Archive for August, 2017

by Adam Ferenz

Few shows have ever shown us the White House-here occupied by Josiah Bartlett, Democrat from New Hampshire-in quite these colors. Many of the technical innovations, such as walking and talking in coridoors, have become almost a cliché, to the point that an episode of Mom, starring West Wing alum Allison Janney, and guest starring co-alum Richard Schiff, made fun of that. The series was by turns powerful, poignant and hilarious, pious and profane, profound, ludicrous and both overreaching and brilliantly daring. This was also the first series, since Homicide, to cast multiple actors at the same time who were known primarily for movie work, thus paving the way for the slate of network television in which people like Tim Roth, Kevin Bacon and Halle Berry would have regular roles on their own shows. It helped in getting shows like Fargo and True Detective their cast, by proving that television was just as good a medium as the movies, for finding meaningful work.

In its earlier days, the series had focused on mangaging the president and doing damage control, through characters like the harried but nearly indomitable-and always very human-Press Secretary C.J. Cregg and loyal, battle scarred White House Chief of Staff, Leo McGary. They were joined by a memorable group of men and women. These included Donna Moss, who was always just this side of capable, because she was typically too damn nice, and her direct supervisor, Josh, the Deputy Chief of Staff, with whom she has an unrequited, and mostly unstated, entanglement. There is also Abby Bartlett, a doctor who is the First Lady and who loses her license after keeping the truth of her hubsand’s Multiple Sclerosis hidden from public knowledge. Toby Ziegler and Charlie Young are the Communications Director and Personal Aide to the President. Through these characters, and others, we come to see the issues facing the administration. Because we care about these people, the series works. That they did not always get along was a pleasant wrinkle that added a layer of reality to the program.

It was through these characters that we got to deal with such stories as the ghost of McCarthyism, through the figure of Toby’s father. We were witness to the racism that is a built in part of the fabric of American society, in the response of white nationalists to Charlie’s romance with Bartlett’s daughter, Zoe, which results in the President being shot when the attempt on Charlie’s life goes wrong. We see the hypocrisy of Josh Lyman, who finds it hard to work with Republicans when their private lives do not match up with his concept of what a conservative should be like. As an audience, we are privy to the discussions of foreign policy, economics and civil and human rights that daily make up a large portion of the work of the staff in the West Wing of the White House. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The 2017-2018 school year is just two weeks from commencement, and those of us in the profession are wondering where all the time has gone.  It only seemed like yesterday when we were cleaning out our offices and desks and preparing for a protracted summer season, but in the end the eternal lament about time disappearing is again ruling the roost.  In any event we must face reality and and face the coming autumn season, which for me anyway is the most exciting time of the year in a cultural sense.

The Greatest Television Top 80 Countdown Part 1 has been moving forward successfully, and by all barometer of measurement has been an artistic and statistical smash.  As always the writers and those joining in the comment sections derserve all the credit, but to those registering likes and propeling the page view totals, I extend our deepest gratitude.  We have now officially eclipsed the half-way point, what with today’s posting of Allan’s review of the British documentary masterpiece Civilisation, which has checked in at Number 38.  The project will continue until late September, when the Number 1 essay, courtesy of Robert Hornak will be published.  But the excitement and artistic prowess will hardly conclude, as our much more grandiose Part 2, which will showcase the television works that finished from Numbers 81 through 218 is coming.  That much longer part will begin on Tuesday, December 24  and conclude on Thursday May 10th. (no post on Christmas Day).  Needless to say this massive consideration of television, to the staggering tune of 217 works (arthouse, aspiring arthouse, cult and guilty pleasures, brining together classic sitcoms, fantasy/science fiction/horror, contemporary masterpieces, British landmarks and documentaries and foreign language milestones is easily the most auspicious undertaking in the history of Wonders in the Dark, and what with your ertswhile curator set to turn 63 years old this month (the 26th for those wishing to send me imaginary bouquets) it will be the final enterprise of this magnitude at these hallowed halls.  This Top 218 (the off-kilter number total was reached by way of incessant additions, arrived at by repeated return to the point totals) is meant to set this enterprise aside from others.  Where pray tell can anyone find another Top 218 Greatest Television Shows on-line or anywhere else?  Ha!  And enough revisions have been made to make anyone dizzy, though by simply moving up the proceedings a bit in January, this obssessive pursuit was made possible.  I can only imagine what my friend Pierre de Plume is thinking now?! (more…)

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by Allan Fish

the next in the series of small screen classics

(UK 1969 670m) DVD1/2

Man – the measure of all things

p  Michael Gill, Peter Montagnon  d  Michael Gill, Peter Montagnon, Ann Turner  w  Kenneth Clark

presented by  Kenneth Clark (with Ian Richardson, Patrick Stewart, Ronald Lacey, Eric Porter (voice))

There are so many reasons to venerate Kenneth Clark’s monumental – in every sense – small screen undertaking.  It was the first of the mammoth documentary series that came to redefine the BBC’s factual programming unit in the seventies.  It was the first major series undertaken in the colour age.  It was the start of a series of three such momentous works – Alistair Cooke’s America and Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man are the others – that still stand as magnificently as the rocks at Stonehenge in British – and thus world – television history.  It is on the foundations laid here, and on those laid by Cooke, Bronowski and later the natural history programmes of David Attenborough (who had a large part to play in persuading Kenneth Clark to do this epic series when a BBC2 administrator in the mid-late sixties) that all the wonders of the digital age documentaries from around the millennium, from The Blue Planet to Auschwitz to A History of Britain, stand fast.  It might be old school, but its targets, modus operandi and intentions are probably more relevant than ever.

Clark’s “personal view” in Civilisation begins at the end of the Dark Ages, a period where civilisation itself was all but extinguished by the fall of the Roman Empire.  In his own words, the title of his first episode, we survived by “the skin of our teeth“, and this phrase seems all the more prescient today.  In a modern world where life itself is hanging in there like a boxer waiting for the bell, staggering like Victor McLaglen’s drunken Gypo Nolan to a place of refuge, society itself is once more under threat.  He discusses in this episode how civilisation is remembered, by words, deeds and art.  All three last, but the most lasting is in art.  And he’s right, for who but scholars remember the campaigns and Renaissance inter-family plotting of the Sforzas, Borgias and Dei Medicis, while who can forget the work of Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo?  He covers all forms of art, be it in architecture, sculpture, painting, printing, writing, theology, philosophy, or even music; Beethoven and Mozart rubbing shoulders with Shakespeare, Rembrandt, St Francis of Assisi, Charlemagne, Gislbertus, Dante, Giotto, Botticelli, Erasmus, Luther, Descartes, Vermeer, Wren, Bernini, Handel, Voltaire, Wordsworth, Byron, Delacroix, Rodin, Tolstoy, Brunel, Turner and Constable.  Their works are part of the western consciousness, part of our very fibre.  As man is created equal by the intrinsic belief in God, so art is seen as created equal by Clark. (more…)

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by David Schleicher

“A Soapy Game”

Can we all just finally admit that the mass appeal of HBO’s on-going (and seemingly never-ending) Game of Thrones (itself an adaptation of massive tomes still unfinished by the merry fantasy maker George R. R. Martin – none of which, I have to tell you, have I ever, nor ever intend to read, for fear they would bore me to death in their dense-fantasy-laden length) is that it’s a cliff-hanging soap opera on steroids? As such, for all its faults and glories, it’s just a drug…it’s addicting…we need to see…who dies next, who is sleeping with who, how can they shock us now, who will win that damned Iron Throne?

Is there anything more basic…more of “television” as a serialized-story-delivering medium than that feverish compulsion to want to tune in next week to see what’s next? This stuff was made for TV! And the fact that it brings to the table cinematic production values of a feature film combined with the bawdy appeal of adult entertainment (with as many nubile unclothed bodies as there are dead ones)…well, heck, that’s just the bloody icing on the cake that we all gorge from!

Being naturally skeptical of anything medieval-fantasy-tinged, I was a reluctant watcher of the premier episode (what seems like decades ago now). But it was just stylish and intriguing enough to hold my interest…  and then, they got me! At the end of the first episode, the young boy, Brandon Stark, I was made to believe to be one of the main characters and they had so endeared to us (aww look at ‘im holding them little wolves, and look at ‘im climbing those walls to get a peek at…oh, what the hell?!), gets shoved out a window! WOW! This show had balls! Had I read the source material I would’ve known, as so many people instantly spoiled on lit-up internet message boards and social media which has grown in its power over the people in parallel to this show custom-made for social media hype, that kid would live to see another day (and apparently, the future and the past, as well as be able to worg into the minds of animals and dimwitted large people…you know, typical magical paraplegic stuff).

To this day, while I’ve both grumbled and been in awe of every manipulatively placed shock and plot twist over the years, I’m still hopelessly hooked. Even as the shocks get bigger and bolder each year (the Red Wedding! Cersei blowing up the Sept!) it’s that initial shock from that first season and that first devilishly deceptive little twist that still sticks with me most. We all loved watching Joffrey get poisoned, while his former bride-to-be Margery Tyrell biting the dust literally brought down the house (our poor dear sweet Margery!). We marvel at young Ayra’s capacity for revenge as much as we do the wheeling-and-dealing of Tyrion, Varys and Baelish. Meanwhile, Cersei’s ability to survive (and at the start of this season, at least, sit atop the throne), and Daenrys’s ability to cover ground on her march over land and sea (along with her dragons) to reclaim that very throne are as Shakespearian as they are monumentally mythically annoying. But nothing really tops that kid getting shoved out a window.

Between every season (that seems like an endless thousand-year winter) I naturally forget most of what happened only to be re-hyped by the time they finally deliver the new episodes for us to grumble over, debate, decry, praise, rejoice, spoil and be shocked by yet again.

It’s like that “dun dun, DUN-DUN DUN-DUN, DUN-DUN DUN-DUN, DUN-DUN DUN-DUN, dun-dun dun-dun-dun-dun,” theme from Ramin Djawadi is the trigger at the start of each episode to work us up into salivating addicts looking to get that fix.

But it all does seem to be building to something, like the action is taking place on a massive chessboard across Westeros leading to that inevitable (but still yet to be seen) check mate. And that hope that the epic Fire & Ice showdown and ultimate crowning of a winner in this Game will eventually happen is what sustains us through the pain of having to sit through so much dirt and blood, fantasy nonsense, over-ripe political maneuvering, questionable performances, Samwell Tarly (seriously, the worst character ever) and soap. Winter finally came at the end of last season…it had been coming forever. But eventually, this to, shall end (apparently after this seventh season and then the eighth). And if that end delivers the epic showdown we’ve all been waiting for (along with some requisite twists and shocks), Game of Thrones will have earned its rightful spot in the grand pantheon of greatest serialized epics.


(USA/UK HBO 2011-2018) DVD/Blu-Ray

p. David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, George R. R. Martin, Guymon Cassidy, Frank Doelger, Vince Gerardis, Christopher Newman, Greg Spence, Carolyn Strauss, Oliver Butler, Bernadette Caulfield, Lisa McAttackney, Annick Wolkan, Erika Milutin, Bryan Cogman, Alan Frier, Snorri Porrison, Ralph Vicinanza   d. Alan Taylor, David nutter, Alex graves, Mark Mylod, Jeremy Podeswa, Daniel Minihan, Alik Sakharov, Michelle Mclaren, Miquel Sapochnik, Brian Kirk, Tim Van Patten, Neil Marshall, David Petrarca, Michael Slovis, Jack Bender, Daniel Sackheim, Matt Shakman   w. David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, George R. R. Martin, Bryan Cogman, David Hill, Vanessa Taylor, Jane Epenson  developed for TV. David Benioff, D. B. Weiss  ed. Katie Weiland, Frances Parker, Crispin Green, Tim Porter   ph. Anette Haellmigk, Jonathan Freeman, Robert McLachlan   m. Ramin Djawadi   art. Philip Elton, Paul Ghirardani, Hauke Richter

Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Kit Harrington (Jon Snow), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen, Lena Heady (Cersei Lannister), Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Isaac Hempstead Wright (Brandon Stark), Aiden Gillen (Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish), Conleth Hill (Varys), Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei), Jerome Flynn (Bronn), Rory McCann (Sandor “The Hound” Clegane), Julian Glover (Grand Maester Pycelle), Carice Van Houten (Melisandre), Jacob Anderson (Greyworm), Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell), Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark), Hannah Murray (Gilly), Kristian Nairn (Hodor), Richard Madden (Robb Stark), Finn Jones (Loras Tyrell), Iwan Rheon (Ramsey Snow-Bolton), Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton), Natalia Teena (Osha), Ellie Kendrick (Meera Reed), Donald Sumpter (Maester Luwin), Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy), Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand), James Cosmo) Jeor Mormont), Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon), Thomas Brodie Sangster (Jojen Reed), Kerry Ingram (Shireen Baratheon)Paul Kaye (Thoros of Myre), Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon), Will Tudor (Olyvar), Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen), Kate Dickie (Lysa Arron), Pilou Asbaek (Euron Greyjoy), Bella Ramsay (Bella Mormont), Tom Wlaschiha (Jagen H’ghar), Dean-Charles Chapman (Tommen Baratheon), Joe Dempsie (Gendry), Kristofer Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane), Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne), Ben Crompton (Eddison Tollett), Richard Dormer (Berric Dondarrion)

With guests:

Sean Bean (Ned Stark), Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister), Diana Rigg (Ollenna Tyrell), Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Jonathan Pryce (The High Sparrow), Peter Vaughan (Maester Amon), Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo), David Bradley (Walder Frey), Ciaran Hinds (Mance Rayder), Jim Broadbent (Archmaester Ebrose), Mark Gattis (Tycho Nestoris), Ian McShane (Septon Ray) and Max Von Sydow (The Three-Eyed Raven)




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 (UK 1986 415m) DVD1/2

Ten cents a dance, fella

p  John Harris, Kenith Trodd  d  Jon Amiel  w  Dennis Potter  ph  Ken Westbury  ed  Bill Wright, Sue Wyatt  m  Stanley Myers  art  Jim Clay

Michael Gambon (Philip Marlow), Patrick Malahide (Mark Binney), Alison Steadman (Lili), Joanne Whalley (Nurse Mills), David Ryall (Mr Hall), Ron Cook (1st mysterious man), George Rossi (2nd mysterious man), Janet Suzman (Nicola), Leslie French (“Noddy” Tomkey), Bill Paterson (Dr Gibbon), Ken Stott (Uncle John), Jim Carter (Mr Marlow), Gerald Horan (Reginald Gibbs), Sharon Clarke (night nurse), Imelda Staunton (Nurse White), Badi Uzzaman (Ali), Janet Henfrey (schoolteacher), Lyndon Davies (Philip, aged 10), David Thewlis (soldier),

Following the transmission of the first episodes of Dennis Potter’s magnum opus on BBC1, their viewer response show Points of View was bombarded with complaints from the Mary Whitehouse brigade, including a mirthfully Pythonesque response from Colonel R.S.Vine, BSc, MRCS, LRCP, FRC Path, who called it “this extraordinarily obscene production.”  It still amazes me how truly shatteringly narrow-minded the average person is – and was – in the so-called modern age, and I’m sure it left Potter equally aghast.  It was as if sex was the only thing that The Singing Detective was about, when in actual fact it was but one layer of many.  Rather than showcase Potter as having a filthy mind, they were actually uncovering their own shortcomings.


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by John Greco

The Odd Couple was one of those shows that was never a huge hit during its original TV run. For five-seasons it ran on ABC and not once did it crack the Top 20 in the Neilson ratings. However, once the show was cancelled and put in syndication, it became a favorite, still running today on various cable stations and streaming services. The shows two stars made more money once the show went into syndication than they did during the original run.

The show was based on Neil Simon’s hit Broadway play [1] that opened in March of 1965 and ran for more than two years. Walter Matthau played Oscar Madison, the sloppy, gambling sports-writer for The New York Herald with Art Carney as the finicky television news writer, Felix Unger. [2]  The play won numerous Tony Awards including Best Play, Best Actor for Matthau, and Best Director (Mike Nichols). In 1968, the play was turned into a film with Matthau recreating his role as Oscar and Jack Lemmon brought in to play persnickety Felix.  The film opened at Radio City Music Hall, and like the play was a financial and audience hit.

In 1970, ABC with Garry Marshall behind the scenes brought the show to television. Jack Klugman who earlier replaced Walter Matthau on Broadway was brought in to play Oscar. A perfect Tony Randall was brought in to play Felix.  Randall, like Klugman, was familiar with the original material having played Felix, opposite Mickey Rooney as Oscar, in various productions. Rooney apparently was considered for the role of Oscar before the producers settled on Klugman. The Odd Couple was Marshall’s first of many development deals that would result in future hit shows like Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy. The transfer from Broadway to film to television did result in a few changes to the characters. One of the most notable is Felix who in the play and film is contemplating suicide. Randall’s TV Felix though depressed never goes that far.  (more…)

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By J.D. Lafrance

In a landscape dominated by the likes of Dynasty and Hill St. Blues, Moonlighting was a breath of fresh air when it debuted on American television in 1985. It was a detective show that provided a funny, witty alternative and ambitiously took the screwball comedy popular in the 1930s and 1940s and gave it a contemporary spin that has never been duplicated as successfully on mainstream T.V. since.


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by Brandie Ashe

“Sunny day,

Sweepin’ the clouds away,

On my way to where the air is sweet–

Can you tell me how to get,

How to get to Sesame Street?”

If you are of a certain age, that song will bring back a lot of memories … and will likely be stuck in your head on a loop for the rest of the day.

Since its debut in 1969, the inarguable standard-bearer for televised educational entertainment for children has been Sesame Street. Winner of 166 Emmy Awards over the course of its nearly fifty-year run, the show and its iconic characters have become ubiquitous around the world. The show’s deft combination of humor and educational curriculum has long made it a valuable means of introducing young children to basic concepts such as the alphabet, vocabulary, and counting, while also teaching real-life lessons about such ideas as the importance of sharing, compassion for others, and tolerance.

One thing that sets Sesame Street apart from some of its competitors in the kiddie TV market, and has allowed the show to maintain its consistent quality and reputation over the years, is that it manages to reach children on their level without talking down to them. There’s no condescension coloring the lessons taught by the show; instead, there’s a camaraderie that is carefully constructed between the characters onscreen and the children watching from home, one that welcomes and celebrates the joys of childhood while encouraging imaginative play and intellectual curiosity. Viewing Sesame Street from an adult perspective, it’s easy to see why parents the world over have trusted their children to the Street gang for so many years. The shows are educational without being overly didactic; moral lessons are taught sans preachy overtones; and though the bright overacting of the adult human characters, admittedly, can be grating, they are nonetheless adept at engaging and maintaining the attention of their young audience.


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 © 2017 by James Clark

      We coffee drinkers appreciate the world of taste. (I suppose smokers could be included as seekers of such deal-making, but in the sense of diminishing returns.) What is there about wide consumption of those stimulants which merits strong attention to the point, in fact, of producing a feature film, namely, Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), by that finder of diamonds in the rough, Jim Jarmusch?

One factor to be recognized, in fathoming the characteristically odd unfolding of the disclosure, is that in all (but one) eleven disparate vignettes the players are seated at a table in a coffee shop with, with one exception, at least one other aficionado. That leads us to a first premise that something about the interaction at those tables is largely (though not exclusively) responsible for the supplements of a cup (or more) of coffee and a cigarette (or more). Though most of the conversations consist of rather bewildering tatters of good will, there is one tete-a-tete which seems to have found its way to a field of reflection which might provide more than those copious dead-ends which most viewers of Jarmusch’s films readily assume to be all there is and consequently find themselves obliged, in respect to the whimsy and comedy, to maintain that grotesque errancy is as much as anyone will ever know and that that status quo is acutely gratifying. One other element of this scenario, which should be mulled over, is the cast’s being show-biz notables, many of whom having appeared in previous Jarmusch movies and consequently bringing those dramas into renewed considerations. (more…)

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by Robert Hornak

It’s a show not everyone can warm up to. Think Seinfeld, but on HBO, unfettered from both the slide-rule structure of that prime time network sitcom and any constraints of language and situation. It centers on a serial complainer, Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, playing a hyped-up version of himself, continually falling into social disgrace, improvising paragraphs of shrill self-defense against equally shrill antagonists. With that as a baseline for the entertainment provided, it’s a wonder anyone at all watches it. Yet it’s powerhoused through eight 10-episode seasons, and after a five-year hiatus is back this October with another batch of ten. It seems David has struck a nerve of relatable sympathy with a wide enough portion of the audience, and for them there’s no depth of silliness or broadness of circumstance that isn’t superseded by a kind of understanding for how the poor guy feels when beset upon by the legions of displeased friends and acquaintances he inadvertently offends. Larry can’t do anything correctly as long as he’s doing what he thinks is right, a man congenitally unable to be dishonest about how he thinks people should behave toward him and unable to comprehend why others don’t live according to common sense when it clearly overrides rank social custom. The measure of his discomfort and pique is the pitch of his gravely protestations as he confronts a bottomless wealth of social rules attempted but broken.

Curb Your Enthusiasm, so named by David to counter any unduly high expectations in the wake of Seinfeld‘s phenomenal run, was originally an hour-long HBO special in 1999, which seemed to come into the world fully formed from the bald-and-bespectacled head of Zeus, then given the green light for a season sprint on that channel. The format, hand-held camera catching improv-based scenes off a rough episode outline supplied by David, was the perfect foil to Seinfeld‘s rigid sheen. Where Seinfeld is a neat balance of sharp, succinctly-written wordplay decorating an expansive exploration of social/relationship pitfalls, ultimately appealing to the selfish in all of us, Curb is more unabashed in its utter fascination with the ways we force each other to act, even at the expense of decorum, and much more appealing to the righteous indignation of anyone who’s ever been overly chastised for honest mistakes or straightforward disregard for dumb rules.


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