Tag Archives: FX

Louie

Shameless? More like fearless.

So I’ve been catching up on life after the sabbatical, and given the need to lift the spirits I opted to start with the saved episodes of Louie and Wilfred. There is too much to see and not enough time, and since I had been fairly current with both shows before the departure, they seemed like the logical places to start. Wilfred, of course, did not disappoint – still riotously funny and as black a comedy as we’re likely to get on television this year.

But Louie is playing at another level.

Where last year’s shows had been irreverent and original, the second season of Louie is exponentially greater. Not only has Louis CK become a better actor – partially because his character is so much richer – but the writing has been sharper, darker, and yes, fearless. He’s always been able to write himself as the central figure in uncomfortable situations, but now he is not only scripting extended guest roles into the mix, he’s getting compelling performances from fellow comedians.

Doug Stanhope’s recent turn as a bitter and despondent road comic was outstanding, as he skewered the celebrity of mass appeal comedians while reaching some poignant conclusions about his own life. So too was the performance from Joan Rivers, playing herself, chastising Louie on his lack of work ethic and his inability to overcome insecurity. Although Stanhope’s “Eddie” was a fictional character, he inhabited it with much of his own persona; he was the yang to Rivers’ yin as polar opposites on the comedy hierarchy.

But the jaw-dropping moment had to be Dane Cook, who Louis humbles himself to meet backstage at a gig hoping to score some Lady Gaga tickets for his daughters (the logic is that Gaga and Cook share an agent). In the scene, Cook – who has long been accused of ripping off jokes from Louis CK in real life – is bitter towards TV Louie for not coming out in his defense. Louie explains that although he didn’t think Cook stole the jokes on purpose, he likely knew that they had come from somewhere else and didn’t really stop himself, either. TV Cook is clearly angered by the lingering accusations, and amazed that Louie would still put himself through the humiliation just to get the tickets, but both men get to speak their piece without either really backing down.

About halfway through this exchange, I realized that I was watching two people who didn’t want to have this conversation in public actually have this conversation in public, albeit within the framework of a script. As clever as it was for Louis the writer, it was an equally ballsy move by Cook to participate.

And that’s just one part of one episode. Louie will not likely win the award for best comedy or best drama, but right now it just might be both.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Emmy Thumbs

That’s thumbs both up and down, as it looks like the voting academy finally started to recognize that basic cable programs are pretty much kicking TV’s ass right now. Yes, Mad Men had gotten tons of accolades (and deservedly so), but TNT, FX and USA have been pumping out quality programming with interesting characters and solid casts without getting their due. I’m still burning over the fact that The Shield got their attention in the first season but then fell off their radar after that despite six seasons that raised the bar every year. But we shouldn’t cry over spilt blood.

This year’s list of nominees did provide some surprising nods that put a big smile on my face. But as always, there were some jaw-dropping announcements that just made me shake my head. So for this week’s TGIF, how about Ten Emmy Thumbsfive up and five down?

(01)Justified: Walton Goggins got screwed over so many times on The Shield that I lost count, and I was afraid that his dynamic performance on Justified was going to be overlooked as well. But thankfully voters woke up and nominated him along with series lead Timothy Olyphant and the amazing Margo Martindale (who might have given the single best performance on television this year).

(02)Louis CK: Not only did he grab nods for his show and his acting, but his comedy special picked up two nods as well. Denis Leary had to watch The Job get ignored before hitting it big with Rescue Me; let’s hope Lucky Louie opened the door for a long ride with Louie.

(03)The Good Wife: a strong show that appeals to men and women, and Alan Cumming got a well-deserved nomination along with star Julianne Margulies.

(04)Robot Chicken: Some of the absolutely gut-bustingly funniest shows on TV are buried in the Adult Swim section of the Cartoon Network. Seth Green continues to amaze.

(05)Parks And Recreation: The pendulum on Thursday’s NBC comedy block has clearly swung to the newer half of the evening, with Community and P&R really stepping up their game. Amy Poehler is great but Nick Offerman should have been a no-brainer nominee.

(06) – Um…where are the nominations for The Closer, Castle, The Walking Dead, Treme, Fringe and just about anything sci-fi related?

(07)Modern Family – great show with a great cast. But did every single adult cast member deserve a nod? You couldn’t slide in anyone from Community or Parks and Recreation? Have you not seen Children’s Hospital?

(08) – Category Blunders! Since when is SNL a comedy series and not a variety show? Kristin Wiig gets a supporting comedy actress nod? Hosts of the show are guest actors? How about people like Mary McConnell and Cloris Leachman, who are cast members in the shows they were nominated for as guests?

(09)The Good Wife – like Modern Family, a good show, but let’s get real. Christine Baranski and Josh Charles are good actors, but…the best? There are at least ten people on Sons of Anarchy alone that blew them out of the water, and that show was completely overlooked again this year

(10)Mariska Hartigay. Really? Really?

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Wilfred!

I gotta admit, when I first saw the promos, I was concerned.

My first thought was…”they cancelled Terriers for this”? But I must admit that within two minutes, I was totally on board. I wasn’t expecting much from Elijah Wood, but he’s perfect as the fragile, depressed and impressionable human who sees his neighbor’s dog as a six-foot tall guy in a fur suit. And Jason Gann – who created the show and plays the title character – is pitch-perfect as the worldly-wise, conniving and deviant muse to Wood’s delusions.

Video: Wilfred (clip from pilot episode)

Strap in, people. This could be a classic, back-to-back with Louie!

Um…unless FX cancels it.

Wilfred official site

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The Praise Is Fully Justified

What an ending!

Like I expected anything less from an episode called “Bloody Harlan“? I won’t spoil it for you, don’t worry – sit and savor it for yourself. Matter of fact, go back to the first episode of this second season and watch it all again just in case the well-placed seeds escaped your grasp the first time around. Because what’s popping up out of the ground as this arc closes is as interesting as who is getting planted in it.

I think we all agree that Timothy Olyphant is badass, and in Raylan Givens he has achieved what many actors never do – the perfect match of performer and character that we can only feebly call the role of a lifetime. But even I wasn’t sure where they could take Justified after the first season; frankly I was thrilled just to see that it was renewed. But I’m struggling for the words to describe how exponentially better this season has been. Whatever the opposite of a sophomore slump is called would be a good start.

Video: Season Two promo

I couldn’t even tell you where to start with the supporting cast, from the amazing Walton Goggins as the unpredictable Boyd Crowder, Nick Searcy as the supportive yet skeptical boss, or Natalie Zea and Joelle Carter as the strong but damaged women trying to keep Givens and Crowder from jumping the rails. And in smaller and guest roles, actors like Raymond J. Barry, William Ragsdale and Jere Burns shine like beacons. But everything in Season Two begins and ends with the Bennetts, a dry-land hillbilly crew that would make the river-edge pikers in Deliverance squeal like a pig.

Joseph Lyle Taylor, Jeremy Davies and Brad William Henke are incredible as this show’s version of Dumb and Dumber (and Dumbest) although there’s rancid evil and twisted Mommy issues percolating underneath those hillbilly hats. Davies has always played characters as an amalgamation of tics and quirks (Lost and Saving Private Ryan being two prime examples), but Dickie is soaked in them. And while young Kaitlyn Dever might seem to be playing a page from the script of Winter’s Bone, she stands toe-to-toe with this group, a tribute to her skills and the quality of the writing. Really – how can you go wrong with Elmore Leonard in the mix?

But as Mags Bennett, the matriarch of this twisted little holler, Margo Martindale is off the charts. Sinister yet sensitive, moral and amoral, protective and ruthless, her complex portrayal is mesmerizing. I don’t hold my breath expecting actors on FX shows to get their due when awards are passed out – Goggins would have a mantle full by now if they did – but anything short of a Best Actress trophy would be…well, unjustified.

There are a lot of great dramas on television that deserve your attention like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. But after a season that was absolutely Shakespearian, there is no doubt that Justified is the best show on television, game, set and match.

The official website.

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Lights Out for Lights Out

FX, why do you do this to me?

You promote a series heavily and I watch it and get invested in its characters, and then you kill it. FX announced that it has cancelled the freshman boxing drama Lights Out, only two episodes away from the end of the first season (a new episode airs tonight). Bad ratings? I guess the judges’ cards will show that Patrick “Lights Out” Leary lost on points.

The cast has been almost uniformly excellent, featuring a breakout performance from Holt McCallany and strong support from Stacy Keach, Pablo Schreiber, Catherine McCormack and Billy Brown (as conflicted champ “Death Row” Reynolds). Reg E. Cathey (like Schreiber, an alum of The Wire) dazzles as Don King inspired promoter Barry Word, and guest roles have been showcases for powerful actors like Bill Irwin, Eamonn Walker and the great David Morse. Sure, the teenage girls are a bit annoying, but isn’t that also realistic?

If there was a weak point, perhaps it was the strong focus upon Leary’s drive to get another shot at the title, a plot element that has been accelerated to at such a rapid pace that we are almost upon it after eleven episodes. I don’t know if they planned to have the fight take place by the end of the season or planned to make the fight the centerpiece of the next season – I guess I’ll find out in a week – but after he either wins or loses, it would appear that the momentum would shift. Of course, if you don’t have a strong and fast pace you’ll get cancelled for that, too.

Unlike Terriers, which suffered from a ridiculous marketing campaign, people knew exactly what they were tuning in for. It’s just sad that there are so many more people who want to watch celebretards cat fight or try to dance.

Welcome to America, 2011.

At least FX picked up Justified and Louie for second seasons. Here’s hoping they don’t screw that up.

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Lights Out!

It appears that FX has done it again.

Lights Out is a 13-episode story about Patrick “Lights Out” Leary, a former heavyweight champ who retired five years before but still has the itch. Not the itch an Evander Holyfield feels, a twitch in a man who doesn’t know when to quit, but a guy who walked away from it all after a controversial split decision stalled his career. His corner, including his trainer father, urged him to back off in the final round and win on points instead of going for the knockout. His med student wife, stitching him up in the dressing room after one too many beatings, tells him to make a choice between the ring and the family.  

He followed his family’s advice on both counts, but the decisions haunt him daily. Outwardly he tries to play the happily retired guy, cooking breakfast for his daughters and helping out at the gym, and you can see that he has talked himself into accepting this. But his world starts to crash – finances are not what they seem, his family lives far beyond their means, and by the time he realizes that the slope is slippery, it’s too late. No longer the champ, suffering the slight but initial effects of brain damage, he’s a square peg outside the ring. And the offers he’s getting to generate a little cash are anything but above-board. (Yes, he lives in Bayonne, New Jersey…)

Lights is played by Holt McCallany, whose very name infers toughness. One article compared his performance to the first time you saw James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano or Jon Hamm as Don Draper. A bit early for canonization, but I don’t think even the most ebullient is trying to place this show on a mantle alongside The Sopranos or Mad Men. Rather they are correctly noting that the lead actor has that instant charisma and natural charm; a presence that exudes mystery, power and secrets. Even if he might not literally be a good guy, you are (ahem) in his corner from the first scene. Like the aforementioned famous actors, McCallany has been banging around for a while, but seemingly has stumbled into the role of a lifetime. He is pitch-perfect as the man lost outside his comfort zone; juggling debt, health issues, self-doubt and the undesirable elements that circle that world.

I have rarely seen as many online ads for a new TV show as I have for Lights Out this week; perhaps FX is trying to make up for the disastrous campaign for Terriers. That show – almost universally recognized as excellent – had to build from almost nothing thanks to the symbolic but misleading promos.

I’ve only seen the pilot episode – I’m not the “A-list” guy who gets an advance 5-pack from the network – but it’s clearly way deeper than “a boxing series”. If it stays this good, you can file it alongside Justified, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy as another edgy, daring television show made for adults. Adults who are approached as intelligent viewers who can follow the threads and nuances of the characters and the plot. I hope enough viewers return the favor and step up to the challenge.

Or you can always Live To Dance.

Episode Guide at TV.COM

Official website at FX watch the excellent backstory video

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I Knew It Was You

I don’t get HBO.

I mean, I get HBO – great concept – but I’m not a subscriber. I did, years ago, when I got everything, but as the cable company bill kept skyrocketing little by little things dropped off, until I was down to the skeletal, but still expensive, basic package. At the time I wasn’t missing much, since the home viewing market had transcended from VHS to DVD and the quality of the televisions got better. So by the time HBO started to really craft its signature programs like The Sopranos, I was so weaned off of pay cable that I still resisted. Only the advent of DVD recorders and the new market for TV on DVD box sets saved me, but shows like The Sopranos and The Wire were meant to be watched in six-hour gulps. I never would have survived the week in-between episodes.

I certainly can afford HBO now, but for some strange reason, I just haven’t bothered. Maybe it’s because basic cable channels like FX, AMC and USA have followed their lead and stolen their thunder? But the consequence is the same. Occasionally I still miss good programming, and I’ve conditioned myself to wait for the inevitable DVD, which likely will have bonus features and other amenities that would make it more than worthwhile.

And that’s my long-winded story about how I came across I Knew It Was You, the documentary about the great 70’s actor John Cazale. The title, of course, refers to the classic scene in The Godfather Part II between Al Pacino’s character and Cazale’s damaged brother Fredo. Of all the great moments in the first two films – and there were many – the last scenes between Michael and Fredo are the most haunting.

Pacino played Michael tight-lipped, private, superior. Cazale was palpable, he oozed defeat.

Cazale was only in five films, but every one was nominated for Best Picture; three of them took home the prize. He shared the screen with legends Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando as well as a Who’s Who of his generation in Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and James Caan. He was never the lead, but The Conversation and The Deer Hunter and Dog Day Afternoon and both Godfathers would have been weaker without his presence.

I was captivated by the subject and by the film, but it had two major drawbacks. I didn’t really learn much about John Cazale, as the narration and the interviews basically echoed each other – an actor’s actor, found the heart of his characters, made his fellow actors better, always played true to the moment. I already knew that, having seen all of his films numerous times. Still, it was enjoyable to watch his co-stars as well as other craftsmen like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell and Steve Buscemi vouch for his impact as well as his directors Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola.

The other shortcoming – literally – was the forty minute length.  Again, I was honed in on every minute, so the quality was there. But even if they couldn’t have acquired rights to longer clips of the films, certainly there were more actors who could have been involved, or reflections from major critics who analyzed his work. As stated, I didn’t see this on HBO, but since there are no commercials other than their own promos…they couldn’t even hit an hour?

There are bonus features including extended interviews with Pacino and director Israel Horowitz (Cazale acted in several of his theatrical productions) as well as a commentary and two short film projects from the 60’s, so it’s not as if this DVD isn’t a good value. Despite my comments above, I’m thrilled to own it and will watch it again. But I guess when all is said and done, what I really wanted was more John Cazale…and maybe that’s the whole point of this portrait.

He was the perfect actor; he had no public persona that would  cloud your impression of the character he put on the screen. As good an actor as George Clooney or Morgan Freeman or Clint Eastwood are, when they first appear in a film, a little voice in your head says “there he is“. But when John Cazale entered a scene, you saw Fredo or Sal or Stan. John disappeared.

Cazale died in 1978 at the age of 42. For his friends and colleagues, there is a wealth of great personal experience and memories. For me, who never met him, there are but five timeless films…and now, this tribute.

No fish today, Fredo.

John Cazale Wiki page

Cazale on IMDB.

Oscilloscope Films

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