Thursday, March 16, 2017

Coming Apart in America: How Lethal Weapon on Fox Displayed No Moral Code


What has happened to our critical thinking skills? I ask this as a general question relating to the world around us, but I also must ask this question regarding the very value system we hold. The fact that I must ask these questions regarding television programming may seem silly. After all, does one need critical thinking skills to watch television? I would argue that it would be helpful. We are now a people entertained by a rape culture on Game of Thrones, destruction of the soul via Breaking Bad, overall darkness on everything from Criminal Minds to Law and Order: SVU and let's not forget the heart-tugging pull of cheering on a serial killer in Dexter.

I have worked in media my entire career and I enjoy a good television series. This past year, I enjoyed everything from The Crown on Netflix to This Is Us on NBC, The Americans on FX to Lethal Weapon on FOX.  Please note, there were two reasons I responded at all to Lethal Weapon. Like many people alive over the last thirty years I witnessed all four of the original Lethal Weapon films and to varying degrees they were entertaining. When I heard about Lethal Weapon being licensed as a series last year I noticed Clayne Crawford would be taking on the role of Martin Riggs. Crawford has had an interesting career. He spent much of the last 15 years doing episodic guest-starring roles and it culminated in a significant four year stretch on the Sundance Channel's little seen series, Rectify. Rectify was a deeply conflicted series about life, death (literally), relationships, redemption, love and so much more that constitutes the day to day and the year to year of life itself.

When Lethal Weapon premiered in September, 2016 the pilot was a mindless, but entertaining one hour. I enjoyed it so much, I placed it into the DVR for recording. There, I admit I enjoyed the pilot. The series would move back and forth over the course of season one with some good episodes, but several muddled and bad episodes. Much of the time it was near obvious that some of the writers didn't even know who Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh were. Try watching some of these episodes again. Actually, I wouldn't force anyone to sit through the catastrophic disasters that constitute episodes 10 and 13. In fairness, these two episodes were the worst of the season. Bad guest star acting preceded by misguided writing and throw in some hazardous editing and you have a badly bloodied rendering of what Mel Gibson/Danny Glover/Richard Donner presented as entertainment during the eleven year period from 1987 through 1998.

If you know the back story of Martin Riggs you would know that his wife died suddenly as she was headed to the hospital to deliver her unborn child. Riggs always suspected his wife's death was not an accident. Fair enough. Even though the average person would never think being destroyed by an oncoming truck would be a murder. Riggs though is not your average human and he has worked as a police officer and had his fair share of encounters with the Mexican drug cartels. Ok. We can buy that.

The finale of season one may very well be one of the worst hours of television programming in the last year, if not the last ten years. The finale was not a display of the chaotic wisdom of Martin Riggs. This was a Martin Riggs unleashed from any moral fiber, any sense of a value system, any sense of I am a member of an American law enforcement agency. Hello Venezuela! "Dirty" Harry Callahan, made famous by Clint Eastwood in five films during the 1970's/1980's himself wouldn't have orchestrated such illegal, unethical and highly immoral acts on behalf of justice. Yes, he does let a murderer off the hook in Sudden Impact, but that wasn't this. Charles Bronson glorified vigilantism in a series of Death Wish films, but even his character displayed a sense of calm while doing it and he certainly didn't torture anyone or leave a humans body on a running train track. Yes, our warm and fuzzy Martin Riggs decided to kidnap an assassin (a very bad guy), torture him (although, he only broke a couple of fingers) and then not just kill him, but let him die a splattered death in a subway of Los Angeles. Where is that by the way? Los Angeles is not known for its public transportation system, so maybe that is why no one was anywhere near two of LA's finest while all of this was happening.

The entire season ending episode was over the top. There wasn't a single moment that was believable in the episode. I'd like to know how many people involved in this series in one way or another condemn the "overreach" of law enforcement? How many people involved in this series believe law enforcement agencies are basically racist? Do any of the producers, actors, writers think police officers are violent? Having written that, there is no thought as to the real blue lives working our towns, cities, counties, states and the nation at-large. Let's face it, sophisticated elites in San Francisco, New York and the beltway aren't watching Lethal Weapon.

Has anyone noticed that Riggs and Murtaugh are working in Los Angeles? That's your MAD magazine stupid question of the day. This is a city comprised of 49% of a Hispanic population; and yet the only Hispanic on the entire force is a former gang member portrayed by Richard Cabral and he's not in every episode. Outside of Miranda Riggs (Floriana Lima), who is now deceased, there isn't one redeeming Hispanic on the entire show. Now that we know her father, Ronnie Delgado (Tony Plana) is going to prison that even eliminates him. I looked up the Los Angeles police department and their detectives don't spend nearly as much time on the Mexican drug cartels as this show would have us believe.

Another question for the series team. Does anyone on or involved in this series want to control the border? You can take a guess what those numbers would be. The drugs are going to keep pouring in. If you want to get a realistic portrayal of the evil perpetuated by drug cartels, rent Sicario. By the way, the character portrayed in Sicario by Benicio del Toro is a paid assassin, but we know he's a paid assassin. Martin Riggs he isn't. He isn't a police officer.

Mexican-Americans should be highly offended by this series. The only Mexican-Americans this show knows are cartel members and they all manage to be on the dumb side. As a country, the United States should be so fortunate to have a series of dumb cartel members. Check the heroin/opioid overdoses in the U.S. The folks of West Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio and much of the rest of the country would like to get their family members back.
 
Lest one think I am being unfair to this show, if you have a brain that works you will know I am not being unfair to the show. This is just some of what happens in the near laughable 44 minutes. See the next paragraph for a wild and fuzzy ride.

Riggs kidnaps an assassin and he does all of this by himself decked out in all black. He shoots everywhere and yet no one gets killed. He blows out the back of a van. He hides the suspect in his illegally parked trailer and then conveniently takes him to a cabin in Lake Arrowhead. It's California and this would take hours to get there, but he's there in a heartbeat. His partner has his phone located and he then is there in moments. Poof! Then the kidnapped suspect gets loose in a second, runs through the woods, gets shot at by Murtaugh and jumps into running rapids full of large rocks. Murtaugh says no one can survive this. Sure. Guess who we see again? Surprised yet? Then we find out Riggs' father-in-law knew about this all along. What the heck? Why do that? We liked Ronnie Delgado. The writers destroyed any semblance of Miranda's family with one awful moment. Why on earth would they do that? Riggs gets kidnapped. Murtaugh gets kidnapped. Riggs manages to get past four members of a Mexican drug cartel with a piece of tin foil 1/3rd the size of his index finger and by the way, none of the Mexican drug cartel members appear to be from Mexico. We even seemingly have someone who appears to be of Chinese descent involved. Riggs goes to Mexico. Yes, he goes to Mexico to kill a drug cartel leader and Murtaugh follows him there. These guys never call for back-up. Of course, now that they are doing something illegal, they can't. These are Los Angeles police detectives. This is all against the law and neither of these individuals would survive any of this. James Bond and all of his gadgets wouldn't survive any of this. Lest I forget, Riggs calls the cartel leader to explain that when he kills him (so, he will commit murder and manage to be away from his job for days at a time - where are the tax dollars going?) he will look him in the eyes. For some odd reason, Riggs is wearing this absolutely ridiculous cap and a pair of white sunglasses and it's dark out. Oh sure, no one will be suspicious of this silly-touristy American. In this particular part of Mexico one would assume there are no tourists, so his presence rings no bells? The final episode made the entire series look silly.

On another note regarding the character of Roger Murtaugh. We have seen throughout season one the great love of family displayed in the Murtaugh household. Roger and Trish love one another. They even like one another which is sometimes the more difficult aspect of a day to day relationship. They are solid and thoughtful parents who love their children deeply and dearly. Roger Murtaugh will now sacrifice everything in life to travel to Mexico to assist his highly dysfunctional, troubled and now murderous partner kill someone? Yet, no one at FOX or Warner Bros. has a problem with any of this? Highly unethical, illegal and immoral behavior, but these "dudes" are cool?    

If all of this weren't bad enough, some of the shows fanbase (thank God the ratings for Lethal Weapon dropped significantly from its premiere and has laid flat ever since) think this show "kicks ass" and Riggs is a "bad Motherf----."  Cue the music from Shaft now! Check out the Twitter feeds for the actors, the series, the writers and the fanbases, including one from Italy. Italy? Yes, that Italy. Home of Michelangelo and the Vatican. What the heck is going on in Italy? Fortunately, the series has already been pulled from New Zealand, Norway and a few other countries. No wonder why Americans looking to relocate to New Zealand has sprung up 70%. Yes, I did like this show at one point!!!!

You also have to be highly suspect of those people either seeking real solace or for that matter, pretend solace in the supposed loneliness and sadness of Riggs. The pretenders want to grab the attention of an actor on social media. Folks, this isn't rocket science. It usually goes with "thanks so much for being who you are, my marriage ended or my spouse died or my life is sucky and you make my life better because of your character and acting." If this were the case, psychotherapy in America and the world beyond would be unnecessary. Maybe we could alleviate substance abuse issues - just force everyone to watch Lethal Weapon. Actors, writers and producers are either dumb enough to believe this or they just want to believe it for the sake of ego. The reality is most of these people want their faves to follow them on Twitter or Instagram. It's the nature of the beast.  

When you have a "fun" character like Riggs leaving a man (I don't care how bad he is) on a rail track and this is seen as fun and just, then the country is in even deeper trouble than some people think.

Next time someone brings up the country coming apart, think of Lethal Weapon on FOX.  It may seem simple on the surface, but this is how it unravels. Little by little.

Let's hope they don't get a season three.

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2017

Monday, December 19, 2016

SHOOTER on USA - ABSOLUTELY SATISFYING ENTERTAINMENT



We live in an interesting world. For those familiar with the life quotes of the Chinese philosopher Confucius you will recall that as a curse he stated the following: "May you live in interesting times." Well, if you are alive in 2016 you are living in interesting times. We also live in a world that provides a wide variety of entertainment options. Having spent an entire life working in media in one area or another I find myself linking arms with an ever widening group of program options that are wildly dissimilar from one another.

Hence, my two favorite new shows this season are The Crown on Netflix and Shooter on USA. Lethal Weapon on Fox would rank in third place, but only because Clayne Crawford may very well be the best American actor working today. Lethal Weapon is silly, ridiculous and mostly fun, but it will not be memorable. Crawford though easily could have played Bobby Lee Swagger in USA's Shooter. As I said, my two favorite new shows are The Crown and Shooter. My tastes are diverse, but good content is good content. This would be no different than saying you love Beethoven's symphonies and much of classic rock.

The Crown is an elegant, well-written, intriguing look at the life of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. A separate review will be done for this series which is a don't miss, but Shooter is also well-written and intriguing, although no one would label it as elegant. What Shooter does have is a non-stop nervous romp of what's next and the what's next comes just about every three to four minutes in this series. There are times when I'm so nervous I end up fast-forwarding a bit to make sure the world is alright. I squirm on the couch through much of the one-hour.

Shooter is based on the Stephen Hunter best-selling 2007 book, Point of Impact. It was adapted for the big screen a few years back with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role, but the television version has already proven to be far superior to the feature film. Admittedly, creatively you can do much more with an 11 episode series (the series on USA was picked up today for a second season) than you can with a two hour film format, but that is besides the point. This series forces the viewer to pay attention. There are motives for everything in this series and you have to sit still since you have no idea what is around the corner. Bad guys are everywhere and our hero, Bobby Lee Swagger (yes, that's his last name and boy does he have it) is one of the good guys.

Some terrific performances are embedded in the weekly series with some standout work coming from Ryan Phillippe as Bobby Lee; and Omar Epps as the corrupt former Marine who is currently working for the Secret Service. Why are members of the Secret Service, the military and CIA all trying to set up former top sniper Bobby Lee Swagger? Beyond Epps, look for a solid turn by Tom Sizemore as the crooked CIA operative. Eddie McClintock is another high end corrupt government official and Cynthia Addai-Robinson plays an FBI agent who at least for the moment is attempting to assist Bobby Lee Swagger as he hides in plain sight dodging his would be assassins. These bad guys have set up Swagger as the assassin of the President of the Ukraine, even though what they really wanted was to set up Swagger to take out the U.S. President. His original would-be assassin missed both the President and Swagger. Swagger hasn't taken out either of the world leaders, but the world at-large believes he is the bad guy.

Swagger is the good guy. He was welcomed home as a hero after taking out 390 terrorists in the Middle East. He is an American Sniper who now has to find a place in society that doesn't involve sniper work. Our Swagger is smart, savvy, quick and clever. Additionally, he is unselfish and he does everything for family and country.  How do you not love Bobby Lee Swagger? By the way, he looks like Ryan Phillippe.

The suspense in this series is intense and satisfying and I can't wait until Tuesday night since I have to know what happens next. If you haven't committed to watching this show get a kick-start with the pilot which is currently On Demand. By the way, the pilot is the weakest episode. This show gets better with each passing episode.

The old NBC tag of must watch TV applies to this USA original. Shooter is must watch TV!

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2016


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Vincente Minnelli takes on Lucy & Desi with "The Long, Long Trailer"















Many thanks to Michaela and the Love Letters to Old Hollywood blog for giving us the opportunity to write a little about the charming 1953 comedy The Long, Long Trailer as a part of the Vincente Minnelli Blogathon taking place this weekend.  Be sure to visit her site and all the other terrific entries in this event!















For a TV blog like The Flaming Nose, writing about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is second nature.  Especially for somebody who's a Baby Boomer, the ubiquitous presence of I Love Lucy on the TV set for the past 60 years is a given.  We grew up with Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and certainly spent our childhoods -- at least I did -- watching each episode countless times and never tiring of a single one.  















To place The Long, Long Trailer in its proper time-frame, the series I Love Lucy started on network TV in the fall of 1951.  That same year writer Clinton Twiss published a novel called The Long, Long Trailer about the comic misadventures of a couple who buy a huge travel trailer. (You can read the novel here.)  Three years after Lucy's debut, MGM -- the studio where both Ball and Arnaz starred and co-starred in many films years before their TV super success -- tapped acclaimed director Vincente Minnelli to helm the lavish Technicolor comedy.  
















Minnelli, skilled in directing all genres, had the genius and nuance necessary to translate the enormous TV appeal of Lucy and Desi to the big screen, and without losing the sense that you were still watching the Ricardos even though in The Long, Long Trailer their names are Tacy and Nicky.  Viewers who had fallen in love with Lucy's antics in I Love Lucy wouldn't be disappointed with this super-sized version of their favorite and seeing the Lucy/Ricky duo in glorious Technicolor was a big plus.  















Really, The Long, Long Trailer is all about watching Lucy and Desi go through their well-known and loved paces.  Nicky is not far from Ricky as he is overwhelmed by Tacy's enthusiasm at the idea of trailer life even as he's intimidated by the sheer enormity of the beast he's about to have tethered to the back of their car.  There's a recurring comic riff about the intricate process necessary to brake the trailer to a stop, as well as the to-be-expected and hilarious problems parking and merely driving the 40-foot monstrosity over the picturesque scenery in the movie.  
















There is considerable comedy in these sequences but also some genuine tension that goes along with it. It's not only plenty difficult maneuvering that huge trailer but also not so easy getting along with a brand-new spouse in extremely close quarters.  In that sense this is much more than I Love Lucy writ large, it's a fully-developed storyline that fleshes out the characters and takes them through some heartache as well. (In terms of funny, watch for great Desi vs. the shower scene, Lucy cooking, falling in mud -- all the classic stuff!)















One of the genuine pleasures in The Long, Long Trailer is the snazzy mid-century American style seen to great advantage in the lovely color photography.  Truly scrumptious! Also delightful is the cadre of character actors who are seen throughout the film, including Marjorie Main, Keenan Wynn, Madge Blake, Herb Vigran and many more.  This is a real time machine of visual delights.  















And it's absolutely watchable, especially so for fans of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz but also just as an example of a full-blown Hollywood Grade A comedy, and that's a special commodity.  Even sans the I Love Lucy studio audience laughter (which you might miss a little during the slapstick moments), The Long, Long Trailer clearly delivers all the inherent humor.  The presence of Vincente Minnelli made the movie more than it would have been under a lesser director -- more well-rounded, more human, more touching.  



















You can watch The Long, Long Trailer here online.  

Thanks again to Love Letters to Old Hollywood for bringing the Vincente Minnelli Blogathon to life!  
























































And for a hilarious parody of the sequence in the film when Lucy and Desi sing "Breezin' Along with the Breeze" you are guaranteed to enjoy this from the Punchy Players:





Sunday, October 30, 2016

"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Goes Batty -- Part of The Classic TV Blog Association Terror TV Blogathon

This post is part of the Terror TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association.  Click here for the entire line-up!



Vampires are big business these days but who exactly are we kidding?  They've always been big business -- big SHOW business -- from the early days of silent cinema until this very minute.  In terms of TV fun, they've been pulled out to do spooky duty many a time, including tussling with the intrepid secret agents on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. back in 1966, though not as a Halloween episode; it aired on April 1 of that year on NBC, of course!

"The Bat Cave Affair" is a crazy mix featuring a psychic hillbilly gal, Illya bullfighting in Spain and ending up hostage to a diabolical mad scientist Thrush agent Count Zark who's cooked up a plan to use bats to throw the world's air traffic into a tailspin.  The precognitive Ozark lass is played by actress Joan Freeman, veteran of many TV shows and movies and who played the girlfriend of space-bound TV favorite Don Knotts (post-Barney Fife) in 1967's The Reluctant Astronaut comedy movie.  

Count Zark is played by the consummate actor Martin Landau, a perennial acting man of many faces who was a frequent guest on TV series and co-starring in movies. Later in that Fall season he would begin his star-making role as magician/secret agent Rollin Hand in TV's Mission: Impossible which he played for 3 years.  

Rather than recap the plot of "The Bat Cave Affair" again here I will refer you to several sites with terrific synopses of the episode, such as Benzadmiral's No Man is Free site with plot here, Morgan Richter's Preppies of the Apocalypse with a complete rundown here, and TV Maze with a detailed storyline recap here.  But really, the charm and continuing appeal of this episode is in the look of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and particularly the brilliantly flamboyant work of Martin Landau as Count Zark.  In addition to the fact that Landau has never given less than a standout performance in anything, he's got an incredibly expressive face just perfect for topping off the traditional vampire flowing black cape.

So, with great thanks to the wonderful Lisa's Video Frame Capture Library site -- check it out here -- let's feast on some moments from "The Bad Cave Affair"!

























The Man from U.N.C.L.E. "The Bat Cave Affair" is worth checking out for its snazzy 1960s' vibe and the always entertaining performances of all the series regulars.  You can find and watch it online here.

Happy Halloween to all TV lovers everywhere, and be sure to check out the rest of the other wonderful entries in The Terror TV Blogathan hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association; visit the entire line-up by clicking here.  You'll really enjoy it!