Monday, February 04, 2019

TV: Time -- wasters and worthies

Life can be a Pretenders song, as we realized last week.  Specifically, it was "Time The Avenger," the song Chrissie Hynde wrote for the LEARNING TO CRAWL album.

Nobody's permanent
Everything's on loan here
Even your wife and kids
Could be gone next year
And with what you have left
You'll be forever under pressure
To support her
And a lover who looks strangely
Like time the avenger
Time, time, hear the bells chime
Over the harbor and the city
Time, one more vodka and lime
To help paralyze that tiny little tick, tick, tick, tick

Time, linear as we perceive it, can be oh-so limited.  And that became clear as we went through our various apps realizing that it was long past time to do some pruning on our TV menus.


THE YAHOO CHANNEL?  A complete waste of time.  We sampled three different 'video reports' -- each featured a slide show of photos with text over the photos and cheesy instrumental music.  For YAHOO, this was reporting.  For us, this was reason enough to delete it from our menu.

Next up was WIRED.  It also bored the hell out of us.  The only thing worth watching there was this segment with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

That video above?  It's also available on YOUTUBE -- a channel we kept on our TVs.  We don't need WIRED, thank you.  We didn't need BUZZFEED either -- not it nor it's fourteen lame offerings.  For example, Niki and Garrett may "move into the world's most unique homes" but, for some reason, they always pack boredom and bring it along for each episode.  We also decided we didn't need CREATIONS WITH LEGO or, for that matter, POPCORN FLIX -- the latter is a channel that we see many low budget stations across America carrying films from on Sunday nights.

For news, we kept RT, FRANCE 24, CBS NEWS LIVE 24/7 and ALJAZEERA but dumped EVTV which is a propaganda channel -- "We are a pioneering television channel in South Florida, dedicated to all Venezuelans who believe in freedom and justice." -- that popped up January 28, 2019 -- just in time to promote war on Venezuela.  It's been a land channel for years, out of Miami, but with the efforts on the part of Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi and so many others to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Venezuela and replace him with Juan Guaido, this pro-Guaido channel's has made a quick and sudden appearance as a streaming option (one automatically added to our TV menus, by the way).

For entertainment, we kept TUBI (which now is streaming the classic British TV series THE AVENGERS) and 24 7 RETRO which is live and features vintage television programming.  We support public libraries to we kept HOOPLA.  We support independent film as well but dropped IFC because, well, TWO AND A HALF MEN episodes don't qualify as either "independent" or "film." IFC is just another channel the people at AMC have destroyed.

Once upon a time, please note, AMC did not stand for cheap and tired zombie shows but for "AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS."  Those days are long gone.  But if you're looking for independent film, we'd suggest KANOPY which provides independent cinema selections -- US and global.

KANOPY also provides classic cinema such as Brian De Palma's SISTERS, Billy Wilder's SUNSET BOULEVARD, Carole Lombard and Jack Benny in TO BE OR NOT TO BE, Carole Lombard's NOTHING SACRED, Hal Ashby's HAROLD AND MAUDE, Nicholas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW, Peter Bogdanovich's PAPER MOON and DAISY MILLER, two Faye Dunaway classics (3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR and THE DEADLY TRAP), Orson Welles' THE STRANGER and THE TRIAL, Jean Luc Gordard's BREATHLESS, Joan Crawford's SUDDEN FEAR, Woody Allen's PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen in LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER, Howard Hawks' HIS GIRL FRIDAY, Don Ross' THE OPPOSITE OF SEX, Gillian Armstrong's MY BRILLIANT CAREER, Stanley Donen's CHARADE and FUNNY FACE (two classics which both star Audrey Hepburn), Robert Altman's POPEYE, Rene Clair's I MARRIED A WITCH, THE FRENCH WAY starring Josephine Baker, the animated classic A CAT IN PARIS,  Gregg Araki's THE LIVING END, and several Katharine Hepburn films including SUMMERTIME, THE AFRICAN QUEEN and LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT.  And those are just some of the films that stood out to us.  They also have a healthy selection of Cary Grant films, some Jerry Lewis and much more.

"How much does KANOPY cost?" we hear you asking. A public library card.  Yes, those still mourning the loss of FILM STRUCK, you have found a new home.

But classic films -- and this was true of FILM STRUCK as well -- tend to often overlook the film noir genre.  In terms of a free channel, we'd recommend adding GITV FILM NOIR to your menu.  This is a free channel which offers 28 different film noirs.

Of course, it's shocking, in this age of streaming, how much is not available.  Ty told us about an e-mail from Alan who wanted to know if we'd classify SUNBURN as a film noir?  We see that, Alan, as more of a comedy but there are noir touches.  We also agree that it's a shame this film is not available anywhere.  At its time of release, 1979, the world wanted only what they wanted from Farrah Fawcett and her performance really wasn't appreciated (nor was the film).  But she's surprisingly good in it -- as is Charles Grodin, Art Carney and Joan Collins.  Alejandro Rey, Eleanor Parker and Keenan Wynn also provide strong supporting turns.  Maybe TCM could show it to break up the eternal sameness of their schedule?

While they're at, they might try adding other gems that are being forgotten: NASTY HABITS which contains hilarious performances from Sandy Dennis, Glenda Jackson and Anne Mera -- among others.  This Watergate parody is set in an Abbey.   And is George Segal going to have to pass away for TCM to note what an amazing leading man he was in the seventies?  They should be offering his hit film with Jane Fonda (FUN WITH DICK AND  JANE) and his film with Goldie Hawn (THE DUTCHESS AND THE DIRTWATER FOX) -- both are far superior to the only 70s film of his they seem able to air -- the hideous and, honestly, homophobic OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT with Barbra Streisand.  More to the point, his comedy film THE BLACK BIRD (1975) is all but forgotten today -- how about airing that?  Or what about his forgotten classic, with Jacqueline Bisset, WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE?  There are so many great films that are not available via TCM or AMAZON PRIME or NETFLIX or HULU or anywhere.  Include Robert Altman's H*E*A*L*T*H -- a film that just gets funnier with each year -- on that list.

While we wait for things worth watching to be added, let's note something added that actually is worth watching: NETFLIX's RUSSIAN DOLL.

RUSSIAN DOLL is a single-camera comedy and, for once, this is a comedy series that needs to be filmed that way.  One of the producers is Amy Poehler and it's worth noting that she continues to challenge the half-hour comedy format -- see, for example DIFFICULT PEOPLE.  While her former SNL-mate Tina Fey does the typical sitcom but as a single-camera offering (which makes it stilted and not very funny), Amy continues to expand and stretch what we see as a sitcom.

Natasha Lyonne is another producer.  She's also the star.  Natasha had already made the films EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU and THE SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS when she filmed 1999's AMERICAN PIE but it's interesting to note what's happened with that cast.

Jason Biggs minus pie-f**king did not result in film stardom -- as BOYS AND GIRLS, LOSER and so many others demonstrated.  (He also failed to bare his ass in those films which might have been more important than the actual pie f**king.)  He had a brief role on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (Natasha also starred in that series -- 68 episodes to Jason's 22).  He can still explode (in anger) on the internet even if he struggles for work as an actor today.

Tara Reid's faired a little better than Biggs but then her 'crime' wasn't flops, it was bad plastic surgery.  Hollywood wants women to look unreal but, if pursuing that results in you looking unhuman, they blame you.

Chris Klein was supposed to be a big star but that didn't pan out.  He's not been effective in a leading role outside of the AMERICAN PIE films.  He's lowered his sights and is becoming an effective supporting player.

Mena Suvari works steadily but is hampered by the fact that she projects intelligence and film and TV really don't go out of their way to create intelligent female characters.  She has an edginess similar to Jane Fonda and maybe if, like Fonda, she'd produced some of her own films, she would be a little better known and a little more in demand.

Eddie Kaye Thomas has worked steadily by making it clear that no role was beneath him.  You have to wonder if it was worth it?  That said, his work in the TV show SCORPION was strong and sure footed (but was it enough to wipe away the memories of 'TIL DEATH or, worse, his appearance with Biggs on DROP THE MIC).

Shannon Elizabeth has struggled for roles, often resorting to TV guest spots.  TV has provided Alyson Hannigan with a career via HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER and PENN & TELLER FOOL US.  TV's been the best bet for many from the cast -- not just Alyson and Eddie Kaye but also Jennifer Coolidge who, along with appearing in Christopher Guest films, also played Sophie on 2 BROKE GIRLS.  Seann William Scott's garnered more attention in the last months for joining the cast of FOX's LETHAL WEAPON than for anything since 2008's ROLE MODELS.

Natasha had it harder than any of her cast mates.  The '00s saw her battling drug addiction and requiring open heart surgery.  She fought her way back and, even with those problems, 2006 was the only year she didn't have a film or TV episode.  She's worked steadily and deserves high praise for both her work on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK and BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER.  She also deserves high praise for RUSSIAN DOLL.  She has writing credits on three episodes and she also directed the eighth episode.  That's in addition to her acting.

RUSSIAN DOLL is what GIRLS and so many other NYC shows should have been in terms of mix.  Why set a show in NYC and then cast it as though the locale is Des Moines, Iowa?  For a change, people of color actually matter and exist.

That includes Charlie Barnett.  He plays Alan.  Like Natasha's Nadia, Alan has somehow become a person who can't die and lives the same day over and over.  Nadia thinks it's just her -- she even questions her sanity -- until she meets Alan.

This isn't GROUNDHOG DAY, by the way.  Nadia's a computer programmer and this is more like a glitch in her programming, a piece of bad code that needs to be fixed.

Nadia's messy and moody and buried under a head of curls that make Natasha look alternately like CURLY SUE and Nancy Allen in DRESSED TO KILL.  Her looks may be derivative but her personality is all her own and all the characters here are fresh and speak like people you know -- as opposed to TV characters.

Acting praise also should go to Elizabeth Ashley, Ritesh Rajan, Dascha Polanco, Greta Lee, Jeremy Lowell Bobb, Rebecca Henderson and Brenda Sexton III.

The characters are diverse in color, ethnicity and wants and needs.  That last part is especially important.  Most of the time, TV characters -- especially non-leads -- exist more for the plot than as actual people.  But every character on this show is clearly drawn and singular.

We doubt there will be a second season (we'd love to be wrong) due to the plot but RUSSIAN DOLL is already the best new show NETFLIX has offered in some time.

And time?  Time's the backdrop of RUSSIAN DOLL.  Not only is time in a loop, but while they repeat, things around them don't -- people begin to disappear, fruit begins to rot.  Nadia and Alan learn they're playing beat the clock and that they just might lose.

Time, time, hear the bells chime
Over the harbor and the city
Time, one more vodka and lime
To help paralyze that tiny little tick, tick, tick, tick

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