munchman sees BARELY FAMOUS

And even though it’s funny in that dry, unfunny way all new sitcoms are funny, I’m disappointed.

Can’t help but wonder why in this day and age something called BARELY FAMOUS isn’t, you know, a little more bare…?

What’s the matter, VH1? Never heard of truth in advertising?

Sheesh!

(Hey, it’s Sunday and I’m stuck working. Cut a guy some slack, OK?)

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munchman

 

Diana Vacc sees “All the Way”

by Diana Vaccarelli

All_The_Way

*If you haven’t viewed this film yet be warned. This review may contain spoilers!*

With the U.S. Presidential election turning into a bad reality show I decided to take the time to watch the film All the Way. Produced by HBO, this film follows President Johnson after the assassination of Kennedy and the 1964 civil rights bill.  It is great to be reminded of how far our country has come. Not to be too political by any means.

THE GOOD:

  • The performances of both Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson and Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr. are the best to date in their careers.  They both bring depth and emotion to these historical figures from our past.  I truly felt that I was watching these men that I had learned about in history class.
  • The writing by Robert Schenkkan is brilliant and brings a true life event to the screen that makes you feel as though you are in the room negotiating this legendary policy. Not only is it a serious film, but the writing also brings some humor to break up the drama. For instance, there is a scene where the press is interviewing Johnson and he is playing with his dog, the way any of us would. I found this to be a hilarious way to show us the humanity of the man. (Even though back when this actually happened, the press vilified Johnson as an animal abuser for “pulling” the pooch’s ears.)
  • Jay Roach, the director of this film and others such as Game Change and Recount, presents the subject matter of politics and the civil rights movement with great care and consideration.  His work does more than merely do this script justice as he delivers a film that everyone will enjoy from start to finish even in an upsetting election year.

THE BAD:

  • There is nothing bad about this film.  I highly recommend it.  Go to on-demand and order through HBO and be inspired, as I was, by what you see.

Happy Summer Movie Season!


Diana Vaccarelli is the TVWriter™ Critic-at-Large and, in case you haven’t noticed, a HUGE Outlander fan. Learn more about her HERE

Houdini and Doyle – The Victorian Odd Couple

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That’s “Doyle” on the left and “Houdini” on the right for those not up to snuff on 19th Century superstars

by Lew Ritter

The modern detective procedural show features a group of suave actors playing Detectives. They solve crimes while driving around in hot sports cars, using the latest technology and keep the world safe from the bad guys. Very traditional and often very predictable.

Houdini and Doyle is an offbeat period piece procedural that takes place in Victorian England, circa the early Twentieth Century. Its main characters are Harry Houdini, the famed illusionist, and Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. The two men were real life friends, who unite to fight unexplained supernatural phenomenon. It is not inconceivable that they would unite for such purposes. It is an offbeat and well executed concept.

In its first season, beginning in the spring of this year, each episode dealt with some impossible crime that appears to be supernatural in nature. Vampires, aliens, unexplained deaths etc. The trio uncover logical reasons for the crime at the end of each episode. Some critics have labeled the show, The “Victorian X-Files. That is fair description because it deals with supernatural crimes in Victorian England. It sounded like an even better idea especially since Fox’s other hit supernatural show Sleepy Hollow ran out of steam in its third season.

Shows rise or fall on the likeability and charisma of its stars. In Houdini & Doyle, the actors are uniformly excellent and well cast. Each of the cast members are relatively unknown in America , but they add a strong presence to their respective roles.

Michael Weston is appropriately unkempt and over the top as the famed illusionist Harry Houdini. He is quirky in manner and eye’s full of mischief. Even when his stock in trade was to pull off incredible illusions that appeared unearthly or even magical. On the show, he is often portrayed as the skeptical debunker of the supernatural.

Stephen Mangan is appropriately dapper as the buttoned down Arthur Conan Doyle. In real life, Doyle was a real life aficionado of the supernatural. As a real life medical doctor, he also brought knowledge of early twentieth century medicine to solve crimes.

Completing the trio is Rebecca Liddiard as Detective Adelaide Stratton, the first female police detective from Scotland Yard. It seems improbable back in the late 19th century that Scotland Yard would have allowed a woman to be a detective. However, for the purpose of the show’s premise, it works very well.

Liddiard presents the perfect foil and rational center for the Houdini and Doyle crime fighting team. Her personal story became the backstory for the series. Week by week, we learn more and more about her past. Stratton discovers that her first husband apparently died or committed suicide. This backstory played out for most of the remaining episodes of Season One. Eventually we learn that the husband was not the victim of an untimely death. Her husband appears first to be an undercover agent in a radical group, and then revealed to be the would be assassin of President McKinley.

Houdini appears to be infatuated by the lovely Stratton, and often a highlight of the show is the banter between the two characters about kindling some sort of romantic relationship. Each of the characters have interesting backstories. Houdini is at the height of his fame as an illusionist and seems to be plagued by death of mother. Doyle is grief stricken that his beloved wife is deep in a coma. He suffers writers block and cannot bring himself to write more Sherlock Holmes stories.

In the season finale, Houdini comes to grip with the death of his mother. Doyle breaks free of his writers block and began writing Hounds of the Baskervilles.

The show does take some liberties with the era. As mentioned, Stratton was an unlikely detective in that era. In another episode, a famed Faith Healer of the era was played by a black actor. Racism would still be a potent factor in Victorian England. However it’s just a light TV show and an indication of how far Hollywood has come in terms of diversity on television. The historical inaccuracies such as these are all over the place. However, they can be forgiven because it is enjoyable escapist entertainment with a supernatural twist.

Several Outstanding episodes:

After a terrifying encounter with otherworldly beings, a man awakes in a field claiming that the aliens have abducted his wife. Doyle and Houdini discover that the “aliens” are really a group of cast off East Europeans stuck at the bottom of a mine for over a dozen years. Lacking exposure to the sun, they appeared to be almost alien in their appearance.

When several people are scared to death, clues lead the team to the notorious Bedlam Mental Hospital. The episode deals with Doyle as an apparent captive of the mental hospital. Later, it is revealed that the abduction is all in the mind of Doyle as he wrestles with issues from his past dealing with his father.

Several other episodes incorporate real life characters from the era. They include Thomas Edison inventing a Necrophone to communicate with the dead. In another episode, a housemaid of Bram Stoker’ is found with a stake through her heart in Vampire style. Stoker was the creator of Dracula.

The season finale jammed two episodes together. The mystery of the show was exploring the mysterious deaths of some members of a mining town. This was resolved about halfway through the show, so that it could wrap up Adelaide Stratton’s backstory.

Conclusion:

In the U.S., the show was well scheduled on Monday nights schedule following the spell binding Batman origins show Gotham. It was well written and moved at a fast pace. Its only crime was that it only lasted for a brief ten episodes. The era has many unexplored characters and situations worth exploring. It was a fun show and a nice change of pace that deserved to be renewed for a second season. Unfortunately, even Houdini’s skill as an escape artist couldn’t help Houdini and Doyle escape cancellation.


Lew Ritter is a frequent contributor to TVWriter™. An aspiring TV and film writer, he was a recent Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition

AQUARIUS 1969 – America on the Brink of a Nervous Breakdown

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by Lew Ritter

“We didn’t start the fire – The World ‘s been burning since the world’s been turning.”- Billy Joel

Are you tired of the endless mind numbing headlines about corrupt “say anything to get elected politicians.”, allegations of police brutality , overseas events that seemed to be spinning out of control and a world that seems to be collapsing around us? Need a break?

Well, let’s revisit a more tranquil place around fifty years or so in the past America, in the 1960’s. It was called the “Era of Peace and Love. “ However, in reality, the 1960’s was a chaotic time when America felt like it was falling apart due to strained race relations, student unrest and foreign wars without end.

In short, America was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. Surprised?

The Age of Aquarius was a song made famous by the Broadway play Hair and The Fifth Dimension, a singing group of the era. “Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abound,” goes one of the lyrics of the song.

Aquarius the TV series is a realistic 1960’s cop drama about LAPD detective Sam Hodiak and the other men and occasional women of the L.A. P.D. The show opens with a caveat that it is a mixture of real and fictional events. Its story lines are inspired by actual persons and events and incorporated into a weekly dramatic series. If it completes its five year run, the series arc will take the show into the early seventies.

The show centers around David Duchovny as Sam Hodiak, a no-nonsense LAPD detective. His partner is an undercover narcotics officer named Brian Shafe. Rounding out the main characters was a young female detective named Charmaine who is trying to prove that woman can be effective police officers, and not just clean coffee pots in the back room.

Season One opened with the abduction of Emma Karn, an impressionable young teenage girl. Her father is an influential politician, who eventually joined the Nixon administration. Hodiak discovers that the missing girl has been abducted by a charismatic sociopath named Charles Manson. Manson is an ex-con and small time crook who recruited a group of impressionable young followers into becoming part of his ‘Family.” They were mainly a group of ragtag hippies who follow Manson in their deluded quest for drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll.

Season One dealt largely with the development of Manson from small time crook into the charismatic sociopath that would eventually lead his “Family” into committing the heinous Tate -LoBianca murders that shook America in the summer of 1969. He convinced his followers to brutally kill several people including the beautiful actress Sharon Tate. Other prominent subplots featured Hodiak ‘s son deserting the army and stealing documents about America’s involvement with the Vietnam war. They could be a version of the infamous Pentagon Papers. They were the Wiki-Leaks of the day.

Season Two continues the Manson story. Every episode of season two opens with a flash forward scene leading up to the infamous Tate- Lobianca murders. To me, Season Two is more interesting because it portrays events of the Sixties such as the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and the Black Panthers, a radical Black anti-police group with Revolutionary rhetoric.

The Good:

The time period. The show is faithful to the attitudes and technology of the 1960’s. Cops using rotary telephones, cars have no GPS, and not a copy of Pokemon or a computer in site.

David Duchovny devours the role of Hodiak. He is a no – nonsense cop whose unorthodox methods would not fit into today’s world. Despite the close cropped hair and the air, he still has the same dry manner and sense of humor about the world, as his more famous creation- Fox Mulder.

Emma Dumont as the runaway girl. She brings a sense of innocence to her role of Emma. A lost soul, she seems to be morphing into the leader of the Manson girls.

Gaius Charles as Bunchy Carter. He had a short lived role on Grey’s Anatomy. However it must not have impressed many people because he lasted about a year. However, on Aquarius, he makes a powerful impression as ‘Bunchy’ Carter, the real life Black Panther leader in L.A. His raw language is shocking, powerful and uncensored. He is the antagonist and occasional ally of Hodiak as he investigates several murders in L.A.

Language- It is very brave show that uses language that is rather blunt and typical of the times. The creators of the show do not soft pedal some of the racial bigotry of the times. Terms are tossed into the dialogue that would be unacceptable in today’s Politically Correct atmosphere.

The Bad:

The show rarely utilizes the music of the era. Powerful musical voices such as Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane on the soundtrack would have added another level to the show’s authenticity.

A recent episode lurched into conspiracy theory. Ken Karns, Emma’s father, is eager to be recruited by the Nixon campaign. They seem desperate to stop Robert Kennedy from running against Nixon in the Fall of 10968. In the final scene of a recent episode, Kennedy is lead into the kitchen of the hotel in which he holds his victory rally. In the kitchen, he encounters Sirhan Sirhan the crazed Palestinian native who assassinates him. Karns is seen among in the kitchen hidden by the victory celebrants. It seemed to hint that a Nixon operative was behind the Kennedy Assassination.

Shafe, Hodiak’s partner. He is bland and is supposed to be the hippie undercover cop, but he wears his hair short and would not infiltrate any hippie groups that I was aware of growing up in the 1960’s. He does have a mixed marriage to an African-American wife who works for the Black Panthers. This allows Hodiak and Shafe to interact with Bunchy Carter and the Panthers in some episodes.

Manson as played by Gethin Anthony. He plays Manson as a smooth hustler with some undertones of below the surface evil. Perhaps the creators of the show felt that a more realistic portrayal of Manson would scare away viewers

Conclusion:

By the end of Season One, I felt I had seen enough of the Manson story. It seemed to have worn out its welcome. In Season two, each episode begins with a flash-forward to the horrendous murder of Sharon Tate and her friends. Manson is enamored with Terry Melcher, a leading record producer of the era. Manson wanted to become a famous rock star. Melcher realized that Manson had little talent as a Rock Star. Apparently, the Tate- LoBianca murders was Manson’s attempt to get revenge on Melcher’s rejection of his talent.

However, as Season Two races toward its season conclusion, the show has grown more compelling by adding subjects like Shafe’s interracial marriage, conflicts with the Panthers, and Charmaine’s attempt to infiltrate the S.D.S , a campus radical group. Overall, though, Aquarius is uneven, trying to reel in viewers by publicizing  the Manson angle but then having to bring in other storylines to keep us coming.


Lew Ritter is a frequent contributor to TVWriter™. An aspiring TV and film writer, he was a recent Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition

munchman sees ROADIES & is Thrilled and Delighted…Oh, Yeah, and A-fucking-palled

roadiesby munchman

Am I the only human on the planet still giving Roadies a chance?

Why?

No, not “Why isn’t anybody else watching this sad attempt at music biz time travel?” I mean, “Why am I watching?”

Can’t be for the writing – it’s cliched beyondeth any understanding. Things happen, but no stories are told. Instead, each episode is a ridiculous slice of life fiction on the order of the bullshit, unreadable fiction The New Yorker magazine used to publish back when reading it could give a high school kid some serious intellectual cred.

(For all yer friendly neighborhood munchikins knows, that pompous, dreary, anti-humor mag may still be publishing those meandering exercises in long-winded nothingness, but I ain’t in high school anymore and have better things to be bored by. Like, oh fuck it, you know, Instagram and FB.

But continuing on the subject of the writing on ROADIES. Not only are there no plots, there aren’t any real characters either. Just cardboard strawmen representing various rock-loving tradespeople (AKA roadies) who, while well-acted, probably would come across as more interesting if they were engaged in some activity or conflict or self-reflectiveness that actually matters to people these days.

Did I say “these days?” Did I say “sad attempt at music biz time travel?” I did, and as a result you may be wondering just what the hell I’m talking about. So here’s a brief explanation: Cameron Crowe of Almost Famous infamy has given us a series ostensibly about a contemporary (as in here on this world and in this timeframe) tour by a major but fictional of course rock band in which every event, attitude, and musical sound reflects the here and now not one single bit but instead takes us back to Crowe’s glory days – the mid-seventies in which Almost Famous is set.

Cam, baby, you’ve been there and done that. So have we. Why the fuck haven’t you and Showtime moved the hell on?

Oh, right. It’s because today’s rock touring is duller than your toenails, that’s why. All business…and, right, not really rock at all. Just that strange generic “music” that owns our iPhone playlists. Nobody would even be tempted to tune in a TV series about 2016’s Wonderful World of Homogenized Harmonies Sung By Girl Singers Who All Sound Like Marni Nixon. (The late soprano who used to dub in the singing voices of all the non-tune carrying actresses in Hollywood back in the second half of the 20th Century.)

Talk about bland…

But hark, what light through yonder window breaks? There it is, the answer to my question: The reason I am, in fact watching Crowe’s sad exploration of what he can still remember of his past.

It’s the the love, kids.

For reals.

And the passion.

What keeps me coming back for more Roadies is seeing – and feeling because we’re talking about really fine acting here – the love every character feels for the music. The passion for life and art that music gives them, and that they return in kind. This could well be the most idealistic show on television right now. Maybe ever. It makes the Aaron Sorkin years of The West Wing (yes, there were non-Sorkin years but, fortunately, nobody watched them) look cynical.

Once upon a time, my fave video game was Sim Earth. I spent thousands of hours creating life and manipulating civilizations and learning, time and time again, as my societies waxed and waned and thrived and died out, that being a living, sentient being is – well, it’s fucking tough is what it is. Life is hard. The laws of physics and biology are merciless. There is no escape.

In Sim Earth, it was easy to make your people miserable, but bringing them happiness or at least contentment took a lot of thought and, I always liked to think, skill. Over time, I became the Master of Happy Civilizations by discovering one underlying truth: It’s art that makes life bearable. That allows beings like us to survive with at least an occasional smile.

So far in this, its freshman and probably only season, Roadies has demonstrated over and over and over again that art in the form of good ole rock ‘n’ roll is the true Second Coming. Bigger than Jesus! Out there waiting for us to find it and accept it so it can save our souls.

Thank you, Rock Jesus.

Thank you, Cameron Crowe.

Thank you, Showtime.

But don’t expect me to stick around and watch any more episodes of this execrable show. I’m taking action, kids.

It’s time for munchman to form his own band and hit the motherfucking road!


munchman is TVWriter™’s managing editor and scapegoat. Learn absolutely nothing more about him HERE

munchman: One-Sentence Reviews of July’s Premiering Series

dalek premiere

by munchman

Yer Friendly Neighborhood munchman promised LB he would review all the Summer 2016 shows – and then missed most of the June shows. (Or, rather, was sulking in my wi-fi challenged tent at a location I can’t divulge and didn’t get to see them. Don’t know how many I really “missed.”) But ole muncho is here now, so let’s get this over with started:

POWER

Power’s back and still nowhere near as enjoyable as the much more badly written Empire, proving that going over the top is always more fun.

BALLERS

Friends tell me I’d love this, but I’ve never been able to even give it a try cuz…Ballers?

VICE PRINCIPALS

Vice Principals tries like hell to give its characters all the energy, stupidity, and bad judgement of 8 year-olds and, unfortunately, succeeds.

DIFFICULT PEOPLE

Sorry, but I stopped watching this show halfway through the first season because it seems to me that if people are going to put on a show about my life I oughta get to at least star in it – or get paid…something!

SUITS

Suits is my ex’s favorite show, so ’nuff said, right?

MR. ROBOT

More of the same greatness we got last year featuring a protagonist I consider a kindred spirit except I smile less.

TYRANT

OMG!, it’s another series I just can’t get started on because I already deal with way too many tyrants for reals, kids, and definitely don’t need to put up with that shit when it’s just me, my VPN, and my iPad.

MARCO POLO

In the words of the Talking Heads, “same as it ever was,” even duller, dumber, and more historically inaccurate than DaVinci’s Demons (except I lurves DaVinci because…demons – and, hey, sex too).

DARK MATTER

Luvin’ on how well Dark Matter hides its low budget, but it screws up now and then by actually giving a character a positive worldview, for a few minutes anyway.

KILLJOYS

Killjoys is the same show as Dark Matter (I’ll bet there’s a point where we discover they share the same universe as well as the same night on Syfy), but it sometimes shows a genuine sense of humor that appeals to my smirkier side. (I said I don’t smile much, a few shows up. Didn’t say I don’t smirk.)

BOJACK HORSEMAN

This show is possibly my favorite TV series of all time because not only does it portray Hollywood perfectly, its hero has what really counts in showbiz – a genuine horse cock (even though we never get to see it). Oh, and because it’s my fave, I’m giving it a second sentence. Actually, this is for my ex to read but as long as you’re here, I’m cool with you sticking around: Sweetie, I’m sorry you hated my favorite show, but do you have to keep telling all your friends I’m just like Bojack except a whole lot – erm – smaller?

More to come in August – mehopes!

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Diana Vacc sees OUTLANDER Ep. 13 “Dragonfly in Amber”

Outlander Season 2 2016

by Diana Vaccarelli

*If you haven’t viewed this episode yet be warned this review may contain spoilers!*

The finale of season 3 of Outlander, entitled “Dragonfly in Amber,” flashes forward to the 1960’s and finds Claire and her daughter Brianna visiting Scotland where Claire reveals the truth about Brianna’s father.

THE GOOD:

  • The performances were the best part of the finale. The Actors continue to totally inhabit their characters – or maybe it’s the other way around. Caitriona Balfe delivers her best performance to date as our heroine Claire, exhibiting all the passion and guilt Claire feels about leaving her husband Jamie so subtly yet intensely that you can’t help but feel her pain. Sam Heughn pushes himself as Jamie. As he faces the fact that he has to let her go for her safety and the safety of their unborn child, you experience his readiness to give his life for them on any kind of battlefield, real or meteaphorical. The introductions of Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Rodger Wakefield (Richard Rankin) are perfection. Skelton and Rankin are just as they appear in the Outlander books, and as a devoted fangirl I couldn’t help but be glad of the casting.

THE BAD:

  • As much as it pains me to say this, the writing of this finale did not live up to that of last season. Written by Matthew B. Roberts and Toni Graphia, the episode felt rushed, especially during the main emotional moment of our two leads saying goodbye to one another. The going back and forth between times was also confusing because there was no clear visual transition.
  • One of the most touching emotional parts of the book was left out of the episode. It’s when Claire and Jamie carve each others initials into their thumbs to forever remember each others touch. I really missed that part. I know I’m being a little too picky because of course scenes have to be cut (no pun intended) for time, but to me that’s a key moment in the books and I was looking forward to seeing it.

OVERALL:

Like all shows, Outlander had its ups and downs this season, but over all I found it far more moving and emotionally complex than any other show on TV. Starz recently announced that it has given full season orders for books three and four in the Outlander series, so instead of saying a weepy goodbye to the show, I’m already excitedly preparing to say hello to all the fine episodes to come!

Happy TV Watching!


Diana Vaccarelli is the TVWriter™ Critic-at-Large and, in case you haven’t noticed, a HUGE Outlander fan. Learn more about her HERE