Depp and Heard are a Billion Dollar Industry

Depp and Heard

Depp and Heard are in the middle of contentious legal battle and it’s a billion dollar industry. I’m conflicted. I’m talking about Amber Heard and Johnny Depp but I don’t think anyone needs that clarification. Who isn’t cashing in on the Depp and Heard drama?

I’m conflicted about this blog. Writing it means I’m part of the legion of Depp and Heard opportunists. Am I expressing genuine thoughts here or do I just want clicks and eyes on my blog? Maybe this post will go viral and indirectly result in the sale of millions of my novels.

On the other hand, the sheer volume of people trying to cash in on this terrible and tragic story is nauseating. I suppose it’s all moot in the end, you’re reading this and that means I wrote it. Let’s get on with it.

Depp and Heard Trial

The trail is all over the news and I’m not going to expend any time talking about the awfulness of one party versus the other. It’s a terrible tragedy. A marriage gone horribly wrong. Two people whose love turned into an international tragedy and lawsuits.

Cashing In

Who is the big winner in all of this? Not Depp and Heard. It’s mainstream news channels. Alternate news channels. Misogynists, social justice warriors. It’s social media personalities, all the influencers. Even morally bankrupt politicians are trying to garner a few votes by picking sides. Scalpers! Yuck.

Twitch watch parties with some of the biggest streamers. YouTube personalities with millions of subscribers releasing daily videos with sensationalistic titles. Depp this! Heard that! The Big Moment! Twitter is trending Depp and Heard. TikTok. Name a social media outlet and I’ll show you opportunists trying to take advantage of the situation to make some money.

Sick to my Stomach

I’m honestly feeling nauseas just writing this. I’m regretting it. I’m thinking I shouldn’t be doing it just because it means I’m part of the problem. Still, I think it’s important to call out everyone profiting off this situation.

I know this lurid story is interesting and people are genuinely picking sides. That being said, there is no doubt that a YouTube video that suddenly generates millions of watches is a strong motivator to make more such content. A Twitch streamer watching the legal case live with thousands of viewers is cash in the bank. It’s money and its gross money, at least I think so.

Human Nature

People love a train wreck. It’s undeniable. People cheer at the hockey game as much during a fight as they do for a goal. Many people enjoy the lurid, the sensational, the exciting. Depp and Heard is all that. Everyone has an opinion and if they can make some money expressing it, all the better.

I suppose I’m tilting against windmills here, just the same as when I rail against drafting in professional sports.

Conclusion

I think I’ll wrap this up quickly and then go wash my hands. Gross. It’s all so gross.

Tom Liberman

Sanditon Lacked the Deft Touch of Jane Austen

Deft Touch

Season Two of Sanditon wrapped up with a final episode largely lacking a deft touch. The various plot lines largely smashed to the ground with all the force of turkeys dropped from a helicopter. This lack of deft touch runs counter to the general manner in which Jane Austen writes her novel and struck me greatly.

I’m certainly not saying the second season of Sanditon is a disaster. It proved largely watchable and mostly enjoyable. Still, the heavy-handed conclusion to several of the season-long story lines left me somewhat disappointed. Let’s talk about it.

Charlotte, Alexander, and Colonel Lennox

I never felt any real chemistry between Charlotte and Alexander. I found Rose Williams effective in her role of Charlotte but I couldn’t see why she fell in love with Alexander. Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Alexander never really engaged me. He seemed dull and lifeless, which, to be fair, is part of the character as written.

Likewise, Colonel Lennox didn’t strike me as the sort to win Charlotte’s heart. In addition, his portrayal as a scheming villain never resonated for me. Tom Weston-Jones just didn’t make me hate him, or like him much for that matter. He was just sort of there.

Because I never really got invested in the potential love triangle, the ending never tugged at my emotions at all.

The Kids

Honestly, I know one is Leonora but the other one I just can’t remember. Let me look it up, ah, yes, Augusta. Eloise Webb didn’t have a lot to work with and she rotated between hating and adoring Charlotte so often I lost track of it all. I just didn’t really care about either one of the children to be honest and therefore their plight didn’t mean much to me.

Tom Parker and the Money Problems

I did find the money issues involving Sanditon and Tom Parker compelling but the resolution left me completely dissatisfied. I hoped Arthur might come up with some brilliant plan. Instead, a single hand of cards in a game that wasn’t explained solved the issues. The dramatic music played during the game hoped to create tension and suspense but I felt nothing.

It’s a real problem when one of the biggest dramatic moments at the conclusion of a season is confusing and dull. The resolution here left me baffled. This is the best the writers could find?

Miss Lambe and Charles Lockhart

The ending here really turned me off. Alexander Vlahos did a superb job as the brilliant artist, dismissive of society, admiring Miss Lambe. Then, suddenly, with no explanation or foreshadowing, he’s the bad guy. Crystal Clarke as Georgiana also turned in a fine performance. First disdainful of the artist and then succumbing to his charm.

The conclusion largely betrayed everything that came before it. If we’d seen Lockhart revealing his nefarious scheme in any way before the denouement, it might have worked. We didn’t. The twist ending fell quite flat for me at least, the deft touch of Austen completely absent.

Alison, Carter, and Fraser: A Deft Touch at Last

This love story made more sense and the flavor of Austen came through. I believed the innocent and bright-eyed Alison falling for the apparently dashing Captain Carter. Frank Blake as Fraser did a great job portraying his admiration of Alison while displaying loyalty to his friend.

Rosie Graham as Alison and Maxim Ays as Carter also performed admirably in their roles. I found myself invested in this story and when Fraser emerged as the winner of Alison’s heart it made sense.

I was a little put off by Fraser resigning his commission and returning with Alison to a life of farming. A more appropriate ending, in my mind, is Alison joining Fraser in India, traveling the world as the wife of an officer destined for glory. That is a small quibble and this storyline proved more satisfying.

The Nefarious Edward

Absolute applause for Jack Fox in his role as Edward Denham. His performance made this story the most compelling in the series. This is a villain! He perfectly transitioned between scheming miscreant to charmer. I believed him, his plan made sense. He brought Edward Denham to life in a way lacking with Colonel Lennox and Charles Lockhart. A villain is vital to a story and Fox sold me completely.

Lily Sacofsky as Clara, Charlotte Spencer as Esther, and Anne Reid as Lady Denham ably supported and enhanced Fox’s performance. Each of them brought their own nuance to the plot and I believed every second of it. When Clara comes to the realization she’s better off on Team Esther it is apparent and logical. Everything comes together nicely.

Perhaps I found her final decision a bit paradoxical after her speech about the fierceness of her love for the baby, but this is minor.

Conclusion

Sanditon is a decent show and I enjoyed it. Sadly, it lacked the deft touch necessary to bring it home as excellent entertainment. What did you think?

Tom Liberman

A Mess of a Winning Time Episode

Winning Time

Any carry over from last week’s excellent episode of Winning Time quickly dissipated with this mess of an episode. No focus, no central theme, back to unnecessary salacious content, lots of fourth wall breaking, and just a general hodgepodge of an episode.

I honestly find it difficult to believe the people who put together Pieces of a Man also released Momento Mori. Same director, largely the same writers, and yet a completely different result. I find it unfathomable.

What went wrong with this episode of Winning Time? Let’s discuss.

Lack of Central Theme

I’ve discussed before how a central theme holds an episode together and allows other, smaller stories to swirl around it with an anchor to bring them home. The theme was readily available, the catastrophic injury to Coach McKinney. The necessity for assistant coach Westhead to grab the team and take over.

The episode certainly showed us the blood covered McKinney often enough but the other story line of Magic Johnson and his endorsement deals shared the spotlight. Frankly, both made good thematic elements but by splitting the episode back and forth between them with a cursory look at dementia inflicted Momma Buss only diluted the impact of everything.

The added theme of the financial troubles for Dr. Buss took up another big section of the episode. Each vied for supremacy and nothing really emerged. We just jumped from one scene to the next along all three plot lines. It ended up being largely confusing and unimpactful.

Too Fast

The various story lines just went too quickly. Magic’s relationship with his girlfriend and father came out of the nowhere. It seemed like a vehicle for the fourth wall breaking punch line of the Nike rep at the end. I’m not a big fan of an entire storyline dedicated to setting up a zinger at the end, even if the zinger is a good one.

Coach McKinney’s injuries and the team responding to them all happened so fast. It was just a whole bunch of scenes tenuously strung together. The emergence of Michael Cooper as a premier defender is an interesting story but you’d only get what was happening if you already knew the outcome. It wasn’t cohesive storytelling.

The loan situation was really interesting as well but it came in short snippets interspersed with the other stories. Everything just raced along toward zinger conclusions. The episode completely lacked the deliberate and intense pacing of Pieces of a Man.

Fourth Wall in Winning Time

Not surprisingly, this episode of Winning Time broke the fourth wall almost continuously from beginning to end. The previous episode resorted to this tactic only once or twice and briefly at that. This time we found ourselves listening to long monologs as characters explained their motivations and plans. I found it irritating, pointless and detracted from the interesting stories.

Conclusion

It’s a real shame of an episode following the brilliance of its predecessor. The show is still largely entertaining and worth watching but I hope we get more of the good stuff and less of the mess.

Tom Liberman

Pieces of a Man Winning Time’s Statement Episode

Pieces of a Man

Pieces of a Man is the fifth episode of Winning Time and what an episode! Booya. If you’re wondering how to craft a story properly, watch Pieces of a Man. It showcased fantastic acting, an intense and compelling story, and passion. An episode like this is why I love entertainment; this is why people filled stadiums to watch Greek Tragedies two thousand years ago.

I know I’m waxing overly poetic here, but it’s been a while since I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed a television episode. I’d probably have to go back to the heyday of the Sopranos to remember a time when I found myself so engrossed.

Last week I mentioned what a solid understanding of character Solomon Hughes brings with his portrayal of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. If only I knew what awaited. Anyway, on with my review.

The Central Theme of Pieces of a Man

It is generally a good idea to have a central theme to focus an episode and the characters therein. In this case we leave Dr. Buss and Magic Johnson and focus on Abdul-Jabbar. We start with him as a young witness to terrible racial injustice. His father, a police officer and a devout Christian, does not see eye-to-eye with his son, Lew Alcindor.

Being a superb athlete and champion is not enough for Alcindor. This young man is a piece of what he will become but he wants more, he wants to be more. He comes to Islam and takes a new name much to his father’s chagrin but that is just another piece in the man that Abdul-Jabbar is becoming. It’s a fantastic start to the episode.

This isn’t about the Lakers, it’s about Abdul-Jabbar, but it subtly becomes about the Lakers. It becomes about Magic Johnson, Jack McKinney, and Dr. Buss. It’s a story about all of them and all the pieces of them. It’s a profound episode.

Salaciousness

I’ve complained about the unnecessary salaciousness in Winning Time. We get it here but it is part of the story. It’s part of the locker room. I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms. I played sports. The locker room scenes in movies with men in towels everywhere and overly condescending locker room talk always strikes me as fake. Not here.

Here the players talk about cut cocks with Wood Harris, in all his glory, playing the role of Spencer Haywood. He brings it to life with a monolog that sounds like the locker room. I believe! Whether it’s a true story or not hardly matters. I believe these are real athletes in a real locker room and that’s no easy trick. Most sports movies fail miserably in this regard because it’s difficult for an actor to portray a professional athlete.

The Other Characters as Pieces of a Man

Dr. Buss plays a small role in this episode which was an incredibly brave move and it works. While Abdul-Jabbar is struggling to reconcile what he has become as compared to the youthful energy and enthusiasm of Johnson, we also see Dr. Buss struggling to put together his pieces as well. Can he step back from the edge of the cliff and admire the view?

Will Abdul-Jabbar add another piece in his journey? Can Magic Johnson become more than a fragment, a single piece of a man? Can Jack McKinney put together the final piece that he’s been striving for all his life?

The Importance of Dialog

This episode functions on many levels. The conversation between Heywood and Abdul-Jabbar in regards to young Magic is thoughtful and moves the story forward.

The disagreement between McKinney and Abdul-Jabbar where the later exactly predicts the result of his performance is profoundly interesting. McKinney realizes that Abdul-Jabbar knows what he’s talking about. It brings their relationship to a new level.

The locker room fight between Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar trying to put together their own pieces and find their place in all of this is raw and powerful.

The conversation between the financial advisor and Dr. Buss brings us a deeper understanding of his struggles to put together his own pieces. Even Jeanie finding Paula Abdul to lead the cheer squad is interesting.

Abdul-Jabbar at the mosque talking with the Imam moves the story toward its inevitable conclusion. We know what’s going to happen but it’s the journey that compels us to keep watching.

The dialog pulls the entire episode together. There is no telling in this episode, just showing. No exposition. Just actors performing, owning their characters and their lines, pulling us into their world.

Conclusion

You’ve probably figured out I liked this episode. Go watch it. Well done. Well done, indeed.

Tom Liberman

Sanditon is it that Difficult to Keep a Timeline?

Timeline

Argh, Sanditon, I say. Argh, I repeat with emphasis. Is it really that difficult to construct a timeline that makes sense? Of what do I speak, you might ask? The latest episode centers on a festival later on today or tonight or next week or tomorrow afternoon. I’m not sure. They keep changing it.

I know I’m the only one in the world who cares about this sort of thing, but the fuzzy timeline of the big festival largely ruined my immersion in this week’s episode of Sanditon. When is the festival? When? Every time I think I have a handle on the timeline, it shifts likes the sands of Arrakis.

The Festival is Today

Tom Parker gets a package. He looks up at the sky and tells the clouds not to rain. Clearly there is something on tap for today. He opens the package and finds a bunch of fliers for a festival. Oh, good, he exclaims with glee as gazes at them.

I’m already confused. He just looked at the sky and told it not to rain. Does that mean the timeline for the festival is today? That seems like the only explanation but why are the fliers only arriving now? Why haven’t those been pasted all over town a month ago?

The Festival is Next Month?

Tom doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to paste the fliers all over town. I am utterly confused. Maybe the festival isn’t happening today. Next month, perhaps? Surely, he understands promotion well enough to know he can’t post the fliers a few hours before the event?

The Festival is Tomorrow Morning

The elephant is cancelled? If the event is happening tomorrow, I’d expect the elephant to be on premises at least a few days early. There’s much to do, setting up a pen for the mighty beast, arranging for food, and other necessities.

Everyone does seem excited about the elephant. Tom is ripping down the fliers, that the timeline hasn’t accounted for putting up, because it’s embarrassing that the elephant he promised, today, won’t be here tomorrow.

Charlotte is Time Traveling Again

Charlotte is with her employer and the girls, Alison is out on a date with the shady officer, now they are talking to each other with Miss Lambe at the Parker house. Now she’s back with her employer having a picnic. When is the festival? I’m lost. Is Doctor Who in charge of the timeline of this episode?

It’s Tomorrow

Oh, it’s tomorrow. When is the festival starting, tea time? Everyone is going about their business like the thing is happening later but it’s been all day already. Charlotte woke up, went to work, had a picnic, tutored the girls, and is still back in Sanditon in time for the hydrogen balloon, no hot air required for those of you with inquiring minds.

Winch

How incompetent is Colonel Lennox? You’ve got three soldiers holding a rope for the balloon? Winch. You need a winch. Not a wench, Alison is all over that. I know, this has nothing to do with my rant today but I can’t stop myself.

At least we’ve got jolly Arthur Parker to save the day. Although, honestly, after that fiasco I’d be less inclined to make the ascent. The soldiers are clearly all idiots.

Conclusion

Is it really that difficult to construct a coherent timeline? Why weren’t we told about the upcoming festival last episode. The elephant, the fliers, all the things required to make this week’s focus, the festival, make any sort of sense.

Argh, I repeat for likely not the last time.

Am I the only one who cares about out of sequence events?

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Tom Liberman

A Cartoon Interlude that Nearly Spoiled Winning Time

Cartoon Interlude

I’m largely enjoying the HBO series Winning Time. It covers the early period of Dr. Jerry Buss’s ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers with star rookie Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. The story itself is compelling, the actors are doing a great job, the sets look good, it’s the formula for a winning show.

Now, I’ve got my quibbles about the Fourth Wall breaking they do throughout the show. I also think they could do with less salacious content but overall I’m enjoying it. This week’s episode other than some unnecessary sexing it up early was shaping up to be a great episode, the best of the series.

Then came the cartoon interlude that completely took me out of immersion. Let’s talk about it.

The Good Stuff

We got to see some absolutely superb character development and acting. Hadley Robinson makes Jeanie Buss interesting and conflicted as her father’s daughter. Sally Field is great as Jessie Buss the harsh but caring mother.

Solomon Hughes has a great handle on what he wants to do as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I don’t know if Kareem is really like that but Hughes is throwing himself into the role. He is completely believable as the aloof captain of the club.

Tracy Letts is slaying it as the tormented genius Jack McKinney. I believe, I’m immersed, I’m enthralled. The look back at his sons’ ruckus in the backseat said a thousand words with just a glance. The team rebelling against McKinney’s novel ideas seemed realistic to me.

The athletic sessions, always difficult in a sports movie with actors not athletes, came across as believable. All the players seem like players, not actors, and that’s not easy. Then came the cartoon interlude.

The Cartoon Interlude

We’re watching the team struggle with McKinney’s fast paced offense. We see Magic’s attempt to get the ball to open players who are not ready for his court awareness. Then, suddenly, we get a cartoon interlude of cartoon Johnson talking directly to the camera. Not for five seconds, not for ten seconds, but on and on and on and on. It went on forever.

The cartoon interlude shocked me. It immediately ruined all my immersion in the episode up until then. I’m tempted to call it the most fundamentally flawed intrusion into show I’ve ever seen. It had no place, no function, no use.

Aftermath

The show then immediately picked up where it left off with excellent acting, great character interaction, drama, conflict, story. Happily, I forgot about the cartoon interlude just a few minutes after it made its unwelcome appearance.

As I sit here and write this blog, I’m still in somewhat of a state of disbelieve. Did the cartoon interlude actually happen? Maybe it was a bad dream? I am a Boomer and prone to napping. The rest of the episode was great.

Magic hand-squeezing the orange juice. Claire pitching Jeanie’s ideas to Dr. Buss. It all worked except that stupid cartoon interlude.

Conclusion

I don’t even really know what to say. Perhaps I should just forget about the cartoon interlude altogether. Did anybody like it?

Did you like the Cartoon Interlude

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Tom Liberman

Sanditon Cliffhanger not Resolved Well

Cliffhanger

The first episode of Sanditon ended in a pair of cliffhangers. One when Miss Lambe and Miss Heywood, Alison that is, crashed their coach. The army officers training on the beach rushed over to rescue them and Charlotte’s little sister gazes up into the eyes of her handsome hero.

The second when we find out Sidney Parker, before his death, learned something distressing about Miss Lambe. Now, generally speaking, when ending an episode or a season with a cliffhanger it’s reasonable to expect it to be resolved fairly quickly in the next episode. It’s not a necessity by any means and there are good reasons not to do so, which I’ll talk about later.

Generally speaking, the reason you include a cliffhanger in an episode is to draw the audience back for the next episode. People want to find out what happened. Cliffhangers are generally structured so a resolution is the next possible event. But not always.

Were the choices made good ones? Let’s discuss.

Coach Crash Cliffhanger

The coach crash falls into the immediate category. We left off with the young women spilled out all over the beach, knocked nearly unconscious. We sort of need to know if Alison and Miss Lambe suffered any serious injuries.

I imagined we’d pick up right where we left off. We’d see the rescue, first aid applied, a rushing over of concerned bystanders, and eventually a return home. Later scenes might include a visit to the doctor and the concern of Charlotte for her sister’s safety, an admonishment to Miss Lambe for her careless driving. None of that happened.

Instead, we pretty much immediately see both of the young ladies up and about in good health and spirits. The only mention of the accident comes when Captain Carter comes to deliver invitations for the ball and Alison somehow doesn’t even know his name. It seems like information she’d have from the aftermath of the crash, but, whatever. Not a big deal.

The problem with resolving the crash this way, for me at least, is I found myself totally confused during the opening scenes of the episode. Wait, wasn’t there a crash? Did I miss an episode? Is this out of order?

I’m guessing, without any evidence, a rescue scene was filmed but the editor decided it didn’t add much to the story and cut it. It just felt like an odd way to handle the cliffhanger.

Miss Lambe’s Finance Cliffhanger

The other cliffhanger was less immediate. We learned Sidney was investigating something about Miss Lambe and we suspect it might be financial shenanigans. This is the sort of cliffhanger that doesn’t need an immediate resolution. The truth of the matter can slowly unfold over the course of the next episode and those that follow.

That being said, it barely got a mention at all. The only time I recall it coming up occurred when Arthur Parker is speaking with Miss Lambe. They both seem aware of the situation involving Sidney but no further information is divulged.

I found myself surprised that someone told Miss Lambe about the situation at all considering they don’t know much. How did Arthur find out? Presumably discussions occurred but all off screen. I’m not a big fan of handling a major plot device with such exposition. Show us the scenes where Miss Lambe is told about the potential irregularities. Let’s see her reactions. It’s an important plot point because Miss Lambe’s wealth is a major focus of her many suitors. If she’s not the heiress we all imagine, if the money is gone, that is pretty important information.

Why was the situation largely ignored in the second episode? I’m sure more is coming but a few scenes where Miss Lambe is informed of the problem, perhaps where Charlotte is told, are in order. The lack of those scenes dulls my interest. If this is to be a major plot point, we need some information, some scenes, some concern about the potential consequences, but nope, a couple of useless lines.

Conclusions

I find myself quite disappointed in the way Sanditon handled the two big cliffhangers from the premier episode. Confused at the opening scenes of the episode and mostly forgetting about the Sidney situation.

The show is largely lacking the deft touch of say, Jane Austen.

Tom Liberman

The Many Saints of Newark Stages of Grief

Many Saints of Newark

I’m sorry to say that I finally got around to watching The Many Saints of Newark. To say it was disappointing is not to do it justice. I feel like I went through some version of the stages of grief while watching the hot mess that can charitably be described as disjointed fan service.

I’m a big Sopranos fan. I loved the show and watched the entire arc twice through and wouldn’t mind doing so again. I even wrote a blog about how Little Carmine Lupertazzi most certainly did not kill Tony Soprano in the show finale.

I read the various reviews of The Many Saints of Newark and I knew it didn’t live up to expectations, that people were disappointed. These reviews did not prepare me for the reality. On with my grief.

Stage One: Expectations

Even though I read the negative reviews of The Many Saints of Newark I still went in with at least middling hopes. I didn’t expect it to be great but I did imagine a mildly entertaining movie and perhaps a few nods to the brilliance of the original series.

My expectations were largely met in the first twenty minutes or so of The Many Saints of Newark. Then we kept getting scene after scene but no actual plot, not story, no through theme, no structure. I discussed this problem in The Gilded Age so you can read my full thoughts here. Eventually, I said to myself, there has to be a main plot, right? This is David Chase after all. His brilliance in the series cannot be denied.

Stage Two: Confusion

We’re an hour into the show now and there is still no sign of plot. Wait, did they just kill the Ray Liotta character. I saw previews where he spoke with Dickie Moltisanti in prison. He can’t be dead, can he? No, he’s dead. I mean, he’s on fire and not saying anything which is a good indicator.

No, seriously? A twin brother? You’ve got to be kidding me? Is this an afternoon Soap Opera? I’m utterly confused at this point and still waiting for a plot of any kind. There has to be some direction eventually doesn’t there?

Stage Three: Rage

I’m angry now. It’s nothing but a series of scenes with lots of fan service. Entire scenes are simply designed to provide a line of fan service to those of who loved The Sopranos. This is ludicrous. How did this happen? Screw you for spitting on the legacy of the Sopranos. Why, David Chase. Screw you, Many Saints of Newark.

You are this bad. You are really terrible. The acting is fine. The sets are good. There is no main story. There is no structure! Why is anything happening? There are twelve different storylines going on and none of them are explored with anything other than superficiality. There is no central thread. This movie sucks!

I hate every single character in the movie. I hate them all.

Stage Four: Rationalization

Ok, I accept The Many Saints of Newark is awful. I’m over that. It’s bad and these things happen. It’s got to be that Chase didn’t want to make the movie. That he made it at the behest of money loving studio executives and intentionally sabotaged it.

He let the executives write the script. He did everything they wanted in a deliberate attempt to make a bad movie. Yeah, that’s got to be it. Chase can’t have completely gone off the deep end. It’s deliberately bad. There will be some nod, some tip, right near the end, to let me know it’s all a goof.

Stage Five: Acceptance

Dickie drowns the girl? Junior kills Dickie? The ending is more fan service? Ok. It’s bad. They tried. The magic is gone. You can never go home again. At least I’ll get a blog out of it.

Tom Liberman

By Jove The Gilded Age Finally Got it!

Gilded Age

It took an entire season, but The Gilded Age finally came through with a worthwhile episode. The season finale delivered on the hype by giving us an entertaining and watchable episode. I cared. I’m not saying the episode made me change my generally negative opinion about the show, but it gives me hope for season two.

Huzzah! Hurrah! I’ve been writing largely nothing but negative things about the show and I think that gives the impression I enjoy doing so. That I’m one of those reviewers who prefers to give negative assessments and make cutting remarks.

This is not true. I want The Gilded Age to be good because excellent entertainment is in my best interest. I prefer good shows. I’m not the sort to be happy when my team loses because it validates my hate. In any case, why was this episode good? Read on.

A Central Theme in the Gilded Age

I wrote an entire blog on why an episode needs a central theme to hold it together and the season finale had it. The entire episode swirled around the debutant coming out party for Gladys. Sure, we had Marion’s ice hot love life to distract us along with Peggy’s revelation and the chef’s troubles, but the entire episode had the structural support it needed.

With the debutant ball to hold everything together we came back to the main structure again and again. The side plots entertained us briefly but then we returned to the support that held everything together. This is the foundation of a good episode. It keeps us grounded and focused on a particular thing.

I hope my complaints earlier about the lack of such support make more sense now that we’ve seen it done properly. The actors are all working around this idea. The scenes are not scattered all over the five boroughs without relation to one another. Cohesions.

A Single Timeline

With the support of the debutant ball to focus the plots, the fuzzy timelines of all the previous episodes vanished. We didn’t see one character pass through a week while other characters were still back on the same day eating dinner. Because of the ball, everyone moved at the same rate. Everyone was going to the ball so time, by force, had to pass at the same rate for everyone.

Improved Acting

I’m not going to pass out awards for the acting but it showed a marked improvement. It wasn’t all about one character cutting down another with witty remarks. We didn’t have an overwhelming plethora of quick scenes designed around a zinger at the end. The main story forced the characters to work with one another, to care for one another. We saw longer scenes, real interactions, meaningful character development.

We had Raikes as a foil and the battle of wills between Bertha and Mrs. Astor played out through the friendship of their daughters. I was immersed in the battles.

Contrivance

Ok, there was a ton of contrivance, I know. The bank loan, the chef’s revelation and his drunken replacement, the letter revealing Peggy’s son, the elopement and the ball on the same night, it was all clearly contrived and rather silly but I can overlook that when everything else is well done.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there must be conflict and sometimes that requires coincidence and a little creativity from the author. Believe me, I’ve done it my books and I don’t begrudge the writer a bit of leeway in this regard.

Conclusion

I’m very pleased to be writing this positive review of The Gilded Age. I wish I could have done it earlier. The season finale did things properly as far as structure and that elevated the entire episode.

The idea is technical and I won’t get delve deeply but there is a thing called the Five Act structure. It’s been around since ancient Greece. It’s a foundation upon which to build a story. Ignore it at your peril.

Tom Liberman

Oh Sanditon don’t be The Gilded Age

Sanditon

The much-anticipated premier episode of the second season of Sanditon arrived with fanfare on PBS and because of that, you get to hear my thoughts about it. I’ll be clear right away, I’m not one to mince words. The episode borrowed far too much from The Gilded Age and that does not make me happy.

I don’t think the episode nearly met the low standards of The Gilded Age but it seemed the producers of Sanditon, at least in this first episode, used the same playbook as those who created the aforementioned series.

Now, perhaps it’s a good thing to borrow from a successful show but to my way of thinking, success is not equivalent to high quality. Let’s get on with it.

Blistering Pace

Sanditon blasts off with all the subtlety of an Elon Musk product launch. The opening iambic pentameter recap just wasted time reminding us of the events of the previous season. Then came the race to start every plotline as quickly as possible.

Sidney is dead, Charlotte is returning with her sister, Sanditon is rebuilt, loans must be repaid, miscarriages, army units, nefarious officers, dashing officers, children running under horses, women working for a living; it’s all happening too fast. Who, what, why, when, where? Doesn’t matter, stand aside, we’ve got to introduce every conflict as quickly as possible instead of letting them unfold organically.

Out of Time Sequences

Scenes out of time and out of place is a particular annoyance of mine although I know it doesn’t bother others as much. It’s a staple in the Gilded Age where one character has five days roll by and another only has a single afternoon pass when they meet for lunch.

It wasn’t nearly as egregious in Sanditon, but Charlotte went from applying for the position of governess to having lunch with the Parkers and then to walking back from the job interview. Maybe the good Doctor Who intervened somewhere to make that possible.

Contrived Conflict

The majority of the conflict seem to come out of nowhere. Why does Miss Lamb hate the artist who will clearly be her love interest? The argument between Charlotte and her employer was out of place. Even the military unit’s presence in town didn’t make a lot of sense. As for the two wayward children, they seemed almost like alien entities. Why are they here? What’s going on? Don’t know, don’t care, we need plot!

Now, I’m not a stickler for this sort of thing. You’ve got to have conflict and sometimes you need contrivance to make it happen. A few coincidences and events I don’t mind, but it was just one after the next in the premier episode.

Not All Bad

The middle section of the show slowed down to a calmer pace. Particularly, the story of Lady Esther Babbington arrived organically and makes sense. The plot line of the loaned money also seemed very natural and normal as did the cliffhanger regarding Miss Lamb.

The acting is universally strong and that stands in stark contrast to the Gilded Age. The director lets the actors act rather than forcing stilted conversation on them. They speak to one another rather than at each other. It is this quality acting that largely saves Sanditon in my opinion.

Conclusion

I hold out every hope the frantic pace of the premier episode of the second season will disappear into the background. That the show, with all the conflict set in motion, will move forward at a more regular pace.

A boy can hope, can’t he?

Tom Liberman

Introducing New Characters Gilded Age and Winning Time

New characters comparison

Introducing new characters into a series is not always an easy task. When the series is in its first season the audience meets new people fairly frequently and how they interact with the existing characters is important.

Today I’m discussing the way the Gilded Age and Winning Time introduced a new character and why I think one method is better than the other. In both cases the new character is a crotchety older woman and mother to an established character. That’s why I thought it might be an apt comparison.

Mean Old Mom

In The Gilded Age we’ve met the nasty housekeeper, Armstrong, from the Van Rhijn estate on several occasions as she made life miserable for Peggy and others. Meanwhile, Dr. Buss is one of the main characters in Winning Time and we know a lot about him.

Both of those characters have mothers, obviously. It turns out both women are more than a bit crotchety.

We meet Armstrong’s mother when Armstrong takes a day off from work to help the bed-ridden woman. Armstrong takes non-stop abuse from the horrible woman. Mom is as one-dimensional a character as you can imagine. Mean. That’s it, no more, no other traits, nothing redeeming.

Meanwhile we meet Momma Buss when her son comes to her with the company books for help with accounting issues. She’s biting in her critique of Dr. Buss and they have quite the exchange that seemed like real family to me. Near the end it is clear that while she is nasty, she also cares for her son and wants what is best.

The Purpose of Side Characters

Often times the purpose of side characters is to give us insight into the main character. By meeting Armstrong’s mother and Momma Buss we should learn about the two more important characters.

In this case it seems to me the idea of introducing Armstrong’s mother as a miserable and hateful person was to make us more sympathetic to the longtime Van Rhijn maid and her treatment of Peggy.

The idea behind introducing Momma Buss is to give us some awareness of the kind of upbringing Dr. Buss had and perhaps his own drive to succeed.

The Aftermath

After meeting both mothers, I liked Momma Buss despite her flaws but Armstrong’s mother was so vile, so mean, so without redeeming characteristics that I should have disliked her but, because of her one-dimensional nature, I didn’t really care much one way or the other.

This is a general problem with the Gilded Age. We cycle through characters and story lines so quickly that I don’t really get to know anyone at all. I don’t hate them but I also can’t say that I genuinely like any character in the Gilded Age. Young Jack is likeable and we got an extended scene with him this week but that’s not a topic for today.

As discussed, I think portraying Armstrong’s mother so negatively was to get us to have sympathy for Armstrong. And yet, in the latest episode, Armstrong is absolutely horrible. I don’t like her. I have no sympathy for her. So why did we meet her horrible mother? One more person to dislike on The Gilded Age? As if there aren’t enough?

Meanwhile, the short scene with Momma Buss gave us insight in Dr. Buss as did the scene with Red Auerbach. Michael Chiklis absolutely slayed it in that role by the way.

New Characters Add to the Story

The new characters in Winning Time, Momma Buss and Auerbach, added greatly to the story. They interacted with the main characters in ways that pushed the story forward. In ways that gave me insight into the main characters. They were introduced seamlessly and easily.

New characters in the Gilded Age; Armstrong’s mother, Mrs. Fish, Carrie Astor, and many more don’t really seem to do much. They are there. They speak. The allow other events to happen but they don’t interact meaningfully with the main characters. They give us little or no insight and they come and go like a freight train in the night.

Conclusion

I don’t say Winning Time is a perfect show or that The Gilded Age is without merit. I say that someone at Winning Time understands how to tell a compelling story and maybe someone over at the Gilded Age should take some notes.

Tom Liberman

Talking at Each other in the Gilded Age

Talking at each other

I watched episode eight of The Gilded Age last night and I’m afraid it was largely just characters talking at each other. Any momentum from last week’s moderately decent episode went flying out the window. Almost the entire episode consisted of one character spitting out their lines at a breakneck pace without giving the words of the other character even the slightest consideration.

Honestly, I’ve seen some terrible entertainment over the years but this was the worst case of characters talking at each other I’ve ever witnessed. The problem of too many short scenes recurred, the problem of no central theme recurred, the problem of time flow recurred, it was a cornucopia of everything wrong with the Gilded Age.

Talking at Each Other

What do I mean by characters talking at each other being bad? Isn’t that what people do? I speak and the other person responds. That’s the normal flow of conversation, right? Wrong. The normal flow of conversation is that one person speaks, the second person listens to those words, formulates a reply, and then answers.

If I want to watch two people talk at each other I’ll turn on the local opinion show that masquerades as news. That’s just one idiot saying something and the other moron responding with whatever they wanted to say regardless of what they just heard. That’s not what I expect from a highly produced television series.

Sadly, that’s exactly what happened in this episode, time and time again. One person spoke and almost before the sentence ended the second person spat out a cutting reply with no intonation, no reflection, no indication of any emotion. Just a quick, sharp, and move on to the next scene so I can see someone in a different outfit.

A Good Dialog

The only reasonable dialog in episode eight occurred when George discussed the derailment issue with his experts. The experts, minor characters, actually listened to George, thought about his words, and then replied at a normal pace indicating they listened to his original statement. It was startling to see the contrast between the bit players and the main actors.

Bad Acting?

Is bad acting to blame? I’m don’t think so, at least not in every case. Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon are two capable, veteran actors with good work to their credits. Even they seem to struggle to speak their lines with emotion and thought rather than spit them out like a runaway steam locomotive.

I’m of the opinion it’s the directing. The actors are being told to spew out their lines quickly and without emotion, to not pause, to fail to consider their opposite’s words. The problem is far too universal and largely only with the main characters to simply be bad acting.

Now, it’s possible some of it is bad acting, I don’t deny that and I think everyone knows the actors of whom I speak. But, it’s also possible that those actors are actually talented with potential but being wrecked by terrible direction.

Conclusion

The season is barreling toward its conclusion with Gladys’s debutant ball. Perhaps when it comes time to film the second season someone will have noted all the problems and try to give this show the direction it needs. I hold out little hope for the remaining episodes.

Tom Liberman

The Fourth Wall in Winning Time

Winning Time and the Fourth Wall

Winning Time is an HBO series telling the story of the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. The actors in the show break the Fourth Wall with great frequency and that is the focus of my blog today.

The show is about Dr. Jerry Buss who purchased the Lakers in 1979 and his attempt to build a championship team around young Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Jr. I’ll break any suspense by telling you I think it’s a pretty good show … at times. Then the actors break the fourth wall and it’s not so good.

What is the Fourth Wall?

The Fourth Wall is line between the stage and the audience. The actors are actors and the audience is the audience. An actor generally pretends she or he does not know the audience is out there watching. He or she performs. This means pretending to be the character in question rather than an actor portraying that character.

The purpose of the Fourth Wall is to immerse the audience in the performance. It is generally important for us to believe the person on the screen is Dr. Jerry Buss, not John C. Reilly an actor pretending to be Buss.

Why Ignore the Fourth Wall?

There are reasons to ignore the Fourth Wall and the character Deadpool from comic and movie fame is a perfect illustration. Deadpool understands he is a character and we are watching him. His jokes revolve around the idea of this self-awareness.

There is, in my opinion, no reason to do this in Winning Time.

Why Breaking the Fourth Wall hurts the Show

The show, when the actors are acting instead of mugging for the audience is quite good. The only time Reilly isn’t excellent in the role of Buss is when he’s talking to us. Rob Morgan is absolutely slaying it as Earvin Johnson, Sr. I believe every second of his performance as a caring, loving father and, not surprisingly, none of his scenes break the wall.

DeVaugn Nixon is excellent as Norm Nixon, worried about the young Johnson coming in and taking his job. Michael O’Keefe is superb as Jack Kent Cooke. Jason Clarke’s rage as Jerry West, whether accurate or not, comes across with red-hot intensity.

Largely, the only time the show doesn’t work is when the actors break the Fourth Wall. Doing this has two negative effects. First it immediately takes me away from immersion. I realize I’m watching actors and not actual events and people.

Second it is being used as exposition, to tell us something rather than showing it. A glaring example is when actor Gaby Hoffman turns to the camera and tells us she needs this job and then lets down her hair right before meeting with Buss. Why not just let down her hair? That tells us everything we need to know. I don’t want to watch Gaby Hoffman, I want to see Claire Rothman, a woman in a sea of misogyny, doing her job.

Black Culture

Getting away from the fourth wall for a moment I want to praise what appears me as a fair portrayal of black, urban culture. The family scenes with the Johnsons and the pedicure scene with Nixon rang very true to my eyes. The writers didn’t overplay these interactions to the point of parody nor did they hide the cultural norms of the community. They seemed true.

Now, I’m a white boy from the suburbs so I’m certainly not particularly well-qualified to make that judgement. I can say with utter honesty, the scenes convinced me, I was immersed.

Conclusion

It’s a good show but I wish they’d decided against going with a Fourth Wall breaking formula. The story of Buss, Johnson, and the others is fascinating on its own. That, of course, was not my decision to make and it’s not going to change.

I’ll be tuned in next week.

Tom Liberman

The Value of Transitions

Transitions

I just caught up with the latest episode of The Gilded Age and I’m happy to report myself moderately satisfied. Episode Six: Heads Have Rolled for Less than This wasn’t the greatest piece of film in cinematographic history but it showed a marked improvement over episode five.

However, that is not the topic of today’s blog. Today I will discuss transitions. Not particularly exciting, I know, but bear with me.

Transitions: going from one scene to the next. I’ve commented before that the scenes in The Gilded Age don’t have a common thread. That we’re thrown from one to the next without a lifeline to guide us. I tried to explain this in a previous review but two transitions in this episode particular illustrate the point I tried to make then.

Bad Transitions at the Red Cross Meeting

The scene begins with Marion and Peggy walking down the street discussing various things and ends with their arrival at the front of the building in which the meeting will take place. They are greeted by Clara Barton who exits a coach, speaks with them briefly, and then heads inside.

The scene cuts and we are now at the Van Rhijn household although it took me until almost the scene finished to figure this out. The transition was quick and without explanation. I had no idea where I was or who was talking. It turned out to be the maid and Ada Brook. The maid paying back the loan taken to cover her gambling debts.

Then the next scene we are inside at the Red Cross meeting where Mrs. Russell is being discussed. The transition between the Red Cross scenes served only to confuse me.

Why place the maid scene in between the two others? It made no sense and forced my mind away from the goings on at the Red Cross, the topics being discussed by Marion and Peggy, the general flow of the story.

The transitions did not enhance either of the scenes and there seemed to be no connection. It was jarring, unnerving even, and certainly took me out of the flow.

Good Transitions at Lunchtime

The good transition begins in the servants’ quarters at the Van Rhijn household where young Jack is filling in for Bannister. He nervously prepares to serve the luncheon and is encouraged by Bridget as he heads off into the lion’s den to face the aunts.

As he opens the door the transition happens. The doors that open are those at the Russell household where the grand lunch is being served. It was perfect, seamless, and purposeful.

This illustrates that scene transitions don’t necessarily have to be about related events. It was the simple fact that doors opened to a luncheon, in different locations, that worked.

Film Editing

The film editor sorted through various scenes and chose to put these scenes next to one another. That’s a conscious action. It’s done presumably for a reason and yet I can find no good reason for the first instance and applaud heartily the second.

It’s frustrating to see the luncheon transitions because it means the film editor is actually paying attention. If the film editor observed such attention to detail in one case, why not in others?

Conclusion

Why, I ask, why? It’s clear someone does know how to create good transitions. The luncheon proves it. Why not do it more frequently? Why not structure the episode so that one scene flows into the next without jarring the audience?

I hope this small illustration gives you a better idea what I tried to convey in my other blog. Good transitions and proper scene structure can enhance a show greatly.

Does my explanation of the good and bad transitions make sense to you?

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Tom Liberman

The Winner for the Most Scenes in One Episode Goes to

Most scenes

The Gilded Age Episode 5! Congratulations. If the goal was to cram the most scenes into the shortest amount of time, you win. All Creatures Great and Small, which I’d recommend, has less scenes in two full series than what I just witnessed.

I’m in shock. My brain reels. Did I just get run over by a train? If soldiering and critiquing were analogous, they’d diagnose me with post-traumatic stress disorder. Luckily for me that’s not the case and I’ll surely recover.

Stopwatch

Honestly, if I didn’t think it might cause me emotional distress, I’d go back and watch that episode again with my phone’s stopwatch engaged and a pad of paper to count the scenes. Wham, bam, thank you, Tom but the Gilded Age is already out the door and onto a completely different storyline. Don’t stop, don’t think.

There had to be a dozen or more scenes that lasted less than a minute. New scene, new place, new people, stilted dialog, go! Next! Faster! Faster! We’ve no time for character development, no time for emotional attachment, no time for a story to develop. Get moving and get moving now!

Bridget and Jack, Bye Bye

Bridget and Jack’s compelling story? No time, Tom. No time! We’ve got to get on with the housekeeper and her mother. Don’t you know we can’t dwell; we can’t risk you caring about anyone in the cornucopia of plots. Bridget’s serial rape and trauma, that’s behind us now, Tom. Catch up, catch up, catch up!

The Passage of Time

Don’t worry about the passage of time. It’s later, or the same time, or before. We’re not sure. It’s a scene! People in fancy clothes. It’s virginal and chaste girls swapping spit on their first kiss. Here, there, everywhere. Don’t worry, Tom. It doesn’t matter when or why; we’ve got to get the most scenes in as quick as we can. Go, go, go!

Speak Fast

Speak as quickly as possible with as little inflection as possible. Scenes, more scenes, we need more scenes, we need the most scenes ever put together in a single episode of television!

Clothes

New outfits, quick, hurry, don’t pause, that’s what people want. If we have the most scenes, we have the most outfits. Quick, into the changing room.

Nathan Lane

Good god, Nathan! Didn’t you get the message? Why are you speaking slowly, carefully, with emotion and thought behind your words? Don’t you know what show you’re on? Off, off, get him off. He cares about acting, he understands the structure of scene. Fire him, immediately. What? He’s under contract for more episodes. Damn. Get me the writers, cut his lines!

Paragraphs

More paragraphs, yes, that will make this article compelling. More headings, more paragraphs. Quicker, Tom, quicker. No one can pay attention for more than thirty seconds, you fool.

Conclusion

My head hurts. That episode was horrific.

The End

Accounting for Change in Around the World in 80 Days

Around the world in 80 Days

A moment in the finale of Around in the World in 80 Days gives me a chance to discuss accounting for change. As probably a few of my regular blog readers know, I write novels. And a serial as well. In the writing process, not everything stays the same from draft to draft.

One vitally important thing is accounting for change. When something changes early you must remember it and change later events to match.

I can’t say for sure what changed from one episode to the next in Around the World in 80 Days. I’m not privy to that information, obviously. But, as a young man who grew up reading Jules Verne and other authors of the same ilk, I am familiar with the source material.

Let’s talk about Abigail Fix.

The Original

In Around the World in 80 Days there is no Abigail Fix. There is Detective Fix of the Scotland Yard. Fix spots Fogg in Egypt and mistakes him for a bank robber of vaguely the same description. The purpose of the change is of little interest to me, it is accounting for it that focuses my attention.

Abigail adds to the story in a number of ways. She is a love interest. Fix is a confidant for Fogg. The plucky Fix is an independent woman in the world. What is she also? A reporter. That’s important. Because, you see, in the original version of the story, the journey is largely made in anonymity. The press knows nothing of the endeavor.

No one knows of the arrival in London. Our heroes think they are too late to win the wager and only learn of the mistake just in time. They rush to the Reform Club in the nick of time. All well and good, in the novel at least.

The New Version

In the new version of the story someone needs to be in charge of accounting for change. You see, Fix has published the exploits of Fogg to the world. They are met in New York by a phalanx of reporters and the boarding of the Henrietta is international news. The clamor of the world is upon them. This change from the original story is brought on by the addition of Fix the reporter instead of Fix the detective.

The passage of the Henrietta and thus Fogg and his companions is public knowledge. They are famous. It’s an integral change to the original story. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the change. I don’t mind Fix as a female reporter. I don’t mind the fame of the journey. I’m no purist. If a female dwarf doesn’t have a beard, I’m completely fine with it.

Accounting for Change

The problem, I’m sure you realize by now, even if you did not while watching the episode, is all of London should be waiting for the Henrietta to dock. One imagines an adoring crowd waiting to carry Fogg and his companions to the Reform Club in glorious triumph. Oopsie.

Someone didn’t account for change!

The ending needs to change! The ending must be altered to accommodate for this change or it makes no sense. As, I said, I’m not a purist. It’s fine to change things to match a modern standard, to tweak the story in interesting ways.

A sat mouth agape, “This doesn’t work,” I said to myself, perhaps out loud even. I’m a nuisance this way, just ask anyone who knows me.

Conclusion

Luckily, I wasn’t all that invested in this show anyway. It never grabbed my interest the way I hoped and my previous reviews get into that. I’ll not reiterate here. Even with that said, failure in accounting for change at the climax left me downright peeved. The officious customs clerk makes no sense. The lonely journey to his home, the surprise of his butler, none of it. It’s all so very, very wrong.

That was before the denouement hinting at further adventures. All I have to say about that is; Adieu, Professor Pierre Aronnax, it appears it’s into the rubbish bin for you as well.

Tom Liberman

Episode Editing and the Gilded Age

The Gilded Age

I just finished watching episode four of The Gilded Age and the episode editing struck me with the force of a runaway locomotive. It’s a problem I’ve noted in previous reviews, but this week’s episode editing lacked any semblance of a deft touch.

Film editing is the process of turning a bunch of scenes into an episode. We tend to think of it more in a movie than a television show but there is no doubt a good editor can make a profound difference in the flow of a television show as well as feature length film.

It’s a difficult art to perform correctly and even describing why the episode editing failed so abysmally in the Gilded Age is not easy for me to illustrate. Nevertheless, I shall try.

From Jumbled Scenes to Episode

When we watch a television show we see it in sequence and we generally don’t give it much thought. There is someone who does think about it a great deal. The film editor is given a bunch of scenes and must stitch them together in a coherent story that at least attempts to follow the original script. It’s not an easy job.

Each episode is really just a series of scenes, many of them unrelated to one another. In a show with a large cast and many competing storylines, like The Gilded Age, this is even more difficult. The film editor is trying to piece together a strong narrative that emotionally captures the viewer. If she or he does it right, the audience becomes entranced, we watch the scenes flow by and forget they are separate entities. We see a smoothly moving river.

When it’s done poorly, we lose immersion, we are yanked from one place to another without a strong thread to keep us attached.

I’m not saying each scene has to be directly related to the previous but I am saying you don’t want to ruin the mood, the emotions, the feelings generated by one scene; by following it with something out of place. Perhaps an example is necessary.

Poor Bridget

Bridget reveals her repeated rapes at the hands of her father, and how she hates her mother even more for allowing it to happen. That is a powerful, tragic, horrific scene. It is immediately followed by Peggy’s lunch with her parents and Marion’s ludicrous present. Pardon my language, but what the fuck was the film editor thinking? I cannot think of a worse scene to follow such a deeply disturbing moment.

There is no connection, no continuity, it’s almost like we’re supposed to forget what we just witnessed with Bridget. That Marion’s white privilege is a more egregious offense.

I can think of several scenes to better follow up the horror of Bridget’s confession. The scheming maid jumping into George’s bed contrasts a sexually emancipated woman to brutalized Bridget. Perhaps a scene with Agnes van Rhijn talking about the abuse she suffered in her marriage.

The profound emotional attachment I briefly felt for Bridget was swept away like water under a bridge. See ya.

Bertha’s Snobbery

Another scene begging for contrast and comparison is when Bertha puts down Raikes for his lack of money. Why not precede this with a scene where Bertha herself is snubbed for her lack of social standing. Showing that she is guilty of largely the same thing she rails against? Opportunities like this are readily available in any drama. Good dramas take advantage of them to keep the momentum from one scene going to the next, through the entire episode.

Lack of Flow

The episode editing in The Gilded Age shows us scene after scene but they have no connection, no flow. I’m don’t have time to absorb what just happened when a new thing happens. I’m not saying each scene has to be directly related to the previous but there needs to be a thread for the audience. We see little to nothing of this in The Gilded Age, no continuity, and thus a lessened impact, no emotional attachment to the characters.

It’s as if the episode editing was done by a random number generator rather than someone concerned with telling a cohesive and compelling story. The transitions are so jarring, I’m immediately taken out of immersion, my mind tasked with recalibrating and focusing on something entirely new, again and again.

Conclusion

Good episode editing isn’t easy, I don’t pretend it is. Someone makes difficult decisions to whittle down many hours of scenes into a single episode. It seems like no one is even trying in The Gilded Age and that’s a shame. So much potential is being wasted in any number of ways, as I’ve discussed in other episode reviews.

Tom Liberman

The Difficulties of a Travel Story

Around the world in 80 Days

Around the World in 80 Days is a travel story. There is no getting around it and this presents story-telling difficulties. This week’s episode of Around the World in 80 Days demonstrated some of the problems and I’d like to look at it closely from that aspect.

The overarching problem in a travel story is that locations and secondary characters change from week to week or chapter to chapter in a book. I’d like to examine how the most recent episode of Around the World, set in the western United States, handled the issue and why it largely, in my opinion, did not succeed.

Believability in Introduced Characters

New characters come into a travel story on a regular basis and it’s important to distinguish them quickly and effectively. This way their story is compelling to the audience.

In this episode the primary new characters were a United States Marshal and his prisoner. They joined the group when the marshal flagged down our heroes’ stagecoach and demanded to ride along. We quickly learned the prisoner was a racist from the south and veteran of the Civil War.

The marshal was a one-dimensional caricature at best; frankly I’d like call him a quarter-dimensional or worse. He lacked even the most basic, white-hat wearing, cartoon hero’s credibility. The villain was no better. They both appeared to be on the show simply to have a good guy and a bad guy. I believed neither as a fully formed person.

Because I wasn’t interested in the new characters, their story did not engage me in any way. It’s important to like the hero and dislike the villain, sure, but if I find neither interesting or realistic, it doesn’t work. I can’t hate or like either one.

Intermeshing Goals

The new characters need to interact with the main characters in a way that advances their arc. That is to say, introduced characters must mesh meaningfully with the established characters in a travel story. It’s not easy to mingle a new story with the main plot and, unfortunately, I thought Around the World failed miserably in this case.

Around the World attempted to have the villainous new character appeal to the base, racist nature perceived in the main character. It didn’t really work for me because Fogg never seemed racist at any point of the story, classist certainly, but not racist. If the appeal focused on the inappropriate relationship of a servant and a well-to-do young woman, I might have found it interesting but that wasn’t the point of the story at all.

Meanwhile the marshal and Passepartout were meant to interact as black men in a racist white world. Again, it seemed ineffective to me. Passepartout didn’t have reason to see the entire world as racist, only that miserable caricature of a villain. I never saw a bond or growth in any of the main characters throughout the episode.

The Conflict

The conflict in the story was a little better although so contrived and ridiculous I didn’t find myself concerned about the outcome. A shootout at the saloon with the bad guys is a staple of westerns and I see what the writers were trying to do. It never came across emotionally to me because the villains and hero never seemed real.

The ending with Fogg and the villain was so contrived it had no impact on me whatsoever. I get the idea. Fogg gaining his courage, but it just did not work for me at all. The villain’s monolog and surrender stirred no emotions.

Playing for Laughs

I must take a moment to talk about the insertion of humor into tense situations. It’s the fourth or fifth time Around the World played a dramatic fight or chase scene for laughs. When Fix flashes the peace sign with a goofy grin and Passepartout goes into his impromptu speech, it seemed to me an attempt at humor and ill-timed to say the least. I’m not sure what’s up with all of that but it’s not working for me.

Conclusion

Another poor episode in my opinion. I don’t think the main characters gained any insight or moved forward. It seemed like a simple attempt to say racism bad. Yeah, well, ok. Count me in on that. Racism is bad, I’m with you. Now, tell a convincing travel story where it emotionally impacts me, not this mess.

Tom Liberman

Finding Good in The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age

Instead of talking about what didn’t work in this week’s episode of the Gilded Age, I will focus on the parts that did. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be all smiles and sour candy. I do love me some sour candy but that’s neither here nor there. Now, I reserve the right to contrast the parts that work well with those do not.

This is the third episode of The Gilded Age and I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for the show. It’s not great, frankly it’s not very good, but it has moments. My reviews of Episode One and Episode Two cover lots of things I think didn’t work. So, if you’re looking for witty and critical thoughts, check out those reviews.

Competing Stories

There are an absolute ton of stories going on in the Gilded Age. We go from one unrelated scene to the next with dizzying speed and it’s all I can do to keep up. Really the only thing that makes a difference is the acting. The storylines all meld together and I really don’t care about one more than the other except where the actor makes a difference.

The Best Storyline in the Gilded Age

The most compelling story in the show is likely the least important. Competing story lines include George taking on City Hall, Marion’s love life, Ada’s unexpected suitor, and Peggy’s short stories among many others. Yet, the one that grabs me, the one for which I eagerly await the next scene is Jack’s pursuit of Bridget. Why? Because Ben Ahlers is killing it as Jack.

Ahlers is the only actor who seems capable of ignoring the direction and dialect coaching that plagues this show. Every moment on screen his youthful exuberance and joyful expressions shine through like a beacon on a dark and stormy night. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little but his performance is so vivid and full of life compared to everyone else that it absolutely pops.

Taylor Richardson as Bridget falls into the middle ground. Sometimes she’s bright and enthusiastic like Ahlers but then you can almost see the director come into the room. Less emotion! Less expression! Less tone! Read the lines, don’t say them!

Young Jack gives us more in a single glance at Bridget while attending the Theater Optique then most of the rest of the cast do in the entire series so far. I’m interested because Jack is interesting.

The Second-Best Story

The next most interesting story involves the trials of Gladys Russell. Taissa Farmiga plays her with a wide-eyed innocence that comes across well. As with Richardon’s portrayal of Bridget, at times Farmiga falls prey to wooden block school of acting apparently encouraged on the set of the Gilded Age. That being said, she is often quite endearing and sweet and I am rooting for her eventual coming out party.

It’s clear now said party, with a full Russell ballroom, is being setup as the denouement to season one. That’s a good thing because it means we’ll see more of Farmiga. Sadly, I suspect the ball will be more about Bertha than Gladys. Still, it’s something.

Small Guest Role

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the literary agent’s scene with Peggy at the newspaper. He was extremely effective in portraying the economic impact of institutionalized racism. It was clear he was not a racist himself but also did not possess enough courage to risk his business to fight those who are so.

It was a nuanced performance and I thought the actor handled it perfectly.

Conclusion

I’m afraid that’s about it. No one else is very good and none of the stories are all that interesting because of it. Sure, potentially they could be fascinating studies of the Gilded Age and the people who lived it. Sadly, I’m just not feeling it.

Tom Liberman

Why isn’t Hugh the Villain in All Creatures Great and Small?

All Creatures Great and Small

The latest episode of All Creatures Great and Small featured the return of Hugh. It afforded the writers an opportunity to present a clear villain to contrast with heroic James. They didn’t do so. Perhaps they had a couple of shots where Hugh smiled at the misfortune of James but that’s as far as it went.

Today I want to examine why Hugh is portrayed in this manner and what I think about that choice. It’s an interesting concept because most shows tend to break down the world into simple choices. Good guy versus bad guy. All Creatures Great and Small chose not to go that route.

Who is Hugh?

Hugh was the romantic interest and rival for Helen’s affection from the first season of All Creatures Great and Small. The two were engaged with their marriage marking the season finale. Helen, for various reasons including her affection for James, calls off the marriage at the last moment leaving Hugh at the altar.

The Reappearance of Hugh

Hugh is absent from season two up until now, although he is mentioned several times. This episode starts with James going to Hugh’s estate to ring a young bull. Hugh seems to smile at James’s misfortune with the bull and that leads the audience to believe Hugh is going to play the villain.

It turns out Hugh had the nose ring inserted because he planned to give it bull to Helen’s family as gift in replacement for a bull purchase that fell through as part of an episode in the previous season. He also puts Helen’s name on the farm deed as part of the renewal. Here is where we see Hugh not behaving in a villainous fashion. We learn he’s actually a decent fellow.

The central plot point of the episode is the cricket match between the landed gentry of the region and the local farmers. Hugh is the star bowler for one team while James is a late entry for the local side, although he lacks much experience with the game.

The Big Match

During the match, Hugh has a heartfelt talk with Helen where he admits his own trepidation about their relationship and shows no hard feelings.

In the big match Hugh faces James with the entire game at stake. James allows Hugh to win and rationalizes later to Helen that he felt he owed Hugh a win. Hugh then shakes James’s hand and offers him congratulations for a good game.

Why is Hugh Generous?

This question is the main focus of my blog. Why not make Hugh a monster? He has every right to be angry at James over Helen. Why not have him seek revenge? He might fail to renew the lease. He could purposely hit James with the cricket ball. He can make snide and nasty remarks at James’s expense. He doesn’t, but why?

Certainly, in a lot of other shows, that’s exactly the way they’d portray Hugh. A villain for the sake of comparing him to the hero. How are we to know James is a good guy if we don’t have a bad guy for the sake of comparison?

It’s my opinion the reason Hugh is a good egg is because that’s more realistic. It trusts the audience to understand that sometimes life happens. Just because James is a fine fellow doesn’t mean his romantic rival must be evil. It makes us view Hugh as a human being, not as a caricature of one. It’s nuanced and it’s interesting.

I like it

I think it’s probably pretty easy to guess my opinion on the portrayal of Hugh in All Creatures Great and Small. I think it’s great the writers are willing to trust my judgment. They don’t need to turn the world into tropes and boring cliches.

I don’t need Hugh to be bad to understand James is good. I don’t need James and Helen to be good all the time either. If anyone is a bit petty and angry in this episode, it’s James.

Well done, well done indeed.

Tom Liberman