Archive for June, 2018

by Adam Ferenz

This seminal sitcom, set in a fictional newsroom at a tv magazine show, FYI, tells the story of the recovering alcoholic Murphy Brown-the great Candice Bergen-and how she negotiates her way through a life she seems incapable of appreciating. The series may have gone on several seasons past its best by date, but when it was at its best, few comedies of the era could match it. That is an important distinction, because unlike other classic comedies of its era, such as Cheers, Wonder Years or, later in its run, the prime years of Seinfeld, Murphy Brown was a series rooted in the topics of the day. Being a political series, there was little way around it, since the show was centered on a news magazine.

Yes, the series lost much of its steam once the Bush/Quayle administration was no longer around to mock, but while it was, the series was about the sharpest, most insightful comedy on air, taking aim at left and right-but mostly right-leaning politics. The birth of Murphy’s child, Avery, named after Murphy’s mother, who had been played by the magnificent Colleen Dewhurst until her passing, created a firestorm in the media about “family values” and brought the series increased visibility.

For the series early run, the first four or five years, in which creator Diane English was in charge of the proceedings, this was one of the smarter, more astute sitcoms on the air. While it never approached the level of pop culture sophistication of a WRKP in Cincinnati, or the workplace realism of a Barney Miller, the series nevertheless carved out its own niche. Never as elegant as Cheers or Frasier, as outright funny as Seinfeld, as comforting as Golden Girls or as convention defying as the late, great Frank’s Place, instead Murphy Brown was like its central character.

This was a show that had problems, but persevered, through good times and bad, and always tried its best. When Murphy was down, or when she was feeling up but nostalgic, she would often sing along to the Motown tunes of her bygone days. She would listen to the advice of her friend and employ, the painter, Eldon, who came to apply “one coat to the living room” but returned every week to dole out advice, fix up her plumbing, a loose railing, or to convince her to allow him to create his own “Sistine Chapel” in some corner of her home. This was a woman who had been to Betty Ford, who had loved and lost. When she had her child, she did not ask the father to be there with her, and he was not particularly eager, all too easily stepping to the side. The series, in the end, was about endurance and love.

The series will return to CBS this fall, along with much of the cast and some of the crew.


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by Adam Ferenz

There have been many biographical films about US Presidents. There have been several-including more than a few-good ones, made for television. The Adams Chronicles, about the family of John and Quincy Adams, is among the great classic miniseries of the 1970s. Franklin and Eleanor and Franklin and Eleanor: The White House Years, about Franklin D. Roosevelt, are both quite good, as well, along with Truman, which is notable for its fine turn by Gary Sinise as the titular chief executive. Yet all of these pale in comparison to this HBO production, based on David McCullough’s biography of the 2nd president of the United States. Surveying John Adam’s life from the time of the Boston Massacre in 1770 to his death in 1826, this sweeping series is not without its flaws, but it is always engrossing and treats its audience with a modicum of intellectual respect that is uncommon to such programs.

The series occasionally struggles to keep the finer details right, but manages to convey the emotional truth of each episode of history that it covers, and none more so than a discussion between Adams and Thomas Jefferson, in Paris, after the Revolution, in which the divisions in their social and political thinking are clearly rendered, sewing the seeds for their eventual split. Moments like these are what make the series most worth seeing, aside from the fine performances of the cast. Special notice must be given to Sarah Polley, who as Adams daughter, Abigail-known as Nabby, but named after her mother-turns in a performance both fierce and tender, as she faces the premature end of her life in the closing act of the serial. The acting from Giamatti as John and Laura Linney as his wife, Abigail, is revelatory. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

I first came across and became subsequently hooked on Perry Mason as an impressionable teenager in the late 60’s.  The syndicated show aired on the New York City-based WPIX-TV once a day including weekends, barely a year after a celebrated nine-year run on CBS when 271 one-hour episodes made their debut.  With a package that extensive the likelihood of watching the same show multiple times over a short period was low, though at the rate of once a day even a lower grade students could figure out the entire run could fit comfortable into one calendar year with a few months left over.  However, all of the episodes did not run until the mid-80s when TBS finally obtained the rights after the long period when 195 (through the first six seasons) comprised the available cache.  A typical episode begins by setting up the conflict in the life of Perry’s future client.  More often than not it was blackmail, marital disintegration, embezzlement, stalking or a threat of bodily harm, but the mise en scene was even more varied.  Mason was played by Raymond Burr, a gravely-voiced, burly and impassive actor whose demeanor was unrelentingly stern.  He was predisposed to exhale through his nostrils, and he was always seemingly way behind the eight ball until suddenly everything came together in marked Hercule Poirot fashion.  Mason solved an unending line-up of baffling mysteries on each show with the help from the private investigator Paul Drake (played by William Hopper) and his faithful secretary, Della Street (Barbara Hale) to ultimately register victory after victory over hapless prosecutor Hamilton Burger (William Tallman).  To pull off his last-minute courtroom triumphs Mason often broke down witnesses on the stand or produced surprise witnesses that left the prosecution’s case in shambles.

What I never quite understood or questioned back in those days when acceptance was rarely challenged was that Mason not only exonerated his clients without an apparent exception but more often than not he tricked the actual murderer to confessing during cross-examination on the witness stand!  I never asked myself how or why every killer was present in the courtroom for virtually every case or how every supposedly air tight alibi was exploited and negated by a a super-human lawyer whose success ratio was as stellar as that of the Dynamic Duo, the Man of Steel, that inveterate pipe-smoker from Downey Street and the previously-alluded-to Belgian with the manicured mustache and the little grey cells.  Anyway, near the start nearly all clients would consult with Mason before anything vital had gone down, but then would quickly require the lawyer’s criminal defense expertise when someone ended up dead about twenty minutes in.  In most episodes crusty Police Lieutenant Arthur Tragg (Ray Collins of Citizen Kane notoriety) would arrest the client with some damning evidence and a laughable bravado that that in the end never stands up.  Inevitably Mason with the resourceful Drake and efficient Della piece together mitigating counter-evidence to trap and expose in grand fashion the real culprit.  One of the consistent pleasures of the show for viewers occasionally flummoxed by the unchanging formula is to observe the unsuspecting criminal stutter and stumble on the witness stand, the place where truth is always uncovered. (more…)

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This past week’s Monday Morning Diary went MIA as it does on occasion, though all things considered, rarely.  For the installment planned for this coming Monday I will combine the theatrical film viewings achieved over two weeks.  Thanks to all who have followed and placed comments and likes during the Greatest Television Countdown Part 2.  Today’s capsule review on The Perry Mason Show from Yours Truly will be published mid-afternoon.     -Sam

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An appreciation by Brian E. Wilson

When we first meet Lorelai Gilmore (played by the divine Lauren Graham), the effervescent fast-talking heroine of this wondrous dramedy that ran 154 episodes over 7 seasons, she enters Luke’s Diner and orders, no, begs the grumpy, perpetually stubbled Luke (an enjoyable gruff Scott Patterson) for, of course, coffee. He sees that this java junkie has already downed several cups, and wants to deny her, like a good bartender cutting off one who has had too many drinks. But she needs an even stronger caffeine fix. His coffee rocks. He grumbles as she charms him into surrender. Fueled by The La’s unforgettable power pop song “There She Goes,” this opening sequence beautifully sets the tone for what would be one of the most captivating and unique network series ever to air.

Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who (for the first 6 seasons; David S. Rosenthal was show runner during the 7th season) would work with her husband Daniel on the series along with many extremely talented writers, directors, and a remarkably gifted technical crew, this zippy show gives the viewer that feeling of a coffee high. The characters speak as if in a 1930s screwball comedy, whipping from one witty quip to the next. I myself quit coffee cold turkey in 2010, but almost felt the need to grab a mug of the strongest coffee I could find to write this blog post about what makes this show special. Instead I revisited a few episodes (the “Pilot,” season 2’s “I Can’t Get Started,” and season 3’s beyond great “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?”) to get that Gilmore feeling again. Better than coffee! I arrived late to the party, didn’t start watching the show until the mid-00s on DVD, and finished just a few years ago. So unlike a lot of older shows I wrote about for this epic countdown of TV’s best, this creation is still relatively fresh in my pop culture stuffed brain.

I mentioned screwball comedies in the last paragraph, but I can easily compare Gilmore Girls to other TV shows of the ’90s, ’00s, and 2010s that move with amazing celerity. Lorelai Gilmore, her brilliant bookish daughter Rory (played with wide-eyed charm by Alexis Bledel), and all of the others dwelling in and around the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut could easily keep up with the fast talkers populating Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, Veep, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The West Wing, Community, The Good Place, and others. This is TV that requires the viewer to keep up. Tune out for one second and you miss a key line of dialogue. Instead of exhausting, the show exhilarates.

Gilmore Girls is known for its pop culture references, and wow, they are ever eclectic. The Pilot has verbal references to Jack Kerouac, Officer Krupke, RuPaul, Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” video, Ruth Gordon’s character in Rosemary’s Baby, Moby-Dick, FloJo, Mommie Dearest, “The Little Match Girl,” Madame Bovary, Eminem, and others. Another episode (“They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?”) mentions Riverdance, Tiny Tim from Dickens, the Who’s Quadrophenia, Jennifer Lynch’s obscure cult film Boxing Helena (its star Sherilyn Fenn would later appear as a guest star), Bobby Brady, the Rocky theme, Tommy Tune, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

So many negative things have been said about the AMC flagship show, THE WALKING DEAD.

“It’s been on too long” (now moving into its 9th season).  “The show treads the same water again and again”. Finally, and most infamously, “what is all this about?”

As a fan of the show, who has stuck by each episode and season with unabashed loyalty, I can honestly say I can see and understand the gripes. I feel the complainers pains. However, in order to truthfully navigate the filmic adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s smash-hit comic book series, one has to look with better eyes.

On the surface, and this is the reason for its initial success for the first 6 seasons, THE WALKING DEAD is a tight, taught intense horror show about the end of the world as we know it by a plaque that turns the recently deceased into flesh eating zombies. Loaded with thrills and chills, and NOT too little gore and guts, the series presents itself as a thrill-ride chiller with characters we can relate to and care for. The story of Georgia cop Rick Grimes (the fantastic Andrew Lincoln), who awakes from a gun-shot induced coma to find the world dead in its tracks (shades of Danny Boyle’s marvelously creepy 28 DAYS LATER), and the people he bonds with on his quest to find his family and a safe home amid the deadly chaos, is the stuff of horror movie legend.

Characters that we love die, and are replaced by characters we will love as well. When one prospect for a home goes sour, Rick and his tribe move on to another.

I admit. Describing it this way, one would think the naysayers are right and the show can only suffer from repetition.

Ahhhhh. That’s where so many go wrong…

The beauty of Kirkman’s basic plot, and what is misconstrued as mind-numbing, repeated narrative structure, is that by keeping the basic outline simple the series writers are able to weave in intricate observations about democracy and how the conservative rule hits hysterical proportions in a time of crisis. It shows us how easily forms of racism flare in emergency mode and, most of all, how we take for granted the little things that will become luxury in a world turned into a graveyard.

On an artistic level, the repetition allows the technical crew and directors to play with the visual and sonic aspects of the series presentation so no single season looks or sounds like the other. THE WALKING DEAD is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the most visually daring and creative works of filmic art on the tube.


(2010-present AMC/Netflix Streaming, DVD/Blu-Ray)

p. Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert, Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple developed. Frank Darabont based on the comic by. Robert Kirkman w. Robert Kirkman, Frank Darabont, Scott Gimple, Angela Kang d. Frank Darabont, Ernest Dickerson, Phil Abraham, Guy Ferland, Michelle McClaren, Clark Johnson m. Bear McCreary photo. Ron Schmidt, David Boyd, David Tattersall e. Julius Ramsay, Hunter Via, Dan Liu

Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes), Chandler Riggs (Carl), Lennie James (Morgan), Steven Yuen (Glen), Norman Reedus (Daryl), Lauren Cohan (Maggie), Danai Gurira (Michonne), Melissa McBride (Carol), Sarah Callie (Lori), David Morrissey (The Governor), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Neeghan), Jon Bernthal (Shane), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), Micheal Rooker (Merle), Scott Wilson (Hershel)


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by Lucille Juliano

It is hard to believe that 40 years have gone by since Taxi began its run on ABC with its final season on NBC. The show was produced by the John Charles Walters Company, in association with Paramount Network Television, and was created by James L. Brooks,  Stan Daniels, David Davis, and Ed Weinberger.  The series won 18 Emmy Awards including three for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Taxi is a sitcom that reveals the world of a crew of NYC taxi drivers who work for the Sunshine Cab Company.  Many of the cab drivers consider their job with the cab company as interim until they are able to realize their true dreams. Elaine Nardo (MaryLu Henner) is a single mom working at an art gallery. Her dream is to have one of her own someday.  Tony Banta (Tony Danza) is a boxer with the dream of becoming a champ. Bobby Wheeler (Jeff Conaway) is an actor waiting for that big break.  “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd) is an aging hippie minister, a 1960s drug abuse survivor, who seems to be in his own world. Alex Reiger (Judd Hirsch) is the “leader” of the group.  Everyone goes to him for advice. He is the only member of the crew that considers himself to be just a cab driver. The cast is rounded out with Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman) a naive and simple-minded mechanic from some unknown country and Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito) the tyrannical, short-tempered dispatcher. (more…)

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