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by Dennis Polifroni

Let me just get this first statement out of the way and we can move on from here…

ALL IN THE FAMILY is, without question, the single most important TV series to come out of the United States, post 1966.

This one is not up for debate.  It’s not something we can mull over coffee, argue over drinks and cigarettes, or apologise for after really good sex.  The whole crux of Conservative American television programming was smashed, reshaped, re-invented and over-hauled when Norman Lear bravely presented his “little” situation comedy/drama that introduced us to the residents of 704 Hauser Street in Astoria, Queens (the exterior footage used on the show was actually taken in an area close to Jackson Heights, my current place of residence).  The people that occupied that address were people like you and me and they lived, laughed, hurt, bled and died the way we all do and, eventually, will.

Meeting the people that live at that address is like a mirror reflecting images of ourselves back at us.  They are us.  We ARE them.

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CHAPTER 1: NORMAN

“When I was a boy, I thought if I could turn a screw in my father’s head just 1/16th of an inch, one way or another, it might help him tell the difference between right and wrong.”

-Norman Lear, from his memoir: EVEN THIS I GET TO EXPERIENCE

In order to truly understand the impetus of ALL IN THE FAMILY you need to know quite a bit about the life of its creator and head writer, the most important and influential producer in television history: Norman Lear. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

It was never truly about gangsters.  

There, I’ve said it.

THE SOPRANOS really isn’t, and never was, about the Italian Mafia inasmuch as the Mafia is simply a springboard device used to help coax the viewer into getting involved in the TRUE issues of life that plague every American household today.

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THE GREATEST CONCEPT IN AMERICAN TV HISTORY???

A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office.  He sits down and starts complaining about his kids grades at school, that his wife suspects him of infidelity and how his mother, a woman without any love in her heart, has poorly treated him and his siblings for decades.

I can see a crowd of TV producers snoring at those lines of description.  Wouldn’t you?  There are DOZENS of shows on TV that deal with EXACTLY the same issues and plot points.  Why, on earth, would any TV executive worth his weight in salt want to back a show about these same topics?

Now…  Let’s try again…

A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office.  He sits down and starts complaining about his kids grades at school, that his wife suspects him of infidelity and how his mother, a woman without any love in her heart, has poorly treated him and his siblings for decades.  But, THIS man greased his kid’s teachers with a few thousand dollars to put his son on the honor role, his wife was given a stolen Mercedes as a diversion to keep her off the trail of his illicit fucking and he’s plotting to smother his mother with a pillow as payback for all the years of crass and cruel behavior.

Oh, and the man, without actually admitting it, has been recognized by the psychiatrist as the head of New Jersey’s Organized Crime faction.

Whoa!!!!!  You got MY ATTENTION!

THE SOPRANOS head-writer and creator, David Chase, was never really interested in the nitty-gritty of a mobster’s dirty deeds. He couldn’t care less about who got throttled or shot, stabbed or thrown into a wood-chipper.  What he WAS interested in was how the actions of a despicable killer informed and influenced his behavior at home and the lives and behavior of his immediate family.  THE SOPRANOS is about many things but, what it’s most about are the things we all deal with in our own lives and how the eccentric nature of a larger-than-life personality infects the family unit.  Chase used his love for a classic American cinematic genre, gangster movies, combined with his own personal knowledge of “guys like that”, that were part of his Italian/American up-bringing, and plopped the “Don” of New Jersey into the living room of Norman Rockwell’s U. S. A. and waited to see what would happen.

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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 Dennis Polifroni

It all comes down to preference.

When a tried and true property takes on an over-haul, it’s natural for purists to bitch and buck at anything that doesn’t follow the rules by the book.  Sherlock Holmes purists are no different from those that have seen new incarnations of old favorites.  Sometimes the overhaul works (as with Barry Sonnenfeld’s ADDAM’S FAMILY movies) and some just never seem to catch on (as with the current guises this new slew of films has decided to paint onto Batman and Superman).  Yet, even with the naysayers ranting, there also comes a slew of viewers that jump at the offerings of something new, something different.

Whatever the case may be, there will be naysayers against Mark Gattis and Steven Moffat’s updated take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved sleuth, and the world he created around him.   Gone are the horses and carriages that toted the super detective and his assistant, the ever watchful Dr. Watson (a wonderfully toned down turn by comedian, Martin Freeman), from crime-scene to crime-scene.  Gone is the double billed hat that illustrations of Holmes, and every filmic incarnation of the character since, has seen him sport.  The time and place is no longer Victorian-age England.  The time and place is England, NOW! (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

“When you enter the darkness…  The darkness enters you…”

I think what separates TRUE DETECTIVE from all the other crime shows and movies of the past two and three decades can all be boiled down to one word: PERCEPTIONS.

Perceptions are what we take into a thing when we feel that thing will follow a tried and true blueprint of design.  We think the characters and plot points will resemble those shows and films of the past.

Let’s be honest, though.

When TRUE DETECTIVE premiered, didn’t most of us think that HBO, normally a haven for artistic creativity and freedom on the tube, was readying to give us another clone of NYPD BLUE and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT?  We pretty much feared that the show was only using superstar names, like Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughy, as a ruse to make us tune in and provide enough, in the way of ratings, to fuel a simple clone of TV past as a lure for even more subscribers to the pay-TV outlet.

What we got, as we know now, was something wholly different and, most of the time, utterly brilliant in both design and in its ability to slap preconceived perceptions in the face.

The backdrop of the series is the hot and sticky backwoods regions of Louisiana.  Our perceptions of the area, as illustrated in contemporary crime noir films like Alan Parker’s ANGEL HEART, are that of seedy hotels and taverns where conservatism meets superstition and those not from the area are warned to make sure they keep enough gas in there tank as a breakdown on the road would surely result your disappearance at the hands of VooDoo practitioners and weirdos like the ones found in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.  To an extent, TRUE DETECTIVE does have all of these pinnings but, it’s the preconceived PERCEPTION we have to immediately add stigmas that often go with these things, and then not find them, that differentiates TRUE DETECTIVE from every other crime show and movie of the recent past, and inspires every crime show and movie that followed. (more…)

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