Sunday, July 30, 2017


Article first published as TV Review: THE LAST TYCOON on Seat42F.

Last year, Amazon released the pilot for THE LAST TYCOON as one of the shows under consideration for series. Based on the unfinished F. Scott Fitzgerald book of the same name (published posthumously), the story is centered on a Hollywood producer battling his boss as 1936 Germany tries to exert control over the American motion picture industry. Thankfully, this terrific series, based loosely on real people and real events (though with fictional names swapped in) was picked up, and tomorrow, eight more episodes will be available, in addition to the already-streaming pilot.

Matt Bomer (White Collar) is great as Monroe Stahr, the Jewish producer who works for Brady-American studios. He has a complex role to play, having not-too-long ago lost his beloved wife, Minna (Jessica De Gouw, Underground), and not able to get past her ghost. The professional conflict Monroe is dealing with comes mainly from that relationship he can’t let go of, though there are some romantic angles worked, too.

Equally central and equally terrific is Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) as Pat Brady, Monroe’s boss. Pat values Monroe, who helped him build the studio into the success it is, but is also a slave to keeping the gears turning. He justifies his rolling over for the Nazis by claiming it’s about keeping everyone employed, and there’s a moment in the first episode where he looks pretty altruistic. He sees himself as the hero, even as Monroe accuses him of being a coward, which seems to hit Brady a little hard. Their relationship is very interesting, close but strained.

To complicate matters even more, there’s a third lead, Celia Brady (Lily Collins, Mirror Mirror), Pat’s daughter. Celia is infatuated with Monroe and is determined to wed him, despite his lingering grief and health issues. This infuriates Pat, of course, even though Monroe is only interested in her talent, which, it turns out, she actually seems to have quite a bit of. This makes her invaluable to him, and turns the whole triangle into a mess. Thus, THE LAST TYCOON has plenty of drama.

While there are elements of the pilot that I found hokey and unrealistic, in general, this is a compelling show. It is a bit emotionally manipulative with the Nazi stuff, but in a good vs evil classic form, made more relevant by the current rise of a would-be totalitarian in the White House currently who seeks to discredit the media and control his coverage, an event that couldn’t have been foreseen as this series was ordered. There is a love story, Monroe’s to his deceased wife, that makes the conflict personal, even as the audience will root for the overall bend towards freedom and civil rights. But while the Germans are two-dimensionally evil, the other Hollywood types aren’t. Flawed, yes, but not flat. And even our heroic lead has some shameful things in his life to make him a little less noble.

Oh, and I hadn’t gotten to this yet, but the county’s economic depression also plays into the plot, and not just as it pertains to studio finances. Which adds more depth to the situation, and helps ground it.

We’re seen other old-Hollywood pictures before, more in films than in an ongoing series, but this one still feels fresh. Perhaps that’s because it’s about more than making movies, and has some truly engaging characters in it. Yes, it comes a little close to the fantastic Feud FX anthology series, but the material is different enough that THE LAST TYCOON should stand quite comfortably on its own.

Buoyed by a supporting cast that includes Dominique McElligott (House of Cards), Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men), Enzo Cilenti (The Martian), Bailey Noble (True Blood), and Koen De Bouw (Professor T.), I am very hopeful about the continued quality of THE LAST TYCOON, and looking forward to watching more episodes.

THE LAST TYCOON’s first season drops tomorrow on Amazon.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

ROOM 104 Dark and Dreary

Article first published as TV Review: ROOM 104 on Seat42F.

The Duplass Brothers, the brains behind the television series Togetherness and films such as The Skeleton Twins, have another new show on HBO, premiering this week. Called ROOM 104, it’s an anthology series, with each roughly half-hour episode featuring a self-contained cast and story, all set in the same dreary motel room.

Half a dozen installments were made available for critics (not the first six, but a selection from throughout the season), and I reviewed two of them in preparation for this article. In the premiere, “Ralphie,” a babysitter watches a kid named Ralph, who has an evil side named Ralphie. Or does he? The third episode, “The Knockadoo,” finds a woman seeking spiritual guidance to transcend, a task made difficult by a memory from her past.

Going by these two installments, I’d say that ROOM 104 is going for creepy and supernatural in the makeup of the program. Both episodes have things that cannot be explained by science (or possibly reality in general), they’re both a bit scary, and they are both very dark in tone and lighting. They did kind of feel like the same episode in a lot of ways, with the narrative arc and ‘twist’ endings following a similar, broad pattern. I am slightly curious if that trend will continue, not something you necessarily want in a series like this.

They’re also both kind of ambiguous about what’s going on. While one may think they’ve surmised what they’ve seen based on what plays out on screen, there are multiple ways to interpret the endings of them. When done well, this is a great element for television shows to make use of. But when done in a mediocre or gimmicky manner, then it’s an obvious and annoying ploy. In ROOM 104, it’s sadly the latter. Or, at least, it fails to feel fresh and interesting.

I kind of found the entire thing lackluster. While I have enjoyed the Duplass Brothers’ comedy writing and acting roles, sometimes they go into weird territory that I do not want to follow them into. This series is that, seemingly weird for the sake of being weird, no clear vision or point really coming across, at least not in the two episodes that I’ve viewed.

In general, I like anthology shows. Black Mirror is a terrific example of the genre, The Twilight Zone is a classic, and I even enjoyed Metal Hurlant, which never really took off in popularity here. It’s a cool format in which to tell very different tales, explore a short-form topic, and pose questions to make one think without having to deal with continuing consequences or reset to a baseline.

But it’s tricky to do well, and I just don’t feel ROOM 104 goes deep enough. While the endings may not be completely clear, neither episode left me with anything to consider, or challenged my assumptions and views in any way. I didn’t feel any type of connection to them, can’t imagine bringing them up for discussion with anyone, and didn’t feel like the installments had anything to say.

I don’t want to trash the Duplass Brothers. As I said, they’ve made many worthwhile contributions to the media landscape, and I have been a fan of much of their past work. I just think this one falls short for them, or perhaps it just isn’t for me. The production design seems solid, I just didn’t think the stories were as innovative or engaging. Maybe some of the other episodes will prove me wrong. The nice thing about a series like this is there are new chances every single week to get it right.

ROOM 104 premieres Friday on HBO.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Flee to OZARK

Article first published as TV Review: OZARK on Seat42F.

Netflix’s newest series, OZARK, is a prime example of a streaming series that takes more than one episode to make a true pilot. The first hour sets up the lead character, Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman, who is also producing the series and directing four episodes), who the man is and the situation that drives him to desperation. But it won’t be until subsequent installments for viewers to get to know much of the rest of the cast and plot threads.

As OZARK begins, Marty has just found out that his wife, Wendy (Laura Linney, The Big C), is cheating on him. Before he decides what to do about it, his blowhard business partner, Bruce (Josh Randall, Quarry), is caught skimming money by the drug kingpin they launder for, Del (Esai Morales, Caprica). Del wants revenge, but Marty thinks fast, saying Chicago is too hot to keep working in, and proposes a move to the Ozarks instead. Del accepts Marty’s offer, albeit on a sort of probation. So Marty packs up his family and moves, which is when much of the ongoing story will probably begin.

Despite realizing that much of what unfolds over episode one is just set up, I found it a compelling, intense hour of drama. Given that this is a streaming series, and that I did not check cast list nor press release prior to viewing, the installment contained many surprises, and I wasn’t quite sure what would happen. Even a couple of familiar faces don’t survive the initial offering, and so one can’t take for granted who the players of the show are, or how things are going to shake out.

While Netflix made more than one episode available, I wanted to write this review before watching further. Knowledge colors perspective and what would be said, and on a show like OZAK, I feel the fewer spoilers, the better. If the other nine hours can come even close to reaching the stress-inducing pace of the first, this will be a show people will binge and talk about. I’d like to preserve the specialness of that status, as I am hooked by the premiere.

Bateman and Linney are great, of course. Linney is easy to hate right off the bat, and the ‘twists’ she is part of, while predictable, are also necessary to get things rolling. I assume there will be more to her. Bateman, on the other hand, seems like such a good guy, the put-upon hero, that it’s hard to match that up with the illegal activities we find out he’s been engaging in for some time. Unless his quietness is guilt. OZARK doesn’t treat Marty as an antihero or a shady character, not at first anyway, but we know he absolutely is. Which is a testament to what Bateman can do with a role.

OZARK will be the kind of show to make you question not only your own life choices, but wonder about the friends and family you think you know. Who’s really out to make a quick buck, and what moral lines will they cross (or not cross)? Who can you trust, and at the end of the day, is everyone really just selfish? Can love motivate people to set aside their own self-interests? These are just some of the musings I’ve had after watching the first episode.

One of the creators, Bill Dubuque, is the writer behind The Judge, The Accountant, and A Family Man. The other, Mark Williams, produced two of those films. Which should tell you the tone and type of plot to expect from OZARK. I certainly feel it right away, and am excited to see a premise like this played out over seasons, rather than a mere two hours. OZARK is not entirely different than other series running right now, but has a specific take that makes it worthy.

OZARK’s first season releases tomorrow for Netflix subscribers.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Article first published as TV Review: LOADED on Seat42F.

AMC’s newest series is a British import adapted from an Israeli series, and yet, you won’t be able to watch it without comparing it to a popular U.S. program. LOADED tells the story of four entrepreneurs who make it rich with a game they developed. Through a series of bad decisions and dumb mistakes, they frustratingly begin losing the money just as quickly as they acquired it.

Yes, if LOADED sounds a bit like HBO’s Silicon Valley to you, that’s because they two programs are very similar, down to some of the characters that populate it. The main differences are that LOADED is starting from a point of success, the core characters actually love one another, and this is a drama infused with comedy, rather than a comedy infused with drama.

That last may be a slight distinction, but it’s also an important one. There are fewer laugh-out-loud moments in LOADED than there are in Silicon Valley, but there is more complexity in the characters and the relationships. For instance, one of the four, Watto (Nick Helm, Uncle), is struggling with his sobriety. The way he hangs onto it in episode one is hilarious, but there’s true darkness and pain lurking right below the surface.

The two most central figures are Leon (Samuel Anderson, Doctor Who) and Josh (Jim Howick, Yonderland), who appear polar opposites at first. Leon spends his cash on a Ferrari, champagne baths, and a revenge barbershop quartet, while Josh wants to invest in a living space of his own (he shares a flat with the other three). But even in the pilot, Leon wises up in some ways, and Josh gets more reckless in others. We see how they balance one another out, and the deep respect and affection they have for one another. Together, they make for good leadership. Separately, they’d probably fall apart.

Rounding out the quartet is Ewan (Jonny Sweet, Together), who, at first, I believed to be there only for comic relief, similar as he is to Silicon Valley’s Jared. But then I realized there’s more there. He is the one who is overlooked, forgotten about. Even on a lawsuit against the company, his name is left off of the writ. And we see him work to correct that imbalance, overcompensating in a sad way.

Along with these four, there’s Casey (Mary McCormack, In Plain Sight, The West Wing), their overbearing “sexy Darth Vader” American boss, and Naomi (Lolly Adefope, Rovers), Casey’s assistant who is the true character just there for a joke. Together, the ensemble is a strong one, with a lot going on, and plenty of possibilities for the eight-episode first season.

The question becomes, despite the good characters, is it worth watching if you’re already into Silicon Valley, given how alike the two series are? I can’t say for sure. I don’t mind watching British versions of shows I’ve already seen in America, and that’s kind of how I see this (even though the British is a remake of a show from elsewhere). But with everything that’s out there, does anyone really have time to watch two of (essentially) the same show right now? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.

I will say, I am most displeased that AMC has censored LOADED so much, forcing reshoots of scenes and the limitation of how many and which curse words can be said per episodes. Some basic cable networks are loosening up their restrictions, and I think AMC should follow suit, especially because HBO places no such requirements on Silicon Valley, and that makes LOADED come off as a tamer version. Plus, the characters suffer from it, feeling not quite as realistic. It’s just language, and LOADED airs late at night. What’s the big deal?

LOADED airs Mondays at 10/9c on AMC.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


Article first published as TV Review: FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE on Seat42F.

First, there was Seinfeld. Then It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Happy Endings. Now, we have FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE, premiering tomorrow on Netflix.

FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE is another comedy about a group of pals who aren’t all that likeable, and yet, because of terrific actors and magnetic, entertaining personalities, we’ll want to keep watching them, if not rooting for them.

This series isn’t a retread, though; it’s the natural evolution of the trend. Seinfeld was a light, fun, nonsense sitcom, and proud of it. Sunny took it a bit dirtier, while Happy Endings matured the emotional heft. FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE deals with real issues and isn’t laugh-a-minute with one-liners, but it is amusing, and it does feel like a premium cable comedy, something that would also be at home on HBO, as well as its berth on Netflix.

We begin with Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele) and Sam (Annie Parisse, Person of Interest), carrying on an affair they’ve been having since college. Both are married, but both unions have some serious problems, so they regularly hook up when they can. It’s that not often, since they live in different cities. As the pilot begins, Ethan announceshe’s moving back the Big Apple, restoring their friend group from their Harvard days, but complicating the tryst.

Ethan and Sam are the most central characters at first, so even though they may not be likeable, they need to be people we can relate to. And they are. Ethan loves his wife, but he doesn’t always want what she wants. He’s an author considering breaking into Young Adult fiction, tired of his award-winning novels not selling, but detests the genre for reasons that perfectly describe him. Sam thinks her husband is dumb, and is a little more desperate for escape, though she clearly likes her (rarely seen on screen) children.

Yes, these are people with arrested development, lacking the emotional maturity they need to progress. We all remember times like that, or may still be struggling with some of the emotions (although hopefully making different choices). I am eager for the affair to become public knowledge to see what happens, but at the same time, I worry what that would do to the friend group at the center of FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE.

The other four primary players are: Ethan’s wife, Lisa (Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother), who has just taken a job at a horrible hedge fund; rich trust fund lothario Nick (Nat Faxon, Married); aspiring (and failing) actress Marianne (Jae Suh Park, The Big Short); and oft-overlooked book agent Max (Fred Savage, The Grinder, Wonder Years). Lisa has the most material of the four in the first half of the season, and Cobie excels at it, but Max has the funniest bits, and Marianne seems like a simmering cauldron ready to erupt.

Yes, they are all too involved in one another’s lives, and it’s not entirely realistic they are all still so close, but it’s a premise one can overlook to enjoy all of these great actors playing together. Toss in Max’s partner (Billy Eichner, Difficult People), who doesn’t like Max’s friends, and Sam’s husband (Greg Germann, Ally McBeal), who seems to have levels that haven’t yet been explored, and this is the makings for a long-term series I’d enjoy watching. I hope Eichner and Germann are promoted to series regular in season two, as I love how they are outsiders who don’t get the friend group, which is a valuable thing to have when telling this story.

While this may not be completely original territory, and as I’ve said, it’s hard to like most of the characters, I could not stop watching, plowing through half the season before pausing to write this review, and eager to watch the second half as soon as I’m done. This is a great cast, and the story, while at times frustrating, is compelling. I hope it runs a good, long time.

FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE will release all eight episodes of season one tomorrow exclusively on Netflix.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Article first published as TV Review: SALVATION on Seat42F.

CBS has a new summer drama premiering tonight, SALVATION. Humanity is only six months away from being wiped out by an asteroid impact, but almost nobody knows it. When MIT grad student Liam Cole brings the event to the attention of billionaire inventor Darius Tanz, Tanz rushes to the Pentagon to assist in a plan to stop it. Deputy Secretary of Defense, Harris Edwards, assures them that it’s already under control, but he’s definitely lying, even to his inappropriate sweetheart, an employee under him, Pentagon Press Secretary Grace Barrows. Can Tanz and Cole save mankind without the government’s help?

CBS likes to do light science fiction fare in the summer, and SALVATION is no different. Like The Dome or Zoo, it involves a disaster, though this one is a bit less mysterious, and a couple of heroes that must save everyone because, apparently, they are the only ones capable of doing so. It’s like a popcorn action movie spread out over ten to thirteen episodes, with only superficial or generic characters development amid the emergency that the focus is on. It would not be a bad concept to do in the 1990s. In the middle of Peak TV, shows like this are likely to be ignored, not enough quality present to compete with year-round great series.

The biggest thing the show has going for it at the outset is casting Jennifer Finnigan (Tyrant, Close to Home) as Grace. Finnigan is a fun actress who I have enjoyed in many projects previously, and was the biggest reason I had hope for this show. Her primary story is a predictable, though. She’s at the verge of changing careers so she can be with Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale, Hawaii Five-0), but then learns he is keeping secrets from her, casting her decisions in doubt. Another subplot involving her daughter works for the emotional heft needed in episode one, but doesn’t seem to have legs. I hope she is better used going forward, but there’s just not enough meat for Finnigan in the pilot.

The male leads, Santiago Cabrera (Heroes, The Musketeers) as Tanz and Charlie Rowe (Red Band Society) as Liam, aren’t bad, but neither are they magnetic. Instead, they seem to be relatively stock characters themselves, with their complexity coming straight out of a dozen other stories featuring leads that are strikingly similar.

Somewhat interestingly, Liam begins a romance with an aspiring science fiction author, Jillian (Jacqueline Byers, Roadies), just before things get started. If the relationship weren’t so rushed and stereotypical, I might be more interested in how fiction will clash with reality, which is an avenue worth exploring. Provided, of course, SALVATION doesn’t go the Castle route and just make it ridiculously unrealistic, ignoring the actual possibilities of such a plot. (I maintain Castle worked because of Nathan Fillion; anyone else would have struggled to make it watchable.)

I don’t dislike Salvation. As someone that enjoys the genre, I am tempted to watch. The problem is, there needs to be some hook besides the general premise. For instance, last year’s BrainDead was quirky and charming, with great musical recaps at the beginning of each episode, plenty to keep me hooked through the whole single-season run. SALVATION seems to lack that.

In short, there’s a compelling storyline in here somewhere, and there are even some intriguing elements to SALVATION that could make it must-see for sci-fi fans. However, it seems underdeveloped, its characters superficial, which is disappointingly as-predicted for broadcast network summer fare. If CBS would just take the season a little more seriously, get some heft behind a project like this, they would be back in competition with the superior cable networks. But it’s clear already that SALVATION is not going to be the vehicle to do that.

SALVATION premieres tonight at 9/8c.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Article first published as TV Review: SNOWFALL on Seat42F.

FX’s new drama, SNOWFALL, is about the beginning of the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles. Set in 1983, the series follows several people who have different connections to the burgeoning industry. Splitting the action by ethnicity and lifestyle, SNOWFALL attempts to give us a wide-ranging overview of how this trend started.

Franklin Saint (Damson Idris, Farming) is the true lead of SNOWFALL. A young, African-American adult looking for his path, he seems trapped between childhood and the real world. Franklin decides to move from selling pot to the harder stuff after a run-in with a crazy gangster, despite knowing that his family, whom he is close to, doesn’t approve. Whether that is a decision that will pay off for him, or whether it will end tragically, that remains to be seen. I’m guessing the former if the show wants to run for any length of time, though there’s likely to be severe cost.

Coming in just behind Franklin in importance are Gustavo ‘El Oso’ Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Resident Evil: Afterlife) and Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson). Gustavo is a professional fighter who is joining a family of crime, while Teddy is a CIA operative who is being allowed to sell drugs to help balance tricky relations with a foreign power. Both seem over their heads more than Franklin, and it’s unclear if either can make what they’re trying to do work for them. They seem like the types of players that may have a more limited run.

There is nothing wrong with a period drama that tells the tale of a significant event or era. HBO had Boardwalk Empire and AMC had Hell On Wheels and Mad Men. But one thing those have in common is that they prioritized complex characters over illustrating the facts. Franklin may qualify, Idris keeping the role interesting, but I hardly think the other two do, nor do the myriad of supporting players. This is where SNOWFALL lacks.

Where SNOWFALL tries to make up for it is the production design, which is aces. The program shows us a full-fledged world that looks both authentic to the time and slightly magical, a little hyperreal. There are a couple of scenes where SNOWFALL beats its setting over our heads a little bit, but for the most part, this is an asset, not a liability.

The program also brings the sexiness, going a little further with mature content than I think I’ve ever seen on a basic cable series. It’s not premium network level, not like the shows on HBO for example, but there are tantalizing and explicit scenes you will not want your kids to see. Which works in SNOWFALL’s favor, as it would be nearly impossible not to go there with the content of the story, at least if they want to keep it fairly accurate.

My most recent review before this one, of Netflix’s Gypsy, lamented how well-made TV isn’t necessarily good television any more, not with the glut of really fantastic series out there right now, and the ability to go back and re-watch so many classics of the past. SNOWFALL does better than Gypsy in providing something interesting and fresh, but has the same drawback in that it could be better. Much better. And that shows.

The bottom line is, SNOWFALL lacks a strong hook that will immediately send viewers scrambling to set a season pass. Without such a thing obvious in the first episode, especially on a network like FX that is known for very strong series (I’d rank it up there with HBO and AMC for producing some of the best), this one falls a little short of the mark. Not so far that it can’t come back from it, but will people stick around to give it a chance? I don’t know, and I’m not sure if you should.

SNOWFALL premieres tonight at 10/9c on FX.

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Article first published as DVD Review: 'Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In: The Complete Series' on Blogcritics.

Before there was Saturday Night Live, there was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Hilarious, topical, sometimes controversial, the comedy program began as a one-time special, and eventually racked up a six season run. Starring an eclectic group of individuals, some of whom built memorable careers, and featuring a bevy of terrific guest stars, recurring sketches and one-liners filled the 140 episodes, some of which did not air until well after cancellation. Now, the entire Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning series is available on DVD from Time Life, and most of the episodes getting their first-ever home release.

Launching as a series in January 1968, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was over long before I was born, fifteen years later. But the reputation and jokes lived on, permeating pop culture. Of course I’d seen the clips of Richard Nixon calling out “Sock it to me,” Goldie Hawn go-go dancing, and Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine, the annoying telephone operator. Having long been a fan of late-night comedy, this was a series I was very curious about, but never sure where to get a hold of it until this set came along.

The number of talented people the series attracted is amazing. Besides Hawn (The First Wives Club) and Tomlin (Grace & Frankie), regulars included Larry Hovis (Hogan’s Heroes), Eileen Brennan (Clue), Richard Dawson (Hogan’s Heroes), Henry Gibson (Boston Legal), Dave Madden (The Partridge Family), and Johnny Brown (Good Times). Perhaps more impressive were the guests stars, with Flip Wilson, John Wayne, Debbie Reynolds, Johnny Carson, Jack Benny, Peter Lawford, Cher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Carol Channing, Sammy Davis Jr., Rock Hudson, Dinah Shore, Tim Conway, James Garner, Vincent Price, Buddy Hackett, Michael Caine, Charles Nelson Reilly, Don Rickles, Phyllis Diller, Bob Hope, Rod Serling, Liberace, and Lena Horne being just some of the folks who returned multiple times for guest spots.

As much as it’s fun to watch a bunch of familiar, famous faces parade through the series, Laugh In‘s  real staying power is in the writing. Dan Rowan’s straight man to Dick Martin goofy comic inhabit first segment, leading to mod dance parties, “Laugh-In Looks at the News” (a predecessor of Weekend Update), and though to applause at the end that extends long into the closing credits.

The series has a very specific, signature style with regular inserts and asides. Some strong, some less so, they impart a unique comic tone to the series. Characters like Wolfgang the German Soldier, Gladys Ormphby, Edith Ann, the sock-it-to-me girl, Uncle Al, and more, are memorable to anyone who has seen them. Yes, it is absolutely a product of its era, and the hippie, zany sensibilities are ever-present. But it’s also genuinely funny something that can still make us laugh many decades later. Whether you were a fan back then, or just have an interest in classic television, this is a good DVD set.

The just-released box contains thirty-eight discs, including the pilot special and all the regular episodes, complete and uncut. The show has been remastered, and while it shows its age, it looks pretty good, much better than any clip I’ve seen from it. It’s certainly not high-def ready, but what do you expect from a show so old? The point is, there isn’t the graininess that distracts, and it’s OK if Laugh-In shows its age a little. It’s earned it.

Six hours of bonus features round out the set. The most sizable are a 25th anniversary cast reunion (filmed way back in 2001) and a booklet full of some of the best quotes from the show. There are interviews, bloopers (which aren’t always as funny as the written jokes, but still good to include), a tribute to producer George Schlatter (the late clapper), Schlatter’s Emmy speech, and more. About 100 minutes of it are on a special bonus DVD, while the rest (mainly cast interviews) are scattered among the various season sets, each packaged separately in the larger box.

Personally, I find this DVD set right up my alley, and I enjoyed it immensely. I know it’s not for everyone, but if you like classic or late night comedy, it’s a must-see. And I suspect a great many other people, who aren’t particularly into those things, would find it entertaining, too. Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, available now from Time Life, comes with my highest recommendation.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wandering GYPSY

Article first published as TV Review: GYPSY on Seat42F.

GYPSY, Netflix’s newest drama, has a tantalizing premise. Jean Holloway (Naomi Watts) is a therapist with a double, sexy life. She seems, more or less, happily married to Michael (Billy Crudup), with whom she is raising a nine-year-old daughter (Maren Heary) with gender identity issues. But Jean also pretends to be Diane Hart, a journalist, as she engages in a heavy flirtation with younger rocker Sidney (Sophie Cookson). Will her two worlds collide? Almost certainly, considering she is definitely mixing her alter ego into the personal lives of people important to her patients.

That’s a heck of a story, with all kinds of intriguing and attractive possibilities. On Netflix, where there is no hesitation to make adult content, the leash is off and GYPSY can fully explore the concepts it has set up. This could be a very popular show that wins all kinds of awards.

Yet, I don’t think it will be. There is something essential missing, a key ingredient that has been left out of the recipe, that leaves the whole thing feeling flat. Jean isn’t all that compelling, there is no reason to root for her, nor is there exploration of her own psychological profile. The plot lacks urgency, telling us right up front things are going to fall apart (not that we need to be told something so obvious), but more than takes its time getting to anything tension-filled happening.

This is the golden age of antiheroes on television, or, at least it has been for the past decade. That means when a new series enters this particular fray, it must come with a strong, fresh identity that makes it stands out and gives viewers a reason to sign up for another half dozen seasons or so. GYPSY not only fails to do that, it fails to do anything else that makes it stand out, wasting a concept that should be a no-brainer.

I am not sure where the fault lies exactly. It certainly isn’t with Watts, Crudup, Cookson, Heary, or the rest of the cast, who are turning in consistent, fine performances. It doesn’t seem to be in the direction of the series, which fits very well with the tone GYPSY is trying to set. It isn’t in the sexiness, which does come through despite how dull most of the running time is. The parts just don’t add up to a high enough sum for the show overall, and the only thing I can think is to blame the writing, though without comparing script to screen, I can’t say that’s for sure what it comes down to.

I’m not saying GYPSY is terrible, just very mediocre. Granted, if the series had premiered fifteen years ago, I’d likely be hailing it among the best of what the small screen has to offer. Instead, it’s coming long after AMC, HBO, FX, and Netflix itself have shown us what the medium can be, and is immediately held up for comparison to all of the other fantastic programs in the present and recent past. It does not come out well when judged against its peers.

I can’t not recommend GYPSY, because, as I said, it’s hard to point out what it does wrong, other than that perhaps the writing needs to be more aggressive and contain more depth. But I can’t in good conscience recommend it, either, since, despite a few things I really like about it, it is just not going to make my list of shows to watch. I want it to, but it does not.

Netflix will need to be more careful moving forward. It still has some of the best series out there, and it likely will have other great ones in its future. But as it begins pumping out more and more content, the streaming service will lose its cache of good will if it churns out a bunch of hours that aren’t so promising. The brand is measured by everything it produces, not just the best of the bunch.

The complete first season of GYPSY is available now exclusively on Netflix.