Cara Winter on LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX

Last Tango in Halifax

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by Cara Winter

Last Tango in Halifax  is a drama written by Sally Wainwright (writer/creator of the remarkably good Happy Valley) starring Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as widowed Alan and Celia, childhood sweethearts who haven’t clapped eyes on each other for 60 years. Thanks to the ubiquitous (now even for octogenarians) Facebook, they find each other again, meet for coffee, and instantly remember exactly how they felt as kids.

The first few episodes were delightful, and kept the focus on Alan and Celia.  I have been a huge fan of Derek Jacobi since I was a young’n, and watching him in this role is a treat. He is at once an older gentleman, and a child, able to express 60 years worth of longing in a single look.  Jacobi is a genius at his craft, and if you haven’t seen him as anything other than the Archbishop in The King’s Speech… please see him in this.  Anne Reid’s performance is also solid; you don’t feel as though she’s ever forcing a single moment, everything is nuanced, organic, and rich.  And it’s not every day you get to see actors of-a-certain-age in a straight-up love story, either (so kudos to BBC and Wainwright for making Last Tango in the first place!)

From the point they decide they want to be together, Real Life begins to thwart Alan and Celia’s union.  For example, Alan finds out Celia voted for Thatcher, while he’s Labor and reads the Guardian.  They also begin to realize they’re from completely different worlds (Celia’s is posh; Alan’s is salt-of-the-earth).  Yet, more or less right away, they realize how little things like this matter.   Even when their daughters turn on one another, and the whole family seems at odds… as far as their being together, it does not matter.  In it’s best moments, this show reminds us that life is short, and love transcends all.

I was less interested in the plot-lines of Alan and Celia’s extended family;  Sarah Lancashire plays Celia’s uptight, perfect-home-havin’ daughter Caroline, who is a closeted lesbian, and going through a nasty divorce; Nicola Walker plays Alan’s hard-working, sexually indiscriminate daughter, Gillian.  While I tend to be a fan of using over-40 women in any fashion on the telly, I did ultimately feel like their stories were forced.  The performances were not to blame; the actors are wonderful.  It just all felt a bit manufactured; drama for drama’s sake, things constantly thrown at Alan and Celia, presumably to see if their love for one another could be thrown off course. But… how many teen pregnancies, lesbian lovers, and alcohol-infused sexual escapades can one family have?  To me, this exposes the weakness of the premise; once Alan and Celia have fallen in love, the “story” really is over.  Or, should have been.

Last Tango was widely viewed in the U.K. and here in the U.S., and won some awards.  I think mostly this is due to the strong performances by the cast (especially Jacobi and Reid), and the strength of the dialogue (albeit hampered by the plot), and smart direction.  It’s worth watching, for sure, just to see Derek Jacobi in the role of a lifetime.

Last Tango in Halifax was a BBC One production, re-broadcast on PBS, with Seasons 1 and 2 now on NETFLIX.  Season 3 exists (try PBS?), and a 4th is in the works.


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

Diana Vaccarelli Sees OUTLANDER

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OUTLANDER Returns with a Smash
by Diana Vaccarelli

At the end of last season, this excellent show left viewers with a cliffhanger that made us want more, more more. Because there would be no more, at least for awhile, I decided I had to pick up the first book in the series because I was dying to know what happens. I finished just in time for this season’s premier episode.

OUTLANDER takes a dark turn as our heroine Claire Fraser is held captive by the sadistic Black Jack Randall. To our relief Claire is saved by her husband Jamie. YAY! Just love when things end happy.  Well you’re wrong things take even a more dramatic turn. In a controversial scene when Jamie beats Claire with a belt to her bum for disobeying him.  Afterwards their marriage isn’t in a very good place. Throughout, Jamie makes it up to Claire and they reunite in what I have to say is the hottest scene ever.

I have been in love with this show from the beginning, and it still doesn’t disappoint.  From the costumes, locations, writing, cinematography, directing, and the acting. Everything just flows into place from Diana Gabaldon’s novels. It comes vividly to life. Kudos to Executive Producer Ronald Moore who said from the beginning it’s Diana’s world (wink at the same name) “and we’re just bringing it to life.”

Speaking of bringing the novel to life let’s just talk about Caitriona Balfe who portrays Claire.  She loses herself totally in this badass female, with the result that you simply have to view her as a person and not a character. Beneficiary of a wonderful gift from the acting gods, Balfe brings strength and sensitivity to a woman who is out of her own time yet manages to rise to the occasion and get through the turmoil.

And watch out, Leonardo DiCaprio! I have a new celebrity crush, and his name is Sam Heughan. Heughan portrays our hero Jamie. Jamie is a man of deep faith and trust, which Heughan brings out with sheer perfection. Watching his eyes, you can see the struggle Jamie is having in his new marriage and new responsibilities in life. An Emmy, or at the very least a Golden Globe nomination, is in order.

Let’s not forget about my favorite character in the entire show: Black Jack Randall, the villain of the piece. He is played brilliantly by Tobias Menzies. The darkness of this character would make any other actor run in terror. But Tobias doesn’t shy away from anything. He gets down deep into Black Jack’s heart, and watching him work is a gift.

The writing of the show is utterly brilliant. Moore and his staff have great source material to draw from, and they more than do it justice. I would love to be a fly on the wall and hear the discussions on what they’re going to keep, change, and not add. Yes, I’m very glad the writers have stuck so closely to Gabaldon’s work. Let’s all give them a major high five.

Do I sound a little overboard with my enthusiasm? I told you I love this show. So much, in fact, that I’m urging everyone reading this to tune in for the rest of the series. Watch on demand. Buy and watch the DVDs when they come out. Binge watch.

JUST WATCH!

How to Ruin a TV Series AKA “Oh no, what’s happened to ORPHAN BLACK?!”

Carumba! Our masters in the executive suites are at it again, fixing things that aren’t anywhere near broken. Why, you morons? Why…?”

What’s that? You think we’re being too harsh? Well, let’s look at another way:

obby Ken Levine

As many of you loyal readers of this blog (who pay attention) know,I’ve praised ORPHAN BLACK to the heavens. This little underground thriller/sci-fi on BBC-America (and now on AMC as well) introduced us all to the wondrous Tatiana Maslany – a luminous actress who plays multiple clones, each one distinctive and memorable.

In the pilot, Tatiana, as character Sarah, has a chance encounter with an identical clone… who commits suicide. That gets your attention. If we started BIG WAVE DAVE’S that way we might still be on the air.

Anyway, from there the series is off and running… and chasing and hiding. Sarah discovers other clones and a delicious mystery unfolds. Who is behind all of this, why is someone is trying to kill her, who, and why aren’t they targeting the Kardashian girls instead? The plotting swept you along and you enjoyed the twists, turns, and occasional flashes of humor. And just watching Tatiana was a treat.

Season two wasn’t as good. The conspiracy started becoming unwieldy. There were sinister research labs, a weird cult (Scientology in a barn), and fragments of backstory that go back to England or perhaps Middle Earth. Lots of characters from season one who you wondered – were they good guys or bad guys – this year they started flip flopping so much you stopped caring. Like I said in a past review, just assume everyone is a bad guy and enjoy the ride.

Fanboy geek that I am, I was really looking forward to season three.

But alas, four weeks into it I have concluded the show is now a fucking mess. The plotting is so confusing you need to build another Enigma machine to decipher it.  And even then there’s no guarantees.

This year there are also maleclones. They have their own conspiracy, one of Tatiana’s clones is held captive in a trunk by some other evil organization that may or may not be affiliated with the evil research lab, or the cult, or Enron. Meanwhile, one of Tatiana’s clones has nothing to do with the central plot. She’s a housewife selling drugs to other housewives so can she win an election to get on the school board. I know – HUH??? And for good measure, she has a dead body in her garage that doesn’t smell and no one is looking for the guy.

Read it all at Ken Levine’s sensational blog

LB: Epix is Doing a Series Starring Nick Nolte

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 24:  Actor Nick Nolte from "A Walk in the Woods" poses for a portrait at the Village at the Lift Presented by McDonald's McCafe during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2015 in Park City, Utah.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Now here’s a guy I could have a drink or 10 with, “ex-POTUS” or not

by Larry Brody

…And even though I’m almost clueless about what Epix is – except that they’re a “premium cable network” and seem to do a lot of streaming over the web – I absolutely would watch (as in try out) their upcoming series GRAVES, starring Nick Nolte “as a former President of the United States…who twenty years after his term ends…begins to think that his policies have damaged the country…[and] goes on a Don Quixote-like journey to fix things.”

Oh, and it’s a single camera, half-hour comedy, in case you couldn’t tell from my abridged longline…not that I could tell from their longer, tedious logline the Hollywood Reporter ran a few days ago.

The creator-showrunner is Joshua Michael Stern, who wrote something I haven’t seen called SWING VOTE, and Oscar winning producer of THE HURT LOCKER (which I thought was naive in its “gritty reality”) Greg Shapiro is also on board as an executive producer. For all I know, these two men are the funniest, most creative individuals on the planet, but I’ve got to be candid here. I’d rush to watch this thing even if it was from the GILLIGAN’S ISLAND gang because Nick Nolte being Don Quixote? C’mon!

Here’s hoping GRAVES’ ten episode season starts soon…and that the real Nick Nolte shows up to hit one out of the park.

The Best and Worst Trends of the 2014-2015 TV Season

In case y’all need to be told how to feel about the current TV season. Cuz it’s such a drag, you know, to have to think for yourselves:

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This pic doesn’t necessarily reflect the article, but we couldn’t resist its message cuz we’re so used to obeying, you know?

by Pilot Viruet

Last week, networks announced their 2015-16 television season pick-ups, cancellations, and official schedules. Just by looking at the big four networks, it’s easy to pick out the trends they’re betting on for next year: movie-to-television adaptations, reboots and remakes, childhood nostalgia like The Muppetsmore medical dramas, and more superhero shows. But before we look ahead, and now that the current TV season is finally winding down, it’s necessary to take a look back at what networks were gung-ho about last year — and to see whether or not any of those ideas worked. From multiple knockoffs ofThe Americans to romantic-comedy sitcoms to, of course, superheroes, here’s a look at 2014-15’s best trends and worst failures.

Win: Comic book adaptations and superhero narratives

For all the talk about superhero fatigue, so many comic adaptations are actually killing it on television. Marvel’s Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. both got renewals on ABC. Not only is Arrow going strong on The CW, but its spinoff The Flash was the most fun superhero series on TV all year; both got renewed and even spawned another spinoff to debut next season. The series complement each other perfectly, providing two sets of contrasts that work extremely well together — especially during the network’s smartly planned crossover episodes:Arrow likes to go dark and rely on the lonely vigilante narrative, while The Flash enjoys the lighter side of having cool powers. (Because they’re on The CW, both also deal with quite a bit of kissing.) iZombie, another comic book adaptation, is gunning for Jane the Virgin as both the weirdest and the most delightful series on The CW — and got an early Season 2 renewal.

Over on Fox, Gotham started off strong and darkly beautiful but lost its focus as it went on — though it was still renewed because viewers can never let go of Batman’s world. Superheroes are even all over streaming sites: Hulu’s The Awesomes (an original series, not an adaptation) was renewed for a third season halfway through its second while bothNetflix’s Daredevil and PlayStation Network’s Powers will get second seasons next year. (There is one notable exception: Constantine, which never found the proper balance while telling its story, was canceled by NBC but is still being shopped around to other networks.)

Lose: Rom-com sitcoms

One of the biggest trends during this television season were romantic-comedy sitcoms, most of which were trying to capitalize on the success of How I Met Your Mother’s nine seasons — and hoping to fill the void left by the series finale — but none of which came even close. NBC’s A to Z was the most similar to HIMYM, right down to the voiceover provided by a former ’80s/’90s sitcom star (Katey Segal took the Bob Saget role) and shared female lead Cristin Milioti (who played the mother on HIMYM). Unfortunately, it was a poor imitation, canceled about a month after it aired.

NBC’s other sort-of rom-com was Marry Me, about a couple who were already committed but dealing with the transition from long-term relationship to engagement. In February, it was removed from the schedule and replaced with The Voice; four episodes have remained unaired in the United States. ABC premiered two rom-coms: the deplorable Manhattan Love Story was the first cancellation of the season, while the much better Selfie was canceled in November, with the remaining six episodes being released on Hulu. Even existing rom-coms weren’t safe. The Mindy Project, which wears its rom-com influences on its sleeve, was axed by Fox at the end of its run (but has since been picked up by Hulu).

Read it all at Flavorwire (and, yes, in spite of our snarkiness, we think this article makes some excellent points)

Letterman Writer’s Good-bye to Dave

Bill Scheft, one of the backbones of the Letterman show over more than twenty years, has written this insightful look into the finale. When TV series work, everything about them becomes family. Scheft’s article works wonders, letting everybody who reads it into the clan:

lettermangbye (Final) Show Diary of Stuff Noteworthy Only to Me, Day 28 (End of Daves)…
by Bill Scheft

It is Sunday, around 1:30 pm, as I write this. If you must know, my boss of 24 years, Dave Letterman, is where he always is on this day, somewhere on Pit Row at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His driver, Graham Rahal, is currently running ninth with 132 laps to go. Maybe by the time I finish this, he’ll be further up on the others. And so will you people….

If you must know, I feel relieved and extremely proud. But that’s all I can give you right now. Mercifully, for the purposes of this exercise, how I feel is not important. You saw it, you know how it made you feel. That’s all that is relevant, practical and real. But I can take you through the last day and maybe they will be something there. Something else. Something else, like that last 78 minutes we all had together.

THE MORNING: I am not a superstitious man, but I do love subtle symbolic gestures. So, I decided to wear the same grey glen plaid suit I had worn to the last show at NBC 22 years ago. I didn’t think of it until Chris Albers posted that photo of me on Twitter at my desk. I knew I still had the suit, and I hoped it still fit. In the spirit of rigorous honesty, I could have worn it as is, all zipped up and buttoned, but I might have passed out somewhere during the Taco Bell remote. So, I had my dry cleaners take out the pants an inch. I got a lot of compliments, and when I would tell people the significance of the suit, they would look skeptically until I produced a photo or two from my pocket.

THE WORK DAY: The final show had been lovingly built brick by brick by Barbara Gaines over the last six months. Her title was Executive Producer. Her everlasting credit will be my best friend. By the time we all turned up for work Wednesday, there’s was almost nothing to do. Almost. The four tape pieces (Kids, Taco Bell, Day In The Life and the final montage) had gone through their last incarnations and had been signed off on by Dave. The guests for the Top Ten had been booked. We knew there may be some final changes to the list, but that wouldn’t happen until rehearsal, which was five hours away….which is like a generation on a strip (nightly) show. So, for most of the morning, everyone was kinda antsy. Antsy like Alan Shepard in the cockpit of Freedom 7 (”Let’s light this candle!”). We just wanted the show to start.

The monologue, my main responsibility (along with Steve Young), had been put together the night before. We never do it this far in advance, but because there were no jokes based on topical material and Dave wanted no distractions on the final day, we compiled it just after the Tuesday night taping and just before a 7 pm technical rehearsal. We settled on 11 straight jokes and five enhancements (one live element – the giant print on the cue card, and four short tape pieces) for 16 total jokes, which is the number we usually shoot for. We knew if we got anything on Wednesday that we really liked, we could slot it and replace what we had. We monkeyed with the order a bit, but the Tonight Show joke (written by Mulholland and Barrie, aka “The Boys” even though they’re Dave’s age) was always going to be first out of the shoot. In 24 years, I remember a handful of times when the opening remarks had been set a few hours before the taping (Anniversary shows, the first show at CBS, the first show after his heart surgery), but never the day before.

For those of you who really want the complete monologue deconstruction, we started with 22 jokes under consideration (on cue cards) and we quickly got down to 12, then 10. The last two jokes cut were a mini-run, I now enter a new phase of life: Moping…. I now enter a new phase of life: Shouting out answers while I watch game shows…. They were cut because he had done a joke that day, I now enter a new phase of life: Googling “foods that help your prostate…”  which he felt was the best version of that premise and it didn’t make sense to revisit. So, we had 10. We were one short. I pitched a joke to him written by Steve Young that he had passed on: My son is not clear on what’s going on. He keeps asking, “Why does Daddy have to go to prison?” He remembered it and laughed and realized we had nothing in the monologue on his family. So, it went in. Over the years, I have pitched a lot of jokes in the eleventh hour and I would say he’ll take one for every 20 I offer up. It was especially gratifying because it was a Steve Young joke, and it didn’t sound like anything before or after. The final breakdown of jokes was also pleasing in its numerology: 3 for The Boys, 3 from Chris Belair, 2 from me, 2 from Steve Young, and one from Chris Albers, who wrote jokes at the old show when he was Paul’s assistant before moving on to a 18-year career running Conan’s.monologue. Chris was one of a half dozen former writers I invited to contribute to the final opening remarks: Gerard Mulligan, Adam Resnick, Larry Jacobson, Frank Sebastiano and Jeff Stilson. They were all touched and grateful to have the chance, and I loved that one of them scored.

Even though we had a monologue, the main opening remarks writers (me, The Boys and Belair) pretended it was just another day and turned in our submissions at the regular time, along with the freelance guys. Dave considered a couple, but nothing made it through. My last effort looked no different in format than my first, which I typed on an IBM Wheelwriter and turned in Monday, October 21, 1991, except that just under Opening Remarks  Scheft  5/20,  I wrote the last line of Catullus poem #101 (Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.). In the makeup room, he asked me to translate the Latin, and I managed to not choke up when I said, “And into eternity, brother, hail and farewell….”). Truth be told, there was one joke of mine I would have loved him to slot in under the wire: 35 years ago, I stopped drinking. I think that’s long enough, don’t you?

Read it all at Bill Scheft’s blog