Archive for the TV Criticism Category

May 2020

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, Behind-The-Scenes, Internet TV, Reality TV, Reviews, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV channels, TV Criticism, TV Culture, TV History, TV News, Uncategorized, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2020 by Tom Steward

Outlander Season 5 2020

Outlander is now re-purposing Little House on The Prairie episodes.

Because the first thing you want to see when you turn on The Disney Family Singalong is Ryan Seacrest’s kitchen.

The Homeland Series Finale took full advantage of The Americans being off the air.

I had to break it to my son B that conglomerate capitalism was the driving force behind the absence of Mickey from Mickey Mouse Mixed-Up Adventures.

Ryan Murphy specializes in making television about fascinating subjects with nothing new to say about them.

Someone is close captioning Outlander phonetically.

A game to play while watching the American Experience on George W. Bush; drink every time someone says “He set the bar so low … “

90 Day Fiance: Before The 90 Days should offer de-programming to all its participants.

I wish commercials would go back to selling stuff.

The Good Fight’s writing of production limitations into its visual style will make it an interesting archeological document in future years, if nothing else.

Outlander trumped The Lord Of The Ring’s record with a full hour of goodbyes.

The problems encountered by the cast of 90 Day Fiance have now become global norms.

The Lego versions of recent blockbuster movies are embarrassingly better than their live-action originals.

The 90s animated Spiderman series that B has me watching may have just done the origin story of Tiger King.

There’s a lot to love about the CBS All Access Star Trek series but a lack of self-censorship is not among them.

New Blog 11.2

Is there a character left in Outlander that hasn’t been raped?

This is not a good time for TNT to advertise Snowpiercer by making it look like the TV signal died.

When the quality of streaming dips during CBS All Access shows, they start to look like 90s movies and it’s adorable.

The veteran cast of Vanderpump Rules are growing their replacements from loose skin on their elbows.

Are there any Netflix shows not about money-laundering husbands?

Outlander is in the half-episode dream sequence stage of its existence.

Old episodes of The Simpsons in the original 4:3 ratio is my idea of new TV content during lockdown.

Late-night talk show hosts are now all essentially Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy.

While its viewers are quarantined with only three episodes of TOTS on a loop to show to our kids at lunchtime, Disney Junior tried slipped an Australian dog parenting satire under our wet noses.

Top Chef just did an episode where the prize was a trip to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It should be taken out of syndication like the New York episode of The Simpsons or Seinfeld’s The Puerto Rican Day.

If Barbara Cartland novelized Highlander, you would get Outlander.

Netflix was found to be streaming a censored version of Back To The Future 2 that somehow still left all the white supremacy and incest intact.

I don’t know who in the Netflix Fyre Festival documentary I hate more. I just know that I hate more.

Discovery is more a reboot of Futurama than Star Trek.

I thought Jimmy Fallon’s absolute ineptitude as an interviewer and/or his free propaganda for Donald Trump would have put an end to his late-night talk show career but I’ll take Blackface.

The Outlander series finale had no titles so technically it was an hour-long cold open.

The Original Series characters in Discovery seem to have wandered in from the USS Mad Men.

New Blog 11.3

Breaking Good News: John Krasinski criticized for selling news to the news.

Amy Schumer Learns To Cook is nothing of the sort.

With its closing image of Jeffrey Epstein’s penis suspended in a tank, no wonder the producers of The Good Fight were anxious about ending their season at Episode 7.

Outlander has all the nuance you might expect from Doctor Who slash fiction.

I wonder if television composers ever get mad when their themes are randomly replaced by pop songs.

I want Charlie Brooker’s Antiviral Wipe to go viral.

The trajectory for most contemporary TV series seems to be “2 seasons and a spin-off.”

There’s too much focus on the half-wives in The Real Housewives franchise.

I’m not going to say anything derogatory about Sam Heughan because there are women on the internet who would literally kill me for it.

CBS All Access announces a new Star Trek series set between the Pilot and Episode 1 in TV’s first ever Prebootsequelpinoff.

Ducktales is this month’s “The Sopranos of [insert genre here]”

Every day is a Jerry Stiller marathon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 2020

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, Behind-The-Scenes, BiogTV, British Shows on American TV, hiatus, Internet TV, Reality TV, Reviews, Touring TV, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV channels, TV Criticism, TV Culture, TV Dreams, TV History, Uncategorized, Watching TV on April 2, 2020 by Tom Steward

New Blog 9.1

I’m escaping quarantine by watching lovers separated by walls, animals in cages, people trapped on a cruise liner, and the after-effects of a deadly global virus.

Maybe U-Verse should re-consider using the word “cowering” when talking about the characters in Day of The Dead given the current state of things.

McMillions raises the question of how weather ever makes the news.

The quarantine edition of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was effectively a crossover episode with Black Mirror.

Avenue 5 confirms that Armando Iannucci only makes accidentally prophetic television.

If I’ve learned anything new about Trump from his televised Coronavirus press conferences, it’s that he says “contagion” like Kevin James’ Doug in The King of Queens.

Curb Your Enthusiasm may be the handiest guide to social distancing in the whole of media.

With an ABC sitcom, Disney cartoon and Bravo reality show on the way, this is Indian-Americans’ TV year. Let’s hope networks don’t pull it away from them as fast as they did with Mexicans and South-East Asians.

Homeland is trying to break 24’s record of Presidential turnover before it ends.

Netflix doesn’t need to add a button to remind you that you’re alone.

My Samsung TV is recommending movies for me to watch while I’m working at home. Either it knows I’m a critic or thinks we’re a nation of liars.

Inside No. 9 just El Camino’d Psychoville. If you don’t get those references now, you will after months of quarantine.

New Blog 9.2

Isn’t now a good time to reboot those CNN election coverage holograms? I don’t think I can take another home news report on an iphone.

We’re all now basically the BBC News interviewee whose children burst into the office during broadcast.

Whomever was responsible for closed captioning of Top Chef Allstars LA did well to add a question mark to Padma Lakshmi’s opening assertion that Los Angeles was “one of the best food cities in the world?”

Vanderpump Rules needs to omit the skits and cartoons. Anyone watching already knows the show is cheap, nasty and artless and doesn’t mind a bit.

Breaking News: The Walking Dead reboots as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

With its stolen memoir and culinary school plots, the finale of Fresh Off The Boat was an apology letter to its estranged subject.

If you want to know what TV is going to look like for the next few months, check out a 90-Day Fiance Tell-All.

There’s been a staggering number of new series about people facing global crises in the past few months. It seems that Coronavirus was in our art before it found its way into our lungs.

HBO missed a golden opportunity to re-launch its 1970s science-fiction remake as Westworld in The City.

There’s never a good time to do an entire episode about penicillin, but if there was Outlander nailed it.

Korean animators must be working 24/7 to get those Disney Channel and Nick Jr. Coronavirus PSAS out.

One wonders if Game of Thrones could have salvaged its reputation by crossing over into the Westworld universe before it ended.

New Blog 9.3

Picard is like a version of Star Trek where your parents and schoolteachers make out in front of you.

G literally prayed for a Netflix show like Tiger King to come along. Be careful what you wish for.

Jeff Goldblum’s commercials for Apartments.com are bringing out the lighter side of illegal data mining.

I’m starting to think I should have paid more attention to those episodes of The Sopranos where Uncle Junior was under House Arrest.

TV networks are giving away more content for free than a theatre major with an iphone.

I’m sure the female guests on Talking Dead feel safer now that they don’t have to share a room with Chris Hardwick.

The Real Housewives of New Jersey filled a time capsule entirely with items that future archeologists would need to know their 2019 activities in order to understand.

I generally prefer that documentary directors be fly-on-the-wall observers but I wouldn’t have been averse to Eric Goode or Rebecca Chaiklin opening the cages at any point during the filming of Tiger King.

The person who accidentally broadcast a MyPillow.com infomercial during a televised White House Coronavirus briefing must be in serious trouble.

Love is Blind is proof of what dating shows can achieve when they don’t have to remind viewers of the concept every twenty seconds.

Better Call Saul is The Sopranos of legal dramas.

Mickey Mouse’s guide to the Internet is no Mickey Mouse operation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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