Category: TV

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No good roles for women of a “certain age” in Hollywood?  Balderdash.  You just have to avoid the local Cineplex, which has become the domain of the teenage boy, stay at home and turn on your television.  One of the best shows in any medium is playing on Showtime:  The Big C, a comic drama created, written, and informed by women.

Laura Linney stars as Cathy Jamison, a Mary Tyler Moore for the 21st century.  Like Mary Richards, Cathy lives in Minneapolis, has a career, and is the neighborhood “good girl.”  But unlike Mary, Cathy has cancer – and some unorthodox ways of dealing with her crisis that would likely horrify Mr. Grant.

This is a smart, smart show.  Cancer is always lurking in the background, of course, but what makes the series sparkle are its wit and unpredictable characters.  Cathy at first glance is what you might call a spunky “soccer mom,” but she is surrounded by friends and family straight out of the booby hatch.  In other words, her support network consists of realistic human beings.  And, as someone famous once opined, we all know what bastards they can be.

One of the joys of the first season (the show returns with season two later this year) is the introduction of these goofballs, each of them a comic delight:  Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), Cathy’s dumpster-diving, politically savvy brother; Paul (Oliver Platt), her emotionally stunted husband; Marlene (Phyllis Somerville), a modern-day Ma Kettle who lives across the street; Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon), her promiscuous ex-college roommate … and on and on.  All of these characters are obnoxious on the surface; all of them are addictively watchable.

I’ve said before that the test of a great show is if it can transcend its target audience. I’m pretty sure I’m not in The Big C’s primary demographic, which would probably be those women of a “certain age,” but I recognize great writing when I see it.  Unlike Mary Richards, Cathy makes a lot of really bad decisions – but we always understand why, and we’re always on her side.

 

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Creator:  Darlene Hunt  Cast:  Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, Gabriel Basso, John Benjamin Hickey, Phyllis Somerville, Reid Scott, Gabourey Sidibe, Cynthia Nixon, Idris Elba  Premiere:  2010

 

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Doc1

 

As a television slave, I can’t think of anything more delightful than discovering some buried gem amid all of the mindless rubble on screen.  Doc Martin, a British comedy-drama on the air since 2004, is one of those surprising finds.  Not only is the show intelligently written, but there are four seasons of past episodes available (mostly) free of charge on the Internet.

The series depicts the travails of Dr. Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes), an uptight – to put it mildly – surgeon-turned-general practitioner who abandons London for the small village of Portwenn, an absolutely stunning hamlet on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall.  (The show is filmed on location in Port Isaac in southwest England.  Who knew that Britain has resorts rivaling Montego Bay for pure physical beauty?)

 

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To say that Portwenn’s inhabitants are unsophisticated is akin to describing recent British politics as serene and understated.  Doc Martin is yet another fish-out-of-water formula show, to be sure, but this is no Green Acres.  The plots are consistently funny and – generally when you least expect it – poignant.

Clunes’s doctor, a spinoff character from the 2000 film Saving Grace, is a source of endless amusement.  Ellingham is the stereotypical, stiff-upper-lip Brit we’ve seen in so many English exports, but Clunes gives the character a vulnerability that is at once hilarious and sympathetic.  He is supported by a top-notch ensemble cast.  Caroline Catz, as Ellingham’s on-again, off-again schoolteacher love interest, is the kind of girl you want your mother to meet – but not until after you’ve enjoyed a healthy roll in the hay with her.  (Catz, that is; not your mother.)  The humor in Doc Martin all flows from character – and what great characters!

 

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Doc Martin has been an award-winning ratings smash in England for six years.  Production begins on season five in 2011, but in the meantime, it’s great news for Americans that past episodes of the show are available on PBS and the Internet.  Most episodes can be found on Hulu, Fancast, The Internet Movie Database, and Netflix.

  

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Creator:  Dominic Minghella  Cast:  Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz, Ian McNeice, Stephanie Cole, Joe Absolom, Katherine Parkinson, Selina Cadell, John Marquez  Airing:  2004-present

 

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Rescue1

 

There was a scene in last night’s episode of Rescue Me in which firefighter Tommy Gavin, alone in the men’s room at the fire station, discovers to his hung-over horror that he is wearing a woman’s thong.  Too much booze the night before, and so he has no idea how this came to be.  As he gapes at his thong-clad derriere in a bathroom mirror, the deputy chief walks in.  The chief glances at Tommy, opens his mouth to say something … then turns and walks quietly out the door.  It’s a funny, funny bit.

 

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It’s this kind of scene that makes Denis Leary’s Rescue Me such a comic delight.  What makes it must-see TV is the show’s mixture of that kind of silliness with high drama.  Alcoholic Tommy will go straight from that restroom into some corridor of hell, whether that means a burning building, his estranged family, or his high-maintenance lover.

 

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Callie Thorne

 

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John Scurti

 

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Rescue Me is entering its sixth season on FX just as Louis C.K.’s new series Louie joins the network’s Tuesday-night lineup.  Between the two of them, Leary and Louis have turned Tuesdays into the only night when I go out of my way to watch scripted television.  These two middle-aged guys, both with roots in standup comedy, are at the peak of their game.  They created their own series, star in them and, in Louis’s case, also direct and write.

 

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So far, Louie has been a hit-or-miss affair.  Some of the segments fall flat, but when the show scores, it really scores.  C.K., like that fire chief on Rescue Me, is a master of the silent reaction.  It’s not what he says that slays me, it’s the look on his pasty face — a double-take, a raised eyebrow, simple deadpan — when life throws yet another absurdity at him.

 

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Louis C.K. and Ricky Gervais

 

Back in the ’90s, NBC had what it called “Must See TV.”  NBC’s hubris bothered me, so I decided that I Must Not Watch.  And I didn’t.  But now I have my own Must See TV, Tuesday nights on FX.

 


Rescue Me  (click here)  

Louie  (click here)

 

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Seinfeld        ???????????????

 

Jerry Seinfeld was a guest on Oprah’s show the other day, plugging his new series, and at one point Seinfeld’s eyes bugged out and, I thought to myself, “That guy looks scary.”  Not funny — scary.

We’ve all heard that behind the clown’s mask lies tragedy (or drug addiction, or sex addiction, or whatever), but Seinfeld’s frightening visage got me thinking about some of America’s other high-profile comics.  Time was, you would find them only on Saturday Night Live or an HBO special.  Today, I suppose thanks to Jon Stewart, they’re more likely to pop up, like the clown in Poltergeist, on Fox News or CNN.

When I happen upon Dennis Miller at his day job on Bill O’Reilly’s show, his veins are usually bursting the skin of his neck as he screams about whatever liberal travesty has him on edge.  Take a look at his picture below — stand-up comedian, or serial killer mugshot?

 

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On the other end of the political spectrum, we have Bill Maher.  I can’t even remember the last time Maher said something humorous; he’s much too busy setting Larry King straight about what’s wrong with everything, and everyone.

 

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Kathy Griffin, it seems, usually steers clear of overt politics.  But am I the only one who cringes when she ogles CNN’s Anderson Cooper?  It looks like the Wicked Witch about to gobble up a Boy Scout.

These people frighten me.   For levity, I now have to watch C-SPAN.

 

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Click on title for review

 

America’s Angry Comics

BBC America

The Big C

Black Mirror

The Crown

Dead Set

Doc Martin

The Fall

Girls

Happy Valley

Hemlock Grove

Hit & Miss

“Homeland” and “Downton Abbey”

House of Cards

I Forgive You, AMC

Mindhunter

Oscar Picks

Penny Dreadful

Poirot and Company

Rectify

Sherlock

Top of the Lake

Tuesdays with Tommy (and Louie)

Unbroken “Bad”

 

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