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Tag: tv

Stay Golden: The Devil’s in the Details

mad-men-2Having trouble with your sliding doors? Ah jeez, perhaps a goblet of wine will calm your nerves. Along an isolated winter’s road, amongst all the clones and yellow kings at the center of a blair-witch like labyrinth sits an iron throne. When I say iron; I really mean leather and when I say throne; I really mean my couch. I am currently lost in the maze of reoccurring characters, unexpected deaths, lost souls and  TV for days and days. Keeping up with the Lannisters is becoming a full time job. TV has become the mythical Hydra: lop off one head and two will take its place. The completely addictive and compelling True Detective ends and  magically Mad Men and Game of Thrones are back. Throw in FX’s new Fargo and you really shouldn’t be making any plans anytime soon.

main-s1So what has all this TV consumption taught us? Well, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, but sometimes when you wait around long enough, bad things happen to bad people. It has also taught us that ‘even though our maps no longer show us where the dragons are, doesn’t mean that they’re not still there’. Dragons and demons are alive and well in today’s TV landscape; from the literal GOT variety to the dark whisperings of Rust Cohle and the ones Don Draper just can’t seem to shake.  “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” W.S. 

FARGO - Pictured: Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo. CR: Chris Large/FXSpeaking of devils, I’d like to take a moment and talk about Lorne Malvo played by the brilliant Billy Bob Thorton on FX’s Fargo. The series is only one episode in but the premiere offered up enough intrigue, dark humour and Midwestern Gothic to have you wanting more. Malvo perches perfectly on the shoulders of the characters he meets and manipulates their actions for his own benevolent amusement. Billy Bob plays a villain you love to love. Jack Gleeson’s King Joffrey on the other hand, is a character everyone relishes in hating. (spoiler alert*)

game-thronesJoffrey’s the worst kind of devil: an idiot with power. We tend to encounter these the most in our everyday lives: horrible bosses, drug addled man-child mayors, bullies, bratty kids, corrupt politicians and so on. Four seasons in on a show with so many of the supposed good guys taking it on the chin; it was really satisfying to witness the events of the Purple Wedding*. The devil may be down but he is nowhere near out. Cut down one and more will take his place. Long live good TV.

Speaking of multiples, I have an Orphan Black marathon to attend to. No rest for the wicked.

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House of Cards: Reality Index

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Season 2 of Netflix’s House of Cards has left me divided. It has left me with the same feeling you get after consuming fast food. It’s tasty while you’re eating it, but afterwards you don’t feel full, you just feel different. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are still very watchable, absolute power corrupts absolutely – check, but I found more often than naught my suspension of disbelief was having a hard time getting to first base. Seduction was an underlying theme of this season but it was heavy on the dangling carrot and light on the Barry White. I think I take my cuff-links with a little less tie the damsel to railroad tracks symbolism. Speaking of that…. there will be spoilers.

Ok, so I’m going to borrow steal the brilliant recap format from the high watermark of all TV recaps: Vulture’s Gossip Girl coverage. (They made watching a bad show fun.) This is how it works: points are awarded when events seem believable and deducted when the events are a little too implausible. At the end, we’ll tally the score and see if our tale of the Underwoods veers into the realms of the unreal, and yes I do know this is a TV show but even TV has its limits.

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A testament to House of Cards’ believability is that it plays on the idea that somewhere in the back of our minds we secretly believe that politics is as greasy as it’s portrayed. The question “Do you think Washington is really like that?” or some version of it has probably been uttered in every living room from coast to coast and beyond. This is the opportune moment for the current reigning household authority on all things pop culture/politics /conspiracy theories to either confirm or deny this proposal. This is also the opportune moment to look at your roommate/significant other/soul mate/ life coach/binge watching buddy and think you’re so full of…….. the truth or what have you. +10

Frank’s and Claire’s lust for power above all else seems plausible. They will use and dispose of anyone in their path. No one is immune: old flames, new flames, friends, colleagues, favourite chefs  and so on. +10

The fact they hung the smear campaign infidelity portrait of Claire in their home to complete the lie. +20

The idea the President of the United States could use a Xanax. +20

Between books, reenactments, miniature figurines and all manner of souvenirs, the American Civil War is big business, that and some old wounds still haven’t healed. +10

The pressures of Washington could drive any bird lover to snap a few necks. +10

The threesome seems just about right for all the people involved: Claire gets a little of what she burned down with the photographer, Frank gets to relive his college days and the chauffeur is just doing his duty. The Underwoods seem more like a business arrangement than a married couple, so what’s a little mutual affair? +5

85 on the believability scale, not bad but let’s see about the flip-side of the coin.

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When one ties a damsel to a railroad track you always run the risk of some do-gooder showing up at the last minute spoiling your well laid plans. So instead of fumbling with some complicated knot; a good quick shove really does the job. The idea that the Vice President of the United States disguised only in a film-noir fedora would do his own dirty work in a crowded subway station with only one working surveillance camera, well…. Add the fact that they assigned Chief Wiggum to the case…. -30 This did however supply one of those I can’t believe what I just saw TV moments.

Doug’s middle aged balding sex appeal is so alluring that every nubile twenty-something woman can’t help but fall into bed with him. -20

The super intelligent mastermind hacker who uses Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights references to allude to the  deep web would name his pet guinea pig Cashew. -5

The President and the First Lady are so ditsy that they can be run out of office for offences they didn’t commit. Frank had more trouble throwing a baseball than ousting the most powerful man in the free world. -50

Even though she was told that Frank was out to get her husband, the First Lady sees nothing wrong with divulging a little career crippling personal information to Claire. -10

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-115 on the ‘that could happen scale’, with a total score of 85-115= -30

Overall we slipped into the implausible, but just like fast food -we know we shouldn’t, but what’s a little implausibility every once in a while.

Seinfeld Movie Poster: Sack Lunch

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Probably one of the greatest movie titles of all time; here’s another Seinfeld movie poster.  Sack Lunch – a surprising alternative to the English Patient.

Here’s also  Rochelle Rochelle.

The State of Television

lipIn a post Oprah world, the highest paid TV star on the planet is Judge Judy. She makes approximately 45 million dollars a year with nearly 10 million people tuning into her show daily. Conversely, the season premiere of the critically adored Mad Men attracted 3.3 million viewers and the season finale of Shameless only attracted 1.8 million viewers. The numbers aren’t even close but you wouldn’t know it by the obsessive nature of the internet. Talking and commenting about ‘so called good TV’ has become a cottage industry onto itself, with Mad Men (at this moment) leading the pack.

mad-men-elisabeth-moss-season-6-amcThe glut of words devoted to every episode of this series is astounding. People take the opportunity to cut their writing teeth on the  blogger’s bread and butter: the TV recap. All TV recaps are not created equal. Some take the straight up just recount of what transpired in any given episode; kinda like an old Donahue transcript without all the yelling. Other TV recaps take the time to try and uncover all the tiny minutia of symbolic meaning that may be hidden under the surface. My favourite, when done well are the recaps that inject keen social satire and convey a fondness for their subject matter. Oh how I miss the Gossip Girl recaps on Vulture –they were hilarious and made watching the show more fun.  The blogosphere and social media are the new water-cooler. At times it feels like more people blog and tweet about Mad Men than actually watch the show. In the past, I’ve also added to this ever growing content: here and here, but I think I’ll leave it at: the show is fantastic so you should watch it. Enough has been written about it already.

408_2_0_prm-s3in2013cp_1024x640A show that doesn’t get enough love in my opinion would be the US version of Shameless. In a word:it is without shame. It will make you laugh and break your heart in equal measures. William H. Macy is absolutely fearless and the rest of the cast is equally as brilliant.

On one end of the spectrum, television is going through a renaissance at the moment producing some of the greatest programs in its entire history. Along with Mad Men and Shameless there are shows like Breaking Bad, Girls and Homeland that have people not only watching but appreciating the small screen.  All genres are being covered from the enthralling fantasy of Game of Thrones to the horror of American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. The king of TV genres is in a bit of a slump at the moment compared to a decade or two ago, but if shows like Louie and Arrested Development keep being made perhaps the television sitcom will make a comeback.The serial is thriving; and now that we have been spoiled in a post Sopranos TV landscape our expectations are high.

tumblr_lo2y2he2aH1qe5fk4o1_500If our appetite for a good story right now is at an all time high so is our lust for visual titillation. Home improvement shows have been replaced with nothing short of real estate porn. Million Dollar Rooms and Selling New York would make Robin Leach blush. We’ve become fascinated with the spending habits of the 1%. With the world’s economy on the mat we divert our attention by seeing how the other half live. On the complete opposite end of this spectrum, apparently we also like to pull open the trailer door to see who’s home.

myrtle-manorThere is another renaissance happening on TV at the moment and it’s the Hillbilly renaissance. Shows like Honey Boo Boo, Swamp People, Duck Dynasty, Deep South Paranormal and Myrtle Manor are popping up everywhere. I remember when TLC actually stood for the learning channel. Perhaps they shortened it for the same reasons Kentucky Fried Chicken shortened to KFC: to distance themselves from the word fried. ‘Fried’ became a dirty word for a while. Is learning the new fried? I don’t think learning is discouraged but only being repackaged; Pawn Stars and Storage Wars are the Antiques Roadshow for the dune buggy sect. We want to learn but don’t ask us to think. Just cut straight to the answer.

11773442-largeThe answer that a lot of us want to knows is: where should I eat? Food porn makes real estate porn look like the Disney Channel compared to real porn. All that is missing is the seventies soundtrack. They even film it like real porn with the satisfied first bite money shot. Fried is no longer a dirty word. There are many food show hosts out there but I would have to say the best of the bunch would have to be Anthony Bourdain. He is articulate, funny and most importantly knows his stuff. He is also a bit of a walking contradiction; the elitist every man who is equal parts cynical and optimistic. His shows combine food with travel and provide a knowledgeable guide for both.

The dichotomy of Television is at an all time high. For every show there is a completely opposite show waiting to compliment it. We exploit our rich and our poor in equal measures. It probably won’t ever get any better than it is right now but I’m pretty sure it can get a whole lot worse and I’m the sucker who will watch it all.

Lovin’ the Haters

hotel blueNothing can set off a firestorm of debate and ire like a good old televised picture show. Who knew the lives of a bunch of twenty something girls living in Brooklyn could be so polarizing or the supposed messing with a classic could milk so much venom.  It is just TV; it’s not like we’re talking about Shakespeare after all. …..But we could be.

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God’s bodkins, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind and the audience doth protest too much, methinks. (OK I’ll stop that) Here’s a thought; perhaps Girls‘ Hannah is channeling Hamlet: she is in a state of arrested development, paralyzed by a job to do, ostracizing her friends and family and slowly descending into madness. I don’t necessarily think she needs to kill her uncle, but who knows where Season 3 will take us. Cue the pitchforks and the flaming torches. How could you compare Lena Dunham to William Shakespeare? Umm.. well I didn’t, I compared the character of Hannah to the character of Hamlet. I think this is where TV watching has completely gone off the rails. Judging by the sheer amount of words on the internet and in print  devoted to picking apart, over analyzing and criticizing our so called entertainment, we as an audience need to take a collective deep breath.

a_560x0 (1)HBO’s Girls just ended its second season to another wave of critical bile from all corners of the internet. It seems that people really take this show personally. People are watching the show or in a lot of the cases not watching the show and then comparing it directly to their own lives. The criticisms range from hailing from a different part of the country/world -so this world seems too alien to me or the characters are too flawed. Ahh and that’s the rub, (I’m sorry I can’t help myself)  the characters are deeply flawed, but that’s what makes them interesting. One minute you like them and the next minute you hate them, kinda like real people. This is why we still study Shakespeare today; his characters aren’t pancake. Do we like Hamlet? If he was a real person would we friend him on Facebook? Probably not, but we would most definitely follow him on Twitter- his tweets would be fantastic. When dealing with three dimensional characters you can’t argue in absolutes. It feels like this is how a large portion of people are taking their television. “I hate Adam” or “I’m absolutely not going to watch this show again” are common sentiments. These are  completely legitimate opinions and actions but why has this turned into such a personal affront. It is one person’s vision and that’s all. Sure, Girls got a little dark ..so what if it doesn’t always want to be your lap dog? It will also make you laugh, cringe and thank god you are no longer in your twenties.

blue signOn A&E’s Bates Motel a young Norman Bates hasn’t even reached his twenties yet. The show is a re-imagining of a prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s PsychoCue the pitchforks and the flaming torches,(slightly hyperbolic – the reviews are in and most people are kinda cool with it)- how can you mess with a classic? I’m afraid that ship has sailed: Psycho 4 anyone? The original Hitchcock film is an undisputed masterpiece and one of my favourite films of all time. Having said that; I’m not offended but rather curious to see how they will handle the subject matter. After viewing the pilot I was left with two impressions: great aesthetic but very thin on the suspense. I don’t mind that they set it in modern times but kept the look of the original. It seems although some  Psycho purists don’t appreciate the tinkering.

Fuseli_1790_Titania+Bottom_GGW-396Directors have been messing with the classics for eons. Shakespeare has been re-framed and reinterpreted more times than a James Brown sample. Oberon becomes the king of the hippies, the historical background of Macbeth starts to resemble the Russian Revolution and so on and on. Oberon may have changed jobs but Bottom will always remain an ass. Did Jar Jar Binks ruin Star WarsNo; Luke still blew up the Death-Star and we all cheered but Mr. Binks did make The Phantom Menace a less enjoyable watching experience. Although they are in the same universe, your opinion of one shouldn’t affect your appreciation of the other. So Bates Motel shouldn’t automatically be hated because you loved the original. Obviously, it has extremely large shoes to fill and will inevitably fail to do so. ( At this very moment,  the director Sam Raimi is in the curious position of being on both sides of this coin. He had the unenviable task of tackling one of the most beloved films of all time as well as someone else is reinterpreting his beloved horror classic.)

I don’t believe Bates Motel will become a horror classic but it might have a few surprises up its sleeve. I’ll give it a few more episodes before I make my verdict. When it comes to television shows: watch them or don’t watch them, like them or don’t like them, but please just don’t use them to feel self important and spew hate. Just change the channel.

Just One More: TV on DVD

This scene from Portlandia  says it all. How many of us have our own version of The Lost Weekend under our belts? Not in a Don Birnam wrestling with the bottle kind of way but with something perhaps just as insidious. Before you know it, the weekend is gone and you’re wearing the same clothes. It always starts out so innocently; with a casual phrase like: “I heard this was good” or “You haven’t seen this!” or the deadly “It takes a while to get into but….”. Then the package arrives, usually from a friend who has disguised it in an unassuming plastic bag. Sometimes it can sit in your front hallway for days almost forgotten until you catch it out of the periphery of your eye. By then it’s too late.

It’s ten times worse if you have a partner in crime. You come up with multiple reasons to convince your couch buddy that what you are doing is for the greater good. The enabling can easily last into the wee hours of the night, with multiple rules and stipulations quickly made and then broken and then made again. Everyone is looking for someone to whisper these words we desperately want to hear “It’s ok to have another one.” TV dieting easily gets thrown out the window.  We can’t help ourselves.  TV has changed. C.H.I.P. S has been replaced by The Wire.

The way TV is delivered and written has changed drastically too. Not only is our access to entire television series readily available but TV is no longer a slave to the  rerun. The original idea of the rerun prevented longer story arcs and plot-lines. Each show had to serve as its own self contained play from beginning to end. A story-line couldn’t be carried over several episodes because reruns aren’t necessarily aired in their original order. Shuffling the order of the episodes could confuse the viewer and jumble up the story. Specialty channels weren’t tied to the concept of the rerun and could develop their television episodes like chapters in a book. This changed everything.

A good story slowly builds up, revealing itself event by event and detail by detail while keeping the entirety of itself in the background. This is how we get sucked in. This is how an hour turns into a marathon. A series reveals enough of itself at a time to keep us wanting more. If you are watching along as they are originally being aired, the week wait can be tedious. If the shows also include commercial breaks, that’s almost too much to bare. The alternative of waiting for the entire season or series to be released on DVD requires a little patience and the not to be undermined skill of avoiding spoilers. I know the internet is easier and quicker but I like the idea of supporting what you like. The beautiful thing is you can get on board to any show long after the show has finished.

For me it all started with Buffy The Vampire Killer. Originally I had absolutely no desire to watch this program. The idea didn’t appeal to me and what I had seen seemed forgettable. Then a friend I shared a lot of the same tastes with recommended it. The DVDs were found and I started my skeptical reexamination of my friend’s television viewing habits and then before I knew it, boom I was hooked.  Around this same time The Sopranos was entering its third season.  I quickly grabbed up the first two seasons and not only was I hooked, I was enthralled. TV was an entirely different creature then when I was growing up. Series creators had the time over a entire season to develop rich complex characters. Six Feet Under, The British Office, Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men,The Wire and many others have all followed since.

Now it is I who shows up with the unassuming plastic bag. “You haven’t seen Breaking Bad?”

“Here’s season one to get you started and oh….you probably shouldn’t  make any other plans for the weekend.”

Survivor vs Battle of the Network Stars

“Gather round Guys .. See what you’re playing for”.

The Competitors

Long before there was anything in our TV lexicon referred to as  redemption island, there was a competition that pitted angels and sweat-hogs vs hulks and wonder women. An early reality TV pioneer: Battle of the Network Stars showed the prime-time heroes from the three major networks (NBC ABC CBS) competing against one another in various  sports and athletic  challenges. It premiered in 1976 and ran until 1988.

Survivor is a trailblazing game show that has influenced countless knockoffs and become ingrained into the fabric of pop culture. Being voted off the island became the model for all to follow. It is part physical challenge, part head game and a whole lot of drama. The american version premiered in 2000 and is still going strong.

The Challenges

Battle of the Network Stars‘ competitions covered a wide range of activities. The teams would face off against each other in running, cycling and swimming relay races, tennis, volleyball, golf, boat races, dunk tank, tug o’ war and of course the obstacle course. All events being highlighted and played back in wonderous slow motion.

Feats of endurance, target shooting, mind bending puzzles and obstacle courses that look like they were designed by NASA scientists are the day in day out activities of food and sleep deprived contestants in the tropical heat of Survivor.

Advantage: Survivor

The Hosts

Howard Cosell played it straight. He announced the tug o’ war like it was a heavyweight prize fight. He referred to the stars facing their personal demons and digging into the recesses of their souls to accomplish the near impossible. On a show full of shining stars he was the sun.

No other person working in TV today could do what Jeff Probst does. His commentary during challenges adds both encouragement and ridicule in equal measures.  During  tribal council, his ‘you haven’t seen anything yet’ attitude all the while dangling a million dollar carrot is  pure gold.

Advantage: Battle of the Network Stars

The Contestants

The alumni of Battle of the Network Stars reads like an ultimate version of Dancing with the Stars but with real stars: Gabe Kaplan, Linda Carter, Farah Fawcett, Ron Howard, Penny Marshall, Billy Crystal, Telly Savalas, Robert Conrad, Adrienne Barbeau, Kristy NcNichol, Scott Baio, Ricky Schroder, Valleri Bertinelli, Rob Reiner, William Shatner, Gil Gerard, Heather Thomas, Heather Locklear, Michael J Fox, Lisa Bonet, Kim Fields, Jimmy Walker and Tony Danza.

Survivor has its share of memorable characters: the sneaky one, the annoying one, the forgettable one, the sweet one, the religious one, the uber religious one, the hot one, the cold one, the jerk, the villain and so on.

Advantage: Battle of the Network Stars

Winner: Battle of the Network Stars

All in all Survivor stills survives and another season is right around the corner. Their formula of battle of the sexes, personal testimonies, scantily clad contestants and engaging personalities that become completely forgettable once the cameras stop rolling is a winning one. Their production values can make an isolated crab on a beach a harbinger of foreshadowing and doom. Blatant product placement finds it way into the most remote places on earth. Thank you Survivor for reminding us  that just because you are stranded on a desert island doesn’t mean you have to stop being a consumer.

 Youtube has become the unofficial television archive. Many fabulous things can be found there if you have the time and inclination. It has helped to spur on the  current  nostalgia renaissance. We want our Titanics in 3D, our movies recycled – 21 Jump Street,  Spiderman again and our TV stars battling it out. Watching  the stars of the Big Bang Theory go head to head with Community and Modern Family could be a ratings bonanza.