The Day Today
I hate satire. Yeah, there, I said it. Get over it. One percent of the time satire is funny. Most comedic satirists believe all you have to do to be funny is be satirical. This is wrong. You must also be funny. Which they forget. Luckily, that one percent does exist and that one percent is The Day Today.
Created by Christopher Morris and Armando Iannucci, The Day Today is as silly as it is relevant. Much like The Daily Show, The Day Today is a spoof television news program that satirizes (I promise that will be the last time I use that word) both current events and the news programs that provide them. From anchors "losing" the news to making interviewees suck helium to discredit their statements, The Day Today puts all other subversive TV programs to shame. Did I also mention this was where Alan Partridge was created?Continue Reading
The Newsroom is a Canadian series that starred Ken Finkleman stars as George Findlay - an intelligent, constipated, egotistical, cynical, immoral newsroom director who will go to any length to avoid his mother but lavishes attention on his BMW. He is primarily concerned with his stature within the beauraucracy of the television station and he effortlessly pushes sensationalist fantasies to boost the station's ratings. But, Finkleman plays George as somehow likeable unlike his unbearably unpleasant comedic descendants like Larry David or Dwight Schute.
I've seen The Newsroom compared to the UK's Drop Dead Donkey because it's set in a news studio too. That seems lazy to me. Whereas Drop Dead Donkey is wacky, laugh-tracked and therefore unwatchable, The Newsroom is generally low-key and dry although the situations are occasionally highly improbable and far-fetched. Because of its Canadian origins and its era, it can kind of be described as existing between The Larry Sanders Show and The Office with flannel and tuques (Canadian for "stocking caps").Continue Reading
Set on the cusp of the advertising revolution in 1960s Madison Avenue, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men follows the exploits of the admen at a mid-level firm as its old-fashioned ways are being challenged by the popular onset of the counterculture. Advertising is America’s subterranean cultural history and most of the drama from Weiner’s show comes from contrasting our collective marketed images with the personal reality of his characters as this distinction begins to dissolve. As lead adman Don Draper (Jon Hamm) sits on a train confounded by the new Volkswagen Beetle ad from Doyle Dane Bernbach, you can feel the Age of Schizophrenia coming on. It was no accident that the Beetle became a signifier of the hippies.
William Bernbach’s major innovation was using the anti-consumerist rhetoric of fifties pop culture critics to sell more stuff. Where ads had previously promoted the supposed benefits of some object to the viewing subject, the new advertising began to redefine the subject through the object, emphasizing what that object says about its owner. As the potential buyer began to define himself by the connoted images of his desiderata, homo economicus gave way to homo consumens, man as consumer. That it has become nigh impossible to extricate ourselves from Madison Avenue’s Mephistophelean bargain can be seen by the way product placement serves to make the critique possible. Does it matter if the use of the VW Bug functions as sponsorship or objective correlative? The Marxist critique of capitalism has been reduced to comedic effect by this point – only, we’re the butt of the joke.Continue Reading
A Disquisition on Magnum P.I., Season 3
Magnum. Magnum, Magnum, Magnum, Magnum. Saying that name, (and for you, gentle reader, seeing it) just makes me feel better.Continue Reading
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace
Ok, so Darkplace is a 1980's horror television show... no wait. It's about this horror author... no, that's not right either. You see, I have to pretend I don't know how to properly describe Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, not only as a silly writer-ly way to start a review but also because I genuinely have a hard time doing it.
Garth Marenghi is a creation of actor Matthew Holness. He is not a real person. Much like Stephen King, Marenghi is a horror novelist who specializes in turning the mundane into the horrific. But then back in the 1980's Marenghi grew tired of books and decided to turn his attention to television and Darkplace was born! Being the way-ahead-of-his-time writer that he his, Darkplace was pulled from television for being either too frightening or possibly too moronic (depending on who you talk to) and never shown again... until now.Continue Reading
The Office Special
After only two seasons (twelve half hour episodes total) The Office returned for two more final episodes that beautifully wrap up the short-lived British series. The series had a massive influence on television, spawning a still on-going American version and made its star and creator, Ricky Gervais, into an instant comedy guru (he co-wrote and directed every episode with his partner, Stephen Merchant). Season Two ended on a rather depressing note. In the office of Wernham Hogg Paper Company blowhard boss David Brent (Gervais) had been fired. Everyman Tim (Martin Freeman) turned down the offer to take David’s job, leaving it open for David’s toadie, Gareth (Mackenzie Crook). Also Tim’s pursuit of Dawn (Lucy Davis) came to a fizzle as she and her fiancé, Lee, headed off for the United States. With The Office Special we pick up some time later. The Office had been a minor blip on the BBC TV schedule. David, by day, is now a cleaning supplies salesman, but in the evenings he is using his new minor fame (or infamy) to break into show business, doing the washed-up reality TV star circuit. Unfortunately it means appearances at rowdy bars with ex-Big Brother cast member types for a hostile crowd (they hate him). Not working at the office but spending much of his free time there, with Gareth’s help, he is also pursuing a relationship on an Internet dating site (so he can score a date to the Office’s Christmas party). David trying to find reasons to be back at the office is David at his most pathetic - all one can do is pity the man.
The Office has always been about the slow burn. The humor is not in the immediate joke but in what the characters say, it may only be a funny line to someone who already understands the character, their motivations, and their insecurities. Like the influences Gervais has cited for his humor, the films of Christopher Guest (the one good one, Waiting For Guffman), This Is Spinal Tap (Guest co-wrote and co-starred in it, but it was actually directed by Rob "Meathead" Reiner), and the most obvious influence Garry Shandling’s brilliant inside Hollywood, character-driven The Larry Sanders Show. Both are giddy in the burning humiliation of their characters, but unlike the cruelty of much cynically spirited humor, it's obvious that Shandling and Gervais both have hearts and affection for the men they play and the characters around them.Continue Reading
Rich Man, Poor Man
The "mini-series" was a cultural phenomenon on late '70s and early '80s television. With the massive success of Rich Man, Poor Man (followed by the even more popular Roots a year later), it became a rite of passage for television executives to find a thick book and a match it with a classy cast for a rating bonanza. Finally out on DVD, Rich Man, Poor Man is the epitome of the mini-series epic, 12 one-hour episodes spanning 25 years in the life of the Jordache brothers. It made a star of the then unknown actor Nick Nolte and gave a bunch of out of work ex-TV stars a chance to chew on some scenery. And though at times it may feel dated, it still makes for some gripping, addictive watching.
Based on novelist Irwin Shaw’s (The Young Lions) massively long best seller, the enormous scope of the cast of characters would put a paycheck in a lot of mid-'70s actor pockets. Along the way a who’s who of names pop up in supporting roles including Gloria Grahame, Dick Sargent, Talia Shire, Ray Milland, Lynda Day George, Norman Fell, Fionnula Flanagan, Dorothy Malone, Van Johnson, Murray Hamilton, and Kim Darby (the original True Grit girl).Continue Reading
Ghosts...of the Civil Dead
"You can only push a man so far before he pushes back," proclaims one of the more orderly prisoners in John Hillcoat’s Ghosts…of the Civil Dead. This line is one I’m sure I’ve heard dozens of times in films, but never more fully realized as when the violence and tension in the prison in which the film is set reaches a sort of chaotic resolution. The character in question is one of two prisoners whom the audience meets right at the start of the film, both of whom act as a common man that represent the two paths one is headed for when stuck in such an environment. One leads to murder and the other to suicide. And that’s not to say these are respectable people who don’t deserve their time in jail (we never discover what they are in for), but as the same aggressions and fears begin to show up in the guards' behavior, something clearly needs to change.
Apparently based on real events, Ghosts is an account of the events in a prison that lead to a total lockdown, confining the inmates entirely within their cells, and then to deathly acts of violence. Working as a sort of visual diary, we are taken through a series of seemingly unconnected events that, while not forming a narrative, show a clear route for the derangement that evolves. One such evolution is how physical recreation changes as prisoners continually take advantage of what freedoms are given them. First, the outdoor areas are closed off after a stabbing, restricting exercise to indoors, and then a fence is put up to further constrain them. This literal cage, as several of them point out, only solidifies their belief that they are no better than animals. Obviously prison is just a big cage anyway and the film isn’t trying to humanize clearly deranged people, but if something is clearly broken, it must need fixing. Sure the film doesn’t offer any easy answers but it is most certainly asking hard questions about what potentially is in all of us.Continue Reading
It’s hard to talk about the scariest movie of all time, just like it’s hard to talk about the funniest. Once you claim what it is people will have every other horror movie they’ve ever seen to compare it to and since the title of "scariest" is so subjective it all comes down to each person's experience. So in this case, I must go past personal experience and try to somehow justify why Ghostwatch scared me more than anything.
Over the last couple of years a lot of "found footage" movies have popped up. Some have been great and some have not, but all of them are outdated by Ghostwatch. In 1992 on Halloween, the BBC aired a special program about the most haunted house in England. News reporters were to take you inside and show you what ghostly goings-on were taking place and supposedly, while it was airing, a massive terror spread through England as children and adults alike thought that what they were watching was real. But it was not. It was a totally fictional program about a mother and her two daughters who were haunted by an old tenant that the children call Mr. Pipes (after their mother tells them that the noises they are hearing are just the pipes rattling). But once the media shows up, Mr. Pipes isn’t too happy and decides that if what they want is terror, then that’s what they’ll get.Continue Reading
You are probably NOT saying to yourself, "You know what the world needs more of? Zombie stories." I know I wasn’t. The idea behind the British Television mini-series (five episodes all together running just over 140 minutes) called Dead Set is this...what if there’s a world wide zombie outbreak, all hell breaks loose, the apocalypse sets in, and no one lets the attention seeking, shallow idiots of TV’s isolated Big Brother house in on the news? That’s the set-up; sounds like a cheap gimmick, right? Sounds even a little shrill. Guess what? It works. It works great. This is a zombie tale that can take its rightful place along with the handful of good zombie tales of the last fifty years (Night, Dawn, Shawn, the Dawn remake, and 28 Days Later).
The zombie mayhem comes fast in this story - no long-winded, Arthur Hailey like, first act of meeting and falling for the folks about to be thrown into disaster. Nope, ten minutes in and it’s on. Luckily for us. most of the Big Brother house morons are only there to be future zombie chum. The story mostly centers on two radically different characters. Kelly, a PA at the network, manages to survive the attack and when she makes her way, blood soaked onto the Big Brother set, to try to warn the cast, they take her as a ploy to shake things up on their show and assume she is an over-acting new castmate. Also managing to survive the initial outbreak is the show's producer, Patrick. The actor, Andy Nyman, is wonderful, making this obnoxious madman a cross between Entourage’s Ari Gold and Saul Rubinek in True Romance. From what I could figure, much of the cast is made up of real life British reality stars. But don’t let that turn you off, most of the acting is surprisingly well done.Continue Reading