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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, August 25, 2007

 
Saturday Night With TiVo

Divine Trash, Hidden Jewels, Part 4: So what’s on your DVR?

By Dennis Hartley

At the risk of instigating a public stoning, I thought I would take a bit of a departure this week and switch over to the (gulp!) small screen. So if you’re a TV snob, you might want to tune out now and spare us the eye-rolling and the predictable “Jesus, why don’t you people try reading a book?” admonishments in the comment section, mmmmkay?

For those still with me (both of you), I have compiled a list for your perusal (in no particular ranking order) of TV shows I have found to be compelling enough to earn the “priority” nod on the DVR (yes, there IS such a thing as good television, although it does take a bit of work to separate the wheat from the chaff). I’m sure some of your favorites are here; or perhaps I can turn you on to something you might have overlooked!

Entourage (HBO)- A rising young actor, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) climbs onto Hollywood’s “A” list and drags his lifelong buddies from “the neighborhood” to the top with him. Jeremy Piven continues to steal the show as super-agent/super asshole Ari Gold. Art imitates life on several levels; Kevin Dillon (Matt’s brother) plays Vincent’s perennially overshadowed actor sibling, and the storyline is allegedly based on co-producer Mark Wahlberg’s real-life misadventures in Tinseltown. A surprisingly upbeat, good-natured show, despite all the Hollywood pettiness and backstabbing involved.

Mad Men (AMC)-I have a lot of hope for this one. Set on the cusp of the New Frontier (circa 1960) this series centers around Don Draper, a Madison Ave “ad man” who is tops in his field, but is going through an existential crisis (“This place has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich,” he observes about the ad agency that employs him). Series creator Matthew Weiner was a writer for “The Sopranos”, and I’m already noticing some signature themes (family loyalty, primal doubts and territorial pissings). It’s kind of a post-modern take on the “Dick van Dyke Show” (by way of Neil LaBute).

Weeds (Showtime)-Season 3 has arrived! Two bongs up for this brilliantly funny social satire about a single suburban mom making ends meet with a thriving pot business. Propelled by sharp writing and one of the best ensemble casts ever. “Bitch! I can eyeball an ounce from outer space!”

Saving Grace (TNT)-Holly Hunter is superb as Grace Hanadarko, a police detective in Oklahoma City. Grace is a complex character; a crack detective (of course) who overindulges a bit in the vice department, drinking and screwing (the wrong men) with wild abandon. Although I find the weekly murder mystery subplots fairly routine, this is far from your typical cop show, mostly thanks to an angel named Earl (played by a scenery chewing Leon Rippy, who some may recognize from HBO’s “Deadwood”). Earl has been sent to help Grace get back on “the right path” (her name contains the words “grace” and “dark”, get it?) Believe it or not, this all works. Will Grace ultimately go toward the Light, or cave in to her Dark side? ‘Spose you’ll have to tune in to find out!

Damages
(FX)-Another screen actress taking the plunge into the Vast Wasteland these days is Glenn Close. Close seems to be having the time of her life playing Manhattan-based power attorney Patty Hewes, who specializes in multi-million dollar lawsuit cases. This first season appears to be following one storyline, involving a class-action lawsuit against an evil Ken Lay-type billionaire (Ted Danson). This series has the potential to get quite interesting, particularly when it focuses on Patty Hewes’ morally ambiguous approach to achieving her goals. There are hints in the first several episodes that Patty may share more character traits with Danson’s manipulative power broker than the viewer is prepared to be comfortable with. The show exudes a twilight noir vibe that I can go for in a big way. Keep your eye on this one.

Big Love (HBO)-I never thought I would get hooked on a show about a Utah fundamentalist Mormon family engaged in a plural marriage! Bill Paxton plays the perpetually exhausted Bill Henrickson, just your average home improvement store owner with a house, a house, and one more house in the ‘burbs. Oh, and three wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifir Goodwin). And seven kids. And they’ve got to be discreet (although by the end of Season 1, they have been “outed” at least half a dozen times). The predictable domestic squabbling gets a bit tiresome at times, but what keeps things moving (in Season 2) is a subplot involving Bill’s father-in-law (the great Harry Dean Stanton) a “prophet” and leader of a cultish desert compound, who is attempting to muscle in on his business. Good acting all around, and earns extra points for originality.

The Henry Rollins Show (IFC) - Great rants, insightful, candid interviews and live performances by the coolest bands on the planet. Janeane Garafalo is a welcome addition this season. Stay pissed-off, Henry…we wouldn’t love you any other way.

Real Time With Bill Maher (HBO)-Whether you find him funny or not as a standup is a moot point; the man mediates a mean panel. Essential viewing for the thinking person.

The Daily Show (Comedy Central)-Hah! You thought I forgot, didn’t you? Does it even need to be explained?! Jon Stewart continues to be the best antidote for MSM fatigue.

And…currently on hiatus but worth anticipating:

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC)-Behind the scenes at a fictional SNL-style late-night sketch comedy show, from “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin. Drifts into soap opera territory at times, but well acted and smartly written. Great ensemble cast.

Extras (HBO/BBC)-Ricky Gervais is a bloody little genius! Somehow, this wonderfully droll satire about those ever-hopeful souls who toil at the lowest rung of the acting profession slipped under my radar (I don’t think HBO hyped it much) but after catching up on the first two seasons via DVD (at the urging of friends), I eagerly await season 3.

Boston Legal (ABC)-Denny Crane! ‘Nuff said.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)-A show that makes you cringe with empathic embarrassment while you laugh uncontrollably. I can’t speak for you, but as a practicing self-centered neurotic Jew, I have had more than my share of Larry David moments…

Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!
(Showtime)-Ambush journalism meets Vaudeville. Hypocrites and charlatans scurry for cover when Penn and Teller turn their spotlight on them. Teller is the perfect foil, playing Harpo to Penn’s Tourette’s-afflicted Groucho.

Life on Mars (BBC America)-I was a pushover for this one. It mixes two of my favorite genres, sci-fi and gritty British police procedurals (think “The Time Tunnel” meets “Cracker”). John Simm plays present-day DCI Sam Tyler, who gets hit by a car while chasing a suspect and wakes up in the year 1973. He’s still a cop, but now finds himself demoted to a DI. Most of the dramatic tension comes from Sam’s frustration with the comparatively primitive technology available to homicide investigators a scant 30 years ago (no cell phones, no computer databases, no DNA sampling, etc. ). Most fascinatingly, we are presented with three possible realities: 1) Sam really has traveled back in time 2) He is in a coma in 2006 and imagining it all, or 3) He is from 1973 but off his nut. Great use of period music (lots of T.Rex and Bowie!).

Saxondale (BBC America)-Not for all tastes (especially considering its, erm, less than charming lead character) but I’m a huge fan of this wry Britcom’s star/co-writer, Steve Coogan (“24 Hour Party People”). Coogan has created a truly original character in Tommy Saxondale, an ex-roadie with “anger issues”, now working in pest control. Ruth Jones excels as Magz, his anarchist girlfriend. It may take you several episodes to get into the rhythm of the character; especially since most of the best lines are muttered by Saxondale under his breath (you really have to pay attention to catch all the subtleties). Hey, BBC America-where the hell is Season 2? (Anyone?)


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