Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nose-talgia: Inspired by The Royal Wedding Hats of Two Real Princesses

Okay, just tell me this doesn't remind you of it, even just a little bit?  It's certainly what I thought of when I saw Princess Eugenie of York and Princess Beatrice of York (the daughters of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson).   But in the nicest possible way, of opposed to some of the mucho-catty coverage of their dual hat-astrophies!

The clip is from the 1957 live broadcast of the written-for-TV Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella, starring Julie Andrews in the title role.  I'm sure most of us out there better remember the 1965 color version starring an adorable Lesley Anne Warren as Cinderella, with Pat Carroll and Barbara Ruick as the stepsisters, but I couldn't find a clip of that wonderful duo doing this always hilarious song.  The two terrific comic actresses above are, of course, Alice Ghostley and Kaye Ballard, wonderful talents who were a part of so many of our funniest television moments over the years.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Visit the Amazing "Marwencol" tonight on PBS' "Independent Lens"

PBS presents the astounding, riveting and beautiful documentary film Marwencol this evening (check your local listings) on the Independent Lens series, and it's a must-watch. Produced in 2010 and a success on the festival circuit, the film tells the incredible survival story of Mark Hogancamp, a New York man who nearly died in a savage beating but recovered through an ultimately theraputic artistic vision that found him the creator, overseer, chronicler and inhabitant of an imaginary WWII world he named Marwencol.

Populated by 12" dolls (Barbie or classic G.I. Joe-sized), Mark's 1/6th scale creation goes far past mere imagination into the place where real art and drama is forged, as you can see when you look at any of the absolutely sublime photographs he has taken. Reminiscent of the miniature figure photos of artist David Levinthal (someone I've followed for a long time), who since the mid-1970s has utilized toy soldiers and other figures to create haunting photographic tableaus, Hogancamp's Marwencol works are both realistic and fantastical. From Mark's own experiences, memories, acquaintances, interests and fears came the characters and storyline of the Marwencol saga. It's a dazzling conglomeration of heroics, magic, sacrifice, brutality, sexuality, action and adventure worthy of -- no, better than -- most any Hollywood production.

Director Jeff Malmberg's documentary is both the story of the place called Marwencol and Mark Hogancamp's creative and healing process. Of course Hogancamp's now experiencing no small degree of fame because of Marwencol, but that's not why Marwencol exists. You'll understand more when you watch tonight, and if you miss it, Marwencol has just shown up as an Instant Watch on Netflix and is also available on DVD. But do try to catch it on PBS -- it was a great acquisition for them and it's good to watch your local PBS outlet!

Visit the official Marwencol website for more background information on the project and on Mark Hogancamp, and there's also information where you can donate money to help Mark keep Marwencol thriving. I can't think of a better way to support the arts. Be sure to look through the galleries of photos; they are utterly amazing.

You should also visit the Independent Lens website for more info on this and their other great films that help make PBS still the smart choice for viewers all across the country. PBS often gets forgotten in the great rush of cable channels to proclaim that they invented or own certain genres, which of course were all pioneered on PBS stations decades ago. Cooking shows, reality shows, nature docs, serialized drama -- PBS was there first and we shouldn't ever forget it.

I have to confess that I now suffer from a bit of "Marwencol-y", that is, the desire to visit Marwencol and cavort with the denizens there. I don't think I'm the only one, either; I'm sure it will happen to you, too, after you watch.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Very Heavy Burtation on "30 Rock"!

Though I did a couple of posts about the Serene Branson Grammy incident last February and asked for more empathy, I definitely thought the reference in this week's 30 Rock episode was hilarious. In an uneven hour-long episode celebrating the show-within-a-show TGS's 100th show, there's a gas leak in the building, resulting in everybody getting hallucinations and making show producer Pete (Scott Adsit) give a very interesting answer when examined by Dr. Leo Spaceman (the always hilarious Chris Parnell):

If you watched the show with the Closed Captions on, you'd see that they spelled the now-a-word "burtation" with an "e" but otherwise it was fascinating to see what an amazing job Adsit did with this almost throwaway bit.

If anything, his bewilderment was even more touching than Serene's when she was actually on-air during the incident. Even though I thought there was too little kindness when this incident first happened, I think enough time has gone by that it's fair game comedy-wise now. (Yes, I really do.)

Anyway, kudos to 30 Rock for picking up on this fleeting bit of media flurry and turning it into a funny moment!

Game of Thrones: Save Me a Seat!

If I wasn't terribly excited by the buzz for HBO's Game of Thrones before it debuted last Sunday, blame promotions like the one in this picture. It evoked for me the same feeling of dread I used to experience when my son was younger and demanding a new video game that would lighten my wallet by $60.00. What was the Game of Thrones, I wondered? Was it a video game (no thanks)...a beards and bathrobe epic?....Vikings?....Swords and suits of armor? Lisa had a post for Game last week, and even that platinum endorsement didn't make me want to rush to the premier.

Now that I've finally gotten around to watching the first episode On Demand, I still don't know what it is. And frankly, I don't care. Because Game of Thrones has all the essential elements to become the latest Flaming Nose obsession.

How could you not love a series that features a handsome dwarf (Peter Dinklage), a vicious white haired prince (Harry Lloyd) and his luminous twin sister (Emilia Clark), plus a pack of baby wolf cubs. Oh and there's a giant half naked Klingon (for lack of a better term) played by Hawaiian hunk Jason Momoa. As if that wasn't enough, there are liberal helpings of the trademark HBO gore (buckets of beheadings) and TV-MA nudity. It's not for the faint of heart or for anyone under...ummmm let's say 20 years of age.

I'm not the biggest fan of medieval fantasies, but this one has superb acting, writing and enough plot twists and cliff hangers to make you pass the DVR button and watch it in real time. That's what I plan to do, especially after the first episode ending which had me gasping out loud. I'm also transfixed by the stark, gorgeous background scenery. Game of Thrones is shot mostly in Northern Ireland and Scotland, so if Celtic looking fantasies are your cup of tea, you are going to want to drink quite a bit of this new HBO treat. And there will be plenty of it, as HBO has already renewed a second season. Based on the best selling book series (A Song of Fire and Ice) it's certain to attract print fans as well as new people like me.

Did I mention there might be dragons? Yes, dragons. Last week's episode featured dragon eggs as a wedding present and they were really pretty. Just plug it all directly into the pleasure center of my brain.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Modern Family's Episode of Perfection

Let me start by saying that Modern Family one of those rare sitcoms where it all comes together - superb writing, acting and directing. Even more than that, it has that little something "extra" when it comes to cast chemistry. I Love Lucy had it. The Mary Tyler Moore show had it. So did Friends and Seinfield. Last Wednesday's episode was flawless. It was filled with the show's trademark snark, brilliant character reactions (verbal and physical) and perfect timing.

The premise of the show is simple. Its execution is a little unorthodox. We have an extended family that lives in Los Angeles. The patriarch, Jay Pritchett (brilliantly played by Ed O'Neill), has married a second wife (Sofia Vergara) who's 20 years younger. She's a beauty from Colombia who has a 10 year old son. Rounding off the ensemble are Pritchett's adult daughter Clair, her husband Phil, and their three kids; and Pritchert's adult gay son Mitchell (Claire's brother), and his partner Cam (Eric Stonestreet already won a well deserved Emmy for portraying this character). Last season Mitchell and Cam adopted a baby girl they named Lily.

Last Wednesday's episode, titled "Someone to Watch Over Lily," centered around Mitchell and Cam's quest to find guardians for their little girl should something happen to them. Clair, Jay and Gloria did their best to (unintentionally) disqualify themselves. Hilarious - and the perfect way to further develop already well-defined characters.

My favorite part of the episode was the secondary storyline involving Claire & Phil's two teenage daughters. The two have never gotten along. The older sister is the pretty and popular one with a big social life. The younger sister is the bookworm and dork who strives to be a perfectionist. The older sister, of course, doesn't want to be seen dead around her uncool younger sister. In this episode, we have that wonderful moment when siblings start growing up and begin to "catch up" to each other in maturity. Circumstances throw the girls together and they embark on a caper that will surely get them both in big trouble. Older sis sees a new, emerging side of younger sis - one that's willing to actually have some fun. Younger sis discovers she kind of likes the thrill of doing something dangerous and naughty. The two have a bonding moment.

In real life such sibling attitude reversals usually don't happen all of a sudden - as it does in one TV episode - but certain life-events can be strong catalysts for relationships to evolve. I remember being the bratty kid-brother. I remember fighting with my sister as typical siblings do. I remember her not wanting me around her "cool" friends (are you listening Jane - co-owner of The Flaming Nose and the one friend of my sister's who always felt bad for me!!). Then I entered high school and my sister went off to college and wow, things changed. We became very close friends and I can't think of any serious fighting between us since. I have become heavily invested in Modern Family's characters, and to see this sibling "bonding" moment materialize was strangely heartwarming.

Side note: the actor who play's Gloria's son Manny, Rico Rodriguez II, is one of the greatest child stars to come along in a while. The character is 10 going on 40 - truly one of the most hilarious and unique characters on television. Rodriguez's portrayal is nothing short of genius.

You can't help but see yourself and your family when you watch this show. The strange thing is, as a gay man with a partner, you'd think I would always identify with Cam and Mitchell. Well, I do, at least 50 percent of the time. What surprises me is how often my 16 year relationship reminds me of Gloria and Jay, and occasionally Claire and Phil. It proves how universal this wonderful sitcom really is.

In keeping with the episode's theme of "good parenting," Claire and Phil take their youngest child, Luke, to a therapist. You can learn so much about the characters from each scene - including this one.

Modern Family airs on ABC Wednesdays at 9pm ET/8pm CT.

Highly Anticipated Season 6 of "Doctor Who" Begins Tonight on BBC America!

Is there anything that fans of Doctor Who can say to people who haven't watched it yet, that will get them to watch it? Maybe that's it's the most exciting, imaginative, adventurous, philosophical, humane and riveting entertainment that you're going to find anywhere on your television? And that's no exaggeration.

Season 6 (which is what they call it even though The Doctor has been a part of British TV since the early 1960s, but it's dated now from the revamp a few years ago) starring the superb Matt Smith in his second year as the 11th incarnation of Doctor Who premieres tonight over here on BBC America, and it's guaranteed to be a doozy! If you don't believe us, take a look at the BBC's promo for the season:

Fans of America's dwindling space program will be particularly tickled by tonight's kick-off episode entitled "The Impossible Astronaut". Here are couple of short previews of the eerie excitement coming up -- one a trailer, one a short scene, from the BBC.

This season promises extra-special thrills and a plotline that brings The Doctor and his companions Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) to the U.S.A. for the first time. As you saw in the preview, President Nixon figures in the story as well as creepy extraterrestrials who are guaranteed to freak you out in typical smart and scary Doctor Who fashion.

As DW co-star Alex Kingston (above, who starred over here in ER for several seasons) pointed out in a recent interview on Entertainment, Doctor Who is a beloved children's favorite in Great Britain, while over here it's science fiction fans who flock to the series. Over there, The Doctor is the kind of kid's hero we just don't have over here, someone wise and witty who genuinely has the power to inspire young people to be better human beings. Here children's TV only aspires to what the advertisers want: to have the kids buy more junky products. As we've said here before, Doctor Who is the perfect example of family programming, meaning a series that could be watched by viewers of various ages and all would be grandly entertained and feel that the show had been made expressly for them.

Here is the BBC America promo for the new season starting tonight:

If you are new to Doctor Who, plan to start watching BBC America at 8pm tonight for Doctor Who Rewind which will take you through what you might want to know before diving in tonight, but even if you don't have time to catch up, I'd still sit down and just go in cold turkey. If the infectious spirit of Doctor Who doesn't capture your imagination, maybe it's just not for you. But if it does, you will have made a discovery that will stick with you the rest of your life.

Be sure to visit BBC America's Doctor Who site for more information, and there are countless other DW fansites out there that you'll want to explore once you're hooked. The only complaint I have is that BBC America doesn't always run encores of Doctor Who uncut -- beware the shortened version of this year's Christmas episode which runs following "The Impossible Astronaut" tonight, and when they replay the first episode from last season which introduced Matt Smith as the new Doctor they always cut it and lose many of the most charming moments. I advise watching the series on DVD if you're catching up, that way you'll get everything as it was intended to be seen.

Doctor Who, Season 6, premieres on BBC America tonight at 9pm!

Friday, April 22, 2011

More on Madelyn Pugh Davis, The Lady Behind Lucy's Laughs

There's another interesting article about the death this week of I Love Lucy writer Madelyn Pugh Davis, this one from The Hollywood Reporter. You can -- and should -- read it by clicking here. I Love Lucy wouldn't have been the absolute apex of television comedy without Pugh's contributions.

For more information on the rest of Madelyn Pugh's impressive life and career -- pre and post-Lucy -- check out this fascinating biography on the Paley Center website. You'll also want to watch the Archive of American Television TV Legends interview from 1997 with Madelyn and her Lucy co-writer Bob Carroll; it's a treasure trove of rare behind-the-scenes I Love Lucy information as well as a glimpse into the inner workings of the acclaimed TV comedy writing team. As an additional treat, read this article from Pugh's alma mater Indiana University from 2005 when she wrote her Laughing with Lucy memoir.

The 'Girl Writer' Behind 'I Love Lucy' Dies - The Atlantic

I don't have time today to do a full write-up that would be "worthy," but this one from The Atlantic will do the trick. Comedy writing legend Madelyn Pugh Davis has died at the age of 90.
The 'Girl Writer' Behind 'I Love Lucy' Dies - The Atlantic

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Killing Brings us Back to the Cold NorthWest

It's not too late to try AMC's latest masterpiece series, The Killing (Sunday nights at 10pm). Only three one hour episodes have aired so far, and you can stream them all on AMC's website or go to On Demand to catch up. Not since Laura Palmer was wrapped in plastic in David Lynch's now decades old Twin Peaks, have we loved a murder mystery set in the great, wet, Pacific Northwest so much. Although The Killing lacks Twin Peak's quirky charm and off beat humor (no dwarfs, log ladies, far), it makes up for it with a relentless realism that is seldom found on scripted television. Come to think of it, The Killing feels more real than most reality TV.

The series kicks off with the brutal death of a local teenage girl. We are introduced to Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), a Seattle
detective who gets pulled into the case right before she had plans to move to California to get married. She brings a quiet authority and sorrow to her job. We don't know much about Detective Linden yet, (except that she chews gum delicately and incessantly) but something tells me her past was not a bowl of cherries. She's paired odd couple fashion with Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), a former narcotics detective who looks and sounds like he just escaped from an Eminem video. Billy Campbell brings a pinch of celebrity B-List to the series, playing Darren Richmond, a city council do-gooder running for mayor of Seattle. He's swept up in the crime scandal when the murdered girl is found drowned in the trunk of one of his campaign vehicles.

The Killing is not a fast paced action series, but there is something enormously compelling about its rain soaked realism. Based on a successful Dutch television series, it's actually filmed in Vancouver, but with multiple Space Needle shots spliced in to make us feel like it's Seattle . And that's enough to set up a creepy murder vibe for me. No offense to Microsoft workers, coffee buffs or Nirvana fans, but I've always thought that Seattle is the kind of place where it seems quite likely that something absolutely terrible is about to happen. Must be the weather thing. My apologies to all the perfectly reasonable people who live there and seem quite fond of it, including my nephew and his family.

Here's a little taste of The Killing. It's official. AMC is the "go-to" channel for quality television. Better watch your back HBO!

Yummy! Bruce Campbell vs. Sean Bean -- Choose Your Champion!

It's the kind of choice conjured up only in cult media heaven -- the witty and wonderful Bruce Campbell, as Sam Axe in USA's hit series Burn Notice, starring in the original TVM Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe which premieres tonight, or Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings' heroic Boromir, or as the dashing Richard Sharpe in a series of great TV productions) on deck in HBO's fantasy adventure series Game of Thrones also beginning tonight.

Oh boy! We're talking a pair of terrific mature hunks -- in fact, it's Sean Bean's 52nd birthday today, and our boy Bruce is turning 53 this June -- who are still tearing it up onscreen and projecting a grown-up appeal that's guaranteed to set hearts a'flutter. This is a demographic shift we similarly mature viewers can get behind. Forget the callow youths of Twilight -- give us some slightly world-weary heroes to cheer on! Nothing, but nothing, is more appealing than a sense of well-earned competency, and both Campbell and Bean have oodles.

Here's a preview of HBO's Game of Thrones (from author George R.R. Martin's popular novels), also starring the wonderful Peter Dinklage (30 Rock, The Station Agent) among a cast of some known -- the intriguing Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (Fox's New Amsterdam series from a few years ago) -- and many unknown but looking perfectly-cast actors and actresses.

Here are two trailers for Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe; the first one is shorter, punchier and funnier, and the second is more of a traditional action/adventure cut, but both highlight the always-entertaining show biz veteran Bruce Campbell at his self-deferential best.

You can learn more about Bruce, his character Sam Axe, and the rest of the talented gang from the witty and exciting Burn Notice at USA's website here. Fans of 1980's TV will remember the talented Sharon Gless from the groundbreaking Cagney & Lacey female buddy cop show; though she plays Jeffrey Donovan's mom in BN, she's lost none of her spunk and is gorgeous, btw. Burn Notice is one of USA's collection of pitch-perfect light action adventure series, among them White Collar, Psych, Royal Pains and In Plain Sight. The closest thing I can compare USA's output to is Aaron Spelling at the top of his game, Spelling being a producer who really knew how to deliver attractive casts doing exciting things.

For all things Game of Thrones -- and it's complicated doings indeed -- check out HBO's official series website here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

David Cook... and Other Idol News

First, a brief recap of last night's results show, which followed a night of excellent performances. The theme was "Music from the Movies."

Paul McDonald went home. His odd movements and very specific sound just didn't cut in the Idoldome. I'm not sorry. He piqued my interest in the early weeks but eventually got on my nerves - to the point where I fast forwarded my DVR when he performed. His movements and Macy Gray-sounding voice just wasn't my cuppa.

Haley and Casey did an amazing job on their duet. Casey won't last much longer (again, too specific sounding and jazz does not take Idol), but I love him. I think the days are numbered for this duo.

Jacob Lusk baffles me. I think it will come down to Scotty, James and Lauren. Stefano, to me, is like Jason Castro in season 7 - he has stellar performances and nights when he bombs. In the end, I see a 4th place finish for him followed by a record deal. The right people can mold Stefano into a pop star.

Kelly Clarkson and Jason Aldean performed their duet "Don't You Wanna Stay," and let me tell you, I DID wanna stay. Clarkson shows us why the first is often the best. She looked relaxed and happy and sang flawlessly. See and hear for yourself:

Okay, onto my Cookie crumbs. Except we have more of an entree of information here!

RCA records announced this morning that David Cook's sophomore album, titled This Loud Morning, will drop on Tuesday, June 28th. The lead single, "The Last Goodbye," co-written by David and hitmaker Ryan Tedder (One Republic), drops next Tuesday, April 19th, on iTunes. You can pre-order the album at that time on iTunes as well. You can also preorder the album right now on David's website, and get a free download of David's cover of "Don't You (Forget About Me)," which is this year's Idol "exit song."

David will perform "The Last Goodbye" on the Idol results show next Thursday (4/21). Katy Perry is the other guest performer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Don't Forget About "Nurse Jackie" on Showtime!

Amidst all the excitement about American Idol and The Kennedys, we neglected to remind you of the week before last's premiere of Season Three of Showtime's top-rate dramedy Nurse Jackie, starring the superb Edie Falco. NJ airs Mondays at 10pm, with frequent encores throughout the week, and if you've been following the show you know what a tangled web Jackie weaves with her private and work lives. A terrific and humane performance by Falco heads up what is a uniformly great cast, with consistently terrific work put in by Eve Best, Merritt Wever, Anna Deveare Smith, and everybody else. Here's a preview of tonight's episode:

It's true that Nurse Jackie is one of those shows that they call a comedy, but it's just because nobody has quite figured out a proper term for shows like it. We're talking about those cable network half-hours that don't fit into the traditional sitcom mold -- they're not joke-based and have a lot of dramatic content -- but since U.S. TV doesn't do half-hour dramas, there's no place for these hybrids. Would I consider Edie Falco the best actress in a comedy for her work in Nurse Jackie? No, but the Television Academy did. She's brilliant, but Nurse Jackie isn't really a comedy. This is a conundrum that clearly isn't anywhere near being solved; ambiguity isn't a place that TV likes to play, generally, and this new type of series is full of it.

Whatever you call it, though, Nurse Jackie is tremendous television and highly recommended. If you've missed the previous seasons -- and we mean those extra-short cable seasons, so you really haven't missed much -- you can catch up via DVD or online (probably). You can also visit Showtime's Nurse Jackie website and they've got some catch-up info for you there.

You won't find a better performance on television than Edie Falco as Nurse Jackie on Showtime. That we can guarantee. Don't forget -- tonight at 10pm!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

American Idol Top 9 Results Shocker

Let's not bury the lead: Pia Toscano went home.

I would have to say that this was the biggest exit shocker since Daughtry got voted off. Yes, even bigger than Kris over Adam (that’s another debate for another time – mostly in the past).

I’m not going to predict how well Pia will or can do post-Idol. That’s a real wildcard. I will say that women do well on pop and Hot AC radio right now, and she’s got the sexy look. The potential is there, but there are just too many variables. If someone can get her out of pageant mode and get her performance style to match her amazing voice, she can do quite well.

What I will predict is that a female will never again win American Idol. You may argue with me now, but wait until the top 6 or even top 7 are all male in a couple of weeks. Idol’s viewer demographic is not what it was five years ago. Many younger viewers have fled (in fact, many have fled TV altogether - I lament). The viewers that have stuck around have aged a decade since the beginning. Throw all the tomatoes you want at me, but I’ve seen the Nielsen demographic information in detailed breakdown for the show and it really is predominantly female over 35. They prefer the guy rockers. I’m not even going to say it’s a “sexy” thing. I truly believe this current, predominant demographic likes a brand of rock music that skews male rocker. If they’re sexy that seals the deal. It only takes a majority of 51%. The remaining 49% (and that’s a lot of people – 10 million) may be wonderfully diverse, but it’s not enough to change the situation. I think Idol will go to its grave sometime later this decade without successfully revamping it’s demos. If X-Factor is a big hit, then Idol's demise might come sooner rather than later.

Idol is still out of touch with what's played on radio today. The thing is, I'm enjoying this season immensely. There's great talent and the new judges have breathed new life into the show (although I still wish they'd offer more constructive criticism). I think the right contestants have been booted until this week. And that's the problem. I really don't like what's played on CHR (pop) radio today and I like me some good rock & roll (Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Bruno Mars & Pink aside - big fan here). I do not listen to hip hop or rap, and most pop annoys the hell out of me. So lump me in with the rest of the majority watching Idol: we're just not voting for contestants who have the best chance to succeed in today's music world. In the "real world," producers and labels would get hold of Stefano, autotune him where necessary, and package him up as the next Bruno Mars (who does NOT need autotune, btw). In the Idol world, Stefano will be voted off right after the women.

Just a brief note about tonight's musical guest, season 4 contestant Constantine Maroulis. He looked and sounded great, but why in the world would you come on and sing a cover years after being on the show? Ok, the arrangement for his version of "Unchained Melody" was fantastic, and he certainly made it his own. And he doesn't have a hit record out right now, but he's in a hit musical. Why not sing something from "Rock of Ages?"

Pia Toscano reprised "I'll Stand By You" for her final song. Montage, performance & shocked judges:

And then there were eight.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mildred Pierce: A Mother Guilt Horror Story

Has everyone been watching Mildred Pierce on HBO? Three one hour episodes have aired (Sunday nights at 9pm) and I have watched and re-watched them all with great trepidation. From the opening notes of the dreamy, dirge-like score, to the meticulous casting and attention to period detail (Los Angeles, circa 1920's and 30's), it is another HBO masterwork. But it is also dark, depressing and humorless. Even the obligatory HBO sex scenes are perilous and filled with dread. Unlike the original, for which Joan Crawford won a Best Actress Oscar, this version is more horror show than melodrama.

Plenty of spoilers to follow, so if you have not watched yet, you may want to come back later. Going into the series, I had hoped that they'd give it a modernist sensibility, and at least let us feel some satisfaction for Mildred's empire restaurant building career. For a woman to become an entrepreneur in the early part of the 20th Century was an astonishing achievement. But the focus is entirely on the misery of Mildred's life. The awful cheating ex-husband...the death of a darling child...the rotten deadbeat loaf of a boyfriend (Guy Pearce-playing an upper crust n'er do well wonderfully, once again). All of the elements of Mildred's life drain the joy from her accomplishments, and the color from actress Kate Winslet's face, as she looks alarmingly pale and exhausted in nearly every scene. No trauma in poor Mildred's life can compare to the horror of her psychopathic daughter Veda. I am actually terrified of young Veda (Morgan Turner), although she brings a prickly sense of electricity to every scene she's in. She is a relentless villain, devious and mean as a snake. Mildred, working herself to death in her new chicken and waffle restaurant, is blind to it all. This is the ultimate tale of mother guilt and devotion.

Don't watch Mildred Pierce if you've had a bad day, as it is darker than the inside of a Taliban chief's heart. Do watch it if you crave excellent television where every scene looks like an Edward Hopper painting. Warning: this mini-series will make you crave home made pie.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"The Kennedys" Works for ReelzChannel

Congratulations to ReelzChannel for their successful launch of The Kennedys last night, which enticed 1.9 million viewers for a 2.5 household rating for the network. I don't usually talk about ratings -- not my area of expertise -- but you may want to check out this article from The Hollywood Reporter for more information and to read ReelzChannel's statement about the performance.

I wasn't expecting any great revelations from the mini, and I was pleased that at least it wasn't wince-inducing. Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper are doing good work as JFK and RFK, respectively. (I especially liked the scene where JKF is addressing a group of Gold Star Mothers and finds his empathetic mojo; a nice emotional scene which starts out crass and ends up meaning something.) Tom Wilkinson, who is never less than terrific, is a driven Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., propelling his sons forward into the respectability through public service that he never quite achieved despite his vast wealth and business acumen. At this point it's hard to believe that anyone would be surprised that Joe Sr. threw his money around to grease the election results, but it's entertaining to see Wilkinson portray such a shrewd villain and one with such a sense of destiny.

Katie Holmes is doing just fine as Jackie Kennedy, giving off the right amount of spunk, class and discomfort. You believe Jackie understood her decision to tie her fortune to the Kennedy clan was full of compromise and ambiguity, something we'll see more of in the coming installments. None of the actors have anything to apologize for with their performances here, and if The Kennedys isn't going to rewrite history or lay bare a family's soul for more public consumption, at least it's a worthy way to spend a few hours. Considering a lot of what else is on TV these days, it's a big step up.

The Kennedys continues tomorrow night -- with an encore tonight of the initial two hours from last night -- and through Friday, with the final two hours next Sunday. Visit The Kennedys on the ReelzChannel website for complete information.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"The Kennedys" -- Hot Property, Hot Potato -- Premieres Tonight on ReelzChannel

After all the controversy and hoopla over the past several months, producer Joel Surnow's The Kennedys eight-hour miniseries premieres tonight at 8pm on ReelzChannel. It was commissioned by History Channel and designed to be its initial foray into scripted entertainment, but they disowned it back in January, claiming it was "not fit for the History brand." Not fit? That's a bit rich, considering the increasingly blatant pandering they're doing for audience, creating a high-testosterone, low-rent image with a schedule full of pawnshops, taxidermists, guys wearing wife-beaters, gun aficionados, chainsaws, swampboats, and so forth.

I don't have a problem with any of these people or places or things, but I do have a problem with History glomming onto some "Real American" mania and exploiting it so shamelessly. (But maybe that's just me, and you can't argue that not it's working in the ratings). Whatever "brand" History is sporting these days, I can't see where anything would be out-of-bounds, but perhaps their new target audience wouldn't cotton to a miniseries about hoity-toity Bostonites; that makes the most sense to me.

The Kennedys wasn't an easy sell to any network as it turned out, as reports swirled around of the mini being shopped around to various cable programmers but ending up as a surprising sell to ReelzChannel. Do most viewers even know the network exists? I thought it was mostly behind-the-scenes material, but they've acquired several series -- Cheers, Brothers and Sisters, Ally McBeal, NewsRadio, and Becker among them -- and seem to be trying to put together an actual network. I'm always cheered to see any channel running actual series that viewers enjoy, and though The Kennedys might not be the super magic charm that puts ReelzChannel on the map, it certainly will help drive sampling, and that's a very good thing.
Some think that Surnow injected a right-wing bias into The Kennedys (he's one of Hollywood's conservatives), but no matter what filter this American dynasty might have been subjected to here, surely we understand that this is not a documentary and therefore different rules apply. Me, I'm looking forward to seeing the talented Greg Kinnear as J.F.K., Barry Pepper as R.F.K., maybe not so much to Katie Holmes as Jacqueline Kennedy, but there's always something intriguing about actors impersonating historical figures and especially these. This family's fates and fortunes are so much a part of America's mythology that we've all got the necessary credentials to act as our own truth cops when we watch this, and we should.

The Kennedys premieres on ReelzChannel tonight at 8pm with the first two hours, and the subsequent chapters preem Tuesday - Friday, and the last two hours debut next Sunday, with various encores over next weekend. Please check the entire The Kennedys online schedule for all the schedule details. Please let us know here what you think of The Kennedys! We'll be posting more on this, so stay tuned to The Flaming Nose!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

American Idol: The Resurrection

I figured the time was right to finally weigh in on this season of American Idol.

Last year at this time, it was becoming apparent that the season was a dud. With several years of declining ratings, was American Idol in a permanent decline? Winner Lee Dewyze so lacked charisma (and often pitch), and the search for new judges so upstaged the contestants, many declared the reality show juggernaut DOA.

Not so fast. Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez couldn't single handedly save the show without a great crop of talent to hit the stage. The stars aligned and the show got its mojo back. While no panel could ever replace the Simon-Paula-Randy trio, Tyler and Lopez have breathed new life into the show with passion, compassion, and humor. My only beef is that they tend to be a little too easy on the contestants. I do miss Simon's reality checks, but a decade after it premiered, Idol needed a fresh start. It got it.

Let's take a look at the remaining nine contestants:

Casey Abrams - Raspy soulful voice and crazy performance style. He can go out of control sometimes, but if he surrounds himself with some pros who can rein him in a little, he can have a great post-Idol career. He definitely makes songs his own. I had the pleasure of being in-studio 3 weeks ago when Casey sang Joe Cocker's arrangment of "With A Little Help With my Friends" and I can tell you, that was the season's first "moment." So he's another white guy with a guitar. David Cook fans are a sizable voting block. The judges like this 19-year-old: they used the season's only save on him two weeks ago. Now 11 will go on tour instead of 10 this summer.

James Durbin - the rock aura of David Cook with the intense range of Adam Lambert. I'm not a fan of Lambert's high range glory notes and so it's not my favorite quality of James - but he's dialed it back a little the last couple of weeks and I just love the kid. He's got the stage presence of a winner and true star power. He could siphon off the Cook-Daughtry fan vote from Casey. He also had a bit of a "moment" singing Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" on Top 13 night.

Paul McDonald - some of the rock-loving fans (again, the Cook-Daughtry crowd) loves this guy, but many of us just don't get him. I think he sounds like Macy Gray (and not in a good way). His movements on stage are bizarre. So are his wardrobe selections. He may have a distinct "sound" but I'm not sure it translates to "Idol Winner."

Scotty McCreery - This 17 year old with the baritone pipes has never delivered anything less than a perfect performance. Idol's most successful winner is Carrie Underwood - a Country artist. Idol has never had a male Country winner. I'm kind of feeling he could take the whole thing. He's so damned likable... but over the next few weeks will Scotty be "too much of the same thing?"

Jacob Lusk - he's given us some really pitchy performances, but he's also blown me away at times. I can't get past him sounding like a mix of Pearl Bailey, Della Reese and Oleta Adams. His best performance so far was Motown night when he sang Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need To Get By.” That was kind of an "Idol moment" as well.

Stephano Langone - This kid burned bright out of the gate. His making the wildcard slot had many of us thinking that this season's rules were A-ok. I'm sad to say the last few weeks this drop-dead gorgeous hotty has faltered. The slide began the week before last, when he sang Lionel Richie's "Hello." He committed a cardinal sin: performing a song that was slayed by a former contestant. And not just any contestant: David Cook, one of the most popular winners in the show's history. Cook's "Hello" is considered one of Idol's great performances and one that put Cook on the map in season 7. So why would Stephano do such a thing? It gets worse: he had no idea Cook had sung it before and revealed he has little knowledge of prior Idol seasons. Kid, you could have been the next Bruno Mars. Bye bye.

Now for the gals. It seemed the powers that be wanted a woman real bad this year. They've got two contenders but on the whole the guys have outshined the gals. Let's start with two whom I think will make Top 5.

Pia Toscano - She gorgeous. She's got power. She's got range. She's got phrasing. All she needs to do is get past the pageant persona and get off the ballads. Please Pia, pick an up tempo (or at least a mid-tempo) pop tune next week! You've got what it takes to be a sexy superstar!

Lauren Alaina - her persona kind of annoys me, but she can SING! I'm not a huge fan of country music, but this gal has what it takes to make it big in that genre. Keep your eye on her.

Haley Reinhart - Why is she still here? Ok, she did to an amazing performance last Wednesday of "Bennie and the Jets." My problem is that it's my least favorite Elton John song. I have not liked Haley's pitch most weeks and the public seems to agree: she's been in the bottom three most weeks. Time for her to go.

Some additional musings. Last Thursday's results show traded in the cheesy group number for duets, trios and quartets. LOVED IT! I also loved Season 3 winner Fantasia's performance. And stay tuned: unconfirmed word in the blogosphere is that season 7 winner David Cook will perform his new single, "The Last Goodbye," on the Idol results show April 21st. The single drops two days earlier on April 19th. David co-wrote it with hit-maker Ryan Tedder of One Republic. David also recorded this year's exit song, a cover of Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)." If you want his patented sexy growl on your iPod, you can purchase it on itunes or download it free when you pre-order David's upcoming sophomore album at David will return to Idol on the final 2 performance night to sing the "boot song" live (an Idol tradition).

What do you think of Jacob Lusks' "Motown" performance?

Did Casey Abrams indeed have a "moment" with "A Little Help from My Friends?"

Randy said Haley's "Benny & the Jets" was the best performance of the night. What do you think?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Don't Miss PBS' NOVA on "Japan's Killer Quake"

If you didn't catch the excellent Japan's Killer Quake segment of PBS' always-fascinating science documentary series NOVA -- it premiered on Wednesday night -- please check your local listings for encores over the weekend, or watch it online on the PBS website. It's incredible, with much footage that I hadn't seen (and I watched a lot!) and a clear, concise explanation of the wheres and whys of the gigantic quake and subsequent tsunami. You will better understand the geography of Japan, and you'll also come away awestruck with the extent of the damage and the implications it could have for a long-predicted similar seismic event on America's West Coast.

Particularly shocking, I thought, were the revelations about the excellent preparations that Japan had put in place prior to the quake -- 30 foot sea walls, for example -- which failed because the ground itself subsided ten feet, making them ineffective. No matter what man tries to anticipate, Nature is fully capable of terrible surprises.

Definitely try to catch this excellent hour!

Spend April Fool's Day with Karl Pilkington!

Science Channel brings an appropriate April 1st treat to us today, a marathon of the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant/Karl Pilkington humorous travel program An Idiot Abroad, beginning at 2:30pm this afternoon with the intro show and continuing on until 3am tomorrow morning. If you caught these previously, you'll know that these are ripe for repeat viewing; they don't get dull and I think you'll appreciate Karl's droll presence even more as you re-watch.

Each of the episodes -- China, India, Jordan, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil and Peru, and the "Karl Comes Home" hour -- offer something different. Sometimes slapstick, often absurd, the humor in An Idiot Abroad transcends the obvious and Karl frequently ends up being more a philosopher than a clown.

If you don't know who Karl is yet, you're missing something wonderful.