Archive for hbo

April 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, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV channels, TV Culture, TV History, TV News, TV Sports, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2020 by Tom Steward

New Blog 10.1

Before I started watching Ozark, I didn’t know what it was about. I still don’t know.

The best part of Netflix’s Virgin River is the TV movies on Tim Matheson’s IMDB.

The Real Housewives of New York City is all crescendo and no build.

My son B chose a 90s Spiderman animated TV series over Frozen on Disney + so we can skip the DNA test.

Deciding what to watch first of the abundance of TV you have access to is a skillset not that dissimilar to playing the stock market.

Was Ozark an Arrested Development rewrite that got out of hand?

There is no international crisis that 90 Day Fiance won’t exploit for the sake of good television.

So, was the twist of Star Trek: Picard that Seven of Nine is actually Buzz Lightyear?

Inside No. 9 is proof of what is possible when you do genre fiction by the numbers.

The Good Fight is ashamed of its roots in network television and make artistic blunders because of it.

Was Ozark the product of playing Breaking Bad backwards?

The line separating corporate commercials from PSAs has evaporated in recent months.

New Blog 10.2

Last month I made an offhand remark about Armando Iannucci’s television being “accidentally prophetic.” Since then, the BBC has used scenes from The Thick of It to advocate for coronavirus lockdown and Bill Withers is no longer “with us.”

In 2016, I read an interview with Michael Sheen where he announced he was quitting acting to become an anti-fascist activist. The last I heard he was impersonating Chris Tarrant in a British TV docudrama about the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Scandal. It’s been quite the four years for liberals.

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing is everything I love about British TV and everything I love about Britain.

I’ve taken to watching Netflix series in instalments which span the last five minutes of an episode and everything but the last five minutes of the following one.

Was Ozark pitched as Northern Exposure if Fleischmann was in the Cartel?

When you see all of CBS’s shows together in one place on All Access, they look like parodies of network shows. And not very imaginative ones.

Thank you, Joel McHale, for not pretending that this public access Hollywood Squares aesthetic is normal for television.

Can’t we just let Andy Cohen spend time with his child and show Rockford Files re-runs until this all blows over?

Take a break from cat videos on the internet and watch Red Dwarf: The Promised Land on Dailymotion.

Outlander chose to experiment stylistically at the worst possible moment and diminished its own power.

TV networks are lining up to make quarantine versions of shows that won’t ever count in the long run.

Maybe Ozark is a Curb Your Enthusiasm story outline that never saw the light of day?

New Blog 10.3

We’re all acting as if our haircuts aren’t going to look like Joe Exotic’s when we come out of quarantine.

ABC Mouse TV is the mad cow disease of early learning websites.

“Dinotrux? What happened to Ambient Mode?” Actual dialogue from my home.

I appreciate all the sidewalk chalk illustrations but it doesn’t make me feel like we’re living in The Walking Dead any less.

Whomever in The Good Fight’s Writer’s Room is pushing science-fiction storylines need to stop.

The Esurance “That’s not how any of this works” woman just turned up in Ozark.

A Fear The Walking Dead DP compared images from the Columbus Stay-At-Home Order protests to zombie horror. Isn’t this about the time they started nuking cities on the show?

Breaking News: The Rolling Stones retire from touring after learning they can perform from their homes and not be the same room as each other.

At Home editions of ongoing TV shows are a useful reminder of how much content is actually being offered. Currently only Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is passing muster.

No f—s or butts on Disney +

I always thought I could play Young Sipowicz in an NYPD Blue prequel. I’ve just learnt that there is only a ten-year gap between my age and Dennis Franz’s when the show premiered. Fox, the ball is in your court.

I never understood the animosity towards Breaking Bad’s Skyler White but whatever the shortcomings of her characterization, Better Call Saul’s Kim Wexler has absolved the original’s sins.

The drawings in each of the quadrants of the circle logo that change with every episode of Ozark remind me of educational children’s television.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Your Marks…Set…HBO!

Posted in American TV (General), Behind-The-Scenes, Internet TV, TV channels, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , on February 22, 2016 by Tom Steward

I hate to use the word adulting – primarily because it’s not a word – but it now seems that every major TV network in America has at least one program that is mature and sophisticated in content, execution or both (except NBC, who are labouring under the delusion that a Ryan Seacrest police procedural is somehow acceptable). It may be true that the best (non-pornographic) adult programming these days comes from basic cable networks like FX (Fargo, The Americans) and AMC (Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead) but that doesn’t mean they got there first. Subscription network – and Adam Sandler movie buyer – HBO has been adulting since the late nineties, when arty prison drama Oz and revolutionary crime drama The Sopranos heralded a wave of complex, experimental and provocative television that has yet to subside. This was politically and artistically reinforced by Six Feet Under and The Wire in the naughties, but overall the network that is an alternative to itself has re-defined just about every genre of TV you can think of, from post-feminist rom-com to news satire. But is it possible that HBO is finally entering a period of arrested development, and might that actually be a good thing?

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Well, people would have liked it a lot more!

HBO now looks to re-define quality television for children, mostly by making parents pay – or wait – for it. Last year the network struck a deal with PBS to co-produce the  iconic educational television show Sesame Street so that the show would air first on the subscription-based provider and then on free-to-air TV months later. It’s perhaps the only time I can think of (maybe you can do better) that HBO has exploited an established commodity rather than making an improved version of it and it’s one of the few signature series the network has that doesn’t rely on obscenity to make audiences spend to see it. HBO has now added the football-themed Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson vehicle Ballers to its roster of original series, which seems to be playing to the Fast and Furious-watching, sports-loving element of its demographic. Even a critic’s darling like Game of Thrones which is certainly distinguished by heavy and explicit levels of sex, violence and offensive language resembles the kind of mediaevalesque fantasy stories beloved by the nerdy young and is perhaps the first time that a HBO series with a continuous narrative arc has seemed more like a children’s matinee serial than a novel.

It’s rare that a HBO series goes over its audience’s head – though we all remember the debacle of John from Cincinnati – but last year the high-profile misfire of True Detective Season Two suggested that viewers weren’t always going to lap up the most extreme, idiosyncratic television that the network could produce. Vinyl is just beginning but it’s hard to see where this Scorsese creation detailing the record industry of the seventies will go in exploring the organized criminal elements of historical American leisure that Boardwalk Empire didn’t. The network has cancelled Looking and put a time limit on Girls, which will curb its claim to have the most socially incisive, funniest and best-written comedy-dramas on TV. If it is to continue its unwritten policy of having a maximum of six seasons of every show, then we know that Game of Thrones can’t last much longer, though the saga’s literary predecessor suggests otherwise. So what is the future of HBO? Will the network start to polarise its appeal by producing television that is either infantile or avant-garde, with nothing inbetween? Perhaps the open access of HBO GO and HBO NOW is doing something irrevocable to the adult remit of the network.

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‘Finish the series, George, I have indie movies to make!’

I’m sure many have written these ‘death of HBO’ articles before, and I’m sure they were as premature then as this is now. But I’m worried about the point of HBO changing, not the quality. Game of Thrones is wonderfully compelling and I admired True Detective a great deal, but at its best HBO always gave us innovative, game-changing television that never seemed too slight or too weighty. That balance may be in jeopardy as HBO diversifies into a Netflix-style online video service, or perhaps FX and AMC have found the mean when it comes to quality television, without needing to resort to pornographic shock tactics or take too much cash out of viewers’ pockets. Last Week Tonight and Silicon Valley suggest that a change in direction is not necessarily a bad thing, and that HBO is still finding the best people and concepts in television. But for how long?

Crimetime

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, Reality TV, Reviews, TV News, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 29, 2016 by Tom Steward

Ever since Homer Simpson purred the words ‘Wow, Infotainment’, true crime has been the beating heart – or lack thereof – of American television. In the last year or so, a high-end alternative to the video-looking, cheaply put together true crime documentaries echoing the trite, uncomplicated and sensational timbre of news has emerged. This sub-genre of true crime TV looks more like the production value-laden, multi-layered serial dramas we’ve seen with exponential regularity in the past two decades and plays without loss on boutique networks and video-on-demand services. The prime suspects are HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst and Netflix’s Making a Murderer. Though both series seem to herald a new trend in televised crime, in many ways they are polar opposites. As G remarked, the former is about how privilege and money can get around the justice system no matter what a defendant may or may not have done while the latter is about how poverty and low status count against you legally regardless of your guilt. But their differences go further, speaking to a gulf in the quality and character of the dramatic television produced by these two non-traditional television services. While both appear to have changed the face of television documentary overnight, the nature of the filmmaking involved means that they have been in the works for several years and play off and into TV crime dramas perhaps more than other documentaries in the field.

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This guy is the Durst!

At ten hour-long episodes, Making a Murderer lasts about long as a typical high-quality TV drama season and offers the same compelling serial narrative we look for in them. Each episode is prefixed with a rich, stylish and lengthy credits sequence equal to and clearly modelled on those that have announced standalone masterpieces in series on such elite platforms as HBO and Showtime. As many of my partners in crime television – including Squeezegut Alley and Dolly Clackett have already observed – this documentary following the trial of exonerated rapist Steven Avery and his nephew for murder in Wisconsin, plays out like a real-life Murder One. Further to the interplay between drama and documentary in crime television, however, Murder One was in no small part indebted to the televised trial of O.J. Simpson, which had concluded a few months before airing and proved that a single trial could hold the attention of audiences for months on end. To complete the circuit, FX are soon to air the first season of their factually-based drama anthology series American Crime Story based around the trial of O.J. Simpson. Critics of Making a Murderer have pointed to the filmmakers’ omission of key pieces of trial evidence and one-sided view of Steven Avery as an innocent patsy. I’m all for directors declaring their biases rather than pretending they don’t exist but it would have been a far better documentary if the emphasis had been on the reasonable doubt about the Averys’ guilt and the distinct whiff of police misconduct surrounding the case rather than conspiracies and frame-ups.

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Avery complicated case!

Though The Jinx shares many visual and narrative similarities with Making a Murderer – not least their elaborate curtain-raisers – in almost all ways HBO’s documentary miniseries is superior to its Netflix counterpart. This six-part account of how business heir Robert Durst became a prime suspect in multiple murder investigations yet remained a free man had greater sophistication in its handling of the subject. The documentary factored in the impact that media coverage of Durst has had on the various cases, including his own attraction to the spotlight which allowed filmmakers direct access to him. They refuse to be drawn on the question of Durst’s guilt until a smoking gun presented itself, at which point the filmmakers are forced into the position of interrogators. The Jinx has also accomplished more for social justice than Making a Murderer, as Durst was arrested for murder following the broadcast of the series while the post-show discussion of the Steven Avery case has yielded an ill-advised petition to The White House which they are powerless to act upon and rancour against the filmmakers for cherry-picking evidence – which is bad documentary practice anyway but given the stakes is a criminal act all of its own. The Jinx might be the reason Durst is under arrest but it may also be the reason he beats jail. Any decent defence lawyer could argue that the documentary has already branded Durst a murder and therefore he cannot get a fair trial. The prosecution would need a jury without HBO subscriptions.

 

 

 

 

 

The Pig Country

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, TV Culture, TV History, TV News with tags , , , , on October 4, 2015 by Tom Steward

British and American TV are so rarely united, making it doubly surprising that there have been two stories in as many weeks relating to genitalia in the television cultures of both countries. Honestly, pigs might fly and the Old West will rise again before we see another coincidence like this.

Footage from The Conservative Party Conference

Footage from The Conservative Party Conference

On September 20th 20(and)15, British national newspaper The Daily Mail published extracts from an unauthorised biography of current Prime Minister David Cameron co-authored by passed-over former Deputy Conservative Party Chairman Michael Ashcroft. In them contained a story that as a student at Oxford University, Cameron had put ‘a private part of his anatomy’ into a dead pig’s mouth as part of an initiation ceremony for The Piers Gaveston Society (some paraphrasing of Groucho Marx’s famous ‘club’ quote is surely necessary here!). Remarkable as this allegation was for a sitting head-of-state – outside of Italy – it was not the first time such an idea had been nationally circulated. In 2011, British TV Renaissance man Charlie Brooker launched his modern-day answer to The Twilight Zone, a technology-fearing anthology made of speculative fiction called Black Mirror, the first instalment of which concerned a modern-day British Prime Minister blackmailed into having sex with a pig live on television to meet the ransom demands of a royal kidnapper. Like David Bowie after liquid water was discovered on Mars, Brooker was hounded by the press and social media following this story, asking him whether his television play was inspired by real rumours of which he had foreknowledge.

Brooker says he didn’t, which I for one believe wholeheartedly, namely because you don’t have to know the actual circumstances of such an act to imagine that it would be exactly the kind of thing a person of that background would do. I’m not convinced that the story – hashtagged ‘Piggate’ thus throwing agricultural livestock message boards into a state of disarray – is anything more than a revenge blow from an embittered ex-colleague but we know what absurd extremes the hazing rituals of fratboys at elite universities – on both sides of the Atlantic – can go to, and Cameron’s posh pillaging of the social contract as a university student has been well-documented. Even the most rudimentary scandalmonger could put a scenario like that together from Cameron’s backstory. Brooker, too, was trading off the fact that we as a nation could easily believe our Prime Minister was and has been capable of such things. My mentor in all things televisual Helen Wheatley observed that the morning after the Black Mirror episode ‘The National Anthem’ was first broadcast, it genuinely felt as if Cameron had fucked a pig the day before. It’s that vague aura of authenticity that both Brooker and Lord Ashcroft mined.

In the last couple of days, it has been reported that extras on the set of HBO’s reboot of the 1970s cult sci-fi western Westworld have been compelled to sign a consent form specifying numerous and elaborate acts of sexual contact and nudity, including the touching of each other’s genitals. Some extras apparently complained to their union SAG-AFTRA, who are currently investigating the matter. Those who know HBO (in the Biblical as well as the binge sense) won’t be surprised that one of its shows should contain such graphic content, but the concerned parties have different views about how bound (this is not a metaphor) supporting artists are to such demands contractually. I as a TV blogger (and potential future SAG-AFTRA member) am obviously fascinated by this story, but a lot of viewers I’m sure simply don’t want to know how the organic sausage is made. Great art and human exploitation have always gone hand-in-hand, and, to many, I’m sure this revelation makes Westworld seem like a far more interesting prospect than previously. Also, this seems the thin end of the wedge, providing everyone knows their rights and has the ability to pull out of the project at willy. Penis.

'While you're down there...'

‘While you’re down there…’

If there’s a theme here, it’s indecent exposure. Private parts have been unlawfully displayed in public. Whether it’s bestiality libel or union disputes, these kinds of stories are not for public consumption unless in fictional form. HBO needs to push boundaries on sexual representation to be challenging, while the inhuman behaviour of the Cameron-led Conservative government needs to be challenged for what it is, not what it represents satirically in some bizarre Animal Farm-like parallel reality. Piggate didn’t lend any credence to Black Mirror, rather the reverse. And sex acts and nudity on HBO is simply not a news item!

Got Milch?: Part 2

Posted in American TV Shows, BiogTV, Local TV, TV Acting, TV channels, TV History with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2015 by Tom Steward

It’s the longest-awaited sequel since Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull and probably just as underwhelming. The promise of a second part that never comes is one that resonates with what I’m going to talk about here, David Milch’s follow-up to Deadwood at HBO John from Cincinnati, which along with Luck lasted one season and is now freely available to stream on Amazon Prime Instant Video as part of their HBO collection – designed, no doubt, to take the edge off the company’s flagrant employee abuse. This is the David Milch series that means the most to me.

2 minutes to Mexico!

2 minutes to Mexico!

There are plenty of TV shows that have put places on the map. But what about the shows that failed to make their locations famous? Breaking Bad made Alberquerque a hub of tourism and yet John from Cincinnati did not do the same for Imperial Beach, a coastal community south of San Diego bordering Mexico, in which the series is exclusively set. Perversely, tourism has come to Imperial Beach without the help of John from Cincinnati only a few years after the series aired. And, to rub sea-salt in the wound, Imperial Beach attracted visitors by projecting an image contrary to the one presented in John from Cincinnati. Imagine Hobbiton becoming overrun with people only after a brutalist tower block was erected in the centre of downton (which is what I’m presuming they call downtown in Middle Earth). I know this not because I’m a good journalist but a resident.

Of San Diego, that is. But I did live in Imperial Beach briefly a couple of years ago when I first arrived in the states. Though on an upswing even then, the community felt more like the faded surfer haunt gently harbouring drug addicts and derelict motels that is depicted in John from Cincinnati than it does today. Now it is a prime beach destination replete with upscale hotels and restaurants. Apart from the most inconspicuous memorabilia in a few local establishments, there’s no sense that a TV show was ever filmed here, and certainly not as recently. I’d like to attribute that to the thoroughly dysfunctional portrayal of Imperial Beach, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. After all, Breaking Bad made Alberquerque famous not attractive. Despite the esteemed creator and network, John from Cincinnati was not liked or known enough to front a campaign for tourism.

It’s depressingly easy to see why the show was not embraced. It is aggressively cryptic, with titular John not a protagonist in the conventional sense but a conduit who precipitates the actions of other characters and speaks only in the words of those he encounters. John is not human, or at least not mortal in the way we understand it. Others have unsubstantiated mystical ability. The writing and acting is egregiously ornate and portentous, even for a David Milch drama. In particular, Rebecca DeMornay proves herself the missing link between the Lifetime school of TV movie acting and the televisual avant-garde. On the other hand, it seems like John from Cincinnati is punished for the strangeness we conversely admire in shows like Twin Peaks. Milch’s previous drama Deadwood was universally praised, and yet was similarly impenetrable, but because it was linguistically rather than conceptually challenging, it was somehow more acceptable.

Coming after Deadwood may have been John from Cincinnati’s greatest error. Milch’s fanbase scapegoated the show for taking Deadwood off the air after only three seasons and – as I’m sure Nic Pizzolatto and David Simon will testify – critics have only one use for shows that follow TV of wide acclaim. I don’t want to be a John from Cincinnati apologist; at times it is too pretentious for its own good, and it would be hypocritical of me to boycott Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who for its incoherence and not at least mention it here. Much of my interest in the show is strictly geographical, although that does help me understand its intentions better than someone who’s never experienced Imperial Beach would. It is, however, one of the few shows I can’t think that transcends classification. You’ll have a hard time relating this to any format or genre of television out there.

Dayton Callie prepares for Sons of Anarchy

Dayton Callie prepares for Sons of Anarchy

John from Cincinnati is undoubtedly hard work, but if it’s elision of norms is not reward enough for you, then maybe its peerless cast, all of whom are given monologues equalling the best of Milch’s writing, should be. Among them are character giants Ed O’Neill, Dayton Callie and Jim Beaver.

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