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.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Living Dangerously: The Best of 2022

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

2022 marks a decade since my first entry here. I’ve gotten so tired writing this blog. Not tired of writing it, but tired of swimming against the tide.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Acts of Love: notes on Let the Right One In and The Devil’s Hour

A psychological horror story and a paranormal procedural; both with a lot to say about parents and children — and hard choices. One is great, the other is darn good; both are worth a watch.

Let the Right One In is based on a best-selling Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It’s been adapted into a Swedish film, an American film by Matt Reeves, and even a stage production. So this new Showtime series comes with a lot of baggage — and has a lot to live up to — but what I watched on the screen over the last ten weeks was damn near perfect.

Friday, December 16, 2022

One Day at a Time season 7

I’ve resisted doing this essay for years, because I could sing the praises of One Day at a Time Season 7, but how would you watch it? No DVDs are available, and the only place it’s streaming right now is Pluto TV. But it goes beyond that. Just defining “One Day at a Time Season 7” is tricky. A whole lot of episodes produced that season are splendid — and the season arc is glorious — but Season 7, as it aired, also included several episodes left unaired from Season 6, and they stink. (The 1980 actors’ strike held up the start of most TV shows that season; One Day at a Time produced 24 episodes for Season 6, but only 21 had aired by season’s end. The rest were inserted, rather haphazardly, into Season 7.) And the domino effect continued; a couple episodes produced for Season 7 didn’t air until Season 8, and they’re worth a look. If you assemble the episodes intended for Season 7, it’s not just a highly watchable season, but a fine example of returning writers resuscitating a show that seems to be on its last legs.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Negotiations: notes on Minx, Ipcress File and Inside Man

As the year starts to wind down, spotlighting three series that brightened my 2022.

Minx has flown under the radar; it’s a comedy about a woman determined not to fly under the radar, so there’s some sort of poetic injustice to that. I heard very few people discussing it while it was airing, and when it was ultimately picked up for a second season by HBO Max, there was hardly a murmur. And now that HBO Max is being absorbed into Discovery Plus, and a lot of its scripted shows — even ones that have been renewed — may fall by the wayside, I still don’t hear anyone talking about it, or fretting about its future. But it’s the best new comedy I saw in 2022: not just a vivid evocation of life in America in the early ‘70s, but a resolutely apt analogy for life in America in 2022.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Rating Richard Armitage

I discovered Richard Armitage alongside millions of other TV viewers, only ten years later. That sounds like an oxymoron, so let me explain. North & South, the miniseries that made Armitage a star, aired on BBC in 2004 and was released on DVD a year later — but I didn’t come across it until 2014. Nevertheless, it was my introduction to Armitage, and just like audiences a decade earlier, I was transfixed; I proceeded to seek out as many of his performances as I could. I’m not one to let an actor dictate my TV viewing — I tend to choose properties based on the creator and/or the premise — but Armitage is one of a handful of artists whom I determinedly follow from show to show. (Others include James Norton, Nicola Walker, Ben Whishaw and Mireille Enos.) I make a point of researching what they’re up to next, and I make a point of tuning in. I trust them to choose smart properties, and I look forward to seeing what they'll do with them.