Saturday, February 21, 2015

Broadchurch, Happy Valley & The Slap

So Sorry for all of the television posts -- it's winter and I'm not doing much other than working and using Apple TV to search for shows to watch.  I don't always sleep the way I'd like, so I now find programs to watch in the early hours  and I've enjoyed three series lately -- two English and one Australian show (still watching).  They're all good -- VERY good.

Tennant and Colman
Broadchurch is an English series -- only the first is available through Netflix, so I only have one to judge.  It's set in a seaside town and the entire first season revolves around the murder of a young boy and its affect on his family and community.  The police detectives are played by David Tennant (of Dr. Who fame) and Olivia Colman.  Tennant's character is a transplant transferred to the town to lead the team and is still affected by a botched case in another city.  Coleman is a native of the town and was shocked in the early episode to learn she wasn't getting the promotion she expected, so had to not only deal with the murder of this young boy (whom she knew) and a new boss.  Like a good mystery, we get to know many town people and all are suspect -- while seeing their lives, we learn many secrets along the way, emphasizing guilt or just personal missteps and truths. The final episode of the first show exposes the killer and resolves some issues, but allows for viewer investment curious about what the second season holds in store.  Everyone is good in this -- gripping and entertaining in a quiet and painful way.

Finneran and Lancashire
I found Happy Valley as I search options for another show to watch.  The photo looked like a female fire fighter -- it's actually the lead character in her police uniform played brilliantly by Sarah Lancashire.  I'm so used to British shows having DCI's in street clothes that I was surprised to see a show about a police officer wearing a uniform.  Sarah's character is a sergeant in a small northern (Lancashire) town who finds herself investigating a kidnapping while also addressing a personal backstory -- and the worlds meet.  When I first started to watch, it felt like I was watching Fargo, so I googled the two and found numerous comparisons....except Happy Valley is not funny.  Lancashire is brilliant as a small town sergeant who is willing to chase criminals and lead a team as she approaches the age of 50.  Not much is said about her professional past, but we know she was once a detective and shifted back to uniform after the suicide of her young daughter.  That event was sparked by the pregnancy of her daughter through rape and resulted in a young child, left to be raised by Lancashire and her sister, a recovering heroin addict played by Siobhan Finneran (O'brien from Downton Abbey).  The crime that becomes the center of the show is the abduction of a young woman for ransom -- this is the storyline like Fargo as it's somewhat botched from the beginning, but this series is a little more grim and violent, not funny at all.  Like Broadchurch, the case is solved by the last episode, but the viewer is clearly enamored with the main character and it leaves you longing for more.  What a delight to see a middle-aged hero....reminds me of the start of all of this with Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect -- flawed hero, good detective, outstanding acting.

I'm now in the middle of  The Slap -- the original Australian version which inspired the upcoming American show.  The premise is about a group of 40 something friends and the focus of their lives and relationships begins with a birthday barbecue that ends poorly with one of the characters slapping a child for misbehaving.  So simple.  Each episode after the first then focuses on an individual character and we see their current lives and issues  --- but more importantly, how this incident is affecting them in the midst of their personal turmoils.  The acting is great and I can see why American producers picked up on the show.  The Australian version is probably more explicit than the American  show can be.  The entire cast is wonderful and it feels like a more modern and sad thirtysomething.  

Great good.  Perfect acting and story lines....enough to make winter tolerable.  Foreign programs have a grit that's lacking in American's hard to describe.  There seems to be less of an emphasis on appearance and action and more on acting and character development.  I hope you agree.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Crime and the Holidays

Happy Holidays!  A time for family and friends to enjoy gifts, company, reflection and binge television watching!  I've been watch three more series over the break and I'm not sure what it says about me as a human being as all are violent and twisted shows.

This is a nice photo and way too pleasant for what the show depicts
The Killing is a show that just concluded in was originally on AMC, then Netflix picked it up for a fourth season.  It's based on a Danish show and it revolves around a Seattle police detective, Sarah Linden played by Mareille Enos and her partner, Stephen Holder, played by Joel Kinneman.  When I first started to watch the show, it made me think of Top of the Lake...when I googled both shows, there's been much comparison with folks seeming to like Top of the Lake better....I sure didn't.  Not a Jane Campion fan.  The first two seasons revolve around one murder with lots of twists and turns allowing the viewer to be unsettled throughout as the detectives weave their way through clues while the viewer gets to know the intimate details of several characters.  The third season holds onto some of the issues and storyline introduced in the first two seasons which then provides us more intel into the psyche of the main detective, Linden.  Enos is fantastic as as her performance is quiet and somewhat painful.  Not many lines in each episode, so her face has to do most of the acting.  Kinneman is equally good as he plays a recovering addict with a street speaking pattern.  All characters are flawed -- from the criminals to the "good guys" and the story of the first two seasons is beatifically cinematic.  I also thought of Twin Peaks as I watched.  All is set with a rainy Seattle backdrop.  There's nothing sentimental about the people or the City, just compelling performances joined with a dark storyline.  It's somewhat hypnotic.  Final note, the last episode was directed by Jonathan Demme....director of Silence of the Lambs...perhaps I'll devote a future entry to him and his films.

Charlie, see, he's beautiful
While I was enjoying my time off from work and being at home alone, I thought I'd start to watch The Sons of Anarchy....I'm only on season two, but I'm enjoying This tobacco infused bubble gum of a show.  Katey Segal stars as the matriarch of a motorcycle club.  Her husband, played by Ron Pearlman, is the leader of the gang and her son (his stepson) is really the main character -- Jax Teller played by Brit Charlie Hunnam.  Jax's father is deceased, but a memoir he wrote is in the hands of Jax and acts as a guide for the vision of the Sons of Anarchy's Motor Cycle Club -- in the show they're know as Sam Crow -- an acronym.  It's full of murder, sex, porn, drugs and general violence.  It even weaves in the IRA as the club makes its money from arms dealing.  Kurt Sutter is the creator and writer of the show and is also married to Katey convenient.  That being said, she's wonderful in this role....from how she physically looks to her general acting, it's like the show was created for her as a platform.  The show is well made and the actors are so good you think they are real real Harley guys pulled in to do a television show.  Charlie Hunnam is distractingly beautiful, but it suits his "Jesus like" character...although, he's no saint.  Great entertainment, especially for binge watching via Netflix or other streaming modes.

Some of the cast....don't hold the Bacon, he's the main character
The last show I'm now involved in over the holiday break is The Following with Kevin Bacon.  In all honesty, it's kind of bad, but the storyline is somewhat gripping and it holds the viewer's attention.  In short, Bacon plays a former FBI agent called back into duty to deal with a former serial killer/now cult leader and shenanigans ensue.  It's like 24 with cults.  I'm still only on the first season and want to watch, but it's no 24.  So, I'm recommending this only if you're bored and have several days of TV watching to kill....see, I used kill....dark holiday.

On a lighter note, I also like to watch The Holiday and Love Actually as a tradition...still need to watch Love Actually...maybe New Year's Eve or Day.  I'll need something sweet after all of the bitter.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Scandal, Orange, Cards - thank you Netflix

Hello, friends.  Been a while.  At least it's not my year in review (normally in late December, early January). So, I've been busy with a new job, you?  Like so many people in their middle 40's, work becomes a major focus and time becomes a treasured treat.  In a world of on demand, smart phones and Apple TV, you can watch what you want, when you want.  Since I purchased a little cottage and don't have cable or internet, Netflix has become my new friend.  

I kick it old school, though, as I use the DVD's from Netflix, so you can only watch what you have...that's fine as many episodes of a show can be squeezed onto one disk, still allowing for marathon viewing.

What have I been watching?  Much the same as the rest of America.  I'll start with my favorites in order.  Scandal is the most bubble gum joy of the moment.  From the same creator of Grey's Anatomy, I wait for the time when I can't take it anymore and just stop watching, but not yet.  Not as good as West Wing (or another show featured in this entry), it got better with time and is certainly fun to watch.  For those who don't watch, it's about a woman who fancies herself a political "fixer."  In the show, they call themselves gladiators, but their actions are not always noble.  Kerry Washington is the lead actress playing Olivia Pope.  She's the mistress of the President of the United States, played by Tony Goldwyn.  

Young, Goldwyn and Washington

She finds herself assisting political types in the most compromising of situations while also intertwined with the White House and the various scenarios we think could maybe happen.  It's really bubble gum drama.  What is good?  Some of the characters are interesting and there are lots of spins and action.  What's not good?  The acting is a little over the top and it's hard to find redemption in many of the characters.  The best actor in the group is Bellamy Young who plays the President's wife, Mellie Grant.  Evidently, she was written with a small role in the first season and now is the most interesting and complex character in the show.  Do I recommend?  Sure.

Orange is the new Black is a prison dramedy...more comedy about a women who is sentenced to about a year in federal prison for drug trafficking.  The show is based on Piper Kerman's memoir and features not only a story line about the main character (Piper Chapman), but many of the other women she is forced to spend her time with while behind bars.  This is what makes the story enjoyable beyond the antics of a "fish out of water" story.  We get to know the other women, so they grow beyond scary, stereotypical characters and are well-developed's called life.  

As the Kathy Gifford song proclaims, everyone has a story.  Lesbians like the show...go figure, a funny show about a women's prison.  But MANY people like the show as it's funny, a little scary and the acting is good.  Watching it begs the question of "what would I do?"  In my job, I had to live in a tiny room for 17 days and the whole time I thought about the show and how I couldn't leave, didn't have much space, BUT, I adjusted.  I think that's the real people like us can adjust when things go bad.

The best show is House of Cards (another Netflix show, along with Orange).  This stars Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a democrat Congressman who climbs his way into the White House.  His wife is played by Robin Wright and the two of them are hypnotic together and individually.  I was curious about Spacey taking on a series role...although, series television is far better than the film industry at this point.  

I was dubious in the first episode, especially of Wright, as the scenes and acting felt very theatrical.  But as the show progressed, the pacing improved and the scenes between the two of them alone in their home became critical to the character development.  Mind you, Spacey was good from the first lines he spoke.  Where Scandal is melodramatic, this show is down right scary as watchers only hope this stuff doesn't really happen...but it could.  While I struggle with Scandal not having redeeming characters, Spacey and Wright really have no good qualities, but I still root for them.  This show makes you question your own morals as they weave through the political underbelly of Washington DC.  This show is better than a film and better than most series on television (or through some on demand world of programming).

No book reviews this time.  No social commentary on the news...which is currently covering ISIS and ebola.  Simply three recommendations for busy people wanting a break from their jobs, homes and family life.  If you're so lucky that you can spend a few hours on the couch, these shows will take you Calgon.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Year In Review – geesh

OMG, it’s literally been 12 mos since my last post.  I’ve treated the year like rehab, but I didn’t mean to give up pop culture blogging.

Personal note, it may help explain:  went to Florida on holiday in February, bought a lake cottage in March, hosted a national trade conference via work in Indianapolis, worked, worked, worked, moved my mom into a condo near me and then took a new job that I will officially start the first week in January, 2014.  All excuses, I know, but my little brain can only handle so much.

Speaking of little brains, I’m not much of a reader.  So, this year, I really tried to read some books.  The lake cottage helped with no cable.  For the past 12 mos, I’ve completed 8 books.  Pathetic for most, impressive for me.  I finished the Andy Cohen book, and moved onto Tina Fey’s Bossypants.  I ready Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.  God, I turned into a middle-aged woman looking for validation.  The book should have been an article.  Perhaps I should have written about it before it landed in the top 5 of the year’s best sellers….as if my opinion would have mattered.  Then I fell into a comfort zone – British mysteries.  I read a Linda LaPlante book.  She’s the creator of the Prime Suspect series starring my beloved Helen Mirren.  Then I was turned onto Deborah Crombie.  She’s an American, but writes about Scotland Yard detectives.  Oh, they are so yummy and simple.  The main character is Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant is Gemma James.  If you are an anglophile and like modern mysteries, these books are such treats.  Lovely, as the Brits say.

So, in the midst of reading (slowly, don’t judge), I also started watching (at the cottage on DVD via Netflix), Wire in the Blood with Robson Green.  He’s English and has been in a lot of BBC stuff and evidently is a pop star (or was).  He’s lovely too.  In Wire, he plays a psychologist who assists a police team with solving murders.  I tell you, between the books and BBC, I can’t keep the storylines straight.

Which reminds me of another book (now I’m just bragging) written by David Sedaris.  I read Let's Explore Diabetes with Owles.  More shorts about his life and observations.  But with my obsession with English mysteries, I always think about David’s story of going through customs in England (where he resides).  When the officer asked what he does (or why he’s there), he said he’s a writer/author.  The officer immediately assumed he wrote crime novels and seemed perplexed when David described his type of writing.  It makes me chuckle often every time I read a Crombie book or watch PBS.  I, along with David, don’t want to imply the Brits only like crime stories, but, if it walks like a duck….. 

Monday, December 31, 2012

Year in Review

So, it's been a while since my last post and it's New Year's Eve.  Maybe a weird time to write but I needed to post something and I'm sitting on my couch listening to early 1990's dance time like the present.

Personally, I've had an eventful year.  Went on a vacation to Florida, was promoted to Vice President at work, bought a new house and continue to sing in my quirky duo.  I'm still alive....that should have been the lead.
Cohen's Book 
Working backwards, I just got Andy Cohen's book Most Talkative for Christmas.  I actually like it.  I was worried I couldn't read more than a line of text, so the fact I've read more than 60 page in his book makes me think I still have a necessary life skill.  The book is cute.  I'm almost 43 and close to his age, so this very fluffy memoir of his broadcasting career is striking a note with me.  While I didn't end up in television, all of my interests and career drive almost landed me in the same path as his.  If I'd taken an internship with Sally Jesse in 1992, my life may resemble his.  I've not finished the book yet, but if you love pop culture and you're in your 40's, it's a cute read.

A couple of months ago, I saw a story on CBS Sunday Morning (or 60 minutes) about a singer/songwriter named Rodriguez.  Won't go into too much, but long story short it was about a man now in his 70's who was like the Bob Dylan of South Africa (even though he was/is American).  His music came out in the 1970's and became HUGE in South Africa and he NEVER knew it.  At one point the rumor was he was dead.  He's not.  A documentarian found him living in near poverty in Detroit and now there's a documentary about him.  I didn't do the story justice, but I bought his famous CD and it's WONDERFUL.  It's an amazing story and his music is great.  He's really like Dylan but you can understand his lyrics.
Great Music Story of 2012

Iphones....okay, this is embarrassing, but over Thanksgiving I bought my first smartphone.  Until then I was using a fancy flip phone.  Seriously, I loved my flip phone and took pride in annoying people with my old technology.  Like everyone knows, iphones are amazing.

I had the honor of seeing Oprah and David Letterman in person in Muncie, Indiana.  Dave is a Ball State Alum and hosts a series each year wherein he lures a famous person to Muncie to be interviewed in the university theatre.  He's interviewed Ted Koppel and Rachel Maddow....this year is was Oprah exchange for her in person interview in Muncie, he appeared on her show.  So, Dave interviewed was amazing.  He was so lovely and personable, but Oprah was larger than life.  Gail was even in the crowd.  Oprah answered all questions about her childhood and Dave was amazed with her candor.  In fact, the live interview went long.  The weird university president came on stage twice to try to rush them....who rushes Oprah and Dave?  What a surreal afternoon with two iconic media giants.

Oprah at Ball State University....awesome
I can't remember the rest of the year.  Being the holidays, we see recaps of the year constantly.  We see all of the famous people who died....I hold onto Whitney Huston, Etta James and Dave Brubeck.  Whitney is especially upsetting for so many reasons.....really, Whitney? Also this year we saw a presidential election, a devastating hurricane along the eastern seaboard and recaps of deadly shootings.  The shootings are especially puzzling...our country has so much to be proud of, but these shootings at a movie theatre and elementary school should shake all of us.  I wish I didn't have to include such news in an annual recap....didn't even mention the war in Afghanistan.

So, to close...Gangnam Style.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ann Curry, what a shame

It’s been more than a month that we learned Ann Curry was losing her job with the TODAY Show.  It’s taken me this long to watch her speech on her last day.  As usual, I don’t document things well or check my dates, but my recollection was that her leaving was leaked.  We learned she was being let go from the Today show and then the next week, she announced her last day.

I had heard she’d given an emotional goodbye.  I just watched it and was so annoyed with Matt Lauer’s arm around her.  Al and Natalie looked like corporates in an army knowing it was wrong, but their ranks didn’t allow for their opinions.

Morning news shows are weird.  They cover the news and other light fluff, but they become a part of our morning routine like brushing our teeth and eating cereal.  We choose our morning TV for very personal reasons and stick with it.  I’ve been watching TODAY for years.  The last time I was disgusted was when Bryant Gumble forced out Jane Pauley and was mean about Willard.  When this happens, it’s like they are taking pot shots at family members.

Anyway, after Katie decided to leave, the talk was all about who would replace her.  I never thought Ann was in the running and though Natalie Morales was the obvious contender.  Nope.  They chose Meredith.  While she seems nice, I was shocked they picked her…she seemed over-exposed and not fresh.  Her chemistry with the group was questionable, but she made it work.  Then she announced she was leaving and Ann Curry would replace her.

Guthrie and Matt
Now, some folks don’t like Ann.  She’s emotional, awkward and real.  She’s also a gifted and brave journalist.  I was happy for her.  I started to like it when she literally touched people….I liked it when she would make a mistake or spend too much time with someone in the crowd.  I liked that she erased the magic of produced television at times.  While Matt would be sent to gorgeous parts of the world and flirt with young journalists or chefs, Ann would go to war-riddled countries and put her life in danger.  That’s what is special about Ann.  She can be over-emotional about a small story but risk everything for the news.

I think Matt didn’t like her.  I think Matt just signed a big contract in the winter and part of the deal was getting rid of Ann.  I think the story leaked and it didn’t play out the way corporate was hoping.  I also think Savanah is the new Deborah Norville.

So, what can I do?  I can watch another show and I have.  I now watch CBS in the mornings with Gail King and Charlie Rose.  They are good.  I also realized that I like 60 minutes and CBS Sunday Morning and the daily morning program is much the same.  It’s much better than TODAY.  Who knew?

Rose and King
I hope Ann is fine.  I would have left NBC had I been her, but I hope she still is making lots of money.  She’s a good lady and a great news correspondent.  I don’t know if others have jumped ship, but sometimes you have to separate from your family if it’s not healthy anymore.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Idiot Abroad

Idiot Abroad is a travel show on the Science Channel.  I just moved and now have AT&T U-Verse and am exposed to more cable…lucky me.  I knew about this program from my brother and mother, big Ricky Gervais fans.  I know, what does Ricky have to do with travel?  Let me explain….

Ricky is a brilliant talent known in the US mainly as the creator of The Office.  He’s English and has created many shows in addition to the global phenomenon of The Office.  He’s funny, but I wouldn’t call him a comic.  He’s been in film, but I don’t consider him an actor.  He’s a humorist with business savvy and has a penchant ffor the uncomfortable.  He actually had a hit song in the late 80’s and/or early 90’s.  Talented guy.  

Stephen, Karl and Ricky
So, as Ricky has become more powerful in the entertainment industry, he’s been able to create projects.  His business and writing partner is Stephen Merchant, who is visible in most Gervais projects.  They have a mate, co-worker and friend named Karl Pilkington, who is now the “idiot” star of a travel show.  If you watch the show, you would assume Karl is some normal chap plucked from the streets of Manchester, England and thrown into a whirlwind travel escapade.  He’s all that, but he knows Ricky and Stephen from producing their radio show and does have some entertainment industry savvy.  

The premise of the show is to send Karl off to see the Seven Wonders of the World and view his discomfort.  I’ve not been tuned into all of Ricky’s entertainment portfolio, but I do know Karl has been elevated to notoriety through various projects.  Karl is funny because Ricky and Stephen think he’s funny.  In short, they think Karl is a typical Englishman and has rather simple views on life and the world.  As Ricky states in the show intros, his goal is to see Karl completely uncomfortable and that makes him laugh.

The show is well produced and we get to see parts of the world not familiar to most (unless you live in those parts of the world). Instead of staying in posh hotels, they make Karl stay in the more “grim” areas of famous cities and travel in more rustic modes (i.e. camel’s across a dessert in Jordan).  There are several episodes showing Karl’s jaunts to see the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the pyramids of Egypt.  None of these impress Karl.  The wall in China has been reconstructed in the twentieth century and he didn’t appreciate being on a tour bus with non-English speaking Chinese.  He thought the pyramids were big, but noted the base of them are much larger than the pinnacles.  Additionally, there was a lot of rubbish and garbage around the site. 

Karl is funny.  He isn’t impressed with what we all think we should be impressed with.  He does, however, make some profound comments on cities and the general vibe.  When he visited the holy land, his trip started in Israel and when he had to go through the wall/checkpoint to Bethlehem, he was more moved by the sobering experience of the wall rather than the birthplace of Jesus.  In Jordan, he visits Petra, an ancient city carved in massive rocks.  It’s truly amazing to see, even from television.  Ricky and Stephen inform Karl he needs to travel to Petra on camel.  After 8 hours one day, the camels break down.  Literally, they just stopped walking.  The next day, Karl refused to get back on a camel and travelled the rest of the journey by auto.  Once he’s there, he admits it’s neat.  The next “order” from Ricky and Stephen was for Karl to spend the night there, but in a cave.  Initially he’s totally annoyed with the concept.  After sitting with residents of Petra, who live in caves, he’s amazed they can receive mail.  Honestly, he was more profoundly affected by the efficiency of mail delivery to caves than the wonder itself.  Once he nestled in for the night, he was quite pleased.  He said he could live in a cave and is amazed with how civilization even occurred in the first place.  He ponders if he were a caveman, not much progress would have been made.  This is an observation I’ve made about myself over the years.

The entire series is like this.  While the concept is somewhat cruel, we see Karl live up to initial expectations while making some valuable observations at the same time.  It’s as if he’s learning, but reluctantly.  The viewer is uncomfortably amused while learning about remote corners of the world.  I loved my marathon afternoon of watching the show.  It’s hard to watch Karl’s discomfort and not personalize a reaction.  How would I feel?  Would I eat what he’s forced to eat?  Would I secretly be disappointed with the attractions or love the experience?

I’ve started watching Bordain’s No Reservations again.  Great exposure to travel and food, but it lacks the raw honesty of Idiot Abroad.  I can’t wait to see more.