jet Set”, director Phil Abraham had the camera glide over a table full of bagels and lox (not usual snack cuisine in this office so we’re being signaled that a rare Jew is there) to land on – my cousin Alan!, as a divorce lawyer.
Re: The Barbie dolls pictured above, designed by Barbie designer Robert Best. From the official press release: "Gracefully molded of Silkstone®, a material that resembles the look and weight of porcelain, each doll is stylized in iconic costumes from the series, and comes with accessories true to their show counterparts. Don Draper wears his classic, polished red-lined suit and comes accessorized with a hat, overcoat and brief case; Betty Draper's classic look is captured with unparalleled detail, from her faux pearl necklace to her pumps; Joan Holloway looks chic in a purple skirt suit and perfectly styled coif with her staple accessory - a pen necklace; and Roger Sterling is looking dapper in his monogrammed shirt." From: ‘Mad Men’ Dolls In A Barbie World, But The Cocktails Must Stay Behind by Stuart Elliott, New York Times 3/9/2010: , Wiener says are “'a realization of a fantasy, in a weird way. . .on some level it’s such a measure of success to see your characters embodied by Barbie. . .Anybody who likes the show for its attention to detail will get that from the dolls,' which earned approval from him; Janie Bryant, the costume designer for Mad Men; and Scott Hornbacher, an executive producer. As an example of their scrutiny, Mr. Weiner said he told Mattel that the sideburns on the Don Draper doll needed 'to be higher' and the haircut needed 'to be tighter.' . . .'I grew up with two older sisters and lots of Barbies in the house,' he recalled, including 'a doll named Midge,' a pal of Barbie’s. In retrospect, he said, she may have been the inspiration for Midge Daniels, a mistress of Don Draper’s in Season One." I thought the concluding cynically meditative smile and the real Coke commercial were a perfect end. (updated 5/22/2015)
MI-5 (was first on BBC America, then on A & E, with the same outrageous cuts. The 1st 3 seasons were available On Demand as “the director’s cut” where ach episode was about 45 minutes on cable, and 53 minutes On Demand, but with the 4th season, BBC A stopped offering it On Demand. 8 seasons are on DVD, but by how the Brits counts series, not by how it was/is shown in the U.S. New seasons now running on PBS syndication, seemingly without the cuts.) The rest of the world saw the series as Spooks (where even deleted scenes are streamed online), but it was choppy and confusing to the point of near incomprehensibility here. And then, gee, they wondered why the ratings were not great! The early seasons are where to see Matthew MacFayden pre-Pride & Prejudice. Then – yeah – in what the Brits consider the 7th – 9th seasons, Richard Armitage, my fave from Robin Hood etc., showed up as one tough agent. (Cinemax didn’t even give us the first season of Strike Back he starred in, which isn’t even available on U.S. DVD so I may have to seek out illegal options.) (updated 1/19/2012)
The Newsroom (on HBO, 3 seasons on DVD) Aaron Sorkin has made this almost insufferably sanctimonious by setting it with 20/20 hindsight at a fictionally noble cable TV haven of journalism a couple of years ago. We should care about the weighty issues, but my husband has fallen head over hills for Alison Pill, who plays assistant producer “Maggie Jordan”, and I’m totally charmed by John Gallagher, Jr., who plays “Jim Harper” – the couple who can’t even realize they’re in love with each other while they date others. I’m also following how the series has referenced 9/11. The pomposity of the final season was emphasized by the irony of the latest audience of cable news – over 60 years old. (updated 6/16/2015)
The Office (Still repeated on BBCAmerica frequently, and some PBS stations. Both seasons and follow-up "Christmas special" available on DVD.) I got fooled at first by the mockumentary approach, with the characters talking to the camera and no laugh track, but it's Dilbert meets Spinal Tap. Virtually none of the characters are sympathetic, rather they remind you of annoying people one has actually encountered and had to deal with in real offices. Instead of the lovable faux family workplaces in American sitcoms, here instead we have the petty battlefields amidst confusing management and financial imperatives more like the Real World. Only a creator, Rick Gervais, could have the guts to play the really annoying manager! This is in effect the misanthropic Curb Your Enthusiasm in an office setting. After watching each episode a couple of times, I realize that one reason the humor seems particularly dry to an American is that I don't get the geographical or local pop culture references or Brit slang, especially in the mumbled asides: "territorial Army" - is that the Reserves/National Guard? What's a "benny"? "Stephen A" responds to me: "Territorial Army: Army training that some people do over the weekends and holidays. Since Britain's army is so small, they could find themselves in combat if things got serious. The real Army calls them 'weekend warriors.' Benny: Possibly a reference to a character in Crossroads - an old British soap. He made Joey from Friends look like Einstein." Tim Jenkins responds: "'Benny' is indeed a character in the soap Crossroads. However, I suspect (but can't be sure) that the phrase used in The Office would have been 'having a benny' - I think the nearest U.S. equivalent would be 'hissy fit', or you could replace 'cow' with 'benny' in Bart Simpson's trademark 'Don't have a cow' phrase. So basically a temper tantrum." The American version is too nice, but I only watched the pilot.
Okay, I was a snob, and for almost three seasons I resisted the U.S. version (on NBC Thursday nights at 9 pm, deleted scenes and webisodes sometimes streaming, repeating on TBS, at least Tuesdays at 10 pm and probably more often). Last season coming up, as it faded. All 9 seasons out on DVD) – but heck, with bringing on all those Daily Show talents, it is gosh darn funny, as I catch up via repeats, even if the romances are far less subtle and realistic than the original. But I got as caught up as the rest of the country in the subtle doings between the poster boy for beta males “Jim” and sweet “Pam”. Wonder what the popular German version is like; they’re even making that one into a movie. (updated 9/1/2013)
Oz (on HBO, sometimes repeats On Demand; all 6 seasons out on DVD. 6th season has DVD extras of 3 audio commentaries ("Dead Man Talking," "A Day in the Death" and "Exeunt Omnes") with series creator Tom Fontana, cast members Terry Kinney, Eamonn Walker, Dean Winters, Scott Winters and writer Bradford Winters ; 30 minutes of deleted scenes ; Original cast audition tapes ; Exclusive extended cut of the series finale: "Exeunt Omne") This is where Tom Fontana fled from network TV when he couldn't do Homicide as frankly and brutally as he wanted to. Bring a strong stomach and a willingness to change your views about prison. Mesmerizing cast of New York actors (many of whom later resurfaced in The Wire) and a few L.A. imports (who would have thought one of my hunky faves Phil Casnoff could pull off being a Russian hit man? who, too bad, died brutally like so many of the other characters). Unfortunately after seeing the actors so powerfully as low lifes it takes great self-control to see them as nice guys in other roles. Surely any prison with this much violence would have been closed down years ago? The series did finally limp out with a bit of a whimper after some wild plot swings. (updated 8/25/2009)
Prison Break (on Fox all seasons on DVD.) I initially watched for entry on my HUNK 'O' METER but Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell are quite charismatic and we even have Frank Grillo for more episodes than I expected and I certainly was not disappointed on that front, but lo and behold, the cheesy idea turns out to be a fun thriller, with great pacing and as attention-keeping a continuing story thread as 24. I've been impressed by the writing and production talent -- Marti Noxon, Zack Estrin, Michael Watkins, Matt Olmstead from past quality drama faves of mine -- who know how to put across a cool story. And the production design is nicely noir looking. So yeah, I got hooked. Welcome William Fichtner! Even if he's way too inside "Michael"s head in figuring out where the escapees are, his flawed, "Inspector Javert"/Fugitive-type obsession is intense! He was captivating in Invasion last season, as well as his many indie movie roles, so it's nice to see him find quality TV recognize his appeal. And we even got a kiss and a hug! (updated 7/21/2009)
Project Greenlight: 1st Season - "Stolen Summer" (out on DVD/ I haven’t watched the revived seasons on HBO yet.) I hesitated to put a documentary series as "Quality TV." Plus it's very painful to watch, a Real World for movie fans. And completely addictive and involving. In my fantasy life, as I'm still pragmatic to know that I have no musical or acting talent let alone technical ability so couldn't be an actress (I never got over the discovery when I was about 6 that movies aren't real people, that they're hired actors at which I screamed "So they're kissing strangers?!") musician or director or fiction writer, I figured I could be a producer, helping to bring artistic vision to realization. Not after watching Greenlight! OMG, that is hard work! If you start watching in the middle you'll have no idea of the screw-ups that have been made to get to this point. As an administrator, I totally understand Chris Moore's (the executive producer's) fury at everyone for naiveté bordering on incompetence -- some blame has to fall to Miramax. But also everyone thought Miramax would just pony up more money to cover the mistakes as this was a high visibility project (which they did). I think Moore comes across as much more charismatic and creative than Affleck, whose solution to everything is to call Harvey on the phone and make demands. But the mistakes started from the first episode, when the selection committee, including Affleck and Damon and Moore, picked a script based on a passionate pitch by the writer, not on location and acting potential problems (i.e. basing a story around kid actors, a mistake they seem to be repeating for the 2nd round). Let alone his total inexperience -- shouldn't the guys in competition to have their movies made, at least the finalists, have been required to even film a short first? And bringing on a crew that the new young director was literally scared of so that pre-production clearly didn't have enough mutual communication. It was also interesting that in the early episodes this crew is presented to us as experienced, but once we're on set we see that Miramax saved money by having only a few experienced guys on board with neophytes in crucial positions so that the pro's get more and more frustrated and start plotting coups. Seeing the follow-through each week does make the review process for a script more understandable, seeing what's doable for what budget, etc. The classic episode was the realization when NO ONE had recognized the problems in advance of filming under the Chicago El! They had all just focused on the visuals and had saved a day's pay for a sound guy to come with them to scout the site -- did they leave their common sense behind too? Or back-up plans for outdoor shooting in case of rain? The intrigue on the set, the egos, and just the multitude of details, oy. No wonder at Sundance the producers were just relieved Stolen Summer got done. State and Main only hinted at the potential problems as comedy fodder, as it focused more on the actors and writer. How about the second second assistant director vs. the director of development? Or the DP deliberately screwing up shots? Or a whole episode on an overly complicated, un-thought-through beach shot that ended up on the cutting room floor -- no one realized the kid stars couldn't swim? Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times noted: "Greenlight makes the psychological violence in HBO's prison drama Oz look like cheerful problem solving." (revised 1/18/2016)
Project Greenlight: 2nd Season - "Battle of Shaker Heights" (the movie is out on DVD) I thought no way are they going to let cameras document the agony again! Or why would I want to watch this again? And it started way too slowly with too much on creators Matt Damon and Ben Affleck with glimpses of J Lo in the background. But, darn, if it isn't pulling me in like rubbernecking a car accident! OK, so they learned to not award to a total neophyte director, by requiring short film submissions. They also figured out it was too much pressure to have it be a writer/director auteur and awarded separately to a writer and director. So how the heck could they award it to a directing team of two guys that would make the too-short process more complicated? And whose quirky slapstick style has very little relation to the selected script? (as opposed to the rejected woman applicant who was passionately committed to the script but not articulate about how she would direct it.) How could they yet again pick a script with a teen lead, making casting very difficult? (though Shia turned out to be the best part of the show) How could Miramax yet again insist on name actors for their tiny budget and short filming schedule? Once again, the more experienced crew members are manipulating the young 'uns. Most of all how could producer Jeff Bailis agree yet again to be humiliated on national television by his bullying boss Chris Moore? He's cut his bushy mane and tentatively gotten a bit more confident in his role, but it's still painful to watch him -- and this is the same guy who our Tampa cousins know from childhood as the effortlessly bright kid who aced his bar mitzvah with a satirical speech then concentrated on his true love of basketball and breezed through Harvard? Is it the editing that makes executive producer Moore look less like a bully and more like a hero when we agree with him that the directing pair are being "passive aggressive fucks"? Oy, what kind of directors are SO slow to get going on a one-day location shoot, give confusing directions to the actors, and call time-out for a heated hour+ meeting with the producers, such that they lose the light for a key scene? They are so passive in discussions that clearly the editors had to struggle to make an interesting TV show -- which we see when the two go ahead and do what they want w/o comment. They think Miramax is being obnoxious for going ballistic that they don't have a final edit of the movie ready until minutes before the test preview! But how much of what we're seeing, especially with the self-congratulation among the producers, is really Miramax doing publicity for the final movie? And after seeing the reviews for American Wedding why should we believe Moore's judgment? And this backfired, as it was Miramax's marketing executives who ordered the film to become more of a comedy, so the directors eliminated Shia's dramatic scenes that were the most moving in the shoot. So, much as I'm curious to see in a minor role Anson Mount of Tully, I never did even watch the final film on cable.(updated 4/10/2005)
Project Greenlight: 3rd Season - "Feast" (was on Bravo at unpredictable times) So the team saw some of the problems they had the first two go-rounds and tried not to repeat them -- no more coming of age stories with young actors, try to make money by issuing a commercial film, have the studio in more firm control, etc. So they settled on the horror genre. But it's still a fascinating train wreck to watch! They ignore their expert advisor Wes Craven who keeps pointing out that the script they want is too complex and expensive. They pick a more experienced but almost non-verbal, passive aggressive director who has no interest in being a studio for-hire but wants to do an auteur film. The studio insists on a team who undercuts the producers and director by being moles directly to them. And everyone stabs everyone else in the back! I hope that casting director doesn't work in that town again -- she accuses the director of nepotism while she only wants to hire her friends? Shades of HBO's Unscripted in more ways than one as Krista Allen was cast and we sure got a different, i.e. way less sympathetic view of her. At least the producers told her off a bit towards the end. This is the true horror film! Too bad the Weinstein/Disney/Chris Moore divorce means good-bye to this fascination of the abomination series that convinced me never to be a producer. (8/20/2005) Haven’t yet watched the 2015 follow-up The Chair (on Starz). (7/5/2015)
Red Road (on Sundance, 2 seasons on DVD) was involving from the first episode, with the face-off between Jason Momoa (getting to move beyond sci fi and Game of Thrones aliens to really act) and (Martin Henderson, even without his Antipodean accent) with Julianne Nicholson playing uncharacteristically high strung. And it takes place not far from where I grew up, which, like in the more stereotyped impression in Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, is a cauldron of working-class tensions between whites and Native Americans, whereas all I knew were their traces in place names and exhibits at the Montclair Art Museum. The references to Native American culture are unique for TV.
Not until 2017 did I see a piece in The New York Times that made me realize the real indigenous people behind this series and Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace -- the Ramapough Lenape Nation, up to about 3,000 living near Mahwah on the NY/NJ border, and how a future President blocked their tribal recognition in order to stop potential casino competition. But Noah Remnick’s piece does not cite this series. (updated 4/16/2017)
Remember WENN/The Lot (was on AMC) There were original fictional series on AMC, both by the same producers, before Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Remember WENN was about the origins of radio, from a station in Pittsburgh. The Lot ostensibly took true back-lot stories about the evils of Hollywood and fictionalized them, such as Dorothy Parker as script writer, stars doped up to be docile, the power of the anti-Semitic press, the sanitizing of bio-pics, hidden gays, etc. The annoying inserted background explanations were replaced by commercials, but the dark cynicism is appropriate to the fool's gold atmosphere of Hollywood in the '40's. Both were witty and funny as they took cynical looks at the birth of mass media entertainment in the years just before and at the start of WWII. Both had beautiful period costumes, hairstyles, and make-up. .(updated 8/25/2009)
Rescue Me (on FX. Complete series on DVD. Soundtrack out.) Denis Leary and Peter Tolan's caustic and funny, yet sympathetic and moving documentation of the continuing impact of 9/11 on firefighters and their families (marriage is referred to as "The Beast"), with basic cable language and situation freedom that Third Watch couldn't have. (I document those aspects at World Trade Center In Memoriam: In Sight and Sound.)
Nice to see almost as much of the talented hunk Daniel Sunjata as we saw in the play Take Me Out, here in a bigger role as a firefighter than his mild-mannered lab technician in Law and Order: SVU. Though both Tolan and Leary are from Massachusetts (hence their emphasis on hockey and incorrect assumption that NYC houses have garbage disposals), this is filmed here in NYC and feels authentic, complete with the ethnic biases, sexism and homophobia.
Unconventional rock 'n' roll selections that even resisted using the Fontella Bass classic over the titles, opting for the Von Bondies "C'Mon C'Mon" from their major label debut Pawn Shoppe Heart instead. In "Gay" that's Tom McRae's song "Stronger Than Dirt" from the CD Just Like Blood with the beautiful and appropriate lyric: But I am stronger than you/And I am braver than you/And I will still be here/When the dust has cleared will you/Will you, will you, will you. . ." The closing song for "DNA" was "When All Is Said and Done" by Tyrone Wells from the CD Snapshot-- with appropriate lyrics like "I walk across the bridge of death alone".
But a major plot point in the episode directly repeated one from Third Watch, let alone the continuing crazy, destructive girlfriends were from The Beat.
Nice touch of subtitling the subtext of conversations between fathers and sons as these adults can't directly communicate emotions. The rookie is so endearing -- especially when he beds older women and fat chicks. Hope we see more of James Badge Dale of 24 as Leary's brother. The Season 1 finale combined all the best elements of the series in a really moving montage. In Season 2, no way did I buy the Lieutenant's affair (let alone Season 5 marriage) with the call girl when the rest of the series is so realistic - so whew, that it concluded with a hardheaded look at male fantasies. But, c'mon c'mon, poor "Tommy" is virtually Job, let alone a Sex Magnet. Whew! Lots of print and online chatter about the ex-wife rape episode - what you thought "Tommy" wasn't outrageous?
I am monitoring their hilarious skewering of Jewish women in Season 4, though I got behind on transcribing the full satirical dialogue. (updated updated 9/13/2011)
The Shield (originally on FX – all 7 seasons out on DVD. Earlier seasons being rerun uncut on Spike Friday nights and probably cut in syndication. The 7th season DVD has 51 deleted scenes.) Somewhere between Oz and Homicide literally, in terms of law enforcement stories (including a girl's murder haunting a detective), and in terms of quality, this is as-brutal-as-basic-cable-gets. Inspired by the infamous Ramparts division in L.A., this trawls the dregs of criminal and law enforcement behavior with in-your-face camera style, language and frank situations. The bent cop at the center has the fascination of the abomination; his twisted heart of gold is defended as viciously anti-criminal whatever their color or orientation. I got into the nexus of the personal/professional of his and his motley cohorts, especially his Mutt and Jeff sidekicks, (especially the one with the surfer dude haircut).
Though unfortunately in the second season we saw less of their side lives, such as a beat cop tortured by his homosexuality-- in the third season we more of them over-compensating to be adults in their personal lives, as well as at work a cerebral detective continues to try to fit in, and the great CCH Pounder towers over them all in her meatiest role yet as a detective who is both trying to do a damn good job and supervise them on route to a much-wanted promotion (and she wuz robbed of an Emmy nom).
Whew, as with the very best cop shows, the Captain's decision NOT to shoot a perp in revenge made for wrenching, superior television. Great season with a complex Glen Close! But Internal Affairs nemesis Forrest Whittacker had me actually rooting for corrupt "Mackey" and he too should have gotten an Emmy nom. The finale was a completely unexpected comeuppance for a violent man.
2006 Peabody Award winner: "Riveting, densely layered adult entertainment – and more. No cop series has posed harder questions than The Shield about how far we're willing to let law-enforcement officers go to keep us safe." Aussie Alex O'Loughlin from Oyster Farmer hunked up the team one season. (updated 8/25/2009)
The Sins (on BBCAmerica - repeated now and again) A British Damon Runyan-esque mini-series with Pete Postlethwaite getting to combine both comedy and pathos as a get-away driver with many daughters trying to go straight -- as an undertaker. Geraldine James, of many costume dramas, here plays a mob matriarch regally.
Six Feet Under (still being repeated on HBO On Demand. Bowdlerized versions of the whole series on Bravo. All seasons available on DVD. 2 soundtrack CDs out.) While Peter Krause (of Sports Night) and Rachel Griffiths (of Me, Myself, I, Hilary and Jackie, and Amy) make a hot enough couple to qualify this outrageous dramedy about an undertaking family for the HUNK 'O' METER or the HALL OF DAMES, the quirky situations around dealing with death and family, and the writing for all the unpredictable guests and regular characters bring it to quality all around. Episodes written by creator Alan Ball (of American Beauty) are absolutely twistedly brilliant. The character development over the course of the first season was really involving. The second season we saw that they are all crazy. In the third season we saw that they are depressed. At least we weren't left with an obvious cliffhanger in Season 4. And kudos for being the only series on TV to realistically show abortion as a sensible choice handled intelligently by adult women. Though Season 5 hastened to start out showing how guilt-ridden she was. But then they all ended up crazy this season, -- though I seem to be almost alone in not thinking that was a jump-the-shark moment referred to below.
The last season is oddly turning into Dead Like Me with identical commentary on cubicle life and even a guest appearance by Cynthia Stevenson. I thought the finale was very moving, though only seeing the obituaries has convinced me that wasn't Claire's fantasies.(updated 4/3/2006)
From The Village Voice 8/11/2004, Out of the Box by Joy Press (may be more than fair use): "HBO prepared the ground for the indie-fication of TV—series like Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, and Deadwood have brought cachet to the merger of big- and small-screen vision. 'When you think of Six Feet Under, any two hours of that show would add up to a very original, interesting independent movie, shot on the same schedule,' enthuses Miguel Arteta. Although best known for Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl, Arteta has regularly stepped in to direct series like Six Feet Under—something you wouldn't even know unless you happen to have a fetish for opening credits. [Of course I do!] 'The risks Six Feet takes,' says Arteta, 'the caliber of the writing, the approach to storytelling that defies category or genre—it's everything that we look for in independent cinema, except that it lasts 13 hours over the course of the year, instead of two hours in one night.'
As if to prove Arteta's point, Six Feet Under hijacked its viewers last month with an episode as devastating as any recent movie. The mundane, self-absorbed minidramas that plague the Fisher family were torn asunder, when halfway through a normal-seeming episode, the plot was derailed: David, the show's most gentle, reliably endearing character, picks up a harmless-looking hitchhiker who subjects him (and us) to a prolonged form of psychological torture. While many viewers felt this was some of the most powerful TV they'd ever seen, others felt violated. This highlights one of the problems with translating an art-house aesthetic to the living room: When you go see an "edgy" movie, you usually have some idea about what's in store. The deep understanding and affection for television characters that build up over a number of years makes the experience more intense. Arteta, who directed the episode "Terror Begins at Home" that dealt with the aftermath of the attack, says, 'Six Feet Under has taken such risks this season; we get to see David's character from so many more different angles than you would have time for in film. That's what TV can do that film can't.'"
Sleeper Cell (On Showtime. 1st season on DVD.) Some of the simplistic or not too credible action situations (targeting a shopping mall? Dodgers Stadium? assassinating Muslims right and left who they perceive as traitors to the cause? a meticulously planned attack that relies on recklessness?) keep me watching more for categorizing this as under the HUNK 'O' METER because Michael Ealy as an undercover, Muslim FBI agent is gorgeous, and the cell is full of hunks of all kinds of nationalities. But so is 24-- and the almost too uber-central leader played by Israeli actor Oded Fehr is very much like "Marwan" in "Day 4" -- but that guy wasn't spookily undercover as a Jew coaching a Maccabee sports team/security consultant. It's the multidimensional complexities of people's motives and actions that raises this above the visuals. We’ll never know if Our Hero was alive or dead at the end of the final season #2.(updated 2/15/2007)
Slings and Arrows (on Sundance Channel, 3 seasons on DVD with cast interviews, deleted and extended scenes, and bloopers. Box set of all the seasons has a bonus disc with actor interviews and backstage footage.) A zinger of a satire of contemporary theater (1st season hilariously yet intelligently explores Hamlet, the 2nd season MacBeth, the 3rd season King Lear). I can at least confirm that the digs at fund raising and management of nonprofit organizations are completely on target in this Canadian mini-series. It's great to see Paul Gross again, who has been missing from U.S. TV for too long, but the whole staff is marvelous. This series inspired Fernando Meirelles to do a Brazilian TV series Sound and Fury. (updated 7/12/2008)
The Sopranos (Series ended, but still on HBO frequently and On Demand. Bowdlerized version on A & E. Complete 6 seasons out on DVD. The final season extras include: Commentary by cast members Dominic Chianese, Robert Iler, Arthur Nascarella, Steven R. Schirripa, and Stevie Van Zandt on four episodes: Soprano Home Movies, Remember When, The Second Coming, and The Blue Comet, Making Cleaver: Behind the scenes of Christopher's horror film, The Music of The Sopranos; Creator David Chase, cast, and crew discuss the songs from the show. 2 soundtracks out.) I thought with the demise of EZ Streets (3 episodes available on DVD; also showing on Sleuth TV) that the Golden Age of TV was over. But then along came The Sopranos. Wow! This is TV as Russian novel, more akin to European extended mini-series; you can't watch individual episodes in isolation as characterizations play out over several episodes and building on past episodes and from previous seasons. People are complex, both murderers and caring family members--everyone is duplicitous.
And I'm not just favoring it because the exteriors are filmed near where I grew up in Jersey (did you hear the reference to a traffic cop as "The Scourge of Cedar Grove"? and the scene at The Fountains of Wayne--our phone number was one-digit from theirs for endless wrong numbers, or the traffic accident on Pompton Avenue) and the interiors are filmed in Queens at the Silvercup Studios.
The 3rd season even matched the power and humor of the previous seasons, answering its critics about ethnic stereotyping and moral compasses with brilliant wit and devastating choices by characters we are totally involved with even as they time and again show just how ruthless they are. With Joe Pantoliano (of Memento) in the cast, EZ Streets really does meet this series -- and his character was obsessed with Gladiator so he's a two-fer in my book. The fourth season explored the personal as the political with dangerous implications for these families -- the brilliant, multi-layered "The Weight" episode had honor and body image made into a life and death matter of business and vengeance magnifying relations between husbands and wives, fathers and daughters. What channel did Adrianna find rerunning the show Murder One, whose theme music is on my opening TV page, to get lawyer advice from? The "Watching Too Much TV" episode also included an accurate description of corruption in HUD housing programs, exactly the kind of thing Har's been dealing with, only here it's nuanced with Tony's perceptions of Newark's changing "old neighborhoods" to "crack houses." Which then led to a mob war over another family wanting a cut. The finale was a brilliant intersection of the two families, as Tony waxed wise with a competitor and foolish with his wife.
The fifth season confirmed that the Sopranos live in North Caldwell, just up the street from where I grew up and never saw any bears, where our friends moved on up to from our neighborhood, and Tony's sister now lives in the next door town of Verona. Amidst still shocking violence and wrenching relationships, very funny commentary and in-jokes on TV writers this season, what with Steve Buscemi joining the cast as a regular, even poking fun at his own Emmy-nommed directing of the classic "Pine Barrens" episode, as he complains about "Carmela" ordering him to video a family party. The tensions within the two families are quietly ratcheting up and crossing over to devastating effects on all the participants, and us the audience. Another funny in-joke, with "Little Steven" Van Zandt of the E Street Band in the middle of the scene in his role as proprietor of the Badda Bing, "Tony" says: "Where the fuck you been? You're late!" Christopher replies: "The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive." Loved the season finale's ironic use of Van Morrison: "And we'll send you 'Glad Tidings' from New York."
The 6th season has quite accurate references to Livingston, North Caldwell and Fort Lee even when "Tony" was in purgatory in Hotel California. And yet another Russell Crowe movie reference when "Carmela" goes to rent Cinderella Man and discovers her son no longer works at Blockbuster. "Tony"s movie comment: Is that still a classic?.
The use of music continued to be a brilliant, unpredictable commentary on the action, so bring an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music, or here, through the 4th season, a great guide to the music and much more. HBO is now providing a concurrent detailed music guide at HBO. (updated 10/28/2007)
While screaming like everyone else who thought their cable went out at the series finale, I’ve come to love the idea that the Sopranos can sit around at an all American steak house, surrounded by unresolved threats and problems, not having really changed much or learned much, but will continue as a family. Here’s from their home town newspaper, the one that “Tony” gets each morning in his bathrobe at the end of his driveway, Newark Star Ledger: 'Sopranos' creator's last word: End speaks for itself by Alan Sepinwall, June 12, 2007 (may be more than fair use):
”What do you do when your TV world ends? You go to dinner, then keep quiet.
Sopranos creator David Chase took his wife out for dinner Sunday night in France, where he fled to avoid "all the Monday morning quarterbacking" about the show's finale. After this exclusive interview (agreed to before the season began), he intends to let the work -- especially the controversial final scene -- speak for itself.
"I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there," he says of the final scene. "No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God," he adds. "We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people's minds or thinking, 'Wow, this'll (tick) them off.' "People get the impression that you're trying to (mess) with them, and it's not true. You're trying to entertain them." . . .
"Anybody who wants to watch it, it's all there," says Chase, 61, who based the series in general (and Tony's relationship with mother Livia specifically) on his North Caldwell childhood.
Some fans have assumed the ambiguous ending was Chase setting up the oft-rumored "Sopranos" movie. "I don't think about (a movie) much," he says. "I never say never. An idea could pop into my head where I would go, 'Wow, that would make a great movie,' but I doubt it. "I'm not being coy," he adds. "If something appeared that really made a good Sopranos movie and you could invest in it and everybody else wanted to do it, I would do it. But I think we've kind of said it and done it."
. . . (Earlier in the interview, Chase noted that often his favorite part of the show was the characters telling stories about the good ol' days of Tony's parents. Just a guess, but if Chase ever does a movie spin-off, it'll be set in Newark in the'60s.). . .Meanwhile, remember that 21-month hiatus between Seasons Five and Six? That was Chase thinking up the ending. HBO's then-chairman Chris Albrecht came to him after Season Five and suggested thinking up a conclusion to the series; Chase agreed, on the condition he get "a long break" to decide on an ending. Originally, that ending was supposed to occur last year, but midway through production, the number of episodes was increased, and Chase stretched out certain plot elements while saving the major climaxes for this final batch of nine. "If this had been one season, the Vito storyline would not have been so important," he says. Much of this final season featured Tony bullying, killing or otherwise alienating the members of his inner circle. After all those years of viewing him as "the sympathetic mob boss," were we, like his therapist Dr. Melfi, supposed to finally wake up and smell the sociopath? "From my perspective, there's nothing different about Tony in this season than there ever was," Chase says. "To me, that's Tony."
Chase has had an ambivalent relationship with his fans, particularly the bloodthirsty whacking crowd who seemed to tune in only for the chance to see someone's head get blown off (or run over by an SUV). So was he reluctant to fill last week's penultimate episode, "The Blue Comet," with so many vivid death scenes? "I'm the number one fan of gangster movies," he says. "Martin Scorsese has no greater devotee than me. Like everyone else, I get off partly on the betrayals, the retributions, the swift justice. But what you come to realize when you do a series is, you could be killing straw men all day long. Those murders only have any meaning when you've invested story in them. Otherwise, you might as well watch 'Cleaver.'"
One detail about the final scene he'll discuss, however tentatively: the selection of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" as the song on the jukebox. "It didn't take much time at all to pick it, but there was a lot of conversation after the fact. I did something I'd never done before: In the location van, with the crew, I was saying, 'What do you think?' When I said, 'Don't Stop Believin',' people went, 'What? Oh my God!' "I said, 'I know, I know, just give a listen,' and little by little, people started coming around." [There’s news reports that original lead singer for Journey, Steve Perry, kept Chase waiting to use his classic song until reassured that his 1981 rock anthem wouldn’t be remembered as the soundtrack to the death of “Tony Soprano” ]
Whether viewers will have a similar time-delayed reaction to the finale as a whole, Chase doesn't know. ("I hear some people were very angry and others were not, which is what I expected.") He's relaxing in France, then he'll try to make movies. "It's been the greatest career experience of my life," he says. "There's nothing more in TV that I could say or would want to say."
Here's Chase on some other points about the finale and the season: After all the speculation Agent Harris might turn Tony, instead we saw Harris had turned, passing along info on Phil's whereabouts and cheering, "We're going to win this thing!" when learning of Phil's demise. "This is based on an actual case of an FBI agent who got a little bit too partisan and excited during the Colombo wars of the'70s," Chase says of the story of Lindley DeVecchio, who supplied Harris' line. Speaking of Harris, Chase had no problem with never revealing what -- if anything -- terror suspects Muhammed and Ahmed were up to. "This, to me, feels very real," he says. "For the majority of these suspects, it's very hard for anybody to know what these people are doing. I don't even think Harris might know where they are. That was sort of the point of it: Who knows if they are terrorists or if they're innocent pistachio salesmen? That's the fear that we are living with now." Also, the story -- repeated by me, unfortunately -- that Fox, when The Sopranos was in development there, wanted Chase to have Tony help the FBI catch terrorists isn't true. "What I said was, if I had done it at Fox, Tony would have been a gangster by day and helping the FBI by night, but we weren't there long
enough for anyone to make that suggestion." . . .
Since Butchie was introduced as a guy who was pushing Phil to take out Tony, why did he turn on Phil and negotiate peace with Tony? "I think Butch was an intelligent guy; he began to see that there was no need for it, that Phil's feelings were all caught up in what was essentially a convoluted personal grudge."
Not from Chase, but I feel the need to debunk the e-mail that's making the rounds about all the Holsten's patrons being characters from earlier in the series. The actor playing Members Only guy had never been on the show; Tony killed at least one, if not both, of his carjackers; and there are about 17 other things wrong with this popular but incorrect theory.”
State of Play (was shown on BBC America has rerun the once. On the DVD we'll get to hear all the F-words that BBCA bleeped -- at least they left in the other 4-letter words. Yeh -- second series in the planning stages!) 6-episode mini-series. Yes, the Brit slang and legal do's and don't's of cops and journalists are as confusing for an American as the red herrings and I'm still not 100% sure of the plot conclusions, but, wow, Paul Abbott has written another groundbreaking series, this time creating an intense political crime and investigative journalism thriller in the tradition of Traffik. I love that he's perfected what American series haven't figured out to avoid jumping the shark: there's always a couple with chemistry who you're dying to see them jump each other's bones but a happy ending would be boring. These Brit series have them hit the sack in the middle, and inevitably one or the other betrays the partner, or is "an arrogant prick" or one turns out to be the murderer or enabler of the murder or some such so you're equally satisfied that they break up at the end. Bill Nighy outperforms Jason Robard's Benjamin Bradlee from All The President's Men by adding humor and quirks, but all of Abbott's characters are trademarked flawed. But were the American critics hormone-deficient not to be floored by James McAvoy as a cocky hack? (At least the Brits caught on - casting him as "Joe MacBeth" in Shakespeare Re-Told). I was hoping Abbott would show us "Dan Foster"s "Betty Blue" wife in the 2nd season, but instead there was a US feature film Russell Crowe-starring version, minus McAvoy. (updated 8/25/2009)
The State Within was BBC America’s pretty good effort at a comparable mini-series taking place in the U.S., with Jason Isaacs as a very sexy Brit ambassador. (4/15/2007)
Switched at Birth (On ABC Family) A fairly ridiculous premise is pulled off by an appealing cast, particularly the deaf actors. While Marlee Matlin has been a token deaf presence in movies and TV for years, and Shoshannah Stern has terrifically represented the next generation in several series, young Katie Leclerc (as one of the titular former babies) and Sean Berdy (as her long-time –unrequited--friend attracted to the other titular ex-baby) are not only adorable, but very effective at delving into the complicated emotional, practical and cultural issues for deaf teenagers, even if I do actually have to look at the screen to read the subtitles for their fast ASL signing. (8/10/2011)
Teachers (the Brit version on BBC America- NOT the U.S. sit com version) BBCA only brought one season of this fun series to us after it was already cancelled across the pond after 4 seasons with a Christmas special in DVDs. The marvelous Andrew Lincoln really gets to shine here as a way too cool for his own good high school English teacher surrounded by women who are way smarter than he is. I didn't see the sexy end-of-season one twist coming. Aw shucks, I liked Maggie the Cop but I guess that gave the writers fewer story options. T errific Brit pop songs that aren't all on the Brit-released soundtrack. With Lincoln’s resurgence in The Walking Dead, Hulu is streaming the entire series. And if you say you’re over 18, you don’t have to deal with BBC A frequent F word blanking out, but here it as it ran in the U.K. (updated 7/25/2011)
The very similar, but much more straight-forward Waterloo Road (also on BBC America) covers almost identical territory with no satire or visual gimmicks and a lot more soap opera, so it's much more like Boston Public. (updated 8/25/2009)
Tell Me You Love Me (On HBO, could still repeat On Demand. Only season on DVD.) I didn’t even catch this series until a marathon almost the last day it was first run On Demand – and immediately got hooked. While the sex scenes in Queer as Folk and The L Word are of mostly curiosity value to me, seeing sexuality as frank about fellow hetereos got my attention much more right away (even without foreplay that gets right to the deed in many different positions and places). The structure of following the struggles of four committed couples across different age groups is fascinating. I was surprised how the actors really got me involved, despite my initial qualms on casting. Sure the 20somethings “Jamie” (Michelle Borth) and “Hugo” (Luke Farrell Kirby was also the sexy Hamlet in the first season of Slings and Arrows), and then her rebound with Nick (an almost unrecognizable except for those blue eyes brunette Ian Somerhalder from Lost) are gorgeous, but it was about more them being in a constant state of sex and naïve romance. Jane Alexander, getting to expand much more on her role in Feast Of Love, as the ‘60’s therapist dealing with these patients, her retired husband and a relationship I couldn’t quite understand with an old lover made me proud to have long white hair (She should submit to the Emmy’s the episode where she struggled to work while in shock from mourning her old lover .). But I was surprised how involved I got with the two couples who I couldn’t figure out how the 30’s and 40’s men (playing against their usual casting as more dorky guys) had landed two such beautiful, strong, smart, passionate women, but I got to really care about Adam Scott’s portrayal of “Palek” (what the heck kind of name is that?) fear of fathering with “Carolyn” (Sonya Walger) and if the Marrieds With Children (Tim McKay’s “David” with Ally Walker’s “Katie”) could make it (yeah, a pun). I re-watched the episodes and was absolutely enthralled even a 2nd time. But it wasn’t just the dynamic acting and naturalistic writing, but the look of the hand-held cameras, as directed by such indie folks as Patricia Rozema, Melanie Mayron, Ernest Dickerson, and Rodrigo Garcia (whose Nine Lives had a similar feel with slightly intersecting characters and is going on to produce his own HBO series.). There were a couple of weaker episodes out of the ten in the first season, but on the whole outstanding. Will the 2nd season follow the same four couples? (updated 7/28/2008)
Thick of It (1st 3 seasons shown on BBC America with bleeps, all and the new 4th season will stream uncensored on Hulu; all 4 seasons out on DVD) started out as a very funny 6 episode mini-series that updated the best political comedy ever on TV Yes Minister (which is now out in complete DVD, after the incomplete release on video) by crossing the faux doc camera style of the original The Office with post-West Wing cynicism. The 3rd season updated the skewering to uneasy coalition politics, How delightful to see Peter Capaldi, as the foul and motor-mouthed “Malcolm”, in a comedy as the PM's Chief of Staff, as we usually see him in mopey mysteries or creepy thrillers. Vouching for authenticity, I worked for a politician in another lifetime and absolutely the first thing they did every morning was to read the newspapers and spend the day directing their staff to run around to responding to their issues -- and that was way before the 24/7 news cycle. The same producers are behind HBO’s Veep, but they seem a bit awkward state-side.
The series was trenchantly expanded into the feature film In The Loop (briefly reviewed in Part 1 Recommendations at 8th Tribeca Film Festival) (updated 8/7/2013)
Third Watch (2 seasons on DVD, but I'm not sure if the music is the same as original, what with rights issues.) The first season I only even watched paying half attention as the cops, paramedics and firefighters raced around in a geographically confusing fictional NYC (a precinct that stretches from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Queens?) because it was actually filmed here (even right in front of Har's office).
The second season we --wow-- were getting much more into the characters, one by one, their lives and the job's impact on them, particularly their relationships with their parents showing how they relived that through how they treated people. The "Faith" episode was notable for being one of the few network TV dramas to show a sympathetic, regular, main character choosing to have an abortion, a decision which resonated through the following seasons; significantly, it was one of the few episodes in the series written by executive producer John Wells.
The third season movingly incorporated 9/11 and its after-shocks into its story lines (see commentary and documentation at World Trade Center In Memoriam: In Sight and Sound), which really jolted the series alive and to a higher level of quality. Except for the season finale which was a recycling of the originally planned season opener, leading back to business as usual as E.R. as a cops-and-medics show (with some interesting ethics considerations), with mucho melodrama but at that point I was involved with the characters.
But the increased action had interesting impacts on the characters' personal lives, especially in scripts written by Queens Girl Siobhan Byrne O'Connor, who has come over from the more introspectively issues-oriented and grittier 100 Center Street and was later promoted to a producer, climaxing in a terrifically edited "Collateral Damage" (Part 2) episode directed by actor Skipp Sudduth ("Sully" – and I refrained from bothering him in Summer 2009 at the audience of Central Park's Delacorte Theater to gush), looking at love amidst the urban wreckage from maternal to lustful (with nice use of heartbeat drums). Until "Bosco" ("Maurice Boscarelli" played by Jason Wiles) at the end of the season finally learned he can't be lead around by his dick anymore off the ethical slippery slope. His complex relationship with his female partner "Faith" is fascinating -- she's fraternal, maternal and colleague complicated by the gender differences that could be sensual so leads die-hard (younger?) fans to "ship" them into a romance in fan fiction, but I prefer the many strains.
In the 2003/2004 season, he is surprisingly finally growing up, recognizing his partner's injury as a consequence of his actions, and he has become an engrossing anchor for the show. He reluctantly ended up doing superior police work in the superbly realistic episode "A Call for Help," written and directed by executive producer Edward Allen Bernero (a 10-year veteran of the Chicago police force -- and some of the slang he uses are Chicago-ese not to be heard out of the mouths of New Yorkers, like the title and "jagoff"), which was also noteworthy for continuing this season's intense focus on a single case at a time, cross-hatched with inter-personal and intra-departmental rivalries and quips.
But - whoa, what's happened to "Bosco" now! We're only getting glimpses of him in his hospital bed. (I absolutely don't mind losing "Kim" and the Dimpled Philandering Hunk as their getting back together was boring so fare thee well to other series.) How is producer Simon Mirren related to Helen that he got her on the show? And what's with the gruesome serial killer that seemed more like the BBC series Wire in the Blood? Don't we have enough quotidian violent crime in NYC? O'Connor had wonderful dialogue in "Sins of the Father" as intersecting stories about relationships came together and exploded.
I certainly never expected with "Bosco" laid up in a hospital bed to have my heart stolen by "Brendan Finney" (Josh Stewart who for a WV native does a remarkably authentic NYC accent) turning into quite the quiet little hero and gentleman, especially with the aggressive EMT "Grace." And aw, shucks that Kiss him stupid! in "The Kitchen Sink" by Mirren was cute! I can't believe that I didn't figure out on my own that Josh was the adorable schmuck in the 2004 Levis' "Walk" commercial set to Willie Nelson's "Always On My Mind." Now wouldn't it have been mature if we could see the other two consenting adults in a tentatively long term-directed relationship frankly discuss their birth control and safe sex options rather than get accidentally pregnant? (updated 10/14/2009)
"Forever Blue" by consultant Angela Amato Velez was a tour de force: as a forceful commentary on the kind of dirty police that are glorified in The Shield, as tying up a long-running mystery in the series that was corrosively affecting many characters and brilliant casting to find young actors who stunningly looked like ghosts of the co-stars (though it was too flattering to male egos to have two of the heavyweight actors have their younger selves also be big boned, as it were. Hey we saw Charles Haid on Hill Street Blues and know what a hunk he was before he turned to directing!) Welcome to Manny Perez, who was so good on TV in 100 Center Street and in movies in Washington Heights; he got to recur a bit, even if he didn't solve "Cruz's" relationship problems. I cried during the last 15 minutes of the finale that poignantly wrapped up the characters' lives (though with a few inconsistencies). From 2003 on in particular, the series caught on to the Homicide-like tactic of closing each episode with a cool song and a montage showing the impact of the week's happenings on each character. Most of the music selections are identified in the useful season by season music guide.(updated 7/7/2009)
Here's explanations of the changes the series went through to the finale:
Lights out for Third Watch from northjersey.com on 5/2/2005 by Virginia Rohanstaff (may be more than fair use):
"'. . .The prop guys from The Sopranos were walking through picking things,' says Third Watch co-creator Edward Allen Bernero. 'It was like, 'Guys, let us stop breathing before you come in and pick us clean.' . .We were prepping the last episode. It was three days before we were ready to shoot, and we were prepping it as a season finale, when they said it wasn't coming back. In those three days, I threw out the script and wrote it for a finale,' says Bernero, who directed the final "Goodbye to Camelot" episode. 'It was very sad. Everything about that last episode, you knew was the last time.'
Despite the show's lack of critical acclaim or major Emmy nods - it was never nominated in the best series category - it was by many measures a success. In 2002, Third Watch picked up a prestigious Peabody Award for a documentary-style episode that dealt with the 9/11 terrorist attacks more poignantly and powerfully than any other entertainment program on television. And despite all the night and time-slot changes, Third Watch fans followed the series faithfully: This season it averaged 9.2 million viewers per week -at 9 p.m. Fridays, one of the toughest nights of television.
Those fans are feeling bereft. 'I am sad, too. It hasn't sunk in, even though we've done all the episodes. It's difficult to accept,' says Bernero, who would be open to doing follow-up television movies if NBC were so inclined. 'I love these characters. This show is my family.'
These characters were cops, paramedics and firefighters who inhabited a New York City that's rarely seen on TV. Bernero, who co-created the series with John Wells, says he was "more interested in Archie Bunker's New York than Law & Order's New York.' The very ordinariness of the protagonists may have been one reason NBC never really supported the series, and the network has not explained its decision to cancel the series. 'I think there's a real prejudice against blue-collar shows on television,' says Bernero, a former Chicago cop. 'We're the only drama on television about blue-collar people. Our people don't wear suits. Our people didn't go to college. The show is wildly popular with blue-collar people, and in the Hollywood world, those people don't really matter. They want affluent people.'
One of the most striking of the show's regular people was plain-speaking Police Officer Faith Yokas, promoted to detective this past season and played by Molly Price. Like many of the cast, Price regularly participated in some of the more dramatic stunts seen on network TV. Apart from the fact that the show's writers 'had a very difficult time' letting Faith and husband Fred (Chris Bauer) be happy or sexual – 'I never had a sex scene with my husband on the show ... in six years,' Price says [sorry, Molly, not true!] -the North Plainfield native has no regrets. I played her for so long I got to do everything imaginable. I met my husband [firefighter Derek Kelly] on the show. I had my baby [while] on the show. It's kind of like that old saying, 'Baseball has been very very good to me.' Third Watch has been very very good to me. As I said to somebody, this is the longest relationship I've ever had, longer than high school, longer than college. ... On some level, there was really nothing left for us to say artistically.'
Bernero, though, was caught short by the cancellation, even though he says Third Watch was "almost canceled every single year of its six years. I actually thought we were on the firmest ground we've ever been on going into this season. NBC has canceled [one of the few] shows on its schedule that didn't lose its time slot. ... The short answer is, good doesn't really matter to the networks.'
In the finale, . . "I really think that it's going to be satisfying for our audience," says Bernero, who arranged for original cast members to return. Among them are Kim Raver (now on 24 ), Eddie Cibrian and Michael Beach. And memorable guest star Aidan Quinn also comes back. [umm, that must have gotten cut]
At the conclusion of the episode, there's an attempt at closure. 'Fast-forward to a month later, we learn where everybody winds up, and that everybody's kind of fine,' Bernero says.
Well, actually, not everybody. 'One of the characters doesn't make it through the last episode. "I think personally, it's the right way for this character to end. And a character that wasn't going to make it - that wasn't going to come back - that character is going to be fine. I think people are going to be excited to see how everybody ends up.'
After the dismantling of the fictional 55th Precinct - at King and Arthur streets (hence that nickname) - Bernero took home the shield on the wall that had proclaimed, "Welcome to Camelot." [He's seen taking it down.] It's a souvenir of one all-too-brief but shining moment in television known as Third Watch.
5 things you didn't know:
1. Many real firefighters appeared on Third Watch, and some of them were among the 343 members of the NYFD who lost their lives on 9/11.
Series co-creator Ed Bernero shares a 'poignant example' that dramatically illustrates how the show was affected. 'We did an episode about a blackout, and in the end, Sullivan and Davis are going in a police van to the scene of a riot. Every other person that's in that van died on 9/11.' Filmed shortly before the terrorist attacks, "Blackout" was supposed to air as the 2001 season opener. Instead, Bernero says, 'because of what the subject matter was, we ended up airing 'Blackout' as the last episode of the season" (on May 13, 2002) without any kind of on-air dedication that would call attention to those who had died. "The families wanted to own it themselves,' says Bernero, explaining that producers were going to re-shoot that scene, but the families wanted it to air as a kind of private tribute to their loved ones.
2. Ever wonder why Amy Carlson's Alex Taylor died such a gruesome death while she was comforting a couple trapped in a car, which wound up exploding? Bernero explains: 'I've seen people blown apart like that. I knew that I wanted her to die in an explosion, not saving somebody's life but just trying to keep somebody calm. It was a small thing she was doing, but an important thing. It was at the same time that we were being inundated by explosions in the Middle East. So many of these things are just responses to things I've seen on the news. I wanted to do something that shows just how horrible it is. I didn't want to sanitize. It was a combination of all of those things. It had nothing whatsoever to do with Amy.' And what did Carlson think of her grand finale? 'Amy was upset at first. She felt it was the death of a villain, not the death of a hero. It was a really good point, but when I explained why it was happening, as an artist she understood my reason. And she was great.'
3. Why did the marriage of Fred and Faith Yokas (Chris Bauer, Molly Price) have to break up? Bernero: 'It had less to do with characters and more to do with the fact that we just really didn't have any more stories to tell. Also, they took Yokas away from work, and we always found Yokas to be more interesting at work. ... The one really bad part of the decision is that we lost Chris Bauer. He's an amazing actor, but we ran dry of interesting things.' Price: 'I had mixed feelings about it. I felt that the writers seemed to have a very difficult time for some reason, letting Faith and Fred be happy. It's kind of a comment on our civilization -that being happy is somehow boring or unrealistic, or that happiness is this elusive thing in our world.'
4. When terrorists struck the World Trade Center, Price was a month away from marrying firefighter (and part-time actor) Derek Kelly, whom she'd met on the show. Price 'struggled' with whether to participate in the documentary program, "In Their Own Words," which wound up winning a Peabody Award. She also wrestled with whether to postpone her Oct. 13 wedding. Price: "When [producer] John Wells originally called me, I didn't want to be a part of it at all. I felt that they were going to commercialize a tragedy. [Derek] was the one who said to me, 'We're the lucky ones. ... We should let people know that we're grateful.' ... We were just about to be married. I went out the morning of 9/11 to buy my wedding gown. [Derek] called me from the rig and said, 'Baby, I'm on my way to the trade center. I don't think you should go to Vera Wang today. I'll call you later and I love you.' It was six hours before I heard from him again. ... "On Oct. 13, we did get married. At first we were going to cancel it. We were going to funerals at that time, but [Derek] said, 'It's very healing.' People needed a reason to celebrate life.' Their son, Jake, is now 18 months old.
5. Bernero had worked on Wells' short-lived Trinity, and after that was canceled, Wells asked if he'd like to co-create a show with him. Third Watch was a combination of the paramedics show Wells wanted to do, and the cops drama Bernero had in mind. 'We just put them together. He had the idea to do a paramedic show from stuff left over from ER, but he didn't think there was enough to make a whole show ... and then we ended up with the firefighters, because Eddie [Cibrian] was just so damn handsome we had to figure out what to do with him. Eddie tested as Bosco - Jason [Wiles] won the part - and we were leaving [walking behind him], and every office we passed, women would stick their heads out and comment about Eddie. We said we need to find something for him to do. And I said, 'Well, we don't have any firefighters.'"
This Life (BBC America reruns Seasons 1 and 2 now and again less censored than when originally shown) It may be more soap opera than quality, but it sure is a lot more honest and frank than American ensembles about 20somethings. No hunks to qualify for the HUNK 'O' METER, no female role models for the HALL OF DAMES, just regular guys and gals muddling through their first jobs in the law and first house-sharing and a lot of other firsts -- and the sanitized and prettified American version of this show on NBC was quickly cancelled as it was unwatchable. I missed the two seasons the first few rounds they were on because the skittish channel put it on inconveniently at 10:30 pm. The afternoon replay was severely censored and edited, such that between the Brit accents (Welsh, Scots and all else) and slang and the bleeps it was sometimes hard to figure out if someone's being insulted or seduced. The constant warnings about sex scenes coming up are silly as with the editing it's less hot than the soap operas on the same time on broadcast TV, and are amusing when the warnings increase before scenes of two men kissing. Hopefully they've calmed down for this re-run. (updated 5/18/2005)
Traders (was running on Trio cable channel when it was still owned by Canadian television company, but the new owners pulled it before the repeat of the second season was complete when they changed the focus of the channel. So much for Brilliant But Cancelled, even on the broadband version.. 1st season on DVD.) I had taken this outstanding, '90's Canadian "Bay Street" stock market/investment bank series from the go-go years off my list out of despair that we'd ever get to see more episodes after Lifetime dumped the first season, but then I got Trio and accidentally found they were running the first two seasons, though they kept changing the schedule so I've missed some and tried to catch up on the repeats. At least they don't censor the occasional naughty word. Yeah some of the financial finagling is a bit hard to follow, and is a smidgeon outdated what with the New Economy boom and bust, but on the other hand, what I learned here helped me understand the business pages better and the fundamental things of greed and risk still apply. Who knew I could understand derivatives so that I could later understand subprimes and tranches? Top-notch acting and many of the co-stars in the excellent ensemble used this as a calling card for US TV and Canadian movies. I first watched for hunky David Cubitt (who after guest spots and cancelled shows, became a regular on Medium) and adorable Richard Roberts, but ended up rooting more for Sonja Smits and her hunky boxing coach. (updated 8/26/2009)
In Treatment (On HBO, whatever the schedule, it was easier to follow On Demand. 3 seasons on DVD.) Completely addictive, despite the complicated nightly schedule of the first season, as you absolutely have to keep up with each patient, as they all come into play at the end of the week. Especially riveting are Gabriel Bryne as the unethical, overly-personally-involved shrink, Dianne Wiest (love her clothes, too – but I didn't get up the nerve to compliment her when I walked past her on uptown Broadway) as his forceful shrink “Gina”, and the inestimable force-of-nature Michelle Forbes as his wife. In the first season the manipulative “Laura” (Melissa George) drives me crazy, I’m enthralled by the guilt-ridden pilot “Alex” (Blair Underwood), the psychically damaged gymnast “Sophie” (Mia Wasikowska) and the warring couple (Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz). Filmed here in Queens, the second season escalating collision of the shrink's personal and professional lives was wrenching.
Though it’s based on an Israeli TV series Be 'Tipul created by Hagai Levi with Ori Sivan & Nir Bergman, none of the U.S. characters so far seem to be Jewish. One difficulty facing a possible third season is the need for original scripts, as the firs two were direct adaptations. (updated 10/2/2011)
The Naked Brothers Band (on Nick, Saturday at 8:30 pm, Movie and Battle of the Bands on DVD) Inaugurating TeenNick-- gee wonder why they don’t call it NickTeen-- it’s the first I've watched anything there since The Adventures of Pete & Pete, one of my all time favorite family shows. Mom/Director Polly Draper first did a movie-length Spinal Tap-like take on her sons that was LOL charming funny with cute pop music too ("Crazy Car" etc.). I love that it’s NYC-centric, satirical about fighting brothers in bands yet age-appropriate believable. Sure it pokes fun at grown-ups, but they’re in on the fun. It gets a bit harder to sustain as the kids get older and even more self-aware, but so far so good. Except I have to admit that I stopped watching it. Just low on my entertainment priorities. (8/25/2009)
Sons of Anarchy (Full series on DVD, streaming on Hulu Plus.) I started watching for Charlie Hunnam, and his various alliances, then the almost Mad Max-like story lines. But then the women characters got stronger – even mesmerizing – Maggie Siff as “Tara Knowles” and especially Katey Sagal as the Lady Macbeth-like matriarch “Gemma Teller-Morrow”.
So you do need to sleep with a showrunner to have a great role written for you in TV! Series creator (and actor/husband of lead actress) Kurt Sutter became more visible online with WTF commentaries as SOA got more popular, with a socio-political edge. (updated 12/29/2014)
For a look at a nonviolent motorcycle group see: Stray Dog (previewed at 2014 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center)
True Blood (On HBO, complete series on DVD.) I still haven't read the books by Charlaine Harris, but the mystery stories are the least reason to watch Alan Ball's atmospheric vampires in Louisiana thriving on synthetic blood. The background extras of newscasts and interviews with pro and anti vampire forces are not just satirically funny, but set the background to the quirky characters. Anna Paquin's perky telepath "Sookie Stackhouse" can get annoying, but her chemistry in falling for her co-star Stephen Moyers as the Civil War veteran "Bill Compton" helped establish this as seriously good, beyond the constant nudity of Aussie Ryan Kwanten as her brother "Jason". Rutina Wesley can get a bit annoying as her friend "Tara Thornton", but she was quite good on Broadway in Joe Turner's Come and Gone. Michelle Forbes can pull off being a powerful Force of Nature, even if her character is a mythological muddle of a horned Bacchante/Lilith for whom every night is Walpurgis Night. Sometimes this series does get way over the top, but it shows just how well, civilized, the vamps have become over thousands of years and in comparison to other supernaturals.
I could have put this under the HUNK 'O' METER just for the guys, but the look, music, and use of the local settings within a political context, let alone the powerful witches etc., makes it more than that.. Staggeringly handsome and tall Alexander Skarsgård is just plain having a great time chewing the, um, scenery as the Nordic vampire leader "Eric Northman" who only got a hair cut in the second season when his long blonde mane got, tsk tsk, full of blood (and he's unrecognizable from being a G.I. in Generation Kill). And then whoa in the 4th season– who would have thunk he could be bewitched into a sweetie? Sam Trammel as the shapeshifter "Sam Merlotte" is just plain appealing, and it's nice to finally see him in a successful show after the little-noticed Going to California.
By the 5th season, creator Alan Ball left the story lines of the original books by Charlaine Harris (which I haven’t read yet anyway), including creating his own, complicated mythology, that reinterprets Lilith.
The final deaths and resolutions were marginally satisfying. (updated 11/6/2014)
Turn (On AMC, 2 seasons out on DVD; 3rd season available 11/8/2016) Though I haven’t read yet the book that the series is based on, Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring Alexander Rose, I’m mostly watching for the history of the Revolutionary War-period on Long Island, and the now New York metro area that isn’t usually in TV or movies.
My History Reading Group’s Tour of the Long Island History (updated 9/12/2016)
Undeclared (Complete series out on DVD.) This Freaks and Geeks(which is now out on DVD in 2 versions-- 6 DVDs or the limited edition 8 disc set for fans that of course I got - hey, I went to what was then called the Museum of TV & Radio to see the marathon showing of episodes that NBC never broadcast) -Goes-To-College" had everything -- good writing, realistic situations both funny and poignant, terrific cast of believable just barely college age teens -- including a very hunky young Brit, Charlie Humman (who we're told --as we can't see it here-- played the gay teen seducer in the original Brit Queer as Folk--calling Mrs. Robinson: he's only a year older than my older son!-- and even the return of one of my fave singer/songwriters Loudon Wainwright III into acting (previously he was on M.A.S.H.). (updated 8/15/2005)
Underground (On WGN) What started out as the usual exploitation of the sexual and violent extremes of chattal slavery in Georgia, like the upcoming re-make of Roots, also with an all-star cast of African-Americans, the continuing story line developed into following an escape by a group of slaves, albeit that was rare from the Lower South. Also well-portrayed, are the actions of abolitionists, black and white working together, to help them on what colloquially became known as “The Underground Railroad”. My appreciation of the series grew after my History Reading Group read Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, particularly on the emphasis on the agency of African-Americans themselves pushing the issue of slavery into northern attention. Terrible shame the series was not only not renewed by WGN, with its ambitions dimmed, nor by another outlet. (updated 8/15/2019)
Viva Blackpool (BBC America could yet rerun it as the flaccid American re-make was cancelled quickly on CBS, I hope as when they played the Las Vegas follow-up I accidentally taped it over other episodes.) I'm a fan of Cop Rock and the Dennis Potter lip-synch mini-series, but this mini-series went further in using pop tunes to illustrate a point and the song selection was far more varied than usual. For one, the actors sang along with the soundtrack. They also did outrageous choreography and fantasy scenes that illuminated character relationships. I particularly fell in love with David Tennant, so much that I had trouble seeing him as a villain in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and a gritty TV mystery, and I get a kick out of his new Doctor Who as well. But also charismatic are David Morrissey as a shady entrepreneur and Sarah Parish as the wife caught between them (updated 12/10/2007)
The West Wing (not that you need me to point out this show what with all its Emmys, and frequent repeats on Bravo. 7 seasons on DVD.) A terrific cast and insight into characters, and you don't need me to tell you this is a literate verbal joust, the closest American show to the classic Yes, Minister (which is now out in complete DVD, after the incomplete release on video). Hey, I'm now siding with Cartographers for Social Justice and I do always mix up whether lyrics are attributable to Pirates of Penzance or HMS Pinafore. Though The New York Times thinks these literal references will leave with primo writer Aaron Sorkin. Emmy-winning Richard Schiff received the CCNY Alumni Association Townsend Harris Award alongside my Dad, and we'll forgive him that he's a Yankees fan.
Hurrah for Mary Louis Parker's character's feminist romance (now I feel guiltier than ever for missing her on Broadway in Proof, so too bad this role didn't convince the producers to cast her in the movie.) -- and cheers that she's a regular this season. And look what it took Bill Carter of the New York Times -- and NBC-- until 10/02 to figure out: "Some NBC executives have been less than happy with some of the ways [Rob] Lowe has been used, thinking he has the kind of sex appeal that might keep more young [sic -- how about us crones, too?] women viewers loyal. Mr. Lowe has said he wants to leave, and his status on the show beyond this season remains up in the air." They EVEN had the boss's daughter re-visit with barely a hint of renewed romance, jees. So no wonder he left the show and moved over to the quickly cancelled, far less interesting Lyon's Den but with a lot more close-ups.
At least Josh's assistant "Donna" got to flirt with Jasons Isaacs' sexy photojournalist before getting blown up in Gaza. Though I'm the only one who wasn't eager to see her end up with "Josh".
Is it that I'm getting older or are they more misplacing the mikes or are the actors mumbling that it's getting harder and harder to understand what they are saying? And maybe I'm getting old and cynical, but they do seem to be treating issues far too simplistically - oh, yeah, a bunch of White House staffers can brainstorm a solution to the Middle East -- how condescending! Wasn't it also a bit white bread to have James Taylor perform the classic Sam Cooke song "A Change Is Gonna Come"? They're also missing the point in the presidential candidates they have up to replace "Bartlett" - all are inside the Beltway policy zonks who wouldn't be fun guests at a BBQ.Good show info fan site. (updated 1/7/2019)
The Wire: The Best Novel on Television (my detailed "McNulty" and “Prez”/music-centered episode guide)
Wonderland (all episodes shown overseas and in the U.S. on Direct TV – can a DVD be coming soon?) Killed by ABC after showing only two episodes in 2000, filmed here in Queens, created by actor Peter Berg with a strong cast, particularly Ted Levine, who was so underused on Monk, Martin Donovan, Michelle Forbes, etc., it was a graphic look at a modern mental hospital. (updated 8/30/2009)
You’re The Worst (1st season on FX, 2nd season on FXX) I like so few sitcoms on network or basic cable, but, gosh darn, I actually giggled at the anti-romantic antics of made-for-each-other “Jimmy” (Chris Geere, a not very hunky Brit, teased as pale as an albino), albeit having him be a writer is unoriginal, and “Gretchen” (Aya Cash). The new standard in TV rom coms! The 2nd season topped it with “Gretchen” suffering from severe depression. (updated 1/18/2016)
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