LB Sees SILICON VALLEY

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The Good:

  • I’m thinking, I’m thinking….

The Not-So-Good:

  • The writing, acting, and general production values here are so atrocious that this series should simply be called SILLY VALLEY. Although, come to think of it, that would insult genuinely wonderfully silly people everywhere.

Conclusion:

My inner nerd really wanted to like this. Or to at least hate the show so much that it could “love” it with a gleeful sneer. But, um, no way. SILICON VALLEY just takes all the classic (as in cliche-ed) smart tropes and makes them dumb, dumb dumb. It amazes my how a new show could present us with material that’s so damn old.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (Part One)

One of our favorite sites is Stephen Bowie’s Classic TV History Blog. We like it so much that the only reason we aren’t constantly posting its articles here on TVWriter™ is that, well, erm, Stephen doesn’t want us to. So now it’s our job to get as many of you as possible to go over there and slurp up the savory goodness that is his writing-reporting. If you love “old” TV shows, this short sample should send you to heaven!

dobietitleby Stephen Bowie

Rescued from obscurity last year with an essential complete-series DVD release,The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis remains one of the most distinctive and intelligent American situation comedies.  Conceived and successfully marketed as a youth-oriented enterprise – the everyday life of the ordinary teenager – Dobie expanded its vision, as all great television does, to articulate an overarching point of view on existence itself – a wry, wise one, with a strong undercurrent of melancholy.  Verbally witty and tonally unpredictable, it was probably the most sophisticated sitcom to debut before The Dick Van Dyke Show – although its sharp edges and complicated relationship with realism (and reality) make Dobie Gillis more relevant as a precursor to the spirited insanity of Green Acres.

Dobie Gillis was one of the earliest television comedies to embody the unmistakable voice of a single, brilliant writer – from the fifties, only Nat Hiken’s The Phil Silvers Show and arguably David Swift’s Mister Peepers come to mind as fellow members of that fraternity.  Though he had successes on Broadway (The Tender Trap) and in films (adaptations of The Affairs of Dobie Gillis in 1953, with Bobby Van in the title role, and his novel Rally Round the Flag, Boys! in 1958), Max Shulman began as a prose writer who took on college life in his first book (Barefoot Boy With Cheek, 1943) and introduced the character of Dobie in a series of short stories.  Although the unity of tone in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is self-evident, Shulman asserted his control over the television series in no uncertain terms: “In Dobie Gillis, every script in the end went through my typewriter, sometimes for minor changes, sometimes for major ones.  Out of 39 or so episodes, I’d write maybe 10 – anywhere from 6 to 12 – but I would polish or tinker with every one of them, because I wanted to keep the same tone.”

A TV pilot script for Dobie had been around for a couple of years before it coalesced at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1958, when Martin Manulis (the legendaryPlayhouse 90 producer) became the studio’s new head of television production and revived it from the dead.  Although Manulis quit after less than a year in the job, before the series debuted, his production company’s logo appeared at the end ofDobie Gillis for all of its one hundred and forty-seven episodes.  The Dobie series was also an early agency package, from General Artists Corporation (GAC), the forerunner of ICM.  A “package” was a situation where the key talents, usually all clients of the agency in question, were assembled by the agency and presented as a bundle to the buyer.  It was probably GAC that put Shulman together with his key collaborator, producer-director Rod Amateau.

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JEN KRUEGER: SITCOM LOVE

Yes, it’s true. On the whole, we at TVWriter™ aren’t fans of BROOKLYN NINE-NINE. We find it, well, fatuous would be the best word. Overly simplistic, unrealistic, dumb. So when we saw this oh-so-positive review we had to read it and emerged with a new understanding of the ways of the world – cuz writer Jen Krueger, who’s a fave of ours, actually loves B99 for exactly the reasons we loathe it.

Oh, God, our head is exploding –

by Jen Krueger

pam_beesleyOn the list of things I originally expected from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, emotional resonance isn’t to be found. With a former Saturday Night Live cast member as the lead, I figured the show would be goofy (in a good way) and peppered with cameos from comedians.

While these expectations were met early in the first season, the thing I’ve come to like most about the show is the slowly developing romantic storyline between Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero).

But as much as I’ve enjoyed the pining these characters both think is unrequited, I keep reminding myself not to get my hopes up too much about the future of this storyline since sitcom love rarely flourishes in an enjoyable way.

I’m not sure there’s a single narrative show on TV that doesn’t have at least one romantic storyline, but very few half-hour comedies seem comfortable letting their characters actually get together. The Office was getting so much mileage out of Jim and Pam wanting each other but not being together that even after Jim put his cards on the table in “Casino Night” (sorry, couldn’t resist), the show kept inventing reasons to keep them apart.

And though I’m about as big of a fan as you can find of the slow burn approach to the development of relationships in TV, I hate it when the hurdles a couple must leap feel like they’ve been put there just for the sake of adding more hurdles. Jim transferring to Stamford smacked of artificially inserted conflict, and I never bought that he’d bother keeping up a relationship with Karen after returning to Scranton and finding Pam single. And since it was inevitable that Jim and Pam would get together in the end, it drove me nuts that the show was delaying the one thing I so badly wanted to see.

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Nothing revolutionary about AMC’s ‘Turn’

We’re getting into mainstream TV reviews this week. Not sure why. Maybe it’s just fun homing in on local newspapers and seeing how their tastes in TV roll. So far we’ve been mightily impressed by the areas of agreement that we’re finding with what we read in print – way more than we’ve ever found with online critiques. What about you?

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Not a zombie series – it just looks that way!

by Matthew Gilbert

 

It’s not easy to put together a decent TV series that’s also a period piece. The old-fashioned costumes, the dated manners and ye olde language, the elaborate set design — they’re all extra difficulties on top of the usual TV challenges, most notably the holy-grail challenge of finding good writing.

So “Turn,” AMC’s new 1778-set Revolutionary War drama, deserves some credit. About the ring of American spies helping General George Washington against the British on Long Island, the show is different from most of prime time and it’s fine, just fine. It’s artfully strewn with enough red coats, big buttons, white wigs, and puffy shirts to make you almost feel as if you’re looking at a John Trumbull painting.

But “Turn” is nonetheless a far cry from the likes of “Mad Men,” “Rome,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Vikings,” “Deadwood,” and the early years of “Downton Abbey,” all period TV dramas that not only look great but also transport you into another time and place. Those shows have the kind of intimacy and inner life that have made movies such as “12 Years a Slave” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” so much more than surface achievements. They seem to bring us into close proximity with the psychology and spirit of another age. By comparison, “Turn” is flat.

Based on “Washington’s Spies” by Alexander Rose, “Turn” follows Abe Woodhull, a cabbage farmer with a wife and infant. Played by Jamie Bell, best known for his starring role in the movie “Billy Elliot,” Abe is a polite family guy who doesn’t want to engage in politics. But due to financial woes, a father who works closely with the British, and childhood friends who’ve become radicalized, Abe is ultimately pulled into the fray and becomes a spy for the Americans. The supersized 90-minute premiere, Sunday at 9, establishes his transformation and the forming of the famed Culper spy ring with workmanlike storytelling and no unexpected layers or twists.

One of the best pleasures of another period TV spy drama, FX’s “The Americans,” is the twisty revelation of split loyalties and double-agenting. The characters on both sides of the fight for intelligence are ultimately conflicted, and therefore more or less sympathetic. In “Turn,” the characters are too obviously good or bad, with very little room in between for more interesting moral explorations. They’re all committed to one side or the other, and are either noble (American) or nasty (British) as a result.

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“Friends With Better Lives”: If only the cast envied better writing

Once upon a time most television criticism read like this. Then it’s as though all critical faculties vanished from the planet. So TVWriter™ is really, really, really glad to have found…this:

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by David Wiegand

It makes sense for CBS to introduce its newest sitcom, Friends With Better Lives, after the one-hour finale tonight of ratings magnet How I Met Your Mother.

The placement should give the new show a bit of a bump before it moves to its regular time slot next week.

It’s also good that Mother won’t be around then, though, because its presence would provide a weekly reminder of what a great ensemble show really is.

At any rate, here at last is a CBS show as mediocre as Mike & Molly, heretofore the weakest link in the network’s Monday-night sitcom chain.

Friends With Better Lives centers on several friends at various relationship stages — long married, single and looking, single and finding, on the verge of divorcing — who envy one another for reasons that will probably elude most viewers because the characters are too self-involved and uninteresting.

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Thank you, David Wiegand for making our day!

Syndi Shumer Sees THE WALKING DEAD Season Finale

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What Lurks in the Foreshadows?
by Syndi Shumer

The Walking Dead season finale may not have been the most exciting episode, but here’s why it was a brilliant one: (Spoilers, obviously…)

In case you haven’t figured out what Terminus is, well, how to put this delicately… it’s the place where the most deviant (or most resourceful, depending on how you look at it) of humans have set up shop to engage in their own special way of surviving the zombie apocalypse. Yes, they’re cannibals.

But what’s so brilliant about the episode is how it never actually spells that out for you (wasn’t even mentioned on Talking Dead either), while at the same time it had been blasting you with foreshadowing throughout the entire episode:

Take, for example, all of the food references throughout the episode, from the flashbacks of Herschel talking to Rick at the prison about starting a farm, to Rick and Michonne’s conversation at the campfire where Rick says, “All we ever talk about is food.”

And then, the dialogue. Oh, the dialogue! The brilliance here actually started with the final line of the previous episode, when Mary walks out from behind the grill to welcome Glenn and his company of weary travelers, and with a vibe that leaves you with the feeling that something’s a little off, she says,’ “Let me make you a plate.” Think about it. Anyone who grew up with a sci-fi fan for a Dad, like I did, may remember that old Twilight Zone episode called “How to Serve Man,” about aliens coming to earth to serve the human populace, as is presumed by the book of the same title that their leader is frequently seen carrying around? But oops, it turns out that “How to Serve Man” is actually — wait for it — a cookbook! Similar wordplay cleverly crafted here with Mary’s line, and I just love that. Indeed, she wants to make each weary traveler a plate… for herself and the others in Team Terminus to have a nice feast of (I’m assuming with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti). More clever wordplay abounds when, in the finale episode, Michonne asks Gareth (Team Terminus’ leader) why they let everybody just come in? His response, “When people become a part of us, we get stronger.” (Soylent Green flashbacks, anyone?) He even goes on to say, “That’s why we put up signs. It’s how we survive.” Yes, it’s how they survive, indeed.THE-WALKING-DEAD-SEASON-4-the-walking-dead-34180925-1227-1590

Then of course we had the highly unsettling visual of the racks and racks of ribs laid out on the tarp as Rick and company were being herded toward the train car by gunshots aimed at their feet. Maybe this wasn’t so much as foreshadowing as it was just a gross and unsettling image in hindsight. But still, it gets cool points.

Even Rick’s tearing at Joe’s jugular with his teeth — at first you just feel disturbed at seeing Rick basically reduce himself to the tactics of a Walker in order to survive. But what we’re being shown is significant: Human teeth tearing at human flesh. In hindsight one can see how this, too, foreshadows the cannibalism that awaits our protagonists.

But perhaps my favorite bit of foreshadowing happens early on in the episode, near the beginning. It’s when Rick retrieves the dead rabbit he’s snared and brings Carl over to the trap to instruct him on the inner workings of it: preparing the trench, placing the noose inside, camouflaging it with leaves and twigs — all clearly spelling out certain death for any unsuspecting critter. This beautifully foreshadows what happens to all of them at episode’s end. They’ve been seduced by the signs at Terminus for quite some time as they’ve worked their way along the path to find it. And with the simple push of its unlocked gates (or the scaling of its fences, as it were with this crew), into their own trap they’ve roamed to be met with the same intended fate as their own previous night’s dinner.

So don’t hate on this superbly crafted episode. It’s the gateway to a new season which will undoubtedly explore the nature of a creature far worse than flesh-eating zombies — the savage human — and will do what The Walking Dead does so well… challenge your perceptions of morality and the concepts of good and evil, in a world where everyone is really just trying to figure out how to survive.