Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Long Hot Summer
More channels, more on.
HOLD! HOLD! My in-basket is full. People want me to weigh in on the JournoList scandal, the NAACP/Department of Agriculture woman, the ballooning Gore sex scandal, spineless congressional Republicans, the Lockerbie fiasco, and the president's plummeting poll numbers. I always take reader posting suggestions seriously, so today we're going to talk about...
Because nothing important is happening at the moment. Trust me on this. The audience is filing slowly into the theater and the orchestra is just tuning its instruments. The house lights are still on, and it's really really HOT in here, particularly in the globally warmed box where globally shaped Al Gore is sitting.
So. Where were we? TeeVee. Conservatives are prone to getting carried away with "End of Days" type reviews of popular entertainment fare. Do they know that you can still watch a lot of the old TV shows that made up the so-called Golden Age when there were no toilets or breasts in America? You can still see Gunsmoke, Maverick, and Andy of Mayberry if you want. I wonder how many of them check Nickelodeon first when they turn on the TV. Just saying.
Anybody in the mood for some good news? There's actually some quality stuff on TV these days, arguably better than it has ever been before. The availability of a zillion channels helps, but that's not the whole story, either. Others more expert on the subject than I am have flatly declared that the best writing in show business is happening on TV, not in the movies. They're right. So I'm offering a quick overview of shows you might want to check out while you're waiting for something actually interesting to happen in politics.
Not all of these are great, but they are worth a look. I'm using a one to four star rating system, mostly my own appraisal but here and there averaged with Mrs. CP's rating. If there's a huge difference between us, I'll call it out. To set the standard for you, I'll explain that four stars (****) would be Justified, and no stars ( ) would be Boston Legal. Everything else would be somewhere in between. The pool of candidates consists of the stuff that's running new now. Not all of the ratings are high for various reasons, but all of them merit a one-episode trial at least.
The writing is top notch even when some of the politics offend. The protagonist, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, is not a nice woman. She's self-centered, obsessive, manipulative, ruthless, and possessed of a mean streak a mile wide. And you can't take your eyes off her. Her supporting cast is as fabulous as her clothes. All the regulars are flawed, and all of them are well drawn. The show is funny except when it's cleverly satirical about office politics and man-woman stuff. And Kyra Sedgwick is an absolute marvel in the role of Brenda Leigh. She's the only actress I know of whose mind you can hear ticking and clicking when she has no lines to say. She doesn't need lines in those shots. She's a force of nature. Nature as Machiavelli would understand it.
A cheapie Canadian show about the president of the police union in some Canadian city. Sounds awful, doesn't it? It isn't. It's kind of a lower key Canadian version of The Shield. The protagonist is a politician, a womanizer, and a man who cuts some pretty big corners in a pretty big way. And cheap isn't always bad. It forces more attention to writing than splashy chases and backgrounds. We've only seen one episode of this so far, so it might be a bum steer. But give it a chance.
Inside the CIA with a newbie operative played by Piper Perabo and a deep backstory borrowed from the Bourne Identity. Yeah, I know. But the writing and characters are surprisingly, well, above average, including her blind chick-magnet mentor and an old flame of mine from Nero Wolfe, Kari Matchett. It could all go disastrously south in a hurry, but Mrs. CP and I were entertained by the pilot anyway. Although it may not be a good sign that Mrs. CP can't remember the title: Cloistered Affairs? Undercover Affairs? Her memory is usually a lot better than that.
In Plain Sight.***
Starring Mary McCormack, an actress I was outrageously unfair to when she played the National Security Adviser on the West Wing. This is my chance to make it up to her. She's a real pistol on this show, playing a U.S. Marshal in the Witness Protection Program. Somehow she manages to come across as a cynical, foul-mouthed guy-type gal without actually using any four-letter words. Like Kyra Sedgwick, she's also pretty darn good at thinking on camera. The other gem in the cast is her partner Marshall Mann (ha ha), played by Frederick Weller. He's literate, more sensitive than Mary, and my candidate for the best "will they-won't they" postponed romance I've ever seen on a TV series. And I really hate that tired old tactic. What's different here is that they don't flirt and litter the script with dumb sexual innuendoes. Mary is just too rigid and self-absorbed, too damn dumb, to realize that the only man who's ever actually understood and accepted her for who she really is is her partner. And he knows it. The episodes are uneven, and some of the peripheral family stuff (Mary's alcoholic mother and narcissistic sister, etc) can be a thudding bore, but the show is frequently clever and funny, and occasionally affecting.
Another Canadian cheapie but a truly first-rate one. You've all seen some of the no-name cast before, but the writing is stellar. We're following a class of probationary rookies in a big city police department. But they're not what their counterparts would be in an American network series. They are anxious, inexperienced, and, well, prone to mistakes big and small. Once again, the tight budget puts the focus on writing instead of effects, and I watched two episodes in a row without a moment's hesitation, even though the second started at bedtime. I'm hooked.
You're Cut Off.*
I give it one star because I think that's all they were going for. But this VH1 series is for me what Jersey Shore was to Mrs CP: a trainwreck I can't look away from. The premise is that these would-be divas have spent and whined and bitched their way out of the affections of their own families and have been sent to a reality show rehab program that requires them to do chores, get jobs, and learn how to get along with actual human beings as well as each other. They're every father's worst nightmare -- spoiled, pampered, selfish, brainless, character-free spending machines. And they make you want to grab your own daughter and hug her in gratitude for everything she is that they aren't. Given a choice between watching the newly maudlin and exploitatively creepy Deadliest Catch and this show, I'm watching You're Cut Off every time. Mrs. CP loves it, too. Not watching the show, which she can't stand, but watching me watch the show. She wouldn't miss it for the world.
Okay. This is taking longer than I thought it would. I have more recommendations, but I guess I'll save them for a future post. There's only so much fine TeeVee a person can assimilate in one day anyway.
Now. Wasn't that better than reading another column about the NAACP/Ag Department racist who's suddenly the darling of Hotair and company?
UPDATE. Comments already coming in. Someone mentioned Dexter, which we've reviewed a couple of times, most recently back in September 2009. It just doesn't happen to be on now in our neck of the woods. Also, DJMoore spent some time taking Covert Affairs and (sadly) Piper Perabo's character apart:
She's worthless as a spy. She can't keep her cool, she can't control her mouth, she gives the game away. She's supposed to be top of her class, top of the class for many years, in fact, but she blows her first two opportunities to act like a spy.
Sorry, I don't care how clever the dialog or how good the acting are. The writers and director are going for cheap shots that disrupt the integrity of their story and character.But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? btw, Mrs. CP read the same review and explained that her difficulty in remembering the name was due to the fact that it really should be called The Bourne Similarity. She's right. As always.