Hotel Portofino Two Episode Early Review

Hotel Portofino

I watched the second episode of Hotel Portofino on PBS and I’m ready to give my preliminary review of the six-episode series. When I write a review, I try to take into account a lot of the things that make it objectively better or worse. Absolute good or bad is difficult to assign because there are many parts to a show and Hotel Portofino definitely has a duality to it.

Hotel Portofino tells the story of an English woman running a hotel in Italy in the early 1920’s when Mussolini first comes to power. It focuses on Bella Ainsworth and her immediate family including a war-traumatized son, a daughter with a young child, and a wayward husband. We also get to meet a wide variety of guests.

So, is it good? To quote my favorite YouTube lawyer, it depends.

Acting in Hotel Portofino

The acting is generally solid and often excellent. Natascha McElhone is strong in the lead and is generally supported well by a large cast including her scheming husband Cecil played by Mark Umbers. I don’t have any problems with the acting in the show.

Sets and Costumes in Hotel Portofino

This is where the show is truly outstanding. Everything in the hotel, the scrumptious surrounding countryside, the fancy cars, and the wonderful costumes are spot on. Details in the scenes are excellent with every room of the hotel looking lived in and real.

The costumes also appear period to my eyes and wonderful. Everyone is dressed the part and I’m immersed in the world of Italy.

Writing and Dialog in Hotel Portofino

The writing and dialog are largely good although there is the never-ending problem of British actors portraying citizens of the United States. It’s a real problem but I’m not sure I can really blame that on anyone. If you’re a fan of period pieces on PBS you’ll have noted this yourself and I need not elaborate.

Story and Structure in Portofino

Here’s where all the good comes to a screeching halt. There are far too many characters, far too many story lines, and the structure of the episodes have no central support. We meet character after character in the first episode and it’s impossible to tell one from the other after a while. We meet even more guests in the second episode.

Scene after unrelated scenes spawns on the screen, often without any linear sense of story or structure. The nanny suddenly finds the son attractive out of nowhere. The food deliveries stop for no apparent reason. Is the American an art critic or a CIA agent? What’s up with his yoga practicing wife? The young waiter is an anti-fascist suddenly? I’m totally confused.

The writers don’t trust us with any information and its impossible to figure out what’s going on with all the plots. A good example of this is the local fascist blackmailing Bella over a letter. The contents of the letter? A complete mystery. The American’s real goal? A mystery. The nanny’s personal tragedy? A mystery.

The first two episode had no central support. Like the Gilded Age, we just got scene after scene, plot line after plot line but nothing to hold it all together.

In the second episode the cutting off of food deliveries might have brought the story together. Perhaps the staff all heads out, fishing, scavenging, finding friends, and bringing the entire story together. Instead, we spent forever on a scene painting when we learn, out of nowhere, the nanny has talent as an artist.

Conclusion

If you like beautiful scenery, lovely costumes, good acting, and you don’t particularly care to try and follow a mind-numbing number of plots with little explanation; this show is for you.

It’s not a bad show by any stretch. I think a tighter structure, more scenes devoted to just a few plots, and fewer characters are required to make it excellent entertainment. In its current state, it’s ok.

Tom Liberman

Irma Vep the Review

Irma Vep

I watched the second episode of Irma Vep on HBO and I’m glad I held off writing a review for a week. There’s a lot going on with this show and a single episode wasn’t enough to write an informed opinion about the show.

A lot of times I’m tempted to immediately wax poetic about a story I read in the news or some event that happened in my life. Often times it’s a great idea to get my thoughts down immediately, fresh, raw. Other times, particularly when the situation is nuanced it is better to wait. In any case, the wait is over, let the review of Irma Vep begin!

What is Irma Vep?

The show is not easy to describe. At its heart, it is about an actor making a film. That actor is Mira Harberg as portrayed by Alicia Vikander. Harberg is coming off a highly successful although soul-murdering role in a super-hero film. She’s now a highly sought-after and successful actor but she’s taken a role in a low-budget vampire film called Irma Vep.

Now comes the difficult part in describing this show. The film is a remake of seven hour long silent-film of the same name. The audience, that’s me, is shuttled back and forth between four different realities. First is Harberg and her life. Second is the making of the film in which she channels the Irma Vep character. Third is the film they are making itself as seen through the director’s eyes while watching the dailies. Finally, is the original silent film with scenes interspersed with the new scenes.

It’s a lot. It’s ambitious. It’s good. I’m really enjoying it and not just for the lurid suggestion of lesbian dominance and submission. Although, I admit, that does pique the old imagination.

The Acting

I’m absolutely loving all the acting. Vikander is delightful as the unfulfilled and spoiled actor trying to broaden her career. Devon Ross as Harberg’s new assistant is quirky and interesting. The old assistant, the vivacious Adria Arjona, is the aforementioned lesbian former love interest.

Particularly outstanding is Vincent Macaigne as Rene Vidal, the psychologically unstable director. His quirky, edgy performance is a thing to behold. His portrayal of the damaged director hoping to pay homage to one of his favorite films is breathtaking. The scene in the second episode where he insists on making it abundantly clear to his psychologist that he masturbated as boy to not Diana Rigg, who he respects as an actor, but to the character of Emma Peel is an absolute delight.

Vincent Lacoste as the insecure actor insisting on changes to the script to secure his fragile ego is marvelous. He doesn’t want to live with his mother who serves him herbal tea at night because it makes him look weak. Vidal tells the insecure actor he has written mom out of the script but she’s actually still in it. The scenes move from rollicking hilarity to brutal insecure honesty. I’m enthralled.

And I haven’t even mentioned Lars Eidinger as the crack-addicted Gottfried, Jeanne Balibar as the set coordinator, Carrie Brownstein as Mira’s agent hoping to lure the star away from the small remake into playing the Silver Surfer!

Structure

The structure of the story is complex, to say the least. We move back and forth between the four stories being told and it gets confusing at times. It’s a silent movie, it’s a real movie, it’s the making of a movie, it’s an actor becoming the character. Be prepared to pay attention.

Conclusion

I’m rather surprised it even got made, let alone picked up by HBO. It’s madcap, it’s mayhem, it’s heart-wrenching, it’s hilarious, it’s erotic, it’s complicated, it’s not for everyone, but it’s for me.

Tom Liberman

We Own this City Review

We own this city

I watched the last episode of We Own this City on HBO and largely enjoyed it. It’s based on a book by Baltimore journalist Justin Fenton and created by David Simon of The Wire fame. It focuses on the Gun Trace Task Force led by Sergeant Wayne Jenkins in Baltimore.

The Wire is a great show about the problems of drugs in Baltimore specifically but all across our nation and, indeed the world. It doesn’t sugarcoat the violence and spares neither the police nor the drug dealers. We Own this City continues in the same manner and I came away discouraged about the world in which we live.

That being said, I think it’s a good show and well-worth watching, particularly by those invested in perpetuating the War on Drugs.

The Premise of We Own this City

The Gun Trace Task Force in Baltimore engaged in criminal activity that resulted in many of its members being given lengthy prison sentences, particular their leader, Jenkins. They stole money, stole and resold drugs, took money from taxpayers for overtime they didn’t actually perform, and engaged in generally despicable and illegal behavior with impunity. Bullying, harassing, assaulting, framing, and otherwise attacking the citizens of Baltimore.

The six-episode mini-series details their behavior in horrifying detail and ends with the sentencing phase of their crimes.

The Quality of We Own this City

The acting, writing, sets, camera work, and everything else in We Own this City is excellent. It’s a slick and well put-together show. It’s a bit jarring seeing actors like Jamie Hector in role-reversal from The Wire but I managed to overcome that eventually.

The biggest problem with the quality of the show is the non-linear time flow. I understand they wanted to start with the arrest of Jenkins but the constant back-and-forth with time made the show difficult to process. They tried to make it easier by having Jon Bernthal, who played Jenkins with frightening aplomb, adjust his facial hair indicating the time frame.

The display of dates on the screen didn’t really help me follow the story. Is this happening before the scene we just saw? After? When is this? Has the previous scene we just watched already happened when we’re watching this scene or is it going to happen later? Very confusing. That’s pretty much my only problem with the show.

Who Watched We Own this City?

I wonder if the target audience of We Own this City actually watched it or is it a case of preaching to the choir. I have no doubt Simon and Fenton are passionate. They well-understand the War on Drugs and the horrors it begat.

The sad truth is the people who will watch this show already understand the problems associated with the War on Drugs. The people who must be convinced of its folly are not going to watch, at least I don’t think so. They don’t want to see beloved police officers turned into nothing more than the single largest criminal enterprise in the history of the world. Hyperbole? No, I’m afraid not. Police are the worst criminals in the United States.

Treat Williams Daggers the Problem

Now, having read the previous paragraph I feel certain you think I’m anti-police. Let me explain why that is not the case.

Treat Williams plays Brian Grabler, a retired officer who understand the real problem. He tries to explain its nature to Wunmi Mosaku. She plays Nicole Steele an attorney from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice department.

Near the end of the last episode, Grabler asks Steele what’s not in the report detailing the many systemic problems in the Baltimore Police Department. What’s not in the report? She doesn’t understand and he must lead her to the answer.

The problem isn’t law enforcement officers. It’s not a legal system willing to stomp the rights of citizens. It’s not the violence on the streets committed by those plying the drug trade and those trying to stop them. It’s not that police departments are completely at odds with the communities they serve, enemies unwilling to cooperate.

The problem is the War on Drugs. It’s the root cause of everything else. Its corrupted our legal system. Its corrupted our police departments. Its corrupted city hall. The War on Drugs hasn’t stopped drugs, its just created an army of amoral criminals. Police officers, lawyers, judges, politicians. All engaged in criminal activity wrapped in good intentions and driven by the money the drug trade creates.

The system forces law enforcement officers to become criminals. Judges to twist the Constitution into a laughable parody of words used to enact that which it is designed to prevent. Politicians to actively work against their constituents.

Conclusion

We Own this City is an excellent show marred by a confusing timeline. It’s also a show that clearly illuminates the errors of the War on Drugs. Sadly, the people who need to understand the root cause of the problem have little interest in fixing it. Those who understand the problem don’t have the power to fix it.

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 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

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

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 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

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 Gilded Age a Season in an Episode

The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age on HBO premiered this week and, as a history buff, I tuned in with eager anticipation. The Gilded age refers to an incredibly interesting time in the history of the United States as the country transitioned to industrialization.

New money families arose and began to challenge the established wealth that dated back to colonial times. Many of the great family names still around today, Westinghouse, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Morgan, Guggenheim, Vanderbilt, and more ascended at this time. The time frame gives us a huge historical reality to play with and so many plots to explore.

I eagerly anticipated watching the first episode. I was somewhat disappointed for reasons I’ll detail below but I think the show has a lot of promise. On with the review!

The Gilded Age Plot

The major storyline of The Gilded Age is the conflict between new money and old in the New York social and business world. The Russell family is new money and George is the classic robber baron of the railroad industry. His wife, Bertha, tries desperately to find a place in New York with the established families.

In contrast are the van Rhijn ladies who represent old and snobby money. They want nothing to do with the Bertha and her social plans. The conflict between Bertha and Agnes van Rhijn is the driving force of the story although the younger generation has a role to play as well.

Too Much too Fast

The speed at which the plot developed in the opening episode left my head spinning. We met character after character in a dizzying array of scenes that left me without attachment to any of them. It’s a real shame because several of the characters have an enormous potential to feed future plots.

Peggy Scott as a young writer of ambition. Larry Russel as the son of the George and Bertha, a spirited young fellow eager to be in the world. Gladys Russel as the shy and sweet daughter of new money. Several of the servants in both houses including the scheming Turner and the wise Watson piqued my interest.

I don’t mention Marian Brooks, the niece of Agnes, because the young girl is incredibly boring; but I will deal with that later.

A Whole Season of Potential Gone in One Episode

Sadly, a huge amount of potential was lost as we sprinted through an opening episode that I argue might have been an entire season. The failed party hosted by Bertha served as the climax of the episode. To my mind this should have been the denouement to the entire season.

The premier episode might center around young Marian Brook and the difficult financial state brought on by her father’s reckless spending. The relationship between her and the lawyer, her father’s estrangement from his sisters. Then we might switch to Peggy and her family troubles. The incident that caused her to separate from her father. We might end with the two meeting at the rail station.

The second episode might center on finishing up the magnificent Russel home. Focusing on the two children and Bertha’s ambitions. Spending some time getting to know George and his financial success, how it happened, the old life they are leaving an attempt to reach the upper crust of society. We might meet some of their old friends and finish with the family moving into the new house.

In any case, I’m not going to outline an entire season here but it’s clear to me they rushed things far too fast and left many juicy plots behind in their eagerness to get to the failed party. I feel like I missed out on an entire season of the Gilded Age because of the incessant rush.

The Acting

The acting is stiff and wooden to a level that I can only attribute to the director. It’s as if the actors, many quality performers, are looking over their shoulder to make sure the nun isn’t going to smack them with a ruler because they showed the slightest bit of emotion.

I’m guessing this is designed to display the ultra-formal speech used back in those days. Maybe I’m reading too much into it and it’s just bad acting but I don’t think so. Poor Louisa Jacobson, who portrays Marian and is the center of the story, is like a wooden block. She looks terrified she might make a mistake in every scene. She is not alone though.

Almost everyone is wooden including Carrie Coon as Bertha. Bertha and Marian are the main characters of the story! Even Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski, established and quality actors, as the van Rhijn aunts, appear almost frightened to actually perform.

I must take a moment to praise Audra McDonald and Donna Murphy as Dorothy Scott and Mrs. Astor. The two brought real emotion and life to the otherwise dull character interactions. Blake Riston as Oscar van Rhijn was also quite good although his arc seemed fit for a season long storyline rather than something to be quickly revealed in the first episode.

Conclusion

I’m not completely disappointed with The Gilded Age. It had a few good moments and I think if the actors are allowed to act and the pace of the story slows, there’s a good chance it might become an excellent series.

The first episode is disappointing.

Tom Liberman

Opening Sequence Analysis All Creatures versus Around the World

Opening Sequence

Sunday night television on PBS here in St. Louis offers Around the World in 80 Days followed by All Creatures Great and Small. It’s been a great opportunity for me to give my opinions on the two shows. I’ve done so over the last couple of weeks.

Today I’m going to narrow my focus down a little and simple compare the opening sequences of both shows. What works? What doesn’t work? Why does it work? Why doesn’t it work? I will attempt to refrain from being critical of other elements of both shows although I promise nothing. Anyone who’s read my other reviews is sure to know my thoughts on the merits of each of the shows.

Opening Sequence Around the World

The opening sequence of Around the World in 80 Days involves our three protagonists walking through a fly-infested region appearing somewhat lost and disheveled. They come across a young girl who leads them to a village. In the village they encounter a matriarchal figure who explains a wedding between her daughter and a young man is planned for later.

This sequence probably took about five minutes although it seemed to drag interminably.

Opening Sequence of All Creatures

The opening sequence of All Creatures Great and Small has our four protagonists walking along a road at the back of a funeral. The camera focuses on a woman, apparently the widow, her two small children, and a strapping young fellow. A farmer coming the other way tips his cap.
The scene took perhaps a minute or two and not a single word of dialog is spoken.

The Implications

The implications of the opening sequence are quite important in telling a story. The audience needs to know the focus of the episode. What is the story going to be about?

Around the World and 80 Days and All Creatures Great and Small are certainly two different kinds of stories with apparently little in common. But, if you look closely, there were similarities this week. In both shows a group of strangers drive the external conflict and plot.

In this case the implication from the opening sequence in Around the World revolved, to my mind, around the little girl and the family matriarch. The wedding didn’t seem like it was going to be that important, there was something about the girl.

In All Creatures it seemed clear to me that the widow and her children were the focus of the conflict in the coming episode.

How it Unfolded in Around the World

This is where, in my opinion, the opening sequence failed in Around the World and succeeded in All Creatures. It turns out the young girl was unimportant and even the matriarch of the family only played a smaller role. The wedding brought on the conflict as it turned out the groom deserted his unit. A young British lieutenant and his troops arrived in the middle of the wedding and dragged the groom off.

A moment to commend Charlie Hamblett for his portrayal of Lieutenant Bathurst. The only performance I found convincing. I shall not dwell, onto my focus.

The problem here is the opening sequence didn’t introduce the antagonist or even really let us know about the main conflict of the episode. It completely misdirected us to the young girl.

How it Unfolded in All Creatures

We immediately find ourselves entangled in the main plot of James helping the widow with her sick cows. The widow is desperately trying to manage the farm and her two sons with the help of a young man but it’s not easy. The cows are sick, they must be kept inside, this costs money. The local farmers think she should sell.

The opening sequence did not lie to us. It introduced us to the main characters of the story and the conflict of the sick cows is a direct result of the death of the farmer. Everything unfolded in a completely natural and organic fashion. It made sense. The story grabbed me and held me. I didn’t find myself confused.

Conclusions

This is why an opening sequence is important. It prepares the audience for what is to come. I think All Creatures succeeded in a two-minute sequence with no dialog where Around the World failed in a much longer sequence with too much dialog.

The failure and success in the first few minutes of the episodes tell us a great deal about the general quality of the writing in both shows. It’s no surprise that the entire episode of All Creatures engrossed me whereas 80 Days largely left me unsatisfied.

But, I promised I wouldn’t get into all of that, so I won’t.

Tom Liberman

All Creatures Great and Small Episode Two

All Creatures Great and Small

Ah, that’s the stuff. After a lackluster hour watching Around the World in 80 Days, we get some excellent entertainment. If you hadn’t guessed already, I enjoyed the second episode of All Creatures Great and Small as much as I liked the first.

This episode of All Creatures Great and Small expands on the main conflicts introduced in the first episode while also introducing potential romantic interests for Siegfried and Mrs. Hall. The major story arc continues to be James potentially taking a new job and Siegfried’s unwillingness to listen to James’s ideas.

Inciting Incidents

Episode two unfolds leisurely, as is the general pace of All Creatures Great and Small. The big Daffodil Day festival is around the corner and the gang all purchases tickets except Mrs. Hall who prefers to stay at home reading a book. Siegfried and Tristan leave to tend to an important customer James apparently forget the day before. Meanwhile James and Mrs. Hall are left to hold down the fort but their orderly schedule is disrupted by an emergency. Helen drops by because Tristan told her James had something to ask.

These inciting incidents largely direct the rest of the episode, as it should be. The events of the opening sequence let the audience know what to expect. This is nothing more than standard writing technique but it seems absent in most other shows I watch. Every thread introduced in the opening sequence of this episode of All Creatures Great and Small plays an important role the rest of the way.

The Incidents Lead the Plot

At surgery, Mrs. Hall redirects all the morning clients to the afternoon in order for James to tend to the wounded dog. A trap caught the dog and mangled its leg. The owner is a veteran who also has a wounded leg. He and Mrs. Hall find a connection and it quickly becomes apparent this is a romantic interest.

James saves the dog, of course, although recommends it be kept overnight to make sure infection hasn’t set in. Events unfold naturally in a way that makes sense. There is drama without piercing music telling us the situation is frightening. I found myself far more afraid for the dog than for Fogg and Passepartout an hour earlier as they stumbled through sandstorms and desert heat. Why? It all seemed real, natural, believable, part of a flowing narrative. I am immersed.

Meanwhile, Siegfried defers to an important client who threatens to move his business to another veterinarian. Then we have some comic relief with Tristan and a large sow. On the return trip Tristan makes some pointed remarks in regards to Siegfried’s timidness in regards to the client and general demeanor of not wanting to take risks in his old age. This speech drives future narratives between Siegfried and James in regards to upgrading the surgery to modern standards. In other words, it is there for a reason.

The Pay Off

All Creatures Great and Small does not disappoint. Everything setup in the opening sequence comes to bear in the last half of the episode. James and Helen dance at the festival. Siegfried stands up to the important customer. Mrs. Hall sits alone petting the wounded dog as a symbolic substitute for a romantic relationship with its owner.

We, the audience, are rewarded for paying attention to events. Things don’t come and go for no logical reason therefore it’s important we watch each moment of All Creatures Great and Small with attention. When I know something is pertinent, important, I care. I care about the characters and what happens to them, I’m invested.

Wrapping Things Up

We end with questions unanswered and further intrigue ahead while still wrapping up this episode in a satisfactory fashion. The wounded dog is fine. Helen is ready to move on. Mrs. Harris declines a polite invitation for a dog walk but we know it’s not the last of the handsome man we’ll see.

Meanwhile, James’s mother took it into her own hands to accept the position offered at the modern veterinarian clinic leaving James torn. He wants to stay here but he feels an obligation to his parents who paid his way through school.

Siegfried makes of point of telling James that suggestions for improving the surgery are welcome although we’re not completely sure if we believe the stern owner.

Conclusion

Another excellent episode of All Creatures Great and Small. The writers, actors, set designers, and all the rest clearly pay attention to details. Simple things are not taken for granted. Near the end of the episode an old client comes in who reminds us of how James and Helen spent the night attending a pregnant doggo. It’s the same dog or at least one that looks the same.

It’s a real pleasure watching this show and I eagerly await next week’s episode.

Tom Liberman

Around the World in 80 Days Episode Three

Around the world in 80 Days

The quality of the third episode of Around the World in 80 Days falls somewhere between the first and the second in my opinion. The structure of the story was fairly similar to that of the previous episode. We meet some new and interesting people, and our heroes find themselves in grave danger.

In a travel tales such as this, these sorts of plot devices are fairly integral to moving the story along. The protagonist and companions find themselves in a desperate situation and must extricate themselves either with the aid or hinderance of the new characters.

In this case the new characters are based on people from real life, most notably Lady Jane Digby. I heartily approve including historical figures in a work fiction of this nature but found myself sadly disappointed in the amount of screen time for Digby. In fact, that is my primary complaint.

The Episode

This episode of Around the World in 80 Days finds our heroes aboard a ship headed for the Suez Canal with everything seemingly in order but, of course, that changes quickly enough. The ship is delayed by the threat of pirates and they find themselves in the city waiting for a British war ship to escort them to Aden.

At the port our trio spots the scandalous Digby and her husband and ignore them as social outcasts.

Our heroes, led by Fogg, decide to hire camels to cross Saudi Arabia to get to Aden. A distance of some 1500 miles although shortened dramatically for narrative purposes to a three-day trip. Fogg refuses to allow Fix to go as the journey is dangerous. The guide abandons Fogg and Passepartout and only Fix hiring Digby saves our heroes.

They continue on in the desert where Bedouin tribesmen attack and only the quick thinking of Fogg and the marksmanship of Passepartout save the day. Eventually they arrive safely in Aden where the erstwhile fake valet is offered money in order to sabotage the endeavor and seems to agree to the proposal.

Pacing in Around the World in 80 Days

This episode of Around the World in 80 Days suffered from a lack of proper pacing. Parts that needed fleshing out and time sped by in an instant while sections that didn’t require a great deal of effort lingered too long. In addition, Digby and husband, interesting characters to be certain, suffered from a lack of development.

We start on the deck of the steamer headed across the Mediterranean toward the Suez Canal. Valuable time is wasted in watching Passepartout attempt to throw food in his mouth while Fogg and Fix talk about nothing useful. Then, suddenly, they are in a city where we are treated to a long series of expositions.

Exposition

Fogg complains about the captain delaying the ship because of pirates. There’s Lady Jane Digby and let me tell you all about her. Why didn’t we see the captain explaining the pirate situation to Fogg? Why wasn’t the history Digby told through conversation with Fix later as they are chasing after Fogg? Exposition is lazy and not particularly entertaining. I was extremely bored through the opening sequences.

Finally, the story gets going when Fogg foolishly trusts a local to guide them to Aden for a mere ten pounds. Passepartout is skeptical and fights for Fix to join them but Fogg insists on having his own way despite the fact he can’t even unbutton his shirt properly. I liked this scene because it shows Fogg’s naivete and incompetence as part of the Hero’s Journey.

Left behind, Fix hires Digby and her husband to chase after Fogg. This was the opportunity for us to learn about Digby and her past connection with Fix’s father. An extended scene with Fix, Digby, and her husband to explain all the nuances of their connections seemed in order but we didn’t get it.

Then we waste more time back in London showing the embarrassing financial situation of Fogg’s friend at the Reform Club. This entire plot line just takes away from the main story of Around the World in 80 Days, that is to say, getting around the world. I shall only briefly mention the improperly arranged Snooker table.

The Desert

Fogg and Passepartout find themselves abandoned in the desert. We waste a tremendous amount of time watching them slowly bake. The scenes just don’t convey desperate and dangerous. The sandstorm, the looming death. I felt nothing, no sense of danger.

Then, suddenly everyone is rescued. Why not spend most of that time with Fix, and Digby and her husband? They are compelling characters with interesting stories. In episode two we got to spend time with the industrialist and his son.

The best scene happened when Digby’s husband virulently defends her. I found the actor didn’t fit the role in appearance but I absolutely believed this was a proud man who deeply loved his wife. It was largely the only compelling moment of the episode.

Digby tells Fix outright going forward is almost certain death at the hands of Bedouins but suddenly, for reasons I can’t figure out, offers to take them to Aden if that’s what Fix wants. I want Fix to prove her worth to Digby, to show she’s a woman cut from the same cloth, to drive the plot forward.

In any case, the predictable Bedouin attack is handled badly from a cinematographic perspective. Our heroes repeatedly tell us they can’t see the attackers and are firing blindly into the night at the sound of hooves but we, the audience, can see pretty clearly. I guess the decision was made so that we can visually see the actions of the various protagonists.

It seems to me a scene of darkness, thundering hooves, shouts, gunshots, a scream from Fix, confusion, and mayhem was in order. I might have found that dramatic. What I saw was rather dull. I won’t talk about the flammable properties of raw crude oil as the mechanism for Fogg to save the day.

Conclusion

Another decent episode of Around the World in 80 Days. Certainly not compelling or particularly good but watchable and moderately entertaining. I suspect this is what we’ll get the rest of the way.

Tom Liberman

Why I dislike Succession on HBO

Succession

Succession is a highly rated and successful show on HBO and I recently began watching. It garners 93% on the Tomatometer from Rotten Tomato critics and 81% approval from audiences. The show is equally highly rated on IMBD with a score of 8.6. It has two Golden Globes and nine Emmy awards in the first two seasons.

My personal perusal of reviews and audience reaction confirms these numbers with sentiment for the show running quite high. People seem to love the storyline, the acting, the directing, the sets, just about everything to do with Succession.

I Hate it

I hate Succession. I’m certainly not telling people who love the show they are wrong. I understand I’m merely three episodes into the third season of Succession and my opinions are based on extremely limited information. Still, I can barely make it through an episode.

Just because I don’t like a show is no reason it shouldn’t be successful. I find most of the blockbuster movies made today to be awful and they make hundreds of millions of dollars. If you like it, so be it. I don’t and I’m going to tell you why, because that’s what I do.

Overview

Succession tells the story of media and entertainment mogul Logan Roy along with his family. It is billed as a Dark Comedy although, in the episodes I’ve seen, I don’t recall laughing a single time.

I’m not going to dive deep into what makes a show good or bad but if you’d like my thoughts on that, take a look at this blog.

The Dialog

The first thing I hate is the writing. It isn’t so much terrible as it is untrue. The dialog seems written more toward what the audience expects the characters to say and do instead of what the actual characters might actually say. I find it almost universally unbelievable.

I find Kendall to be particularly implausible considering his educational and family background. His historical references don’t make sense. Ok, he has self-doubt and struggles with wanting to be liked. Could you do that with subtleness rather than hitting the audience over the head with a sledge hammer every single time he opens his mouth?

Shiv takes a minute of hemming and hawing and umming and uhhing to speak a line of dialog. I want to kick her in the shin, spit it out!

Roman’s lines seem written for a thirteen-year-old, and I apologize to boys that age for the comparison. “Ha ha, I said fart,” is about the crux of it.

Greg’s bumbling is so pronounced and severe I don’t even believe he’s human.

I could go on but I’ll stop there.

Scene Structures

The scenes come fast and furious but I see no connection from one to the next. Is it an hour later? The same moment but a new location with different characters? A week later? There’s no rhythm to the show. It’s just one scene after the next, each seemingly with the sole purpose of a one liner at the end hoping for a laugh. Spoiler, I didn’t laugh.

So many things happen that make no sense I can’t even begin to get into it all. I’ll give special mention Shiv’s big speech. Why was there a panic when Kendall came into the building? Like they weren’t expecting it? How incompetent are they?

Then Kendall suddenly comes up with a great plan to ruin Shiv’s speech by playing loud music. He sends a lacky out to buy equipment at the last second. Someone runs hundreds of feet of wire, interfaces with a receiver, and the master plan goes into effect.

Let’s discount this should take an hour at best and mention a hundred people see all of it happening and can’t call security? Can’t unplug the speakers? Utter nonsense. This happens all the time in this show. I’m constantly taken out of immersion and into stunned incredulity at the stupidity of it all.

Acting

I can’t blame the actors because the dialog is so bad. Credit to Brian Cox as Logan, Alan Ruck as Connor, and J. Smith-Cameron as Gerri as remotely believable in main roles. Most of the good acting performances come from bit players, probably because their lines aren’t written with audience approval in mind.

Conclusion

I find the show painful to watch. I’m not immersed in the world, I’m shaking my head at dialog that makes no sense, scenes that come out of nowhere and return to oblivion after a stupid one liner. Everything is rushed, pushed, shoved, harassed, and jammed into place. There is no reflection, no pacing, and hardly a likable character. An hour seems like a day. It’s painful.

Bring the hate, you lovers of Succession. I can take it.

Tom Liberman

Are the Ruby Rose Accusations Delusional?

Ruby Rose

Model turned actress Ruby Rose performed as the lead for the first season of Warner Bros. Television version of Batwoman. She left the show after that season and recently made serious accusations against other actors, the production staff, and the crew.

Ruby Rose claims both her serious injuries and another’s occurred on set because of negligence and corner cutting. In addition, Ruby Rose claims there was pressure to return to work while still injured and that several fellow actors were abusive to women on set.

Batwoman

Batwoman, now in its third season, continues to receive reasonably good reviews and moderately decent ratings for the network it is on. There is a lot of ill-feeling toward Batwoman because it is generally considered to promote a “Woke” agenda. Ruby Rose herself is an outspoken proponent of the LBGTQia+ (yes, I had to look that up) community.

Needless to say, there are quite a few outspoken people happy to believe both the worst and best about Ruby Rose and her accusations. That being the case, I’m seeing plenty of hot opinions on these accusations.

The Response

The actors accused of behaving in a toxic fashion deny it completely. The company claims it was Ruby Rose who behaved badly on set. Warner Bros. claims they fired her because of her own bad behavior, showing up late, treating crew badly, not knowing her lines, storming off set in a rage on multiple occasions.

What Really Happened

It’s likely we’ll never really know what happened but my suspicion, without any kind of conclusive proof, is that Ruby Rose is exaggerating minor events and possibly even fabricating much of what happened. If that’s true, then why is she doing it when it’s pretty clear those she accused will dispute her claims?

One of the strange things in human nature is the ability to become completely delusional about reality. It’s my opinion that is in play here with Ruby Rose. She’s surrounded herself with Yes People who fuel this delusion. Online she gets endless support from those who tie their own belief system to that of Rose and they will support anything she says.

Conclusion

Here is where I think I’ll lose everyone reading along, nodding their heads in complete agreement, the Ruby Rose haters. I honestly think former President Trump, and many of his allies, engage in this practice almost constantly. They are surrounded by True Believers who tolerate the most abhorrent behavior and fuel it to levels of delusional insanity.

We must disagree with people we like and support when they do things with which we disagree. If we don’t, we create evil monsters, capable of damage beyond comprehension. If we continue down that road this country is in serious trouble.

I say to you, stand up for what is right, no matter who says it. Fight against what is wrong, no matter the source. The world will be a better place.

Tom Liberman

White Lotus Ultimately Disappointing

White Lotus

What is White Lotus?

White Lotus is a recently released mini-series which received acclaim from both critics and audience. It tells the tale of a group of travelers at a luxury resort and expands on their personal problems while hinting at a murder mystery.

Really Good for While

The thing about White Lotus is that it’s really quite good in almost every respect. It’s not a situation like The Nevers or Miss Scarlet. Those shows, while many people certainly enjoy them greatly, I found to be almost without redeeming qualities.

In White Lotus the writing is well-paced and interesting. The characters slowly reveal themselves to us through dialog and events rather than obtrusive exposition. In particular the Quinn character story arc spoke to me in a number of ways.

Steve Zahn as Quinn’s father annoyed me to no end but slowly grew into an interesting and fully three-dimensional character. The acting is largely excellent. I thought Jake Lacy as the annoying husband to the confused and unhappy Alexandra Daddario particularly effective. Connie Britton peeled away the crazy layers of her character with wild-eyed abandon.

The sets were lovely, the cinematography well done. Quinn going outside to sleep on the beach as the sun set and whales breeched is an image I won’t soon forget.

Why it Doesn’t Succeed Fully

You might be wondering at this point as to why I found White Lotus disappointing if all I can manage to do is heap praise upon it.

It’s the ending. Perhaps I should say some of the endings. I don’t mind a story that doesn’t tie everything up in a nice little bow, in fact I general prefer a little ambiguity. I also don’t mind an ending that isn’t happy. That’s real life and it happens.

The fate of Rachel in a golden prison with Shane is not my problem. Nor is the conclusion of the Nicole story with her joyously sprinkling the ashes of her dead mother. Those two I liked, it’s everyone else’s ending that disappointed.

I really don’t know what to make of the Paula and Olivia ending. What happened? Are they still friends? Did they learn anything. What about poor Kai? Manipulated by Paula to salvage her own conscious at being of color but living in luxury.

I worry that Quinn won’t even be able to make it back from the airport to the resort with no phone and no money. How will he survive? His parents certainly won’t let the plane leave without Quinn on board.

What about Belinda? What will she do with the wad of cash? Will Nicole run the business opportunity by her team and change her mind?

Armand’s story seemed to simply justify the premise of the opening scene where we know someone died. It didn’t seem organic to me.

In the End

Too many of the endings just weren’t endings at all. I found myself unsatisfied. I’m certainly not saying White Lotus is bad, it’s quite good really and I very much enjoyed watching it. I’m looking forward to a second season reportedly in the works with new guests.

I guess my point here is that endings are really important. If you can’t find a good ending then every wonderful thing leading to that point is forgotten. White Lotus was close to wonderful and I’d recommend it even though the ending left me disappointed.

Tom Liberman

All Creatures Great and Small versus Miss Scarlet

All Creatures Great and Small

The PBS shows All Creatures Great and Small and Miss Scarlet wrapped up this weekend and their run gives me a chance to speak on their relative merits. I think a fair analysis of the two shows is in order because Miss Scarlet clearly has a Woke Agenda while All Creatures Great and Small displays many of the themes associated with that movement but with a significantly gentler touch.

The problem is that Miss Scarlet isn’t very good, in fact I’d argue it’s awful, while All Creatures Great and Small is rather a delight. Because of the Woke Agenda displayed by Miss Scarlet I suspect many detractors will lay blame on this theme while apologists will defend the show’s shortcomings as actual strengths.

I’d like to take a more objective look at the two shows and what makes All Creatures Great and Small what I would call good and Miss Scarlet bad. I’ve spoken of subjective and objective in other places so I won’t go deeply into them here.

What makes a show objectively good? Characters, cinematography, plot, theme, acting, directing, the ending, and other elements; not our subjective desires for a show to be good or bad.

The characters in Miss Scarlet are strikingly one dimensional. We know little about the titular character other than she was raised by a father and wants to be a detective. We know even less about The Duke, her love interest. Meanwhile, James, Tristan, Siegfried, Helen, and even the minor characters of Hugh, Mrs. Hall, Mrs. Pumphrey, and a host of others are more fleshed out than the main characters of Miss Scarlet. I have more empathy for the farmers whose cow is sick than I do for Miss Scarlet. One farmer stays up all night rubbing salve on his sick charge and that tells me more about him and his wife, who never lets James leave without a meat pie or two, than I know about anyone in Miss Scarlet. The most developed characters in Miss Scarlet are her patron and Moses, two side characters. Sadly, the director apparently chose to have Moses speak with such a heavy Jamaican accent I often don’t know what he is saying.

The chemistry between the Miss Scarlet and the Duke is akin to Anakin and Leah if you’ll permit me a Star Wars reference. I’m mystified as to why anyone would be attracted to either of them other than their appearance. Meanwhile the tension between James and Helen is palpable from the start. They care about the same things, they ask one another questions, they show interest in each other’s lives, if they bicker it’s just a good-natured jibe here or there, not a constant bombardment of quips designed to show us how clever is the writer. Even Hugh, the romantic rival, is portrayed as a real human being who cares deeply about Helen.

The acting in Miss Scarlet is atrocious. Both main actors display no range of emotion and their constant flirt/bickering takes the tension out of every scene that is designed to be tense. Someone is pointing a gun at them, time to throw quips at each other and grin condescendingly. Meanwhile I can’t think of a bad performance in All Creatures Great and Small. Tristan starts out as an obnoxious, entitled, moron, and by the end he is a lovable, if flawed, fellow. The minor characters are believable and add to the show at every step.

The music in Miss Scarlet is overbearing and attempts to force us into emotions. It’s time for action, time for fear, time for joy. It’s loud and obtrusive. I barely notice the music in All Creatures Great and Small. It is subtle and enhances a scene rather than dominating it.

The cinematography in Miss Scarlet is boringly repetitive. Almost every shot in the entire series is a front on close-up of a character as she or he speak. Not to mention the bleak, dark, washed out background which are clearly designed to contrasts with what must be the focus of our attention, the vivid and bright Miss Scarlet. The vibrant country life depicted in All Creatures Great and Small is colorful and stunning although some scenes are dark and gray as appropriate. It is never dull, predictable sameness. Just look at the images I picked for this blog. One is sterile and one is filled with life.

The sets in Miss Scarlet are stark and tell us little about the inhabitants. There are few nick-nacks on shelves, few paintings on the walls, few personal items scattered about. Even Miss Scarlet’s office has barely a picture of the father who supposedly so influenced her. Meanwhile the sets of All Creatures are filled with personal objects from the opulence of Mrs. Pumphrey’s house to the peeling wallpaper in the home of the interracial couple whose dog is having trouble with her puppies. I believe real people live here, people with lives outside of the shot required for the show.

The story in Miss Scarlet makes little sense and the finale was so convoluted I completely lost track of what was happening. It was as if multiple pertinent scenes were left on the cutting room floor. As an example, Miss Scarlet has been put in a cell for her protection, although it’s not clear why the villain wants to harm her, and suddenly, she is in the detective’s office working on solving the case.

The story in All Creatures Great and Small certainly takes liberties with reality in order to further the plot but largely remains believable. I was regularly unsure of what would happen next. Would Helen go through with the marriage, would James turn around, would the cow die? I didn’t know and I was invested in finding out.

The ultimate villain in Miss Scarlet is sprung on us at the last second and I’m not even sure why or how he managed it all. So much was unexplained I was left utterly baffled and dissatisfied. The ending in All Creatures Great and Small was bittersweet and totally in line with all the events that happened before it. I was left satisfied even though there was no final resolution.

In an English period piece, the clothing and scenery is almost always fantastic but in Miss Scarlet the tone was dark, darker, darkest with little of London on display. The clothes, you ask? Miss Scarlet and the Duke are always impeccably dressed in clothes that look like they just came from the tailor, this despite having been locked in a dirty cell all night or having been investigating in filthy brothels for hours. Speaking of brothels, I was instantly turned off to Miss Scarlet when she threatened to burn down the brothel and kill dozens of working girls and patrons because Moses stole her purse. I mean, she’s vile and selfish, she doesn’t think about others. Why would I like her?

Meanwhile the wardrobes in All Creatures Great and Small looked like clothes people actually wore all day. People got dressed up for fancy events but it was clear their fineries were not new from the tailor. Shirts look rumpled and lived in. Everything looked alive and real, as if these were real people from real life who happened to come across the camera that day.

I’ve gone on too long. You can certainly subjectively like Miss Scarlet and the Duke and subjectively dislike All Creatures Great and Small. That’s your decision to make. However, an objective look at the elements of both shows comes to but a single conclusion.

Tom Liberman

Batwoman Criticism Legitimate or anti-Woke Propaganda?

Batwoman

The second season of Batwoman on The CW is getting universally bad reviews for any number of reasons but is any of it simply anti-Woke backlash? What makes this interesting for me is that I’m just about ready to write a negative review about Miss Scarlett and the Duke which also includes a Woke objective.

This is a real problem when a television show or movie is objectively bad and is also being used as a platform for social issues. When someone like me; as white, male, and privileged as you can find in the world, writes negative thoughts about Miss Scarlett there often follows accusations of being hostile toward such social issues.

When someone like HeelvsBabyface, Nerdrotic, or TheCriticalDrinker makes similar complaints about Batwoman, they sometimes come across as anti-Woke rather than simply critical of the show in question. The show has numerous problems but the focus of the criticisms from people often is the subversion of good writing and logical plotlines in order to present Woke issues. The fact the producers of some of these show state quite clearly this is their objective muddies the water further.

The reviewers I’ve listed above are rather caustic in their tone and brutal in their assessments and do come across, fairly or unfairly, as anti-Woke. Ryan George of Pitch Meeting fame is far gentler in his criticism and includes a great deal of humor which makes him appear less negative.

This all leads to the answer of my question if the criticism of Batwoman is legitimate or simply the raving of anti-Woke activists. It’s both and it’s neither. Some of the criticism is certainly coming from an anti-Woke bias while a great deal of the criticism is legitimate and concerns other problems with the shows in question. Who gets to decide which is which? You. That’s the point here.

There is no question that raging Incel, anti-Woke nut jobs look to certain videos as validation for their misogynistic and misguided hatred. There is also no debate that some of the people who watch these reviews are not so inclined.

If a reviewer has a caustic and negative style that’s their business. Perhaps they do have an anti-Woke bias against Batwoman or perhaps they just find the show intolerably bad regardless of its Woke agenda. You get to watch the reviewer you want to watch and if you think they are overtly anti-Woke then stop watching. If you like the reviews, continue to watch.

I like to consider myself Woke and my novels address some of those self-same issues although I try to put logic, plot, character arc, and general theme above those ideologies. I also think my upcoming negative review of Miss Scarlett is not based on the Woke aspect of the show but other elements that are sorely lacking.

The question of Anti-Woke or legitimate review is largely for you to decide for yourself. I can’t decide for you, nor do I want to make such an attempt.

Tom Liberman

Nobody Thought they were Truman Burbank before Television

Truman Burbank

There are a number of people who think they are the subject of a Reality Show much like Truman Burbank from the Truman Show. They are delusional, certainly, but what is undeniable is that no one had such a mental delusion prior to the invention of television. Even after the invention of television it was not a heard about mental problem until after the Truman Show became part of the public conscious. What does that tell us about the human mind?

It wasn’t until H. G. Wells wrote the War of the Worlds that people began to see aliens and UFOs. No one saw a leprechaun until they read, or were told, about them first. This is reality, a concept from which the people who suffer these delusions are somewhat divorced. But then, aren’t we all? Our memories are faulty, our senses unreliable, and our confirmation bias on high alert most of the time. It’s no wonder people think they are the subject of a reality television show.

I have a friend who, despite being apparently sane, intelligent, and rational, firmly believes he is the subject of an alien experiment where he is the only “real” person on the planet and everyone else is part of the research. Is he insane? Or is his delusional normal? Is everyone delusional to some degree or another? Is he Truman Burbank?

We are, undeniably, the center of our own universe, just like Truman Burbank. When someone I know moves to a location beyond my ability to sense them, they essentially disappear. I have no idea what they are doing or how they are conducting their life until I see them again. We are, equally undeniably, not the center of the real universe. We are not the subject of alien experimentation or the star of a television show in which the rest of reality is an illusion designed to fool us.

What happens that causes people like my friend, or those with the Truman Delusion, to lose their grip on reality? If they continue to function in normal society, is it really that damaging? Do we not have functioning drug and alcohol addicts around us every day? If they can manage to keep their delusion, or addiction, from putting them in a mental hospital, what harm is there?

I’m not going to write a dissertation on these many questions. I think the problems of mental health and self-delusion are complex and not easily addressed. I’ll try to sum up my thoughts in a reasonable way.

I think we should all strive to do a better job of being critical thinkers. I am not Truman Burbank and neither are you. Don’t believe what you want because it boosts your ego, trust what evidence shows is the most probable truth. Be a critical thinker.

Take this attitude toward all things in life. What car to buy. What food to eat. For what politician to vote. What novel to read.

Tom Liberman