Cara Winter sees The IT Crowd

The Anglo Files 13
by Cara Winter

I know how weird this is going to sound.   Nevertheless, here it is:

Some of us don’t care about football – at all.  Like, not at all.  We aren’t excited to hear your drinking stories.  We don’t see any point in watching the Grammys.  And we’re not heading out to see Fifty Shades of Grey this weekend, or any weekend (nor did we read the book).

It can get lonely, being so outside the norm.  The mainstream is just …so… main stream. There are times when it seems as though nobody understands, and that people are just a bunch of bastards, with bad taste in everything.

IT-Crowd-meme

And then, a trusted friend comes to the rescue by recommending The IT Crowd.  And in one fell swoop, our faith in humanity is restored.

The IT Crowd is a British sitcom written by Graham Linehan, starring Chris O’Dowd (an actor most famous for playing the cop-slash-love-interest in the film Bridesmaids),  Richard Ayoade, and Katherine Parkinson.  Set in the London offices of the soulless, stereotypically straight-laced “Reynholm Industries”, the show revolves around the 3-person IT Department, whose offices are housed within the bowels of the company’s corporate headquarters.

It’s hard to say what I love most about the show.  It’s pretty much everything, I think?  The writing, the direction, the physical comedy, the laugh track.  Even the sets make me happy.

But no.  No, it really is about the people of the IT department.  First there’s Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade).  I dunno, maybe it’s his aversion to swearing, or how poorly he lies, or his ‘sweet style’… but I think I may love him?

moss

Yep, I love him.

Then there’s his best friend and co-worker, Roy (Chris O’Dowd), who is clearly inspired by Oscar Madison– a little slovenly, more than a little bit lazy, and thoroughly annoyed by anyone who doesn’t work in IT.

(Here he is trying to get a date with a girl who only likes bad boys…)

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Clearly, internet memes were created for these people.  Or, by them. Possibly both.

In the pilot, it is clear that Moss and Roy have been happily ensconced in their underground geek-lair for some time.  Enter (*gasp*, another human being!) Jen, their new manager (Katherine Parkinson, who viewers might recognize from Sherlock) who knows a sum total of nothing about computers, and who is horrified (at first) to be associated with anyone deemed by the main stream to be terminally uncool.

As Jen discovers just how bizarre this geek underworld is… she is also figuring out that she belongs there.  For as much as she wants to hide from it, she is a misfit, an outsider, a freak — just like Moss and Roy.  And for because we love Moss and Roy, we cheer for Jen to just loosen up and learn how to let her freak flag fly… even if it is done somewhat reluctantly, and under an assumed name.

Each episode is a little gem; the one where Moss tries to report a workplace fire (references below); or the one where the gang goes to the theater (to see “Gay: The Musical!“; Roy is caught using the handicapped toilet, and Moss finds himself inexplicably working the wet bar); ah… and the one where we find out what’s behind the Red Door.  I’d tell you what’s on the other side, but… yeah, no.  You’re just going to have to embrace your inner geek, and stream it for yourself.

Trust me.

In short, I love this stupid show. It makes me so happy.  I think it’ll make you happy, too.

(By the way, have you tried Cuke? I know, it’s so good– god, I’m thirsty…)

 

Episodes of The IT Crowd are currently available on Netflix and Hulu.


Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 12: The Honourable Woman

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Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa Stein in “The Honourable Woman”

by Cara Winter

 Full disclosure:  For whatever reason, on this particular day, I felt like watching something with Jake Gyllenhaal in it. But when I typed “Gyllenhaal” into my DVR’s search engine, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s work also came up, and at the top of the list was her latest Golden Globe-winning tour-de-force, The Honourable Woman.   Intrigued by this BBC co-production starring Gyllenhaal along side more than a few British heavy weights (like Stephen Rea, Eve Best, and Lindsay Duncan), I decided to give it a whirl.

Man.  I was *not* disappointed.  (Sorry, Jake… I’ll get around to seeing whatever you’re up to, another day.)

The Honourable Woman is a six-part miniseries, written and directed by Hugo Blick (and was a co-production with BBC and SundanceTV).  Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein, Baroness of Tillbury, an Anglo-Israeli businesswoman who has taken over the reigns of The Stein Group, the company her late father founded many years prior.  What unfolds is the gripping, complicated, and emotional story of Nessa and her family.  It begins with the death of Nessa’s father, when she and her brother were children; then, quickly, we are in the present day, and Nessa is announcing her earnest yet misguided attempt to bridge the gap between Israel and Palestine, with Stein Group’s plan to bring high-speed internet to the West Bank.   Then, while still basking in the glow of their hopeful promise… the child of the family’s nanny Atika (played by Lubna Azabal)is kidnapped, catapulting the entire family into panic and turmoil.

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa is a force of nature; she doesn’t sit, stand, or raise an eyebrow without an emotional impetus. It’s hard to explain, in words… it’s as if Gyllenhaal swims in her emotional life.  Not a single line is wasted, or thrown-away — everything comes from the gut, with her, from the complex chemical concoctions of a woman in turmoil.  Each of her scenes feels dynamic, fresh, and painfully real, as though the actress is truly living Nessa’s nightmare.

Blick’s careful crafting of the story is brilliant– you never feel that you’re being manipulated, there are no gimmicks or gasp-inducing reveals; nor does anything happen too easily (my  primary complaint with typical TV mysteries or spy thrillers).  And everything is complicated, everything is emotional — even though the characters try, like hell, to simplify, and at all costs, hide their true feelings.

There is also a great deal of mystery surrounding these characters, and the phrase “Do you trust me?” is employed like an operatic motif.  Also wonderful is Nessa’s brother Ephra (played by Andrew Buchan), who’s storyline is an echo of stories that play out in the war-torn West Bank every single day…  for it is a particular kind of anguish to be completely powerless to protect those you love.   It reminds me of the play Via Dolorosa, by another Brit, David Hare — as both are profoundly personal examinations of the extremely political Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Regardless of the issue at hand (whether it’s the Stein Group’s plans, the kidnapping, or MI-6 looking into all of it), you are keenly aware that it is all happening, at once, with every breath each character takes.  Mid-way through the second episode, you’re begging Blick to give them a ray of hope — but it never comes.  Just as with Israel and Palestine, it seems all the rest of the world wants for them is a little rest, some peace; but for them, peace seems an impossible dream.

The Honourable Woman is on SundanceTV, and is also available streaming on Netflix.


Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

 

MARC ALAN FISHMAN: WHO. WHO? WHO!

Confession: This particular TVWriter™ minion (AKA a guy sometimes known as munchman) loves Marc Alan Fishman’s attitude. And I’m not even from Chicago!

by Marc Alan Fishman

Fishman-Art-131130Yeah. I know. I’m last on the bandwagon, yet again. But that’s OK, kiddos. I found Nirvana well after Kurt Cobain passed away. As many of you would also note, I found Star Trek: The Original Series just a little over a year ago. Funny enough, that was one of my most popular columns. For all the nerd-rage that exists when we poke and prod one another about our loves, we’re also the first sub-culture to embrace noobies with the unbridled passion of 1000 angry Daleks. That’s joyful rage though, so it’s all good. A bit over a week ago, I became of a fan of Doctor Who. Whovians, take me into your bosom. Move the celery stalk first.

A bit of backstory to begin. Unshaven Comics cohort Kyle Gnepper has long been an outskirt Who-fan. Unshaven cohort Matt Wright also partook of the good Doctor upon subscribing to Netflix. My own timey-wifey has been a fan for quite some time as well. Heh. As we are all apt to do when everyone we know is in to something, we feel the latent pressure to join in the rapture. So, on occasion, I tried. And tried. And tried again.

Each time, the same feeling would pass over me. I’d glare at a Dalek, or a Cyberman, or whatever the thing-of-the-week was, and I’d scoff. Even ladled with every well-budgeted CGI and modeling trick, the episodes reeked to me of technical limitations. Much as I’d railed against Trek, I couldn’t find the suspension of disbelief due to the constraints of a TV budget. And much like Trek, what was reallymissing was my understanding and appreciation for characterization.

If you’ll allow me one more deviation off the pathway before I gush over “The Day of the Doctor” special… it’s the aforementioned note of characterization that I need to extrapolate on. Take Firefly. There, Fox supplied Joss Whedon with a budget that made his sci-fi romp visually appealing at the get-go. Without the stigma of eww, this looks like it cost pennies to make, I was quicker to give the show a try (still way late and well after the show was DOA). As much as I wanted to hate the show, like so many before me, I was enchanted by the roguish charms of Captain Mal. I bought into the character, and quickly thereafter, I bought into the show. The same could be said for my finding love in other series like House, Modern Family, and more recently Hannibal (which I can’t wait to return). The common factor here is simple: my adoration is bestowed to shows (and comics, movies, et al) that give us strong characterization.

Now, onto Who. As I’d said briefly above, I’d given myself several chances to fall in love. Each time, I was met with an odd fellow who dazzled my friends, but confounded me. His mannerisms, his oddness, his aloofness irritated me. And when I’d make an attempt to find the hook of The Doctor, I’d be met with either terse explanations (“It’s just how he is, in this incarnation…”) or lengthy diatribes that attempted to cram decades of knowledge into a tight ten-minute lecture. In both events, I simply didn’t get it. Much withTrek, it would take me having to clear my head of preconceived opinions and walk into things blindly.

After dinner with my parents, my wife, son and I retired to the casa del pescador. I’d noted that somewhere around the 8:30 hour the living room TV was still blaring. You see, that is typically night-nighttime round these parts. But there, wide awake, sat my young scion and my lovely lady partaking of the Doctor. Figuring it would be best for me not to attempt to daddy-lecture my own wife as to the importance of adhering to a strict schedule, I opted instead for what all us white people do when we want to make a point, but fear confrontation: I sat in the same room silent, in hopes that waves of passive-aggression would communicate my feelings.

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Diana Vaccarelli Sees GALAVANT

galavantkingdickby Diana Vaccarelli

“Once Upon a Time, there was a knight named Galavant who loved the beautiful maiden Madalena….”

With these simple words, the ABC mini series musical GALAVANT opens, sweeping us into – well, I was going to say “Into the Woods,” but instead I’m ging with “into a kingdom of musical delight.” The show follows Galavant in his quest for revenge against the evil King Richard, who stole Madalena from him.

This show has it all singing, dancing, humor, betrayal, and, most importantly, love. The show’s creator-writer Dan Fogelman and composers Alan Menken and Christopher Lennertz have given us a series that reminds me of the great old Monty Python and Mel Brooks films.

The classic scene of the Black Knight refusing to give up no matter how many limbs he loses in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL wouldn’t be out of place in GALAVANT. Neither would just abouit any scene from Brooks’ ROBIN HOOD, MEN IN TIGHTS. All contain the same kind of sarcastic, outrageous humor, which I for one appreciate greatly. For better or for worse, this is my kind of funny.

Joshua Sasse plays the ruggedly handsome Galavant with such charm and ease that I’ve already made him my Prince Charming. Timothy Omundson plays the ruthless King Richard as a petulant child who is always asking his second in command, Gareth, what he should do, which makes him not only funny and dangerous but also genuinely pathetic.

And these two aren’t even my favorite characters. My Number One is Madalena, a feisty and materialistic Queen so over the top evil that’s it’s impossible not to laugh. Mallory Jansen plays this role perfectly. And, yes, Your Majesty, you definitely steal every scene you are in.

If you’ve watched GALAVANT you know what I’m talking about, If you haven’t, I highly suggest you get to programming your DVR. You won’t want to miss another episode.

Happy viewing.

Robert Herold Sees THE FALL

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You’ll Fall for The Fall (I Did!)
By Robert Herold

I admit it, I’m in love with the BBC series The Fall; it does give me pause, however, to realize that so much of the show concerns dysfunctional love. The show succeeds on numerous levels: The writing is particularly smart, the acting first-rate, and the setting, Belfast, Northern Ireland, lends another textural layer to this gritty drama. The show concerns serial killer Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan (who also stars in Fifty Shades of Gray), and the efforts to stop him by the Belfast police, headed by Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (a role written for Gillian Anderson). The show is currently available in the U.S. on Netflix. Incidentally, it’s odd that both this, Happy Valley, and other BBC shows are being billed in America as “Netflix original series.”

The show’s creator, writer of all the episodes, and director of season two, Allan Cubitt, does a number of interesting things with this series. To begin with, he reveals the perpetrator within the first few minutes of the first episode; nevertheless, the show manages to be very suspenseful. The tension comes, in part, from not only making the victims seem like real people, but also making the perpetrator seem real. The former serves to increase the poignancy of the tragedy faced by the victims and their families (something often lacking in crime dramas and whodunnits). The latter shows the incredible banality of evil and the thin line between it and normalcy. How far are we from such dysfunction? Where will he/we go next?

Another facet of this show is that Cubitt does an amazing job exploring the psychopathology of Spector (a great name!), and often does the same for many of the other characters as well. He regularly mirrors behaviors between Spector and Gibson, e.g., alternating shots of the two of them exercising, the fact that they both keep journals, the compartmentalizing of their lives, and the willingness of both to use people to further their aims.

Cubitt takes us for an uncomfortable but mesmerizing ride, as we explore these characters’ dysfunctions: Serial killer Spector has a philosophical world-view justifying pain and murder. An unrepentant pedophile priest defends himself in a prison interview room. Gibson declares that the fundamental nature of the world is female, and that men are essentially birth defects. A talented rebellious teen thinks she is in control while being manipulated and warped. These things make your skin crawl. And yet, the seeming ice queen, Gibson, is capable of kindness and virtue, as is Spector. Spector isn’t a monster, he’s a father, a husband, a grief counselor, a son, but he is also an addict to his misogynistic and violent compulsions, with terrible consequences.

The Fall is Gillian Anderson’s best work for television since the X-files, which explains why she became a producer in the second season. She knows a good thing when she sees it! Cubitt said in a recent interview for Collider.com that he wrote several episodes then approached Anderson with the project. He was gratified that she accepted. Cubitt seems to have the touch – he did the same thing with Helen Mirren. After she finished the first season of Prime Suspect and announced there would be no others, he wrote a four hour piece that convinced her to do Prime Suspect Two. Cubitt stated that on several projects when he didn’t have a voice in casting decisions, or when desired people were not available or willing, this could really “scupper things completely.”

Belfast is another component to the success of The Fall. “The Troubles” (the protracted period of Protestant/Catholic violence) hangs like an ominous backdrop to the story, even though it doesn’t directly bear on it. We do see a wall memorializing fallen officers, many from that period. Since much of the tension in the series comes from not knowing what will happen next, the setting adds to this. Cubitt wrote in a 2013 piece for The Guardian Newspaper, that he feels place is a key element to a story. We see tidy upscale neighborhoods and others that are rough-and tumble working class — some denizens of the latter create a subplot, which eventually collides with the main. (The killer resides in a tidy neighborhood.) It is interesting to note that real Belfast has never faced a serial killer like Spector. Hopefully, that will continue.

Cubitt is currently in negotiations with the BBC for a third season. If there is any justice in a dysfunctional world, he will be given the green light. In sum, The Fall is an outstanding series, deserving of a wide audience in the States. Don’t let this one Fall off your radar!

Robin Reed Sees American Horror Story: Freak Show

Not Horror, Not That Freaky
by Robin Reed

Don’t read this if you don’t want to know details of “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” which recently ended its run.freakshow-a-creepy-poster-collection

I am usually right there and ready to be scared when any horror film, book, or TV show comes out. When the word horror is in the title, you know I have to check it out. So when “American Horror Story” started a few years ago, I watched it. For a while. I liked it at first, but then it just got dumb. It was set in the current day (as of several years ago) so the internet existed. How hard is it to enter the address of a house you are looking at into a search engine and find out that it is internationally famous as “The Murder House” and a tour passes by every day with people who want to see it? There were some shivers and cool stuff near the beginning, but I lost all interest after a few episodes.

So I skipped the next two seasons. The only reason I decided to watch “American Horror Story: Freak Show” is that I find the circus/carnie culture interesting, and I have been treated like a freak often enough to feel some kinship to the people in such shows.

I watched every episode, with many characters I liked, and an atmosphere of dread, at least at the beginning. Many people on the internet loved to hate “Twisty the Clown,” (though that name was never mentioned in the show itself.) I thought his character was too easy for a show that was supposed to be groundbreaking. He was the show’s Freddy Krueger, or Jason. But at least he was scary. As the show went on, the scariness drained out of it.

The characters I liked best were the freaks themselves. Some were the product of special effects and makeup, but some were real people who are different. Jyoti Amge, the smallest woman in the world; Mat Fraser, who has floppy arms because his mother took thalidomide when she was pregnant with him; Rose Siggins, who was born with useless legs that were amputated so she could move herself around; and Erika Ervin, a six foot eight inch tall transgender woman.

These characters were all written as real people and had their moments in the story. As did others such as Kathy Bates as a bearded lady with a strange accent, (which I researched, finding out that it is a Baltimore working class accent.) Her son is the Lobster Boy, with hands that look like flippers. Michael Chiklis is a strongman, and Sarah Paulson is conjoined twins who look like one woman with two heads. (This really can happen, twins like that had a short-lived reality show not too long ago.)

There are also dwarves, and actors playing pinheads. Pinheads are people with microcephaly. They have small brains and thus small heads.

There were interesting characters, and interesting plot twists and turns, but the show as a whole was too long, and the decision to kill off Twisty may have seemed clever to the writers but it’s like making a Nightmare on Elm Street movie and removing Freddy Krueger less than halfway through. After he is gone we get a variety of villains, included a man who wants to kill the freaks and sell them to a museum of anatomical oddities, the strong man, who kills Ma Petite, the freak everyone loves, because he is being blackmailed by the man who wants to sell her to the museum, and of course Dandy, the local rich kid who is a blossoming serial killer.

None of these have the focus and intensity that Twisty did, so while the show might be called a drama about horrible things, it really isn’t horror. Horror makes you feel scared and uncomfortable and stays with you long after you read or watch it. American Horror Story: Freak Show was a pretty good drama about these people, but not horror.

I usually like Neil Patrick Harris, but he was brought in seemingly to showcase hoary horror concepts such as a ventriloquist dummy which may or may not be alive, and a magician really sawing a woman in half. His part in the show killed a couple of episodes but had no real effect on the story.

Jessica Lange is in every season of “American Horror Story” and she is good as Elsa Mars, the owner of the show. Her German accent sounded right to me, for someone who has been in the US for many years. Her big secret is that she is a freak too. She has two prosthetic legs. She walks on them so well that no one knows unless she rolls her stockings down to reveal them. The legs are wooden, carved to look like human legs, so I’m not sure it’s possible to walk that well and to keep them secret, and even become a TV star with the public none the wiser.

The best episode was about Pepper the pinhead. Another pinhead who she loved dies and she is inconsolable and unable to perform. Elsa takes her back to her sister, who does not want her. This ties in with an earlier season that I didn’t see, with Pepper in an insane asylum. Pepper was largely background in “Freak Show” until this episode, but becomes a character who makes us feel for her, though she can’t speak and is mentally handicapped.

I don’t know why several songs in a show set in 1952 are performed several decades before they were written. Maybe it has something to do with the overall connections between the seasons.

There are a lot of good things, but the whole doesn’t add up. There were thirteen episodes, and some were longer than an hour. I think they could be edited down to six or seven hours, and would be much better.

“American Horror Story” has a lot of fans, and they trace the connections and characters that appear in different times and locations. Personally, I have done my time and will let those fans continue to watch without me.