Tag Archives: HBO

Big Little Lies (Review)

With certain exceptions involving dragons and killer robots, HBO has had a lot better luck with miniseries lately that full drama series.  Big Little Lies demonstrates why.  Sure, the limited run allows busy, A-List Hollywood talent to fit it into their schedules, but more importantly, it allows for story that tells what it needs to tell, no more, no less.

I have to admit, around the third episode I was almost ready to give up on Big Little Lies.  The first couple of episodes moved at a glacial pace.  For a show that promised murder and mayhem, the travails of the rich and richer were getting on my nerves.

Fortunately, the series rewarded patience.  Understanding the details of the relationship dynamics between the central characters was crucial to enjoying the last three, phenomenal episodes.  The series had already laid its groundwork in building up its characters in the first half, so it could focus on the plot/endgame during the second.

I, for one, am hoping that HBO does more series like this.  Not everything needs to be a multi-season epic like The Sopranos after all.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe

2016 Year in Review

“When she [Philosophy] saw that the Muses of poetry were present by my couch giving words to my lamenting, she was stirred a while; her eyes flashed fiercely, and said she, “Who has suffered these seducing mummers to approach this sick man? Never do they support those in sorrow by any healing remedies, but rather do ever foster the sorrow by poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions: they free not the minds of men from disease, but accustom them thereto.””

– Boethius

What of 2016?  As the Roman philosopher Boethius wrote of his consolation by Lady Philosophy, we have a choice.  We can indulge in our lamentations, or we can, through our reason, find a way forward.  Perhaps we can let Lady Philosophy take it from here to guide us in this way.

I thought of many muses to guide me through this past year, when a woman came to me in classical robes.  She was at once as tall as a giant, yet comforting and approachable.  Then she began to speak.

“I see you, reading the various years in review of 2016 to draw inspiration for this annual post,” she began, “I see nothing but hot takes and articles dripping with lament or sarcasm.   Let me assure you, this 2016 had its positive aspects.”

2016 Was a Good Year to Be…

1) Animators

Lady Philosophy continued, “Behold my friend, for the medium of animation, that artform long taken for granted, had a very strong 2016.  Six of the twenty top grossing movies of the year were animated.  With each passing decade, animation continues to bring inspiration and joy without the limitations of live action film. 2016 was in many ways a landmark year in this regard.”

2) HBO

“I should also point out to you that a great year need not mean a consistently great one wire to wire.  If something is felled low by the failure of an ill-conceived vanity project about classic rock in the spring, it can rise again through the premiere for two excellent shows in the fall.  Westworld has broken HBO’s losing streak when it comes to new dramas, and Insecure has continued its success in popular comedies”

3) Broadway

“If it is further inspiration you seek, behold the resurgence of the Great White Way as a force in American popular culture.  Hamilton was the most popular musical in decades, and live broadcasts of musicals on network television are exceptionally popular.  Indeed, one of this year’s top Oscar contenders, “La-La Land,” is a Hollywood musical of the old style.”

2016 Was a Bad Year to Be

1) A Franchise from the 1980’s or 1990’s

Lady Philosophy continued.  “While there were failures in 2016, I would counsel to learn from them rather than merely list them in a vain and sarcastic manner.  Box Office disappointments from the Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Independence Day, and Zoolander sequels should not be seen as affecting those fine memories of past success, but rather stand as stark reminders that not everything deserves a reboot or a sequel.”

2) “A List” Hollywood Marriages

“I also prescribe an end to your consideration of the troubled Depp/Heard and Pitt/Jolie marriages.  As troubling as the allegations associated with these divorces are, it is important to remember that you don’t know these people.  You will never meet them.  Their relationships have no impact on your life whatsoever.”

3) Internet and Social Media

“At last, I see that you are troubled by what you read on the internet and on social media platforms.  It might feel as though you cannot escape the constant stream of opinion and information.  You might feel that this has damaged your interactions with your fellows beyond repair, or trapped you in a vicious cycle of anger and mistrust.  Let me assure you that the old ways are still alive.  You can read a book and discuss it with a friend.  You can watch a movie with your significant other and discuss it over snacks afterwards.  You might feel the need to broadcast your feelings to the masses, but I would counsel you to remember that your friends and family are much more receptive to your ideas than the faceless void of the internet will ever be.”

Best Movies

Lady Philosophy cautioned me against creating a list of best movies this year.  She said to me, “Indeed you have not seen enough movies to truly make an honest “best of” list.  But keep in mind that such lists are flawed.  They lack the distance truly needed to examine and appreciate film as an artform.  As much as you enjoyed “Captain America: Civil War,” can you say it is the best blockbuster of the year when you haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet?  As for artistic films, look at past years.  Does anyone really believe, with the proper distance, that “Crash,” “The English Patient,” or “The Greatest Show on Earth”  were worthy of Best Picture Oscars?  I would advise against indulging in such listicles.”

Dispatches from the Great Ale House in the Sky

This year, Lady Philosophy especially wanted to talk about the Great Ale House in the Sky.  She said, “I will prescribe the strongest medicine of all to help you acknowledge the many fine artists that left you this past year.  It is medicine that you, yourself, have often shared.

“Remember, it is the story that matters, not how long it lasts or how it ends.  Artists and inventors have the greatest stories of all, for their influence stays with us the longest and carries us all forward.  If it is useful for you to imagine these great artists together, I will partially indulge in this fantasy, but I will do so in a way that will help you, rather than a way that extends your sorrow.

“Perhaps this Ale House is in the form of a great music festival, where Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and others come together.  You could find great joy in that fantasy.  But you need not – for the music is still there.

“Or maybe, you imagine that Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Florence Henderson, Abe Vigoda, Gene Wilder, Kenny Baker and others are still in talks for various roles.  These people may have never met in life, but it is fun to think about them doing so in your Great Ale House in the Sky.  I would advise an alternative – put on their films and television shows.  You can even do so with the fights of Muhammad Ali – which are readily available on the internet.”

And with that, Lady Philosophy left me in a better place.  The place that honors rather than mourns.  The place that learns from the mistakes of others.  The place that sees and emphasizes the positive.  There is great strength and great joy here.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Westworld – Season One in Review

Let’s get one thing out of the way – Westworld is a difficult show to write-up.  It doesn’t lend itself well to “power rankings” or “most bizarre moment” lists like other shows.  I’ll admit I gave up on the robot apocalypse concept for a bit but it turns out that, holy shit, I was right all along.

I actually had an entire draft post about how the robot apocalypse angle wasn’t going to work.  I thought that, seven or eight episodes in, that the show was mostly about power and consciousness rather than the foretelling of a massive robot rebellion.

To a large extent, that’s still accurate.  The “loops” that the robots find themselves in can stand in for the feedback loop that one finds online.  Repeating similar patterns over and over eliminates meaning from those patterns.  A meme shows up, we share it and talk about it, then it fades away.  A controversy arises, we talk about it, it fades away.  A tragedy happens, we talk about it, it fades away.  With every successive repetition of the pattern, the impact and meaning deteriorates until memes last a day, controversies an hour, and tragedies are ignored altogether.

This is why present William is so cynical about Westworld.  He experiences the loops so frequently that, of all the humans on the show, he has become most like more the sentient robots.  He’s desperate to find any meaning in his life because the patterns have repeated so frequently that he’s lost any type of grounding in reality.  When the loop finally ends, and the robots finally shoot back, William is ecstatic.

Anyway, now that we have the robot rebellion underway, what happens next?  I mean, the robots can’t just murder the entire board of directors of a massive corporation and go back to business as usual, right?  I suppose that Delos could just sweep the thing under the rug but that’s a ton of sweeping – they’d have to fake a plane crash or something.  Even with that solution, what value does the “Westworld” part of the park have when you have angry, sentient robots ready to murder whomever gets in their way?  After all, by giving her part of the “Wyatt” code, Arnold essentially gave Dolores the capacity to go full-terminator.

Anyway, promising first season – let’s see where this thing goes.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

Music Television: Why “Atlanta” Succeeds and “Vinyl” Failed

FX’s “Atlanta” is one of the best new shows of the year.  It’s received critical acclaim, solid ratings, and that all-important social media buzz that separates the wheat from the chaff.  After watching the first couple of episodes (I’m not caught up, so no recaps I’m afraid), I can see why it has become so popular, so fast.  It’s a funny, thoughtful, and well written show about starting from the bottom in today’s music industry (among other things).  It also happens to be the brainchild of one of the most talented people in entertainment – Grammy nominated musician and acclaimed actor Donald Glover.

Meanwhile, last spring, HBO introduced us to a show called Vinyl.  Like Atlanta, it is also about the music industry.  Like Atlanta, it had some heavyweight creative power behind it (Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, Terrance Winter).  That’s where the similarities end.  Unfortunately for HBO and the two hours of my life I wasted on the pilot, Vinyl went straight to the discount rack.  And not the nice, record store discount rack – I mean the one at the gas station off highway 95 in the middle of Jersey.

For two shows that have nothing in common other than the music industry and creative talent, it’s useful to compare them.  Doing so sheds a light on why some TV shows succeed and others fail.

1. Focus, People!

Maybe Vinyl was trying to be chaotic, but it came across and an unfocused mess.  It was trying to tell a story about too much at once, without stopping for a moment to think about why a story about 1970’s rock and roll could be relevant.  It just assumed that the time period and industry were inherently interesting without bother to focus in on any particular characters or storylines long enough to, you know, actually be interesting.

Atlanta is quite the opposite – it’s focused like a laser beam on Earn (Donald Glover), his family, and his attempts to help his cousin, Alfred aka Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) make it in the music industry.  The clear writing, real life situations, and humor allow the audience to connect to this story without trying too hard.

2. Show in the Show/Music in the Show

Comparing these shows in some ways is like comparing “30 Rock” to “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”  Both shows premiered in the same year, on the same network, and they were about the exact same thing, a late night, SNL-style variety show.  The comedy succeeded.  The drama failed.

Fast forward ten years.  No, Vinyl and Atlanta aren’t about the exact same thing, but the comedy works and the drama did not for similar reasons.  Like “Studio 60,” Vinyl tried so hard to convince us that the bands/music were good without, you know, actually being good.  30 Rock and Atlanta succeed because they make the show and music take a backseat to the interactions between the characters.

3. Gimmicks

Finally, I want to take some time to talk about TV show gimmicks.  The first two episodes of Atlanta are refreshingly free from gimmicks.  The writing is strong enough that gimmicks are unnecessary.

What do I mean by gimmicks?  How about pointless musical cut-scenes?  How about bad impressions of historical figures like John Lennon, Robert Plant, and Andy Warhol?  How about sex and drugs for the sake of there being sex and drugs? How about every single moment of Vinyl?

Conclusion

Come to think of it, the only funny thing about Vinyl was how much of a ridiculous caricature it was.  Anyway, Atlanta and Vinyl are both about people trying to make it in the music industry.  Atlanta is a good show.  Vinyl was a bad show.  Above are some of the reasons way.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Watch, Season One, Episode Four

This week may have been the most confusing episode of Westworld yet.  The show is compelling, but to be honest it’s hard to see its eventual endgame and how that can stretch out for several seasons.  Assuming the robots become sentient, what happens next?  Perhaps the final battle at Armageddon?  But by logic, nothing happens after that.  Hmm…

Robot Sentience (Last Week, 3/7 Seals Broken)

I was starting to think that Dolores was the one that was going to go full terminator on everyone.  She may still do so, but right now Maeve is the dangerous one.  Fortunately, she hasn’t figured out quite as much as Dolores has, nor does she have Bernard egging her on.

This week: 4/7 seals broken.  Things are progressing, but not THAT fast.

Incompetent Staff (Last Week, 1/7 Seals Broken)

Really?  You left the bullet in the robot?  Seriously how dumb are you?

This week: 3/7 seals broken.

Creator Hubris (Last Week, 4/7 Seals Broken)

Ford doesn’t have a god complex.  Ford has become a god, and he’s going to make damn well sure everyone inside and outside of Westworld knows that.

This week: 6/7 seals broken.

Guest Interference (Last Week 2/7 Seals Broken)

Poor William.  He doesn’t for a moment realize that Dolores is coming along because she’s gradually becoming a sentient, potentially murderous, automaton.  Then again, maybe she’ll whack his annoying, rich, d-bag companion.  So there’s that.

This week: 2/7 Seals Broken

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Watch, Season One, Episode Three

Behold – I continue to provide non-election themed reading material for your enjoyment.  But lo!  The robot apocalypse is nigh!

Robot Sentience (Last Week, 1/7 Seals Broken)

Poor James Marsden.  He’s a fine actor, but his robot character, Teddy, just can’t catch a break.  While Dolores, Maeve, and others are getting more self-aware, he just gets thrown into another situation resulting in his certain death.

Current Status: 3/7 Seals Broken.  Even considering Teddy’s situation, the march toward the robot revolt continued ahead this week.

Incompetent Staff (Last Week, 1/7 Seals Broken)

Unlike the last two weeks, the staff at Westworld didn’t do anything obviously foolish this week.   Well, unless you count freeing that stray robot towards the end, but I would argue that wasn’t an obvious error.

Current Status: 1/7 Seals Broken.  No one went out of their way to make matters worse this week.

Creator Hubris (Last Week, 4/7 Seals Broken)

I thought Ford was the nutty one (so does the Westworld Board of Directors apparently).  Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is all over the place, but mostly channeling his grief into making Dolores more and more self-aware.  And this is before we get into any discussion of Ford’s secret, former partner, who apparently wanted to play god at an even higher level than these two.

Current Status: 6/7 Seals Broken.  No good can come of these two being in charge.  Or is it these three?

Guest Interference (Last Week 2/7 Seals Broken)

Here’s a quick question.  Whom do you think will be the first guest that Dolores kills?  The Man in Black?  William (Jimmi Simpson)?  Or maybe some other poor, more unsuspecting person?  Because it’s totally going to happen.

Current Status: 2/7 Seals Broken.  Like the staff, the guests didn’t really do anything to accelerate their own, robot-related doom.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Watch: Season One, Episodes 1-2

After yesterday’s article, I had considered writing about more shows that I’ve kicked to the curb, but what fun is that?  Instead, I’m going to write about HBO’s newest reason not to drop your subscription after Game of Thrones ends – Westworld.

As anyone who knows about the original movie Westworld (1973) or the Simpsons episode inspired by it (Season Six’s “Itchy and Scratchy Land”), no good can come of putting semi-sentient robots in a giant amusement park.  The robot apocalypse is nigh, but what are the seven signs?  Whom are the four horsemen?  For ease of write-ups, I’ll go with four horsemen: Robot Sentience, Incompetent Staff, Creator Hubris, and Guest Interference, each with seven seals foretelling their arrival.  Be warned!

Robot Sentience

Two episodes in and a couple of the robots are starting to figure things out.  Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is doing a better job of hiding it than her previous “father” robot or madam robot Maeve (Thandie Newton).  On the one hand, not many of the robots are getting wise.  On the other hand, Dolores is the oldest robot in the park and therefore has the most potential to lead a “kill all humans,” Cylon-style uprising once she starts remembering all the horrifying crap her creators have put her through.

Status: One seal broken.  Not enough robots have gotten wise to the game.

Incompetent Staff

How much do you want to bet those two geniuses who were working on Maeve fail to report what happened?  I mean, you’d think the trail of robot blood (can we call it blood?) would give them away, but considering the number of morons that seem to be working behind the scenes, this is anyone’s guess.

Status: One seal broken.  Mistakes have been made, but nothing catastrophic as of yet.

Creator Hubris

Ah Sir Anthony Hopkins, what gravitas you bring to the role of Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of Westworld.  Dr. Ford apparently has never  read the dozens of stories where the creator of robots goes too far and causes nothing but mayhem.  Then again, he did nix the hyper-violent “Odyssey on Red River,” so there’s that.

Status: four seals broken.  This guy is already too far down the line.

Guest Interference

The guests tend to be either 1) drunk bros with way to much money and a murderous streak, 2) people reluctantly dragged along, or 3) Ed Harris’s sadistic “Man in Black.”  So far the bros aren’t too much of a problem.  The Man in Black on the other hand is getting bored of the typical Westworld experience and is searching for a secret maze.

Status: Two seals broken.  No good can come of secret mazes.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe