Wednesday, July 13, 2016

TV or not TV?

The Rosenzweig/Gless household is awash in unwatched screeners from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Oh, we have seen most of the major award winners but we haven't found time for the rest because Sharon and I have binged our way through yet another fascinating season of television including a new-to-us series by the name of Mr. Robot
The USA drama (already renewed for a second season which I believe is scheduled to  premiere very soon now) has a wonderful cast, a very contemporary, well written concept , and is invariably nicely directed. I am incredulous at how politically prescient show runner Sam Esmail has proven to be and am knocked out by the freedom the USA Cable channel has obviously allowed the show's creative team in every aspect of this incredible production.  I watch and marvel at the fact that I used to spend time arguing with CBS "standards and practices" execs for permission to dub in the sound of a flushing toilet before Christine Cagney exited the commode in the 14th precinct's women's room. Bravo Mr. Esmail, and kudos to every single member of the cast. It is a ground breaking show.

Game of Thrones. What more could possibly be written? A phenomenal show... a herculean task to undertake. I am glad this season is over. I need the rest. Here is one new thing (maybe): Just a personal observation but this is a show that I really don't mind waiting a week to see between installments. It is almost too dense... too rich... to binge. Maybe not. I have done it both ways and either way the show delivers.  And this season... just when (especially during the hour long cameo by Deadwood star Ian McShane) I began to lose faith in this ultra creative team, showrunners Benioff & Weiss bounced back with an epic penultimate episode and then finished off the season in glorious fashion while reminding us of all the joys we have to look forward to next year on HBO when The Game will return.

Brain Dead. I have seen the first three hour-long episodes and find it mildly amusing and leading lady Mary Elizabeth someone I might come to believe can carry this wannabe quirky new  CBS series. Credit the Network brain-trust with the good sense to try this out in the summer instead of watching it flame out in a too competitive fall season. The Kings (Robert & Michelle), who exited my great favorite, The Good Wife, to engage in this (by comparison rather fluffy piece) must be having some remorse over maybe leaving a good thing too soon. At the same time I have to believe... if they are getting any kind of freedom at all in this project (which I suspect they are... given who they are) then they may be having a good time with this too- close-to-the-truth spoof of our US Government. It is just that this is closer to the Network's surprisingly good Supergirl than it is to MR. ROBOT and I am not sure that was anyone's intent.  Since Supergirl was referenced, Melissa Benoist in the title role is magnificent and Calista Flockhart has almost as much fun as the writing staff of this better-than-you-might think CBS series.

I would be remiss not to salute the recently gone-to-hiatus The Americans, which bowled me over every single week of this past season. It is a show that is incredibly bold and seems to get better with each passing year. I love the cast... every single one of them... and am in awe of what has been pulled off by show runner Joe Weisberg. I never imagined a Network (FX in this case) could so quickly follow their own incredible Justified  with another great drama, but they have.  
Scandal on ABC remains my guilty pleasure . It gets more and more over the top each season, but they have me... and a vast audience... hooked. I would guess producing phenom, Shonda Rhimes, thinks she can get away with anything at this point, and maybe she can. I am eager for SHOWTIME to come back with new seasons of The Affair, which got better with each episode over the past couple of years, and (of course) one of my all-time favorites, Homeland. I even found myself smiling at the prospect of the upcoming newly minted Donovan episodes ... but after watching  the first episodes I felt that perhaps I had stayed too long with this particular cast of  largely unsavory characters.

Tyne Daly's  brother, Tim, has found something to do on Television that uses his persona and talents well. I like Madam Secretary even though I was sure I would not. Tea Leoni is perfect in the title role and I never woulda thunk it. In fact the only thing that didn't surprise me as to how good this series would be was executive producer  Barbara Hall. I tried for years, without success, to seduce this talented writer into coming to work on Cagney & Lacey and/or The Trials of Rosie O'Neill.  And why, you may ask, didn't I believe in Ms Leoni? She is a wonderful actress and has done a lot of work I have applauded in the past. Frankly I didn't think she would have the gravitas... (or age, for that matter) to play the Secretary of State of the United States of America. That is where Barbara Hall came through big time. When I saw that first episode, the "back-story" created for the Leoni character, coupled with her relationship with a former boss now occupying the White House... made her character's appointment (and flair for the job) something that made total sense. I only wish I liked the political part as well as much as I enjoy the home life and male/female stuff between Daly and Leoni. That is grown up sexy, warm and wise stuff for all of us to see in the comfort of our own living rooms. The actors who play their kids are pretty great as well. 

Manhattan. Have you seen it? You should. It has recently been canceled after two seasons, but I watch it enthusiastically (and happily pay the $2.99 for each episode on Amazon). I understand you can also get it on Hulu. However you access it, it is worth seeing. A largely unfamiliar (to me) cast brings great verisimilitude to this period drama and how could they not... the attention to detail in costuming and sets is extraordinary. This is not your typical Hollywood version of the 1940s where every car is a classic in waiting, every woman is quaffed and clothed perfectly, and every gent has an Errol Flynn hairpiece or a Clark Gable mustache. This is the 40's the way I remember it looking in Montebello. Even the food being consumed on screen has that overcooked monotone look to it. With such attention to detail, the actors get to concentrate on getting their words out and not bumping into furniture. They do that with alacrity and Producer Sam Shaw has a succes d'estime for his resume. Sometimes that is even better than just a plain old success... depends how old you are and your level of patience, I guess. I know I will look forward to the next thing Mr. Shaw brings to television.

I am told Better Call Saul is even better than Breaking Bad, from which it "spun." I haven't gotten around to it yet, but I mention it lest you think it was forgotten by this blogger. You should see Mozart in the Jungle.... the second season is even better than the very good first season... and the gal who plays the lady with all those tattoos on Blindspot (Jaime Alexander) just about makes this ordinary series worth watching despite a less than interesting stable of actors in the other parts.
For a few young friends who missed it when it first ran, I have been rescreening J.J. Abrams' fabulous Alias with Jennifer Garner and former Rosenzweig alumni Ron Rifkin (The Trials of Rosie O'Neill) and Carl Lumbly (Cagney & Lacey). If you, too, are one of those who missed this... or, like me, loves a show with a strong female lead, then this is still terrific television. And, if you are going to research what you missed from any of the above then a visit to ON DEMAND for Justified is not only justified, but essential. HBOGO will deliver you Deadwood, which is still (arguably) overall, the best series ever made for television. There are many more great shows... VEEP, True Detective (both seasons... I don't agree with the naysayers regarding season two), The West Wing, Downton Abbey. Modesty might preclude most from mentioning their own shows, but not me and Cagney & Lacey is out there (at least on DVDs) and The Trials of Rosie O'Neill will become available before year's end. I just wouldn't feel right not mentioning them.

Barney Rosenzweig
July 13, 2016


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uppitybrowngirl said...

Oh, Better Call Saul is at least every bit as good as Breaking Bad, and Breaking Bad was magnificent. Where Breaking Bad has that irresistible visceral appeal, BCS skulks loosely around that affection to win your heart with the humanity behind the backstories. The arc, so far, is flawless and the writing, is, of course, exquisite.

Having watched all available episodes of Better Call Saul, I'm currently watching season 1 of Cagney and Lacey after seeing the girls singing on the DNC. Still such a singularly iconic show. :) Cheers.