Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: My Favorite TV Performances

I hope you've read Jane's post from yesterday on her Top Ten TV choices from this year. It's a terrific and well-reasoned list, and after such a wonderful look-back, I need to do something different. I agree with Jane on all her choices, But I can't just repeat the wonderful things she said about Louis C.K., for instance, or all the other accurate shout-outs she gave to our favorites. How about I offer my favorite performances from this past year? Firmly believing that TV is all about personalities, here's a selection of the actors and actresses I loved best -- my top seven. (Who needs a Top Ten when seven will do?)

Charlie Day as Charlie on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, on FX: All Hail crazy Charlie, King of the Rats! Though I don't think this was the series' best year, Charlie Day is a constant delight. He's not only hilarious -- a great physical comedian as well as a plucky actor with truly funny bones -- he's also able to convey an almost hapless melancholy that brings his performance into a special place. Charlie's some kind of a savant living life as a dope, he's the butt of everybody's jokes, he puts mittens on cats and keeps a dream journal, and you can't wait to see him appear in every episode. Whether it's his unique voice or his lithe form in his Greenman costume, Charlie always rules the Day! He's an absolute delight.

John Slattery as Roger Sterling on Mad Men, AMC: Though Slattery has been superb all through Mad Men's run, the blue note he often played this season really got to me. Roger's got everything -- money, prestige, a doting wife, all the liquor he can possibly imbibe -- except the things he wants most. Respect...he doesn't have that, just remember how the creepy tobacco heir Lee Garner (played so well by Darren Pettie) smooshed his ego flat when Roger asked for a little time to break the news about the loss of his account. Yikes, so cold, such a wake-up call, and not the only blow Roger would face this season. The wise and eternally sultry Joan sees his desperation and calls off her sometime fling with him, too, over that debacle. And even worse, his dictated memoirs get nothing but giggles from Don and Peggy when they surreptitiously listen to them. In terms of Slattery's comic chops, anytime we saw him working on his memoirs was pure gold, always funny, often bitter and ultimately more sad than anything else. Dyspeptic, often cruel, ultimately heartbroken, John Slattery showed us the rue this year, plus he stepped into the director's chair a couple of times. So talented! I'm even okay with his car commercials...

Randee Heller as Miss Ida Blankenship on Mad Men, AMC: Don Draper's idiosyncratic fill-in secretary was a special treat, at first a tad annoying but then a treasure. We learned, via Roger's memoirs, that she had been a sexual vixen back in the day, and she had lost none of her tartness as she served up wry and cheeky observations which usually left Don speechless. We figured that her sudden death in the 9th episode ("The Beautiful Girls") meant a dark shift for the last few episodes of the season, and we weren't wrong. We really missed Miss Blankenship after that, and kudos to Randee Heller for playing much older (and virtually in disguise) with such heart and humor.

Betty White as Elka Ostrovsky in Hot in Cleveland, on TV Land. Betty White had a golden Renaissance this year, not that she needed one. The TV comedy veteran has never had a dull or a non-working moment, but it was extra nice to see her co-starring on TV Land's successful new sitcom alongside the talented Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves and Valerie Bertinelli. Yeah, so her character is maybe a little cliched -- a man-hungry senior lady -- but nobody does it like Betty White. Her comedy timing is unsurpassed, as we also saw with her great guest hosting appearance on Saturday Night Live in May. She's always the funniest one on whatever stage she's on, and we love her.

Julia Stiles as Lumen Pierce in Dexter, on Showtime: I've been cool on Julia Stiles in the past, but she won me over as the disturbed gang rape victim turned avenger in Dexter's 5th season. Damaged almost beyond salvation yet brought back to life, through death, by Dexter (Michael C. Hall), Lumen turned out to be courageous, resourceful, necessarily savage but ultimately human again as she finally found her peace. I'll miss the down-to-earth sneakers that she always wore, the perfect choice of footwear for a woman teetering on the edge episode after episode.

Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson on Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock: The always perfect Freeman (The Office, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) was a wonderful sidekick to the icy idiosyncratic genius of a modern day Sherlock Holmes, played by an equally skilled Benedict Cumberbatch. There's something about Freeman's everyman looks and essential kindness that makes him so tremendously watchable. He was charming, bemused, intelligent and brave as Watson, a troubled Middle East war veteran medico who brought humanity and friendship to the prickly Holmes. Definitely check out this three-part presentation if you missed it. If you did see it, you know what I mean -- Martin Freeman was terrific.

Matt Smith as Doctor Who, on BBC America: It's not like the franchise needed or wanted a new Doctor; everybody loved the wonderful David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, but Tennant wanted to move on. Big shoes to fill, there; Tennant was nothing less than superb. But now we have the 11th actor to play Doctor Who, and the youngest one yet. Matt Smith is only 26 but has proved to be a terrific choice to carry on the whimsical, intelligent, wise and humane legacy of The Doctor. Smith's Who is exactly right, with a manic energy and humor befitting his age and the sensibility of these times we're in, plus a brilliant mien that clearly takes much from the actor himself. If you want to see an actor put his heart, mind and soul into a part, in a way that you simply don't see here on American TV, I urge you to watch Matt Smith as Doctor Who. He was my favorite new face of 2010, hands above anything else on the tube, anywhere.

Here's to many more sensational performances and break-out personalities in 2011!

Happy New Year from The Flaming Nose!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nose-talgia: "Rudy and GoGo" New Year's Eve!

We hope you remember the wonderful but woefully short-lived Rudy and GoGo's World Famous Cartoon Show which ran on TNT back in the day. Created by two charming, intelligent and hilarious young men -- Barry Mills and Jack Pendarvis -- RaGG was a crazy melange of cartoons, live-action marionettes, songs, parodies and everything else.

TNT Programming tried to give it a long run -- honestly, we did -- but at least we have some footage to love now, thanks to the internet. Barry has set up a tribute site to the show here and there are also clips here and there on YouTube, including this for a great New Year's Eve programming stunt when Rudy, GoGo goat (who also ran for President later) and J.B. hosted science fiction movies all night long!

No such luck anything this fun will be airing on TV this year -- not a chance!

Lest you fear Barry and Jack's talents are wasting away these days, Barry continues a wonderful career as a TV and music producer, and Jack Pendarvis is a celebrated novelist and educator!

Jane's Top Ten TV List 2010

With just a couple of days left before 2011, it's a great time to think about our favorite television gems from the past year. There were a TON of phenomenal programs this year in fact, this could have been a top 20 list. Good TV has become so prolific, watching it all could easily become a full time job. I'm sure I've missed something...but these are the shows that kept me glued to the couch in 2010!

Mad Men (AMC): The Madison Ave men and women grace so many top ten lists, it's almost redundant to add them to mine. But it would be criminal to not include this amazing period piece which is more mini-feature film than any TV drama I can recall. From the intricacies and in-fighting of the ad biz (which I adore) to the character study of smoking hot Don Draper and 60's career woman's the one show that never got recorded in my house. I had to watch it in real time.

Louie (fX): We wrote about it many times on the Nose, in fact it became somewhat of an obsession. Hilarious, profane, heartbreaking, insane and sometimes so creepy it was almost unwatchable. This show within a show about stand up comedian Louie CK, his divorce, his adorable daughters and his NY friends was the most original effort on television this year. I am soooo getting the boxed set when it comes out, because each episode is infinitely re-watchable.

Breaking Bad (AMC): The bleak, cold high plateau of New Mexico...the double life of Walter White and his Meth cooking lab....the evolution of Jessie from drug addict loser to moral compass. Woven between it all the relentless terrorism, and mesmerizing violence of the Mexican drug cartels. Which happens to be more relevant this year than ever before. Where will this series go now that Walter has lost his brain cancer motivation for crime? Who cares, I'm coming along with them.

Nurse Jackie (Showtime): You haven't lived until you belatedly get Showtime and then dive into an entire season of Nurse Jackie over a period of 3 days. Thank you, On Demand. Yes, I had a total immersion NJ marathon and I LOVED it. Edie Falco rules the roost as Jackie, but the entire cast is absolute gold. I'm particularly fond of Zoey, the youngster who brings comic relief to the grim hospital setting. Also love Jackie's BFF Dr. O'Hara, who had an interesting twist with a lesbian turn this season. Nurse Jackie, along with Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Dexter, has character duplicity as a core plot device. Who are these people? Why are they doing such terrible things? And why does nobody notice except for us?

Modern Family (ABC): As an ABC alumni worker, I can't say how much I adore seeing the alphabet network with a top comedy hit. Every character in this series is hilarious, even the teenage girls. And teenage girls usually suck the laughs out of every scene they're in. My personal favorites are Mitchell and Cameron, the gay couple raising Lilly, the world's most stoic adopted baby. Catch Mitchell's song about "not biting" on the ABC website, it will give you an ear worm.

Dexter (Showtime): Sweaty Miami, Cuban Mojitos, swamps with dead bodies in barrels....and amidst it all, our Dexter of the enigmatic smile. He found true love this season with Lumen (Julie Stiles) but lost it in real life with Jennifer Carpenter, who plays his sister Deb on the series. Yes, it is fraught with peril to date your co-workers and even more hazardous to marry them. Let's hope all the dust settles before the next season so we can root for America's favorite serial killer once again.

Glee (Fox): Now that American Idol has jumped the shark, Fox should thank its lucky stars for "Glee". AI is toast. Would I watch it without Simon Cowell? Not in this lifetime. There is no musical show on TV as strong as Glee. We love the characters (especially breakout girl Britney, who is the funniest dumb blond on TV), and the music is fantastic. Some episodes don't quite make the mark (Rocky Horror was a horror), but most are award winning. If "Grilled Cheesus" doesn't get an Emmy I will be shocked.

Great Migrations (National Geographic): Even though I have not been able to watch the entire series because Comcast prices Nat Geo out of my reach (hateful!), I've seen enough episodes On Demand to know that this is one of the most beautifully filmed nature programs to ever grace the small screen. To watch the Monarch Butterfly migration (followed because they were able to attach a tiny, almost microscopic camera to a butterfly wing) was beyond amazing. On an HDTV it was sublime. Truly the most beautiful documentary series ever. It's the Rose Parade of wild life programs. I'm afraid I'm going to have to pony up for the DVD when it comes out.

Entourage (HBO): I never tire of the escapades of the "boys" as they zoom around So. Cal. in their inappropriate sport utility vehicles adding more smog to Hollywood-land. When is Vinnie going to get a Tesla? He could afford it. Although when last seen, our star was exploding like a supernova, with his porn g.f. dumping him and a bad coke habit wrecking his career. We love Hollywood, and we love cliff hangers. Can't wait until next season to see Ari, Drama, Lloyd and all the young Turks as they pull it out of the fire.

30 Rock (NBC): Liz Lemon, you are our Queen. You are the girl we always wanted to be...a Mary Tyler Moore for the 21st Century. Your glasses...your ham obsession...your fearless and proud braininess. You deserve happiness with a cute pilot or astronaut. But you will probably end up (some season faaaarrrr in the future) with our beloved favorite TV mogul Jack Donaghy. Kenneth can be the best man and Jenna the Maid of Honor. Oh please, at least let it happen as a dream sequence! Actually, the dream is that NBC has managed to create a comedy about television that works on a million levels. Bravo to the Peacock!

And before we close...a special word for our sponsors. I have to give mention to two favorite commercial characters; Isaiah Mustafa, the "I'm on a horse" hottie who made Old Spice cool again and Stephanie Courtney who plays "Flo" on the Progressive insurance ad. Both are originals and immensely appealing.

Happy New Year everybody!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nose-talgia! A Bit of Danny Kaye!

If you're in need of a bright moment today, here's the terrific Danny Kaye, from his eponymous variety show which ran 1963 - 1967, doing the Dietz and Schwartz tune "Triplets". You might remember the song from the movie The Bandwagon; famously Kaye, Laurence Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh also performed it at a British all-star Royal Variety Show back in the late 1940s. (Fueling, of course, those rumors about Kaye and Olivier's friendship being more than a friendship...).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Night with Doctor Who!

Happy Holidays from The Flaming Nose! We hope you're up to opening presents, cooking and eating delicious food, and watching some great TV!

Our recommendation for today and tonight: BBC America's all-day Doctor Who marathon, including the 1pm Doctor Who at the Proms, where the Who-niverse invades London's traditional Royal Albert Hall Proms musical concert. Taped in July 2010, it features the newest Doctor Matt Smith and a bevy of Who villains, personalities, and of course terrific music from the series. Very much a bit of British tradition -- the Proms part, at least! (Think of The Proms like a wonderful Hollywood Bowl concert, or a Boston Pops extravaganza.)

The biggest present for us comes at 9pm -- the simultaneous UK-USA premiere of Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol, with special guest star Michael Gambon. BBC One airs DW: ACC at 6pm their time, and you should check out their fabulous Doctor Who website here. We're incredibly lucky to get it here on a same day basis -- for some reason BBC Canada doesn't air it until tomorrow. (Of course ultimate DW fans will be watching it on the internet the minute after it airs, so why the delay?)

If you're not a Doctor Who fan, you might become one after today! The DW tradition has been charmingly and successfully carried-on by Matt Smith, the youngest actor to play the Doctor but with every bit as much panache as the best of them. Also here's a recommendation you won't always hear -- Doctor Who is suitable for the entire family! And I mean that in the best way...there's nothing childish about it, just amazing adventure plus a huge dose of heart and wisdom for everybody to enjoy. Completely accessible science fiction excitement!

Anyway -- watch! And Season's Greetings!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Big Get Well Soon to "30 Rock" Star Tracy Morgan!

Word is out now that 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan underwent a kidney transplant operation earlier this month and will miss some episodes of the series next year. If you're a fan of 30 Rock, you know how wonderful Morgan is as Tracy Jordan, the unhinged and hilarious perennial malapropist and page Kenneth's biggest assignment. Here's a great scene with Tracy and Alec Baldwin:

The talented Morgan is evidently recovering well, and we wish him continued good health and many more opportunities to make us laugh!

Revisiting Ricky Gervais' "Extra Finale" -- Still Unparalleled!

Yes, we said it here three years ago, and we're going to say it again -- Ricky Gervais is incomparable. After catching up again with his Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale on one of the HBO channels, it's abundantly clear that nobody else comes close. I was once more caught up in the pathos, intelligence and insight offered up by Gervais and his co-writer (and castmember) Stephen Merchant in the holiday-set (but not Christmas-y) movie-length episode about struggling actor Andy Millman and his grapple with fame when he found finally found success on a sitcom. Ashley Jensen as Andy's pal Maggie was nominated for an Emmy for her work in the special, and it was richly deserved.

Hilarious and heartbreaking, the Extras series finale is timeless in its message and endless in its entertainment. It's airing a couple of times next week on HBO Comedy on the 29th, so look it up or rent it. I offer, as a tantalizing reminder, Gervais' stunning speech at the end of the show. It's a brittle indictment of the world's obsession with celebrity, still as relevant as it was three years ago -- probably more so -- and it will take your breath away. To set the scene, Andy has been appearing on a Big Brother show as one of the resident "celebrities" and has a revelation.

Only the British -- or maybe it's only Gervais -- can combine (and with such incisive brilliance) so much sentiment, intelligence and wisdom, and dare to offer it up in a comedy. That's genius, TV fans.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

R.I.P. Blake Edwards -- 1922 - 2010 -- He Made His Mark in TV, Too

The news that veteran Hollywood producer-writer-director-actor Blake Edwards passed away yesterday brought many different images to mind. Undoubtedly best remembered for his screen comedies like the Pink Panther series (mostly starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau), The Great Race, S.O.B., Victor Victoria, and 10 (and of course so many other films, too; be sure to check out his entire credits), Edwards had also been a prolific presence on television in the 1950s and early 1960s. After starting out as an actor in the 1940s then transitioning into behind-the-scenes success, Blake Edwards was instrumental in the production of at least three well-remembered series of the era.

He had a hand in the well-regarded Mr. Lucky series which had a short (34 episodes) but successful run in 1959, short not because it wasn't an audience favorite, but because it lost its sponsor, something that doesn't happen anymore. He also wrote extensively on the Richard Diamond, Private Detective show (best remembered for the presence of Mary Tyler Moore's gams as the legs of Diamond's unseen secretary), and finally hit longer success (3 seasons and 114 episodes) as the creator of the ultra-cool Peter Gunn, starring Craig Stevens in the title role.

Both Mr. Lucky and Peter Gunn benefitted from their popular theme music written by Henry Mancini. Even if you don't remember the programs, you might recall the music, some of the hippest and snazziest TV scores ever written. Here's the end title from Mr. Lucky:

It often takes a death to bring appreciation to talents we've taken for granted, and so it goes with Blake Edwards. It's high time to remember his contributions to television as much as his work in the movies. You might be able to find some of these series online, and I believe Peter Gunn airs on some digital TV channels with classic TV; I'll investigate and post the info. Seek them out -- you will enjoy them.

Update: Fri. 12/18: TCM will be airing five of Blake Edwards' films starting at 8pm Eastern on Monday, December 27th, as follows: 8pm Breakfast at Tiffany's -- Audrey Hepburn unforgettable as Holly Golightly and singing "Moon River", 10pm Days of Wine and Roses -- searing drama with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as tragic alcoholics, 12m The Pink Panther -- the first Inspector Clouseau comedy, 2am Victor Victoria -- Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston and LesleyAnn Warren all delightful in this gender-bending comedy/romance with music, 4:30am Operation Petticoat -- WW II comedy with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis serving on a pink submarine filled with nurses. All are definitely worth catching for an interesting sampling of his many different genres and some great performances under his direction.

Getting Hungry with "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" on Food Network

Is it the weather -- we had a short bout of cold weather here in Florida -- or the season, or am I merely always hungry? Honesty, it's that last one, and it might explain why I've been ferretting out, like some out-of-control, mac n'cheese-seeking ICBM, the airings of the unbelievably delicious Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on Food Network lately. Hosted, by Guy Fieri, DDaD visits small local-type eateries across the U.S.A. to sample the favorites that keep their customers coming back again and again.

Everything -- and I mean everything -- on this show looks completely delectable. You want to hop on a plane and order what you've just seen, right now, and get another one for take-out to eat on the flight back. This isn't fancy dining by candlelight, it's just great little restaurants serving insanely delectable burgers, or fried chicken, or regional dishes, or matzo ball soup, or whatever else hits that irresistible sweet spot on your palate. Truly, this show will make you hungry whenever you watch it, and if maybe it's not convenient to arise and start rustling up an onion-topped cheddar burger at 3am, then it will provide inspiration for later and send you running to the computer to look up the many recipes online from the show.

If you ever find yourself in a cooking slump, I guarantee DDaD will get you thinking again about flavors and tastes -- everything you love about preparing foods. The many chefs, cooks and restaurant owners featured on the show are delightfully devoid of ego, most seeming to completely enjoy making their special dishes and serving them to appreciative diners. They really get a kick out of the food, and it's infectious. Chef and restauranteur Fieri is also an appreciative host and has a friendly and open demeanor which brings out the best in the folks he visits. Here's a neat clip where he visits a Peruvian restaurant, and I'm sure you can practically taste it while you watch -- I can!

The show isn't new; it's been on since 2006 and Fieri's done over a hundred episodes, so there's plenty of good eating and cooking to discover. I've been salivating my way through the episodes and the online recipes, wishing maybe I lived near some of these places, but more grateful that we can watch and delight in some of the best food around. Happy eating!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dexter's Mr. and Mrs. Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter: Splitsville

With this past Sunday's Season 5 finale of Dexter still warm, the news came out yesterday that its two-year-married stars, Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, are divorcing. I'm thinking that Showtime must have wished they'd announced this unexpected development before the finale -- a little scandal is always good for ratings.

These two talented thespians will no doubt go on to much future happiness personally and professionally, but it's always at the very least interesting when celebrities break up. Adding to the fascination factor here was the fact that they played brother and sister on Dexter, just a little lagniappe of strangeness for show fans who watched them play off each other so expertly over the past quintet of seasons.

For all the details, read this article from the Access Hollywood website.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Birthday to You, Dick Van Dyke!

Who was funnier, classier, or more intelligent in 1960s TV than Dick Van Dyke as Rob Petrie in the eponymous The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961 - 1966) on CBS? He made us all want to live in New York, be TV comedy writers, and work with amusing colleagues like Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie). No doubt it was this show that set the bar so high for all of us as we entered the working world, seeking coworkers who were like a really funny family for us. Most of us all spent our working lives searching for that dynamic; some of us actually found it at different times (I hope, for your sake, that you're one of them!).

Dick Van Dyke turns 85 today; he was set to begin a run of his one-man stage show in Los Angeles this week, but injured his leg and had to bow out. 85 years old and still treading the boards, making people laugh -- Dick Van Dyke is a wonder! In addition to the original TDVDS, Dick Van Dyke starred in two other bonafide TV successes, The New Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1970s, and his detective series Diagnosis: Murder from 1993 - 2001, as well as other short runs and lots of guest appearances.

Van Dyke also enjoyed an interesting movie career at the same time as he was America's favorite suburban husband. In 1963 he reprised his stage role in the movie adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie, and the next year he was tapped to play Bert in Disney's immortal Mary Poppins, with Julie Andrews in the title role. Other interesting roles followed -- more interesting than overtly successful -- including the kid classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which wasn't a winner when it first came out but has kind of evolved into one), and his brilliant performance in The Comic, writer-director Carl Reiner's 1969 dramedy about a washed-up silent movie comedian, another near-flop which has since gained a great reputation and much critical acclaim. I'm also fond of his ultra-dramatic turn in 1979's The Runner Stumbles (directed by Stanley Kramer), where he plays a priest who becomes involved with a young nun played by Kathleen Quinlan. Complete non-success at the box office, but fascinating and Van Dyke is excellent. Like many funny men, Dick Van Dyke is equally as skilled in straight dramatic parts, though the public wasn't as accepting.

But it was Rob Petrie we all loved, and continue to love up to this very day. Handsome and hilarious, Dick Van Dyke as Rob was our ideal mate, though we girls didn't even resent Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) for nabbing him before we could. All seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show are available on DVD, and they are also available for viewing on Hulu and some are on Netflix InstantView. I've picked one of my favorites out for you here, the second season episode "It May Look Like a Walnut"; it's a really funny science fiction-infused entry, with a special guest appearance by Danny Thomas, also one of 1960s television biggest sitcom stars. We had TDVDS under license when I programmed KTLA in Los Angeles, and near the enf of our term we ran it overnight, where I could put together wonderful evenings of the series, including my two favorites, this one and the 5th season's "Uhny Uftz" (where Rob sees a flying saucer). But "It May Look Like a Walnut" is the one that most people remember loving, and here it is. (If for some reason it doesn't work for you, check out the episode on Hulu here).

There are a couple of great books out there about The Dick Van Dyke Show -- The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book by Vince Waldron, and The Dick Van Dyke Show by Ginny Weissman and Coyne Steven Sanders. You can't know too much about America's classiest and funniest domestic comedy ever. We don't think anything comes close.

Happy Birthday, Dick Van Dyke! The Flaming Nose TV Blog loves you!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Dexter" Season Finale Promo!

I don't know why it's so difficult to find a promo for tomorrow night's season finale of Showtime's Dexter -- the only ones are taken from last week's episode and not full-screen. (It's actually on the Showtime site someplace, but only pops up intermittently and does not seem to be linkable or embeddable.) Why doesn't Showtime post one for bloggers to share? Weird! Anyway, here it is, for your perusal, before this exciting season comes to an end in just a little less than thirty-six hours! We wonder how Michael C. Hall as Dexter is going to get out of this pickle...

I think we're agreeing that Jonny Lee Miller (an ex-Mr. Angelina Jolie, as some of you may know) makes an extremely chilling buttoned-up villain as Jordan Chase, the evil self-help guru (and is that redundant?). He's so good and such a skillful liar I think he should run for office as a creepy conservative.

Jane said everything about this season of Dexter beautifully in her previous post here; be sure to check it out and also be sure to watch Dexter tomorrow night to see how they wrap up this season. Seems to be some buzz going around for a cliffhanger, and that would be okay with me. Having Julia Stiles around for some more time as Lumen would be a good thing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Love is in the Air on Dexter

Only one more episode left for Dexter's 5th season and I'm feeling a little sad about that because he's finally found the girl of his dreams. Everything about Lumen (guest star Julia Stiles) is perfect: she's a victim (like him) and now a vigilante serial killer (the family that plays together stays together). Also, I can't help but notice that they LOOK like identical twins. The same dirty blond hair, wide cheek bones and penetrating brown eyes. They were separated at birth. It was a narcissist's delight the first time Dexter and Lumen had a roll in the hay. I wanted them to leave their matching black leather gloves on.

This season has been intriguing on many other levels too. I happen to think that Peter Weller's bad cop was one of the most menacing and terrifying characters that "Dexter" has introduced yet. He looked like he could snap at any moment and boil a bunny or blow Miami sky high. He's evil with a bit of joie de vive, sort of like Stephen King's Walking Dude devil in The Stand. I must confess I've had a crush on Peter Weller since Buckaroo Bonzai back in the 80's. "No matter where you go, there you are". Well his character has gone to a quick demise, dispatched Dexter style in the back of van. I believe I will miss him and his coiled-like-a-snake energy.

The other romance that has become fascinating and almost sweet (if that adjective could ever be applied to the best female potty mouth on TV) is the on again off again flirtation between Deb and Quinn. Poor Quinn was outed for conducting his own investigation of Dexter and Deb dropped him like a hot potato. But she still has feelings for the NY Irish cop (who wouldn't?) and seems determined to get her heart drop kicked and stomped on once again. Oh how I wish for a season end surprise where Deb actually gets to find some semblance of normal love. Hope springs eternal.

I think this may not have been one of the very best Dexter seasons, but even a lesser Dexter is still a delight. His evolution as a father, brother, and now (new) boyfriend to Lumen has been measured and riveting. There will be an empty hole on Sunday nights for me when this show is done. Catch the season finale this Sunday on Showtime at 9pm.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen on TV

Most of us were dismayed to hear that the talented and unique Leslie Nielsen died this past weekend. Though his credits are full of interesting big screen titles like Forbidden Planet, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Poseidon Adventure, it was 1980's Airplane! which forever cemented his image, at least for fans of a certain age, of Nielsen as a primarily comic actor. He hardly started out that way, though, breaking into live TV in the very early 1950s in a steady series of roles that never let up as he made appearances on every major drama showcase of the time. He had several years at MGM making movies, but at the end of the decade he was back in the medium that seemed to better know how to utilize his earnest presence.

His credit list is an A-List of every important television series from the 1960s on, in every genre -- Rawhide, Wagon Train, The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, The Fugitive, The Defenders, Daniel Boone, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Peyton Place, Ben Casey, The Wild Wild West, Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, Run for Your Life, It Takes a Thief, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, The Virginian, The Bold Ones, Night Gallery, Medical Center, The Mod Squad, M*A*S*H, The Streets of San Francisco, The F.B.I., Barnaby Jones, Hawaii 5-O, Ironside, Kojak, The Rookies, Kung Fu, Cannon, Columbo, SWAT, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Vega$, Hotel, 227, Murder, She Wrote, Highway to Heaven, Father Dowling, Who's The Boss?, The Golden Girls, and many more. After his big screen success in Airplane!, Nielsen got his own comedy TV series in 1982 with Police Squad!, short-lived on TV but spawning three movie sequels as The Naked Gun.

From that time on it was hard to convince people that Nielsen had once been a dead serious dramatic actor, but it didn't really matter. He was making so many people laugh that it was a moot point. Always the proud Canadian (his older brother was a top Canuck politician), Nielsen made several appearances on the popular mid-90's Mountie comedy-adventure series Due South starring Paul Gross. (It was seen down here on CBS late-night for a while and then we picked it up for TNT where it ran nicely in afternoon for several seasons). Nielsen was able to both honor and poke gentle fun at his native land with his portrayal of Sgt. Buck Frobisher, a sure comic creation played with his characteristic absurdist grace.

And here's a cute TV commercial for the European mobile telephone company DutchTone (and there are others on YouTube for the same company):

Here's a bit of Leslie when he assumed the role of high-powered movie studio boss Bracken in the second season of the fascinating (but ultimately short-lived) series Bracken's World, circa 1969. Leslie Nielsen's scene with the wonderful Lois Nettleton begins about 1:30 into the clip. It's from the episode called "Nude Scene" about actors facing the dilemma of whether or not to do one together. The late great Steve Ignat also starred in this memorable episode.

Critic Tom Shales did a nice column in The Washington Post on Leslie Nielsen's television career, which you can (and should) read here. You should also read his comprehensive biography here; it will make you appreciate even more the productivity and longevity of this show business legend. If you're a Netflix subscriber, take a look at the wealth of offerings available to watch and enjoy.

Leslie Nielsen was able to survive, adapt, reinvent himself in different decades, and thrive -- sounds like a lesson that we can all learn from.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Nosetalgia: The T-Day T-Zone Marathon

Listen Millennial boys and girls...and you will hear a television tale from long, long ago. Back when Woolly Mammoths still thundered across the plains, there was a time before iPhones, iPods, widgets and apps. If you wanted to watch TV, you had to get your big butt off the couch and turn it on by hand. And once it was on, there were only about 5 or 6 channels to watch. That's right, no Animal Planet, no ESPN, no Hallmark or G4 or Discovery. Incredibly, the world was still without DVD's and DVR's as well. It's possible we didn't even have microwaves back then, but it was soooooo many moons ago it's hard to recall.

You're probably thinking, what in God's name did we all do on Thanksgiving after the Macy's parade was over and the turkey was bubbling in the oven? Well most people watched football on TV and if you weren't a sports fan television was a vast desert. That is, until the Twilight Zone Marathon came along. Invented by industry titan and fellow Nose founder Lisa, the T-Zone marathon was at the forefront of alternative programming. An entire day of Twilight Zone episodes were programmed back to back on independent TV powerhouse KTLA (Los Angeles). It was wildly, amazingly, Nielsen ratingly successful. Finally, non-football followers had something to be thankful for on the national day of stuffing and pumpkin pie. Rod Serling's classic and iconic series was truly a feast for starving TV viewers.

I checked TV listings for tomorrow and could not find Twilight Zone playing anywhere on my Comcast system. I guess some good things have to live in the rosy glow of our memories. TV Land is doing a Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie marathon however, and I consider it an homage to our Nose founder Lisa.

Do you have a favorite Twilight Zone episode? A lot of people would choose the one pictured above, where a very young William Shatner thinks he sees a monster on the wing of a plane. Yes! There was once something a bit scarier than TSA pat downs or body scans! I'm partial to "A Stop at Willoughby", which always resonated personally after many years working in media and advertising. In it, an ad executive loses all his marbles from Madison Avenue stress, and finds a way to escape into a kinder, gentler time, compliments of....the Twilight Zone. I hope this post helps you recall a kinder, gentler time in television history. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 1963 -- Cronkite Was The Messenger

We never want to forget one of America's darkest days -- and one of televisions's most important -- when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Many of us were in school at the time and we all recall with a varying set of memories the shock and horror at hearing that our President had been shot. For CBS, it fell to newsman Walter Cronkite to deliver the announcement to Americans, or at least the housewives watching daytime television -- a soap opera -- at the moment the news came over the wire.

As soon as live news coverage started, it was Cronkite before the camera as the gravity of the day's events unfolded and the grim outcome was sealed in history.

Many years later Walter Cronkite reflected on the events of that day:

Of course, Walter Cronkite wasn't the only national journalist to cover the events of November 22, 1963. ABC and NBC also had live news coverage, but somehow it's Cronkite that we all seem to remember, no doubt because of his longevity in the business and his sterling reputation as a newman of incomparable insight, intelligence and integrity. We highly recommend a visit to the YouTube channel JKF1963Videos, where you will a collection of all three networks' coverage from that terrible day. (Thanks to channel creator Robbie from Minnesota for compiling and collecting this video in one place.) There are also many fascinating interviews with Cronkite where he reflects further on his experiences, and they are also highly recommended for students of history and television.

The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy was a defining moment in the history of television, and in the history of a nation.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

PBS Goes John Lennon Tonight and Monday

PBS takes a decided more youthful demo turn -- John Lennon instead of Lawrence Welk, though I guess he's pretty much disappeared from PBS fundraisers, replaced with baby boomer rock concerts, right? -- with two programs premiering over the next two nights.

Tonight, Masterpiece Theatre, which recently had such a brilliant trio of Sherlock Holmes under their Mystery! banner, goes Contemporary with Lennon Naked, a TV movie originally broadcast on BBC Four in the UK this past June. It covers the life of John Lennon from approximately 1967 - 1971, including his romance with Yoko Ono and other Beatle milestones. We're a little over two weeks away from the 30th anniversary of Lennon's murder, and with such a date looming, and with PBS' sterling reputation, you'd think that this might be as wonderful or special as was their Sherlock triple-pack, but alas it seems not. I'm not a Beatles ultra-aficionado (music in general isn't my bag, exactly) but the reviews are unanimously not overly favorable. However, it's John Lennon. At the very least Lennon Naked is a great curiosity piece, with Lennon played by Christopher Eccleston (2005's Doctor Who and also a short-time regular on Heroes) and Yoko Ono by Naoko Mori (from Torchwood).

Definitely more your thing if you're a serious John Lennon fan is Monday's American Masters documentary presentation LENNONYC, focusing on Lennon's time living in New York with Yoko and their son Sean. This is the one that's getting the great reviews, and there's no way you can beat a great documentary with a so-so TVM. Truth is always more wondrous than fiction, and LENNONYC appears to have done a fitting job in profiling the musical genius' pleasure at crafting a satisfying life for himself and his family in his adopted city of New York.

If you're a Beatles' fan it's inconceivable that you'd miss either one, of course. The 90-minute Lennon Naked on Masterpiece Contemporary preems tonight (Sunday) on your local PBS station at 9pm (probably, but check your local listings) and will encore as well as being available for online viewing starting next week.

LENNONYC on American Masters airs tomorrow (Monday) at 9pm (again probably, but always check your local listings) for two hours and will also encore. It's not currently listed as being available in its entirety online, but you should check the American Masters' video page for updates and other interesting clips.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nose-Talgia: "The Mighty Hercules"

I was inspired by a Facebook profile photo event -- change your pic to a favorite childhood cartoon -- to revisit The Mighty Hercules, an animated series which started in 1963 and utterly captured my imagination back then. Starting out with an exciting theme song sung by pop singer Johnny Nash, and featuring the exploits of mythological hero Hercules -- always one of my favorites -- The Mighty Hercules was plenty thrilling to a kid and we all loved it.

I was a nut for Greek mythology; I first got turned onto it from the entry in The Golden Book Encyclopedia set which was found on a many a baby boomer's library shelf. (I credit this set for starting my intense curiosity and lifelong love of mummies, volcanoes, and so many other things!) Haunting illustrations (especially on the covers -- yikes! Look at that Punch and Judy!) which tantalized the imagination -- like something from the Twilight Zone, hyper-real images from all of history -- made reading these an unforgettable experience! I remember the images for the mythology page so well -- Andromeda on a rock, Perseus holding Medusa's head (fostering my complete love for all things Medusa), and so many others.

Then along comes an amazing cartoon on weekday afternoons that ties right into my fascination with mythology! The Mighty Hercules had just enough characters straight out of mythology to satisfy my classical bent, and enough crazy powers to feed my science fiction/monster gent. Perfection! (The series was made by Trans Lux who also did Felix the Cat, so you might recognize some voices.) Here's the catchy theme song!

And here just a little taste of the excitement in every episode -- Hercules' girlfriend Helena gets stuck in some quicksand, thanks to the evil powers of chief baddie Daedalus. The little centaur who says everything twice is named Newton. He's annoying, but memorable. I must say Hercules looks mildly annoyed at the clingy Helena in the pic to the left here; it's been said more than once that The Mighty Hercules has a homoerotic frisson, but you can say that about most any muscle man-oriented entertainment. However I totally get where young gay boys' hearts might have gone pitter-patter over Hercules. Honestly, Herc falls into the pure hero type. I know he probably likes Helena just fine, but he's fighting evil...who has time for a girlfriend?

We're not the only ones who love The Mighty Hercules; there are some terrific places on the web with great TMH info: The Cartoon Scrapbook page, on the A Dispensable List of Comic Book Lists, Infinite Coolness has a great TMH article (scroll down to it), Toon Tracker, and others, including a great episode listing here on plus there are some full episodes on YouTube though it doesn't look like there is an official DVD release yet. Long overdue, that! Okay, the animation is primitive and it's hardly Disney, but the show was wonderful!

So, as Hercules used to say as he flew off up to Mt. Olympus...Olympia!!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tina Fey Wins the Mark Twain Award -- Watch It Now!

In case you missed Sunday night's broadcast on PBS of Tina Fey's Nov. 9th Kennedy Center ceremony for winning the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, you're in luck. In addition to encores on your local PBS affiliate, the entire show (well...what we got to see on the special, more on that below) is available for online viewing at the PBS website, here.

The show is jam-packed with the talented Tina's friends and colleagues, including Alec Baldwin, Betty White, Jon Hamm, Steve Martin and many of her Saturday Night Live castmates. The only controvery about the show is that due to time constraints about 20 minutes of the show had to be edited out, chief among them several biting comments about Sarah Palin's politics and how her views affect women. You can read The Washington Post review of the live event, specifically mentioning some of the remarks excised in the broadcast (though at the time they didn't know they were going to be cut out). Here's their report on the edited broadcast, too. The Hollywood Reporter also did a piece on the edits here.

Was this political censorship or just the unfortunate reality of broadcast television that everything has to fit into a specific time slot? Of course it's the latter, but it's the what that gets cut out that's interesting. To be honest, if I were PBS, I'd probably cut out the more clearly political stuff, too. Tina Fey's pals in the room may or may not have laughed -- there's little funny, actually, about the issues she was referring to -- but for a larger broadcast audience just keep in the laughs and try to get some viewers. Good for Tina for having her say at the ceremony, but I can see where PBS might have made the better television decision to snip where they did.

Watch the show. Tell us what you thought. We love Tina Fey, and like the other female Mark Twain Prize winners Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg, she is not only a funny lady in performance, but also in the brain. She's a lot more delightful than them, perhaps -- she's more delightful than most performers -- but no less a comic force to be reckoned with than any of the other past honorees. You can find a list and bios of the whole gang here.

(Hey, you guys do go and check out the links we all embed here, don't you? We rely on those outside sources to enrich our posts and you'll find much of interest at the other end of those clicks. Please follow them, but come back here, too!)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Night in Alaska -- Do You Want To Go To There?

A huge brouhaha is frothing out in America, and we don't know quite what to think about it. I'm sure you know what it is -- the premiere tonight of TLC's eight part series Sarah Palin's Alaska. "You Can See Sarah Palin's Alaska from Your Living Room" says the TLC website, in a funny riff on politician Palin's infamous remark about Russia during the 2008 Presidential campaign. Admit it, it's funny.

So what is Sarah Palin's Alaska? Is it a merely a travelogue of America's 49th state, a look at a wild and wooly lifestyle and terrain that is as exotic to most of us as the surface of the moon? Would producer Mark Burnett of Survivor fame have done this if Palin hadn't been able to turn her unsuccessful Vice Presidential run into a not-going-away-anytime-soon brush with full-fledged celebrity? It's clear that this effort revolves around Palin's public image, and that's where the kerfuffle lies.

Do you love her, or do you hate her?

If you love her, there'll be no missing this series, unless you just plain hate grizzly bears, salmon or the great outdoors. If Sarah's your gal, you'll 100% buy in to the image presented here, just another gun-toting housewife/ex-Governor living in Alaska, minding her own business, talking folksy, raising a brood of kids and embodying everything some Americans think is lacking in the rest of American women. You'll savor every word coming out of her mouth.

If you hate her, you'll think this is a blatant media manipulation, a paid political announcement where -- surprise! -- the politician is the one getting paid to appear. You'll think that this is the longest and most partisan commercial ever made for a woman who will certainly figure prominently in 2012's Presidential election. You'll put your fingers in your ears to avoid hearing her distinctive, simplistic delivery.

If you are a television network like TLC, you'll be thanking the stars that somebody like Sarah Palin came along. TLC -- one time known by their full name The Learning Channel, they're hardly that now -- is a network that thrives on celebrating American life's unusual nooks. TLC success stems from a multi-pronged slate, with sideshow-tinged series showcasing families with dozens of children (the product not of mere fecundity but a religious sect that promotes mega-childbearing), families of little people (TLC's on to a different series now that the Roloffs are done), Kate Gosselin and her big family (even as the marriage dissolved before our eyes), disturbing cases of hoarders who can't get out from under their own junk, tattoo artists, polygamous wives, child beauty queens (ala JonBenet Ramsey), mean people telling people that their wardrobe is ugly (What Not to Wear), and in possibly an amusing irony, a couple of shows that promote wedding gown sales and makeovers.

After the rich pageant of TLC family-oriented programming, can anybody think mating is glamorous? There are also a few cooking series, baking reality shows where cupcakes create blood feuds, and another one where women seem to be pretty smug about not knowing they were pregnant until they suddenly go into labor. These shows are not even all bad, or even mostly bad. They're all of a kind, though, and you can call it many things but it sure isn't Learning. P.T. Barnum knew exactly what he was doing, as does TLC. (I don't want you do think I hate all these shows; I think Michelle Duggar seems like a very sweet woman, and she has a delightful laugh. I like her.)

What this means, really, is that Sarah Palin has found a home, and a really good one, on TLC. What could be better than a woman who's a genuine attraction, love her or hate her? Palin's appeal is almost an amalgamation of TLC's programming philosophy -- and let's not pretend that there is really any philosophy at work other than trying to get ratings -- which seems to be attracting viewers by waving a crazy quilt of provocative lifestyles in front of the audience and hoping they'll, watch. Palin is perfect bait for this. Her followers will follow, her haters may avoid but maybe not before taking a peek at the woman behind the curtain, and TLC is the winner either way. I'm also frightened enough of the American voters at this point to say that Palin may personally come out a winner here, too, in just the way she's planning it. Would I petition TLC to not run the show? On what grounds? Annoying host? It's too late to put this genie back in the bottle; let her run and watch or don't watch. Me, I'm going with anything but Sarah Palin's Alaska, but that's me.

It's amusing (almost) that at just the point when the country is still digesting the bitter cuppa dispensed by Tea Party followers in the mid-term elections (and thanks again to all the folks who couldn't even be bothered to get out and vote -- see what happens??), that there's another Palin-related controversy brewing. Is the terpsichoreally-challenged (at least according to the Dancing With The Stars judges) Bristol Palin (with partner Mark Ballas) being saved from banishment from the show because of desperately-dialing fingers of the Tea Party? With right wing bloggers urging their readers to vote for Bristol, is it a tsunami of conservatives who'll help her dance to victory? Do you care? I don't, but at least I'm happy some billionaire hasn't rigged the system -- or has one? If it's just a bunch of evangelical kids dialing or texting, or old white men who don't know Medicare is a government program picking up the phone, that's cool. Silly, but cool. (You also might enjoy reading this article on the subject by Marisa Guthrie from The Hollywood Reporter, from Thursday.)

Pick your poison tonight. Dexter on Showtime -- getting really good, too! The Walking Dead on AMC -- also terrific! Boardwalk Empire on HBO -- still very interesting but getting more admiration than can't-miss-it vibes out there now. Great Migrations on Nat Geo! Or maybe even an ex-V.P. candidate showing the broadcast equivalent of home movies....