Monday, March 30, 2020

TV: Entertainment?

HULU's offering entertainment and shouldn't that be enough?

We kept asking that question as we watched the first six episode of LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE -- an eight-part mini-series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington who also serve as producers.  The series packs little pack and only real moments of inspiration tend to occur when Joshua Jackson shows up -- such as when he's brushing his teeth.

Joshua's delivering a performance -- too bad it's a supporting one but LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE can use all the help it can get.


This is Kerry's first series follow up to SCANDAL where she held court for seven seasons and delivered an Emmy worthy performance in one episode after another (she was nominated for Best Actress twice during the series run).  She's had two other projects since then.  LIVE IN FRONT OF A STUDIO AUDIENCE -- which found her playing Helen Willis from THE JEFFERSONS and partaking in a lie.  We love the pretense that Jimmy Kimmel just came up with the idea, one day, out of the blue, to shoot old scripts from ALL IN THE FAMILY and THE JEFFERSONS and GOOD TIMES.  It's a cute little lie and one that allowed ABC to save a lot of money.  In 2019, pretend you're on to something novel and new and you don't owe the BBC a penny, right?  Because BBC'S LOST SITCOMS is the name of the show that's being ripped off by Kimmel.  In September of 2016, they took scripts from old sitcoms and filmed them with a new cast as well.  One of those old sitcoms was, of course, TILL DEATH DO US PART and the ratings were very good for the series of remakes.  You may not know TILL DEATH DO US PART but Jimmy Kimmel does, after all it's the show that became ALL IN THE FAMILY in the US version.

Kerry's other follow up is a film that ended up on NETFLIX as a NETFLIX ORIGINAL.  AMERICAN SON starred Kerry and she also produced.  We were eager to see it and thought we'd be reviewing it.  Kenny Leon, a Tony winning director, was directing the film and Christopher Demos-Brown was adapting his own play for the screen.  It should have been something.

It ended up being very little to praise.

Kerry was possibly the worst onscreen element.  She pitched her performance far too high from the beginning so there was nothing to go from -- except over the top.  She didn't do that in a campy way which might have made for entertainment.  Instead, she just snarled and yelled more and became less and less like a mother fearing for her lost son and more and more like a temperamental actor having a snit fit on the set.  It should have been a moving role -- and many actresses have made it one when they've played mothers fearing for the safety of their children -- see Michelle Pfeiffer in THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN, Halle Berry in LOSING ISAIAH, Nicole Kidman in BOY ERASED, Viola Davis in DOUBT, etc.  You never believe Kerry's playing the mother of a child who is missing.  You never even believe she's playing a character with a child.  It's a lousy performance.  That might not be all her fault.  Possibly, director Leon failed to reign in her and maybe even encouraged her to play it as such a high pitch.  In a theater, her performance might have worked.  In the world of film -- with all its close ups -- her performance was off putting and annoying.

Off putting is Reese in LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, off putting is Reese in basically anything.  Reese became a movie star via the old fashioned pattern -- she played a type.  Plucky, headstrong, rigid.  We're not saying she's given the same performance over and over because she hasn't.  We are saying that like Cary Grant or Joan Crawford before her, she achieved fame playing a type and has been cast as that type repeatedly.  For most, the type begins with ELECTION but it's already present in TWILIGHT, SFW and JACK THE BEAR.  The type is present in most of her films.  When it works, LEGALLY BLONDE, it works because she's surrounded by strong characters to play off of.  When it doesn't work, HOT PURSUIT, she's got a weak script that no one can play and she's left coming off irritating and off putting with no resolution near the end and no reason to root for her to get to that resolution.

She was off putting playing her type in BIG LITTLE LIES and it worked because the script worked and the actors worked.  Here, in LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, she's let down because there's really no reason to watch, the storyline is not involving, and because there's so little acting worthy of praise.

We can't praise Kerry's acting.  It's the sort of I'm-slumming-and-not-breaking-a-sweat stuff actresses used to farm out in bad Sidney Sheldon mini-series and assorted corny TV movies.  On top of that, she's poorly dressed.  We don't mean her character wears cheap clothes, we mean the clothes do not enhance her.  Her outfits hurt the eyes in the same way that Brad Pitt's swollen face -- cut down on the drinking and lose some weight before you go in front of a camera when you're known for your looks and not your acting -- hurts the eyes in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.  When you're doing run-of-the-mill TV, maybe even trash TV, like LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, it does matter what you wear -- sometimes it's the only reason people keep watching.

Yes, TV can be that superficial.  All of TV.  Even TV news or 'news.'  We were reminded of just how superficial it can be on Friday when CBS NEWS broke into live programming to 'cover' the stimulus package.  "PRESIDENT SIGNS CORONAVIRUS RESCUE PACKAGE" was scrawled across the bottom of the screen, right above it the notation that this was live and a "CBS NEWS SPECIAL REPORT" -- or that's what CBS thought it was.

To our jaded eyes?  It was CBS TALK SPECIAL TWO GALS DISHING.

Norah O'Donnell and Nancy Cordes are supposed to be news women.  So it was truly sad just how run of the mill gossipy the whole thing was.  If Ethel Mertz had walked in carrying cups and a pot of coffee, we wouldn't have been at all surprised.

6.2 trillion dollars, President Donald Trump announced, that was what he was signing in the clip CBS showed -- of Donald signing the bill into law live.  It was a $2.2 trillion bill, that's a fact.  It may go up to 6.2 trillion eventually (as Donald maintains) but, for now, the fact is that it's $2.2 trillion.  It's also a fact that Norah and Nancy never noted.  Math is hard said CBS NEWS Barbies.

"I want to get to the details of what's in the bill," Norah insisted before ignoring that to argue that the signing ceremony was an example of the White House not practicing social distancing.

This led to Nancy telling Norah that no Democrats were at the singing and that she'd confirmed with US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's office that Pelosi wasn't invited to the signing.  Oh, and Nancy added, Senator Chuck Schumer wasn't there "and the President has made it very clear how he feels about Pelosi . . ."

Norah insisted that the $300 billion cash payments had been "already laid out" by Nancy even though all Nancy had said was "a massive economic bill that will get money in the hands of almost every American."  Nancy was playing hot potato and tossing the credit right back to Norah:

What a lot of Americans are going to be wondering about this bill, Norah, is when will they see the money.  Those cash payments that you mentioned should start going out fairly quickly, the Treasury Secretary says that people will see them in their bank accounts if they have direct deposit with the IRS within the next couple of weeks . . .

No, neither woman had bothered to address the one-time only cash payments -- not that they were one-time only nor that they were for only $1,200.  When you're too busy gossiping about who got invited and who didn't -- we kept waiting for them to reflect on who everyone was wearing and who wore it better -- you can't be too sure of what facts you might have imparted or not imparted.

Four minutes of fluff passed off as a CBS NEWS SPECIAL REPORT.

For reality about what the law would do, you had to go to Barry Grey (WSWS):

The $2.2 trillion estimated cost of the bill, equal to more than half of the entire federal budget and far in excess of the $700 billion bank bailout bill passed in 2008, substantially underestimates the actual scale of the government handout to big business. The biggest single slice of the bill, $454 billion to finance guaranteed loans to big corporations, is designed to be leveraged by the Federal Reserve Board into some $4.5 trillion in loans and subsidies.
This amounts to a virtually unlimited backstop for the country's corporate and financial aristocracy, with no real strings attached. The provisions that provide stop-gap assistance to workers who are being laid off in the millions or being ordered to work without any protection against the deadly virus are designed to head off an eruption of class conflict in the short-term, so that the ruling class can buy time and prepare a counteroffensive to place the full cost of the corporate bailout on the backs of the working class. The bill's passage coincides with Trump's push to “open up” the country and force workers back into the plants and workplaces to resume pumping out profits for big business.
[. . .]
The vast bulk of the bill is a massive handout to business, with most of the money by far going to big corporations. In addition to the $454 billion Treasury backstop for Fed loans and grants to corporations, the bill provides $46 billion in targeted loans from the Treasury Department, mainly to the commercial airline industry, with $17 billion carved out for Boeing.
It sets aside $350 billion in loans and aid to small businesses, which are defined as enterprises with up to 500 employees. This could include multi-billion-dollar hedge funds and other financial firms.
There is also $50 billion for an “employee retention tax credit” to companies that keep their employees on the payroll.
There are other windfalls to business buried in the more than 800 pages of the legislation. One that could directly benefit Trump or his associates is the full restoration to the real estate sector of a huge tax break for interest costs and operating losses that was limited by the 2017 tax overhaul.
Restrictions imposed on corporations receiving government aid are largely nullified by caveats. There is a provision barring businesses receiving loans from cutting their employment levels until September 30. However, this is hedged with the phrase “to the extent practicable.”

HULU's offering lightweight entertainment -- the equivalent of the ABC mini-series HOLLYWOOD WIVES -- and isn't that enough?  As Maria McKee asks in "Why Wasn't I More Grateful When Life Was Sweet," isn't that enough -- song appears on her YOU'VE GOT TO SIN TO GET SAVED and was written by Maria and Bruce Brody and Marvin Etzioni.  It's a diversion and maybe it is enough for entertainment but it certainly is not enough for the news -- somebody break it to CBS.

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