EVERYBODY'S A CRITIC: HBO's 'Girls' is Evaluated by Girls -- And a Mom
April 20, 2012 7:00 AM
[One of the new elements of our revamped, imminently relaunched TV WORTH WATCHING site is the EVERYBODY'S A CRITIC feature, in which solicit informed opinions from those with special expertise regarding specific TV programs -- lawyers reviewing courtroom dramas, etc. We're very excited about this new feature, another way for you to share your perspectives with us. This second entry is written by Alison Mastrangelo, a college journalism student who has written for us already, and is chronologically qualified to react to Girls, HBO's new twentysomething series. She's 21. And here's her perspective... - DB]
By Alison Mastrangelo
Everybody's a Critic Guest Columnist
In preparation for my TVWW interview with Jenni Konner, one of the executive producers of the new HBO series Girls, I previewed the first three episodes of the series with my girlfriends -- and then with my mother. We all took turns being entertained, and completely mortified...
While the series does impress me by addressing the realistic struggles that my generation of twentysomethings go through, and introduces several realistic-looking characters, Girls (Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET) is less impressive in the way it depicts those struggles -- including abortion and our sexual lifestyles.
Hannah, the central character, is played by series creator Lena Dunham, who also writes and directs the show. Hannah is struggling financially (the series, which premiered last week, opened with her parents telling her that financing two years of her post-college New York life was more than enough), and also emotionally -- with body issues, boyfriend problems, sex, STDs, unemployment, STDs, and abortion.
In episode two, televised Sunday, Hannah's long-traveling friend Jessa (Jemima Kirk) returns with news that she's pregnant. Hannah and her other girlfriends all get together at the gynecologist to support Jessa during her abortion. But Jessa never shows up.
Instead, she ends up at a bar, where a random guy asks to borrow her phone. This leads to a hot intense moment, with both of them in the back of the bar. While she's making out with this stranger, she tells him to put his hands down her pants. He does so, and pulls his hands out with blood on them. She stops, and smiles, and continues on, passionately kissing him.
Now, do not think that I'm some naive girl who cannot stand watching passionate sex scenes. I used to watch Spartacus, where sex is in there almost every five minutes.
However, almost in unison, all of my girlfriends and I shuddered and cringed in disgust at that moment, which felt like, "Whoa, that was way too much!" It also was one of the most uncomfortable scenes to watch with my mother.
Don't get me wrong. I was happy, under the circumstances, Jessa had a miscarriage. But honestly: No one I know is going to having a random guy pleasure her and smile when he has blood on his hands. If anything, they would be completely embarrassed and stop making out with him.
If Jessa had been making out with her boyfriend when she discovered blood on his hands, then I could understand the total relief, because of the life-changing implications of the pregnancy. Then the continued kissing would make sense, because both are overjoyed. But this random poor guy has no idea why Jessa continues kissing him excitedly once she sees her blood on his hands.
If that isn't bad enough, my girlfriends and I, and even my mother, winced at how uncomfortable the sex scenes are between Hannah and her boyfriend Adam (played by Adam Driver). Adam has these non-intimate and kinky role-playing and sex fantasies, and my mother felt the sex scenes are graphic and uncomfortable, and there is no redeeming quality in them that made them humorous -- they're just embarrassing and rough to watch.
Personally, I understand that, in the beginning, the sex can be bad in any relationship, especially in inexperienced ones. But come on -- no girl I know would stand for the way Adam treats Hannah. I know my roommates and I would not stand for it.
In the third episode, Hannah's best friend Marnie (Allison Williams) has a heated and intense altercation with an artist, and somehow is so turned on by it that she goes into a room and closes the door to pleasure herself.
Watching Marnie feverishly walk into a private room, my girlfriends and I were astonished. "No way. She is not going to do that!" -- and she does.
I have to say, my roommates and I have seen our fair share of hot guys, and never once have we had to run into a room suddenly to get the lust out of our system. I can understand a guy doing this, but I do not think that our female sexual libido is that crazy, that we have to go take care of it right away. This scene was too dramatic and too graphic, and did not seem to add to the story in any way.
Even though I am appalled by the above scenes, I must say the show gives amazing portrayals of the real struggles that young women go through today. It shows the poor self-image that some of us feel, as well as the jerky boyfriend who never texts you back, and uses you only for sex.
It also depicts brilliantly the struggles that post-college graduate students face, which is a ton of debt. After Hannah's parents cut her off in the premiere, she said, in a funny yet serious way, "So I calculated that I can last in New York for about three-and-a-half to four days. Maybe seven, if I do not eat lunch."
This is the reality that some of us face after we graduate. How can we pay for our smartphone bills, rent, cable, car and health insurance, eat, and put clothes on our back, when it is so hard to find a job in this economy? As a college student, I can only imagine the horror of being completely cut off from my parents.
One thing I can say I absolutely love about this show is how its leading character is not your normal sex symbol or bombshell. Hannah is your average, everyday girl, with love handles, fears, and insecurities. She's just a girl trying to get by, and figuring out who she is, in her pursuit of writing a book of essays -- and finding a job to support herself.
During my interview with Jenni Konner, one of the executive producers of Girls (read the full story HERE), she promised that the sexual dynamic between the characters would change, and be more enjoyable to watch. With that assurance, I'll keep watching for a while, to see if the good sex really does surface, and the struggles start to be more realistic and not so graphic and degrading.
Overall, I suspect it will be hard for Girls to draw and hold a strong viewership from my generation. Yes, it is funny, and completely relatable with the issues we face. But I don't believe my generation is ready for the reality of the harsh real world, and the struggles we face when we are eventually on our own.
Women of my generation think they are going to get the perfect career, an amazing husband, and make a lot of money. A previous HBO series about female friends, Sex and the City (which was mentioned in the first episode), was controversial, and constantly brought up sex. However, it showed the beautiful life that all of us imagine we can achieve or have. Girls, by contrast, is brutally honest, and shows us that the real world is not as glamorous.
I don't think my generation is ready to face that yet. We still enjoy television that allows us to escape reality -- not relive it.
Alison Mastrangelo, 21, is weeks from being a senior at Rowan University in New Jersey, studying both journalism and Health and Exercise Science and Education.
Dick Clark Dies at 82, Leaves Behind a High-Scoring TV Legacy
April 18, 2012 6:00 PM
Fifty-five years after his American Bandstand pop-music show went national, TV host Dick Clark died Wednesday morning of a heart attack. He was 82. (For other TVWW salutes to Dick Clark, see Bill Brioux's TV Feeds My Family column HERE and Ed Bark's Uncle Barky's Bytes column HERE.)
He lived the last eight years of his life recovering from the effects of a massive stroke, but -- except for being replaced by Regis Philbin in 2005 -- determinedly continued to count down the moments to midnight as the ball dropped in Times Square on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, a tradition he and ABC had begun in 1972...
To ring in 2012's New Year, ABC prefaced its midnight celebration with a two-hour prime-time New Year's Rockin' Eve 40th Anniversary Special, saluting the many decades of revelry, and musical performances, over which Clark had presided. (The special was hosted by Ryan Seacrest, the presumptive host for 2013 and beyond.)
Clark's first job as host of a musical, national TV party, of course, began in the 1950s. The Philadelphia local TV dance party show -- in which rock 'n' roll, doo-wop and soul acts performed new songs for gyrating teens who graded their danceability quotient ("I give it a 78!") -- originally was called Bob Horn's Bandstand. Clark was a young substitute host, and had the job permanently by the time ABC launched the series nationwide, as American Bandstand, in 1957.
That program, which predated MTV by a generation, ran 30 years on ABC, and another three in syndication and on cable. Its claims to fame are absurdly long and varied, but are solidified by dropping just two names for which Bandstand provided their first national TV exposure: Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.
By the time Clark quit hosting the show, in 1989, he already had been doing double duty for 17 years as host of New Year's Rockin' Eve.
And beginning in 1973, he logged triple duty by hosting the game show $10,000 Pyramid, which flourished for 15 years in daytime and prime-time versions, offering prizes as high as $100,000.
American Bandstand, New Year's Rockin' Eve, Pyramid -- in TV hosting circles, that's one hell of a TV hat trick. And that doesn't include TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes, another show he co-hosted and produced, through his profitable and prolific Dick Clark Productions.
That NBC program, premiering in 1984, was co-hosted by Ed McMahon, whom Clark had introduced to Johnny Carson. The launch of that show marked the first time I interviewed Clark. On that and subsequent occasions, he always struck me the same way: he was humble about his on-air accomplishments, proud of what he'd done and amassed as a producer, and truly excited about discovering and helping new talent.
His last move in all three regards -- appearing on the 2012 edition of a Dick Clark Productions TV special with his Rockin' Eve protege, Ryan Seacrest -- was typical Dick Clark. He embraced and anointed Seacrest early, seeing in the American Idol host, radio personality and TV producer a kindred soul of entrepreneurial multi-tasking.
In that regard, though, Dick Clark had few peers. I give him an 82.
On the demanding grading scale of American Bandstand, Dick Clark didn't act his age.
Ultimately, he equalled it.
Great News About Two TV Greats: David Attenborough and Ernie Kovacs
April 18, 2012 12:00 PM
This week's new DVD releases include superb offerings featuring the most recent TV work by Sir David Attenborough, and by the late Ernie Kovacs. That's good news in itself -- but the great news is, that's only the tip of the iceberg.
And iceberg is an especially apt analogy, since Attenborough's latest work is on the original BBC version of Frozen Planet -- which Discovery Channel, in an unexpected and exciting change of course, has decided to showcase this Sunday, along with Attenborough itself...
Fittingly, in honor of Earth Day on April 22, Discovery Channel has cleared the decks to present, in its entirety, the Frozen Planet series as televised in the United Kingdom -- the one with Attenborough as narrator throughout.
For its U.S. telecast, Discovery Channel substituted Alec Baldwin as narrator -- a decision I had railed against in my review for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross HERE.
But just as critical as I was then, I'm that effusive and grateful now. I've seen the British version, and now everyone gets to -- and, as a beautiful and important bonus, also gets to see the episode in which Attenborough, on camera, takes a personal look at the two poles, and makes his own environmental observations based on more than 50 years of field study.
So whatever drove the executives at Discovery Channel to turn Earth Day into Attenborough Day, I'm grateful. Here's the network's April 22 Frozen Planet rundown:
1-2 p.m. ET -- The Making Of. A great behind-the-scenes hour, including one scene I included in my Fresh Air review above.
2-8 p.m. ET -- Frozen Planet. The same documentary on Antarctica and the Arctic as shown already on Discovery Channel this month and last, except that Attenborough, not Baldwin, narrates. And yes, it makes an immense difference. Nothing against Baldwin, but Attenborough has earned this. Plus, he's just better at it.
8-9 p.m. ET -- On Thin Ice. This is Attenborough's on-camera wrap-up of the series, and he provides a perspective only someone who has been treading the planet with camera crews for half a century can deliver with such easy assurance. Don't believe in global warming? Tell it to Attenborough. Better yet, listen to Attenborough.
Finally, if, after watching this version on Earth Day, it's the one you'd want for your home video library, you can order it HERE, on DVD and on Blu-Ray. The BBC Video release went on sale this week.
So did Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials, a new single-disc release from Shout Factory, featuring the final five prime-time specials by one of television's earliest, and zaniest, creative geniuses. These cover a mere five months -- from September 1961 to January 1962 (the last of which was televised posthumously, weeks after his death in a car accident) -- but contain many of Kovacs' best and most ambitious bits.
The silent Eugene is here, and the prissy poet Percy Dovetonsils, and some of Kovacs' outrageously inventive special-effects music videos, and so, so much more.
But to me, it's worth the price of the single disc just to see, in context, the TV treat with which I tease (and, in due time, treat) my Rowan University Television History & Appreciation college students each term: Rancid the Devil Horse.
You can buy Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials HERE. And, just as with Attenborough, there's some timely non-DVD news to report as well. And this time, it's personal.
A week from Friday, on April 27 at 7 p.m. ET, the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY is presenting a panel discussion on, and called, Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams, part of their retrospective exhibition of the innovative and entertaining work by Kovacs and his singer-actress wife.
Comedian Robert Klein moderates the evening's panel discussion, which features Broadway producer Harold Prince; newsman Jeff Greenfield; Kovacs curator and film and TV historian Ben Model; and TV critic David Bianculli.
To me, that lineup feels a little like a quiz from Highlights magazine: Which of these things is not like the others? But since they invited me, I'm honored to take part.
At least I can talk about Rancid the Devil Horse, which means I can die happy.
If I live that long...
You can read more about the event, and order tickets, HERE.
EVERYBODY'S A CRITIC: A Theatrical Lighting Designer Sheds Light on NBC's 'Smash'
April 16, 2012 12:30 PM
[When TV WORTH WATCHING relaunches soon -- almost imminently -- one of the new features, as promised, will be an EVERYBODY'S A CRITIC section, in which readers with expertise in specific areas can chime in on TV shows about those very topics -- lawyers on The Good Wife, science nerds on The Big Bang Theory, etc. With this entry, we give a sneak preview of sorts, as theatrical lighting designer Benjamin Ehrenreich takes a look at NBC's Smash. And it's EXACTLY the sort of informed review we hoped to get! Thanks, Benjamin! ... - DB]
By Benjamin Ehrenreich
Everybody's a Critic Guest Columnist
Smash, televised by NBC Monday nights at 10 ET, is an incredibly frustrating television series for me to talk about, because I feel it does not really know what kind of show it wants to be.
Does it want to present a realistic look at how a Broadway musical is made, and show the associated struggle, heartache and euphoria? (In which case it would be following in the great tradition of such workplace dramas as The West Wing, a show that the producers have talked about as inspiration)
Or does it want to be a primetime soap, painting its characters in broad strokes and including only enough reality for the folks in Peoria to say, "Yeah! That's how a Broadway musical is made!"
Alack, it seems that the show has erred towards the latter at the expense of the former, while keeping enough glimpses of brilliance around the edges to keep me tuning in week after week, hoping that this time they get everything right.
What Smash seems to do right is get the emotional notes of putting a new work together, while sacrificing the details for the sake of drama.
For instance, a successful team like lyricist Julia Houston (Debra Messing) and her composer Tom Levitt (Christian Borle, seen with Messing above right) would never in a million years let an assistant (Ellis, played by Jamie Cepero) believe that the idea for a new musical was his.
And no matter how drugged up she might be, Ivy (Megan Hilty) would never get out the door of a Broadway theater still in her costume, let alone get past the wardrobe supervisor.
Why are possible investors sitting in on what is supposed to be a first read-through with new star Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman)? They would never be there, thinking about investing, before there have been any rehearsals, let alone before the star has met anyone involved in the production or signed a contract.
Now this might come across as nitpicking -- but for someone who works in the theatre, all the little slips start to add up. Every Monday, my friends, many of whom work in the New York theatre world, begin to gripe about this issue and that detail -- things that distract us from the otherwise compelling narrative unfolding in front of us.
What drew me to Smash in the first place was the way it promised to show millions and millions of people each week what we as theatre artists go through in our daily personal and professional lives. The pilot showed how hard we work to do what we do, and what we sacrifice on a daily basis to do it.
We're waiters and bartenders, baristas and shop clerks, grad students and plucky talents from Kansas -- what we all have in common is loving what we do and doing it at all costs.
Smash promised that. And it is there when Bernadette Peters jumps into an impromptu performance of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy, or when the cast performs any of the numbers from the new Marilyn musical (now called Bombshell), written in real life by the Tony award-winning duo of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman.
Here's a bit from their brilliant Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired patter song, written for the actor portraying movie mogul Darryl F. Zanuck (but sung by Tom Levitt, standing in for a missing cast member) in last week's episode:
Today the trades are all aglow
With grosses for our Miss Monroe
The things those vermin mustn't know
Is what she puts us through.
She makes directors wait all day
One line per hour's all she'll say
And still she thinks we're gonna pay?
She needs a talking-to!
...She's got them all tied up in knots
Makes each producer faint and plotz
She thinks she's queen and calls the shots
As she sits on her throne
She needs to learn she's only skin
The next girl's waitin' for a spin
I made a star of Rin Tin Tin
And paid him with a bone!
These original numbers are so strong -- harking back to what is great and original about American musical theatre -- that you cannot help but smile whenever they show up. Unfortunately, these numbers are mixed in with broad characters, odd casting choices (Emory Cohen, who plays Leo, Julia's son, appears to be at least 25 while still in high school, and cannot act worth a lick), and unnecessary plot threads (see the adoption subplot at the start of the season).
Now that series creator Theresa Rebeck is (sadly) out of the picture for season two, all we can hope is the show decides to focus on what is great about it, and put aside all the rest.
If that happens, and Smash decides what kind of television show it wants to be, then it has the chance to rival the great Canadian show Slings & Arrows as a backstage look into the making of theatre.
Until that happens, I will still be tuning in each week, hoping for a smash.
Everybody's a Critic Guest Critic:
Lighting Designer Benjamin Ehrenreich has been involved in theatre for as long as he can remember, and it's almost as vital to him as air and food -- though usually less caloric than the latter and infinitely more exciting than the former. He's gone from actor to director to lighting designer (with short detours back and around all of them, and, oddly enough, through physics), with stints Off-Off Broadway, at Shakespeare and Co. in Lenox, MA and Arena Stage in Washington D.C., where he had the great pleasure to work with designers like Allen Lee Hughes and Kevin Adams. He currently is a MFA Candidate in Lighting Design at the Yale School of Drama, where his design for Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra was seen in March.
SPECIAL FEATURE: A Look at HBO's 'Girls,' By and With Those Who Get the Demo
April 15, 2012 12:45 PM
[As part of our coverage of HBO's Girls, we dispatched Alison Mastrangelo, a college journalism student at Rowan University, to explore the show from her informed perspective, and conduct an interview with Jenni Konner, one of the show's writer-producers. Her report follows. - DB]
By Alison Mastrangelo
It's not glamorous or sexy, and yet it works.
Girls, HBO's newest weekly series, shows the raw side of twentysomethings struggling to find direction in the current age.
The series, which makes its debut Sunday, April 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET, revolves around Hannah, an aspiring Brooklyn writer with boyfriend issues, body issues, and -- thanks to her parents' sudden decision to stop paying her bills -- money issues. Its honest portrayal of post-college angst is largely credited to the creative vision of Lena Dunham, the show's 25-year-old wunderkind creator/writer/director/star.
Executive producer Jennifer Konner was expecting the show to resonate with young women -- but pre-debut screenings and critical response have proven there's a much wider audience ready to watch Hannah battle her insecurities...
"People of all sizes and colors are coming up to me, saying, 'I am Hannah -- I feel exactly like her,'" Konner explained during a recent interview from her California home. "Seventy-five-year-old women are saying that to me. Anyone can relate to having made mistakes in their early twenties -- and if they can't, then they should be on Mars."
The pairing of Dunham, a TV newcomer, and Konner -- a veteran writer/producer whose most recent series, ABC’s In the Motherhood, focused on parenting from a female perspective -- was kismet. Konner was a huge fan of Dunham's 2010 film, Tiny Furniture, a somewhat autobiographical story of a college graduate who moves back in with her parents while determining the next chapter of her life.
It was Konner's championing of Tiny Furniture that put her on the radar for Girls. Konner says the two connected from their very first phone call.
"Two of Lena's best qualities are she really knows what she wants and has a specific voice," says Konner. Another plus, she adds, is that "all she wants to do is learn." It's Dunham's habit of soaking in everything around her like a sponge, Konner adds, that keeps her writing fresh.
Shortly after signing on to do Girls, Konner got a call from writer/producer Judd Apatow. Konner had worked with Apatow on his 2001 Fox series, Undeclared, a follow-up to his critically acclaimed but short-lived NBC sitcom, Freaks and Geeks.
"Judd called and said, 'I love this girl. What can I do to help? Can I come help you do this?'"
Konner was elated. "My whole writing career has sort of been, 'What would Judd do'?"
Apatow -- the man behind such comedies as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, Pineapple Express, and the Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids -- has a knack for fostering quirky characters, and his influence is evident in Girls.
Konner says Apatow is pushing Dunham to explore the emotional aspects of love and romance. "He really wants to go for the truth, because if there is no truth in it... it will not be emotionally effective."
There's already been a lot of buzz about Girls' decidedly unglamorous sex scenes. Largely drawn from the writers' personal experiences, the scenes make viewers squirm with their honest portrayal of less-than-perfect sex.
"The main reason to show the awkwardness," explains Konner, "was to show inexperienced women having sex with inexperienced men." (Rest assured, Konner says, there is some "good sex coming up.")
Konner says HBO has given her, Dunham, and the writing team an unbelievable amount of creative freedom. "All they want to do is support Lena's voice and support us making this show."
Alison Mastrangelo is weeks from being a senior at Rowan University in New Jersey, studying both journalism and Health and Exercise Science and Education.
Girls, Girls, Girls: We've Got HBO's New Comedy Series Covered -- Thrice
April 13, 2012 11:38 AM
HBO's new Girls series premieres Sunday, and we here at TVWW are welcoming it with open arms.
TVWW contributor Eric Gould, in his latest Cold Light Reader column, reviews it for us HERE.
Friday on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I preview the show quite positively -- and with a lengthy clip chosen precisely to capture the writing and performing rhythms of its auteur star, Lena Dunham.
After about 5 p.m. ET Friday, you can read and hear that review HERE.
And wait -- as they say in late-night informercials -- that's not all...
This weekend, we're presenting an interview with Jenni Konner, one of the show's writer-producers, conducted especially for TVWW by a new reporter for our site, Alison Mastrangelo. Watch for it -- then watch Girls.
Five Things I Loved About the Season Finale of FX's 'Justified'
April 11, 2012 10:45 AM
Sometimes, despite the national mania about overly protective Spoiler Alerts, a TV show comes along that's too good not to talk about the next day. Tuesday's season finale of FX's Justified was one of those shows -- so stop reading now if you want to remain ignorant of its contents.
If you stick around, though, we can revel, together, in some of the delightful moments that made this latest Justified so damned delectable...
1) "Actions have consequences." That may well be a mantra for what I love the most about television's best-written current shows -- from Breaking Bad and Mad Men to The Walking Dead and, certainly, Justified.
But it's also a line of dialogue, uttered in the Justified season finale, by Adam Arkin as Chicago mobster Theo Tonin. He says it, over the phone from his lush California estate, to a desperate, wounded, sociopathic Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), who's begging to be allowed back into the Chicago operation.
One thing I loved about that line is that it's a rule that may as well be written on the blackboard in the Justified writers' room. What a character does in Episode 1 of a season may -- and usually does -- come back to haunt him or her by Episode 10.
The other thing I loved is that, despite appearing in a few quick scenes in a mere two episodes, Arkin managed to portray Theo Tonin as a man of formidable power and menace -- despite the fact that he never leaves his poolside lawn chair.
It was a performance geographically separate from the rest of the story and characters -- Arkin was, quite literally, phoning it in. Yet it was brilliant, and provided a crucial motivation for Quarles to make one last desperate move.
2) Live by the sword, die by the sword. All season long, the two most deadly and unpredictable bad guys on Justified have been wielding their weapons openly and often: Quarles with his arm-holstered tiny pistol, and Mykelti Williamson's Limehouse with his giant machete of a butcher knife.
Limehouse brandished his blade often, and always had it around, like the natural extension of his arm, as with the demon barber of Fleet Street in Sweeney Todd. Quarles used, lost and regained his secret weapon -- one of many deadly secrets he had hidden up his sleeve, but in this case literally -- but had it in play for the season finale, when Quarles, Limehouse and our hero, Timothy Olyphant's Raylan Givens, ended up at Limehouse's place for a deadly showdown.
Both weapons, established all season long, ended up being used. Quarles' sleeve gun was drawn, Raylan grabbed and held it -- and Limehouse used his blade to lop Quarles' arm off, above the elbow. As Raylan noted afterward, in the unexpectedly but charmingly low-key final scene, some of the other lawmen joked that Quarles had been "disarmed."
3) Find the hidden cash. All season, many characters, including Raylan, have been looking for the giant stash of hidden money -- part of it from the illegal Bennett enterprises, part of it from Limehouse's own nefarious doings.
In the finale, we discovered the secret location: inside the hung carcass of a pig, hiding in plain sight in Limehouse's low-rent slaughtherhouse.
And as Limehouse used his blade to cut open the pig, causing plastic-wrapped rolls of cash to spill on the floor like candy from a pinata, Quarles couldn't help but laugh.
"Oh, shit!" he said, delighted by the discovery. "It's a piggy bank!"
Priceless. And I'm not talking about the loot.
4) Little moments. Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) got to express frightened disbelief as Givens interrogated him -- by playing a game of Russian roulette. Ava (Joelle Carter) got to punch one of her prostitutes in the face. Boyd (Walton Goggins) got to accept his return to incarceration with quiet resignation, only to get a last-second reprieve. Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) finally got what he wanted all along: to be a pivotal part of the plotting going on around him. And Raylan...
5) Perfect performance. Olyphant was great in HBO's Deadwood, but somehow, he's even better as Raylan Givens in Justified. There were moments in the season finale when he was cornered, cocky, threatening, threatened, in control and completely befuddled. Which would be impressive emotions to convey when played well individually -- but Raylan, in the scenes with Limehouse, was all those at once.
Even the very last scene, when Raylan admits to Winona (Natalie Zea) the Freudian subtext of his father Arlo's cop killing, was a master stroke of understated, unstated acting at its best. Raylan revealed all, including his emotions, with his back turned to the camera, merely by the way he put on his hat.
And for that, you have to take off your hat -- to Olyphant, to series creator Graham Yost, and to everyone else involved with Justified.
What a fine year. What a fine show.
Mike Wallace: Dead at 93, But Not Soon Forgotten -- Or Equalled
April 8, 2012 11:25 PM
60 Minutes -- the CBS newsmagazine that Mike Wallace, more than anyone else, helped make a respected journalistic TV institution and a durable Top 10 hit -- got caught a bit off guard by Wallace's death Saturday night at age 93. Though Morley Safer opened the broadcast by honoring his venerable colleague, he had to promise a full retrospective would be coming the following Sunday.
That's what happens when you die in the middle of Easter and Passover weekend. Except for atheists and Buddhists, there aren't many people around to scramble for breaking news. But the ability to cause a little newsroom panic one last time, I suspect, would have made Mike Wallace smile...
I remember a welcoming smile he flashed at me once -- when I was in the 60 Minutes office, about to interview his boss, Don Hewitt, for my Teleliteracy book. It was such a conspiratorial smile, a mixture of effusive warmth and troublemaking glee, that I worried, as I was ushered past him into Hewitt's office, that Wallace knew something I didn't.
To me, he was just being nice. But to the subjects of his programs -- first Night Beat, his bare-knuckles interview program, then 60 Minutes -- his smile, warmth and glee would be used as precise, wounding weapons. Relax. It's just the two of us here. Tell me, really, how clever you are. And now... pounce! Mike Wallace would add another dazzled, stunned head to his trophy wall.
Face the Nation Sunday had time to put together a short tribute to Wallace, in which host Bob Schieffer said with a smile, "He even gave me a compliment once." Nice line, and nice touch -- an understated nod from one no-nonsense newsman to another.
Anyone who has clocked time -- lots of it -- watching the 60 Minutes stopwatch has a personal list of Mike Wallace favorites. Depending upon your age, and your memory, it could be vintage ambush interviews of Wallace unmasking the shady practices of unscrupulous gas-station attendants, or Wallace firing unflinchingly tough questions at John Ehrlichman, Barbra Streisand, even the Ayatollah Khoemini.
I can even quote part of that last interview from memory -- when Wallace, risking a lot more than a harsh look from the Iranian leader in 1979, repeated, via a duly frightened interpreter, the insult by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that the Ayatollah was "a lunatic."
"Imam, forgive me," Wallace, putting his hand to his chest, told the Iranian leader. "His words, not mine."
In 1979, that was one of the gutsiest TV interview moments I had ever seen. More than 30 years later, it still is.
Today, at a time when ambush journalism is equated with the annoying stalkarazzi horseflies at TMZ, and celebrity interviews often sink to the red-carpet level of "Who are you wearing?," what Wallace accomplished, and stood for, for so many decades should be neither forgotten nor devalued. It should, however, be imitated --if possible.
At his best, in his prime -- and that prime was a period that lasted more than a generation -- Wallace could wither an interview subject, and a reputation, with a single question. Today, perhaps the most withering question to ask about today's TV landscape is this:
Who, and where, is Mike Wallace's modern equivalent?
Forgive me, Imam. I'm only asking...
(For another remembrance of Mike Wallace, read Ronnie Gill's latest Altered Reality column HERE.)
'Magic City': It Looks Great, But Isn't
April 6, 2012 11:30 AM
The new Starz series Magic City, premiering Friday night at 10 ET, stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the owner of a flashy Miami Beach hotel in 1959 -- hot enough to have Frank Sinatra as a headliner, yet cool enough to want to avoid ties with the local mob. I grew up in South Florida in the 1960s, so I can say with assurance they got the look just right.
With equal assurance, however, I can say they got everything else just wrong...
The casting of Morgan as hotel owner Ike Evans is the best move the show makes -- although, even there, he projects an air that, like the perfumed and intentionally arctic air circulating through his Miramar Playa Hotel, is way too cool.
Most other members of the cast, though, are like the set design and the scenery. They're great to look at, but that's about it. Series creator Mitch Glazer has done a wonderful job making Magic City look like an evocative period drama -- but I've seen Mad Men, I love Mad Men -- and Magic City, you're no Mad Men.
What it is, basically, is a nice try. And even when it gets some details right, it misses others -- or what to make of them.
For example, one of the now-demolished former landmarks recreated in Magic City is Wolfie's, a popular coffee shop and deli that had branches in both Miami and Fort Lauderdale. It was rumored to be a popular hangout for local Mafia types -- but definitely, it had enough appeal to be an occasional remote location from which a young local Miami radio host would do a live show, interviewing patrons as they ate and chatted.
That host was Larry King -- and Miami, and Wolfie's, was where he started.
I remember Wolfie's. Occasionally, my dad would take me to the Lauderdale Wolfie's on weekends for ham and eggs -- before we found, and switched to, the still-existing, still-cozy Egg & You. The artwork on the Wolfie's menu was strange enough, but that was nothing compared to the paper placemats, which included all sorts of joke phrases supposedly taken straight from the "Pennsylvania Dutch."
Why a South Florida Jewish deli was delighting in, and reproducing, etymology from another state and culture, I have no idea. But I ate enough eggs at Wolfie's, and read those placemats enough times, to be able to quote, with assured accuracy, some of the joke lines that were accompanied by illustrations, poking fun at the fractured speech patterns of this particular rural subculture:
"Throw the cow over the fence some hay." That was one.
"Throw mama down the stairs the laundry." That was another.
I'm not expecting Magic City to care about the placemats, necessarily. But putting Larry King in there would have been nice.
Similarly, the bar with the mermaids behind the glass (seen at the top of this column) -- that's an architectural gimmick that was used by many hotels and bars at the time. But it's not used to good effect, either. Just noticed, and photographed, and kept in the background.
By the way: a real-life modern example of that still exists in Fort Lauderdale, in what used to be the Yankee Clipper hotel bar. It's now the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach hotel, but the watering hole retains its old name -- the Wreck Bar (at right) -- and "mermaids" still swim in the hotel pool on certain nights, as bar patrons watch through "portholes" to catch the aquatic action.
But I digress. I wanted to like Magic City, I really did. But by the time one of the characters asks another if he knows the story of the frog and the scorpion -- and then tells it, down to its "It's in my nature" tail-stinging punchline -- I had given up hoping the show's scripts would match its images.
Magic City, sorry to say, is like a postcard.
Very pretty to look at, but about as thin as it gets.
'Homeland,' 'Thrones,' 'Parks & Recreation,' 'Portlandia' Among Those Winning Peabody Awards
April 4, 2012 11:30 AM
The 71st Annual Peabody Awards committee announced the 38 recipients of their latest awards Wednesday, and among those recognized were Showtime's Homeland, HBO's Game of Thrones, NBC's Parks & Recreation and IFC's Portlandia.
Also nabbing highly prized Peabodys for 2011: HBO's Treme, PBS's Austin City Limits and, winning a second award, Comedy Central's The Colbert Report...
The awards, bestowed by the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, are, as always, a bold and thoughtful condensation of the best that's out there in electronic news and entertainment. Radio and TV documentaries, entertainment programs, even websites all get honored for overall excellence.
The Peabody voters like to be ahead of the curve, which sometimes has them going out on a lib as well. Portlandia, for example, may be a critical and nerd darling, but I'm not sure the sum of its parts -- at this point -- adds up to Peabody-level work.
Honoring Homeland after its inaugural season, on the other hand, is the sort of astute home run that characterizes most Peabody choices. What a great show -- and what a great show of faith, for the Peabody folks to recognize it after only one season of solid writing and, by Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, fabulous acting.
And even giving a Peabody to the syndicated series Jeopardy!, after all these years, makes sense somehow. In a year when man was pitted against machine on that venerable quiz show, and machine kicked ass, a Peabody award seems like a very human, maybe even humane, consolation prize.
Nonfiction winners included the PBS P.O.V. entry Perestroika, Japan's NHK documentary on Surviving the Tsunami, and Al Jazeera English, one of several winners for its comprehensive coverage of the "Arab Spring" revolts.
For a full list of winners, and more information about the Peabodys, visit the University's Peabody site HERE.
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