Posted in Brain Bits, Observations, Television

Brain Bits for a Boston Week

B StrongI love New England. I was proud to spend my college and law school years there, and being able to return to visit family and friends is always a pleasure. So when the bombs went off on Boylston Street on Monday—on Patriot’s Day, no less—it was like a knife to the heart.

The site of this week’s carnage was midway between my law school apartment and my alma mater, which at that time was located on Newbury Street. So I didn’t need to watch the videos of the attack to visualize where this happened. But I did. And I didn’t have to see the photos of the horror that ensued. But I did. And I didn’t need to be glued to NPR while I was at work on Friday, listening to the feed from Boston, in order to picture the lockdown in Boston and what was going on in Watertown. But I was. And on Saturday afternoon I cried when Fox Sports cut away from the Mets/Nationals game to the crowd at Fenway Park, led by Neil Diamond, singing “Sweet Caroline.”

I’ve written before about being a native New Jerseyan. But today, while the Jersey Shore may be in my DNA, my heart beats for Boston.

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What with season finales, series returns and shows dangling over the precipice awaiting word on renewal, there’s a lot going on in TV land. Sunday night is a virtual head-on collision of stalwarts, with “Game of Thrones” airing opposite “Nurse Jackie,” followed by “Mad Men.”

My scorecard so far reads like this:

“Game of Thrones”: Despite (or maybe because of) all the grue and gore, probably the most entertaining show now on the air. Yes, it’s getting complicated with all the different houses vying for the Iron Throne, but some time spent on the HBO web site or reviewing the family trees which appear as an appendix to each of George R.R. Martin’s novels should keep your head straight. And how can you resist Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell, pulling the strings as Margery’s grandmother? Or Danerys Targaryan and her dragons of renown? Not to mention Tyrion Lannister, the unlikely hero of this saga? Sunday can never come soon enough.

“Nurse Jackie”: Getting a bit tired here. When did Kevin get to be such a bastard? I hope the show runners aren’t going down the Alzheimer’s path with Akalaitis. And why oh why did O’Hara move to London? Eve Best has got to return, otherwise this show will be a prime candidate for the trash can.

“Mad Men”: Flaccid. Limp. Sorry for the imagery, but what a disappointment the first two episodes of this season were. The two hour premiere was an exercise in tedium—Don Draper doing his “man of mystery” number again while screwing his neighbor’s wife, and what else is new? (By the way, I never would have recognized Linda Cardellini if her name hadn’t appeared in the closing credits). We already know what a rotten childhood Don had, but Matthew Weiner insists on belaboring the issue. At this point I want no more Draper flashbacks whatsoever unless they feature Anna Draper.

Based on the background news casts in last week’s episode, it appears we’re at the beginning of 1968, but where’s the creative snap of this era? Advertising was exploding at that time, what with the “let it all hang out” attitude, yet you’d never know it from what we’ve seen so far. And what’s Joan up to, besides putting down Mr. New Jersey Jaguar Dealership? She’s a partner in SCDP, and should have taken Lane Pryce’s job (though you can bet the boys won’t make her a VP). I enjoyed the Peggy scenes, especially those with her gossiping with Stan, but the show as a whole seems stuck in a rut. Relief is desperately needed.

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southland-cast-regina-king-michael-cudlitz-shawn-hatosy-ben-mckenzieThis season of “Southland” (and perhaps the entire series) ended on a fitting if unhappy note last Wednesday. As a big fan of the show I’d like to see it renewed, but if it isn’t, I have to say the producers left things in a logical place. Former Detective Sammy figured out that Ben was behind the robbery at his house, and their confrontation may have been the best scene of the episode. If “Southland” does return I suspect one of these men will be stuck with Dewey as a partner, which would be great comic relief.

John Cooper was left with nothing, perhaps not even his life. His ex-wife decides not to have a child with him, his ordeal at the hands of two meth heads keeps him off the streets and his sergeant refuses to override the brass’s decision on that score (Cooper’s pistol whipping the noisy neighbor demonstrates exactly why). While it looks like he’s gone, a return of “Southland” would no doubt bring word that the neighbors were indeed engaging in cannabis horticulture, thus exonerating Coop. We’ll see.

Only Lydia seemingly got a happy ending (though Sammy talking to his 18 month-old son like an adult is a joy). I say “seemingly” because while Tom Everett Scott is always easy on the eyes, I’m not sure I’d be trusting an ex-partner who threw me under the bus to save his own skin. But hey—if Lydia is happy, I’m happy.

In the meantime, we can only sit, wait, bite our nails and besiege TNT with emails begging them to renew “Southland.” Let your voice be heard by way of this link on TNT’s website. It can’t hurt.

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I love a good pun, and this one is especially welcome, given the events of the last week. It’s a great play on words, and I’ll give you a hint—it’s from a modern dress production of a certain Wagner opera. Sing out if you get it:

Bayerische Staatsoper

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Posted in Television

Southland

southland
Cooper and Sherman….too much water under the bridge

For the umpteenth time, one of the best shows on TV is circling the drain. “Southland,” once NBC’s anointed successor to “ER’s” time slot and more recently in residence on TNT, will air its fifth season-ender on Wednesday night. Let’s just hope it’s not the last we see of it.

“Southland” has not been the luckiest of TV dramas. A classic 10:00 p.m. show, it became a casualty of NBC’s suicidal Jay Leno primetime debacle, which forced the unfortunate rescheduling of dramas to the 9 o’clock hour. This made “Southland,” the grittiest TV show in years, an instant misfit in the eyes of NBC brass—after heavily promoting it they suddenly deemed the show “too violent”  and refused to air its second season. Happily “Southland” did find a home on TNT, which not only aired the season NBC had scuttled in its entirety, but ordered additional episodes.

But there was a catch—more than one, in fact. Not only did the TNT seasons consist of fewer episodes, “Southland” became smaller in terms of budget and cast. Initially it featured the story of Police Cadet Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) learning the ropes from Training Officer John Cooper (a superb Michael Cudlitz) against the backdrop of a large ensemble of officers and detectives. But each year has seen the loss of key characters (I especially miss Officer Chickie Brown, Dewey’s beleaguered partner), resulting in the show’s focus on four leads—Cooper, Sherman, Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) and Police Officer Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy), once a detective and now partnered with Sherman.

“Southland” is not afraid to show the dark sides of its leading characters. Sammy, the classic “two steps forward, one step back” in the personality department, having smacked his ex-wife around, now realizes how badly he acted and wants to make good. Unfortunately his partner Ben, having lied for him to Internal Affairs, sought to protect himself by having some shady characters steal a video of the Bryants’ encounter from Sammy’s house, beating up the babysitter and traumatizing his kid in the process. And Cooper, a cop’s cop, is at a crossroads. His personal life is untethered (a two-year relationship just ended), and he knows his police career will soon come to a close. He doesn’t want to end up like a retired cop friend of his—a drunk bending the ears of all who will listen to his war stories. So Cooper, a gay man wanting more out of life than a police pension, seeks to have and co-parent a child with his ex-wife. It would be incredibly disappointing not to see these stories play out during another season.

“Southland”‘s hallmark is intense drama peppered with the absurd. This season has seen a faked death via a make-up artist’s acid bath; one of the earliest episodes is threaded with the sight of two hookers, having stolen a pro basketball player’s Bentley convertible, riding around with his huge Great Dane in the back seat and waving at Cooper and Sherman each time as they pass by. But when “Southland” gets dramatic, there’s nothing quite like it. Last week, in a plot reminiscent of Joseph Wambaugh’s “The Onion Field,” Cooper and his partner were ambushed and stripped of their weapons by two meth heads, whose kidnapping of the officers ended with the torture and murder of the partner. And one of “Southland”‘s most memorable sequences featured the lengths to which Detective Adams would go to defend the juvenile witness she’s sheltering in her own home against the gang looking to silence her. Regina King is absolutely brilliant in the role.

At this point “Southland”‘s chances for a sixth season look somewhat dim—the ratings have never been lower and Regina King, Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy all have fallback plans for new shows. If it does end, here’s hoping “Southland” goes out on the high level it’s maintained over the years. At least we’ll be left with some great DVDs.