Thursday, October 11, 2012

Knots Landing season 3

I had occasion to rewatch Knots Landing Season 3 over the summer, and when I was done, I thought of the film The Way We Were, with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. Not of the actual film, but of Pauline Kael's original review in The New Yorker, where she referred to it as "a torpedoed ship full of gaping holes which comes snugly into port." I don't think I could imagine a better description of Knots Landing Season 3. It's a fascinating season: the only one that I enjoy much more today than I did when it originally aired. In 1981-82, its unusual device of using standalone episodes to advance serialized story-lines felt disorienting and at times frustrating; now, knowing what to expect, I can look beyond it and see that Knots Landing both began and ended with that season. It's the season where the show finds its voice and its pacing; it's also the last season of the original format, a series powered by the claustrophobic energy of a cul-de-sac.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Doctor Who: The Peter Davison Years (part 4)

Part 4 of an expansive essay about Peter Davison's three seasons (1982-84) on the long-running TV series Doctor Who. To read the full essay from the beginning, click here.

What follows are some thoughts about Davison's twenty Doctor Who serials (arranged chronologically): serials, to my mind, worth watching whether you're a fan of the genre or not, because at their heart, they boast a spectacularly fine actor doing spectacularly fine work. As you'll see, there are only seven or eight serials that I consider truly great, but Davison is rarely less than impressive, and frequently he's stirring. It's been nearly forty years since Davison made his TV debut, a full thirty years since he assumed the title role in Doctor Who. A year ago, I'd never heard of the guy; now I'd be hard-pressed to think of a television actor I admire more.

Doctor Who: The Peter Davison Years (part 3)

Part 3 of an expansive essay about Peter Davison's three seasons (1982-84) on the long-running TV series Doctor Who. To read the full essay from the beginning, click here.

The Third and Fourth Doctors typically traveled with one or two companions, but Davison was often saddled with three; as a result, the Fifth Doctor's TARDIS has long been labeled "crowded." But the notion of a "crowded TARDIS" misses the point. Doctor Who began, after all, with four aboard the TARDIS, and certainly, if you watch First Doctor William Hartnell, sparring and conspiring with the marvelous William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and Maureen O'Brien in a good adventure like "The Rescue," "The Romans" or "The Web Planet" (or a great one like "The Crusade"), you're unlikely to view the TARDIS as "crowded." In Davison's case, it's not the amount of baggage that's the problem -- it's the contents. His companions were a scrappy lot; not that they were, overall, an untalented bunch -- but each came with his or her issues.

Doctor Who: The Peter Davison Years (part 2)

Part 2 of an expansive essay about Peter Davison's three seasons (1982-84) on the long-running TV series Doctor Who. To read the full essay from the beginning, click here.

Peter Davison rose to fame as Tristan Farnon on the British TV series All Creatures Great and Small. I confess I knew as little of All Creatures as I did of Doctor Who, but like millions before me, I warmed instantly to James Herriot's fictionalized accounts of his veterinary practice during the Great Depression. But although, based on my affection for Davison in Who, I expected him to be excellent, I was still unprepared for the effect that Tristan, that "debauched choirboy" (as his brother calls him), would have on the series once he arrived on the midday train in episode two. Until then, the series is charming and winning, but -- befitting both the setting of the original stories and the era in which the TV series was produced -- a little sedate. Davison quickens the pulse. In a town filled with do-gooders, Tristan is the devil on everyone's shoulder, and Davison's presence and physicality -- the way he smoothes back his hair, or the cigarette forever tucked between his fingertips -- feels at once modern and timeless. He ignites the series. (It's the way the anti-hero, usually John Garfield, used to arrive late in the game in Warner Bros. movies of the '30s and disrupt the happy domesticity -- and you were grateful; you hadn't realized how tame the film had been until it acquired a little of that much-needed, ne'er-do-well energy.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Doctor Who: The Peter Davison Years

"The hero is no braver than an ordinary person, but he or she is braver five minutes longer." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Entertainment Weekly recently ran a cover story on the TV series Doctor Who, lauding it as one of the cult classics of all time. I had never seen an episode of Doctor Who -- never even heard of the show -- until Christmas Day, 2010. My husband and I were vacationing in South Florida; the house there had BBC America, and as we were channel surfing, there was a 2005 episode entitled "The Christmas Invasion." We decided to take a look, and entertained and intrigued -- and since the house also had streaming Netflix -- we decided to explore further.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

About this blog

The title of this blog: from the 1994 Murphy Brown episode "The Fifth Anchor," in which Wallace Shawn plays a former colleague of the FYI'ers, who did a weekly thinkpiece called "That's Alls I Know." The point of this blog: to talk about TV, past and present.

Speaking of "The Fifth Anchor," it's from the sixth season of Murphy Brown -- easily, to my mind, the most re-watchable and purely pleasurable of all the seasons: a resurgence for the series after the dismal fifth season. It's not as weighed down by the self-congratulatory topical references that now mar the first few years; instead, its experienced show-runners and largely new writing staff apply their talent and enthusiasm to a string of episodes that feel as timeless as they do timely. The many highlights include "Angst for the Memories" (featuring an Emmy-winning guest shot by Martin Sheen), "Political Correctness" (a merry skewering of a concept that had just come into widespread use, which the FYI lawyers insist on calling "cultural sensitivity"), "Ticket to Writhe" (which neatly dispenses with Miles' girlfriend Audrey, played by Jane Leeves, who had moved on to Frasier), "Sox and the Single Girl" (in which Murphy inadvertently steals the President's cat), "The Anchorman" (in which Jim inadvertently purchases a gay bar) and "It's Just Like Riding a Bike" (which Matt Roush, then writing for USA Today, deemed, correctly, the show's "sexiest-on-record" episode). But more than any of those, there's "It's Not Easy Being Brown," probably the series' funniest half-hour, in which Murphy, in order to improve her Q rating, goes on a children's show called Mulberry Lane and ends up having it out with a sassy puppet named Kelbo. The fur, literally, flies.