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Archive for July, 2017

by Sam Juliano

With the Greatest Television Series countdown closing in on the half-way point we are taking a break, as per the original specifications.  The purpose is two-fold:  to allow the writers and those placing comments to regroup and take a rest, but on a personal note I found it mandatory in view of our family’s nine day vacation in Sunset Beach, North Carolina (just a few miles from the South Carolina border), commencing on Wednesday morning when our Honda Odyssey departs Fairview, New Jersey.  In order to administer the project -though many of the writers have handled their own postings quite well- and keep abreast of the dialogue, I felt I need to take a break.  Many have e mailed me to let me know how happy and relieved they are to receive the extra time, so I think it was a good idea no matter how you cut it.  Hence for the site readers there will not be any other posts aside from the Monday Morning Diary of next week (August 7th), which I will post from Sunset Beach.  Our ace witer extraordinaire Jim Clark, may be posting, and if so I easily enough negotiate it.  Once again -and I can never thank everyone enough- I want to express my appreciation to the many people who have worked on the essays, in the comment sections or just to view and click likes.  All of it has worked to bring this remarkably worthwhile project to fruition.  This week I sent on the new schedule revision, which included a few more assignments that now are getting a bit more breathing room.  Note:  The countdown will resume on Saturday, August 12th with an essay from Marilyn Ferdinand. 

As I have announced on the previous group e mail, I have received several requests from writers and friends to move forward on the second half, as a television polling is massive by its very essence.  80 essays is far too few, in fact it should rightfully be at least doubled.  Of course this will mean more work from many, but I assure you I will be keeping up my end of the bargain.  We will begin on January 17th, 2018 and will contine through late April.  It will be a full 100 (now revised to 108), meaning this entire project (both parts) will be covering 188 shows.  If Allan was able to do 100 British shows in his Top 100 all by himself, well our group can do this methinks, especially as we are covering the entire span of the art form and from all countries even with US and UK dominant as expected. My co-chair Adam Ferenz and I feel that 81 through 188 (why the strange final number of 188?  Well it has to do with the cut off of point totals), will be the best way to give television its full due.  Needless to say there will not be another WitD project for 2018, aside from the much, much shorter 12 to 14 day Allan Fish tribute in May which may well happen for the second year in a row.  The TV extension project is our main 2018 project, and it is a whopper to say the least!!  I expect to hear some groans, but my e mail box has been recipient to nothing but excitement for the expansion! (more…)

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OFFICE 1-6

by Robert Hornak

Weird to think, but in the late ’90s, Ricky Gervais was Stephen Merchant’s boss at the London radio station Xfm. In a prime example of life imitating future art, Gervais claims he lied to get his job as head of communications and needed someone around who actually knew what they were doing, and Merchant’s application was the first that looked reasonably good. “You’ve charmed me,” I can hear him saying to Merchant in the interview. The squat boss and his lanky assistant were fast friends, their bond being comedy… and comedic ambition. Later, Merchant made a short film for his BBC production course that featured a game Gervais as a sniveling, loutish boss. BBC saw it, commissioned a pilot, and The Office was born. Not a hit at first, it would eventually win BAFTAs and spin itself off into multiple international versions, including the American iteration, which barreled through nine successful seasons. Yet even after the world consumed it, then reconstituted it into its various images, the British original still stands as the greatest, purest examination of its themes, namely negotiating in realistic terms that critical gap between the tedium we must endure to sustain our lives and the relationships to be mined from the perfect strangers who populate that tedium.

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“It just seems like you agree to have a certain personality or something….. for no reason……just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it…..how do you even know it’s you?”

– Angela Chase

 

It’s hard to overstate the impact of My So-Called Life and the long shelf-life it has had, considering it only had one truncated season. No other show has ever captured the daily angst and passions of teenage life with as much honesty and intensity as this one. It is both a time-capsule piece and a progressive, universal kind of work. Had it played on premium cable, no doubt it would have survived long past its initial year. It has thus inspired an obsessive cult following since its initial run with strongly devoted followers and critics often labeling it as one of the 10 greatest cult shows of all time and/or the greatest teen drama in all of television. It inspired a whole generation of fans that have continued to keep the show alive and relevant through (indulge me here) the creation of binge-watching guides, revelatory sexual awakening GIFs, fashion tributes, fashion analysis with the costume designer– including an outfit-by-outfit breakdown of everything Angela wore during the show, a book of critical analysis and essays, a breakdown of the show’s use of music, fantasy reunions, rumors of reunions, actual reunions, continued discussions with Winnie Holzman (writer), and re-watch analysis as an adult, among many other things. There is simply no end to the insatiable passion the show has inspired and continues to inspire. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

 There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.

Jules Dassin’s 1948 film noir The Naked City was particularly prominent for its location photography on the streets of Manhattan.  Shot in  cinema verite style, the gritty realism that resulted practically made one think that Vittorio de Sica was part of the production team.  The use of alleyways, parks, restaurants, taverns, churches, industrial zones, steaming urban corners and landmarks like the Williamsburg Bridge, Penn Station, and the Chrysler Building worked against any perceived artificiality of the stories, thereby wedding fiction narrative with the perception that what has been seen and heard actually took place.  The film’s producer Mark Hellinger handled the film’s narration, which was one of the most effective ever delivered for a movie, both in substance and discarnate delivery.  In the opening five minutes Hellinger expresses plaintive and philosophical thoughts about the concept of a city which are juxtaposed with evocative images of New York in the late 1940s.  He explains that actors will tell the tale and consequently as viewers we  highly conscious that this is a “staged” documentary film played out in the background of real life. Though the main thrust of the film, and a vital claim of it be classified as a noir is the search for truth in a climate of murder and deceit, it is invariably the manner in which the city of New York takes on its own life, a sleepless, merciless  asphalt jungle that is unremittingly corrupt. Much of what Dassin coordinated in the film was revisited in his Night in the City a year later, though his setting there was a monochromatic London.  The Naked City is also a prime example of a police procedural, chronicling as it does an investigation into the murder of a young model by homicide detective Lt. Dan Muldoon and his assistant Jimmy Halloran   The film’s cinematographer William H. Daniels and editor Paul Weatherwax deservedly won Academy Awards for their work.

In 1957, a television producer named Herbert Leonard- who had scored impressively a few years earlier with Rin Tin Tin- contacted Hellinger’s widow (sadly the film’s producer had died just a month after the film’s shoot completed) to secure the rights for a show to be loosely based on the Dassin film.  After the deal was signed, and some powerful sponsors in place the Screen Gems television division of Columbia Pictures asks acclaimed writer Sterling Silliphant to take up the role as primary scribe.    The series centered on the detectives of NYPD’s 65th Precinct, located in the Broadway theater district, although episode plots usually focused more on the criminals and victims portrayed by guest stars, characteristic of the “semi-anthology” narrative format common in early 1960s television. Primary writer Stirling Silliphant nurtured a focus on intelligent drama with elements of comedy and pathos, leading to significant critical acclaim for the series and attracting film and television actors of the time to seek out guest-starring roles. In addition to Silliphant, one of the busiest and most respected writers of the period, and winner of an Academy Award for his script for  In the Heat of the Night, those entrusted to craft the stories included veteran writer Howard Rodman,  blacklisted screenwriter Arnold Manoff, writing under the pseudonym Joel Carpenter, and perhaps most notably, Abram Ginnes, who wrote some of the show’s most poignant and profound episodes. (more…)

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The Wire Police

(characters from left to right: Roland Pryzbylewski, Cedric Daniels, Jimmy McNulty, Lester Freamon, Rhonda Pearlman, Kima Greggs)

by Adam Ferenz

Executive Produced by Robert F. Colesbury, seasons 1-3 & Nina K. Noble, Seasons 3-5.

Written or story by: Simon, Burns, Rafael Alvarez, Joy Lusco, George Pellacanos, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, David Mills, Eric Overmayer, William F. Zorzi, Kia Corthron, Chris Collins.

Directed by: Clark Johnson, Peter Medak, Clement Vigo, Ed Bianchi, Joe Chappelle, Gloria Muzio, Brad Anderson, Steve Shill, Tim Van Patten, Elodie Keene, Thomas J. Wright, Dan Attias, Rob Bailey, Robert F. Colesbury, Ernest Dickerson, Leslie Libman, Agnieszka Holland, Alex Zakrzewski, Christine Moore, Seith Mann, Jim McKay, David Platt, Anthony Hemingway, Scott Kecken& Joy Kecken, Dominic West.

Starring:  Dominic West, John Doman, Idris Elba, Frankie Faison, Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. Wood Harris,  Deirdre Lovejoy,  Wendell Pierce,  Lance Reddick,  Andre Royo,  Sonja Sohn,  Chris Bauer,  Paul Ben-Victor,  Clarke Peters,  Amy Ryan,  Aidan Gillen,  Jim True-Frost,  Robert Wisdom, Seth Gilliam,    DomenickLombardozzi, J. D. Williams, Michael K. Williams, Corey Parker Robinson,Reg E. Cathey,Chad L. Coleman, Jamie Hector, Glynn Turman,Clark Johnson, Tom McCarthy,GbengaAkinnagbe, Neal Huff,Jermaine Crawford,Tristan Wilds, Michael Kostroff,  Michelle Paresi, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. Michael B. Jordan, Felicia Pearson, Robert F. Chew.

There Will Be Major Spoilers in this discussion.

For those who are interested, this video is a collection of the variations of the theme song, the original of which was heard as the second season variation, (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

We all know the two of them by now.  Fox Mulder, Special Agent and care-taker of the the F.B.I.’s most embarrassing and confusing case studies, “THE X-FILES”, is a believer in everything that goes bump in the night and all those things that raised fingers pointed at the sky supposedly represent.  His sister was an abductee of a UFO kidnapping and he’s never been the same since he witnessed it happen.  He believes that “the truth is out there” somewhere and his fascination isn’t limited only to the possibility of flying saucers.

Dana Scully, on the other hand, is the skeptic.  A devout Catholic whose work as a medical doctor and psychologist have put her in the upper epsilon of agents trying to make a big splash in the bureau, she needs hard proof, on everything, to even remotely bend towards Mulders way of thinking.  She doesn’t believe in UFO’s, ghosts, little green men or Bigfoot, and that skepticism is tested in every episode of the series.

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By J.D. Lafrance

In the 1980s and 1990s, late night talk shows ruled the airwaves with the likes of Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno making America laugh before bedtime. These shows would come on after the 11 o’clock news and start with the host delivering a monologue poking fun at the popular news topics of the day followed by a couple of celebrities pushing their movie or television show and ending with a musical act or a stand-up comedian. It’s a format that continues to this day as a new generation of talk show hosts vie for eyeballs in our increasingly fragmented popular culture.

The Larry Sanders Show took a look behind-the-scenes at a fictional late night talk show featuring its vain, neurotic eponymous host (Garry Shandling), his weasely sidekick Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), the gruff, ass-kissing producer Arthur (Rip Torn), and the other long-suffering staff members that cater to his selfish needs as they try to get a show on the air. Larry lives in constant fear, either worrying about if he’s funny every night or if the show’s getting good enough ratings to justify its existence, and do almost anything to achieve both.
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© 2017 by James Clark

 This film (from 2016) is as devoted to the undeclared war, between old world-history and something beyond that, as Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry (1997). The latter, in its denouement, pours out a Bronx cheer upon an oldie for the sake of its overwhelmed eccentrics, knowing all too well that victories will be very scarce and very incomplete. Elle shows us what such victory of the “selfish” self-starters is apt to look like.

Our more than unusual protagonist, Michele, on being raped one evening in her house by a figure pleased to look like Spider-Man, has her doctor arrange a STD blood test next day—a “full panel”—and, in line with the physical and financial authority she exerts, the specialist suggests a new medication, PEP. She has already covered that avenue and declares, “Too many side-effects… I can’t miss any work.” She adds, metaphorically blowing the roof off the tony clinic devoted to classical science, “I guess we roll the dice…” Albert Einstein, a master of pushing the envelope the better to hide out, poured forth a Bronx cheer of sorts upon youthful researchers in the early days of quantum studies, who were struck by a creative field shot through with uncertainties, by, that is, unpredictability in the ways of nature as crucially including humans. He capsulized his contempt for those renegades by declaring, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Immediately after that appointment she and we are in the midst of the first of a series of locales (at Christmas time) where chains of small white lights flash about, approximating elemental phenomena soaring in electrodynamic outbursts. That such heady take-offs are far from carefree is announced—truth to tell, with nearly as much shock as the oddly truncated sexual assault—at a lunch bar (lights in its doorway and visible through the whole scene) where a splenetic diner dumps the dregs of her tray all over Michele’s shoulder and sleeve, along with the denunciation, “Scum! You and your father!” Her still and silent response is a reprise of her undemonstrative rally after the rape.

Although several melodramatic narratives seem to be vying for attention which would pay dividends, we might find that the outcomes very closely approximate that inconsequentiality of the suicidal obsessive in Taste of Cherry; and that it is the major-league (which means far from perfect) coordination of Michele amidst myriad cons and a few pros which lifts the proceedings to regal stature. (Isobel Huppert’s performance as Michele, though marvellous, constitutes another distraction by which those not having a clue about what is going on can invest the action with a shot of the “powerful,” which can mean anything they want it to mean. This is, in fact, a film [like so many of Kiarostami’s works, and those of Jarmusch] to embrace, not to pigeonhole.) (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1995-1996 579m) DVD1/2

Definitely not something to do to kill time

p  Yutaka Sugiyama  d  Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki, Masayuki, Hiroyuki Ishido, Tsuyoshi Kaga, Tensai Okamura, Keiichi Sugiyama, Masahiko Otsuka  w  Hideaki Anno, Akio Katsukawa, Shinji Haguchi, Yoji Enokido, Hiroshi Yamaguchi  m  Shiro Sagisu

Let’s follow in Hideaki Anno’s footsteps and, just as in episode 25 and 26 he took a detour to an ending at best described as Nietzschean, because he didn’t have room (in this case, the money) to film the ending he had in mind, so I will leave the cast out of this entry.  We’ll save them for overleaf.  Anno’s almost legendary anime series seems the definition of all that makes anime so foreign to the western world.  All those mechas, offspring of so many Saturday morning shows on children’s telly, adolescent protagonists barely old enough to recognise their own sexual awakening let alone save the world.

So a few weeks later I come back to it.  In the interim I have seen the two rebuild films from 2007 and 2009, but they were little more than polished prunings; gorgeous to look at it, but not necessarily offering us anything new.  It’s appropriate watching it now, 15 years after the original run ended, for here was a show that lived 15 years in the past.  It’s set in 2015, but it’s 2000 that is in everyone’s mind.  Then there had been what the cover up told us was a Second Impact from a meteor, wiping out much of civilisation and leaving an apocalyptic wasteland.  From this hell on earth emerge the terrifying Angels, creatures out to take over the world, and their only serious challengers, the saviours of mankind, are three fourteen year old kids operating Evas, giant robots programmed to be piloted with maximum synchronisation.  The whole defence strategy is operated by NERV, but they are part of a darker purpose to bring about a new end of the world and a new beginning.       (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The dog days of August are approaching, and many of us are doing what we can to stay clear of the oppressive heat.  Others couldn’t be happier to indulge in outdoor pursuits.  The Greatest Television Series Countdown moves ahead triumphantly with all the writers and comment section regulars making for an astoundingly successful venture.  Another great week for essays, comments, page views, likes and diversity.  The countdown will be taking a brief break from Friday August 4th until Friday August 11th, but will resume on Saturday, August 12th, continuing on till the final day, September 23 when the Number 1 finisher will appear.  Thanks to all who have been placing the comments, with a special shout out to Jeff Stroud, Jon Warner,  Dennis Polifroni, Frank Gallo, Ricky, Bobby J., Adam Ferenz, Celeste Fenster, Robert Hornak, Karen, Peter, John Grant, Tim McCoy, Pierre de Plume,  Maurizio Roca, David Schleicher, Patricia Hamilton,  and David Noack for your regular engagement.

Lucille and I managed two films in theaters this past week.  The total would have been higher, but viewing writing time for countdown entries and other responsibilities, prevented anymore than that.  We saw: (more…)

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