Can you go back?: “Hart to Hart”

Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner as Jennifer and Jonathan Hart (image via vneda-shadanlou.blogspot.com )

 

It’s one of the eternal questions isn’t it?

Can you ever truly go back? I am not talking about time travel; about revving up a DeLorean and gunning it was back to 1985 or wherever you might choose to go.

No, I am not talking about returning to a long-left hometown, or to a group of friends you haven’t seen in years … or to an old TV show or album of music. Sure you buy a plan ticket, or arrange to meet the friends at a pub one Saturday night … and with the prevalence of older TV shows on DVDs and albums on iTunes or Spotify, revisiting a fondly remembered piece of pop culture doesn’t even require a revved car of any description.

But when you find the town, or the friends, or watch the TV show, do you find that your rose-coloured glass remembrance of that time in your life, takes a distinctly less pleasing hue? Or is it as good as you remember? The reality is most of the time it isn’t the same at all; sometimes that’s a good thing and it allows us to discover the thing we left far behind us in life afresh, and see it, or the friends, through the prism of adulthood, and enjoy it anew.

But other times the thing we thought was so innovative, clever or funny pales in the steely glare of an adult’s critical eyes. The show, for instance, is still the same, but after years of watching more sophisticated TV shows, it wilts in comparison. That doesn’t necessarily render it a pointless waste of time; sometimes we have just grown too jaded to tap into that unquestioning generosity of spirit, that willingness to suspend all belief and take things as they are that children have in abundance. All it takes is our willingness to see the show the way we did as a child, and it comes back alive, as good as we remember it.

(image via the60sofficialsite.com)

Or like Lost in Space for me, it is ruined forever as you realise the sets were cardboard, the acting was wooden (with the exception of Dr Smith who remains as archly camp and gloriously bad as ever), and the plot lines promising but limited. No amount of watching can restore the joy with which I greeted each and every viewing of that show as a child, try as I might to conjure it up again.

Even so, that doesn’t mean I don’t try and go back. It doesn’t stop me putting that DVD into the player, picking up that copy of Agaton Sax, or  listening to “Born to be Alive” and hoping it is as good as I remember it.

So that’s the premise of this new series. Road test TV shows (mostly), music, books and movies once seen but long ignored, and see if they glow as brightly as they ever did, or fade away like Norma Desmond, railing that they are still as good as they once were, even as it becomes tragically apparent they are not.

First up is a show I adored as a child: Hart to Hart.

 

 

THE SHOW: Staring Robert Wagner as Jonathan Hart, a self-made billionaire and head of electronics conglomerate Hart Industries, and Stephanie Powers as Jennifer Hart, his glamorous, more-than-capable journalist wife, who also dabbled as amateur detectives, Hart to Hart ran from 1979 to 1984.

Produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, it began life as a film script called Double Twist, but languished on the shelf until Spelling and Goldberg asked Tom Mankiewicz (who also directed the first episode), then a much in demand screenwriter who had penned three Bond films among other things, to retool the premise for a TV show.

Thus the show that came to be known as Hart to Hart was born. It centred on Jonathan and Jennifer’s jet set lifestyle, much of which wouldn’t have happened as smoothly as it did without the assistance of Max (Lionel Stander) their gravelly-voiced cook/chauffeur/butler, who also aided them in solving their “cases” from time to time. Of course none of their solving of cases which usually involved murder, but also theft and even international espionage, would have been as much fun without their adorable Lowchen, Freeway, so named because that’s exactly where they found him.

 

 

 

MY TAKE ON IT NOW: Honestly … as good as ever.

Of course visually in some ways it’s dated but how can it not? It was very much a child of the late 70s and early 80s and reflected the social mores, and look of the time. But as far as it being the fun, escapist show of my youth (it was one of the shows that allowed me to pretend all the horrible teasing of my youth wasn’t so bad), it is as perfectly wonderful as it was the day I laid eyes on it.

From the moment the intro music kicked in again and I saw the Harts’ private jet taking them on another exotic grand adventure, I was hooked all over again. That was what captured me from episode one. The glitz, the glamour were fun yes, and I am now as ever a sucker for romance and the allure of two people who life each other (and the Harts do in the most lovely and mock me if you will, believable way; yes they actually look like real lovers who like as much as they love each other), but what sold me then as now was the captivating opening sequence.

The music has that certain something that kicks the adrenaline into high gear, stirs the emotions, and has you ready on the edge of your seat before a moment of the actual episode has rolled. I love the way Lionel Sanders, who sadly died of lung cancer midway through the comeback episodes of the mid-1990s described the Harts, the pace of the title sequences, and the selection of choice moments from the 83 episodes filmed. It effects me in the same way it did then.

(image via lowchensaustralia.com)

Of course a little adult cynicism has crept in. How does crime always find them? How do they always come out unscathed? And how do they always manage to avoid being arrested or censured? But truth be told, it’s a gentle cynicism and doesn’t for a second take away any of my love and affection for a show that is as charming, gripping and exciting, and yes escapist, as ever.

Granted I don’t have bullies to hide from anymore, but life can still get pretty brutal no matter how much you enjoy it, and you always need shows that allow you, if only for 42 minutes to escape into someone else’s impossibly glamorous, perfectly constructed world, and Hart to Hart does that as beautifully as it did back in the 1980s.

And best of all, I have discovered a whole slew of new episodes to watch from the 1990s which will mean I can escape with all new adventures with a couple I came to love as deeply as I have loved anyone from a TV show.

So can you go back to Hart to Hart? I think we all know the answer but with Jonathan and Jennifer, I don’t think that was ever in doubt.

Ann Curry exits stage left from “Today” … but not by choice

Ann Curry (image via today.msnbc.msn.com)

I am that rare beast of a pop culture consumer in Australia.

I have watched more breakfast TV from another country – in this case, the USA – than I have likely watched Australian variants such as Sunrise, or ABC News Breakfast. It’s got nothing to do with cultural cringe, or a sense that the Americans do it better (although seeing someone like Matt Lauer, the current male host of Today in full flight is damn impressive); simply that at one point in my life I was quite an Americanophile, and watching Today, which I had to tape overnight since it screened from 1-3am usually, was part of staying in touch with a country that fascinated me.

The Today Show USA NBC
(image via The Today Show USA NBC)

I started watching way back when Bryant Gumble and Jane Pauley were the hosts of this august TV institutions (and one which nets its broadcasting network NBC something like $US500 million a year in advertising revenue) and hung around through all the successive hosts, enjoying this small concentrated window into the soul of America.

Now over the years my fascination with the USA has waned somewhat – thanks mostly to George W. Bush’s presidency which frankly appalled me beyond words – but still I like to watch, enjoying keeping in touch with people who, bizarrely enough feel like friends even though I have never met them.

Of course I know they’re all playing the part of gregarious, warm TV hosts but I still get the feeling I am watching people who genuinely enjoy doing what they’re doing and love the chance they get to communicate to so many people at once.

Ann Curry
(image via hollywoodgossip.com)

So given all of that history, it was shock to hear that NBC were forcing Ann Curry out of the co-anchor’s seat (after only a year in the job after succeeding Meredith Viera), along side Matt Lauer, because of a perceived lack of chemistry with the man who is paid $US25 million a year to do what he does so well. Another factor cited was Good Morning America’s (a rival breakfast show on the US ABC network) increasing success at beating Today on a number of mornings recently, a rare humiliation for a show that has been #1 for a ridiculously long time.

Matt Lauer
Matt Lauer (image via therealdeal.com)

Whether Ann Curry is to be blame for this slide in ratings is debatable of course. She has been a part of the show for 14 years, reading the news for much of that time, and comes across as warm, engaging, and fiercely intelligent. Her smile is dazzling and every interview I saw her perform radiated a passionate interest no matter the subject matter and a sense that she was very much in the moment.

Allegations that she is wooden and you can hear the cogs turning in her head as she talks to guests (two things I read yesterday which frankly shocked me – both at the nature of what was said and the way it was said) make no sense then in light of the bright personable woman I have seen on Today.

It’s possible that NBC is panicking in light of GMA’s gains of late and that blaming Ann is an easy way to excuse a ratings slide. But whatever impelled them to do this, I think they are doing a grave disservice to a woman of rare talent, personality and intellect.

Savannah Guthrie
Savannah Guthrie (image via masslive.com)

It remains to be seen how her replacement, Savannah Guthrie (who currently helms the final 9-10 am hour of the show) fares when she begins her hosting gig later in the US Summer but I would be surprised if she can match the delightful Ann Curry’s engagement with viewers.

Ann for her part is understandably sad to be leaving, as she made clear in an interview with the USA Today newspaper on Wednesday US time:

It’s “going to be a bit of a tough day,” she said, sounding as though she were fighting back tears. “I’m going to have to tell our viewers. That’s what makes me more emotional than anything. I don’t want to leave them. I love them. And I will really miss them.”

But rather than jump ship and pocket the remaining $US10 Million owing on her three year contract, she is instead staying with 30 Rock (the nickname for NBC’s imposing headquarters in New York City) as Today show anchor-at-large and NBC News national/international correspondent, a job which returns her to her journalistic roots. She admits that though she is gutted to be leaving Today, that her new role does have appeal.

“… in my secret heart of hearts, I see this as a thrilling opportunity. To have a ticket to every big story in the world — no small matter.” She adds that she is “trying not to say it too loudly, because it’s almost like the dream you didn’t ever allow yourself to have because of the reality of network television today.

“My father used to say, ‘Well, Ann, maybe the best thing you’ll ever do, you haven’t even thought of yet.’ And as I think about this, maybe that time is now.”

Ann Curry
(image via clickondetroit.com)

So her links with the show won’t be severed and she will get the chance to sleep past 3.30am (the time she has awoken for 14 years to make it to work on time). But she is still upset that she to leave the show she loves, largely because of her commitment to the viewers, as she told USA today:

“I come to work every day not wanting to drop the ball on them,” she says. “I’ve tried very hard to be what they need — even in the crazy-colored highlighter-toned dresses I wear that you could probably see from outer space. I’ve worn them because I know every one of us needs a little brightness in the morning.”

I am fairly certain that the viewers picked up on that commitment – I certainly did – and while I wish Ann well in her return to the cutting edge journalism she excels at, I will miss her bright smile, her warmth and friendliness.

It feels like I have lost a friend.

* Here’s a report on Ann’s departure by The Sydney Morning Herald, which touches how caring and lovely person Ann Curry is.

 

 

Music review: “Synthetica” by Metric

(image via musicfeeds.com.au)

 

The first thing that strikes you about this superlative album from 21st century Canadian rockers, Metric, is the otherworldly aura that permeates every one of its almost pop songs. (They were founded in 1998 in Toronto but their first album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? came in 2003 making them very much musical flag bearers of the new century.)

Singer Emily Haines is channelling some deep far off part of herself every time she passionately dives headfirst into a song. Whether it’s the dreamy-esque swirls of, appropriately enough, “Dreams So Real” or the foot-stomping, bouncing along in a loose-springed convertible glam rock vibe of “Youth Without Youth”, she sounds absolutely in the moment and yet ethereally removed all at the same time. Her voice suggests a potent mix of Garbage’s Shirley Manson, and Ladytron’s Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo, but wholly unique all at once, capable of capturing and releasing all the emotional punch, raw or silken, that you might want.

It lends the album a lush dissonance that sweeps you into a landscape that is most definitely still sculpted by the searing sound of screaming guitars and the power of pounding primal beats, but very much influenced by the melodic retro sounds of now. The overall sound, which is rich and warm, but pounding and defiant, is a schizophrenic melange that works beautifully, and reflects a band that isn’t afraid to mix things up if it results in more vibrant, heartfelt art.

Metric: singer Emily Haines (also plays the synthesizer and guitar), guitarist James Shaw (also plays the synthesizer), bassist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key (image via hitfix.com)

 

They’re also a band that isn’t afraid to write literate lyrics that speak to the human condition. Rather than making them sound like overly-introspective naval-gazers, they instead speak of a band that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.  They realise too I think that no matter how rich the music is, if it’s paired with insipid or superficial lyrics, then any or all of the melodic richness could be lost.

An example of their willingness to write lyrics that actually say something meaningful is again “Dreams So Real”:

All the unknown, dying or dead
Keep showing up in my dreams
They stand at the end of my bed
Have I ever really helped anyone but myself,
To believe in the power of songs?
To believe in the power of girls?
Though the point were making is gone
Played stripped down to my bone

I’ll shut up and carry on
The scream becomes a yawn

Matched with the ethereal beauty of this haunting track, you are left with the sense of someone grappling with the worth of what they’re doing. The resolution is to keep going, a very adult reaction, but it’s surrounded by an aching sense of pointlessness. But you’re not left feeling dragged down but rather feel like you have shared an intimate moment with someone going through a long dark night of the soul.

And it’s that kind of intelligence, that willingness to not simply accompany their killer guitar riffs, and pounding synth rhythms with not just any old words strung together that marks Metric as a band worth listening to over and over.

Some critics have accused the band of selling out their indie roots but frankly all I see are very creative, clever musicians making music that pulses with heart and soul, both lyrically and melodically.

In a world of vapid music-by-numbers copycats, they are everything you could want in a band, and in Synthetica they have made a vibrant musical statement that’s a significant cut above many of those produced by their peers.

 

 

RIP Nora Ephron

(image via guardian.co.uk)

Enormously sad news today with news that Nora Ephron, gifted director, screen writer, playwright and author has died aged 71.

Best known for cleverly written, intelligent, divinely romantic movies such as Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail, Ephron passed away from pneumonia brought on acute myeloid leukaemia, according to her son, Jacob Bernstein.

Her real gift to the world was the way she took the hackneyed romantic comedy genre, long past the glory days of Hepburn and Tracy, and Cary Grant, and breathed new life into it. Her characters were possessed of a preternatural wit and charm but had a down to earth quality that made you invest yourself in what happened to them. Unlike so many recent efforts in the genre, Ephron knew how to make characters sparkle, pop, and even though you knew they were acting out what was essentially a romantic fantasy, make it seem all so believable.

(image via newsdumper.blogspot.com)

To write like that is a gift and Ephron had it spades. But even more than her ability to successfully marry the romantic fantasy with the day to day, was the intelligence she brought to these movies. They were packed full of wry observations on gender politics, on the changing nature of love and relationships and the way reality has a nasty way of interfering with what the heart wants. You left her movies feeling as if you had learnt something as well briefly believing that love as perfectly wonderful as she wrote could actually come into being the way she described it.

By all accounts, Ephron was a woman of wit, intelligence and charm. Meryl Streep, a close friend since she starred in Heartbreak, which reputedly chronicled the end of Ephron’s acrimonious marriage to legendary Watergate reporter, Carl Bernstein, described her thus to The New York Times:

“Nora just looked at every situation and cocked her head and thought, ‘Hmmmm, how can I make this more fun?'”

Another close friend, Carrie Fisher, commenting on her death echoed these sentiments:

“She was so, so alive. It makes no sense to me that she isn’t alive anymore.”

Time Magazine, in their tribute to Ephron, emphasised the sparkling wit, intelligence and vivacity of this remarkable woman.

“Even within the smart-talking axis of New York-Washington-Los Angeles, no one bettered Ephron, slender and dark-haired, her bright and pointed smile like a one-liner made flesh. Friends from Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep to Calvin Trillin and Pete Hamill adored her for her wisdom, her loyalty and turns of phrase.”

 

 

Recent efforts by Ephron included the movie Julie and Julia, and the book I Remember Nothing, in which she described the beginning of her writing career when she worked for Newsweek in New York. Assured by the powers-that-be that women didn’t become writers, she ignored them completely going on to write for The New York Post, Esquire, and the New York Times Magazine.

A woman who defined convention to do what she did best, and chronicled life in New York as few have, didn’t relish getting old but was adamant she was going to make of life while it still coursed through her. She told Reuters while promoting her book I Remember Nothing (quoted in the Guardian newspaper’s beautifully written marking of her death which you can read here):

“At some point, your luck is going to run out … You are very aware with friends getting sick that it can end in a second.

“You should eat delicious things while you can still eat them, go to wonderful places while you still can … and not have evenings where you say to yourself, ‘What am I doing here? Why am I here? I am bored witless!'”

Married to third husband, Nicholas Pileggi since 1987, Ephron is also survived by her two sons Jacob and Max Bernstein, and legions of fans who will miss this bright effervescent woman and her sharp-witted take on love, romance and life in general.

Tom Hanks and Nora Ephron on the set of "You've Got Mail" (image via entertainment.time.com)

* The New Yorker has posted a wonderful heartfelt tribute to Ephron by Ariel Levy. It is worth reading as are the many articles she wrote for this august publication.

** Here’s another touching heartfelt tribute to Nora Ephron by Theo Pauline Nestor – “Sycophant in Seattle Bids Farewell to Nora Ephron” on thehuffingtonpost.com.

*** And finally a beautiful recounting of friendship with Nora Ephron by a man who worked with her and knew her well, Tom Hanks, who wrote a piece in Time paying tribute to his wonderful friend.

 

 

 

 

New season’s US TV shows 2012: Part 1

Another year, another crop of new shows from the USA, all competing for the hearts and mind of an ever-fracturing audience. As social media, and time-shifting (recording and then watching a show later) continue to change the way we consume new media of any kind, these up-and-coming TV programs need that extra special something to get people to watch.

In lots of ways, that’s probably always been the case but more than ever, a show needs to make a compelling case to be watched and build on that. Gone are the days when you could casually idle into your first few episodes. These days you need to grab people quickly and make it abundantly clear you’re not all premise and no execution, an affliction that befell shows like Alcatraz last season that promised much, but delivered far less than the premise suggested.

I am excited about the five following shows (and another five I will review soon) because they come with insanely exciting premises which look to have the ability to become something far greater as time goes on, if properly handled.

 

REVOLUTION

 

(image via sharetv.org)

 

THE SHOW: Another post-apocalyptic show (without zombies for those of you who frighten easily … and yes that includes me!) explained best by the lovely folks at NBC Publicity (NBC is the US station that will air the show):

 

Our entire way of life depends on electricity. So what would happen if it just stopped working? Well, one day, like a switch turned off, the world is suddenly thrust back into the dark ages. Planes fall from the sky, hospitals shut down, and communication is impossible. And without any modern technology, who can tell us why? Now, 15 years later, life is back to what it once was long before the industrial revolution: families living in quiet cul-de-sacs, and when the sun goes down lanterns and candles are lit. Life is slower and sweeter. Or is it? On the fringes of small farming communities, danger lurks. And a young woman’s life is dramatically changed when a local militia arrives and kills her father, who mysteriously – and unbeknownst to her – had something to do with the blackout. This brutal encounter sets her and two unlikely companions off on a daring coming-of-age journey to find answers about the past in the hopes of reclaiming the future.

 

(image via flickeringmyth.com)

 

MY TAKE: It’s an intriguing idea; one of those “what ifs” that you are content to ponder from the comfort of your lounge room but wouldn’t particularly want to live through (much like The Walking Dead or Falling Skies).

And it’s from J. J. Abrams which ups the must-watch factor still further. As does the cinematically-lush officer trailer courtesy of movie director, Jon Favreau. It all adds up to a compelling package that almost guarantees I will be watching the first episode with interest, and lot of popcorn …

My only concern is (a) Alcatraz which was also intriguing and had a gorgeous trailer and proved that not everything Mr Abrams touches turns to gold, and (b) so many post-apocalytic shows that promise so much and don’t deliver.

Why do they fail? Or at least don’t add to their early promise? Largely because they don’t treat the world they create as a dangerous world where the old rules of civilisation don’t apply. These shows often aren’t muscular enough; they’re like apocalypse-lite where danger might lurk around every corner but only turns up when its convenient (Falling Skies, much as I love it, falls into this trap from time to time.). Shows like The Walking Dead get this with cast members regularly bumped off to serve the greater good of the story. Yes we mourn them but their deaths make sense since the old certainties of the old order are long gone, and life simply isn’t safe anymore.

They also fear looking too dark and try to lighten things up with sentimental moments or moments of bonding between the characters. That’s fine as far as it goes. You would hope that all humanity wouldn’t disappear the moment the civilising effects on government are vaporised by bombs, eaten by zombies or bombed to bits by aliens so having those reminders gives you hope for the future. But too many and you get bogged down in so many saccharine moments that you feel like you’re being swallowed up by a vat of overly potent molasses.

Still those concerns aside, this looks enormously promising and so for now, I shall err on the side of incautious optimism and give it a big tick of anticipatory approval.

 

 

 

The video below features Eric Kripke, the show’s creator, talking about how he came up with the idea for Revolution,  and what he has planned for the series including important story arcs he has in mind.

 

 

UPDATE: 9 August 2012

Here’s a 6 minute extended preview of Revolutions released today by NBC.

 

 

THE MINDY PROJECT

 

(image via tvrage.com)

Now a complete change of pace to a comedy about a bright dedicated young professional woman in New York, Mindy Lahiri (The Office‘s Mindy Kaling) who can’t find love, keeps finding men who are no good for her, and is desperate to become a “better person”, even though she has no idea how to do that.

A dedicated OB/GYN at a practice she shares with, among others, a Hugh Grant-like English Lothario, Jeremy Reed (British comedian, Ben Weeks) who she knows she shouldn’t be sleeping with but does anyway, and a super zealous, hyper-critical Danny Castellano (Damages‘ Chris Messina) who is a constant thorn in her side but secretly admires and likes her. The cast of zany work colleagues is round out by the devoted-as-a-puppy to Mindy, enthusiastic receptionist Betsy Putch (Huge‘s Zoe Jarman) and the super-hip, cold-as-ice Shauna Dicanio (Dana Lorenzo) who may like Mindy that much but carries a barely concealed torch for outspoken Danny.

Naturally she has a best friend, Gwen Grandy (The Good Wife‘s Anna Cramp) who is a reformed party girl and tells it like it is to her bestie, and without whom she would be lost. Well she is still lost much of the time but at least Gwen is there, always lending her considerable support.

 

(image via theberry.com)

 

MY TAKE: This looks seriously funny.

Granted it contains a great many romantic comedy constants – the super capable at work, klutzy at home and in love professional woman, the devoted slightly goofy best friend, the colleague who likes her secretly but would never admit it in a million years, the sweet, earnest young receptionist, the bitchy kill you with a single stare receptionist and the bad boy the protagonist can’t resist.

Yes it is a show replete with every trope, meme and cliche you can imagine but, and yes I only have the trailer to go on, it looks like they have assembled it into one highly original hilarious package. A lot of that pulling power has to do with Mindy Kaling, who has shown on The Office, and in her New York Times best-selling book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns), that she is an enormously talented woman with the comedic acting chops to make this work … hell not just work, but fly.

I am predicting it will be this season’s New Girl and do every bit as well.

Just get it a new title please? The current one sounds like a working title that someone forget to peel off and replace with the real permanent one.

 

 

 

GO ON

 

(image via poptower.com)

 

Another comedy in a year where 29 comedies, a record number I’m sure, are competing for the right to keep tickling your funny bone far beyond the pilot season. But Go On looks like one of the stronger contenders out there.

Centring on Ryan King (Friends‘ Matthew Perry), a radio sportscaster who recently lost his wife in a car accident while she was texting, it takes a long hard, and humorous look at the nature of grief and how people manage their way out, assuming they choose to.

And Ryan doesn’t really want to. He heads back to work a month after his loss, his usual cocky self until a meltdown on the radio convinces his boss, but not of course, Ryan that he needs counselling. Lumbered with this obligation, Ryan’s initial reaction is to get through it as quickly as possible, not engage and exit stage left, never to return.

Of course once he gets to this group, his flawed intentions are thrown to the wind as he finds himself first humorously engaging with everyone – by getting them to play a game of “Who has the best sob story?” – and then much to his surprise, actually getting his fellow therapy patients.

The show is produced by Emmy-winning writer and executive producer Scott Silveri (Friends) and includes a stellar cast which includes Tony winner Laura Benanti (The Playboy Club), Julie White (Transformers), Suzy Nakamura (Dodgeball), Khary Payton (General Hospital) and Allison Miller (Terra Nova).

 

(image via poptower.com)

 

MY TAKE: If they write this well, it has all the hallmarks of being in the same comedic vein as Community. While the jury’s still out on what effect Dan Harmon’s departure will have on that much-loved off-the-wall comedy, I have a feeling that Go On could well be a worthy companion in the quirky comedy hall of fame. Matthew Perry has a natural gift for delivering oddball lines in a pitch perfect way and not coming off looking like an idiot, but rather likeable and goofy.

His other gift is that he can manage darker emotions too with aplomb and there’s a good chance this show will have more than a few emotionally-dense moments. I doubt they will overrule the comedic vibe but the trailer hints at a recognition by the writers that all comedy all the time will seriously devalue the heart of the show. It’s encouraging that they get that because if there’s too much comedy, and not enough insight into the lives of the characters, you feel like you’re watching a circus with overly flippant clowns, and not real people masking their harrowing battle with grief with humour and deflection.

This has all the makings of a classic balance between light and dark, happy and sad, with enough goofball-ishness to lift it above the cut and thrust of ordinary uninspired sitcoms.

 

 

 THE NEW NORMAL

 

(image via mytvobsession.com)

 

In a sign that their finger is very much on the pulse of the cultural zeitgeist, the creators of The New Normal, Glee‘s Ryan Murphy and Glee writer Ali Adler, both openly gay, have also drawn on their own experience in starting a family (or in Murphy’s case, wanting to) to pen this new promising sitcom.

It revolves around a professional couple, Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) who, in common with many other couples around them, to start a family. Naturally to do this they will need a surrogate which is where the bright, sweet and decidedly gay friendly, Goldie (Georgia King) steps in. She figures the $35,000 would allow her to go to law school and give her preternaturally gifted daughter, Shania (Bebe Woods) the sort of life she deserves, and besides as far as she is concerned, “love is love and family is family”.

This is not a view shared by her homophobic gun-totin’ mother who is feisty, opinionated,     and happy to take on all comers. She is more than matched in the sassy stakes though by Bryan’s assistant, Rocky (Nene Leakes), a Glee alum whose sharp-tongued takes on life are comic gold.

 

(image via tvrage.com)

 

MY TAKE: It was little harder to get a feel for the show since the trailer features a snippet of the show itself rather a montage of images from across the show, but what I saw was pleasing. The two gay characters aren’t poorly sketched, jumbled together collections of cliches, and while they remind me more than a little of Cameron and Mitchell from Modern Family, that’s not an indictment so much as a reassurance because those two characters aren’t cardboard cutout gay men either.

What’s heartening and marks a profound shift since even the days of Will and Grace is that gay characters are being treated as no different to any other character. I still remember the days when gay people were seen as oddities or curiosities in TV shows somehow removed from the concerns of ordinary everyday straight folk. But now their relationships, their hopes and dreams are given equal standing with all the other characters; they are, quite rightfully, not seen as being any different to anyone else.

And that’s why I think this show, apart from being funny with some engaging characters (well as much as you can tell from a brief trailer anyway), will resonate with people everywhere. It speaks of the common human need to love, be loved and build a family, and that is something that anyone, gay or straight, can relate to.

And hopefully laugh themselves silly at too …

 

 

 

666 PARK AVE

 

(image via poptower.com)

 

The name alone says it all – 666 Park Ave is hardily the name you give to a show about a kindly couple who look after stray cats and take in the poor and destitute for nothing.

No, you give that sort of devilish name to a show about a mysterious couple, all smiles on the surface, but all trickery and lies underneath. Lost‘s Terry O’Quinn and Ugly Betty‘s Vanessa Williams are powerhouses of the small screen, and sizzle as a couple who own a beautiful ornate apartment building that harbours some very dark, very evil secrets. But to the eager couple who come looking for a job as the building’s managers, Brothers and Sisters‘ Dave Annable and Australia’s very own Rachael Taylor, the devious owners merely represent a chance at a life they could never afford on their own.

But as the trailer quickly makes clear, at what cost? You see a number of people, who presumably made deals with the devil paying for the charmed lives they lead, and it isn’t pretty. There are 80 people in the building so it stands to reason there will be plenty of story lines in a show that promises chills, thrills and payment for your sins.

 

(image via darkhorizons.com)

 

MY TAKE: If ever a show had brooding menace writ large across it, it is this one. Both Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams bring the requisite gravitas to their roles, managing to be both all smiles and icily cruel sometimes in the same sentence.

And Dave Annable and Rachael Taylor are perfectly cast as the wide-eyed excited young couple who can’t quite believe their luck. Of course as the trailer hints, Rachael, after an odd discovery in the basement, begins to wonder if there is more to the building than the owners are letting on, but by and large they embrace this opportunity to make something more of their lives, blissfully unaware it comes at a high price.

What intrigues me is how they will make use of this premise. With such a large number of people living in the building, all of whom seem to be aware of the cost involved in being there, it is going to be a challenge to canvas these stories and do the necessary slow reveal of the building’s insidious secrets that such a show demands. They will of course need to avoid The Curse of Lost, which is endless build up, a multitude of questions but a paucity of answers. Or when the answers are given, they’re deeply unsatisfying.

I am hopeful they can. This looks to be a show rich with malevolent possibility and the chance to tell a slew of smaller stories wrapped around the central story of a young couple who of course will discover you don’t get something for nothing.

EVER.

 

 

So which show/s have you excited and already programming your PVR?

The shiny allure of celebrity publishing

Forget torches under the sheets as we read way past our bedtime. In this celebrity-driven age, we can read by the sheer light of star power alone. While society has always been obsessed with the great names of the day, it has never been more ubiquitous than it is now, thanks to the ability of the internet to ensure we’re never far from news about our favourite star.

And they of course are never far from us, even if it is only a virtual presence hovering close by.

The rising tide of celebrity books
The rise of celebrity-written books has only reinforced this trend to omnipresent fame with every celebrity worth their salt (and many, that one could argue, who aren’t) jumping on the literary bandwagon to adoring oohs and aahs from their fans who are rushing out to buy these books, almost before they hit the bookshop shelves.

But why are celebrity tomes suddenly all the rage? And what does it mean for the future of publishing as a whole?

Weighty questions indeed for what many dismiss as inconsequential books by people trying to extend their 15 minutes of fame, but enough people are buying books by famous people to merit the asking of these questions.

Certainly the influx of celebrity-attributed books has merited some serious discussion in the blogosphere from the likes of Rachel Symes of US National Public Radio (NPR) who noted the rise of the phenomenon in a May 2011 post on that organisation’s blog:

“This past week on the New York Times bestseller list for non-fiction, nine out of 16 titles were “celebrity books” — quickie memoirs, humorous essays, and life lessons dished out by the rich and famous for readers to chew on.”

She went on to say that, “the wave has already crested on the fame-worship shores and by now we are all lucky if we can stay afloat long enough not to drown in it.”

Her description of the overwhelming numbers of celebrity-penned, or at least badged books (many books are written by ghost writers with input, both large and small, from the celebrities) was backed by Jennifer Schuessler of the New York Times, “Inside the List”:

“In the meantime, not even elite special forces seem to be able to fight off the celebrity invasion currently menacing America’s bookstores. Forget Osama: what are we going to do about Tina Fey, Steven Tyler, Rob Lowe, Betty White…?”

Is there a cause for concern?
So clearly a number of online commentators are sounding the alarm bells but what really is the nature of the crisis?

Should it be a matter of concern if Snooki (aka Nicole Polizzi) from Jersey Shore releases a book, Confessions of a Guidette which becomes a New York Times bestseller or that Fabio authored an erotic murder thriller, Wild? Granted they may not be the best books ever written and released, but they keep the celebrities’ fans happy and engaged and provide a healthy revenue stream for a traditional publishing industry imperilled by the digital revolution.

Surely that’s a good thing for all concerned isn’t it?

Well, yes and no.

Worry no more?
In the short term, it’s a deafening “yes” for the publishing industry. Beset by seismic changes wrought by the advancing tide of digital change, the brand name recognition, and hence guaranteed sales of a celebrity-penned book, are welcome indeed.

(image via sinussister.com)

Books by Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey and Steve Martin, all of whom have penned critically-acclaimed, best selling works, bolster the bottom line at a time when people are flocking to far-cheaper ebook versions of books courtesy largely of a cashed-up Amazon. Embattled by Amazon’s aggressive push to make substantial inroads into the business of publishing, as well as selling books, publishers have looked to quick and easy low-cost ways to maintain the fast-disappearing revenue streams of old.

It has also been suggested in passing that anything that can draw people into a bookstore who might then buy other more weighty titles is a good thing:

“We’re not denying the fact that at least these ‘celebrity-written’ books are increasing the literary consumption of the average person; anything that gets people reading, barring some very specific exceptions, is never a bad thing.” (Sara Farb, writer, “The problem with celebrity books”, sheknows.ca)

However even she admitted that this small positive was outweighed by a number of significant negatives.

Or run around in a dizzying panic?
Critics of the traditional publishing industry’s current celebrity-driven success, who allege that it is temporary at best, are emphatic that the answer to the question is a resounding “no”. They say that this strategy could well deny many up-and-coming writers, the producers of what Lynn Price at the Behler Blog refers to as “good books”, the chance to join the ranks of John Grisham, Jodi Picoult and James Patterson.

Writing in July 2011 Price further commented in the light of the publication of teen pop superstar Justin Bieber’s memoirs:

“I can’t help but feel saddened that many “worthy” books won’t be published because they won’t make the megabucks that folks like Baby [Justin] Bieber will.”

It is a theme echoed by many other writers, all of whom fear a loss of fresh talent in the realms of traditional publishing generally as new authors find it difficult to not only get a publishing deal but be noticed when they do.

Writing in bookforum in May 2011, Ruth Franklin was drawn to remark:

“A novel by a new writer has a smaller chance of becoming a best seller today than at any other time in history. [Michael] Korda likens it to ‘finding an empty seat on a commuter train that’s packed with regulars.'”

Commenting on Ruth’s assertion, Rachel Symes said:

“And when the regulars are also riding first-class by nature of being celebrities, it can lead debut authors to feel like second-class citizens, the bastard children of the publishing world.”

Is there a viable alternative?
Now you might argue that this surely isn’t as big an issue as it used to be since e-publishing has given many would-be authors the chance to self-publish and through hard work and diligence carve themselves all the brand recognition they want among the reading public. While that is true to some extent, the fact remains that the digital platforms are still in their infancy despite their growing success, and that many authors still value the visibility that a real world publishing deal brings them.

But with these publishing deals increasingly scarce on the ground as publishers chase the easy money of “celebrity-written” books, the question is being asked about what these authors are supposed to do to make their mark?

Sara Farb, has cheekily suggested that in response, aspiring writers would be “better off starting as stars’ ghostwriters; at least that would ensure a healthy enough paycheque, even if it does mean being relegated to the 8-point font acknowledgement section at the back of the book.”

(image via savvyverseandwit.com)

On a more serious note, the likely outcome is that many writers will leave the publishing houses alone, thus accelerating the decline of the major publishers, and join forces, as many are already doing, with the traditional publishing houses’ great enemy, Amazon, and self-publish. Or, as happened in the recording industry, flock to the emerging small independent houses such as Candlemark and Gleam, and Red Lemonade, who are doing bold and daring things in the digital space, to seal a publishing deal.

Either way the big traditional publishing houses, which Sarah Lacy has referred to as “dysnfunctional prehistoric companies”, risk trading away any future cultural and commercial relevancy for short term gains that could disappear as quickly as the fame that currently underpins much of it.

First Impression: “Falling Skies” season 2 premiere

(image via teaser-trailer.com)

Falling Skies is back and it has been absolutely worthy the wait.

Picking up just three months after Tom Mason (Noah Wylie) bravely stepped onto the aliens’ spacecraft to find out more about why they’re here, and how it affects not just the human race as a whole but his family in particular, the series swung into high gear and gave us a while bunch of answers, and disquietingly a reflection of our own flawed humanity.

It was skilfully done. During the flashbacks woven into the storyline as Tom, in a drugged post-op state (he is accidentally shot by his son Ben as he returns to the group at the tail end of a firefight) remembers his journey back to the ones he loves, you see him taken into a large hive-like room in the middle of which sits one of those tall silver elongated aliens we saw in the dying episodes of series one. They appear to be the ones calling the shots – the alien master race if you will – and what follows once Tom steps into that room is chilling indeed.

Tom comes across this girl when he is walking back to Boston just after a desperate man has killed her mother and is trying to steal her stuff. She isn't trusting of him at first but eventually they team up to travel to Boston (image via tv.com)

Not so much because of the fact that the alien makes Tom an offer he believes humanity has no choice but to receive – move into special allocated “sanctuaries” or be exterminated. Naturally Tom defiantly rejects this out of hand, but is caught somewhat flatfooted when the alien points out to him that as a history professor he should be aware that what they are offering is simply what humanity has done to those among it with whom it disagrees. How is there offer any different?

At that point, you seem Tom momentarily pause. He acknowledges the dark chapters in mankind’s history but points out that we are more than the sum of those times and that our history hasn’t been fully written yet. Emboldened, he expresses profound disappointment that such an advanced species, with so much technology at their disposal, could be so base as to mimic the way humanity treats those it considers expendable.

The scene does end on a somewhat defiant note with Tom knocking the Skitter standing guard to the ground, grabbing his gun and firing it at the alien. Karen, once a resistance fighter, and now a harnessed slave to the aliens and the alien’s mouthpiece through this whole exchange recoils too. But Tom is brought back under control, but not executed as we might expect but released with many others who are summarily mown down by gunfire as they run away from the departing spaceship.

Tom faces off with the Skitter and the Mech who chillingly walk off and leave him alive (image via tv.com)

Everyone but Tom is killed. As he stands there alone, staring at the Mech and the Skitter it’s obvious the game has changed – the aliens will not rest till mankind is totally eradicated and the planet is theirs, and Tom is the one who will take that message back to humanity.

Much of the rest of the episode centres on the the growing tension between Tom’s two eldest sons, Hal and Ben. Physically strengthened by his time as a harnessed servant of the aliens, Ben is pushing back against Hal with a fury that leaves the brothers on a dangerous path to estrangement. It still isn’t clear in this episode how connected Ben is with the aliens but Karen, who is still harnessed, make sit clear that while the connection can be broken (she doesn’t reveal  how), it isn’t yet. Clearly Ben is being affected somehow and it points to renewed tensions not just with Hal but the whole group in episodes to come.

The other major development is that the group, forced to flee the sanctuary of the school is now open, exposed with the aliens now able to track the heat signatures of the internal combustion engines powering the bikes and trucks. This is a significant problem since without these means of transportation, they can’t flee the constant alien patrols which in this episode come too close to comfort forcing everyone to flee again.

Hal in full battle mode (image via ksitetv.com)

It exposes the fact that the 2nd Mass. is, and really always was, a vulnerable ragtag group of fighters, hopelessly you might think outgunned, and increasingly at the mercy of aliens who are adapting their suppression techniques the more they learn about humanity.

All in all it leaves our plucky band of survivors in a precarious position, and underlined just how great the fight to survive is going to be.

Sure the show still has a few flaws. It keeps dipping its toe – hell, its entire freaking body – into the warm waters of Spielbergian sentimentality. Don’t get me wrong – I love warm and fuzzy moments as much as the next guy but it always feels the ones in this program are far more “7th Heaven” or “Touched by an Angel” sugary sickly sweet rather than “ER” we’ve gone through hell and bonded inspiring. There’s too much of the former in the show but this episode only ventured there once and only towards the end.

I am hoping they can put the group into real harm far more often, and make the alien threat so dangerous that the threat to the group’s survival, which has been highlighted but is curiously absent if a major sentimental moment or narrative moment specific to the internal interactions of the group takes place (in other words the aliens only turn up at convenient times), that the sense that they are perpetually up against it is heightened till it hurts.

Overall though a great more muscular start to the season than I expected and I look forward to seeing where the 2nd Mass. goes next in their harrowing, never ending fight for survival.

 

 

Sonic Bliss #10: My favourite songs of the week

One of the great dilemmas of loving such a broad cross section of music, and hence the many amazingly talented artists who populate each one in their own distinctive way, is how to choose what to listen to next. The budget and my time stretches only so far… of course that doesn’t stop me overreaching all the time and grabbing more musical goodness in my arms that I can carry.

True to form, I am up to my neck listening to new music from the likes of Metric, Fiona Apple and Hot Chip, and a raft of wonderful new single releases, which have whet my appetite for the engaging long players just a small way down the track.

Somehow I have managed to grab just 5 songs from this tsunami of song which I assure you are not just worth checking out but taking immediately to your heart…

 

CAT POWER – “Ruin”

 

(image via greenleft.org.au)

 

It’s been a long time between drinks at the original music bar for the talented Chan Marshall who last regaled us with a full album of self-penned songs back in 2006 with The Greatest. But she has roared back in blistering form with a buoyant, almost exuberant song, “Ruin”, a departure from much of her earlier circumspect, more insular-sounding music.

The feel of this song, which contrasts travelling the world and its many ruins with the sense of that the greatest decay can lie in your own hometown, is lyrically introspective while its drum and guitar-heavy music celebrates the blues-influenced sound of The Greatest and its follow ups, 2008’s Jukebox, an album of mostly covers plus an original song song or two, and its accompanying EP, Dark End of the Street released the following year.

The song has an amazing ability to draw you in again and again, its looping melodic bounce racing forward in tandem, and in diametric opposition almost at times with Cat’s exploration of the world and her sobering realisation of the way so much of what we see is ruins. You will never feel so good about realising how real and broken down life can be at times.

 

 

OF MONSTERS AND MEN: “”Little Talks”

 

(image via directcurrentmusic.com)

 

It is no secret that I have a long and enduring love affair with Scandinavian pop of any stripe, but especially music that dares to push all sorts of boundaries, revels in its now melodic quirkiness and accompanies that with a passionate sense and love of performance whether live or in a clip.

This Icelandic six piece indie pop-folk band ticks all those boxes and then some. To say they are gloriously, deliciously one of a kind would be understating it. They are true originals, and their songs have a freshness about them that is compelling, arresting … and a whole heap of fun too.

The animation-heavy clip for this song for instance is as bright, buoyant and carnival-esque as the song itself which propels forward with a giddy joy that belies its darker lyrical undertones about journeying across wild and dangerous lands. You hum along to it’s almost joyful melodies before realising there is liberal talk of screaming and “the truth finding us”. Still it all ends happily with the jaunty band singing about being the ship they’re on carrying them “safe to shore”.

They have already garnered great success in Iceland, winning Músíktilraunir, an annual battle of the bands competition in Iceland in 2010, and the United States, courtesy of Philadelphia’s 104.5 radio station who began playing “Little Talks” which not surprisingly became a major hit nationwide.

If this song and their album, My Head is an Animal is any guide, they will likely conquer the rest of the world too in short time and I suspect we shall all be dancing along to this delightfully quirky pop for quite some time to come.

 

 

PET SHOP BOYS: “Invisible”

 

(image via metro.co.uk)

 

A fixture on the world’s electronic dance music scene since the 1980s, Pet Shop Boys are returning to the zeitgeist fray this year with the dreamily-titled Elysium, which continues their tradition of single word album titles.

Lead single, “Invisible” which was quietly made available for download on Saturday night UK time, with an accompanying abstract-art influenced clip by Los Angeles artists and filmmaker Brian Bess debuting just as demurely, is the sort of chillingly beautiful almost melancholic ballad the duo excel at.

It laments the transition of the song’s protagonist from “the life of the party” to the titular state of invisibility. As the lyrics ask “Am I really even here?”, and all sorts of languidly enunciated expressions of angst, waft in and out of hearing, soft bleeps and synth sweeps weave all around you.

It has been categorised by the duo as indicative of the sound of the album to come, which was produced by members Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, and Andrew Dawson, and not as a single as such. Whatever they choose to label it, it is divine …  a sublimely gorgeous slice of electronic pop balladry that will require repeated listens, preferably on a lazy afternoon with the sound turned up loud …

 

 

HOT CHIP: “Motion Sickness”

 

(image via albumoftheyear.org)

 

You might be thinking – “Hmm odd title for a song. Are they celebrating the joys of barfing while on a boat or in a fast-moving car and if so, do I really want to listen to that?”

To which I say, stop thinking it so we can all hear it, yes you do, and trust me it’s the perfect quirky title for the first song of the London synth-pop group’s new album, In Our Heads. It celebrates the joy of letting an exultant wave of sound wash over you, so powerful it moves you in a way nothing else can. You spin around and around till … well the song title gives away what comes next.

But lest you think that’s not the best of outcomes, the song reminds you again and again, in what is arguably Hot Chip’s pop-friendliest piece of electronica ever, that being this euphoric is a state of unbridled joy that you lose yourself too gladly. It is relentlessly upbeat, pounding along with the happiest of grooves and insistent beats that pulse and push you along till all that matters is surrendering to the positive flow around you.

Want a song to make you grin like a madman, dance and throw your arms up in the air like you … well you know. Trust me, this is the one.

 

 

WANDERHO– USE: “Use Me Up”

 

(image via bete2musik.com)

 

Hard though it might be to imagine when you’re wrapped in the euphorically happy song from Hot Chip, it isn’t possible to dance forever (though you could be forgiven for thinking that so all-encompassing is the joy of letting yourself go to certain songs) and that’s where soft sweeping slices of ethereal beauty like this track from the newly-formed Wanderhouse come in.

A joining together of producer Doctor Rosen Rosen, who gained accolades aplenty for his work on Meg Myer’s jaw-droppingly good EP, Daughter in The Choir, and singer/songwriter, Marie Moreshead, Wanderhouse promises music that is rich, cinematic and sweeping in scope if this song is any indication.

It is one of those moody songs that speak of great lonely wanderings through inhospitable climes but does so with dreamy pop that draws you into its embrace in a way that makes the bleakness feel almost comforting. You emerge from Wanderhouse’s debut single wishing it could go on and on …

It has a grand melodic beauty to it that makes me long for many long hours with this talented twosome …

 

 

So anything grab you and demand another listen?

It’s the Muppets, Jim but not as know them

(image via muppetcentral.com)

The Muppets leapt back onto the cultural zeitgeist in a big way with the release of their latest movie, titled appropriately enough, The Muppets this year.

Riding the crest of this cinema-driven renewed interest in all things Muppet, BBC One has announced it’s planning to make an all new puppets show, No Strings Attached (working title) in conjunction with the Jim Henson Company, with founder Jim Henson’s son Brian as lead puppeteer and Danny Baker as lead writer.

Brian Henson ... with friends (image via jimhillmedia.com)

The show, which is only at pilot stage at the moment, will feature two celebrities each week who will take part in “series of unique games run by the cast of characters and take part in a variety of sketches, in what will be a warm, cheeky, family affair fuelled by a healthy dose of off-the-wall, madcap fun.”

The announcement, made on the BBC’s website, is sure to gladden the hearts of Muppets fans everywhere. With production in the safe hands of The Jim Henson Company, and featuring an assortment of all new visually-rich, fun-filled and no doubt delightfully eccentric characters created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in Los Angeles, this show may well harken back to the glory days of The Muppet Show in the 1970s.

It makes sense to make this show in Britain since that is the spiritual home of the Muppets in one sense. Though Jim Henson was an American, The Muppet Show displayed a particular British comedic sensibility, being filmed in Britain and reflecting that country’s vaudevillian past.

One can only hope that inspired manic magic can strike strike and this new show reflects much of what made its predecessor so popular, albeit of course with a 21st Century flavour.

“Minuscule” heads to the big screen

(image via tamba2.org.uk)

One of the delights of the small spaces between programs on the Australian national broadcaster ABC’s schedule are small bite-sized cartoons by a French company, Ikon Productions.

Their series, Minuscule, features short usually humorous interplays between various computer-generated 3D insects set against the idyllic backdrop of rural France. The insects display an engaging anthropomorphic sensibility and I can honestly say it is some of the funniest material I have ever seen on television.

The key to it I think is its inherent simplicity. The story lines aren’t overly complicated, and rely on a clever use of slapstick, characters with personalities so beautifully detailed they come alive in an astonishingly short space of time, and short, sharp and very much to the point durations.

It is a testament to co-creators Thomas Sazbo and Helene Giraud, and producer, Phillipe Delarue that a series about teeny tiny insects, which they freely acknowledge owes a comedic debt of gratitude to the 1950s Looney Tunes cartoons by Warner Bros., looms so large over the cultural landscape.

(Image via http://www.minuscule-blog.com/en/)

And it is about to stand even taller still. Ikon is in the midst of filming on a long-planned theatrical movie release, Valley of the Lost Ants, with a final shooting session set down for July this year. No word yet on its planned release date but if the movie bears even a skerrick of the humour and cleverness of its more short running cousins, and why would it not, it can’t help but be a box office smash.

Or is that last word a bad one to use when there are so many flies about to start buzzing around cinemas worldwide?