Thursday, August 29, 2019

TV: When entertainment doesn't measure up

So much goes wrong when it comes to entertainment -- unsatisfying endings, non-surprise twists and ho-hum reactions despite all the drama.  But enough about Miley Cyrus' love life.  This is also true of the entertainment streamed, broadcast and whatever else.


NETFLIX has released season two of MINDHUNTER and has the show improved any?

No, not at all.

Which is very frustrating when you consider how talented the main cast is.  Jonathan Groff continues to amaze as Holden, for example, and Holt McCallany continues his Brian Dennehy impression in the role of Bill.  The real disappointment remains Anna Torv.  There's nothing wrong with her performance.  There is something very wrong with the way the writing doles out such tiny portions of her character Helen.

Midway through season one, Helen became part of the Bill and Holden's team and not just the professor they consulted from time to time.  This should have meant Helen was part of the main story but that didn't happen.  Torv, who was so excellent as Olivia on FRINGE and so great in SECRET CITY, nails every minute she's given, but she's given so few.

In the 70s and early 80s (the time is marked by music and TV which is frequently wrong -- the film HARPER VALLEY PTA being watched on a rabbit ear TV, for example, was  over a year too soon), a scientist working for the FBI who is a semi-open lesbian?  That's rather striking and could make for unique stories -- certainly much more unique than Bill's pathetic and stereotypical wife who nags, whines and mainly constricts as people around her don't embrace her precious little son.  In fact, that entire storyline was a text book case in predictability.

Precious won't talk to Bill or look at him.  Wife nags Bill constantly.  Then the babysitter finds a photo of a person -- a dead person -- with a bat up their rear.  It's from a case Bill is working on.  How-how-how!!! Did Precious get the photo?  And, more important because plot purposes always take precedence in bad writing, how will this effect him?

Forget the old nature or nurture argument.  This bad seed is all about Monkey-see-Monkey-do.  So he goes with some older kids to pick on another kid and that kid ends up dead and Precious has the idea to attach him to the cross because -- well -- bad writing.  Just as surely as you saw that coming the minute you learned Precious had the photo, you know that nagging wife will move off with Precious without informing Bill.  No, boys and girls, those aren't spoilers, nothing that predictable could ever qualify as a spoiler.

It's a shame because McCallany deserves better, the viewers deserve better and wasting all that time on that hoary story certainly prevented Anna Torv from getting more airtime.

But let's go back to that middle one -- the viewers deserve better.  They certainly do but, equally true, the show lacks suspense in the main story because they are 'fact based.'  It's a true story.  On three different campuses, we asked if anyone was watching season two of MINDHUNTERS.  Those who were?  They did the same thing we did.  When a character, Wayne Williams, was stopped by the police having thought to have tossed a body off the bridge, we GOOGLEd to see if that was the Atlanta killer. No one we spoke to waited to see the story play out.

So it's the personal stories of the characters that can offer drama and suspense.  And those are the stories that should.  Holden's storylines have.  They need to work harder to bring Helen in more because Anna Torv isn't only a gifted actress, she's also a calling card -- she draws an audience.  And FOX, so desperate to reboot something, anything, somehow overlooked FRINGE thereby explaining why they are always an also run.

Speaking of missing the point, TCM.  It's August -- summer under the stars or whatever they call it.  Each day is devoted to a star.


Each day is devoted to an actor, let's try that.

Dustin Hoffman was one of the choices.  Dustin is extremely gifted and we'd be willing to argue that his performance in TOOTISE -- playing Michael Dorsey pretending to be Dorothy Michaels playing hospital administrator Emily Kimberly -- is the finest any male actor delivered in the 20th century.  But star?  Maybe briefly at the end of the sixties due to THE GRADUATE.  But Dustin was part of the whole anti-star crowd and he remains an actor's actor -- a great actor -- not a star.

AGATHA paired him with Vanessa Redgrave -- a star -- and it was featured on his day.  It's a curious film but it does pull you in the same could not be said about many of his offerings.

Ruth Hussey (known today primarily for her supporting role in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) is another one who is an actor but not really a star.  Not that a supporting actor or character actor couldn't be a star.  TCM celebrated Walter Brennan and he was a solid choice.  They didn't celebrate Thelma Ritter but she would be an example of a character actor who was a drawing card.

And while someone like Ann Sothern was a star in her day, Liv Ulmann was never a star in the United States.

For every Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and Errol Flynn -- actual stars -- TCM packed a lot of nonsense.  We could assist them by pointing out that Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Doris Day, Barbara Stanwyck, Judy Garland, Natalie Wood, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Diana Ross (to fill out a day, you could utilize her TV movies and we've noticed TCM has not been opposed to TV movies with some stars and/or they could utilize her concert films and or musical specials), Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Jack Nicholson and Goldie Hawn are stars.  Not one of them got a day of celebration.

But the one that stands out most to us?

Bob Hope.

Is it his politics?  We're anti-war as hell but we don't really care where Bob stood on the issue.  If he makes a funny movie, it's a funny movie.  And though you wouldn't know it to watch TCM but Bob has made a ton of funny movies.  MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE, MY FAVORITE BLOND, THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (or, as you may know it by the later rip off LIAR LIAR), THE CAT AND THE CANARY, BOY DID I GET A WRONG NUMBER and MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE - among others.

TCM loves to show THE FACTS OF LIFE -- with Lucille Ball -- and has done a solid job of rediscovering/reviving Bob's film with Katharine Hepburn (THE IRON PETTICOAT -- a NINOTCHKA remake).  But they honestly don't appear to grasp that Bob Hope was a star -- one of the biggest of his era.

They also seem to forget Alan Ladd was a star.  They did finally show THE GLASS KEY this year but it was for a day celebrating Brian Donlevy.  They don't know Alan Ladd was a star and they don't know Veronica Lake was a star but they're convinced never-was Donlevy was really something.  (He really, really wasn't.)

Will things get better?

We can always hope.  Encouraging signs, in the last 12 months, they were able to feature some live action DISNEY films including THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD.  That's a Kurt Russell film and he has a host of DISNEY classics.  And there's this upcoming Thursday, September 26th when they'll be offering some James Bond films (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, LICENSE TO KILL, GOLDENEYE TOMORROW NEVER DIES and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH).  There's also the addition of Dave Karger and Alicia Malone as full time hosts.  A host needs to make you feel comfortable, like you're watching the movie with a friend and Dave and Alicia radiate warmth and joy.  If only they controlled the entertainment world right now, the box office might not be in a slump, viewers might not be waiting desperately for new programming and streaming services might truly satisfy.

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