Tag Archives: Monk

Timothy Olyphant is Badass

The critical raves are Justified

Timothy Olyphant is badass. 

Olyphant has become one of those actors whose very presence in a cast legitimizes the project for me. Sure, his early career looks like most actor’s, a few romcoms, guest spots on bad TV shows, less than stellar plots. But lightning struck when he hooked up as part of the cast of Deadwood, certain to go down as one of the all-time classic series on television. He brings such charisma and strength to a role, when he’s onscreen it’s hard not to be completely captivated. 

John Hawkes, Timothy Olyphant, Keith Carradine

He’s always been good in a war-themed flick; the recent Stop-Loss and the underrated When Trumpets Fade being but two examples. Domed skull in Hitman. Convincingly appropriate in culture flicks like Go and Rock Star. But he really shines when given a character with inner conflicts who might be morally ambiguous; his supporting role on Damages was a standout. 

But after one episode of the new FX series Justified – hell, after one scene – I’ve come to the conclusion that Olyphant belongs under a cowboy hat. (And to think they almost cast Dermot Mulroney as the lead!) 


Justified is based upon an Elmore Leonard character from his story called “Fire In The Hole“, with Olyphant playing the lead character Raylan Givens. The original title of Lawman wasn’t available thanks to Steven Segal‘s latest abuse of his fifteen minutes of fame (isn’t that voucher beyond stale by now?). 

Writers include those who have worked on Karen Sisco (another Leonard-based show featuring Carla Gugino and Robert Forster) and Deadwood. And what tips the brim is that Elmore Leonard is directly involved as writer and producer. Show writers wear a bracelet that reads “What Would Elmore Do?“…now that is badass as well. 

Basic cable has started to kick the major networks’ asses with more and more quality actors finding great projects and first-rate material. Mad Men and Breaking Bad give AMC huge credibility; TNT struck gold with The Closer and USA may have found their replacement for Monk in White Collar

But FX has been on a serious roll the past couple of seasons adding drama like Justified and Sons of Anarchy and comedy shows Archer and The League. The majority of my must-see TV is on basic cable these days. 

If you have not jumped on the Justified bandwagon, I implore you to do so quickly and catch up; the third episode airs next Tuesday (March 30) at 10pm. Rich characters, great atmosphere, stellar casting (Walton Goggins!), adult themes…this one is a keeper. 

As scene-stealing Wes Krulik in Damages

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I Like To Watch

"Is there a TV upstairs? I like to watch."

So do a lot of people, apparently. Guess there is a bright side to an economic recession after all.

FOX is claiming its first-ever win in the Nielsen’s for the 4th quarter, as their viewership rose while CBS, NBC and ABC took a slight dip. Of course, FOX has a tendency to lie through their teeth stretch the truth on occasion, but with a lineup including heavyweights House and Bones plus the incredible success of Glee, I tend to believe this. (Plus the numbers came from the Nielsen Ratings…not that those or any other survey are any more accurate than an extrapolated small sample could be.)

And that’s before 24 starts revving its engine next month.

But almost as amazing is the rise in cable viewership and the number of channels setting all-time highs for ratings. FX lost The Shield and Nip/Tuck this year but has two big hits with Damages and Sons of AnarchyThe League also did very well, while It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia had its strongest season to date. AMC killed with Mad Men, of course, and has Breaking Bad coming back.

 USA in particular struck gold with The Closer and the final season of Monk, whose last episode now holds the record for the largest rating ever on basic cable. White Collar, the new series that rode Monk as a lead-in, seems to have charmed viewers as well.

But some disturbing news about one of my favorites, Better Off Ted, where ABC is burning off the remaining new episodes starting this Friday (a/k/a Television’s Graveyard) and then running double episodes on January 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th. Hopefully that’s just to clear the decks for Lost, which starts its final season February 2nd, and will occupy the same night and time slot. Glass half full over here.

Much more information at The Futon Critic.

30 years old this month; still prescient.

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Blast From The Past: Andy Breckman

I've got the pen in my hand!

I've got the pen in my hand!

Many of you might recognize Andy Breckman as the creator of the long-running series Monk, a show that puts a unique twist on the standard detective formula. Perhaps you also know his work as a staff writer for Saturday Night Live and David Letterman, where his offbeat skits included Eddie Murphy’s “White Like Me”. He’s obviously a brilliant writer, a little twisted and someone unafraid to push the boundaries of comedy. But before Letterman and SNL and Monk, Andy Breckman was a funny stand-up and singer-songwriter, and the latter is whenI first discovered him.

I don’t even remember who the headliner was that night I saw him in the late 70s. Back in my Syracuse days, if a label act was coming through town, I was going to be there, and that night was no exception. I remember a slightly unkempt guy climbed the stage in a club packed with bottle blondes and guys in satin band jackets. In an effort to get our attention, he leaned into the microphone and announced that he had just signed a contract with Columbia Records that very afternoon. As people cheered and whistled in genuine appreciation, he added “yep, I get any twelve albums I want for a penny, as long as I buy just five more later on…

Cheap laugh, sure. But before that chuckle subsided, he launched into a song with such an animated spirit that the crowd remained zoned in on him. He was halfway through it before I really started listening to the lyrics…and in an instant I was doubled over in laughter..then another song and another, each more absurd than the one before. They were oddball, they were really well written and best of all they were fucking hilarious.

I could lie and pretend I recall the set list song for song, but I have trouble remembering the decade. But I do remember he had the  place rolling with the call-and-response to “I Had A Good Day” – I won’t spoil it for you – and then he pulled out “Railroad Bill”, where he goes mano-a-mano with one of the characters in his song for control over the storyline. If I typed out the lyrics you’d laugh out loud, but his delivery and performance make it even better.

See for yourself – here’s Andy Breckman live.

There was nothing for sale that night, but thankfully a small boutique label called Gadfly Records issued Don’t Get Killed in 1990, and it’s been a staple at my house ever since. An amnesiac tries to salvage a meeting with a potential soulmante in “The Hello Hello Song” ; a tale of how his parents met ends with a twist in “How I Met Your Mother”, and he mocks his own (then) inability to get famous in “Here Comes My Career”. A congregation turns to “Rabbi Finkleman” for salvation only to find out he’s just as clueless as they are; a long-running feud with Don MacLean is spirited in “The Cheese Stands Alone”, and a game of tag goes postal in “I’m It”.

Like Loudon Wainwright, Breckman enhances his funny material with a comic’s timing and in-the-moment rapport with the audience. They’re in the palm of his hand from start to finish, and that trust allows him to connect with pathos as well as humor. Wainwright can spin tales about his dysfunctional family life right alonsgide something as goofy as “Dead Skunk”; likewise Breckman can offer something as truly heartbreaking and poignant as “The Cancer Song” in the middle of his set and pull the crowd right back in one song later.

As far as I know, Breckman only released two comedy-folk albums, Dont Get Killed and Proud Dad, both on Gadfly Records. (A third release is a collection of radio pieces from Seven Second Delay on WFMU). His career exploded after that, and today he remains a very successful writer and producer.

The final season of Monk started earlier this month, and it must be a bittersweet time for everone associated with the program. So Andy, I thank you for eight years of great television, but as you dwell on the finality of the situation I hope you channel some of that pleasure and pain into song. Maybe…I dunno…put out an album? You could even buy one yourself, Andy. Just think – that would mean only four more albums to go to get out of that contract!

monk

Andy’s film and television work.

Andy Breckman wiki.

Seven Second Delay on WFMU

Gadfly Records has releases from great artists like Billy Bremner, Tonio K and Black 47 amng others. Mitch Cantor puts his money where his heart is, so check out his catalogue.

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Emmys: Feast or Famine

And you thought Justice was blind?

And you thought Justice was blind?

Trust me, I’m long past letting my blood boil over award show nominations, let alone winners. Whether it’s Al Pacino in Scent of A Woman, or handing over the Best Actor Emmy to possibly the worst lead performance on television for what – three times in four years? – I realize that my tastes do not coincide with the powers that be (especially #2). If they did, the only reality television would be the nightly news.

But since I have to wallow through Rock of Love and According To Jim and Project Runway and Jon and Kate plus Her Bodyguard and His Weekend Affair just to select a channel from the cable menu, I figured I’d let whatever bubble of bile I was able to generate subside and then pick out the biggest miss from the major categories.

Not that there weren’t some astute choices among the nominees Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad, for example – but it seemed like either feast of famine. I love 30 Rock; I think it’s a brilliantly written show and the ensemble cast is excellent. But twenty-two Emmy nominations? And not one single nomination for The Shield?

I’ve been watching television since I was a child, a longer time than I want to admit. And I can tell you without hesitation that Walton Goggins delivered one of the most searing performances I have ever seen – ever – on The Shield as doomed Detective Shane Vendrell. As great as he was for the first five seasons of the show, he raised the bar in the sixth as a man racked by guilt and pain. Then – amazingly – he raised it again for the final season as we watched him slowly disintegrate and implode before our eyes. It was a harrowing, frightening portayal that burned into your head week by week, yet addictively impossible to turn away from.

Hell, the entire cast was superb, led by Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey (another oversight, and more deserving than Gandolfini in the Sopranos’ last season); several like  CCH Pounder and Jay Karnes got chances to shine and did. Bad enough that the actors got screwed over, but overlooking the writing? That might have been a more egregious omission. And I’m equally floored that not one actor from Friday Night Lights was named – are they that good at their job that you don’t think they’re acting?

Ah, crap…I feel the bile coming back.

Here are the nominations for the major categories, along with one I’d swap out in a heartbeat. (I’ll get to my picks for “will win” and “should win” prior to the actual awards.) You’ll probably recognize a lot of the names, since an Emmy nomination is like winning a Gold Glove in baseball; odds are you keep chugging along unless you really blow it.

Drama Series: “Big Love,” HBO; “Breaking Bad,” AMC; “Damages,” FX Networks; “Dexter,” Showtime; “House,” Fox; “Lost,” ABC; “Mad Men,” AMC. // Out: House. (no, that’s not a pun). Getting silly in its old age. At least I don’t have to choke on Boston Legal anymore…In: The Shield. See bulk of this essay.

Comedy Series: “Entourage,” HBO; “Family Guy,” Fox; “Flight of the Conchords,” HBO; “How I Met Your Mother,” CBS; “The Office,” NBC; “30 Rock,” NBC; “Weeds,” Showtime. // Out: Entourage. Past its shelf life…In: Better Off Ted. After an over-hyped and only-average first episode, it’s been about the funniest thing on television.

Actor, Drama Series: Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad,” AMC; Michael C. Hall, “Dexter,” Showtime; Hugh Laurie, “House,” Fox; Gabriel Byrne, “In Treatment,” HBO; Jon Hamm, “Mad Men,” AMC; Simon Baker, “The Mentalist,” CBS. // Out: Hugh Laurie. Like the show, beating a dead horse. In: Michael Chiklis, The Shield. Maybe his strongest season, and that’s saying something.

Actress, Drama Series: Sally Field, “Brothers & Sisters,” ABC; Kyra Sedgwick, “The Closer,” TNT; Glenn Close, “Damages,” FX Networks; Mariska Hargitay, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” NBC; Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men,” AMC; Holly Hunter, “Saving Grace,” TNT. // Out: Mariska Hartigay. Good, but nothing special…In: Katey Sagal, Sons of Anarchy. In as impressive of an about-face as Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad, this is a bravura performance getting overlooked.

Supporting Actor, Drama Series: William Shatner, “Boston Legal,” ABC; Christian Clemenson, “Boston Legal,” ABC; Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad,” AMC; William Hurt, “Damages,” FX Networks; Michael Emerson, “Lost,” ABC; John Slattery, “Mad Men,” AMC. // Out: William Shatner. Caricature, not character. In: Walton Goggins, The Shield – should not only have been nominated but should have won in a landslide. Am I the only person who gets the FX channel?

Supporting Actress, Drama Series: Rose Byrne, “Damages,” FX Networks; Sandra Oh, “Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC; Chandra Wilson, “Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC; Dianne Wiest, “In Treatment,” HBO; Hope Davis, “In Treatment,” HBO; Cherry Jones, “24,” Fox. //  Out: Chandra Wilson. Yawn, ywner, yawnest…In: Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost. Nuance on network television? I guess I should have known better.

Actor, Comedy Series: Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS; Jemaine Clement, “Flight of the Conchords,” HBO; Tony Shalhoub, “Monk,” USA; Steve Carell, “The Office,” NBC; Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock,” NBC; Charlie Sheen, “Two and a Half Men,” CBS. // Out: Tony Shaloub. How many do you need, anyway? I love the guy, and the character is great, but it’s a comfy shoe by now…In: Jay Harrington, Better Off Ted. Smooth and graceful with impeccable comic timing, including the asides to the camera. He makes it look so easy, but it’s an art.

Actress, Comedy Series: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” CBS; Christina Applegate, “Samantha Who?” ABC; Sarah Silverman, “The Sarah Silverman Program,” Comedy Central; Tina Fey, “30 Rock,” NBC; Toni Collette, “United States of Tara,” Showtime; Mary-Louise Parker, “Weeds,” Showtime. // Out: Sarah Silverman, and that’s without even seeing Toni Collette’s show. And I *like* Silverman!…In: Portia deRossi, Better Off Ted. Perfectly acidic opposite Harrington’s Cary Grant character.

Supporting Actor, Comedy Series: Kevin Dillon, “Entourage,” HBO; Neil Patrick Harris, “How I Met Your Mother,” CBS; Rainn Wilson, “The Office,” NBC; Tracy Morgan, “30 Rock,” NBC; Jack McBrayer, “30 Rock,” NBC; Jon Cryer, “Two and a Half Men,” CBS. // Out: Cryer, as much for the show being tired than his small arc of a character…In: John Scurti, Rescue Me. Yes, it’s drama, but it has enough structured comedy scenes to qualify, and Scurti is the perfect foil that all the other actors use as a springboard.

Supporting Actress, Comedy Series: Kristin Chenoweth, “Pushing Daisies,” ABC; Amy Poehler, “Saturday Night Live,” NBC; Kristin Wiig, “Saturday Night Live,” NBC; Jane Krakowski, “30 Rock,” NBC; Vanessa Williams, “Ugly Betty,” ABC; Elizabeth Perkins, “Weeds,” Showtime. // Out: Williams – even though Poehler and Wiig shouldn’t even be in this category – she and the show have flatlined…In: Kate Flannery, The Office. A fearless and hysterical performance; on a show that crosses the line she punts it from there.

I shouldn’t complain. Thanks to DVR and DVD I can ignore the glut of dross on television and savor It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia or Jackie Woodman rather than be subjected to most of what passes for entertainment. Hell, I’m no snob – I think Castle has taken over where Bones has slipped, and although I lament the loss of Life On Mars I am glad that we still have Fringe and Lost and 24 and other network shows to go along with the exceptional programs the smaller cable networks are churning out.

Ahh, but bitching about television is fun…and Jeremy Piven can’t win.

Keep track on Emmy site or the Awards Daily site.

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