Thursday, March 15, 2018

Crashing (HBO) vs Every Other Comedy Series in History


Before the HBO series “Crashing” came along, the tired genre of comedians playing slightly modified versions of themselves consisted of two basic categories: Deranged clowns ("Seinfeld", "Curb Your Enthusiasm", "The Comedians", "Legit") or depressed clowns ("Mr. Saturday Night", "Louie", Larry Sanders Show"). Because comedians are naturally entertaining and often are good at expressing comedy with a unique voice, much of this fare is still watchable and entertaining even if it’s not particularly innovative.  The freshest take I’ve seen in recent years has been the Netflix offering “Lady Dynamite” which took the deranged metaphor literally and used it as a platform for a soft exploration into mental illness.

“Crashing” however is not just a fresh take within already-tried confines but it’s something I've never seen done successfully. It’s a show that shows that the archetypal comedian is not necessarily synonymous with traits of amorality, loneliness or flat-out craziness.

The first season of the show begins with a wet-behind-the-ears Pete Holmes (played, of course, by Pete Holmes) who’s forced out of his marriage by a wife who cheats on him because she needs someone more exciting in bed. In his late 20s, Holmes is forced to come to the realization that he has quite a bit of adulating to do as his Christian upbringing and the complacency of married life has stunted his development quite a bit.  Unable to support himself, Holmes is saved by a near supernatural ability to fall into random encounters with comic celebrities and, even more luckily, he elicits their sympathy enough to get a place to stay (hence, the title of the show).

The show’s cleverness is that all this depression and vice you ordinarily see in the genre is filtered through the lens of an audience surrogate in Holmes who manages to hold on to his cheerful naiveté in forging his new relationship with himself and his new circle of friends.  Some of these friends like Artie Lange could set the depraved comedian trope to new heights if he were to star in his own show, but through the eyes of Holmes, he elicits empathy. Similarly, the off-kilter nature of many of the other characters –TJ Miller has a bit of a God complex, Richard Burr is a bit miserable in domestic life to the point of being unappreciative of his wife, Sara Silverman is a bit overly trusting – is minimized when seen through the eyes of Holmes who sees them for their faults but also for their generosity.

Whereas the comedy scene is generally portrayed in fiction as a cesspool that collects the bottom feeders of society, “Crashing” is about a man who chooses comedy simply because he feels it’s his life’s calling. The second season sees Holmes in a gradual arc of losing contact with his innocence as he sells out his act with a catch phrase, let’s a little cursing slip into his language, and has his first sexual encounter outside of marriage.  However, whereas the typical the comedy scene is generally portrayed as a cesspool that brings out the worst in people the longer they dwell in it, the sense of camaraderie and mutual support is emphasized here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

25 Best Performances of 2017

Loosely written  post to recap of the year that was in film now that the Oscars are upon us. This is out of the 35 films I saw:
1. Gary Oldman, The Darkest Hour-This gives me no pleasure to actually write this. It's like proclaiming the sun the brightest object in the sky and giving an award for it. He's playing Winston Churchill; he put on a fat suit, of course, he's going to get an award for it. But objectively, he's the best
2. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri-Rockwell has oscillated wildly between mainstream and indie fare and, like Johnny Depp's career, has generally waited for the right film to come to him. This film has rightfully launched him into the stratosphere and it turned me into a Sam Rockwell convert. The charges that the handling of the character is haphazardly racist are made by a few people whose voices are being amplified too highly and are indicative that Martin McDonagh did something right by being provocative in the first place. This is a challenging role, but more than that, a challenging character.
3. Tom Cruise, American Made-Either the best Tom Cruise performance ever or the the best that exists in my memory banks  It's been a while since Cruise has sunk his teeth into a role like this and reflects his maturity. Since Oprah-gate and the website got launched, Cruise retreated from being an actual actor into a standard action star, and this time, it's astounding that he's really going for it and this is pretty much all that and a bag of chips. He's present the entire film, he has a subtle arc, he's outlandish and larger-than-life, he does accent work, he does his own stunts (duh!), he's tragic
4. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick-A fearless performance that mines humor out of idiosyncracy while veering away from stereotype. Her snub was tragic.
5. Bria Vinaite, Florida Project-A tour de force. She's loud and even a little fear-inducing.
6. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri-Rightfully awarded a second Oscar. McDormand traditionally traffics in equal parts fear and empathy.
7. Jason Mitchell, Mudbound-Mitchell portrays the chip on his shoulder, the sense of nearly unshakeable self-pride, and the quiet dignity in making do with his circumstances. The look in his eyes as he stares down a threatening mob is harrowing.
8. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water-Giles is an endearing wet mess of emotion. He wears his heart on his sleeve, his relation with Eliza is heartwarming and his relationship with the pie owner is just as heartbreaking. Jenkins finds just the right tinge of camp to let the character's identity known to the audience without it coming across as a cariciature.
9. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World-Plummer's Paul Getty is helped by the regal grandiostiy of the surroundings that puts anyone in his castle at a disadvantage. But scenerey aside, Plummer plays Getty with a steady aloofness characteristic of what one would imagine the world's dumbest millionaire is.
10. Jason Clarke, Mudbound-The underrated actor portrays a character who is both an instrument of oppression and an honest man who's resigned himself to the fact that his misfortune at being born in the wrong station in life will never go away. To make both facets of this character appealing isn't something that's easy to do.
11. Margot Robbie, I Tonya-This sympathetic portrayal of Tonya Harding is fun, subversive and requires the actress to react to the bizarrest of circumstances over a decade-long arc. Bonus points for momy issues.
12. Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver-His air guitar in the opening number and the way he dons those sunglasses establishes just how cool he is within the first two minutes. Everything from making a sandwich to doing laundry is a display of sleek acrobatism in his hands, but Elgort also portrays the vulnerability, the emotional attachment to his deaf guardian, the fear of riding along with dangerous men, and he sells us on the love story.
13. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project-The performance absolutely deserves its Oscar despite its low placement here. His steadfast authoritative demeanor with a hint of gentility underneath makes him a strong presence. It was just that good of a year.
14. John Lithgow, Beatriz at Dinner-Supremely relatable as the man we often meet at many a cocktail party who is powerful enough to go unchecked in his lack of natural charisma. He makes a tasteless or bland joke and people laugh because they know it will position him closer to power. He's grown so accustomed to power his whole life that his moral compass has been withered to a shard. Lithgow plays Doug as a man who's malicious from an outsider's perspective but also unaware of just how bad he is.
15. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water-A performance that was a ttad too cutesy to really feel like the best part of an excellent piece of film making. To be fair, I'm not sure what the right way to handle the awkwardness of human-fish sex or the even more awkward subsequent scene of explaining the anatomy of human-fish sex to your coworker using sign language.
16. Selma Hayek, Beatriz at Dinner-Just as Lithgow is oblivious to his own maliciousness, Hayek's character is wonderfully oblivious to the finer points of dinner etiquette even if she is almost saint-like in her moral character. Is it wrong? Not necessarily, but it's awkward as hell and that's the cringe that drives the whole movie.
17. Colin Farrell, The Beguiled-Farrell plays a wounded Civil War soldier recovering in a women's boarding school who turns sinister on a dime during the film's second act. It's a fine belanacing act and Farrrell can do period extremely well. He's as gentlemanly and lovelorn as a character in a Jane Austen novel as Mr. Hyde and while his transition to  Dr. Jekyll isn't particularly well-foreshadowed, it's still Farrell at or near his best.
18. Ben Mendelsohn, The Darkest Hour-Colin Firth, shove a fork in it! Seriously, this understated performance was just the right amount of King George VI to last me for one movie outing. No need to treat a stuttering king as the entirety of the whole movie.
19. Aubrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West-Aubrey Plaza's presence is still a solid reason to watch a movie, but despite the range of roles she picks, her limitations in accent work still holds her back. Her ability to deadpan is still hard to top and it gives her a great screen persona but that's why I bump her a little down on the list for an otherwise great performance.
20. Laura Dern, Wilson-Probably my least conventional choice. Laura Dern is great at playing hot messes and this is a white poverty version of Amy Jellicoe in "Enlightened".
21. Kirsten Dunst, The Beguiled-The chemistry between Dunst and Farrell that turns from innocent curiosity to what seems to be a mature romance to dread and back again to lust draws out a lot of colors in Dunst. When Dunst and Farrell finally *SPOILER ALERT* get it on, it's hotter than that upside down kiss in "Spider-Man"
22. Lily James, Darkest Hour-A complete 180 from her gregarious waitress in "Baby Driver," James's character is a study in reactions in observations. Joe Wright said in interviews that James's character is the heart and soul of the movie. A female audience surrogate to provide contrast against the largely male climate of the film.
23. Robert Pattinson, Lost City of Z-Who would have thought the actors from "Twilight" would have some of the greatest success in the following decade. As the sidekick to one of the Amazon's greatest explorers, Pattinson embodies the "stiff upper lip" English attitude in the face of horrific insects and humidity that's almost tragi-comic. He forms a visible  emotional bond with the protagonist in short order on screen and he plays the role with admirable physicalilty.
24. Rooney Mara, Discovery-She's a manic pixie dream girl with a goth streak and has some of the hottest. This was an awful film but she really stuck out in a room
25. Jon Hamm, Baby Driver-A bit thin on pathos but it's a stylized film and Hamm's Buddy is a creation that cherry-picks the traits of a dangerous villain and hides them under a layer of grandiose theatricality. Hamm has a lot of fun with the part.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Looking back at 2001 in film

When film critics and like looked back at the year 2001 at their end of the decade retrospective lists (such lists from AV Club, Paste Magazine, IFC, Roger Ebert and compilation at they found a year rich with great films including "Mullholland Drive", "Fellowship of the Ring", "Gosford Park", "Amelie", "Momento", "Moulin Rouge!", "Ghost World", "In the Bedroom", "The Royal Tanembaums" "Donnie Darko"
Whether I personally like those abovementioned films or not, I can appreciate that the above-mentioned films are all ambitious and well-respected pieces of work. At the same time, my personal experience from 2001 was that it was a terrible year and I distinctly remember an echo of similar sentiments. Within this paradox lies a pretty interesting set of examples of how films age in time.
The reason for this disconnect is that the above-mentioned list of films were not the films that were most anticipated. In many cases these were films that no one really saw when they came out and grew a cult over time. For example, if you've never heard of the film "Donnie Darko" until very recently, don't feel like you're out of the loop. Virtually no one saw it in theaters or even knew of its existence when the film actually came out. It played in just 58 theaters when it opened (for comaprison, your average movie opens in 3,000-4,000 theaters), grossed about $500,000 and was swept out of circulation in just 4 weeks. It was so slow to catch on that among the small number of awards it raked in for indepentent film were awards bodies that didn't get around to honoring the film until 2003.
The films that people were excited about at the time and actually saw in theaters were mostly disappointments. Do you remember any of these films today?
  • Hearts in Atlantis-Directed by Scott Hicks, starring Anthony Hopkins, adapted from Stephen King
  • Shipping News-Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (he had two Oscar-nominated films in a row in 1999 and 2000), starring Kevin Space and, Julianne Moore
  • Captain Corelli's Mandolin-Directed by John Madden, starring Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz
  • The Mexican-Directed by Gore Verbinski, starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Gene Hackman
  • All the Pretty Horses-Adapted from a Cormac McCarthy, starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz, released by Miramax (aka the Oscar Factory) on Christmas day
  • Vanilla Sky-Directed and written by Cameron Crowe, starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz
  • The Majestic-Directed by Frank Darabont ("Green Mile", "Shawshank Redemption"), starring Jim Carrey
  • The Man Who Wasn't There-Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, starring Billy Bob Thornton, James Gandolfini
The directors of five of these films had been nominated for or won an Oscar within the three years prior to 2001, so the public understandably had great anticipation to their follow-up project. Although some people liked "The Man Who Wasn't There" (this particular author did not) and Jim Carrey still stands by his work in the "Majestic" (this particular author hasn't seen that one), a lot of these films were disappointing.
In the meantime, many of the films that are now classics weren't particularly loved back then with the exceptions of "Lord of the Rings" and "Royal Tenenbaums" Let's look at why the other films weren't well-received at the time:
  • "A.I." was awkwardly marketed as a summer blockbuster and audiences found it too thinky. 
  • Like the recent 2009 release "Precious," "In the Bedroom" seemed really depressing and had nothing else to market itself on. The only appeal of the film was that it was nominated for an Oscar prompting you to see it so you could join in the conversation. It's box-office take shows an unusually gross imbalance of people who saw it only after it was nominated. Context is also important. Melodramas have become more successful since this film came out such as "Far From Heaven", "Revolutionary Road", and "Little Children" which might have given this film more appeal.
  • In context, Christopher Nolan's "Momento" wasn't a very easy sell. Nolan was not a bankable filmmaker at the time and the concept sounds pretty convoluted on paper.
  • Moulin Rouge! was polarizing at the time. Some people think Baz Luhrrman was (and still is) all glitz and glamor. I really don't think people knew what to make of it. It was only after a lot of other musicals came out and the genre was revived (this literally was the first musical in years, not counting Evita, to be released in theaters) that critics looked back and said "You know, nothing quite had the energy and bold ambition of Moulin Rouge!" When critics see a lot of films (they usually see at least 200 films a calendar year*), they tend to be desnsetized to the ordinary and be attracted to films that stand out. 
  • Mullholland Drive was also incredibly polarizing. No one could understand the ending which invalidated the point of the entire film. I think that years later the film-watching community** gained a greater appreciation for this film because they realized that one of the few universal moments of movie-watching unity they all collectively felt was scratching their heads at the ending of Mullholland Drive. It also helps you appreciate the film when you have some plausible idea as to what the film is all about: I distinctly remember browsing the internet for answers and finding none after watching the film when it first came out on video.
  • Ghost World sounded too bizarre to even catch my attention at the time. It was based on a comic book but had no action scenes? I now consider it my favorite film from that calendar year, but I certainly wasn't racing to a theater when it came out. Considering that it grossed just $6.2 million, not much of the rest of America was either.
So there you have it: The landscape of film that was 2001 is an entirely different entity when look back at it ten years later than when we were looking at the previews of those films in movie theaters the year before. That, in and of itself, says a lot about film as a moving body.
*Calendar year means films released from January to December. Many films released in December are watched by most of the public in a movie theater the following year. By 200+ films a callender year, I mean a critic watches some 200 films a year released during that year. They might also watch older movies as well.
**By film-watching community, I mean the critical community but also anyone who posts on message boards or engages in film-watching to a degree that they're the kind of person who would be reading this article

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The 16 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Athletes That Impressed me the Most

I can loosely be described as a Winter Olympics obsessive. I grew up in a skiing family (other families took vacations to the beach or camping, we took our big vacations to the Rockies) with a father who owned a condo in Lake Placid, attended the 1980 Olympics and raced. I was similarly on a club racing team in college (not particularly good at the two disciplines I raced: It's an extremely frustrating sport I'd describe as playing a game of chess against gravity with very little time to think about how to make each move) and have dabbled in terrain parks and cross-country skiing (I don't know how to do most of the stuff these Olympians do if you're looking for tips), but I mostly forget to watch these great sports in the off-years. When the Olympics come around, I'm suddenly hooked on this stuff like it never left:
Here's my list of athletes that impressed me the most with the disclosure that I'm watching from a US-centric perspective:
1. Ester Ledecka-CZE Republic-Alpine Skiing (Super G) & Snowboard (Parallel Giant Slalom)-Ledecka wanted to make history as the first snowboarder to compete in a ski race. She never finished above 19th in a World Cup race and she borrowed someone else's skis and ended up winning Gold in the Super-G in a win so unexpected that NBC had switched over the broadcast and the NBC broadcasters only issued a half-apology saying it was "extremely unlikely" she'd make a medal podium. Her own reaction to winning was even more apropos.
 Credit: The Guardian
2. Martin Fourcade-FRA-Biathlon-For my money, the most dominant performance of the games. He came through in the clutch, he handled the lead, he took the relay baton and won from there, he eked out a photo finish. He started his Olympic performance in terrible shape and it was easy to believe that the four-time medalist would evaporate but he dominated the next event. He also came back from a fall and a series of misses in the mass start to win by 0.19 seconds. Biathlon was constantly airing during the day whenever I'd turn off the TV and I had the opportunity to watch a lot of athletes shoot. Maritn Fourcade stands out visibly: He has pure ice when he shoots.

Credit: Frontier Parisians

3. Chloe Kim-USA-Snowboarding Half-Pipe-Part of this is the narrative: An assimilated 2nd generation South Korean succeeding in an Olympics in South Korea. Kim is a media-friendly personality and a South Korean who navigates both cultures well: When my slightly conservative mom didn't like the blond streaks in her hair but was impressed with her interviews, I knew Kim was onto something. Under big pressure, Kim dominated her event with a 93.75 out of 100, and then when the Gold was assured, she turned her encore into an epic mic drop with a score of 98.25. Insane!
4. Jessie Diggins-USA-Cross-Country Skiing-Watching her battle it out in five events and come so close to making history as the first American to medal in a Nordic-dominant sport was heart-breaking. She soldiered through three individual events where she was achingly close to the medals (5th, 6th, and 5th) and skied the anchor to a relay that collapsed on the first two legs. In a staggered event (because people start at different intervals, when you cross the finish line doesn't equate with final standing), she skied herself to exhaustion against the clock and came in within 3 seconds of the bronze . In the sprint relay, Diggins not only made the podium but one the freakin' thing with teammate Kikkan Randall. She then competed in a 6th event-the 50k (basically a marathon but probably more puke-inducing)- finishing 7th. Quite an aerobic workout.

5. Marcel Hirscher-AUT-Alpine Skiing (technical events)-If not for his slalom blunder, he could have been the most dominant guy in the games. I was partially influenced by hearing how meticulous and dominant he has been and how to approach a slope. He won golds in combined and giant slalom and flirted with the idea of being the first person since 1992. He flirted with the idea of being the first man since 1968 to earn 3 Golds in the same Olympics.

6. Mikaela Shiffrin-USA-Skiing- Fourth, second, and first through three events Alpine events. If you were one of the people calling her performance a failure, go away. Because you're not seeing your competitors as you're skiing down, skiing is a sport with a humongous variation and Shiffrin largely kept her nerves, was a menacing threat in everything she raced, and should be applauded for her strategic decisions (dropping the downhill to focus on Combined). She's incredibly consistent in a skiing program that today just doesn't compare to the Austrians, Swiss, Italians, French or Norwegians.
Credit: Fox News
7. Yun Sung-bin AKA Iron Man-SKOR-Skeleton-The 23-year-old has swag galore and dominated his event like nothing I've seen. He had the fastest time on all his runs and set a track record. This is a guy who rose to 5th in the world rankings within a year of first picking up the sport. He's a fast learner and a fast slider.
8. Nathan Chen-USA-Figure Skating-The AV Club did an inventory on fictional champions in sports films who don't actually win at their sport. The sports world needs more of these stories to show us the listen that we were always told in little league but never applied as sports spectators in adulthood: "It's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game." Nathan Chen didn't medal but he came so close from so far away with such an unquestionably extraordinary performance. Few times have American sports fans been happier with a fifth place finish.
Credit: LA Times
9. Sven Kramer-HOL-Speed Skating (distance)-Remember all the hype about Shani Davis trying to win three golds back-to-back. Kramer did it here leading another all-Dutch sweep. He's a nine-time medalist with a boatload of other claims to being among the greatest ever at his sport. He failed to do much else, falling out of the medals in the 10000 m, a disappointing bronze in the team, and failing which places him a little lower than expected. Still, three golds consecutively in the same event is exceedingly rare. No American male has never done this.

10. Shaun White-USA-Snowboard Halfpipe
-On his last run, White catapulted back into Gold with a run of 97.25 out of 100. Near perfection under pressure. White is the first male American to win 3 Golds in separate Olympics. Also worth noting, he did this non-consecutively (4th in Sochi). Love him or hate him, that's pretty amazing to be at such a high level for 12 straight years.
Credit: BaltimoreSun
11. Marit Bjeorgen-NRW-Cross-Country Skiing-Now the most accomplished athlete in history, Bjeorgen owns eight gold medals and fifteen overall. At 37, she had ten medals and her age left doubts over how much damage she could do against Bjorn Dahllie who previously held the record at 13. She anchored the 4 X 5 km medley relay's hopes as an underdog and won the grueling 30km mass start.
Credit: FIS

12. Aksel Lund Svindal-NRW-Alpine Skiing (speed)-For someone who gets so electrified by watching this sport, I should pay attention to it more often. But even though I tune out in the off-years I have remembered the name Aksel Lund Svindal back to the mid-2000s. This guy has been dominant forever through World Cups and Olympics and what a great swan song to come back from injuries debilitating enough to prevent him from doing any slaloms (greatly decreasing his possible medal count) to be able to win the Gold. At 35, he is the oldest alpine skiing medalist ever. Maybe there's hope for me at a year younger to make an Olympics podium. The camaraderie between Svindal and his Norweigan teammates was also touched upon in the broadcasting and in articles: The guys have a "no jerks allowed" rule and eat meals together where they turn off their cell phones beforehand...can you imagine that level of intimacy?? 
13. Jamie Anderson-USA-Snowboard Big Air and Slopestyle-This freewheeling personality defended her title in slopestyle and took silver in big air tying her with Shaun White and Kelly Clark being the only other to win three medals in one Olympics. She's also quite the hippie.

14. The Late Steve Holcomb-USA-Bobsledding-One of the most gooey stories of the Games was from a guy who wasn't even there. Steve Holcomb piloted the bobsled to an improbable Gold in 2010 and died this past May. He must have been quite the personality because every bobsledder and luger has been sobbing when his name came up. If anyone's positive effect on his or her peers was portrayed through the inspirational background videos, it was this guy. His mom was at the games and watching the other athletes hug her mom filled me up with all sorts of goo as well.
15. Red Gerard-USA-Snowboarding Slopetsyle-This 17-year-old from Colorado with a huge family on site was adorable. His winning run was a work of art. The first US Gold medalist in the Olympics, he had time to fly to the US, work the talk show circuit, and come back in time for a Big Air event where he made the final 12. Sadly he doesn't have red hair but his name seems fitting in an old-school kind of way. Also, look at that hat!
16. Anna Gasser-AUT-Snowboarding Big Air-Her duel with Jamie Anderson and winning run was just a "you had to be there" moment. Gasser came back from a deficit to catch Anderson on the last run with one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. Also for fun, watch this photo mash-up (part of which is seen below) of Gasser's jump.
Credit: NY Times

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Greatest Showman: A schmaltzy hit

The Greatest Showman--a Hugh Jackman vehicle based on the life of circus godfather P.T. Barnum  -- is an anomoly in that it was released in the sink-or-swim period in the last couple weeks of December and looked like it was going to sink because of critical panning but somehow still found audience. It has consistently placed it in the Box Office top 10 throughout the entirety of January and February. This past weekend it was in 6th place in the 9th week of release with an extremely healthy $6 million dollars, while Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn't even in the top 20 anymore (David Simms at the Atlantic has a good essay about this)

This dissonance was also inherent in my viewing experience. On the one hand, I found myself emotionally moved by the film and even shed a tear or two at the love story and the way this man uplifted the lives of all these outsiders. At the same time, I felt something was off. Good criticism is about reacting honestly and articulating that reaction. In this case, it took me a while to articulate that to myself. Ultimately, I found two main faults in the film.

The first was that this was a biopic of the old-fashioned model  (The Darkest Hour, Aviator, and Selma represent the latter model of focusing on a period of said historic figure's life) where there was a need to check off every part of this man's life without any discernment for which parts need more deep focus. With the musical numbers taking up so much of the running time, it puts a chronological stretch and the result was a superficial look at Barnum's life.

The second is something that I agree with the film critics in one of their gripes but in a different way than they state it. One of the many beefs of the critics (they also found the songs unusually bland and various plot holes) is the deviation from history but I regularly go to the website and don't think the film is more ahistorical than your average work of historical fiction. In particular, this was a 19th century figure, and while audiences at large generally assume we have as much material available about someone 150 years ago as we do about someone 50 years ago, I can assure you as a researcher at the National Archives that's simply not true.

The quote "there's a sucker born every minute" is something that the film's detractors are saying is attributed to Barnum but that's not a certainty. Part of this is the mass of critical consensus generally picks up on issues of racism in ways that are overemphasizing. While Barnum was exploitative of black members in his employ, there seems little evidence that he was any more exploitative of that class of people than anyone else, and in missing the trees for the forest, he was a staunch abolitionist (it's theorized his theater got burned down by confederate allies).

Moreso, the idea that he was exploitative would have made him a great biopic subject because that's what made him complicated. He uplifted people's lives while also feeding off these people. It's a Faustian bargain the freaks had to make but it couldn't be denied that they'd rather be in the circus than not. This film, of course, was too glossy and superficial to deal with that and if you were thinking this film had an obligation to do so, you were looking for the wrong movie.

To the degree that the film deals with anything thematic, it's about the protagonist's self-actualization being tied to class and his need to shed the chip off his shoulder from once being on the lower rungs of society. The freaks in his employ turn out to be part of his salvation but they are still pushed to the side more than they could have and some scenes don't deal with this as much as they could. In particular, the scene where Jackman

At the end of the day, however, I agree with the film critics, because I didn't feel like I was watching PT Barnum. It wasn't historical inaccuracy, however, but rather, the relationship of the project to its lead: It was well-publicized that this was Jackman's pet project. It was clearly Hugh Jackman the gregarious song and dance man I was seeing on the screen and not any attempt at immersion into a part. That kind of approach might have been ok in the biopics of the old days (Gary Cooper in Pride of the Yankees or Cary Grant in Night and Day are those two guys just carrying their winning personas on screen) but it doesn't fly today.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

My Week in TV II: American Crime Story, Crashing, Superstore, Another Period

American Crime Story-House by the Lake
The main draw of this show was watching innocent, sweet Darren Criss try his hand at playing a cold serial killer. So far this show lacks any sort of thru-line except Criss’s character himself. Last week, “Random Killing” centered around the killing of a notable real estate magnate presented with little context as for the “why.” Andrew Cunanan was analyzed so little that it felt like we were meant to accept him as simply a deranged man without rhyme or reason. Did we make more progress into figuring out what makes him tick this week? Not yet, but the season is long enough that we have reason to think that the show will at least attempt to mine that territory.
In the interim, this week was a thrill of a ride that seemed unpromising at the first commercial break because it seemed like the episode tipped its hand early. These episodes seem most fun when those around Andrew don’t know he’s a serial killer so I wasn’t sure why I wanted to keep watching once that was done with. I even turned off the episode at that point, but when I returned a couple days later, I realized how wrong I was.
The episode resumed into a tense hostage situation with Andrew taking his reluctant friend/lover- and witness to the murder number one – on the road with him. Why doesn’t David scream for help and run for cover at the diner? Why doesn’t he wait until Andrew is sleeping to make a phone call? All we can say in the wake of David’s tragic end is that hindsight is 20/20.
Like past episodes, the series does an excellent job of spotlighting the tragic nature of living in this community regardless of whether they’re being hunted by a serial killer or not. The way they seek love on the DL makes them more vulnerable to being taken advantage of and the errant looks of passersby invites suspicion no matter what.
Another Period-The Olympics
This show has haphazardly thrown every famous person Helen Keller to Harriett Tubman to Sigmeund Freud to Thomas Edison to Scott Joplin into the circle of the Bellacourts regardless of plausibility. It reeks just a little of stunt casting but that’s generally a complaint to make when such stunts aren’t effective. In these cases, the intersection of the famed historic book cutout with the Bellacourts has presented an opportunity for pointed social satire: Like musicians today, the show posits that Joplin was likely aided by his historic rise through a mix of talent and being in the right place and right time promotion-wise. Similarly, the unabashed reverence that we give historical figures is challenged with Harriett Tubman and the vouyeristic possibilities that came as a result of Edison’s moving picture inventions are commented on by making Edison a snuff film pervert himself.
This week it’s Adolf Hitler. He’s derided by some critics as an easy joke target and that same school of thought translates to putting him in a historical fiction comedy. Aside from my preference for the show to focus on American figures (they jive better with this show’s take on the origins of American excess), there’s nothing much they do with him other than make him play the “who would you kill if you could go back in history game?” and, oh yes, they do give his hatred for Jews an origin story. But still, there’s nothing particularly sharp about it. On the bright side, it is a return for Brett Gelman as the shady lower class squall Hamish who apparently is a friend of the doctor. As a Jew, I can tell you that the praying they do before the Shabbat dinner is authentic Hebrew.
In other news, the incest plot between Freddie and Beatriz sister sort of gets resolved but sort of doesn’t. For my money, this thread seems like a remnant of the show’s early days when they were all over the place tonally and this is one of their ickier ideas. There’s also an archery competition which returns Helen Keller and Lillian who’s not as nasty to her fellow woman as usual. That job belongs to Brian Huskey’s character who’s gay repression has made him angrier and angrier and if seeing him get ANGRY tickles your funny bone, you might like this B-plot.
More of my writings on Another Period
Crashing-Pete and Leif/Bill Burr (Season 2 Episode 2, Season 2 Episode 3)-
There’s significantly more wiggle room in Pete Holmes approach to the rapidly oversaturating genre of comedians playing themselves when one considers that few comedians are as wet behind the ears as the Pete Holmes character. The format of using an audience surrogate who’s naïve and sweet allows us to witness all the freedom and decadence of the comedian lifestyle with enough distance that the audience is freed from complicitness.
In the season’s second episode, Pete sleeps with a woman who’s not his wife for the first time and, like many of Pete’s other misadventures, the differing view between Pete and Ally over “what last night meant” is a wake-up call that Pete is woefully unprepared for modern city life. It’s a mostly harmless encounter (I might be wrong, maybe he’ll be in therapy for this all the way through Season 4, who knows?). The distance between Pete and his friends is highlighted by the fact that his friends are much happier than he is that he slept with Ally. Also worth noting, Ally ( Jamie Lee ) looks a helluva lot like Pete’s first wife (Pete the character, that is) Lauren Lapkus that the casting doesn’t seem coincidental here.
Questions of Pete’s masculine identity are once again challenged by his host of the week Bill Burr. I have no idea who Burr (question of the week: does anyone know what Bill Burr is famous for? Does anyone want to save me the trip to IMDB?) so f--- him because he’s more toxic than Artie Lange in continually trying to turn Pete into something he’s not: a man’s man. Then again, Burr’s not that mad at Pete for his screw-up of the week, so it evens out. Although people repeatedly screwing up in epic ways is the hallmark of much of sitcom comedy, this show is too sweet to do that to its protagonist and that’s part of the charm. It’s also revealed somewhere in that Pete Holmes has a new gig as a warm-up comic for Dr. Oz so it looks like he’s at least gotten a second chance which is fitting for a show about second chances.
Superstore-Groundhog Day
My general assessment of this show has been that it’s a bit overrated but it has its moments. Also some dead weight in Glenn (a waste of Mark McKinney’s talents) and Dena but this is an episode with minimal amounts of those two so that’s a plus. In fact, this was really a great episode all-around with plenty happening on the sidelines to give this place the feel of a hang-out show that it achieves in its finest moments. Jonah and Kelly handling of the announcements (with Sandra as a special guest) is the epitome of workplace goofiness that many with semi-fond experiences in the retail sector (if you were lucky enough to have a boss or two who granted you a little leeway) can relate to. Also worth asking, did anyone else see the lack of build-up to Jonah and Kelly’s romance as a missed opportunity? The show could have used just a few ounces of courtship.
While Kelly and Josh provide some levity, Garrett’s promotion provides a little impetus for self-examination. How much do the people in a place like this crave upward mobility? Most of us can relate to having worked a job like this and simultaneously wishing to be the boss while not wanting the responsibilities of the extra paperwork or coming in to the store early as the key holder. Even bigger question here: Does the show really expect us to believe that intellectually curious egghead Jonah would be content at this job for this long? When I worked at a movie theater or a tea store, the college educated kids would generally be in and out the door in a few months as they used the job as a place holder for the next big thing.
Lastly, there’s the central plot: Amy getting back in the dating scene. The plot nicely uses light-hearted comedy to approach serious challenges in the female dating experience like slut-shaming and objectification. There’s also the more universal issue of the complexities of workplace dating. Also worth noting here, I just noticed that Tate is played by Australian comedy star Josh Lawson of “House of Lies”, “Anchorman 2” and is an amazing improviser. I also just found out while looking at the photo of the Academy Awards Luncheon that Lawson got Oscar nominated this past month for his short film . Congrats!

My Week in TV Part I: LA to Vegas, 9-11, Shut Eye

 My week in TV is a more casually-phrased column I do over at a Disqus channel called the Ice Box

9-1-1: The Pilot
The hype underlying this show is based on two equally baffling premises: A) That a procedural like this can be touted as high drama B) That there’s room on TV for more Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuck shows. With the cachet of the Murphy/Falchuck brand, however, this isn’t surprising. The question is can this creative team turn a genre that’s become shorthand for unremarkable-yet-dependable into must-see TV, while avoiding the pratfalls of camp and sensationalism that started to overtake “ Glee ” in later seasons? Based on the pilot, it looks like the worse elements of the Murphy/Falchuck lore are avoided. The appearance of a baby in a sewer pipe is a bit gross but the relevant scenes exercise an admirable level of restraint towards the macabre, and hey, it’s evidently based in real life .
What the TV show does have is strong characters with potential for arcs. They’re not extremely far removed from the kinds of stock characters that pop up on whatever iteration of "CSI" or "NCIS" we’re currently on, but I trust that in the hands of these producers, big things can happen. With the show’s lead pretty boy (Oliver Stark) having two on-screen hook-ups in the first hour (and I gotta say, red-headed snake lady was H-O-T, although I’m not sure how much of it has to do with her snakes) we get the message that things have the potential to get steamy. Hell, even the (East) Asian guy (Kenneth Choi, Last Man on Earth , one of my favorite shows of 2015 ) has an active sex life. Ordinarily, those guys are cast as technical nerds. When has that been known to happen? Like many a procedural show, the pilot episode is unfortunately quite long on TV shows about, well, procedure. Ugh. Josh Krause’s relationship to Private Pretty Boy is taken straight from Ice Man’s lectures of wrecklessness towards Maverick in Top Gun. "You're Dangerous Man!"
Connie Britton, epitomizing the steely resolve needed to handle the dispatch when these bizarre things are first phoned in, is the best character in terms of most interesting POV. Hopefully, they don’t overmilk her role.
All I can say at this point is: Worth an episode 2.

LA to Vegas-The Fellowship of the Bear (Episode 3)
Despite a decent cast and a relatively novel premise, I can’t see this show reaching beyond a certain ceiling nor can I figure out why Peter Stromare is voluntarily reducing himself to a recurring TV role as a cheap Balki impression from “Perfect Strangers.” Ed Weeks’s “Mindy Project” fares a little better as he has some genuine chemistry with leading lady Kim Matula (a very charismatic lead who looks natural in high heels) as the two genuinely have some fun this week looking for his lost doll. It’s not a quest to be particularly invested in but the twist at the end made for a meaningful gesture and a comic punch. Peter Stromare’s character (Artem) gets some interaction this week with stripper Nichole (Olivia Macklin) and while the plot isn’t amazing, It helps to give them color. It’s also fun in a guilty pleasure kind of way that Nichole the stripper character is politically incorrect.

Shut Eye-First eight episodes of Second Season
One of my top shows of 2016 (see the whole list here ), it took me a while to get on board Season 2 but it’s been just as worthwhile. The show is set where the world of shady fortune telling partners intersect with the ethnic Mafioso of the Romanian-American community (AKA gypsies). I have no idea the degree with which these crime and family traditions are based in any actual research but it seems properly idiosyncratic and grounded in a sense of place to pass even if it were invented out of thin air. This show admirably juggles a lot of genres from everything from acute family drama (“Ozarks” or “The Americans”) to a mafia thriller from the POV of a man trying to get out from under their thumb, to the thrill of seeing a conman in his element (something that Jeffrey Donovan mastered in “Burn Notice”).
Season two sidesteps the climactic twist of season one (that Eduardo and Fonso are in cahoots) and gives Donovan’s character of Charlie the ability to continue his thin margin of life as if he didn’t majorly screw up. The season has a lot more pairing of Fonso (Angus Sampson) and the more impulsive Eduardo (David Zaya) and they make for an interesting due of rabble rousers. The series also features an arranged marriage through a rightfully archaic lens that’s made even more uncomfortable by the forced bride being a closeted lesbian. The only thing that doesn’t work is the plot involving Aasif Mandvi and Charlie’s supernatural abilities. If you watched the trailers for this, you’ll notice it’s one of the things used to sell the show.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top 12 of the year in TV

  1. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)-What was once a quirkily-structured universe of Hollywood has-beens and visual animal puns has now attained rare levels of multi-layered humor that will be collectively remembered, celebrated and memed for years to come mixed in with the kind of rare psychological insight from generational depression, to self-fulfilling prophecies of failure, to asexuality. When I wrote a piece on the critical community needing to break itself out of its limited view of diversity, this is the kind of show I was referring to. The fourth season saw BoJack coming back from his worst to achieve a cathartic level of self-moderations with hints that this sitcom has-been taking steps to becoming a better person.  Carolyn, Todd, and especially Mr. Peanut Butter and Dianne have had introspective arcs with the Mr. Peanut Butter/Woodchuck Coodchuck Berkowitz (that name alone should put this at least in any sane person's top twenty) race providing a hilarious government satire that is desperately needed in crazy times like these.
  2. Good Place (NBC)-Few comedies have ever aimed this high conceptually and managed to avoid melting their metaphorical wings after a few episodes. By the first season finale, this show had us all collectively by the by the balls (or whatever the female equivalent is) and the show has continued to give us only the most tenuous view of what’s in store for its four denizens of its rapidly fluctuating version of the afterlife. The comic tics for each character have become finely tuned in the second season: In addition to unpredictable Stepford smiler Janet, fussy Chidi, and self-congratulatory Tahani; Jason Mendoza can carry the episode's laugh content single handedly with his boundless stupidity; Michael has proven just as fan on the dark side as he was as a bumbling klutz and then there’s Eleanor Shellstrop. Credit Kristen Bell’s fine performance and the crafty writing, but Shellstrop is an anti-hero for the ages with a backstory that’s filled with endless stories of being a hilariously terrible person and the slowly creeping potential inside of her to redeem herself from all of it.
  3. Trial and Error (NBC)-This small-town courtroom drama burst out of the gate with a strong sense of place and hilarious characters to populate it with.  Seasoned sitcom pro John Lithgow plays to his strengths as the epitome of eccentricity with Jayma Mays doing her darnmdest to make you forget she ever played as prissy of a character as Emma Pillsbury in Glee. Nicholas D’Agosto, Sherri Shepherd, Steven Boyer, and even Krysta Rodriguez all are given a lot to work with and they all deliver characters that are memorable, comically sound, and endearing. 
  4. Bates Motel (A&E)- The idea of Norman Bates’s character spread out over five seasons must have been a tough sell but the show worked beautifully as an idyllic small-town concealing a cesspool of voice and a sweet young man with a psychopath brewing inside. Over five seasons, Bates Motel accelerated ever so smoothly from a simmer to full-on terror while remaining tonally consistent and keeping an eye out for the long game. The fifth season brought us up to speed with overlap from the events of the landmark 1960 with Rihanna unexpectedly connecting as Marion Crane and Dylan picking up the slack of the noirish detective. Would good or evil triumph and would either character make it out alive? With all deviation from the source material fair game, it was a nail-biting ride to find out. Hitchcock would have been proud. 
  5. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)-Raise your hands if you even knew stand-up comedy existed in 1958? Me neither and that’s why this show makes all the other comedians-playing-themselves entries look vain by comparison.This show is all that and a bag of matzah brie. Yes, it’s a little heavy on the Ashkenazi Jewish stereotypes (and mazels to Tony Shalhoub on your recent conversion to Hollywood Judaism, was Alfred Molina taken?) but it also has an endearing cultural specificity and a strong sense of momentum. While the show is about comedians, it’s very comfortable with its dramatic beats. The stakes are high – the protagonist goes from being excited about landing the rabbi for Yom Kippur to losing her husband, her home, and getting arrested in the span of a few days—and that’s just the first episode alone. As a period piece, this show allows for relevant feminist overtones without being preachy and also creates a superhero worth rooting for.
  6. Glow (Netflix)-This show might be the greatest send-up to the joy of wrestling TV has ever produced but I’d have no idea either way as a complete noob to the sport. Instead, I see a show about raw pluck, girl power, and a docudrama about a ragtag group of underdogs (complete with the economics of constantly being screwed) all wrapped in a delightful 80’s time capsule. Like Jenji Kohan’s other main work of the Netflix era, “Orange is the New Black,” this show is a hodgepodge of diversity in the best sense with Indian and Cambodian characters and even a spoiled rich white guy worth rooting for. Make no mistake, though: Marc Maron (this guy was an actor??) and Allison Brie steal the show
  7. Black Mirror (Netflix)-Creator Charlie Brooker’s series works best when tapping into our luddite fears about the future’s advances in technology wielding as much potential to hurt us as it does to help us. This year Brooker really found his groove in terms of delivering consistency (for my money, there was a humongous dip in quality after Nose Dive and San Junipero last season) and infusing his twist endings with the kind of bittersweet poignancy that allows the themes to resonate. The show also mixes emotional tones and genres whether it’s a sci-fi send-up that will make Trekkies drool (USS Calister), a psychological thriller (Crocodile), a cautionary tale framed as family melodrama (Arkangel), a futuristic love story played straight (Arkangel), a meta-commentary on the horror genre (Black Museum), or a Coen Brothers/Soderberghesque look at dystopia (Metalhead).
  8. Crashing (HBO)-Pete Holmes is the kind of break from the mold to show us that not all comedians are degenerate, self-obsessed, foul-mouthed slobs. Well ok, some of Pete’s friends are, but that's what makes Pete Holmes (the character, although I'm assuming the person) such a breath of fresh air with his adorable naivety. It's a show about comedy but it is also a show about redefining your relation with your faith, parents, friends, and the concept of adulthood itself.
  9. Orphan Black (BBC America)-Full disclosure: As someone who’s not a hard-core binge watcher, I drove myself to exhaustion by the time I set out on my project to go from the pilot to Season 5 within the span of less than a month. By the time I got to the end, my head was spinning whenever I was asked to discern the difference between neolution, DYAD and CASTOR and Gemini or Kabbalah or whatever, so I’m not necessarily the most reliable judge of the 2017 portion of this series, but this show is a smart thriller that is both tightly-paced and capable of juggling multiple storylines. It’s mostly known for the superhuman acting feat of Tatiana Maslany playing multiple parts at once but it’s been one of the best stories on TV for the past five years.
  10. The Mick (Fox)-From the creators of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, this show engages in the same kind of duality of lovable yet deeply offensive characters as its sister show (which is still going strong, even if it didn’t make my list). The show started out as an unremarkable vehicle for Kaitlin Olson to reprise her role as a Dee-like character (maybe the producers will release her from  Charlie Work if she logs in enough hours?) and it’s now one of the most dependable sources of humor on TV. Carla Jimenez is a bona-fide scene stealer as Alba and Jimmy is equally funny as a guy who has no practical use to the Moing-Pemberton household but has managed to stick around thus far. It's the ultimate mix of privilege and clueless and the best found family on TV.
  11. The Real O’Neals (ABC)-A modern renegotiation of the classic sitcom mold that was really beginning to find its groove before the axe came tumbling down. Curse you, trigger-happy ABC overlords!  The show’s handling of its gay teenage protagonist (Noah Galvin) went under-acknowledged during its three-season run but the show also deserves credit for allowing its progressiveness to coexist with more right-wing elements. Like the new breed of smart sitcoms that’s been reinvented on network TV in the past couple years, this show has the edge to power through gooey sentimental plots with a healthy dose of irony, but it’s ultimately a show about togetherness that this country sorely needs.
  12. Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV)-With each season, this Canadian import becomes more assured in its characters and richer in its sense of place. As a result, the ( primarily character driven) humor is richer in Season three with Catherine O'Hara leading the way in the laughs department as the ex-soap opera star still coming to terms with her fall from grace. Season three is an unapologetically happy one with the Rose family finding themselves by embracing their adopted backwater town and at this point it's earned this cheesy feel good vibe.

Ten Honorable Mentions:
13 Reasons Why (Netflix)-The show has some pretty heavy pluses and minuses (do high school students really talk like that? If Hannah was so self-aware that she'd do all that, it never occurred to her to get a therapist?) but it evens out to a TV show that's eminently watchable and provocative enough to at least launch a discussion.
Adam Ruins Everything (TruTV)-A friend who get better grades than I did in high school often told me that "it's all about appearance and presentation." This reminds me of how Adam Conover (AKA the guy with the funny haircut and pocket squares on TruTV commercials) and his cronies from College Humor manage to make this mythbusters-type show so engrossing: With visual ingenuity and a narrative arc (know-it-all educates a rube that they're initial assumptions about topic X are wrong) that's been perfected to a T.
Baroness von Sketch Show (IFC)-This IFC show isn’t just sketch comedy from a woman’s perspective but from a middle-aged woman’s perspective. Whereas many comediennes (Amy Schumer, Sara Silverman, etc.) make it a point to go blue to try to show they can be dirty in a man’s realm, these women are just organically comedic. What makes the show stick out as that this quartet-Meredith McNeil, Aurora Brown, Carolyn Taylor, and Jennifer Whalen- establish their voice and chemistry very quickly out of the gate.
Brockmire (IFC)-Adapted from a Funny or Die sketch, Hank Azaria plays a down-and-out announcer who's shown that out-and-out alcoholic misery can be fun or at least passable (and perhaps we're all going to hell for watching this)
Fresh off the Boat (ABC)-Constance Wu continues her reign as one of TV sitcomdom's richest mothers while the show continues to be one of the most dependably heart-warming and reliably funny on TV. 
Gifted (Fox)-A welcome entry into mutant lore that kept the momentum going from episode to episode.  
Ingobernable (Netflix)-Part Homeland-style thriller, part steamy Mexican soap opera, lots of Spanish subtitles to sort through. The basic plot is the President of Mexico is murdered, the first lady is the prime suspect, and she has to piece together the conspiracy behind it all while on the lam. Kate del Castillo might not be Clare Danes but she's not that far away.
I Love Dick (Amazon)-Set in a artist's collective in Texas that really puts the avante in avante-garde, this show is pretty out there but has a lot of wayward insight into everything in art from the male gaze to productivity and shines a window on the world of weird art.
Powerless (NBC)-A promising series cut before it had the chance to catch on. Although superhero spoofing is nothing new, the shows found a workable original angle and admirable casting: how often are you going to find a good sitcom vehicle for Vanessa Hudgins and Danny Pudi together?
Room 104 (HBO)-The Duplass brothers have used this loose platform to create some very intense and theatrical half hours of drama. The connecting thread between episodes is next to none which kept the show out of my top twelve, but hey, this is better than Togetherness (note to self: never watch Togetherness again)

Sorry folks, maybe next year (everything else I watched this year):

2 Broke Girls* (CBS), American Dad^ (TBS), Archer*^ (FX), Big Mouth (Netflix), Blind Spot* (NBC), Difficult People (Hulu), Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America), Emerald City** (NBC), Family Guy (Fox), Feud (FX), Friends from College (Netflix), Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS), Future Man (Hulu), Girl Boss (Netflix), Grace and Frankie (Netflix), Great Indoors (CBS), Hack My Life (Pop TV)* I Love You America (Hulu), It's Always Sunny^ (FX), James Corden (CBS), Jimmy Kimmel Live^ (NBC), Lady Dynamite (Netflix), Last Tycoon* (Amazon), Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC), Legion* (Fox), Lost and Found (Netflix), Man Seeking Woman (Comedy Central), Making History (Fox), The Mayor (Fox), Me Myself and I (CBS), Modern Family^ (ABC), Mom (CBS), One Mississippi (Amazon), Orville (Fox), Ozark (Netflix), The Path (Hulu), Rick and Morty (Comedy Central), Scandal (ABC), Sense8 (Netflix), Star Trek Discovery (CBS All Access), Stephen Colbert (CBS), Superstore (NBC), Tarantula** (TBS),Timeless (NBC), Time After Time (ABC), Tarantula** (TBS), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt^ (Netflix), White Famous** (Showtime)

^ Made my top 12 in a previous year
* Viewed in limited capacity (two or three episodes)
** Only saw the pilot