By John Ruberry

Netflix binge watching just brought me to Scotland’s remote Shetland Islands for the BBC crime drama Shetland, a series that is based upon books by Ann Cleeves.

Stoic Director Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall), a Shetland native who moved back to the islands from Glasgow after the death of his wife, calmly investigates the archipelago’s murders–and as with many crime shows with a rural setting, such as Longmire, if added up the murder rate in Shetland would rival that of Baltimore. But who will tune in to watch a series about sheep rustling? Besides sheep rustlers, of course.

There have been three seasons so far–a fourth is currently under production. The first season, a two-episode entry entitled “Red Bones,” the series pilot, involves a World War II secret uncovered by an archeological dig, while Shetland’s annual winter celebration, the Nordic-inspired Up Helly Aa, takes place. “Red Bones” was released in 2013, amazingly there is a Donald Trump reference in it.

There are three two-episode storylines in Season 2. There are many, I suspect, in the Shetlands, so not surprisingly an eccentric hermit drives the action in “Raven Black.” The islands’ energy industry inflames tempers and worse in “Dead Water.” The final two-parter, “Blue Lightning,” set mostly on Perez’ boyhood home of Fair Isle, tells us that not even avian research centers are immune from homicide. This is the weakest effort in the series; the story seems stretched out, like a mediocre rock double album that would be a great one as a single disc release. And for much of “Blue Lightning” everyone on Fair Isle is stranded there because of a storm. Except viewers see no evidence of a storm. The BBC doesn’t have stock footage of crashing waves on rocks?

Fortunately Shetland bounces back for for a six-part episode for Season 3, its best. Just as I was wondering why the narcotics trade–a major blight in all European rural areas, particularly far-northern ones–was absent from the series, there it is. An incident on the Shetland ferry brings Henshall and his assistant, Detective Sergeant Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) to Glasgow–where much of Shetland is filmed–where they untangle a nine-year-old sexual assault that is linked to organized crime, obstruction of justice, and a senior citizens home.

Rounding out the cast is Steven Robertson as Police Constable Sandy Wilson, Erin Armstrong as Perez’ daughter, Mark Bonnar as her biological father, Anne Kidd as a forensic pathologist, and Julie Graham as Perez’ boss.

The accents are thick–so be prepared to use the rewind button on your remote or to switch on the closed captioning feature on your television while viewing Shetland. Unless of course you are Scottish.

Henshall is not just the lead actor but also the most accomplished one in Shetland. For his efforts he received the 2016 BAFTA award for best actor in television.

As expected, the cinematography is splendid, even though other parts of Scotland, those with treeless hills, often substitute for the Shetland Islands. Watching the series has me pining for a trip to Scotland and of course, the Shetlands.

But watching Season 4 will happen first for me.

In addition to Netflix, Shetland is also available on Amazon.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.


By John Ruberry

Most of the main characters in Hell on Wheels, my last Netflix binge-watching adventure, were shaped, and scarred, by the American Civil War.

In this BBC 2 television show, Peaky Blinders, set in Birmingham, England beginning in 1919, World War I casts its shadow over the lead characters.

Three seasons have been released so far. The action–and the violence–is centered upon the Anglo-Gypsy Shelby family, led by Thomas “Tommy” Shelby (Cillian Murphy), a decorated Great War tunneller who returns home a new man–and a better suited one to run the family business, Shelby Brothers, Ltd, a bookmaking operation set in the grimy and noisy Small Heath section of Birmingham. But the gang is generally called the Peaky Blinders by members and their enemies. His oldest brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson) is clearly more psychologically damaged from the war than Tommy, but he’s better suited to serve as the enforcer for the family. “I think, Arthur. That’s what I do,” Tommy explains to him. “I think. So that you don’t have to.” Third son John (Joe Cole), another World War I veteran, is also employed in the muscle side of the operation, while Finn, the youngest Shelby, is only 11-years-old when the series begins.

Tommy has a sister, Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle), who is married to communist agitator. But she’s still loyal to the family.

While the Shelby men were fighting in France–the family business was run by Elizabeth “Aunt Polly” Gray (Helen McCrory), a kind of a Rosie the Riveter of the underworld. Tommy quickly takes over from Polly, who serves as his senior advisor. Like Edward G. Robinson’s legendary Rico character in Little Caesar, Tommy becomes a small-time-hood-makes-good-by-being-bad by playing one gang faction against the other, first in Birmingham then in London, while largely ignoring Aunt Polly’s warnings.

When the Peaky Blinders stumble upon a large machine gun shipment in an otherwise routine heist, that gets the attention of Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman in the first season, Richard McCabe in the second), who dispatches Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) from Belfast to find the machine guns. Those guns give Tommy power and respect–and enemies. Not only do Churchill and Campbell want those weapons, but so does the Irish Republican Army.

Campbell sends in an Irish domestic spy, Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis), to work at the neighborhood pub owned by Arthur, appropriately named The Garrison. She quickly becomes its de facto manager.

In season three, which is set in 1924, Tommy, at Churchill’s request, gets involved in another armaments caper, this time with members of the Whites faction who haven’t ascertained that the Communists have won the Russian Civil War. Arthur warns Tommy to stay out of “this Russian business.” It’s too bad the script writers didn’t take their own creation’s advice. As was the case with season four of Sherlock, what follows is a collection of tangled and confusing plot lines. Possibly realizing their mistake, the writers include quite a bit of gratuitous nudity to accompany the Russian adventure, including a bizarre orgy scene which does nothing to advance the storyline.

On the other hand, the Russian diversion is loosely based on a 1924 scandal that brought down Great Britain’s first socialist-led government.

At least two more seasons are coming.

The cinematography of Peaky Blinders is masterful. Imagine Tim Burton creating a remake of The Untouchables television show and setting it in 1920s Birmingham. And this is an ugly Birmingham. J.R.R Tolkien lived in the city before the Great War and his reaction against it was his creation of Mordor for The Lord of the Rings. Just as the Eye of Sauron looked upon that evil realm–the sparks and the ashes of the foundries oversee the Midlands metropolis here. And the industrial roar is always there too.

Blogger in his flat cap

Without getting into spoilers it’s a challenge to bring a description of Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons into this review, but his portrayal by Tom Hardy is too good to overlook.

Oh, the name. Peaky Blinders? There was a Birmingham gang by the same name who gained that moniker because its members supposedly sewed razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps. And in fights the hoodlums went for the eyes.

And finally, the music deserves special mention too. Anachronistic goth rock dominates, the unofficial theme song is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand.” You’ll find selections from PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and the White Stripes too.

And Johnny Cash sings “Danny Boy.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

“So you’ll be paying yourself to build a railroad with government subsidies.” Sen. Jordan Crane to Thomas “Doc” Durant.

“These are exciting times. You and I are opening the way for the greatest nation the world has ever seen.” Major Augustus Bendix to Cullen Bohannon.

“See him driving those golden nails
that hold together the silver bars
That one day’s gonna take us to the stars
cos he’s the man who built America.”
Horslips, from their song, The Man Who Built America.

“A new chapter of American greatness is now beginning. A new national pride is sweeping across our nation. And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp. What we are witnessing today is the renewal of the American spirit.” President Donald J. Trump to Congress last week.

Last week I completed my latest binge-watching endeavor, Hell on Wheels, an AMC show that ran from 2011-2016 that is available on Netflix and on Amazon.

The building of the American transcontinental is the driving force of the plot of this series–the Union Pacific heading west from Omaha and the Central Pacific heading east from Sacramento.

The transcontinental railroad exemplified America at its best–getting the job done 16 years before Canada and 36 years before Russia. It also exemplified America at its worst. Racism and corruption–the Crédit Mobilier outrage was one of our nation’s worst political scandals and it forever tainted this monumental achievement.

The Civil War purged America of slavery, the nation was no longer “a house divided against itself,” but in 1865 the United States was in a way like an uncompleted jigsaw puzzle, the east and west coasts, the easy part, were settled but much of the middle–the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, still needed to be filled in.

Hell on Wheel’s main character is Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), a former slaveholder and Confederate cavalry officer who travels to Nebraska Territory to hunt down Union soldiers who murdered his wife and son in Mississippi. Despite that ruthlessness–make that because of that ruthlessness–Union Pacific president Thomas “Doc” Durant (Colm Meaney) takes him under his wing, although their relationship is mostly turbulent throughout the run of the series.

Bohannon isn’t the only character scarred by the turmoil of mid-19th century America. Elam Ferguson (Common) and Psalms Jackson (Dohn Norwood) are freedmen who quickly learn that freedom from slavery doesn’t mean equality. The Reverend Nathaniel Cole (Tom Noonan) and his daughter Ruth (Kasha Kropinski), suffer from pangs of guilt remaining from Bleeding Kansas. The Rev. Cole’s most prominent convert to Christianity, Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears), is estranged from his father, a Cheyenne chief. The most compelling character on the show, Thor “The Swede” Gunderson (Christopher Heyerdahl), is a Norwegian immigrant and former Union army quartermaster–a man who says he is good with numbers, but after his barbaric incarceration at the notorious Andersonville prisoner of war camp, he ascertained that “I had to control people like I control numbers and I learned to practice a sort of immoral mathematics.”

The Swede is Hell On Wheels’ principal villain and if there is ever a Villains Hall Of Fame built, then he belongs as a charter member.

Another intriguing HoW character is Irish immigrant Mickey McGuinnes (Phil Burke), who like Durant, finds a way to make himself a success after starting with nothing. One of his workers is a tattooed former prostitute and a Jack Mormon, Eva (Robin McLeavy). She was captured by Indians after her family’s wagon train was waylaid.

The final season of Hell on Wheels brings in the storyline of the Central Pacific. Movie posters for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly boasted, “For three men the Civil War wasn’t hell. It was practice!” The Chinese laborers on the Central Pacific can be forgiven for having a similar dismissive view of our Civil War, which killed 600,000 Americans. Emotional scars from the Taiping Rebellion plague many of the Chinese characters. That conflict, which was actually a civil war between Imperial China and a man claiming to be the brother of Jesus Christ, probably killed 20-30 million people–after the famine deaths are added in. Some estimates bring the death total as high as 100 million. If that last figure is correct, then the Taiping Rebellion was the deadliest war ever.

Life is cheap in both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific camps–both are served by brothels, although opium is offered at the latter instead of whiskey.

Durant was a real person, although his portrayal in Hell on Wheels is largely fictional. Other historical figures appearing include Wyoming’s territorial governor John Campbell (Jack Weber), President Ulysses S. Grant (Victor Slezak), and Brigham Young (Gregg Henry). Eva’s character was based on an actual woman, as was the man in the show who survived a scalping. He carries his scalp in a bottle of alcohol–and offers paid listeners a recounting of his ordeal. The phrase “Hell on Wheels” is a real one in this context, it’s what the tent cities that followed the construction of the Union Pacific were called.

Blogger walking the rails

In the penultimate HoW episode, there is a prescient moment as black and Chinese workers rush to finish the road in 1869. Above them you see the moon. One hundred years later, yes, in 1969, “the greatest nation the world has ever seen” reached the moon. No country has repeated that feat or even attempted it.

Yes, American exceptionalism is real.

If you enjoy westerns, you’ll find Hell on Wheels worth your while. But if you are looking for romance–then look elsewhere. Mount is a fine actor but love encounters are not his long suit. And what was the point of his sex scene on top of a table with fused nitroglycerine on it?

As with most westerns, the cinematography is first-rate–with Alberta filling in capably for Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and California. It would be better if movies about America would be filmed here, but that’s another subject for another time.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

A couple of weeks back I completed my latest television binge-watching quest, in this case it was the neo-western Longmire.

Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) is the Rainier Beer-drinking, unshaved sheriff in the fictional county of Absaroka in Wyoming. He’s a widower putting his life and career back together after the recent death of his wife. It’s easy to imagine Gary Cooper paying this role. His deputies are the loyal Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), Jim “the Ferg” Ferguson (Adam Bartley), and not-so-loyal Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), who runs against Longmire for sheriff.

The series is based on the Walt Longmire mystery books by Craig Johnson.

Originally an A&E show, the network, despite high ratings for the show, cancelled it after the third season. Netflix picked it up, airing the next two editions. It has been renewed for a sixth and final season. The books are set in Buffalo, which is coincidentally in Johnson County, Wyoming. In the show Durant is the county seat of Absaroka. So assuming that Johnson is Absaroka, that would give Longmire’s county 8,500 residents. And since, especially in the first four seasons, there is a murder in almost every episode, that could give this rural county a homicide rate higher than that of Chicago, perhaps, yes, even higher than the small Maine town where the television series Murder, She Wrote, was set. Recurring Longmire character Louis Herthum, has experience with this scenario, as he played a cop in Murder She, Wrote.

Also in Absaroka is a Cheyenne Indian reservation, which isn’t in Walt’s jurisdiction. But just as Captain Kirk was never supposed to violate the Prime Directive in Star Trek, circumstances often force Longmire to pursue police work on “the rez,” which for the most part annoys Mathias (Zahn McClarnon), a Bureau of Indian Affairs police chief. His predecessor, Malachi Strand (Graham Greene), was jailed after Longmire busted him for extortion.

By the third season the murder-a-week package is less relied upon as the events surrounding the death of Longmire’s wife, the release of Strand from prison, the building of a Cheyenne casino, and development projects in Absaroka driven by Deputy Connally’s father, Barlow (Gerald McRaney), collide with Walt and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), the owner a local bar and restaurant. A Native American Longmire regularly tangles with is casino operator Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez). Also captured in this web is Longmire’s daughter, Cady (Cassidy Freeman), an attorney who is more like her father than either character realizes, as she also discovers that doing the right thing is often an insurmountable challenge in an flawed world.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the
Magnificent Seven

I thoroughly enjoy Longmire and I’m eagerly awaiting season six, as season five concluded with things in a very complicated state. As a western, the cinematography is of course superb, although the show is filmed in New Mexico, not Wyoming. Starting of course with the lead character, the acting is superb, and the story lines generally contain much depth. Although I am curious why Phillips’ Standing Bear character, like those in True Grit, particularly in the Coen Brothers remake, never uses contractions in his speech.

If you prefer westerns that aren’t “neo,” I still recommend that you give Longmire a look. Just imagine cowboy Walt riding a horse instead of driving a Ford Bronco, and replace moonshine with narcotics. And after all of these years there is still conflict between whites and Indians. And vigilantism is also a welcome plot development in any western.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

jonathan-strange-and-mr-norrellBy John Ruberry

It’s time to take a break from politics.

Many times while surfing on Netflix I came across a recommendation to watch the seven-part 2015 BBC One miniseries, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which is described as such: “In 1806 ambitious magician Norrell leads a revival of practical magic in England and ignites a fierce rivalry with bold young conjurer Strange.” If that sounds like a dopey show, well, that’s what I thought too. But I yielded to the luring and tuned in. I’m grateful that I did.

Magic in the alternative universe of Strange and Norrell is not smoke-and-mirrors and rabbits being pulled from hats, it’s a neglected scientific discipline that for unexplained reasons was abandoned in England in the early 16th century. But Gilbert Norrell (Eddie Marsan), a magician from York, becomes a national sensation when he brings to life the statues of  York Minster Cathedral and, in his only use of dark magic, brings back from death the future wife of a prominent member of parliament, Lady Pole (Alice Englert).

But just as in another alternative universe where humans can sell their soul to the devil, the dark side, in this case a mysterious being known as the Gentleman (Marc Warren), sabotages the transaction and establishes Norrell’s second rivalry.

Norrell offers his services to fight the French and their allies in the Napoleonic Wars, although only Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) directly utilizes magic at the side of the Duke of Wellington (Ronan Vibert), who is initially skeptical of him. Included in the broad historical sweep of Strange and Norrell is the blind and mad King George III, and although not by name, the anti-industrial Luddites.

The rest of the cast is wonderful, particularly Ariyon Bakare as a mysterious butler and Vincent Franklin as the duplicitous promoter of Norrell and Strange. The special effects, with the exception of the ravens in the last two installments, are first rate.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a welcome diversion from the usual, and it’s a particularly good series for binge-watching.

Besides Netflix, the mini-series is available on many on-demand systems and on DVD.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  This post will be free from any commentary regarding last night’s debate or any discussion of the current state of the American presidential race.  You’re welcome.

If you haven’t watched Marc Levin’s documentary, Class Divide, now running on HBO, you should. It is beautifully and poignantly done.

The documentary explores gentrification in New York’s Chelsea area and the educational divide that exists between the luxury “world school” Avenues, and the schools available to the kids in the housing project right across the street from Avenues.  But there’s more there: the documentary shows how community activists banded together to save “the High Line” – an abandoned elevated rail track, and turn it into an elevated park and track that runs through the neighborhood. The documentary shows how hope can survive in people in even the worst circumstances. And it shows the promise and innocence of youth.

This subject is very personal to me as I teach in a high-poverty school; we aren’t in as big a city as New York, but poverty is poverty wherever you are and these kids face the same problems.  Further, there is a gentrification project (on a smaller scale) underway in my school’s neighborhood.  My students are seeing houses torn down, houses loaded on trucks and hauled out, and expensive businesses and housing brought in – far outside their reach.

Kids coming from high poverty areas face learning challenges that upper socio-economic kids don’t face. These students live so “in the moment,” as they wonder if the electricity will be on when they get home, will there be food there, will there be an adult home?  They carry their important possessions with them in their backpacks to school because either they feel like they have to for safety, or because they don’t know where they’ll be sleeping that night.

How are kids like this supposed to concentrate on algebraic equations?

So, I understand kids in poverty and the educational challenges that presents.

Class Divide artfully explores this issue and ultimately what we see is that money can’t buy happiness (trite, but true):

The main thrust of “Class Divide,” is to look inside these two very different worlds namely, Avenues: The World School, and the Elliot-Chelsea public housing projects, as seen through the eyes of the kids (“Sheila Nevins idea”) and see how it feels to them. In the film, we go inside Chris Whittle’s remarkable private school, Avenues: The World School. We see what a privilege it is to be a student there (pre-K to 12th grade tuition is $40,000 per student) and meet some of the kids who attend the school. However elite, The World School is to be admired for its mission to produce students who will flourish and compete globally (every child takes classes in Mandarin or Spanish). We meet Yasmin, a curious, empathetic young female who wants to create a bridge of understanding with her 115 Step Project (the amount of steps between her school and the public housing). We meet Luc, a sensitive, caring young male, who, tragically, takes on the economic divide tipping in his favor, as a painful weight to bear.

The heart of the documentary rests in 8-year old Rosa who lives in the projects and sees the shiny new school through the bars on her windows. She’s smart as a whip and her potential is unlimited, yet a school like Avenues is far outside her reach.

The documentary makes you think hard about the American education system.  It makes you think carefully about values, too.

If you get the chance, be sure to watch it; it’s currently running on HBO and HBOGo.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

p12079367_b_v9_acBy John Ruberry

Without the phenomenal box office success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, HBO’s Game of Thrones series may not have ever launched. And without GoT’s ongoing critical and audience raves, The Last Kingdom would almost certainly never have been giving the green light by the BBC.

I just finished binge-watching the first season of The Last Kingdom, which like Game of Thrones is a television version of a series of books, in this case Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories. I might not have ever heard of the BBC series had not the ninth season of the Doctor Who reboot had been bombarded with Last Kingdom trailers. I guess that’s the point of promos.

Season two of The Last Kingdom is currently in production.

So how is it? Well, in a few words, LK is pretty good. After all, I kept watching, didn’t I?

Here’s how the series is set up–with spoilers for the most part that cover only the first half of the first episode:

The action begins in the late ninth century as Danish invaders–the word “vikings” is never used–have transformed themselves from coastal raiders into a disciplined army who have conquered each English kingdom save Wessex. The lead character is Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon), the son of a Northumberland noblemen who as a child witnesses his father fall in a battle against the invaders. After he humorously attacks a Dane, Uhtred is taken as a slave. Losing his Christian faith, Uhtred the Godless, much in the matter of white characters captured by Indians in Old West movies, seems unsure of his loyalties, but he’s determined to reclaim his family castle from his duplicitous uncle.

An adult Uhtred, after his Danish family is killed by other Danes, makes his way to Wessex where he pledges loyalty to King Alfred and joins the Saxon cause.

Attractive in a Jon Snow sort of way, Uhtred doesn’t have a vow of chastity to hamper his romantic pursuits.

Religion greatly drives the plot, The priest who baptizes the young Uhtred–twice–has also made his way to Wessex, where he serves as a counselor to Alfred. Refreshingly, the Christians in The Last Kingdom are pious, but not portrayed as foolishly pious. The only religious character treated with disdain is a Danish sorcerer.

Alfred (David Dawson), the devout king, doesn’t let his sickliness damper his resolve to save his realm and drive the Danes out of England.

Besides Alfred, other historical characters who appear in The Last Kingdom are the Danish chieftains Ubba and Guthrum, Saxons Odda the Elder, King Edmund of East Anglia, Alfred’s nephew Aethelwold, and Welsh monk Asser, the biographer of the Wessex ruler. A glaring oversight is the omission of Ivor the Boneless, the Dane whose name still perplexes historians. Ivor was the half-brother of Ubba.

The show plays homage to the legend that Alfred, asked by a woman to keep an eye on loaves of bread being baked, allows them to burn as his mind wanders to pressing matters of kingship.

The cinematography is superb although the filming of the series in Hungary, rather than England, might be the catalyst of one of LK’s noticeable shortcomings, cheap-looking wardrobes and crowns that appear to be plastic. If the series was shot in Britain, or even Northern Ireland where some of Game of Thrones is filmed, I’m sure the costume department of The Last Kingdom could have scrounged up more convincing crowns some better period clothes from a regional Shakespeare company.

John "Lee" Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven
John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

If you are looking for one more Game of Thrones comparison, then I won’t let you down. While gratuitous nudity is absent from The Last Kingdom, the brief glimpses of bare flesh amid the armor and swords appear forced as if someone is screaming at the directors, “We need naked bums for better ratings!”

I’ll be back for season two, hoping for more. (More meaning better shows, not bare buttocks.) After all, the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood didn’t hit its stride until season two and it didn’t achieve consistent greatness until The Children of Earth in season three.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit
.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Anyone watch the season premiere of True Detective last night?

Let me just say at the outset that I’m very biased.  I loved every moment of Season 1, so before the opening credits last night, I knew that Season 2 would never match up.  That being said, I also went into the opening episode knowing that Nic Pizzolatto is trying to do something a little different with this season.  Key for me is his Vanity Fair interview in Rich Cohen attempts to explain the separation yet sameness between the two seasons (italics mine):

Early in the history of film, when the big-time writers of the day, Fitzgerald most famously, were offered a role in the movies, they decided to write for the cash, forswearing deeper participation in a medium they considered second-rate. Perhaps as a result of this decision, the author came to be the forgotten figure in Hollywood, well paid but disregarded. …This situation began to change with the emergence of a new kind of television show and a new kind of auteur—a writer who takes on the role of the big-time director, involved in every aspect, from casting to editing. … Pizzolatto is now attempting to take the next evolutionary step. …Credit and power are shared. But by tossing out that first season and beginning again, Nic has a chance to finally undo the early error of Fitzgerald and the rest. If he fails and the show tanks, he’ll be just another writer with one great big freakish hit. But if he succeeds, he will have generated a model in which the stars and the stories come and go but the writer remains as guru and king.

I get that – the writer is the important figure here.  Okay.

I hope it works.

Given that, I know it’s wrong to compare the two seasons, but how can you not?  Season 1 was dynamite – yes, it was the chemistry of Matthew McConaughey and Wood Harrelson, but it was also the deeply symbolic and literary writing, it was also the magic of Cary Fukunaga, the cinematography and the soundtrack.  Season 1 was the green Louisiana swamps, the weird people (I’m from Louisiana, I can say that) and The King in Yellow.

It was magic.  At the end of the first episode of Season 1, that moment when Rust Cohle sits back, flicks his cigarette, and tells the detectives, “Start asking the right f****ing questions,” and the credits came up.  You wanted more and you wanted it right then. That rush that was, “Oh yes, this is about to get good!”

Which brings me to last night’s premiere.  There was no rush of excitement.  No dying for more.  If I didn’t turn the series back on next Sunday, I probably wouldn’t care.  There is nothing redeeming about any of these new characters.  They are beyond damaged.  Many reviewers today are saying they are corrupt.  They probably are, but they are also boring.  I don’t care about them and I don’t like them.

Is that Pizzolatto’s point?  Is that what he wants us to feel today?  Everything is disjointed?  If so, he achieved that.

The basic story, as I see it right now anyway, is that Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro is violent and angry, Vince Vaughn’s character is shady and damaged, Rachel McAdams as Ani has anger issues, daddy issues, and sexual issues, and Taylor Kitsch as an Iraq war vet is suicidal and damaged.  Most of them drink too much – and I’m not talking about just a six pack of Lone Star here, some of them are violent, and none of them have any redeeming qualities.  There is a lucrative land deal with guaranteed federal funding attached that just got jacked up with the murder of the city manager, who in a scene out of Weekend at Bernie’s – is hauled around in a car throughout the entire episode and found in the end in his Sperrys, Bermuda shorts, and sunglasses, sitting in the dark along the roadside, facing the ocean, quite dead.  His eyes have been burned out and no telling what else with all of the other deviant sexual perversion in this episode.

It was at this point that Nic Pizzolatto finally brings his lead characters together, but by then I no longer cared.  Much.

As episode 1 closed last night, and the soundtrack swelled, the first line in T-Bone Burnett’s lyric was “California is a brand new game.”  No kidding; it sure is.

Of course I’ll stick with the series – the brilliance of Season 1 has earned that much from me, anyway.  And I have (some) faith in Nic; I think he might be able to bring this around.

We will see.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think . . . but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators.

William F. Buckley Jr., Up From Liberalism (1959)

Martin Rittenhome: Young man I sell over $14 million dollars a year worth of Geritol, Geritol, that’s the kind of businessman I am. That show twenty-one, cost me 3 1/2 million dollars year in and year out. Sales went up 50% when Van Doren was on. 50%! So the very idea that I was unaware of every detail or aspect of that show’s operation, well frankly it’s very insulting.

Quiz show 1994

British Tommy:  Takes time, it do. But you’ll get the hang of it.

Sgt York 1941

With my oldest moving home I recently upgraded internet package to get more speed. Part of the upgrade included something called Streampix which comes with a selection of movies and TV which includes The Good Wife, the popular CBS Sunday night show that my wife enjoys that I’ve been watching with her lately.Every episode is available on StreamPix so I as I came to the series late I took the liberty of watching it from the beginning.

It’s been an experience not only because it caught me up on a series that has a fair amount of reoccurring characters and motivations that are carried over from previous seasons (there was a time in TV when that was rare, now it’s almost mandatory)  but because the liberal spin was just so pervasive.

A lot of it was subtle, for examples a surrogate wanting to make the choice to keep the child (supporting “choice” by having a child the opposite of the reality of the “pro-choice” mantras.  Other bits less so the use of Religion as a phony thing in a campaign foiled by the St. Alicia decides to embrace her atheism in public.  The evils of big pharma, the NSA, Obamacare, the GOP candidate for Governor as the consummate liar.

And the deal isn’t just to influence the public to liberal causes or inclinations as right.  On occasion the show nudges the left slightly away on issues that might hurt them.

A character Kurt McVeigh was introduced (Gary Cole) , a ballistics expert, with strong pro-gun views conservative views.  Uber liberal Dianne Lockheart (Christine Baranski) slowly falls for him culminating in their marriage this season. She is seen shooting guns and her liberal friends are intolerant of him. It’s a good piece of writing but it makes the play to the left that perhaps we have to go easier on those gun nuts.

Oddly enough moves against the 2nd Amendment have been politically costly for the left as evidenced by the successful recalls in Colorado which I’m sure had nothing to do with the decision suddenly push the idea of getting along over guns.

It doesn’t take long for a political type to see each message carefully packaged to paint a the picture the left wants painted and it’s no coincidence that some high powered leftists have appeared as themselves on the show.

Before I go further let’s  make something clear, propaganda aside the writing here is all first rate.  The plots are powerful and subplots hold you (The best being Kalinda & her ex played magnificently by Archie Punjabi & Marc Warren).

And the acting is even better.  The leads are all played well,  of note is Chris Noth who may be an ass concerning the Tea Party but makes a spectacular Peter Florick (Why is he listed as a “special guest star” when he’s in almost every episode?).  The Supporting cast is strong particularly Alan Cumming as Eli Gold, Mary Beth Peil as Jackie Florick and the vastly underrated Zack Grenier as David Lee the lawyer we all love to hate.  Finally the reoccurring characters (Nathan Lane as Clarke Hayden , Jerry Adler as Howard Lyman and Carrie Preston who’s Elizabeth Tascioni who might be able to carry a series of her own) are so well acted that it’s no wonder the show has won awards from the Casting Society of America 3 of the last 4 years. These actors, writers et/al have earned every single accolade they’ve received…

….and that’s precisely why the propaganda is so effective, you are so taken in by all that you are seeing and characters you care about, or hate or wonder about or laugh at that the liberal cultural message is almost subliminal.  If you want to know why conservatives lose the low information voter, this is it.

Until we decide to take this fight to the left, with shows and magazines to match  we will always be playing defense.

Yesterday at 9 PM two giants of TV from the 70’s & 80’s went up head to head. Michael J. Fox went up against Robin Williams head to head as their two new series premiered on opposite ends of the Television dial.

The victory went to Robin Williams as The Crazy Ones 4.0 rating was almost double of The Michael J. Fox’s respectable but comparatively unimpressive 2.1.

Ironically the tactic that was used to bring Robin Williams a victory was employed 35 years prior using his old show to prevent another classic series from establishing itself as a rival. Gilligan’s Island.

While the classic 60’s sitcom running on MeTV Monday-Thursday from 8-9 PM EST remains popular people who have not read Sherwood Schwartz’s book Inside Gilligan’s Island might not be aware that Gillian’s Island nearly returned as a TV series in 1979.

After three successful years where it won three different time slots in three years Gillian’s Island was unexpectedly cancelled in order to give the spot to the ailing series Gunsmoke in the hopes of reviving it (it worked) leaving its popular audience base wondering if they missed an episode when they were rescued. Schwartz after shopping the idea of the TV movie Rescue from Gilligan’s Island for years and being rejected high, low and in-between finally convinced NBC to give it a shot. The TV movie socked everyone pulling a 52 share and dominating the ratings as the castaways were rescued and thanks to Gilligan’s ineptitude re-shipwrecked again on the very same Island.

After the phenomenal success of Rescue From Gilligan’s Island the companies that balked at backing it were falling over themselves with offers to Schwartz for a revival series.

Despite the offers. Schwartz was hesitant to agree citing the physical demands of a series on the 15 year older cast, and how such a series might affect the highly profitable and popular syndication of the old series and finally if the joke might get old after all those years. He proposed a compromise that he had intended with the base series in case the ratings started to drop.

The plan was for the castaways to be rescued again and the Howells build a resort on the Island for people who want to get away from technology & the world with the rest of the (former) castaways as partners. This way guest stars could carry part of the load while keeping the story fresh.

There was resistance to the idea and a compromise was made. Another movie The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island was made based on Schwartz’s idea. The cast and publicity was all set the movie filmed and publicity set to promote it and the series that would follow when NBC unexpectedly moved broadcast 11 days AHEAD of the schedule despite all the publicity for the old date, even TV Guide couldn’t be changed in time.

Seemingly the move was made to counter the CBS movie Ike a highly promoted film about the ex president at a time when there was a lot of living memory & interest in him.  With an 8:30 start time, it’s likely the idea was to have people already watching Gilligan a half hour before Ike could get off the ground and they would stick with Gilligan right through the end.

Unfortunately for the network & Gilligan was prepared.   The normal Thursday night lineup for ABC was Robin Williams Mork & Mindy one of the most popular series on Television followed by Benson.   Rather than risk losing part of the Mork audience to Gilligan ABC scheduled back to back episodes of Mork & Mindy.  Not only did that solid lead in protect Ike but despite the best efforts of the Gilligan & Co which managed to more than double the ratings of their 8 PM lead, their 26 share while respectable was no 52.

Suddenly the money that people were rushing to throw at Schwartz dried up and Gilligan was reduced to one final TV movie special The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island two years later and a short-lived cartoon series Gilligan’s Planet.

Apparently CBS knows it’s TV history because rather than risk the lead from their new series the Millers, they put that off a week and started The Big Bang Theory’s 7th season with their first two episodes back to back.

In addition to absolutely crushing ABC’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D (which they might have hoped would take some of the comic book geek audience away from Sheldon & Company Big Bang gave 5.8 lead-in spotting Robin Williams 19+ million viewers already tuned in.

The Crazy ones only kept 15 1/2 of that 19+ Million but that was still more than double of any other network show that night except for Big Bang.

It was a VERY funny show and Robin Williams still has it all except for money after two divorces which is why he did the series.  His sad loss will have the side effect of a lot of laughs for a lot of people (Kelly Clarkson cracking up at the end credits was worth it alone).  But he didn’t get those rating alone.

But while I’m sure Williams & Geller will earn plenty of ratings on their own they should tip his hat to CBS execs who were smart enough to help make sure plenty of new eyes see the old dog’s new trick.

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Olimometer 2.52

I’ve been much luckier than Robin Williams in marriage but i’m still $56 shy of this week’s paycheck with no daily series in site.

The only people who can change this is YOU, by hitting DaTipjar below.

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