Friday, November 17, 2017

Living with Regret: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).

In the last few years, beginning with Frances Ha in 2012, writer-director Noah Baumbach’s comedies have felt like latter-day adaptations of the sensibility I always associated with Paul Mazursky’s in the 1970s and 80s: satirical yet compassionate, hip yet skeptical, partly hopeful and partly rueful. And like Mazursky, he’s become the master of the mixed tone. Frances Ha, whose hapless heroine (played by Greta Gerwig) goes to Paris for a weekend and doesn’t know what to do once she arrives, is hilarious and poignant in equal measure; she evokes our exasperation but also our protectiveness. The paralyzed documentary filmmaker Ben Stiller portrays in While We’re Young (2015) can’t separate out his bid for artistic independence from his own ego, and he falls into one trap after another of his own making, but his efforts, increasingly desperate, to stay on his own wavelength – and to prevent himself from turning into a middle-aged cliché – are touching somehow. As with Mazursky, it’s not necessarily that you recognize these characters from your own life; both men work in very distinct, almost rarefied, narrative realms. It’s that you can see that Baumbach recognizes them – that they represent parts of himself, and his willingness to identify with him even when they’re being ridiculous is the mark of a great humanistic spirit. Pauline Kael called Mazursky a hip Chekhov, and that’s the territory where Baumbach, too, hangs his hat.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hyde and C.K.

Louis C.K. performing on-stage in 2015. (Photo: Charles Sykes)

The current explosion of allegations of sexual abuse and predatory behavior by powerful men in the entertainment industry is a sign of health. A year after a solid minority of the American electorate chose as our president a man who sees women as accessory items to be bought, used, and judged on their looks – and who has sought to empower and has surrounded himself with misogynists, homophobes, and racists – people with stories to tell are coming forward, in some cases after decades of fearful silence, and exposing rich, influential, deeply entrenched power players as monsters. It's clear by now that a seismic shift in public perception and a redefinition of what's acceptable behavior – and not just the behavior of the predators themselves, but those who become complicit in their actions by keeping their secrets and giving them cover – is necessary if the toxic slime infecting the culture and impacting people's careers is going to be cleared away. Some of the ugliest behavior has been on the part of men who've been shaping the culture for more than a generation, like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. Those two are also past their prime as movers and shakers and had plenty of enemies who were happy to see them fall. When it became general knowledge that Cosby is a serial rapist, the news had a special shock built into it because of the millions of TV viewers who, having first discovered him at the midpoint of his career, thought of him as a dispenser of paternal wisdom and family values, both in real life and as the star of The Cosby Show. And Weinstein worked hard at molding his sham image as a nurturer of talent and the businessman hero who made Independent American Cinema possible and popular. But did anyone in the year of our lord 2017 actually like them?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Soundtrack for the Imagination: Small Town by Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan

Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan. (Photo: John Rogers)

The art of the duet is on full display on the recent ECM release by guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan. The album is called Small Town yet the music is often larger than life, containing a pallet of places big and small. It hits so many imaginative and emotional notes that I consider it the best album of the 2017.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok – What Were You The God Of, Again?

Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Ragnarok.

“I don’t hang with the Avengers any more. It all got too corporate.” – Thor, Thor: Ragnarok
You’d be justified in thinking I’ve been too kind to Marvel’s most recent films. They really are singularly excellent at the art of seduction; of presenting you with dazzling visual spectacle anchored by just enough plot and character coherence that you leave the theatre feeling satisfied, even if their appeal begins to wither once you’re back outside. I really have no desire to ever watch Doctor Strange again, even though I gave it a glowing review. I can understand the shame that sometimes follows, where you feel you’ve somehow been duped. But I don’t ever feel taken advantage of, personally. Disposable, enjoyable, escapist chicanery on the silver screen is as much an essential part of a balanced cinematic diet as anything else. It’s quite enough for me that Marvel’s legion of technicians, production designers, digital artists, costumers, and stunt performers work their asses off to deliver what most moviegoers see as exciting one-off experiences (especially since the sequel is already coming down the pipe right behind the one you just saw, guaranteeing that these talented people are still getting work). I don’t hate the formula. The formula works.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The State of Siege: Fascism Dramatized

Members of Troupe du Théâtre de la Ville perform The State of Siege. (Photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez)

It was brave of Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and his Paris-based Troupe du Théâtre de la Ville to take on The State of Siege (L’État de siège), a play by Albert Camus that was roundly panned in its original production in 1948 and has pretty much stayed on the shelf ever since. That Demarcy-Mota and his ensemble of thirteen actors have been able to make so much of the play – the production, which Arts Emerson brought into Boston for four performances, is wonderful – is almost miraculous. Theatre students don’t study the dramatic works of Camus and Sartre these days, but when I was in university in the late sixties and early seventies Sartre’s The Flies and Camus’s Caligula were staples on any modern drama syllabus, along with other now-forgotten mid-century French playwrights like Anouilh, Giraudoux and Cocteau. I remember finding The Flies (a version of The Oresteia) intriguing and I’ve always been curious to see the 1951 movie version, but no one gets excited about the existentialist writers any more, and Camus was never much of a dramatist. (His novel The Stranger, the most famous fictional work he ever penned, holds up.) The State of Siege isn’t even striking as an existential work, though it does bring back the era when French theatre was the playground for intellectuals who delighted in defying the reign of realism. It’s a symbolist drama that begins when a passing comet brings a plague to a seacoast city and fascists take advantage of the fear of the citizens and the resulting chaos to impose a severe, repressive rule of order. This is the second time Camus used the idea of a plague as a premise and a symbol; the previous year he had written his novel The Plague.  (The State of Siege is not an adaptation.)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Reconstruction and Deconstruction: Ta-Nehisi Coates's We Were Eight Years in Power

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates. (Photo: Stephen Voss)

“We were eight years in power. We had built schoolhouses, established charitable institutions, built and maintained the penitentiary system, provided for the education of the deaf and dumb, rebuilt the ferries. In short, we had reconstructed the State and placed it upon the road to prosperity.”
– Thomas Miller, South Carolina Congressman, 1895.
“The beauty in his (Baldwin’s) writing wasn’t just style or ornament but an unparalleled ability to see what was before him clearly and then lay that vision, with that same clarity, before the world.”
– Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power.

The Congressman quoted in the first epigraph was an African-American who in a futile effort was attempting to make the case that blacks in the legislature had provided competent government so why should whites attempt to disenfranchise blacks with poll taxes and literacy tests. It was not necessary for him to add the terrorist attacks from the Klan against blacks who attempted to vote. A few years later the civil rights icon, W.E.B. Du Bois, offered an insightful response: “If there was one thing that South Carolina feared more than bad Negro government, it was good Negro government.’’ These two quotations provide the title and the thesis of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s latest offering, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (One World, 2017). The good government that Obama provided generated a racist backlash in which Donald Trump was the major beneficiary. Coates’s book is structured around eight essays, one for each year of the Obama presidency written originally for The Atlantic, for which he is a national correspondent, and concludes with a blistering epilogue on the white supremacist ideology of Trump in all its “truculent and sanctimonious power.”

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembrance Day Podcast, Part II: Interview with Robin Phillips (1983)

Brent Carver, Martha Henry, and William Hutt in The Wars (1983).

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to writers and artists from all fields. In 1983, I sat down with actor and stage and film director Robin Phillips.

At the time of our conversation, Phillips's film adaptation of Timothy Findley's 1977 novel The Wars had just been released. (My interview with Findley himself was shared here yesterday.) This would be a few years before Phillips would make his triumphant return to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, directing Cymbeline and The School for Scandal on the mainstage, along with a double bill that same season of The Critic and Oedipus Rex. Robin Phillips passed away in 2015 at the age of seventy-three.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Robin Phillips as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1983.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Remembrance Day Podcast, Part I: Interview with Timothy Findley (1983)

Timothy Findley.

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to writers and artists from all fields. In 1983, I sat down with Canadian novelist Timothy Findley.

With Remembrance Day upon us, it is timely to revisit the conversation I had with Findley about his novel The Wars, set during the First World War. Originally published in 1977, The Wars follows Robert Ross, a nineteen-year-old Canadian who enlists in World War I after the death of his beloved older sister in an attempt to escape both his grief and the social norms of oppressive Victorian society. Adapted for the screen in 1983, the film was written by Findley himself and directed by Robin Phillips. (We will be be sharing my interview with Phillips here tomorrow in Part II of this special Remembrance Day post.)

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Timothy Findley as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1983.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dreaming the Present: CBS’s Me, Myself & I

 Bobby Moynihan and Jaleel White in CBS's Me, Myself & I.

Optimism comes in many forms. In a person, it can describe a kind of unshakable belief, despite evidence to the contrary, that everything will work out for the best. On these terms, pessimism is the obverse: a similarly stubborn confidence that everything will, inevitably, fall apart. Both postures take advantage of the openness of the future, a time when this moment – whatever it happens to be – can (and will) be otherwise. Hope and hopelessness also come in comparable flavours, but being “hopeful” on these terms can be disappointing. In short, once tomorrow comes and shows itself, you can regret holding on to that hope for as long as you did (the way one can regret a financial investment that never “pays off”). Hope – understood as awaiting a future that you are certain will come – can, in short, be mistaken. That future may in fact never come, and that hope can thereby flip, quite naturally, to despair.

But hope for the future, as powerful as that can be, is not the only form of hope. There is also what Walter Benjamin called “hopeless hope” – a way of being in time that is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, because it is a kind of hope detached from any wish and so awaits neither confirmation nor disappointment. (French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas approaches something similar when he writes of “hope for the present” which, rather than deferring the present moment for the future, welcomes futurity and the fullness of possibility into the present.) These two forms of hope can of course be confused with one another, even for the one who holds them. And so we reach Alex Riley, the three-time protagonist of CBS’s now ill-fated comedy Me, Myself & I.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Perceptual Strategies: New Works from Yehouda Chaki

Orange Mountain meets Blue Mountain, by Yehouda Chaki. (Oil on Canvas, 80 x 136 in.)

“We are the bees of the invisible world. We perpetually gather the honey of the visible world in order to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible one.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Originally studying art in Tel Aviv, Israel and then in Paris, France, before settling in Montreal, Canada, Yehouda Chaki has absorbed the light and energy of many locales around the world in his lengthy career as an observer of nature and its sensual machinery. If you’re fortunate enough to be encountering his intense landscapes and still lifes for the first time, you’re in for a tasteful treat. Indeed, even better, this time (at his forthcoming exhibit at Toronto's Odon Wagner Gallery, opening on December 1) there are also edgy portrait studies to engage the intrepid visitor: portraits that are saturated with the soul of their subject and not merely a facial representation, portraits that often even feel like microscopic mountains. The fact that he so expertly shifts his sensitive gaze from the formats of portrait (close up to) then to still life (nearby to) and then also to landscape (far away from) is for me one of the key hallmarks of his magisterial work.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Critic's Crypt: On a Century of Horror Cinema, Part II

Welcome back to this special Critic’s Crypt retrospective, where I explored almost a hundred years of horror cinema over a marathon month of screenings. In Part I, we covered the classical 1930s, the subversive 1950s, and the revolutionary 1970s. Now, for Part II, we pick up the trail of horror history with the loud and lurid 1980s.

– Justin Cummings

Monday, November 6, 2017

In Pieces: Rags

Sean MacLaughlin, Samantha Massell, and Christian Michael Camporin in Rags. (Photo:Diane Sobolewski)

Rags failed spectacularly on Broadway in 1986, closing after eighteen previews and four performances. Rumors of trouble during the Boston tryouts may have dogged the New York opening, though my recollection is that they focused on the unreliability of the star, opera diva Teresa Stratas in her musical-theatre debut, who kept missing performances. (That’s the reason I didn’t make an effort to see the show – I didn’t want to be disappointed if Stratas, a great actress as well as a great singer, didn’t appear that night.) So I was staggered when, on the advice of a friend, I bought a copy of the original cast album, recorded with Julia Migenes-Johnson substituting for Stratas. It’s not just that the score is lush and thrilling, Charles Strouse’s music inviting comparisons to Jerome Kern and Kurt Weill and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics displaying a specificity and emotional authenticity that none of his previous work for the theatre could have led anyone to anticipate. It’s also that the story the songs develop and embellish, as the plot synopsis in the liner notes confirms, is a complex and multi-leveled examination of the experience of Jewish immigrants living in New York at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. The book writer, Joseph Stein, was most famous for writing Fiddler on the Roof, and Rags seems intended as an unofficial sequel.The protagonist is Rebecca Hershkowitz, who comes to America with her little boy David to escape the Russian pogroms, though her husband Nathan, who preceded them to these shores, doesn’t know they’re seeking him and she doesn’t connect with him until the end of the first act. In the meantime she works in a sweatshop and is drawn somewhat reluctantly into the life of her new home. The musical is her coming of age, which is prompted not only by the hardship of her time in America but also by the people around her: David’s curiosity and openness to the new world, the anger of her friend Bella Cohen at the poverty they can’t rise above, and the labor organizer Saul, who at first unsettles her and then gets her thinking. (They’re also attracted to one another.) Nathan, it happens, has changed his name to Nat Harris and gone to work for the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. When they find each other again, he promises to take her out of the slums to a sheltered, luxurious uptown existence, but Bella’s death in the Triangle Factory fire radicalizes her and she leaves Nathan’s world for Saul’s. The finale is bittersweet: Rebecca’s moral triumph and her self-discovery are filtered through the tragedy of Bella’s death and the deaths of her co-workers and mediated by the reprise of the first chorus number, “Greenhorns,” which views the wave of immigrants as mere grist for the economic mill rather than as human beings striving to find happiness. That’s the view that Saul and Rebecca have pledged to fight, and the fight has just started.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sibling Lament – Frankie & Bobby: The Rest of Our Story by Bob Zappa

Frank Zappa in 1969. (Photo: Ron Case)

Two years ago I wrote a review of Bob Zappa’s first self-published book, Frankie & Bobby: Growing Up Zappa. It was an invaluable resource considering I just finished the manuscript to my own book about his brother Frank slated for release the following spring. I was in contact with Bob Zappa regarding his first memoir and, at the time, he told me that a follow-up volume was in the works since his first book only took the story of his life with his brother until 1967. This new volume, also self-published, picks up where the first book left off by bringing Bob’s life and times to the present day.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Running On: This Is Us and the Demands of Network Drama

When I wrote about This Is Us last year, I noted that the NBC drama, along with creator Dan Fogelman’s now-defunct Fox baseball show Pitch, represented a more adventurous approach to storytelling, at least for traditionally risk-averse network television. To a large degree, that’s just the nature of the medium; it’s hard to achieve the sort of narrative freshness and surprise that the most popular cable shows rely upon, because a network show’s season is almost always considerably longer. The typical network drama produces over 20 episodes, as opposed to approximately 13 for a cable drama like FX’s The Americans. At their best, shows like The Good Wife or Buffy the Vampire Slayer have made a virtue of necessity, employing a case-of-the-week format that allowed them to create compelling self-contained episodes, such as Buffy’s “Hush” and “Once More With Feeling,” or entries in the series that unexpectedly become launching points for major arcs, such as Good Wife‘s “Red Team/Blue Team,” which kick-started one of that show’s creative high points.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Neglected Gem # 109: Hunger (1966)

Per Oscarsson in Hunger (1966)

Per Oscarsson has mostly been forgotten now, but in the sixties and seventies he was considered one of the great Swedish actors of his generation. Stage-trained (he was a notable Hamlet), he had a strongly theatrical presence on camera, and a daring style that was grounded in psychological realism but stretched imaginatively beyond it. In Jan Troell’s The New Land he had a striking presence in the small role of the minister who joins the community of the Swedish settlers in Minnesota, bringing comfort and relief to the devout Kristina (Liv Ullmann), who has suffered from the lack of a spiritual adviser since emigrating with her husband Karl-Oscar (Max von Sydow). Sam Peckinpah employed him in the part of the itinerant handyman in his 1966 TV adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s Noon Wine, where his jangling, inwardly focused performance was on par with the brilliant ones given by Jason Robards and Olivia De Havilland as his farm-owning employers. Oscarsson died in 2010; his last appearances were as Holger Palmgren in the Swedish film and TV versions of the Stieg Larsson thrillers.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Critic's Crypt: On a Century of Horror Cinema, Part I

I’m never one to shirk my responsibilities as a festive moviegoer. Certain times of year call for certain cinematic experiences, and when crisp, melancholy October rolls around I like to ring in the season by cloaking myself in the darkness of the horror genre. There’s no better environment in which to contemplate mortality than amongst the autumn leaves, as they die their violently colourful deaths.

In October of the Year of Our Lord 2017 I watched no fewer than twenty-one horror movies. They spanned a myriad of subgenres across nearly a century of cinema, from the supernatural to the psychological to the downright silly. There’s no way to cover them all in a single Critic’s Crypt, so I’ve broken them down by decade and attempted to chart a course through the murky, tempest-tossed waters of horror history. Follow me, brave spookophile, into these briny and limitless depths!

– Justin Cummings

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Sensual and Strong: The Return of the Canada All Star Ballet Gala

Maria Kochetkova and Carlo Di Lanno, both of San Francisco Ballet, dancing the pas de deux from Christoper Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, one of a dozen premieres presented at the Canada All Star Ballet Gala in Toronto. (Photo: Karolina Kuras)

Second time strong. The follow-up edition to last season’s inaugural Canada All Star Ballet Gala gained in power with a sophisticated showcase of classical, neoclassical and contemporary ballet as performed by 17 new-generation ballet luminaries from nine of the world’s leading classical dance companies. Artistic director Svetlana Lunkina, the Bolshoi Ballet star who today is a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, curated the three-hour program whose one-time only performance played to a capacity audience at Toronto’s Sony Centre on Saturday night. She produced the show and also danced in it, raising her own barre high while making way for emerging talents like Anastasia Lukina from the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, and Dmitry Vyskubenko from the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich, both 19 years old. The evening delivered on a promise of new discoveries.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Alberto Manguel (1983)

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to writers and artists from all fields. Today, in honour of Halloween, it seems timely to revisit the day, in 1983, when I sat down with Argentine-Canadian novelist, essayist and translator Alberto Manguel.

Author of non-fiction texts such as A History of Reading (1996) and most recently Curiosity (2015), in his long career Manguel has edited numerous anthologies of short fiction. At the time of our conversation in 1983, his first such volume, Black Water: The Book of Fantastic Literature, had just been published. The massive book collected short works of fantasy, many appearing in English for the first time, from the sinister to the humorous, from authors like Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, Julio Cortázar, and Charles Dickens. In 2016, Manguel took over as director of the National Library of Argentina.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Alberto Manguel as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1983.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Seder: Night of Revelations

The cast of Seder at the Hartford Stage. (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Sarah Gancher’s new play Seder (Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT) is dense and complicated – and I mean that as a compliment. Set in Budapest in 2002, it strives to find a way to dramatize the entire blighted history of Hungary from the Holocaust through the country’s reincarnation as a Communist state after the Second World War and its wholesale rejection of that ideology after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The protagonist is Erzsike (Mia Dillon, in a fine, restrained performance), a Jew who survived the war in Budapest but lost her father in a concentration camp. In the post-war days, the only job she could land was as a janitor at 60 Andrássy Street, which had been the headquarters of the notorious Arrow Cross – the Hungarian Nazis – and where the AVO, the secret police of the Hungarian Communist Party, were now interrogating people in the basement using the same instruments of torture. Her boss, Attila (played by Jeremy Webb in flashbacks), promoted her to secretary and began a long affair with her; she permitted it because his generosity helped her to support her family – a co-worker, Tamás (Liam Craig), whose marriage to her Attila himself arranged when she got pregnant, and her three children. She has long kept the secret that her eldest, Judit (Birgit Huppuch), who adored Tamás, was not his daughter. Judit has always resented her mother for cuckolding Tamás and, she thinks, driving him to drink. At nineteen, after the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc, she left home. And though she maintains a relationship with her sister Margit (Julia Sirna-Frest), who still lives with their mother, and her brother Laci (Dustin Ingram), she does not speak to Erzsike, who is agonized by their estrangement, and has forbidden them to tell her anything about the life she’s led since she walked out. As it happens, she’s allied herself with the center-right party Fidesz, which is working to eliminate all remnants of Hungarian Communism. She is on the board of the recently opened House of Terror Museum in the building at 60 Andássy, which Erzsike visits in the opening scene – only to discover her own photo in the “gallery of murderers.” Her own daughter hung it there: it’s her conviction that no one who worked in that environment during the AVO presence could possibly have failed to know what atrocities were being perpetrated in its basement, and so even the secretaries and janitors were complicit.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Monsters Among Us: Netflix's Mindhunter

Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff in Mindhunter

If the average citizen ever comes across [the psychopath] in his reading, he ordinarily imagines raving madmen and consigns them to the care of hospital psychiatrists. Or, if the citizen is a little more sophisticated, he thinks in terms of crime and daring escapades, and relegates the perpetrators to the province of the police. He does not know – he has not been told – that the psychopath is the enemy of his life, the adversary of his welfare. He does not know – he has not been told – that the psychopath is the harbinger of social and political distress, the carrier of a plague of wars, revolutions, and convulsions of social unrest.
– Robert Lindner, Must You Conform? (1956)

When the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, recently took out over 500 people at a country music event, people struggled in vain to find a motive. Since there was nothing in recent history with which to compare this horrific deed, people sought the most obvious clues to define his actions. Was he recruited by ISIS? Could he have been a white supremacist? Since Paddock was described in the news as 'a quiet and loving man' by all who apparently knew him (as if silence automatically guaranteed sanity), the question remained: what made him commit such a monstrous act? When you spend many months acquiring a huge arsenal, meticulously planning both your location and your prey, and then you present a horrific display of mass murder, clearly there's a lot more going on than being a 'quiet and loving' guy. At the very least, his actions reveal that he didn't like people very much. But since no one found a convenient label with which to define his actions, Paddock was quickly dropped from the headlines and returned to the oblivion where he once resided. He disappeared from the news as if he had never been there.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Last Hurrah: Le Carré’s Legacy of Spies

Photo: Sang Tan

“We must live without sympathy.”
                                   – John le Carré, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold 
“If I was heartless, I was heartless for Europe.”
                                  – John le Carré, Legacy of Spies

We can probably attribute the Soviet and East German governments’ decision to build the 1961 Wall between West and East Berlin for turning the spy novel into high art. When British agent David Cornwell stood before that Wall, he felt disgust and fear. He later wrote that “the Wall was perfect theatre as well as the perfect symbol of the monstrosity of an ideology gone mad.” In five weeks using the pen name John le Carré, he wrote his masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, referring to the Wall as “the backdrop of a concentration camp.” Although he had already published two well-received novels, it was The Spy that firmly established his reputation for conveying the authenticity of the tradecraft of spying, for evoking the often squalid settings, and for exploring the uncertainties and cynicism that characterized the security forces during the Cold War. The last scene of The Spy, in which the despairing agent, Alex Leamas, joins Liz Gold in death, set the gray tone of moral ambiguity that became a trademark of le Carré’s subsequent Cold War novels.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Cuban Poet Heberto Padilla (1982)

Heberto Padilla in 1981. (Photo: Elisa Cabot)

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to writers and artists from all fields. In 1982, I sat down with Cuban poet and exile, Heberto Padilla. 

Though he was an initial supporter of Fidel Castro, Heberto Padilla's public criticism of the regime led to his jailing in 1971 under the charge of "plotting against the powers of the state." He was released after a month of brutal interrogation, but his writing was subsequently banned in his native Cuba. An international campaign allowed him and his family to eventually leave for the United States in 1980. Heberto Padilla lived in exile from Cuba until his passing in 2000 at the age of 68.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Heberto Padilla as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1982.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Snowman: Deep Freeze

Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole in The Snowman

The images in The Snowman, Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of one of the Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole thrillers, are alternately crystalline and misted over. Alfredson, too, is Scandinavian (he was born in Stockholm), and his movie, set in what feels like endless winter, gets the feel of a country embedded in deep freeze. In visual terms the film is about winter as a state of mind, as an objective correlative for psyches that have been chilled by bitter experience, as a landscape for the dead. The snowmen that the serial killer being stalked by Hole (Michael Fassbender) and his young partner Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) leaves as signposts to murder have sinister, hollowed-out faces and their clumsy stick arms suggest primitive atrocities. I can’t think of another movie that does more lyrically with the ghostliness of the season. Beneath the snowfall, Alfredson and his cinematographer Dion Beebe suggest, are frozen hearts and damaged souls who haunt the country like the undead.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Going Concern – T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit by Lloyd Sachs

Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett (right) at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, California, 1984. (Photo: Sherry Rayn Barnett)

Some of the most prized albums in my collection have the name T Bone Burnett attached to them. These include the marvelous duo recording Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, the remarkably personal No Better Than This by John Mellencamp, Low Country Blues by the late Gregg Allman and the outstanding soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' picture, O Brother, Where Art Thou? So I was keen to learn more about the man and his earthy approach as producer on these great records. Lloyd Sachs’s book called T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit (U of Texas) tells that story and reveals much more about this versatile artist. His short but concise biography, released last year, tells the story of Burnett with a critical eye on his output as a producer, but also focuses on his own life in music. The “pursuit,” as Sachs puts it, is a little vague but no less a driver for how Burnett’s approach to music creation makes him so special. Says Burnett, who’s quoted extensively throughout the book, “All Art comes out of community and when communities can get together and not fight over who gets what piece and instead can say ‘this is ours, let’s make it great’ it just ends up being better . . . so to get to the spirit of a piece of art right, everyone has to be generous.” So it goes for Burnett, who has been a part pf a music community over the past 50 years, since he was kid growing up in Texas.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dancing Betwixt and Between: Andrea Nann’s Dual Light

Kristy Kennedy and Brendan Wyatt in Dual Light. (Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh)

Vancouver-born, Toronto-based choreographer and dancer Andrea Nann lights a spark with Dual Light, a multifaceted work whose world premiere took place at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre Theatre last Thursday.

A presentation of Danceworks, the city’s premiere producer of independent dance, the hour-long piece deftly balances sculpted and rolling passages of movement on top of deep pools of intellectual thought. Spoken monologues bring artful clarity to a dance that is as philosophical as it is sensual in exploring the transitional period in a rite of passage.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Guide for the Homesick: Buddy Melodrama

Samuel H. Levine and McKinley Belcher III in the Huntington Theatre's A Guide for the Homesick. (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

In Ken Urban’s new play A Guide for the Homesick, which the Huntington Theatre is producing in its South End space at the Calderwood Pavilion, two young Boston men meet at an Amsterdam bar and wind up in a hotel room. For Teddy (McKinley Belcher III), the encounter is a pick-up, but when he hints around, Jeremy (Samuel H. Levine) assures him that he’s misread the signals – though we’re not so sure. The set-up is familiar: this is a strangers-with-secrets play. Teddy has been vacationing with a work friend who’s about to get married, and for some reason his traveling companion has disappeared and his fiancée keeps calling Teddy’s cell phone. Jeremy went to Africa as a medical aid worker after graduating from Harvard and something went disastrously wrong, prompting him to return – reluctantly – to the States.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Leading with Love: Reflections on the End of Survivor’s Remorse

Mike Epps, Tichina Arnold, RonReaco Lee, Jessie T. Usher,  Teyonah Parris and Erica Ash in Starz's Survivor's Remorse.

Deshauwn: When Cam hit and all the big agency vultures started circling, how'd you keep your boy?
Reggie: I did my job.
Deshauwn: That's it?
Reggie: That's it.
Deshauwn: I feel like I should be paying you or something for dropping all these gems, man . . . You want some cocaine?
Survivor’s Remorse, “One-Love” (Season 2, Episode 5)
Last Sunday, Starz aired the final two episodes of the fourth season of Survivor’s Remorse – five days after the cable network announced the show’s cancellation. After four increasingly strong seasons, the LeBron James-produced and Mike O’Malley-created rags-to-riches pro-basketball dramedy came to an abrupt end. The series premiered in 2014, but chances are that you have never heard of it – or, if you have, you may have (like myself) been long put off by its unrevealing title. But if you have been watching, news of its cancellation will have gutted you – and not only because the ad hoc series finale left numerous storylines hanging. Ballsy, insidiously provocative, and philosophically inclined, Survivor’s Remorse just may have been the smartest show on television.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fashion Down Under (Why It’s On Top)

“The assumption that Australia is a season behind is no longer relevant,” says Dion Lee,
one of several Australian designers taking the country's fashion global.

Australia is known for many things, most of them rooted in the natural world – koalas, kangaroos, kookaburras and Crocodile Dundee types strutting across the Outback when not surfing the waves of the country’s incredible beaches. Fashion has never been one.

But that perception is changing thanks to a growing number of Aussie designers turning Down Under into a top player in the global apparel industry. The past year has seen a greater number of Australian fashion brands leap from relative obscurity to international cachet, led by such trailblazers as Zimmermann. The flirty swim and ready-to-wear label has 25 boutiques across Australia and another eight internationally, including a first in London’s prestigious Mayfair district and East Hampton in Long Island. In Canada, the brand is sold through Holt Renfrew.

“We’re not trying to be like anyone else,” says Simone Zimmermann, who founded the namesake brand with her designer sister Nicky Zimmermann in Sydney in 1991. “We are always trying to be the best at what we do, and that’s made us different.”

Friday, October 20, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Wendy Hughes (1984)

Wendy Hughes and John Hargreaves in My First Wife (1984).

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to writers and artists from all fields. In 1984, I sat down with Australian actress Wendy Hughes.

With an acting career spanning four decades, Wendy Hughes is probably best known to North American audiences for 1979's My Brilliant Career and for her recurring role as Dr. Carol Blythe on Homicide: Life on the Street. In 1984, she was in Toronto promoting the film My First Wife, part of her long collaboration with director Paul Cox. Their most critically acclaimed film together was Lonely Hearts (1982), and their last was Salvation (2008). Wendy Hughes passed in 2014, at the age of 61.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Wendy Hughes as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1984.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Victory Vindication!: Studio MDHR’s Cuphead

Cuphead was released by Studio MDHR on September 29.

I had been hotly anticipating the release of Cuphead, the debut game from independent Canadian developer duo Studio MDHR, since its very first reveal trailers. I mean, how could you not? At a glance, it’s abundantly clear that the game offers something that has literally never been seen before in gaming: a vibrant visual style modeled after the Disney and Fleischer cartoons from the 1920s and 30s. Cuphead’s animation – and its general sense of polish and pizzazz – is so jaw-dropping that it almost didn’t matter what the game actually was. I didn’t care if the thing was going to be any good or not; I just wanted to bask in its aesthetic.

I was delighted to discover when it finally released last month that, in spite of my low expectations, there is indeed more to Cuphead than meets the eye, and that its pleasures in terms of gameplay precision, retro mechanics, and difficulty are a match for its visual (and sonic) delights. Much ballyhoo is being made about its level of challenge, and whether or not it may be prohibitive to those who just want to enjoy its unique style, but I think the way Cuphead handles its difficulty is exemplary. It’s the same type of punishing, balanced, satisfying design that I find so compelling in some other very different games that are also infamous for their difficulty.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Into That Good Night: The Image of Mortality in Art and Culture

Dylan Thomas.

In 1952, one year before his untimely passing at the far-too-young age of 39, Dylan Thomas wrote one of his most famous poems, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," in which that repeated chorus followed observations on why mortality seemed to bug him so much. “Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Ironically, in 1936, when he was younger and less literally at the doorstep of that diminishing light, Thomas had written a different but equally arresting poem, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," which optimistically celebrated the fact that we could never be vanquished by that damn light switch. Oh, what a subtle difference one’s proximity to the darkness can make.

Such deep poetic insights into the human condition invite us to consider the importance of three key subjects and themes that have recurred throughout human history: the fact of our mortality, the potential for immortality, and the opportunity for transcendence. Art and cultural history are both replete with a perpetually challenging wonderment relating to these basic human subjects, whether it is in the form of poetry, philosophy, religion, mythology, painting, sculpture or movies. In addition, these themes are explored equally through liturgical and sacred as well as secular and entertainment formats. In a sense these themes are tied to the elemental subjects expressed in art throughout its long history from the cave wall to the computer screen: the mysteries of the self, of society, of nature and of the spiritual.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Critics Notes & Frames Vol. XXIV

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (photo by Mary Ellen Matthews)

I didn’t realize how much I had taken for granted my love of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. While I have collected and enjoyed Petty’s music for years, I’ve never taken the time to contemplate why his best songs (and there are many) have always brought me such happiness. But for the last 40 years, Petty and The Heartbreakers helped keep some of the idealistic dreams of the sixties alive. They didn’t, however, do it by showing a nostalgic reverence for the era and its music. Rather they captured the music’s urgency, its uncompromising demand for freedom which lies right at the heart of all rock & roll. Whether it’s in an anthem like “I Won’t Back Down,” a plaintive ballad like “Southern Accents,” or a scorching rocker like “You Wreck Me,” Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers created an immediacy that made each song sound both fresh and fully alive with possibility. For those who remember the joy they felt when a great song came through their tiny earphone on their transistor radio, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers brought that instant delight to the music they played. I think critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine nailed Petty’s appeal and longevity perfectly when he said that he and The Heartbreakers "didn’t break from tradition the way their punk contemporaries did. Instead, they celebrated it, culling the best parts of The British Invasion, American garage rock, and Dylanesque singer/songwriters to create a distinctly American hybrid that recalled the past without being indebted to it.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Time and the Conways: Time Lost and Found

Elizabeth McGovern, Matthew James Thomas, Cara Ricketts and Anna Camp in Time and the Conways. (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The English playwright and novelist J.B. Priestley was fascinated by time and wrote a series of plays about it, though only one, An Inspector Calls, has tended to get performed on these shores. But now Roundabout Theatre has elected to open its 2017-18 season with his Time and the Conways. First produced in 1937, the play was inspired by J.W. Dunne’s theory of time. It’s set shortly after World War I, at a 21st birthday party for Kay Conway, one of six siblings in a moneyed British family, and nineteen years later, when the Conways have fallen into financial disaster and personal unhappiness; act three – performed, in Rebecca Taichman’s production, after the sole intermission – is continuous with act one.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Enigmatic Reunions: Linden MacIntyre’s The Only Café

Author Linden MacIntyre.

Ari Folman’s animated 2008 quasi-documentary Waltz with Bashir is the filmmaker’s cinematic effort to address and perhaps atone for his complicity in the 1982 massacre of thirty-five hundred unarmed Palestinian civilians in the West Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Folman was a nineteen-year-old Israeli soldier at the time and he repressed almost all memories of the events until, twenty years later, a friend recounted a recurring nightmare of a pack of ravenous, fanged dogs running through the streets of Tel Aviv before stopping at an apartment building and snarling up at a silhouetted figure in a window.

This visceral nightmare is the opening scene in the film and the effect is electric and immediately engages the viewer. Both Folman and his friend are convinced that the dream is related to what happened in Beirut years earlier because the dreamer recounts how he killed twenty-six watchdogs during the war. Folman seeks out friends and compatriots to interview who recall their experiences, which often bleed into fantasies of that surreal time. The animation is particularly effective in visualizing these fantasies. The interviews became the film’s fulcrum as animated versions of likely very real people speak about their memories with Folman’s avatar. With the assistance of one of his own recurring dreams, Folman is able to piece together what did happen when a Christian Phalangist militia committed these atrocities with the unwitting assistance of the Israelis, including his personal role in that massacre. At this point, the animation gives way to actual footage of the slaughter's aftermath and its effect is extremely powerful.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Neglected Gem # 108: The Clock (1945)

Robert Walker and Judy Garland in Vincente Minnelli's The Clock (1945)

When it was released in 1945, The Clock was a moderate box-office success. But most people wouldn’t recognize the title today unless they’ve happened across it on Turner Classic Movies, where it’s a perennial. The plot is simple. Corporal Joe Allen (Robert Walker), a soldier on a forty-eight-hour leave in New York before departing for the front falls in love with Alice Maybery (Judy Garland), a secretary he encounters by chance in Penn Station – she trips over his foot at the bottom of an escalator and loses her heel. Drawn to her immediately, he asks her to show him the sights of the city; surprising herself, she agrees, and they spend the afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum. He asks her to meet him that night, and they spend the entire evening together, into the small hours of the morning, when they are befriended by a milkman and wind up making his deliveries for him when he gets hurt. By now Alice and Joe are deeply in love. They decide to get married before he returns to camp, but obtaining a license and getting to the justice of the peace by the end of business hours present challenges they almost fail to overcome. They do overcome them, however, and spend their wedding night in a hotel before Joe has to leave Alice. That’s the entire story.

The Clock gave Garland her first non-musical role, and it was the first non-musical project for its director, Vincente Minnelli, whom she requested as a replacement when the original director, Fred Zinnemann, didn’t work out. Both star and director had just come off Meet Me in St. Louis, an unqualified triumph, and they married as soon as The Clock wrapped; their feelings for each other surely leaked into the picture, which is one of Hollywood’s loveliest romantic dramas. No one ever shot Garland as exquisitely as Minnelli – or lit her like George Folsey, the cinematographer on both movies. (Minnelli directed her in only one subsequent film, The Pirate, and he was behind the camera for her numbers in Ziegfeld Follies and Till the Clouds Roll By as well.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Infinite Regress: David Foster Wallace & Writing About Writing and Not Writing

David Foster Wallace giving a reading at San Francisco's All Saints Church in 2006 (photo by Steve Rhodes)

It has recently come to my attention that the meaning of life can be found in the 1996 novel by the late American author David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest. I can indeed confirm this, even though it is a delayed realization of some fifteen perplexed years. There are a number of explanations for why it took so long to realize that the meaning of life is easily found in Infinite Jest (page 492, to be exact) but those would not add anything salient to this basic empirical fact. The meaning of life recurs on page 997, as if for some sort of echo effect that manages to reassure the astute reader that, indeed, he or she is on the right track after all. But just where does that track lead? Did DFW find out? If so, after visiting us from 1962 to 2008, he is regrettably no longer able to file his remarkable reports from the front. Or has he only gone on to the actual front? “One never knew, after all, now did one now, did one now did one,” as he himself said in the “radically condensed history of post-industrial life” from his Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, 2007. Late late Wallace.

If one could envisage a large balcony jutting off a big old ornate building somewhere in the Swiss Alps (SA in Wallace-speak), with obscurely wounded inmates lounging on large deck chairs bundled in thick blankets and conversing about the meaning of life in their own distinct accents or dialects, then one could probably see that Harry Haller is there from the novel Steppenwolf, Hans Castorp is there from The Magic Mountain (he is their genial host, in fact), Ulrich is there from The Man Without Qualities, Gwyon is there from The Recognitions, Benny Profane is there from Pynchon's Should Salinger or . . . God, no, who wants to listen to Holden with his constant cringing and whining? Certainly not gentlemen of the caliber of Haller, Castorp and Ulrich. Old-world, you know. He could always sit with Profane, I suppose. After all, it’s a community of shadows of their former selves, or of their creative authors. And Wallace’s Hal Incandenza IJ character is sitting there quietly in the corner, seemingly lost in a private reverie, or maybe he’s just pouting, thinking about Norman Mailer.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Cells Within Cells, Interlinked: Blade Runner 2049

Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049. (Photo: Stephen Vaughan)

Note: This review contains spoilers for Blade Runner 2049.

I have a . . . complicated relationship with Ridley Scott. I’m skeptical enough of his work, both old and new, that the prospect of a sequel to one of his better-loved films – directed by another filmmaker, to boot – was less than appetizing to me. I simply didn’t agree that the world needed more Blade Runner; Scott’s visually gorgeous 1982 tone poem was a sumptuous enough meal for me (if not a very nutritious one), whose working elements felt like they would be next to impossible to recreate. Learning that Denis Villeneuve, one of my favourite filmmakers, was the one being tapped for the sequel only served to complicate my feelings further. The casting of Ryan Gosling as the new blade-running protagonist boded well; the inclusion of Hollywood’s chief aging grumpypants, Harrison Ford, did not. It was nearly impossible to calibrate my expectations, so . . . I chose not to. I tried to ignore the marketing campaign for Blade Runner 2049 (except for the tie-in short films, which I thought were brilliant). I went to see it with very little idea of what I was in for.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Battle of the Sexes: The Limitations of Decency

Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes.

Emma Stone is one of the greatest pleasures to be had at the movies these days. The spark she sets off comes simultaneously from braininess and personal warmth, and in movie after movie she pulls off the trick of suggesting sophistication without a trace of affectation; she’s an old-world Hollywood star with a distinctly twenty-first-century hipness and sexiness. You may think of Jean Arthur or Margaret Sullavan with just a hint of Katharine Hepburn, but it’s emphatically the contemporary world of experience that she inhabits. As Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes taking on Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) on the tennis court in their historic match, she’s playing a story set nearly half a century ago, but it’s a modern breakthrough story, about a superlative athlete who proved, in the early days of the women’s movement, that women could be the equal of men in the sports realm and deserved the same respect (and the same monetary rewards). It’s also the tale of a young woman – King is twenty-nine, the age Stone herself will be in a few weeks – who confronts a gay sexuality concealed under the surface of a superficially happy but dispassionate marriage. Stone gives a beautifully understated performance in which her character’s struggles, disappointments, discoveries and triumphs register as glimmers of emotion in a pool of practiced calm. It’s a perfect intersection of instinct and technique.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Poet Phyllis Webb (1982)

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to writers and artists from all fields. In 1982, I sat down with Canadian poet Phyllis Webb.

At the time of our conversation, Talonbooks had just released The Vision Tree: Selected Poems, which collected selections of her work from 1954-1982. The collection would go on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry later that same year. Over her long career, Webb has also worked for CBC Radio where, in 1965, she created, with William A. Young, the long-running radio program Ideas. Her most recent book of original poetry was 1999's Four Swans in Fulford Harbour.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Phyllis Webb as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1982.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Gaslight: Stage and Screen

Kim Stauffer and Mark H. Dold in Barrington Stage Company's Gaslight. (Photo: Scott Barrow)

The 1938 British chestnut Gaslight is seldom revived; most people know it – if at all – by the 1944 George Cukor movie, which won Ingrid Bergman her first Oscar. (A previous version, made in England in 1940 with Diana Wynyard, shows up on Turner Classic Movies every now and then.) Barrington Stage has chosen the play to close its 2017 season, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it live since another regional group nearly three decades ago produced it under its original Broadway title, Angel Street. Gaslight is a psychological melodrama, set in London in the 1880s, about a woman whose husband is slowly driving her to madness by convincing her that she loses or hides objects in their home and then can’t remember she’s done it, and that, moreover, the footsteps she hears over the ceiling at night and the inexplicable dimming of the gas lamps are all in her mind. Jack Manningham is two kinds of villain: a sadistic domestic tyrant of the Victorian variety as well as a psychopath who killed the previous owner of their house to rob her of some priceless rubies that he was never able to unearth. The murder remained unsolved, and now, fifteen years later, he’s returned with a bride whose fortune he uses to buy up the property so he can continue his search. Driving her into an asylum is his way of getting rid of her. But Bella Manningham is the play’s protagonist, though she’s able to triumph over her husband only with the unlooked-for help of Inspector Rough, a Scotland Yard detective who was a novice on the original investigation and who recognizes Manningham (though he’s changed his name) when he passes him in the street after he and Bella have moved into the murder house.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Just Possibly: ABC's Kevin (Probably) Saves the World

Chloe East and Jason Ritter in ABC's Kevin (Probably) Saves the World.

Yvette: In every generation since the dawn of man, there are 36 righteous souls in the world. And they protect humanity by merely existing. Now there's only one. You, Kevin . . . you are the last of the righteous. 
Kevin: Cool.
The last network series Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters brought us was Reaper, in 2007. Telling the story of a slacker-turned-devil’s helper, Reaper was a blast for the two seasons it ran on the CW. It was cartoonish, noisy, and profane – and hardly had a redemptive bone in its body. Fazekas and Butters’s new fantasy series, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, premiered on ABC last Tuesday, and one thing needs to be said right off the bat: it is nothing like Reaper. Beyond the broad plot of a sad-sack man-boy given a tacitly epic mission that shakes up his mundane existence (a thumbnail that could just as easily describe Chuck), Kevin is as earnest as Reaper was caustic – and, moreover, comes with an unapologetic and often compelling message of hope.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Wait and See: Fox’s Ghosted and ABC’s The Mayor

Adam Scott and Craig Robinson in Fox's Ghosted.

I think I like Ghosted –  though, to be honest, I’m not sure. Even though I’ve watched roughly 22 minutes of Fox’s new paranormal comedy, I have no idea if I’ve seen anything that will be representative of the kind of show that it will eventually become. It’s a dilemma that’s inherent to any attempt to critically evaluate the sort of serial storytelling that’s central to how television currently functions, and one that initially put me off shows that would later become favorites of mine, most notably Parks and Recreation. For a number of reasons, this problem seems particularly acute in the case of Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten’s sitcom version of The X-Files.