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Archive for July, 2018

An appreciation by Brian E. Wilson
arrested1
“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.”–Ron Howard’s opening narration on the first 3 seasons of Arrested Development.
Okay, first things first. I must apologize for something: I haven’t seen seasons 4 and 5 yet, but I have seen the first 3 seasons two times. Sammy asked this past weekend (on July 7) if I could step in and write this blog entry…by July 13. Whoa! (Sammy: in all seriousness, thanks again for inviting me along on this wild epic ride.) So fans of these two seasons, please feel free to share your thoughts on them in the comments section. I tried watching season 4 in 2013 and couldn’t quite get into its rhythm, but some friends assured me that it’s decent, that I should give it a spin. Someday.
Also, I know I’m going to leave a lot of funny stuff out. The first 3 seasons of Arrested Development, which aired on Fox and ran a total of 53 episodes, pop and burst with jokes and gags galore. Each episode zips along with manic energy, with many recurring bits. Arrested Development rewards those who pay close attention to its oddball scenarios. The show can tire you out, but when you are on its absurd screwball wavelength, you start feeling a giddy high while watching. If you have seen the show, you know a 1,200 word blog post will hardly scratch the surface.
Created by Mitchell Hurwitz, and with a gifted team of writers and directors on board, Arrested Development follows the mockumentary style format of movies like Real Life, This Is Spinal Tap, and Christopher Guest’s many zany comedies, as well as the British TV version of The Office that started in 2001 (the US version of The Office and Parks and Recreation, among others, would also be filmed in this style). Using a handheld camera that whips around from character to character, as well as an earnest-sounding but sometimes snide and contradictory Ron Howard as narrator, the show has a wacky urgency and immediacy as it chronicles the misadventures of a troubled family named Bluth.

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by Adam Ferenz

This series, about the fictional, eternally underfunded, St. Eligius hospital in Boston, is a landmark for many reasons. Not only did it launch a plethora of acting careers, including those of Howie Mandel, Denzel Washington and Mark Harmon, it also did the same for many top writers and directors of the 80s and 90s. These included creators Jonathon Brand and Joshua Falsey, who would go on to create Northern Exposure, and Tom Fontana, who would go on to run Homicide and create Oz. Bruce Paltrow and Mark Tinker were directors. And the series itself was a goofy mix of humor and drama, bound together at the very end by the revelation it had all been the daydreams of a young autistic child.

It was the first prime-time US drama to have a regular character who was HIV positive, in the form of Mark Harmon’s womanizing doctor. It was perhaps the most critically acclaimed drama of the 1980s to never win an Emmy for series, though the cast, writers and directors were all honored, with the series racking up thirteen wins across six seasons. It was a series where actors such as William Daniels and Ed Flanders found new energy, where Stephen Furst proved he was more than “Flounder, from Animal House” and a series which featured early guest roles for actors like Ray Liotta, Tim Robbins, Eric Stoltz and Helen Hunt, among many others.

Yet, the show was about something, and part of what it was about was intrinsically linked with how it was about. This was a series with style to spare. While the first season was possessed of an often unblinking realism, there were, around the corners, hints that something was off. Nothing mystical, but that this was an unusual hospital, and its patients and doctors reflected that. In part, this was due to the long hours they worked. It was series where, like the later ER, which it clearly influenced, mixed realistic medical cases with extreme emotional crisis for the staff, including drug addiction, alongside a dash of the absurd, such as a patient dying when her hospital bed snapped shut on her, squishing her like an accordion. While not as quirky as Brand and Falsey’s later Northern Exposure, the series seemed to operate on the border of reality, as though staring out a window into a void, which the audience interpreted in many ways, and which this viewer took as the series statement on the crushing nature of medical work, both physically and mentally, on patients and staff. (more…)

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by Lucille Juliano

Queer as Folk is an American and Canadian television series produced by Showtime and Temple Street Productions.  It was based on the British series of the same name created by Russell T Davies. It is interesting to note that a disclaimer, “Queer as Folk is a celebration of the lives and passions of a group of gay friends. It is not meant to reflect all of gay society” appeared after each episode on Showtime in the US, but on Showcase in Canada the disclaimer — “This program contains nudity, sexuality and coarse language — viewer discretion is advised” appeared before each episode and after each commercial.

All that being said, let’s talk about one of the truly great shows of the last couple of decades.

At times naughty and bold, at other times poignant, Queer as Folk was a cutting-edge series that was honest and unequivocal in its portrayal of the LGBTQ community living on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the start of the new millenium.  The show centered on their paramours, aspirations, careers and friendships while devoting time to the most significant health and political issues affecting the community. Episodes explored the following topics: coming out, same-sex marriage, recreational drug use and abuse, gay adoption, artificial insemination; vigilantism; gay-bashing; safe sex, HIV-positive status, underage prostitution, actively gay Catholic priests, discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, the internet pornography industry and bug chasers (people who actively seek to become HIV-positive).

The series had a dynamic cast.  Since most of the actors did not want to take anything away from their characters, they kept their real-life sexual orientations questionable to the press. This provoked much deliberation amongst the viewing audience which, by the way, turned out to be mostly heterosexual women despite the fact that the network’s initial marketing for the show was primarily targeted for gay male and lesbian audiences.  In the years following the show’s finale, it was revealed that the cast was a mix of various orientations which in the end does not make a difference at all. (more…)

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by Aaron White

Ingmar Bergman’s first foray into television, Scenes from a Marriage, starts with an interview with his principles, Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann), it’s an awkward ordeal for the couple who are being interviewed about their 10 years of marriage, Johan is a professor of science, Marianne is a family lawyer (who focuses on divorce). Marianne is passionate and compassionate, Johan is slow to anger but hides from his many fears behind is intellect, family and even the music of J. S. Bach. He believes that in order to maintain contentment that one must work hard to act nonchalant, and must create a believable illusion of safety around himself and his loved ones.

During a brief discussion between Marianne and the interviewer, we learn they’re old school friends and that while Johan believes in creating an illusion of safety for those in his sphere of influence that Marianne believes that they are truly happy, they may not have the perfect life that the interviewer implies that they have, and are indeed, entitled to, but they have true happiness and that is all Marianne truly desires from life. Near the end of their one-on-one the interviewer asks Marianne for a definition of love. She shirks the question, but when pushed she decides to answer, Nykvist pulls in for one of Bergman’s classic close ups and Marianne says, “no one ever told me what love was. And I’m not sure you need to know. But if you want a detailed description, you can look in the Bible. There Paul describes love.” The camera stays tight on Ullmann as she then mourns that if Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is correct that very few of us have ever experienced true love. As the camera holds and Marianne continues we realize that this isn’t merely an artistic soap opera made by one of the greatest of all filmmakers, this is a treatise on love. And in the close up we don’t just see Liv Ullmann’s beautifully intriguing face, we see society as a whole. In all of its beauty and flaws. (more…)

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

“It’s the Sooooooooooooooooooul Traaaaaaaaaaaaain.”

People all over the world may not have been getting down, as the theme song for “Soul Train” during the years I watched (“TSOP” by MFSB) told them to, but I know that a lot of kids across the country were. From the first moment that falsetto, whistlelike announcement sounded and an animated train started its boogie into our living rooms, we were ready to party.

Through more than 1,100 programs, updated theme songs, and new hosts, the celebration of “peace, love, soul” that was “Soul Train” has endured as no other televised dance club has—the vanguard showcase of new music from and for the African-American community. But it wasn’t just for them. Don Cornelius, the brains behind “Soul Train” and its longtime host, knew white kids like me were tuning in, fed up with the sanitized music and format of “American Bandstand,” the show we were supposed to watch.

I can’t speak for the African-American viewers about what “Soul Train” meant to them, but to me it meant freedom. I saw young men and women of color, otherwise nonexistent in my suburban habitat, dance in ways I found exciting and inventive in vibrantly colored clothes cut high, low, wide, and skinny with a confidence and cool I could only dream of possessing. The music was earthy, rhythmic, infectious, and, of course, the very essence of soul. And the show inspired pride as two kids worked the Scramble Board to assemble the names of famous African-American people—Roberta Flack, Adam Clayton Powell, The Jackson Five and many more—from a random jumble of letters and then melt into the dancing around them when they had solved the puzzle. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano
I want to thank everyone who participated/is participating in our now winding down Greatest Television Series Part 2 at WONDERS IN THE DARK.  While it was on balance the least successful of all our genre polls, we can surely chalk that up to the fact that by even staging it after the far greater success of Part 1, we were conceding a decline in interest.  Overall the comment and page view today are down, but we did still have some impressive spurts in both modes of measurement.  As to the quality of writing we maintained our highest standards even with a preference to the capsule with this particular project.  Still, some in the fraternity wrote longer pieces and one writer, the indomitable Adam Ferenz astoundingly penned one-quarter of the entire countdown himself.
 
I continue to receive private messages inquiring what might be next up.  Some on the other hand may be thinking that enough is enough after consecutive genre countdowns on the musical, the comedy, the western, the romance, the childhood, the science-fiction, the animation, the film-noir and the horror.  All but three of those were done by the full community membership.  (Only the horror-by Jamie Uhler and three others; the film noir by Maurizio Roca and the animation by Stephen Russell-Gebbet were not done by the full membership).  At 63 years old, I too am questioning the logistics of pushing forward and the daunting commitment of each project.  I do not feel I have performed well for this part 2, perhaps because of its coming on the heels of two consecutive grueling endeavors – Part 1 of the Television countdown and the Caldecott series, where I had to write all 40 or so reviews myself.

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by Jillian Juliano

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.  Execute. These six numbers, along with their corresponding characters:  John Locke, Hugo Reyes, James Ford, Sayid Jarrah, Jack Shepard, and Jin Kwon, known as the Oceanic Six, make up the central lore and mystery of the island.  There is also the smoke monster, random polar bears, and phony village people walking the sacred island.

The series starts off  Oceanic Flight 815, a flight that took off from Sydney, Australia, headed for the US.  When the plane crashes, it splits off in two. The front end of the plane landed on the beach, where the main group of survivors stayed for a good part of the show.  The tail end crashed on the other side of the island, creating two groups of survivors that have no idea the other group exists.

Back on the beach, the main characters are introduced: Jack Shepard (Matthew Fox), the righteous doctor that was bringing home his father’s dead body; Kate Austen (Evangeline Lily), the lawbreaking runaway being brought back to the states by a US marshal; John Locke (Terry O’Quinn), the crippled dreamer trying to defy the fact that he cannot walk any longer and moral compass; James “Sawyer” Ford (Josh Holloway), the wounded con-artist driven by the murder of his mother and the vengeance of his father; Hugo “Hurley” Reyes (Jorge Garcia), the comedic sweetheart who is trying to figure out his stroke of intense bad luck that came with his lottery winnings; Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews), the former Iraqi Republican Guard attempting to atone for his past; Michael Dawson (Harold Perrineau), the artist who is trying to be the father for his son, Walt (Malcolm David Kelly), in which he never was able to be before; Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan), the famous rock musician dealing with his addiction to heroine; Claire Littleton (Emilie de Ravin), the pregnant damsel on the fence about giving her child up for adoption; Sun (Yunjin Kim) and Jin Kwon (Daniel Dae Kim), the dysfunctional married couple with immense love for each other but lost in how to rekindle that due to a controlling father-in-law; Boone Carlyle (Ian Somerhalder), the naive step brother to Shannon Rutherford (Maggie Grace), the spoiled dancer trying to make it in the industry. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

The funniest and saddest political scheme gone wrong in tv history. When Michael Murray becomes leader of his local city Council, he attempts a “Day Of Action”, a shutdown of all vital city services, including schools, as part of a plan to show force, by his hidden masters in the militant wing of his party. After one of his underlings goofs, allowing a single school to remain open by forgetting to send picketers, the local media makes an unwilling hero out of the schoolmaster, who immediately becomes the object of much rage by Murray, and an attack on his very sanity. Murray, however, is not without his own enemies, having a mysterious and potentially violent past in grammar school. As the series unfolds, truths will be known and lives forever altered. You will also laugh and cry in equal measure. You will also see the ways in which people who serve the public-or themselves-are often led astray by forces beyond their reckoning.

Michal Palin and Robert Lindsay are sensational, and utterly convincing, as the Schoolmaster and Politician. Neither actor had played anything quite like these characters. Of course, the series has intrigues, double dealings, gas lighting’s and more, but never descends to the level of soap or melodrama, but it is the characters, particularly the co-leads, that one will remember. Jim Nelson standing up to the bullying of Michael Murray, and Michael Murray looking for a condom when a Doctor Who convention breaks out, are classic scenes. One might appear to be well suited while the other likely has you scratching your head. It works, and if you want to see why, watch the series and find out for yourself.

This is one of those series that is among the best ever made for the medium-I personally rank it as the 10th greatest program ever aired on television, and the greatest achievement in British television history-yet few talk about it outside of those really in the know, or those who were around to watch it when it was first aired. A series that seemed to both take aim at residual Thatcherism and caution against arrogance in having unseated Thatcher, this is a program that requires viewers to think, to feel and to remember. Both Left and Right, which have different meanings than in the United States, come across looking foolish and petty. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

“This is a true story.

The events depicted took place in Minnesota.

At the request of the survivors,

the names have been changed.

Out of respect for the dead,

the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”


Read it carefully.  It’s a trick.

This is not a TRUE story.  It’s not about real people or incidents.  It’s not about crime cases that are rotting away in browning, paper folders in a police department filing cabinet labeled: UNSOLVED.

The opening statement, that precedes every episode of FARGO, and the film that inspired it, is a brain twister. It’s a nifty play on words. What you see and hear after that bullshit statement IS a story. It a PURE story, no meaning behind it. It’s a PURE yarn. Hence, a TRUE story.

And, a great story at that.


Ok, I’ll confess.

FARGO isn’t as timely or as important as THE HANDMAIDS TAIL, there’s no message or parallel with the horrors going on in today’s world.  FARGO isn’t an entertaining history lesson, based on fact, and elegantly presented, like THE CROWN. FARGO doesn’t hone in on important domestic and philosophical topics buried in the entertainment like THE SOPRANOS or SIX FEET UNDER. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

Glen Larson once created a series about a race of machine men called Cylons and their destruction of the Twelve Colonies. Years later, Ron Moore and David Eick reimagined that premise, keeping the Cylons and the destruction of the colonies, keeping the names-some of them, at least, with others being kept only in the form of call signs-and general roles of the characters, but altering them significantly, while adding and deleting where necessary. The result is perhaps the finest work of science fiction the small screen has ever seen.

The original series was cheesy. There are those who will take offense at this, and become indignant, asking why lighthearted fun like that found in the original has to be derided at the expense of praise for the dark seriousness of the reimagined series. That is not why audiences largely reject the original. It is because it is far too much a relic of its time. What Moore and company did, was to keep what little was original or eternal, and modernize it. Out went the cute kids, insipid guest stars and the constant clanking of clumsy looking robots walking on steel stems. In its place were human emotions, commentary on the socio-political landscape of the world during the first decade of the 21st century, and instead of metallic robots-though we occasionally did see them, and they were menacing, rather than awkward-we had the “skin job” Cylons, who were still machines, but they looked human. How and why this came about was a major thread throughout the series. Oh, and the Cylons, unlike the pantheists of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, were monotheists. Yes, The Cylons believed in a One True God.

Yet it was not only religion that this series tackled, but attendant social structures, spirituality, reason v. belief, majority rule v. dictatorship, military v. non-military concerns, and parallels to the 9/11 attacks, the holocaust and the suicide bombers of the War Against Terror. It is also about fathers and sons, friends, about lovers-without ever being a romance-and about the ways people both draw together and pull apart in the midst of catastrophe. It is everything the original series was neither allowed to do, nor interested in doing. And it did this with a cast and production team that was at the top of their game. (more…)

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