Diana Vaccarelli sees BANSHEE

BANSHEE

by Diana Vaccarelli

A coworker and I were discussing television and what shows we love to watch. He highly recommended Banshee on Cinemax. After hearing his enthusiasm and love for the show I decided to sit down and watch a few episodes one afternoon.

The series centers on an ex-­convict and master thief who as he assumes the identity of the new Sheriff of Banshee, Pennsylvania. Calling himself by the sheriff’s name, Lucas Hood, the protagonist continues his criminal activities while bringing his own brand of justice to the small Amish town.

The pilot starts with a man leaving prison. He searches for his lost love, Anna, and finds her  hiding in Banshee, PA, married and with two children. Feeling angry and hurt, he goes to the nearby roadhouse for a drink – well, lots more than one drink – and meets the newly hired Sheriff, Lucas Hood – who hasn’t yet checked in and not only isn’t known by anyone in town but hasn’t ever been seen by anyone.

Before not very long, a group of thugs enter the bar and demand money from the owner. The new sheriff fights them, and our lead tries his best to help, but the sheriff is murdered. In the heat of the moment, our protagonist decides to assume the identity of the deceased, and from that moment on, he is the one and only Sheriff Lucas Hood.

“Lucas Hood” is portrayed with high energy and intense anger by Anthony Starr. Starr’s performance is simply brilliant and has kept me engaged episode after episode. Watching him perform this role, I have felt solidly connected with the character and no matter what’s going on I find myself rooting for him to succeed against all odds.

Now that we’ve talked about our hero, let’s talk about the continuing villain of the series, Kai Proctor, who has everyone in Banshee tightly under his thumb. Ulrich Thomsen portrays Proctor with a kind of grace and elegance not often seen in a baddie. He shows us the character has positive feelings as well as negative ones and is especially impressive when he comes to the aid of a group of Amish people who are being harassed.

TVWriter™’s Beloved Leader, Larry Brody, has talked to me about his problems with Banshee. Particularly problematic for him is the idea of a “mail order sheriff. Not only does that aspect of the series not bother me, I actively like it because what we end up with is a show where not even the viewer knows the true name of our hero. This is a new take for a television series, which already brings it up several notches.

I also like the gritty camerawork and realistic violence. They remind me of old Scorsese films like Mean Streets and Goodfellas. This aspect, combined with the unique hero, brings us 180 degrees away from the typical, Law and Order style police procedural.

If you’re looking for something fresh and often fascinating, I highly recommend Banshee. Lucas Hood is truly a Robin Hood for our times.

munchman sees MR. ROBOT

…And I love this show so much that I feel like I should disqualify myself from writing a review.

Fortunately, MR. ROBOT’s side is far from lacking adherents. In fact, I’ve only seen one review that knocked the show, and it was one that took exception not to the series but to the worldview it represented.

No, yer friendly neighborhood munchero isn’t going to reblog that review. Fuck ’em if they can’t stand the truth.

Here’s the munchman side, written not by moi but by a writer I’ve learned to respect a great deal. Mostly, I admit, because of this:

Robot1by Sandra Gonzalez

t’s not a world where you meet characters, and check in with the gang each week. It’s not a show that aims to be like any other technology-centered drama on TV.

And that’s exactly how creator Sam Esmail intended it to be.

Originally conceptualized as a movie, Esmail realized he had a TV show on his hands when writing the initial script. Then around page 90, it occurred to Esmail that he had not yet gotten past the first act of the story he wanted to tell.

Luckily, the timing was right for Mr. Robot — even mores o than Esmail could have predicted when he started writing the script.

Timing is everything

Just before Thanksgiving 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment suffered an unprecedented hack on its technology systems. Highly damaging emails were leaked, confidential documents were made public, and like never before, lessons about the importance of technology security were learned.

Over at USA, Esmail had just turned in the pilot episode of Mr. Robot to executives.

It was the story of an emotionally, socially and psychologically troubled man named Elliot (Rami Malek), who works as cybersecurity expert by day, and turns into a hacking web vigilante of sorts at night. Elliot’s voice — full of paranoia and distrust — helps viewers navigate the world through his eyes, and at times, it is an unsettling ride.

Getting it right

USA held its first screening of Mr. Robot in March during South by Southwest in Austin; it was a time when TV shows with a technological twist were more prominent — and more criticized — than ever.

But the show, which got a Season 2 order from USA hours ahead of its premiere, received glowing reviews and won the SXSW Audience Award.

Read it all at Mashable

Diane Vaccarelli Sees SECRETS AND LIES

Did he do it? Sorry, gang, but we aren't telling.

Did he do it? Sorry, gang, but we aren’t telling.

Everyone Has Those Little Secrets
by Diana Vaccarelli

My favorite genre to watch on television is suspense.  Secrets and Lies follow the aftermath of the murder of a young boy name Tom Murphy.  The show is told through the eyes of Ben Crawford, played by Ryan Phillippe, whose world is turned upside down as he is the prime suspect but claims his innocence.

Phillippe portrays Ben Crawford as a sensitive nice guy always looking to do the right thing even when the right thing gets him in trouble. He establishes a poise and grace even though you can see the frustration on his face.  Phillippe manages to change his mood when his family is in the room, mainly his youngest daughter Abby.  He does everything he can to assure them that everything is going to be okay.

When he is alone you can see the anger building and tension and then he flips the switch. This is where he shines in the role. He makes that seem so easy, which we know is not as an actor. It is a rare gift.

Juliette Lewis plays hard-nosed Detective Andrea Cornell. The problem with her is that she never seems to create a character. Cornell never displays the slightest bit of emotion, with the result that we never know what she’s thinking. Even when she’s alone and we should.

Ms. Lewis’ performance makes it difficult to judge the writing. Do we blame the actor for being so opaque? Or was she following the dictates of the script? I tend to think it’s the acting that’s at fault because the characters show so many more facets. I’m not just talking about Phillipe here, but also the character of Abby. As played by Bella Shouse, she truly shines, demonstrating a child’s sense of hope and trust in spite of a tragic event that could send any adult tumbling into a pit of despair.

Plotwise, the rest of the writing provides many fascinating and perceptive moments, especially the ones revealing how the media can twist facts, manipulating emotions and ruining reputations and…lives. These never-ending twists and turns have brought me back as a viewer week after week.

All in all, I recommend SECRETS AND LIES – as long as you watch with a careful and forgiving eye.

Herbie J Pilato: PERRY MASON as a Primer for TV Pilot Creators

perry masonby Herbie J Pilato

Perry Mason originally aired on CBS from 1957 to 1966, and starred the great Raymond Burr in the lead, with Barbara Hale as his trusted assistant, Della Street; William Hopper (son of Hollywood gossip legend Hedda Hopper) as detective Paul Drake, and William Talman as Hamilton Burger, the poor district attorney, who Mason always clobbered in court.  Ray Collins, Wesley Lau, and Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) rounded out the additional legal-law enforcement cast in various roles over the years.

Perry Mason was more than just a precursor to countless lawyer shows to follow, including LA Law, Law & Order, and Boston Legal, among others.

Mason was based on a series of best-selling mystery novels created by attorney-novelist Erle Stanley Gardner, which were transformed into a CBS radio show – with soap-opera elements – that aired from 1943 to 1955.  When the radio series became the now iconic Raymond Burr show, the soapy serial slant was shelved.  But in 1956 (two years before the Burr series debuted), the original radio format was transplanted to the TV daytime serial, The Edge of Night (complete with the PM radio production staff and most of the cast, who were given new character names), where it remained until December 1984.

Meanwhile, in the Fall of 1973 – only a few years after Burr’s Mason TV series was cancelled by CBS in 1966, the show was revived with Monte Markham in the lead, Sharon Acker as Della, Albert Stratton as Drake, Dane Clark as Lt. Tragg, and Harry Guardino as Hamilton Burger.  This edition was titled, The New Perry Mason and only lasted one season.

A little over ten years later, Burr and Barbara Hale reprised their famous roles in the 1985 hit TV-movie, Perry Mason Returns (this time for NBC), which also featured Hale’s real life son, Willam Katt (star of TV’s Greatest American Hero), as Paul Drake, Jr. (William Hopper had died in 1970).  The Returns film was so successful it lead to an entire series of TV-movies that lasted even after Burr himself passed away.

In either “case,” the original Perry Mason TV series was a stand-out.  So very well written, directed and performed with precision, the show remains gripping and entertaining to this day.

Perry never lost a case, except for once – later in the series, when that verdict was then reversed.  The chemistry between the main four actors, Burr, Hale, Hopper and Talman was solid.  Over time, and especially in the show’s later years, we came to observe and understand the respect between not only the characters on the show – but between the actors who played them.

Burr made certain to create a “family atmosphere” on the set, and that transferred to the screen when the cameras began to roll.

There was no gratuitous violence on the series.  Instead, the show catered to the intellect.  Burr’s Mason was intelligent, but compassionate – and always fair and honest. His objective for each case was justice and the truth – and not just based on technicalities.  But on the heart – which is why it remains so popular today.

A “classic,” in every sense of the word – and an inspiration to many, professionally – and personally.

Many viewers were inspired to become attorneys, and many more watchers were inspired to treat each other with the highest regard of respect.

As such, the Perry Mason TV show became not only a prime example of just how positive an effect television may have on society in general, but serving as a prime-example of just how great a television series can be.


In addition to his work as an author, and TV producer, TVWriter™ Contributing Editor Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between popular culture and education.  For more information, log on to www.ClassicTVPS.blogspot.com. 

5 Ways ‘Supernatural’ Has Managed to Hang Around for a Decade

Cuz let’s face it. If SUPERNATURAL can last that long, so can something you create. (Are we going to get trolled for that comment? No, please, don’t…aargh–)

supernatural musical

by Nick Cannata-Bowman

There are very few (if any) shows out there quite like Supernatural. Over its decade-long run, it’s covered everything from vampire hunting to the idea that God is indeed dead, or at the very least on a permanent vacation. Its skillful mix of humor of gravitas has it walking a careful balance that never has it leaning too far in one direction. Supernatural has even been around since The CW was known as “The WB.” When it first aired, 7th Heaven still had a year to go before it found itself cancelled. Over the years, the show’s found itself known for its longevity as much as its unique stories. No show sticks around for a decade without a lot of factors working in its favor. While series have come and gone on The CW, there’s been one constant at the network, and that’s been Supernatural. For the uninitiated, the show follows Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who’ve spent their lives hunting all manner of evil. They’ve exorcised ghosts, impaled ancient gods, and even tangled with Satan himself. If you can imagine a mythical creature, odds are the Winchesters have come across it at some point in their 10 years on the road. But what specifically has kept Supernatural around through a constantly changing television landscape?

1. Being almost painfully self-aware

The meta-commentary within the Supernatural universe is absolutely bonkers. In one episode, Sam and Dean are transported into an alternate reality, where they’re two actors on a fictional TV show… called Supernatural. Basically it’s the reality we already live in, sans any magic or mythical monsters. The brothers spend a better part of the episode trying to get back to their own world, while the rest of the world knows them by their actual, real-life names (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles). Things only get weirder in later seasons: The Winchesters stumble upon a prophet of the Lord who’s written a whole series of books, also called Supernatural. The series in turn spawned a devoted following of fans within the show’s universe, not unlike the real-world fans that actually exist in ours. They even end up at a convention for the books where people cosplay as the brothers. In this latest season, they stumble upon an adapted musical of their own lives based on the Supernatural novels. This insane level of self-awareness, while crazy at times, has also served to keep the show both balanced and entertaining.

2. Staying focused on our main characters

Sam and Dean have had sidekicks and secondary players drift in and out of their lives, but in the end, the show always boils down to their relationship as brothers. The pilot kicks off with the brothers as estranged, having not spoken for years. They hit the road to find their missing father, and from there the show dives into their complicated dynamic. It fluctuates in and out of serialized “monster of the week” adventures and bigger, over-arching plots, but it all comes full circle to how the Winchesters are both the best and worst thing for each other. They’ve spent the better part of 10 seasons going behind each other’s backs, lying to protect to one another, and then periodically reconciling before their next big conflict. But with a host of issues related to their less-than-typical upbringing hunting monsters with their father, the main story always seems just focused enough to stay relevant.

Read it all at Cheatsheet

Herbie J Pilato: The Legacy of DARK SHADOWS

Jonathan Frid, who plays Barnabas Collins, left, and David Selby, who plays Quentin Collins, in the Gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows", April 16, 1969. (AP Photo/Bob Wands)

Jonathan Frid, who plays Barnabas Collins, left, and David Selby, who plays Quentin Collins, in the Gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows”, April 16, 1969. (AP Photo/Bob Wands)

Part 2
by Herbie J Pilato

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t miss Part 1, conveniently located HERE

THE MAYHEM OF THE MACABRE

1969:  20,000,000 viewers are now obsessed with Quentin, Barnabas and DS in general. The show’s popularity reaches mammoth proportions. Followers from every nook and cranny come out of the woodwork…even the woodwork from the White House. For on October 31st, Halloween 1969, Tricia Nixon gives a Halloween Party for 250 underprivileged children, and Jonathan Frid is invited.

Other invitations are accepted. DS cast members help to raise more than $300,000 for Muscular Dystrophy; 680,000 screaming fans show up at a Founder’s Day parade.

Grayson Hall (who plays Dr. Julia Hoffman, and later with utter genius as the gypsy Magda – and who’s married to DS writer Sam Hall), Frid), and a young DS ingénue fear for their lives when rabid vampire fans attack the vehicle in which they are riding. This is it. Frid has had it. He needs a vacation. He demands time off. The writers comply…to deathly consequences.

Edward Collins (as played by the late, great Louis Edmunds) discovers Barnabas’ secret…that he is indeed a knight of the living dead. For the first time in the show’s history, an all-out vampire hunt is underway.

Barnabas is then cornered and staked, which causes a riotous upheaval from fans.

As appeasement, the show introduces a storyline with the powerful Leviathans who rescue Barnabas. The time-line shifts once more, and Barnabas returns to 1969 – the present. But he’s cold and unfeeling – very unlike the Barnabas viewers first fell in love with. He’s free from vampirism, but seemingly more diabolical. It doesn’t register with the viewer. So he’s cursed again to suck blood, so the watchers can once again feel his pain. But the show turns too violent, and becomes a blood bath. He’s sucking people dry left and right. The fans are not happy.

Their dissent worsens, especially since David Selby has by now left the show (when Quentin exits Collinwood to search for a lost love). ARookie-actress and future Charlie’s Angel joins the cast as a ghost hoping to fill the void. But not even a later-day Goodbye Girl in the guise of Marsha Mason can capture the magic of Shadows gone-bye. The situation grows darker, when the “Parallel Time” episode arc begins. The show is different. The fans accept the time-traveling, the actors playing ancestors of the descendants they also portray. But the viewers aren’t buying the parallel universe bit, in which the actors play doppelgangers of the same-time characters.

The plots become confusing, even to the players. To top it all off, there’s a movie afoot.

House of Dark Shadows, the first of two feature films based on the TV series, goes into production. The cast films the movie and the television show at the same time. Everyone’s exhausted. Tempers fly during the scant five weeks all are given to complete the motion picture. Actors are shuttled from Manhattan, where the series is filmed, to Tarrytown, New York – 25 miles away – where the movie is being shot.

The schedule is hectic, and the strain is showing up on both the small and large screens. What’s more, tests audiences object to the hanging scene with little David Collins (played by David Hennesy). So it’s clipped from the movie. But then, MGM thinks the film is too long. The suits request some editing, to size it down to 90 minutes, instead of 2-hours. Dan Curtis protests. But he has no choice. He succumbs, and the movie suffers, creatively. Yet the fans still line-up to see it – by the groves.

However, all is not like it used to be, certainly not the TV show. For the like the new movie, it wreaks with violence. The charm and innocence at the core of Dark’s original appeal has been lost. As Jonathan Frid once put it, the film lacked the “naivete of the soap opera. Every once in a while, the show coalesced into a Brigadoonish never-never-land. It wasn’t necessary to bring the rest of the world into Dark Shadows, which is what the film did.”

Still, House of DS saves MGM from bankruptcy, and a second movie is ordered. This one, titled, Night of Dark Shadows, is worse. It’s not even scary. Again, the blame is pinned on editing. Apparently, the film’s consistent storyline ends up on the editing room floor.

Back on the small screen, things aren’t much better. The “Parallel Time” story arc is killing the show. A time-travel trip to 1995 fails to rev up viewer engines. One last dabble into the occult serving as a possible saving grace. Once more, Dan Curtis borrows from another familiar tale. A curse storyline based on the controversial Shirley Jackson story called The Lottery. But there’s no winning numbers. Soon, the lights are out, and the Shadows are no more.

The series ends with wink-eyed words to the viewer spoken by Thayer David’s marbled-mouthed Ben Stokes: “There was no vampire loose on the great estate. For the first time at Collinwood, the marks on the neck were indeed those of an animal…and for as long as they lived, the dark shadows of Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past.”

And despite thousands of fan letters that form a “Bring Back Dark Shadows” campaign, the lights go out, and newly-made Shadows fade to black.

That is, until some twenty years later.

THE DARK DESCENDANTS

1990:  Five years before the fantasy 1995 time-line on Dark Shadowsis to actually end the original series, a new DS shows up in prime-time in reality, once a week on NBC – not even its original ABC network. The characters are the same, but the actors are different. As with the two DS feature films and the last season of the first series, missing is the campy charm, replaced with too serious a take and rendering on the Collins family portrait. This new Dark is filmed with a big-budget, and not videotaped on a shoestring. The new DS is just plain no fun to watch, even with the respected Jean Simmons (of classic movie-lore, as well as sci-fi fandom via the Planet of the Apes).

None of it matters. The backlash begins.

It’s the “Old Shadows Fans” v. “New Shadows Fans” scenario.  It’s like “Original Trek” v. “Next Generation.”  Fans of the first Shadows are aghast with what they see – and don’t see – in the new Dark. Where’s Jonathan Frid? Who the hell is Ben Cross?

But then, something characteristically eerie transpires. The DS fans combine and begin to realize that any Dark, is better than no Dark. And a subtle cult following soon begins to take form for the new series.

But it’s too late. NBC cancels the series after six episodes, and Dan Curtis is left wondering if he should have instead taken this new Shadows into syndication.

THE FESTIVAL OF FRIGHTS

Cast reprise. So many are gone. The veteran grand Grayson Hall and  Thayer David.  The charming young Joel Crothers (who succumbs to AIDS).

Others are snarled in controversy (Alexandra Moltke finds herself testifying in court over a scandalous marriage).

Still others flourish in many an enterprise. David Selby finds a comfortable regular role on Falcon Crest. John Karlen plays a drunken dad on the Emmy-winning Cagney & Lacey. Kate Jackson goes on to be one of Charlie’s Angels, while we learn her former co-star Jaclyn Smith was once married to Shadows cast member Roger Davis (who at one point replaces the late Peter Deuel on ABC’s prime-time western Alias Smith & Jones).

Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans, Josette Du Pres) discovers further fame as a frequent TV guest star (on shows like the original Police Squad TV series and the aforementioned Star Trek: The Next Generation), and becomes the official DS literary chronicler. Her former Shadows costar Lara Parker now writes Dark novels, while she also continues to act. They all try to make it to as many DS Festivals as they can.

But the one fans still most eagerly stand in line to see is none other than Jonathan Frid. The man who could not see himself in the mirror…the man who brought unanimous joy to countless DS fans throughout the world, throughout the ages.

Until the day he died in real life in 2012…tellingly, right before the premiere of the new Dark Shadows feature film starring Johnny Depp (and directed by Tim Burton), Jonathan Frid – the talented, theatrically-trained thespian traveled with his one-man show variously titled, “Jonathan Frid’s Shakespearean Odyssey” and “Jonathan Frid’s Fools & Fiends,” each hearkening in some subliminal – and maybe direct – way, to the fact that Dark Shadows was indeed a hit show due to this…one and only original iconic man…surrounded by an original cast of legends that can never be fully duplicated – in any time period, parallel or otherwise.


In addition to his work as an author, and TV producer, Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between popular culture and education.  For more information, log on to www.ClassicTVPS.blogspot.com.