Archive for the TV Acting Category

The Last Post of The Year

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, British Shows on American TV, Reality TV, Reviews, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV History on December 11, 2019 by Tom Steward

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UPDATE: Kurt Sutter’s departure from Mayans M.C. resulted from abusive behavior not white guilt. Potato, patata.

Counting down to the new season of 90 Day Fiance by watching new seasons of 90 Day Fiance.

Half of the movies I’ve seen at the theater this year are based on television shows. The other half I wish were television shows.

El Camino is a feature-length post-credits scene.

Molly of Denali is made by someone who really misses esoteric nineties dramedies.

My first thought upon re-watching The Running Man was that no TV network would ever give away this much content for free.

Netflix have made a holiday special starring The Captain of The Polar Express, Satan, and The Burglar from Home Alone.

The Crown should be re-named Queen Who.

Nonny in Bubble Guppies is either a really good stab at portraying an autistic child or a terrible take on a nerd.

The Mandalorian is an exercise in the art of the end-credit.

Scorsese says Marvel movies are “not cinema” in an interview promoting his latest video-on-demand content.

In the age-old tradition of Star Wars selling old wine in new bottles, The Mandalorian is Have Gun, Will Travel in Space.

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Disney + should stick one of those “outdated cultural depictions” warnings on The Phantom Menace.

Standing in the lobby of the Netflix-owned Egyptian Theater in Hollywood performing a live immersive theatre rendition of scenes from The Witcher to the audience for the cinema premiere of the show wondering what television is anymore.

You know you’ve assimilated when your reaction to a TV commercial for a Mac n’ Cheeseburger is: “I suppose it was inevitable.”

In the dark sequel to the Peloton Holiday ad for Aviation Gin, the protagonist plays an in-world Paul from Verizon.

With their Godfather and James Bond marathons, cable television has correctly identified the two major themes of Thanksgiving as immigration and colonialism.

I want to buy a crate of Romulan ale for whomever thought of using Star Trek V: The Final Frontier to extinguish IFC’s 24-hour Godfather Thanksgiving marathon.

With the accusations of racism in the seating of Franklin in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, viewers are finally seeing the darker side of this holiday special about a clinically depressed pre-teen boy.

I’m convinced that the “Cut for Time” sketches on Saturday Night Live are removed from the broadcast to ensure that the show’s best writing get a wider audience on the internet.

As Inside The Actors Studio moves to Ovation, Bravo severs its last links to a culture beyond Andy Cohen.

With the return of Dirty John as a true crime anthology series, will we see Eric Bana as a moldering John Meehan hosting the episodes a la Tales from The Crypt?

Those complaining about Rudolph’s acquiescence to his abusers in Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer should remember that this was a cartoon made the year The Civil Rights Bill was signed into law.

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Not content with being Reality’s answer to The Sopranos, The Real Housewives of New Jersey is now aping the story structure of the first Godfather movie.

The Irishman does nothing to challenge my long-standing belief that Martin Scorsese should no longer direct anything but documentaries.

That a half-century old period drama such as The Crown remains one of the best documents of contemporary Britain is an indictment of how little we’ve progressed as a nation in the intervening years.

There’s been a noticeable dip in the amount of subtitled dialogue in Fresh Off The Boat, which I’m desperate to believe executes a long-form story arc about assimilation not a network note.

If everyone can get excited about a four-minute sequel to E.T., then why do we need another feature-length Ghostbusters?

I’m now at a point in my life when I turn off Scorsese crime movies and put on British heritage dramas instead of the other way around.

Now that Poldark has ended, spare a thought for the actor playing the local banker who has lost his annual gig telling Ross he can’t give him any more gold.

It seems the latest trend in event television is live broadcasts of musical remakes that ruin childhoods.

John Mulaney having both an adult and family-friendly comedy show featuring kids on Netflix is going to be a stern test of the platform’s algorithm.

The most recent season of The Walking Dead strikes me as the TV equivalent of a deep-franchise horror sequel whose connective tissue to the original movie dangles by a thread.

Merry Festivus and Happy Who’s Here.

Peak Hours (Part 7)

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV Acting, TV Criticism, TV History, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2017 by Tom Steward

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In a week where the absurdity of Washington has reached its zenith (for the week) I’m reminded of a political satire that pre-dated the era of Reagan, Bush Jr., and Trump and yet eerily prophesized the swathes of talked-up men-children that came to occupy the highest office in the land. Hal Ashby’s Being There tells the story of Chance, an elderly gardener with learning difficulties whose employer dies, leaving him to go out on his own and obliviously rise through the ranks of Washington until he reaches the Vice Presidency. What does this have to with Twin Peaks: The Return?

One of the biggest surprises of The Return was that when the “good” Dale returned from the lodge (or Judy, or whatever it is now) he came back in the body of Dougie Jones, who when cosmically switched out with a somnambulist version of Cooper (I think), begins to strongly recall Chance’s characterization and story arc in Being There. Dougie is reminiscent of Chance in his childlike reaction to and pleasure in the world and the way that his speech vacantly mirrors what he hears from others. But it’s what happens to Dougie that makes this cinematic allusion absolutely unmistakeable.

Just as Chance is assumed to be a political savant after he offers basic horticultural tips to high-level diplomats, Dougie is viewed as a maverick genius by his boss Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray) when he doodles over some claims in the course of his job as an insurance agent. The people who Chance and Dougie talk to read whatever they want into the most simplistic of utterances and reward them for bringing hidden truths about the world into light. The press exalt Chance for providing a solution to the economic crisis while Dougie is cited for exposing a fraudulent application.

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There’s nothing unusual about Twin Peaks delving into cinematic history. The original series had a fetish for film noir that resulted in characters taking their names from genre classics like Double Indemnity, Laura and Sunset Boulevard. In fact, it’s Dougie identifying the name of his FBI boss Gordon Cole (David Lynch) from a broadcast of Sunset Boulevard on TV (Lynch putting himself in esteemed company with director Cecil B. DeMille, who played a character with that name originally) that triggers the discovery of his secret identity. Referencing the work of a director from the American New Wave is a departure.

Perhaps Lynch is saying that American cinema of the 60s and 70s is to today’s generation of media artists what Hollywood of the 40s and 50s was to his. It’s impossible to watch David Simon and George Pelecanos’s The Deuce without thinking of Scorsese’s Mean Streets or Ashby’s own The Last Detail. Stranger Things is a riff on the Spielberg-Lucas canon while Ashby’s dark comedy exemplified by Harold & Maude hovers over dramedies like Girls and Transparent. Being There is never far away from TV satires of the dumbing down of the Washington political scene like Veep and Alpha House.

It remains curious because Lynch has typically avoided adaptation and remake in his canon (there are exceptions like Dune) but is nonetheless revealing about the shift to social satire from Twin Peaks to The Return. The less intelligent Dougie becomes, the more he begins to succeed at building his fortune, career and family. He climbs the corporate ladder and wins over the criminal element in Las Vegas by exhibiting a distinct lack of consciousness in his actions. He reveals the American success story for what it is; a blind stab in the dark whose outcome depends entirely on external factors.

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In a revival full of detours, none was perhaps more circuitous than having Kyle MacLachlan play the iconic Dale Cooper as an infantilised simpleton for the vast majority of the series. I’m sure it was a far greater challenge to the actor than even reprising a decades-old role as indeed it was for Peter Sellers to play Chance and break with his repertoire of larger-than-life comic characters. Ashby was taking a familiar face and channelling them through a new dimension of performance, which is very similar to what Lynch is doing here with MacLachlan by reimagining Dale through Dougie Jones.

We weren’t expecting Dougie Jones, especially not as a surrogate for Agent Cooper. But Lynch made the best of the situation, invoking another fine auteur director whose work still casts a long shadow over subversive media in the mainstream. It’s an association that helped The Return bear its satirical claws.

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Peak Hours (Part 6)

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV Acting, TV Criticism, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2017 by Tom Steward

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Strictly speaking, Twin Peaks was not teen television. But while the majority of nineties quality TV for adults focused on the lives of thirtysomethings (like the show … um … thirtysomething), Lynch and Frost’s series had teenagers at its core and made an effort to address issues facing young people in America. Iconographically, the teenagers of Twin Peaks harked back to the fifties but were mired in drugs and violence in such a way that they spoke to contemporary anxieties. The Return shows some of these teenagers as adults but the relaunched series did not ignore the youth of today.

The difference in approach from the original’s depiction of American youth is crystallised by Michael Cera’s cameo as Wally Brando, the son of Deputy Andy Brennan and receptionist Lucy. A mere foetus in Twin Peaks, in The Return a young adult Wally is living out a Marlon Brando fetish, parodying with grotesque comedy the anachronistic depiction of nineties teenagers in the first incarnation of the show. If ever there was a sign that The Return would observe its young in context, it was the sight of Cera dressed as The Wild One mumbling about honor codes inherited from The Godfather.

For the first time in the series, we see young people suffering from the socio-economic deprivation of small-town life. Steven (Caleb Landry Jones) is first shown losing out on a white-collar job (after interviewing with cougar-loving former jock Mike, no less), spiralling downwards in a coke-fuelled nightmare before a suicidal stand-off in a neighbouring trailer park. The drugs were always there in Twin Peaks but whereas previously they helped peel away a veneer of wholesome family values in the town, here there seems to be no alternative lifestyle, either real or imagined, for the young. It’s a wholly systemized decline.

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A tangent from Part 1 of The Return seems to suggest something of the dehumanisation young people suffer in the Amazonized workplace. Watching a glass box and changing out the cameras in a bare loft at the behest of an unknown billionaire benefactor, Sam (Ben Rosenfield) has the kind of remote and menial service job performed by most young people in the contemporary economy of casual corporate labour. As soon as he deviates from the banal protocols with heavy doses of coffee and sex, Sam is eaten alive by a demon passing through a wormhole just vacated by Agent Cooper.

Not that all the young adults in The Return are victims, but it’s pretty certain they will become so. Some occupy a vacuum of morality that seems ingrained in their generation, or is at least a mutation of previous ones. Take Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), Audrey’s son and Ben’s grandson, who thinks nothing of abusing women in bars, fleeing the scene after mowing down a child in the road and victimising his grandmother and disabled uncle. Richard is Ben and Audrey’s ambiguity multiplied to the point of sociopathy. His cruel demise is less of a comeuppance than a tragic cycle.

The interplay of generations in The Return is what makes its portrayal of youth so multi-faceted. While condescending to Becky (Amanda Seyfried) for dating Steven, Shelly (Madchen Amick, who was frozen in time since the last one) gleefully dates weapons-grade psychopath Red, after having been with bad-boy (turned Sheriff’s Deputy) Bobby in the original series. Wally Brando is as much the product of Lynch’s self-parody (or Frost’s parody of Lynch?) as he is of his kooky parents, who channel the simplicity of an earlier era in American life. Richard seems to be all that the Hornes have hidden about themselves.

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There’s admiration for the younger generation too. At least Lynch digs their music. Most of the young people we see are the fun-loving, hard-drinking clientele of The Roadhouse, who have turned this backwater dive into the nexus of American alternative music, as long as it is somewhat retro in style. Most of the young people we meet simply flesh out the climactic musical numbers set in the bar, and never blossom into fully-fledged characters. But there’s an uncharacteristic warmth (at least where younger characters are concerned) to the way they’re presented, which betrays a discordant note of optimism towards youth.

The young people in The Return are not the mid-century archetypes that we saw in Twin Peaks. They’re informed by them insomuch as their parents and predecessors have shaped who they are. But The Return’s generation are more recognizably contemporary, though the teenagers of Twin Peaks were hardly shrinking violets.

 

 

 

Peak Hours (Part 5)

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV Acting, TV Criticism, TV History, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2017 by Tom Steward

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Twin Peaks features the most food and drink of any non-culinary show on television. The original series became synonymous with references to “damn fine coffee” and “cherry pie” and not an episode went by without food or beverage items being the focal point of at least one scene. It was a mechanism by which the show could conceal (at least temporarily) its dark heart. What little joy was experienced by the characters of Twin Peaks always centered on eating and drinking and it was prominently placed during their moments of redemption. So what does The Return add to the menu?

In short, something seems to have gone wrong with food and drink. A weakness for shop-bought lattes condemns a young couple to a gruesome death at the hands of an inter-dimensional demon. The contents of a deep fat fryer are just as likely to contain firearms as sticks of potato. More importantly, the quality of Norma’s pies is in jeopardy after her Double R Diner is franchised. The respite that a good meal washed down once provided from the violence and chaos in the town of Twin Peaks looks to have disappeared. Now it seems to be a harbinger.

Oranges in The Godfather and eggs in The Sopranos. Here the mere fact of opening a bag or pouring a glass of something can get you killed. Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s junk-obsessed assassins suffer demises as messy as their diets. Diane and Sarah Palmer, who are human manifestations of tragedy in this reiteration, are cosmically corrupted in a deep well of dependence drinking. To consume was once a pure act of pleasure, one that transcended the sickness of the world around it. Now it seems more like a symptom of the world’s illnesses that then attack the consumer.

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Lynch and Frost developed an orthodoxy based on an inverted snobbery idealizing American junk and diner fare. Now they seem to find something inherently toxic about such diets. Their attitudes towards food are, once again, translated through the body of Dale Cooper. Reborn into the (noticeably paunchy) body of the “manufactured” Dougie Jones, Dale rediscovers his love for coffee and pie with an infantile simplicity that seems to represent a desire to return to the roots of classic American dining. Another storyline featuring a beloved character from the original series puts a socio-economic spin on some of the same thoughts.

Yes, Norma now has a chain of Double R diners across the country. But rather than sacrifice the quality and authenticity of her pie recipes, Norma opts out of ownership to retain control over the original location. A re-telling of the origin story of the McDonald’s franchise with a (far) happier ending for the lineage of home-style cooking in America, it seems that Lynch and Frost’s malaise at the state of American food is tied up with a protest against the forces of corporate capitalism which dilute and disturb its uncomplicated bliss. Although David Lynch loves his Big Boy!

Maybe nostalgia is the difference. When Sinclair (memorably played by the buffoonish Tom Sizemore) tries to bribe Dougie to conceal his part in insurance fraud, he takes his co-worker to a coffee shop in the lobby of a Vegas business complex that seems to have been transported back into the 1950s. The waitresses have mid-century hair and uniforms, pies are on display stands, and your gal promises to bring a piece to your table while you enjoy your coffee. Clearly this is nothing like the Starbucks shacks that would really inhabit such spaces, yet there we are.

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In other parts of the show, it appears that Lynch and Frost have simply become more modern and mature in their tastes. Dougie Jones’ primal relationship with food and drink passes off such predilections as childish folly, while Lynch himself (in the barest of guises as FBI director Gordon Cole) swigs fine Bordeaux and one of Dougie’s co-workers finds a green tea latte a perfectly acceptable substitute for a decent cup of coffee. There are many commentaries on the cultural changes that have taken place since original airing, but democratization of fine food and drink is perhaps the most telling.

There’s a lot of talk about The Return missing so many qualities from the original. The truth is much more complicated. The themes and preoccupations of Twin Peaks are largely present but register differently, and this is true of food and drink. In food language, you might call it “elevated”.

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Peak Hours (Parts 3 & 4)

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, TV Acting, TV Criticism, TV Dreams, TV History with tags , , , , , , , on September 24, 2017 by Tom Steward

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When Mulholland Drive topped the BBC’s list of the 21st Century’s Top 100 Films last year, Time Out film editor Geoff King was interviewed about David Lynch on BBC News. King was subjected to the kind of bullyboy pedantry that has infected BBC journalism since the era of Jeremy Paxman, and apparently now taints its arts coverage. The reporter banally badgered King about whether or not he understood Lynch’s movie, a question which the critic sensibly dodged by challenging its relevance to an appreciation of the film, adding “I think I’m getting everything that Lynch is putting out there”. I couldn’t have said it better and it’s a sentiment that should inform any attempt to write about Twin Peaks: The Return.

I’m not suggesting I’m any better than those who try to make literal sense out of Lynch’s work. I recently clicked on a YouTube video that was doing the rounds on social media called “David Lynch comments on the ending of Twin Peaks: The Return” which turned out to be a montage of the finale with Lynch as Gordon Cole edited in for comic effect, asking “What the hell?” In spite of myself, I still feel the need to rationalise what Lynch (and, in this case, Mark Frost) puts up there on the screen. Yet I genuinely believe that the critical reception of the series focuses far too much on meaning and not nearly enough on feeling.

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Looking for plausible explanations of what happens in The Return immediately reveals its own futility. Take any of the series’ unsolved mysteries, for example: “What happened to Major Briggs’ head?” The question itself is so absurd; it renders any answer moot. I’m more interested in talking about the sublime image of Don S. Davis’s head floating through space like an early cinema moon. Critics are on firmer ground when they ask legitimate questions about cliffhangers from the original series. In the first incarnation of Twin Peaks, these storylines would most likely have been resolved, while here they are surrounded by even more uncertainty. The continuation of Audrey Horne’s story arc from the third season finale is a case in point.

We learn that Audrey fell into a coma after being the victim of an explosion at the Savings & Loan while she was handcuffed to the vault. We also surmise that she gave birth to a child, Richard, fairly soon after. That is exactly as much as we know, and we don’t learn any of it in the scenes in which Audrey features. In those scenes, Audrey appears to be caught in a loveless marriage and has taken a lover. But there’s an odd doctor-patient vibe of her relationship with husband Charlie and the denouement of her storyline has Audrey clearing the dance floor of The Roadhouse as she slow-dances to her eponymous leitmotif, followed by a last-second jump-cut to an expressionistic close-up of her face inside a mirror surrounded by clinically coloured and lit walls.

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In Audrey’s story, there’s a perfectly rational explanation of her fate, a completely fantastical one, and everything inbetween. Viewers can latch on to the “fact” of her coma and ascribe her appearances to an elaborate fictional life created in unconsciousness, which is then broken in those final few seconds as she comes out of it. The reverse works just as well. At any point, we may be in the real world or the realms of fantasy, and they could switch at any time. This is an openness of storytelling seldom seen in television. I also suspect this may be a satirical comment on the trope of “retconning” in TV revivals, as information previously understood to be true in a show is unconvincingly revoked or revised by future versions of it. Here Lynch and Frost become the least reliable sources for what has happened to the characters they themselves created.

The Return keeps original Twin Peaks characters dancing on the edge of cliffs in an entertaining holding pattern that promises more resolution than it can ever deliver. At times, Lynch and Frost (my instincts tell me mainly Frost) pay heed to the viewers’ desire for closure but these are hollow gestures, with the exception of Norma and Ed’s happy ending. As the series drew to a close, it appeared that Cooper might return to his original status in the show, but all the different variations of the character seen in The Return coagulate into the muted, half-speed version of the Dales we encounter in the finale episode.

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One thing Lynch is putting out there that I’m definitely getting is the casting. In the first incarnation of Twin Peaks, the cast comprised largely of Lynch favourites (Kyle MacLachlan and Jack Nance, the protagonists of Blue Velvet and Eraserhead respectively), teen pin-up eye candy (Sheryl Fenn, Sheryl Lee, Madchen Amick, James Marshall), veteran actors from Hollywood movies of the 50s and 60s (Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Piper Laurie) and those selected for bodily attributes (The Dwarf, The Giant, The One-Armed Man). The mix of old and new in The Return is already complicated by a pre-existing cast that looks backwards and forwards simultaneously. The dual sense of history and youth is retained but, once again, that means something entirely different in casting The Return.

Lynch’s 21st Century films are represented here by the leading ladies of Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, Naomi Watts and Laura Dern. Though, along with Harry Dean Stanton (in his final television role), Dern connects The Return with Lynch’s oeuvre of the 80s and 90s. She does more than that. By casting her as Diane, who remained offscreen for the entirety of the first run, Lynch has entrusted Dern with giving life to a character that never had one. It really speaks to the idea that Diane is a figment of Lynch’s imagination manifested in the body of his favorite actress. The way Diane’s story plays out onscreen and the agency that Lynch (as Gordon Cole) has in her scenes eerily mirrors their professional relationship.

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Like Twin Peaks, The Return is unashamedly sexy in its selection of actors. But there’s a different aesthetic here. While the original titillated viewers with the eroticism of preppy high-schoolers and teenage beauty queens embracing the darker sides of their sexualities, the revival finds the same quality of desire in adult femininity. Agent Tammy Preston’s hourglass figure, hip-slinking walk and lithe chic is the object of Lynch’s lust. Were this not obvious from the way he shoots her, Lynch’s Cole is also the voyeur in front of the camera. We can draw similar conclusions from Cole, the character once again interchangeable with the director, talking about “one of his Monica Bellucci dreams”, a fantasy which the actress gamely indulges for Lynch. The sexualisation of Diane’s hard drinking, smoking and swearing is another indication of Lynch’s fetishes achieving maturity.

With over a half-century gone since the era of Hollywood that Lynch and Frost plucked their Twin Peaks stars from, it’s remarkable that Beymer and Tamblyn remain to keep the torch of movie nostalgia alight in The Return. This is topped off with the addition to the cast of Don Murray, whose brushes with mid-century Hollywood glamour (having acted alongside Marilyn) and character actor chops make him the perfect Peaker. But The Return also pays homage to the Indiewood cinema and quality television that has dominated American popular art since Twin Peaks first went off the air. Think of Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s pair of assassin lovers as American indie cinema’s Prom King and Queen, with Michael Cera and Amanda Seyfried the first-grade pretenders to the crown. Robert Forster as Sherriff Truman manages to straddle associations with both mid-century Hollywood and the nineties US indie boom.

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While James Belushi might seem a curious choice, for the TV connoisseur his presence puts Twin Peaks into a quality television timeline that acknowledges early nineties virtual reality thriller Wild Palms and then culminates in contemporaries such as Mad Men and The Walking Dead, whose stars make punchy cameos here. Lynch and Frost seem to recognise that the paradigms of pop art have shifted with time. Actors are still cast on the basis of their different bodies (though refreshingly not made to play mythical creatures this time) but there’s a few nice twists on the theme. I was particularly enamoured of the three Las Vegas detectives, all named Fusco (and possibly all brothers), who have a heavyset uniformity that makes them seem like actors all waiting to audition for the same part.

In short, there are ways to appreciate Twin Peaks: The Return that don’t involve interpreting it. We should enjoy the freedom that Lynch and Frost give us to experience the characters without the burden of story arcs hanging over them. Sometimes, the significance of characters is not related to their role in the story but is closer to the actor playing them, and what they mean to the world of the show. I don’t feel cheated and I hope others don’t either.

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