Friday, May 31, 2024

Errol Flynn Goes to War

This essay has nothing to do with Errol Flynn going to war. (He tried to enlist in every branch of the service during WWII, but was declined for health reasons.) It’s not even about the five wartime films he starred in between 1942 and 1945. It started that way — thus the title — but once I saw those five, I wanted to see more of Flynn, and ending up viewing all the films he did for Warner Bros. between 1935 to 1950: from his first starring role in Captain Blood to the termination of his contract after Rocky Mountain.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Finishing Touches: notes on American Rust, So Help Me Todd and Truelove

The first season of American Rust debuted on Showtime in September of 2021. Adhering closely to Philipp Meyer’s novel of the same name, it was a masterful adaptation that I labeled the year’s best drama. So of course it was canceled the following January.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Margaret Sullavan on the Screen

Margaret Sullavan made only 16 films during her time in Hollywood; her performances are remarkable, as is the arc of her career. Spotted by talent scouts while doing Dinner at Eight on Broadway, she was promptly whisked off to the West Coast, where a leading role at Universal awaited her. She was top billed in her first film, and top billed in her last.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Distant Locations: notes on Constellation, The Amazing Race and FBI: International

Constellation is a hallucinatory trip through the fabric of reality: a psychodrama disguised as a sci-fi thriller. Writer-creator Peter Harness promises us the ride will be rewarding, but he doesn’t pretend it will be easy.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Money Talks: 2023 in review

My write-up of 2023, following 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

I feel like the year in television somehow passed me by. And I know that’s demonstrably untrue: I keep a list of all the TV series I watch, and this year, I sat through nearly 100 of them.

Friday, July 28, 2023

The Fatal Blow: notes on Dark Winds, Black Snow and Blue Lights

My screwball comedy essay in February gave me such pleasure that I decided to tackle another type of film that plays well on the small screen. I chose film noir, and between February and July, ended up watching 283 of them to properly prepare. Once the film noir essay was posted, I found I missed having a new noir to turn to whenever I was in need of distraction; I’d grown strangely addicted to the themes of alienation, fatalism, entrapment, obsession and despair that I’d wallowed in for months. I missed having haunted characters to visit on a regular basis. Fortunately, the TV landscape is currently littered with them.

Friday, July 7, 2023

The 25 Best Film Noirs

Following up my screwball comedy essay with another type of film that holds up well on the small screen.

Freshman year of college, I took a film course, and as an example of noir — a term that was only then making the rounds of academic circles — the professor screened The Big Sleep. The title proved prophetic; I nodded off halfway through. Was this, I wondered, a style of film that did nothing for me?

Monday, March 27, 2023

So Help Me Todd

I’m quite content to declare So Help Me Todd the best hour-long series on network television. Have you seen what else is out there?

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

I Love Lucy season 6

Robert Bianco was the TV critic for USA Today for nearly 20 years. Of series I loved, he was a passionate defender of some (Elementary) and a fanatical detractor of others (Everybody Loves Raymond). He wasn’t shy about doubling down on an unpopular opinion, yet his greatest strength was his willingness to reassess. If he panned a pilot, then saw the show steadily improve over the fall months (Selfie), he’d speak up; if he realized he’d underestimated a star’s potential to anchor a series (Limitless), he’d pen a proper mea culpa. I enjoyed his insights and turns of phrase even when we found ourselves at critical odds.

There’s only one remark of his that struck me as so odd that — as kids today are wont to say — it continues to live rent-free in my head.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The 10 Best Screwball Comedies

In 1967, Pauline Kael wrote a seminal piece in The New Yorker entitled “Movies on Television,” examining what it was like to revisit films on the small screen: which ones survived the transfer largely unscathed, and which lost much of their majesty and meaning reduced to screens a fraction of their original size.