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Archive for the ‘Top 80 Greatest Television Shows’ Category

by Sam Juliano

One of my fondest childhood memories dates back to the summer of 1967.  At that time television was all the rage for the baby boomer crowd especially programs that spoke directly to adolescent tastes and sensibilities.  Invariably this meant re-runs of the Man of Steel, the Swiss Family Robinson in space, an exciting new series set on a star-ship guided by a dynamic captain and his pointy-eared communications officer and underwater adventures negotiated from a high-powered submarine.  Each of these fantastical shows enthralled us as we followed uncompromising schedules where not even a single miss was conceivable.  Many of us found no trouble connecting with characters whom by the sheer power of their personalities stoked our imaginative embers.  The small screen infatuation ascended to an interactive plateau after I was invited to join a “Batman Fan Club” by an enterprising friend and classmate who is now a famous heart specialist.  The meetings for this fledgling fraternity were held in young Richard Palu’s basement in a meticulously maintained and manicured suburban one-family, where a family dynamic comparable to that played out in Leave it to Beaver made for some happy experiences.  Patricia and Nello were model parents who brought up their two sons (at the time 13 and 11) dotingly, imparting in them purpose and responsibility.  The patriarch was active in the community, coaching sports’ teams and serving a scout master, while the brood’s dedicated housewife was active in community and church groups.  (In a remarkable aside, Patricia is now entering her 97th year and continues to live in the very same Fairview, New Jersey home where the specters of the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder once inhabited, and she’s as sprite and as sharp as ever, even maintaining an active Facebook account).

The mid-week meetings of the club were held at 4:00 P.M. and could be described as disciplined talk sessions.  Each of the eight or nine members would discuss the current week’s episodes and what they liked best about the airing.  A favorite related activity as I recall involved the group dressing up as the villain of their choice, though the selection wasn’t limited to the show aired that week, but rather to all the shows seen over the first year and beyond.  This included the Riddler, the Penguin, the Joker, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, the Mad Hatter, King Tut, the Puzzler, the Sandman, Zelda the Great, Minerva, Ma Parker, Olga, the Clock King, False Face, Bookworm, Minstrel, Louie the Lilac, the Archer and others in a lineup that eventually numbered 34 Caped Crusader adversaries.  Since the membership was exclusively male, the Catwoman never had a taker, and there was always heated competition for the Big Three, particularly the Joker, the most iconic nemesis of all, and the character boasting the best portrayal on the 60’s show than any other subsequent incarnation – better than Jack Nicholson, better than Heath Ledger and Jared Leto.  On Batman 66 Joker often had the best episodes because the shows he starred in usually had the most appealing story-lines.  Villainous ambition was never as elaborately conceived and staged, and Cesar Romero in an inspired updating of Gwynplaine from Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs rigs a high school basketball game so he can bet money on the underdog, invents a machine that can stop time and place and even in one show builds a flying saucer.  Romero’s vitality matches Frank Gorshin’s acrobatic Riddler, and his defining high camp was always perfectly attuned to the unique vibe of the show. The Riddler is a criminal genius capable of extraordinary lateral thinking in decoding and formulating puzzles of all kinds was of course a membership favorite as was the Penguin, portrayed by one of the series’ most renowned stars, Burgess Meredith.   The actor’s trademark purple hat, monocle, cigarette holder, umbrella and signature voice, when he mimicked the squawk of his polar namesake.  His thugs wear black bowler hats and dark clothing adorned with names of various animals of prey, such as birds (“Hawk”) or fish (“Shark”), or sometimes simply “Henchman.” (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

One of the best examinations of life, during the teen years or otherwise, that television has ever aired. The 18 episodes that exist are treasures, each and every one. A period piece, set in the early 80s in a small town in Michigan, this is the story of two groups. One, made up of younger boys, constitute The Geeks, while the older group, including two female members, would be The Freaks. The titles are only glancingly referenced in the series itself. Instead, this is a story about a brother and sister, and their friends and family, finding their way in a world that they suddenly need to understand anew. For the brother and sister, this is because their beloved grandmother died, and the sister-Lindsay Weir, played by Linda Cardellini-has stopped being a Mathlete and started wearing an old army jacked. She is obsessed with Daniel Desario, and decides to become one of their group. And her entry into that group, along with her brother and his friend’s entry into high school, is the audiences introduction to the stories and characters of this delightful gem.

One of the aspects of the series which is most talked about is the launching pad this served as for so many stars. In addition to Cardellini and Franco, there was also Jason Segal, as Nick Andopolis-a sweet yet meatheaded drummer, who falls for Lindsay-and Seth Rogan as Ken Miller. There was also Busy Phillips, as Daniel’s girlfriend, Kim Kelly-one of the series most complex characters, as it turned out-as well as John Francis Daley as Sam Weir and Martin Starr as Bill Haverchuck, joined by Samm Levine as Neal Schweiber. This rounded out the kids, while the adults were portrayed by Becky Ann Baker and Joe Flaherty as Sam and Lindsay’s parents. Indeed, it is Flaherty’s delivery of the line “this isn’t good” when Harold and Jean meet Lindsay’s new friends, that seals the series as both a comedy and a drama. Claudia Christian, Thomas F. Wilson, Ben Foster and Shia LaBeouf were also among the recurring cast. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1964 1,040m) DVD2

This business may last a long time

p  Tony Essex, Gordon Watkins  w  John Terraine, Corelli Barnett, Anthony Jay, Ed Collins  ph  various  ed  Barry Toovey  m  Wilfred Josephs  narrated by  Michael Redgrave (with Ralph Richardson (Field Marshal Haig), Emlyn Williams (Lloyd George), Marius Goring, Sebastian Shaw, Cyril Luckham)

The Great War is the sort of television event that truly deserves the epithet milestone.  It’s the first truly great documentary series produced not only by the BBC but arguably anywhere in the world.  It really has, the best part of half a century later, stood the test of time.  And time itself is very much to the forefront here; the achievement all the greater for contriving to remain in the British public consciousness for the forty years it was unseen on TV after its first broadcast.  It was the template from which such later documentaries as The World at War and even Ken Burns’ The Civil War took their cue, but it was more than that.  The most remarkable thing about it is that, for all the black and white interviews with the survivors of the calamity, it’s an incredibly modern achievement. 

The series covers, over twenty-six episodes, with suitably sombre narration from Michael Redgrave, and in enthralling detail, the story of the greatest calamity the world had yet seen (and, to these eyes, would ever see).  It discusses the events that lead up to the war, the uneasy peace of the Belle Epoque and the shaky alliances that would soon be tested to hitherto undreamt of levels; as we are told, “the peace of Europe in 1914 was a fragile thing.”  All the events and battle places that have gone down in horrific infamy – the Marne, Ypres, Champagne, Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele – are here, along with extended sequences involving such factors as the home front, the role of women in the war, the war in the middle east, the Russian withdrawal, the Italian/Austro-Hungarian front and, of course, the ultimate personification of the pointlessness of war, the Western Front.  More than that, however, is the illustration of the little things that made this war the most poignant of all; the 24 hour armistice of Christmas 1914 where the notion of fighting for freedom becomes all the more blurred, the soldiers hardened by the experience of Passchendaele singing “we’re here because we’re here“, images of ant-like armies crawling out of the crater-infested mud baths, the sardonic singing of “hangin’ on the old barbed wire“, and the description of how soldiers on leave thought the outside world was the one that wasn’t real.  It’s a war that has always captured the imagination, and the screen has done it justice, at least in spirit if not in reality, with the likes of The Big Parade, The Last Flight, Paths of Glory, Verdun, Les Croix de Bois, La Grande Illusion, and All Quiet on the Western Front.  Most touching of all, perhaps, is how we are shown how both sides not only shared a “companionship of mud“, but grew to feel solidarity with the enemy far more than their own brass hats and politicians, for here was the ultimate expression of what Shakespeare once called a “fellowship of death.”  Though it does offer possible underlying reasons for the war’s beginning and end, in the end it could be argued that Edmund Blackadder summed it up by saying “it was too much trouble not to have a war.” (more…)

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by Allan Fish
The Son of Hades
p Robert Papazian, Eleanor Moran, Frank Yablans, Marco Valerio Pugini, John Milius d Michael Apted, Allen Coulter, Julian Farino, Jeremy Podeswa, Alan Poul, Mikael Salomon, Timothy Van Patten, Steve Shill, Adam Davidson, Alik Sakharov, Roger Young, John Maybury, Carl Franklin w Alexandra Cunningham, David Frankel, Bruno Heller, Adrian Hodges, William J.MacDonald, John Milius, Todd Ellis Kessler, Mere Smith, Eoghan Mahony, Scott Buck ph/ed various m Jeff Beal art Joseph Bennett, Christina Onori, Anthony Pratt cos April Ferry
Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus), Ray Stevenson (Titus Pollo), James Purefoy (Mark Antony), Ciarán Hinds (Julius Caesar), Polly Walker (Atia of the Julii), Kenneth Cranham (Pompey Magnus), Lindsay Duncan (Servilia), Kerry Condon (Octavia), Max Pirkis (younger Octavian), Simon Woods (older Octavian), David Bamber (Cicero), Lyndsey Marshall (Cleopatra), Tobias Menzies (Brutus), Indira Varma (Niobe), Alice Henley (Livia Drusilla), Nicholas Woodeson (Posca), Karl Johnson (Cato), Haydn Gwynne (Calpurnia), Suzanne Bertish (Eleni), Paul Jesson (Scipio), Guy Henry (Cassius), Pip Torrens (Metellus Cimber), Allen Leach (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa), Lorcan Cranitch (Orestes Pulman), Zuleikha Robinson (Gaia), Ian McNeice (Forum announcer),
It’s with a certain amount of regret one comes to acknowledge Rome. It’s a series that ultimately falls just short of the heights scaled by The Wire, Deadwood and Game of Thrones, but while Deadwood was left cut off mid-stream a season early, one was left with imagining what season four might have brought. With Rome we have an idea what season three and four would have brought, for the writers, told early in Season 2’s production that it would be the last, crammed as much of the next two lost seasons in before it ended, creating a rush effect that went against the intricacy and plotting of the first series.
Needless to say, some complained at the excessive sex and violence – little did they know what was to come in Spartacus: Lust in the Sand – perhaps dreaming of the glories of The Caesars and I,Claudius, forgetting the latter had its share of nastiness, too. It did play around with history a little, having characters hardly age after 20 years and largely fictionalising the pivotal rival characters of Atia and Servilia, while centring on two Roman legionnaires, Titus Pullo and Licius Vorenus. They are to their times rather what Dumas’ Musketeers were to 17th century France, fiction based on actual characters (mentioned in Caesar’s writings). It gave it a personal heartbeat that made us care about the events unfolding around them, and were helped by the wonderful interplay between the two actors playing them, Ray Stevenson and Kevin McKidd, who form its very soul.

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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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