Above, Kasper and Birgitte kick political ass in Denmark

 

How to Make a Great TV Show … and Ruin It

 

Midway through my binge-watch of Denmark’s acclaimed drama Borgen (2010-2013), somewhere during season two of the three-season series, I decided I was watching the best political show television has ever produced. And yes, that includes The West Wing and House of Cards (American version; I haven’t seen the British original).

Borgen isn’t as rah-rah patriotic as West Wing, with the latter’s rousing speeches and good-guys-win storylines. Nor is it as melodramatic as House of Cards; no reporters get pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train.

But the show’s balance of governmental machinations with the toll taken on participants’ personal lives is unparalleled.

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to Borgen’s third season: They demoted the most interesting character. Pilou Asbaek, as the prime minister’s charming-yet-conniving “spin doctor,” Kasper Juul, went from one of two main reasons to watch Borgen (the other being Sidse Babett Knudsen as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg), to brief, token appearances in the third and final season.

Turns out I can’t blame this disastrous development on the show’s writers. Turns out Asbaek made other acting commitments during the lull between seasons two and three, while the show’s network was mulling renewal for another ten episodes. As a result, Borgen went from a great show to … a good show.

But I highly recommend it – especially those first two seasons.

Seasons 1-2:  A     Season 3:  B+

 

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Question: What would happen if the media and regular folk stopped taking pictures and video at the ongoing riots? What if only the print media were allowed to report on the chaos?

My guess is that most of the madness would die out. No pictures, no story.

 

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For once, LeBron James and I agree on something.

 

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Well, it’s the end of an era, and much of America is in mourning. The news of this passing, when it came, was a blow to many of us, if not an entirely unexpected one. Alas, all good things must come to an end.

It is true that for half of the country, this announcement was not greeted with grief and despair, but rather with (tactless) glee and relief. But this is a loss felt deeply by millions of citizens, especially women.

After decades of standing strong for women’s rights, who or what will replace this icon of female power:

 

 

Indeed, “what does it all mean”?

 

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Oh, yeah. This woman died:

 

 

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But seriously … if the conspiracy theorists are correct and our existence on Earth is nothing more than some kind of cosmic, simulated game, the climax of which is called “2020,” can the cosmic gods please put an end to the damn thing already, or at least take a bathroom break?

 

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#Alive

 

If you’re an apartment dweller who lives alone (like me), you don’t get to see many movies that take place in, well, your kind of place. There was Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, of course, but most films seem to be set in creepy houses (horror movies) or sunny, single-family homes (everything else).

So I was attracted to the premise of #Alive, a new zombie flick from Korea in which a young man wakes up to discover that the world outside his upper-floor apartment is overrun by snarling brain-eaters. This isn’t as entertaining as the similar-themed I Am Legend or Korea’s manic Train to Busan, but it will do on a lonely Saturday night. Release: 2020 Grade: B

 

 

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I thought I should check out Netflix’s Cuties this week, just to see what all the fuss is about. But good lord … after I read some of the vitriolic comments about this movie on Twitter, it seems to me that even expressing an interest in the thing is enough to put you on someone’s hit list.

Maybe I’ll watch it later – assuming it’s still there.

 

The controversy over Cuties’ sexualization of children reminds me of the rationale for showing graphic rape scenes/nudity in “revenge” flicks. Filmmakers know they can get by with it if they insist that they are really against it.

But the difference between Cuties and something like I Spit on Your Grave — and it is a big difference — is the age of the actors.

 

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Way back in the early 1980s, I was a young man recently moved from Minnesota to Dallas, Texas. I joined a company softball team and was amused one sunny afternoon when I could hear players on the opposing bench refer to me as a “Yankee.” I thought they were joking. Ha ha.

To naïve me, “Yankee” was a term that died out 100 years earlier, when the South assimilated back into the Union. It was ancient history.

Over the coming years in Texas, I came to understand that the “us vs. them” worldview that rocked the country in the 1860s was very much alive and well in the 1980s South.

This makes me wonder about post-election America in 2020. Will “Trumpers” become the new “Yankees,” embodying a toxic cultural division that haunts us for a century or more?

 

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I am confused. Was the alligator trimming trees, or was it the woman’s legs that were trimming trees?

 

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Just a Thought 

Rather than give $1,200 stimulus checks to tens of millions of Americans so that they can pay the rent, why not give checks to older Americans and those with compromised immunity systems on the condition that they stay home, and let everyone else get back to work?

Hey, I’m an older American, so I’d have to stay home if they did this. But I think that beats the alternative.

 

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Bayleigh Dayton got the boot from the Big Brother house this week. Bayleigh is emphatically not underage, but she is emphatically a girl.

 

 

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by Julie Schumacher

 

Don’t be misled, as I was, by the blurbs describing Schumacher’s book as a “biting satire” about university politics. The stakes in Shakespeare are too slight (or are treated that way). There isn’t a serious page to be found. It’s more Three Stooges than Catch-22: “verbal slapstick,” I’d call it – but I mean that as a compliment.

I haven’t been this pleasantly surprised by a comic novel since I discovered Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money 15 years ago. Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels and their assortment of New Jersey oddballs are somewhat less-sophisticated cousins to Schumacher’s collection of scholars at “Payne University.”

In most novels with a large ensemble of characters, I inwardly groan whenever the action shifts to some of them. There are always at least a few people who bore or irritate me, and I grow impatient to get back to the characters I really care about. Not so with Shakespeare. Every teacher, student, or staff member Schumacher introduces is a comic delight. 

 

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I am finally, finally able to watch Denmark’s acclaimed series Borgen, which unexpectedly popped up on my Netflix menu. So far, I’ve seen the first four episodes, and my initial impressions are:

 

Pros:

It manages to make politics fun. The action is fast-paced, and our exposure to “stirring” speeches and boring committee meetings is limited.  In that respect, it’s a bit like The West Wing.

Most of the characters are well-written and well-portrayed. But not all of them (see “Cons,” below). The politicians, media people, and ancillary characters do not require lengthy backstories or exposition to seem real from the get-go.

 

Cons:

I cannot stomach the family dynamics of the protagonist prime minister and her husband (pictured above). The husband, especially, comes off as a smug, feminist wet dream. Support his wife? You bet! Content to stay home and play Mr. Mom? You got it! Do all the Christmas shopping without complaint? Of course! Prefer his wife on top during sex? What do you think?

I am hoping that this guy, a college lecturer, has an affair with the brunette student who has her eye on him, if only to confirm my suspicion that he is actually a conniving jerk.

Our hero, the aforementioned prime minister, is also a bit too good to be true. But so was Jed Bartlet, so I suppose that’s to be expected in a show like this.

 

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Young Wallander

I’ve only watched the first episode, but so far, the series seems mediocre enough. Not bad, not great, just … another cop show.

 

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Now they are saying that the nightmare we call 2020 will not likely climax on November 3. They are saying that because of the virus and mail-in ballots and stubborn candidates, we are not likely to know election results for weeks, or even months.

And so, 2021 will likely be much like 2020. Or worse.

I believe I’ll see if I can get a job as librarian at the McMurdo Library in Antarctica.

 

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My ban from Omegle finally expired. Just in case you are wondering how long these bans last, mine was three months. Just long enough for me to forget what attracted me to the site in the first place.

 

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Donald Trump disparages the troops and Nancy Pelosi gets a haircut: no great surprise, either one.

Trump and Pelosi are highly competitive, powerful people. To get where they are, part of their motivation no doubt entails a certain contempt for those who don’t make it to where they are.

Sad but true, I’m afraid.

 

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Dinkle vs. King

 

 

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The problem with these “protests” (translation: riots) is that they too often target easy prey: small businesses and innocent passersby.

This happens because it is much simpler to torch Sam’s Barber Shop than to loot Bill Gates’s mansion.

We get it: You’re angry and you want to vent. But putting the Vangs out of their shoe-store business isn’t going to accomplish anything. Oh, I take that back – it will likely succeed in re-electing Donald Trump.

If you must vandalize property and terrorize people, I would humbly suggest that you go after more appropriate, albeit well-protected, citizens. Like, for instance, the people and homes showcased on this tone-deaf series, which airs on Fox Nation:

 

 

Talk about terrible timing. Is this really a good year to resurrect Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?

 

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I’m beginning to think that the mainstream media uses this “mostly peaceful” term on purpose, just to trigger its critics.

 

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1BR, now playing on Netflix, is a pleasant surprise. It’s a horror movie that’s somewhat original.

Like so much horror these days, 1BR takes itself very seriously, and the tone is a bit soul-sucking. But it’s also clever and I dug the ending.

 

 

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TV and film critics want you to think that they’re smarter than you. For instance, they can spot the hidden messages and metaphors in a show that sail right past you. Critics recognize allusions to other series or movies that you do not.

They call obscure directors by their surnames only — because they know who Fellini is; don’t you? — or by their first names only, because they want us to think that they are pals with Quentin. Or Steven.

The worst thing you can say to a critic is, “You dummy!”

 

I certainly felt like a dummy while watching the Polish crime drama The Mire on Netflix.

I really liked the characters, the look of the show, the dreary atmosphere and the acting. The story was gripping, too. I highly recommend it.

Problem is, I was confused much of the time and completely baffled by the final episode. I felt like a dummy. It’s tough enough to watch a subtitled series with Polish names and Polish politics and Polish history without feeling as though giant chunks of the story are hidden behind some screenwriter’s Iron Curtain.

And so I was relieved when I discovered that my ignorance or stupidity wasn’t (entirely) my fault. Netflix had screwed up.

On most shows, Netflix gives you the option to “skip intro” at the start of each new episode so that you don’t have to rewatch the opening credits. But for some infernal reason, “skip intro” on The Mire means you are actually skipping a minute or two of the beginning of the newest episode.

 

And then I learned on IMDB that a 10-minute prologue to the entire series is inexplicably gone from the Netflix version. They got to see this intro in Poland, apparently.

You can find the prologue on YouTube, but it is in Polish without subtitles. Of course.

It features many people speaking Polish, and also a stripper. The stripper, thank goodness, does not require subtitles:

 

 

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TV Tidbits

 

 

Despite its positive reviews, I resisted Netflix’s trendy comedy-drama, Dead to Me. As our economy tanks and the pandemic rages, I couldn’t bring myself to much care about a series depicting the tribulations of two rich bitches in Southern California.

But I eventually caved and am now watching season two of creator Liz Feldman’s dark comedy. Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini play a pair of middle-aged Laguna Beach gals whose lives begin to unravel and unravel some more and ….

I admit it, my preconceived notions about Dead to Me were (mostly) wrong.

Applegate, now 48, has come a long way from her bimbo days in Married … with Children (see below). In Dead, widow Jen’s (Applegate) Y-chromosomes overwhelm her better instincts as traits more often associated with “toxic masculinity” – red-hot temper, judgmentalism, even physical violence – regularly undermine her. And Cardellini, as Applegate’s mousy friend Judy who harbors one helluva big secret, is a perfect comic foil.

 

 

At times I feel I’ve had enough of these two knuckleheads, who get embroiled in murder coverups. Jen can be too bitchy for my taste. But then she’ll say something funny and all is forgiven. Judy makes too many airheaded decisions and is awfully clingy. But then she’ll do something endearing and all is forgiven.

Feldman and her stars have created characters who have me doing something I didn’t expect: cheering for rich bitches. Grade: A-

 

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Unlike Dead to Me, Netflix’s High Seas isn’t particularly clever, nor is it on anyone’s Emmy list. But it is a welcome respite from the ocean of jaded 2020 fare. Were it not for its spectacular, high-definition scenery, this comic mystery could be straight out of a 1940s Hollywood studio.

In other words, it’s mindless comfort food. So sue me. Grade: B

 

If you tire of the plot – something awful is always threatening the passengers of a luxury cruise ship – you’re not likely to tire of the show’s cast of fetching Spanish actresses. Although High Seas is strictly G-rated, this is, after all, 2020, and the stars have all appeared in racier movies or series. Here are the girls in their 1940s garb and in more recent roles:

(Click on pictures for a larger view)

 

Ivana Baquero

 

Ivana stars as Eva, one of two gorgeous snoop sisters aboard the ship. Eva is adorable and innocent.

Ivana the not-so-innocent in a scene from 2017’s Demonios tus ojos (Sister of Mine):

 

         

 

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Alejandra Onieva

 

Alejandra plays Eva’s sister Carolina. She bared her boobs onstage in a 2015 play called El Burlador de Sevilla. Pictures below.

 

 

           

       

       

 

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Natalia Rodriguez

 

Natalia plays Natalia, the mysterious, scheming sister of Carolina’s husband. Nothing mysterious about these shots from 2013’s Three Many Weddings:

 

                   

 

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Laura Prats

 

Laura played lounge singer Clara in season one. Here she is lounging in a scene from 2016’s Marco Polo:

 

 

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We Summon the Darkness

 

In old-school slasher flicks, the psychos were usually male and their victims were often female. But this is the post “Me Too” era, and so in We Summon the Darkness the roles have reversed. (OK, so that was a twist spoiler; but it’s not much of a twist.) Yet one thing hasn’t changed over the years: Old-school slashers were generally ridiculous, and that certainly holds true with this 2019 offering.  It’s well-produced — but not so well-written.

Alexandra Daddario plays the alpha of three female dimwits who hook up with three equally dimwitted boys for a night of drinking and games at her parents’ isolated house. Bad things happen. You know the drill. Release: 2019 Grade: C-

 

Sidebar:

Alexandra Daddario, who stars and is listed as one of the film’s producers, gets to flex her acting chops in We Summon the Darkness. I hadn’t seen Daddario in anything since 2014’s True Detective, in which she memorably flexed a few other things (see below).

 

 

The video clip:

 

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