Sunday, November 30, 2014

Peaky Blinders: Peak Television

Thought I'd check in with a review of Peaky Blinders, two seasons in with a BBC production, available in the United States on Netflix, and telling the story of a gang in Birmingham, England, same name as the show, a few years after World War I.

Like most historical dramas, Peaky Blinders on television takes a few liberties with real history, in this case, the main time of the real Peaky Blinders heyday, which was late 19th century and early 20th century.  Also, the sewing of razor blades into caps, so the caps when taken off the head could be used as weapons, may well be apocryphal - at very least, as the source of the Peaky Blinders' name.

But the series is so good, who cares  about perfect history?   From the moment the first scene opens, you're struck by a cinematography that's often breathtaking.  And the characters, story lines, and acting fit right into this high and clearly defined frame.

Cillian Murphy is superb as Tommy Shelby, the Peaky Blinders' leader, even though he's younger than his brother Arthur, deeply flawed and also powerfully played by Paul Anderson.   A young Winston Churchill is also a character, veteran Sam Neill of Jurassic Park plays the head cop bent on taming the gang.   Helen McCrory (Harry Potter) plays Tommy's aunt, who in her own way is at least partially in charge of the Peaky Blinders, and Annabelle Wallis (The Tudors) plays Grace, a major player and love interest of more than one character.

As is the case with many mobster television series, Tommy has his hands full fighting both the law and rival gangs, and enforcing loyalty in his own ranks.   But he does this with a patented mix of intelligence and violence, more or less carefully applied, and given this dancing on the edge, and the less than completely blind fidelity to history, you never know what's going to happen - well, you know that Winston Churchill won't be killed, but that's about it.

Peaky Blinders is reminiscent, in some ways, of Boardwalk Empire on the one hand, because they both take place in the 1920s, and The Black Donnellys on the other, which told the story of an Irish gang family in contemporary Hell's Kitchen in New York City.  But Peaky Blinders has a story and feel and compelling ethnic and proletariate depictions all its own, and I highly recommend it.

deeper history


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Prosecutor Attacks the Media

Among the disturbing aspects of St. Louis Prosecutor Robert McCulloch's announcement last night of no indictment of Darren Wilson for his killing of Michael Brown - aside from that appalling no indictment itself - was McCulloch's lashing out at the media, social and cable, for stirring people up and spreading falsehoods about the shooting of Michael Brown.

If McCulloch had any familiarity with history, he'd know that blaming the media is a time-honored dishonorable tactic of demagogues, politicians, and public officials unhappy with the public's reaction to their policies.  It's the reason totalitarian societies are quick to keep the media on a short leash, and why even the world's leading democracies castigate the media which are not under government control.   Democratic and Republican Presidents both blamed the media and its reporting for the growing public opposition to the Vietnam War, when in fact the opposition was based on an increasing number of Americans not wanting a war with a country which never attacked us. Margaret Thatcher was so unhappy with the BBC's coverage of the Falkland War, that she not only criticized the channel but put it under closer government control.

Social media have indeed added a new kind of headache for the public official who wants the world to see things his or her way, that is, maintain the monopoly of knowledge which the public official is able to wield to make the official look good or get what the official wants.    Government officials can and do appeal to traditional media to delay reporting on certain stories, for the public's so-called good.   But there's no executive to appeal to when it comes to social media.

And that's what makes Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr so crucial to our continuing democracy.   McCulloch can impugn the witnesses to Michael Brown's killing all he wants.  And, indeed, since his speech didn't take place in a court of law, where opposing arguments and cross-examinations could have been offered, he could dominate the stage as he did for half an hour last night.

But he cannot dominate or dictate to the world at the large, and the way people now communicate in this world.  As John Milton once observed, people are rational, and when given presentations of truth and falsity, people are sooner or later able to discern the truth.   Social media now play a critical part in that presentation.   And with their help - which is none other than the help of the people - and traditional media as well, I think there's a good chance that the truth will come out in the killing of Michael Brown, before the books are closed on his terrible death.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Walking Dead 5.6-7: Slow

The past two episodes of The Walking Dead (5.6 and 5.7) have been, well, a little slow and lackluster - certainly in comparison to what happened with Eugene and then Beth before that.

Carol and Daryl in 5.6 were good to see together, as was Carol's back story, but neither broke any new ground.   And although the priest was an interesting character on 5.7, that's about it - he's interesting.

About the most significant development in the two episodes is the evolution of Daryl.   By 5.7, he's a voice a reason, restraining Rick at crucial moments.   This is an important trajectory indeed, seeing where Daryl started, just a hair's breadth from his racist and violent brother.

Whether Carol and Daryl will ever get together as more than in their current brother and sister relationship remains an open question.   I'd like to see that happen, because it would be good for both characters.

Carl, Maggie, and Glenn finally got a little good screen time, but not enough.  Michonne has been barely visible this first half of season five.   It was good to learn a little more about Rosita, but she's still a long ways from being a major character.

Is The Walking Dead running out of steam?  I haven't read the comics, so I don't know what's ahead on that score, but as a television series it's beginning to feel like it needs something more.  I'm hoping that next week and the episodes ahead this season can provide that.

See also: The Walking Dead 5.1: The Redemption of Carole ... The Walking Dead 5.3: Meets Alfred Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone ... The Walking Dead 5.4: Hospital of Horror ... The Walking Dead 5.5: Anatomy of a Shattered Dream

And see also The Walking Dead 4.1: The New Plague ... The Walking Dead 4.2: The Baby and the Flu ... The Walking Dead 4.3: Death in Every Corner ...The Walking Dead 4.4: Hershel, Carl, and Maggie ... The Walking Dead 4.6: The Good Governor ... The Walking Dead 4.7: The Governor's Other Foot ... The Walking Dead 4.8: Vintage Fall Finale ... The Walking Dead 4.9: A Nightmare on Walking Dead Street ... The Walking Dead 4:14: Too Far ... The Walking Dead Season 4 Finale: From the Gunfire into the Frying Pan


no cannibalism but at least a plague in The Consciousness Plague

The Good Wife 6.10: Cary's Fate

Coming in with an all-too-rare review of The Good Wife, which has been just superb this season.

The question at the end of episode 6.10, which was probably the most moving episode of the season so far, is what will happen to Cary?    We see him beginning to accept the plea bargain - changing his plea to guilty - but the episode significantly ends right at that crucial point.

Cary could still get out of this plea bargain.   Bishop could have a change of heart, and get his guy to change his testimony and say that Cary wasn't advising Bishop's operation how to circumvent the law, after all.   Bishop's not doing this, on the basis of his anger at Kalinda for threatening him and his son, is something that could give way to a more reasonable attitude, as anger sometimes does.   Bishop already offered Cary a way out - to a country overseas - and may be willing to do something more to help Cary now.   After all, having Cary in prison is no help to Bishop, and indeed makes him vulnerable to pressures Cary may receive in prison from the State's Attorney office to talk about Bishop.   We already know how Cary hates prison.

Or, on a different track, Castro could have a change of heart for whatever reason, and walk into court before the plea bargain is completed.   But that's not as likely as Bishop to the rescue, which isn't all that likely, either.   Still, if I had to bet, I would put my money on Cary not going to prison.

Because if Cary does go to prison, that would significantly change the show.   Cary has been an essential counterweight to Alicia from the very beginning of the series, and unless she's indeed elected State's Attorney, her new law firm would be limping without Cary.

This raises the question of whether Alicia will be elected, which is predicated on the question of whether she will continue to stay in the race.  On the one hand, Alicia is a fighter par excellence. On the other hand, she's fiercely protective of her family, and the battering her family has been taking in the campaign may be beginning to take its toll.    Not to mention Alicia's distaste for patronage appointments and other political moves.

So, as The Good Wife pauses for its winter solstice, we're left with powerful possibilities which could change the story almost as much as the departure of Will last year.   That's what's so continually appealing about The Good Wife, which reinvents itself while keeping true to its characters at least once a season.

See The Good Wife 6.4: Run-up to Running

See also I Dreamt I Called Will Gardner Last Night

And The Good Wife 5.1: Capital Punishment and Politicians' Daughters ... The Good Wife 5.5: The Villain in this Story ... The Good Wife 5.9: Reddit, Crowd Sourcing, and the First Amendment on Trial ... The Good Wife 5.11: Bowling Bowls and Bogdanovich ... The Good Wife 5.13: NSA on Television ... The Good Wife: 5.15: Stunner! ... The Good Wife 5.19: Tying Up Loose Ends ... The Good Wife Season 5 Finale: Musical Chairs


                                   the Sierra Waters trilogy

The Affair 1.7: True Confessions

A very different episode of The Affair tonight - 1.7 - with barely a scene in either story of Noah and Alison together.   But the episode was one of the best in the series so far, and broke all kinds of new ground.

In a nutshell, Noah and Alison each confess their affair, to Helen and Cole, for very different reasons. Noah is being blackmailed by Oscar about the affair, and Alison tells Cole the whole truth - after a partial truth - because Cole wants to know if the guy Alison was sleeping with stole Cole's drugs.

It was great night for both Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson, who each put in their best performances in the series so far.   Jackson as Cole was especially remarkable, after seeming like he cared about more the loss of his drugs than he did about Alison, but pivoting into the warmest and deepest we've seen him so far this season.

Noah, as he does often, comes out the worst in the two accounts, including his.  At very least, he's insensitive to Cole about the loss of Cole's son, and his closing the curtains in his Brooklyn brownstone to Alison, standing outside, was a low moment.    Alone and vulnerable, however, Alison is now more open to a re-uniting with Cole.

The series - or this season of the series - could well be heading to aftermath territory, in which the affair in over, and Alison and Noah repair their marriages, with the greatest threat coming from the detective, whose most interesting appearance is at the beginning of Noah's episode, reading Noah's book.   But the marriages are not quite equal.   Noah and Helen have four children, which gives them more reason to stay together.   But Cole seems to have gotten over what Alison did far more than Helen with Noah.   And I have a feeling we've not seen the last of Alison and Noah together by any means - if not this season, then likely next.

The series story has moved into the end of the summer, or the beginning of the Fall, and in our world it's taking off a week for Thanksgiving.  I'll be back here in two weeks with another late night review.

podcast review of every 1st season episode

Homeland 4.9: Hitchcock Would've Loved It

Alfred Hitchcock said he preferred suspense to surprise in his stories - surprise being a bomb explodes out of nowhere on a bus, suspense being we see the bomb ticking with the passengers talking unaware on the bus.   Homeland 4.9 had both bases covered, in one of its all-time best episodes - something I've been saying about a lot of Homeland's episodes of late.

The suspense came with the prisoner exchange for Saul, and the events leading up to that.  Carrie suspected there was something more going on.  We thought it was the boy with the suicide vest, but Carrie, in one of her best scenes, was able to overcome both that and Saul's desire to end his own life.

But there had to be something even more.  And, as emotionally wrung out as everyone on both sides of the screen were after Saul's release, the last thing we expected, which made perfect sense in retrospect, was the attack on Saul's convoy of cars.   And, the kicker, was that this, too, was just prelude, to Haqqani attacking our embassy, as Marines left it to go see what happened to Saul and Carrie.

Both are highly likely to have survived the blast - not because the blast was not strong enough to kill them, but because Homeland is not likely to end Carrie or Saul's life, at this point.   Well, maybe Saul's - and that would be a kick in the stomach indeed, if he died after all of this - but, as I've saying in previous reviews, Mandy Patinkin is unlikely to leave yet another hit show.

Still, he could well be out of commission for the rest of this season.   Carrie, on the other hand, is not likely, somehow, to even be badly hurt.  But that other guy in the CIA, who was in the car, and was the first agent to question the ambassador's husband, well, he could end up dead.   I actually hope not, because he is/was a pretty solid character.

But the reinvention of Homeland after the death of Brody continues apace and has proceeded so well that I'm not likely to even mention Brody again.  Homeland is a better show, a much better show in many ways, than it was the first three seasons.   The potent mix of suspense and surprise has never been better - and, indeed, has been achieved on this level only in the best seasons of 24.   In my book, that's high praise indeed.

And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

#SFWApro  #SHO_Homeland

  different kind of espionage

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Newsroom 3.3: Journalism at the Barricades

Well, journalism is always at the barricades in The Newsroom, but it was especially and eloquently there in episode 3.3 tonight.

Neil's prosecution by the Feds, with Will stepping in to take the fire - because, as he says, the government would not have the gall to go after so an important news anchor - continues on center stage, with at least two memorable scenes.  One, at the beginning of the episode, features Charlie feigning to break into live coverage of the FBI ransacking ACN's computers, which gets the FBI to back down.   Later, Will gives the DOJ guy a good talking to, including that the DOJ bungled this operation, when the DOJ tries to threaten the wrong people - in this case, Will and company.

But, before the episode ends, Will gets served with a subpoena, making him wonder, in classic Newsroom ironic iconic style, if he maybe he's not that important after all.

Meanwhile, on a commercial rather than governmental plane, we get a great conversation between Jim and Hallie, over Jim's concern about Hallie taking a job with an online site that pays her incentives - aka "bonuses," as Hallie insists - for number of page views her stories generate.   Hallie fires back that every major news person from Edward R. Murrow to Will McAvoy got or get salaries based on the number of people who see their stories - aka viewers and ratings in television speak - so what's really the difference between her and them.?  And you know what?  Score one for Hallie and commercialism.   She's completely right that money makes the world go round, including the world of journalism (and, I might add, the academic world, too - professors are well paid).

Speaking of professors, we get a nice scene with Maggie and her Fordham law professor with a speciality in ethics.    But the EPA guy spouts insane overkill about the environment in Will's interview, and it wasn't clear to me what purpose he or this whole thread is serving.

Great episode, great series, let's hear it indeed for the First Amendment, Mr. DOJ guy.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hell on Wheels Season 4 Finale: The Buffalo

The best scene in the generally excellent season 4 finale of Hell on Wheels tonight was probably Cullen and the buffalo early on in the story.   The poor buffalo has come upon the railroad track, bisecting its grazing land, and the buffalo is frozen, unable to make sense out of, and unable to cross and break through, that railroad track to the lush pasture on the other side.

And that's Cullen's predicament, isn't it?   He leaves Durant and the Union Pacific, determined to find his wife and son and have a life with them.  But, as the episode concludes, events have conspired to put Cullen back on the railroad, working now for Durant's competitor, from the other side, as a great version of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" - with the Band - plays significantly to roll out the season.

As for what happened in between this superb beginning and ending of the season finale, we'll that's a mixed bag.  It was good to see Mickey and Eva in partnership and leaving the town, and Louise standing up to Campbell and freedom of the press was welcome, too.

But ... Campbell and Durant thrashing in the mud was ridiculous and went on far too long.  And why the Swede has been given a lease into  the next and final season is beyond me.   That season would be far better off with Elam or Ruth alive, and the psycho Swede ("I'm Norwegian") gone for good.

Still, the set up of Cullen working on the railroad, but working for Durant's competition is a good one, and promises lots of tense and deadly scenes next year.   You know what?  I'm also unhappy that the next season will be the last one for this series.   Hell on Wheels has single-handedly brought back to the Western as a powerful television genre in the second decade of the 21st century, and I'd like to see a lot more.

See also Hell on Wheels 4.1-2: Rolling Again ... Hell on Wheels 4.5: New Blood ... Hell on Wheels 4.6: Bear and Sanity ... Hell on Wheels 4.7: Why? ... Hell on Wheels 4.8: Aftermath and Rebound ... Hell on Wheels 4.9: High Noon ... Hell on Wheels 4.10: A Tale of Two Sicko Killers ... Hell on Wheels 4.11: The Redemption of Ruth ... Hell on Wheels 4.12: Infuriating and Worthwhile

And see also Hell on Wheels 3.1-2: Bohannan in Command ... Hell on Wheels 3.3: Talking and Walking ... Hell on Wheels 3.4: Extreme Lacrosse ... Hell on Wheels 3.5: The Glove ... Hell on Wheels 3.6: The Man in Charge ...Hell on Wheels 3.7: Water, Water ... Hell on Wheels 3.8: Canterbury Tales ...Hell on Wheels 3.9: Shoot-Out and Truths ... Hell on Wheels Season 3 finale: Train Calling in the Distance

And see also  Hell on Wheels: Blood, Sweat, and Tears on the Track, and the Telegraph ... Hell on Wheels 1.6: Horse vs. Rail ... Hell on Wheels 1.8: Multiple Tracks ... Hell on Wheels 1.9: Historical Inevitable and Unknown ... Hell on Wheels Season One Finale: Greek Tragedy, Western Style

deeper history


Friday, November 21, 2014

Bones 10.8: Daisy's Doula, a Shmo, and a Farshtunkeneh Chochem

A tender Bones 10.8 tonight, with the non-murder part of the episode centered on Lance and Daisy's baby, Daisy's doula, and a conflict between spiritualism and science which often animates the background of the show.

But the real treat in this episode was the conversation with Booth and Bones, joined by Aubrey, about the nature of the players in the killing.  Booth's mention of a "shmo" on the street triggers one of the most memorable - and hilarious - disquisitions of Yiddish ever seen on television, not to mention a television drama, all delivered in this case from Bones, in her inimitable fashion.

Before the brief scene is over, we get Bones not only saying shmo, but chochem (a smart person, or someone who thinks he or she is smart), capped off with "farshtunkeneh chochem" (literally, a stinking wiseacre, but, more figuratively, a smart aleck who is also a no-good-nic).   Bones gets all of this out, moreover, with pretty passable Yiddish pronunciation, missing maybe just one "n" in farshtunkeneh.

Yiddish words have been popping up on television for years, but usually just a word or two, most frequently shmuck or meshugeneh (a crazy person).   Kudos to Bones for once again pushing the Yiddisheh envelope, in a way that Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm would kvell over (be proud of).

Meanwhile, Daisy, already in contractions, in encouraged by Bones to focus on the case. Fortunately, the doula was out of the birthing room - Daisy sent her packing - and Daisy's analysis moves the investigation forward.   Daisy has the baby - a bouncing boichick - and the episode ends on a sad, sweet, beautiful note.   More important than science, spiritualism, and their differences is the family of friends that Bones epitomizes so very well.

And see also Bones 9.1: The Sweet Misery of Love ... Bones 9.2: Bobcat, Identity Theft, and Sweets ... Bones 9.3 and NCIS 11.2: Sweets and Ziva ... Bones 9.4: Metaphysics of Death in a Television Series ... Bones 9.5: Val and Deep Blue ... Bones 9.6: The Wedding ... Bones 9.7: Watch Out, Buenos Aires ...Bones 9.8: The Bug in the Neck ... Bones 9.9: Friday Night Bones in the Courtroom ... Bones 9.10: Horse Pucky ... Bones 9.11: Angels in Equations ... Bones 9.12: Fingernails ... Bones 9.13: Meets Nashville, and Wendell ... Bones 9.14: "You Cannot Drink Your Glass Away" ... Bones 9.15: Hodgins' Brother and the Ripped Off Toe ... Bones 9.16: Lampreys, Professors, and Insurance Companies ... Bones 9.17: Spartacus in the Kitchen ... Bones 9.18: Meets Day of the Triffids ... Bones 9.19: The Cornucopic Urn ... Bones 9.20: Above the Law ... Bones 9.21: Freezing and Thawing ... Bones 9.22: Promotion ... Bones 9.23: The New Intern ... Bones Season 9 Finale: Upping the Ante

And see also Bones 8.1: Walk Like an Egyptian ... Bones 8.2 of Contention ... Bones 8.3: Not Rotting Behind a Desk  ... Bones 8.4: Slashing Tiger and Donald Trump ... Bones 8.5: Applesauce on Election Eve ... Bones 8.6: Election Day ... Bones 8.7: Dollops in the Sky with Diamonds ...Bones 8.8: The Talking Remains ... Bones 8.9: I Am A Camera ... Bones 8.10-11: Double Bones ...Bones 8.12: Face of Enigmatic Evil ... Bones 8.13: Two for the Price of One ... Bones 8.14: Real Life ... Bones 8.15: The Magic Bullet and the Be-Spontaneous Paradox ... Bones 8.16: Bitter-Sweet Sweets and Honest Finn ... Bones 8.17: "Not Time Share, Time Travel" ... Bones 8.18: Couples ... Bones 8.19: The Head in the Toilet ... Bones 8.20: On Camera ... Bones 8.21: Christine, Hot Sauce, and the Judge ... Bones 8.22: Musical-Chair Parents ... Bones 8.23: The Bluff ... Bones Season 8 Finale: Can't Buy the Last Few Minutes

And see also Bones 7.1: Almost Home Sweet Home ... Bones 7.2: The New Kid and the Fluke ...Bones 7.3: Lance Bond and Prince Charmington ... Bones 7.4: The Tush on the Xerox ... Bones 7.5: Sexy Vehicle ... Bones 7.6: The Reassembler ... Bones 7.7: Baby! ... Bones 7.8: Parents ...Bones 7.9: Tabitha's Salon ... Bones 7.10: Mobile ... Bones 7.11: Truffles and Max ... Bones 7.12: The Corpse is Hanson ... Bones Season 7 Finale: Suspect Bones

And see also Bones 6.1: The Linchpin ... Bones 6.2: Hannah and her Prospects ... Bones 6.3 at the Jersey Shore, Yo, and Plymouth Rock ... Bones 6.4 Sans Hannah ... Bones 6.5: Shot and Pretty ... Bones 6.6: Accidental Relations ... Bones 6.7:  Newman and "Death by Chocolate" ...Bones 6.8: Melted Bones ... Bones 6.9: Adelbert Ames, Jr. ... Bones 6.10: Reflections ... Bones 6.11: The End and the Beginning of a Mystery ... Bones 6.12 Meets Big Love ... Bones 6.13: The Marrying Kind ... Bones 6.14: Bones' Acting Ability ... Bones 6.15: "Lunch for the Palin Family" ...Bones 6.16: Stuck in an Elevator, Stuck in Times ... Bones 6.17: The 8th Pair of Feet ... Bones 6.18: The Wile E. Chupacabra ... Bones 6.19 Test Runs The Finder ... Bones 6.20: This Very Statement is a Lie ... Bones 6.21: Sensitive Bones ... Bones 6.22: Phoenix Love ... Bones Season 6 Finale: Beautiful

And see also Bones: Hilarity and Crime and Bones is Back For Season 5: What Is Love? and 5.2: Anonymous Donors and Pipes and 5.3: Bones in Amish Country and 5.4: Bones Meets Peyton Place and Desperate Housewives and Ancient Bones 5.5 and Bones 5.6: A Chicken in Every Viewer's Pot and Psychological Bones 5.7 and Bones 5.8: Booth's "Pops" and Bones 5.9 Meets Avatar and Videogamers ... Bad Santa, Heart-Warming Bones 5.10 ... Bones 5.11: Of UFOs, Bloggers, and Triangles ... Bones 5.12: A Famous Skeleton and Angela's Baby ... Love with Teeth on Bones 5.13 ... Faith vs. Science vs. Psychology in Bones 5.14 ... Page 187 in Bones 5.15 ...Bones 100: Two Deep Kisses and One Wild Relationship ... Bones 5.17: The Deadly Stars ...Bones Under Water in 5.18 ... Bones 5.19: Ergo Together ...  Bones 5.20: Ergo Together ... Bones 5.21: The Rarity of Happy Endings ... Bones Season 5 Finale: Eye and Evolution


A different kind of police fiction