Roots (History Channel, A&E and Lifetime)
The original “Roots” was iconic and forever changed the way Americans viewed slavery. LaVar Burton’s Kunta Kinte personalized the struggle of African American slaves and reminded us what life was like in the South during the 1800s. So, why, do you ask do we need another version of “Roots”?
The new Roots is for a new generation. It doesn’t “whitewash” the story or characters as the original may be accused of occasionally doing to appeal to a mass audience. It is much more raw than the original and perhaps even more effective in reminding current audiences of the lingering anger that results from systematic racism stemming from the institution of slavery. In addition, technology has changed in the last 40 years and the cinematography, special effects and overall quality of the production is far superior in the new edition. The original seems outdated in contrast.
In the first episode, we are given a much more in-depth look at African life in Gambia. It is very well done and sets the tone nicely for the rest of the series which focuses more specifically on Kunta Kinte, Kizzy and Chicken George. It is at times more difficult to watch than the original with the violence against the slaves and the breaking up of families more prevalent. There are no benevolent slave owners in this version. If you are an animal lover, the cock fighting sequences (not in the original) are also difficult to watch.
The acting is really, really good and hopefully some of these actors will be up for Emmys. Television in general has a much better track record with diverse casts and nominations but there will be some tough competition with the OJ Simpson actors. The mini-series is strongest in the first two episodes. Each episode had a different director and the transitions from show to show were somewhat rough and occasionally confusing – particularly in the last couple of episodes. That being said, there is value in revisiting the story of Kunta Kinte and his descendants in light of what is happening in America today.
UnReal Season 2 premiers this week. Having never seen Season 1 but listening to all the critical acclaim, I reactivated my Hulu account (it took a LOT to do that) and decided to check out the first season. The critics are right. This is a brilliant show and surprisingly it is on Lifetime (this is the 3rd time I have watched a “Lifetime ” show in the last 6 months after never having seen one in my TV viewing history).
UnReal is a satire on reality TV and more specifically, the Bachelor. I confess that I have never seen any Reality TV except Idol and the Voice so I can’t appreciate how close this satire is to the actual show and I will never find out – especially after just 2 episodes of UnReal. What I can say is that this show is very smart, well written and well acted. Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby are amazing as the Producer and Assistant Producer of a Bachelor-like reality show called “Everlasting”. Their characters are complex and deep – defying any stereotypes that you assume the characters to be.
This show is dark. There is nothing comedic or upbeat about a group of people creating the most fake show on earth and destroying lives in the process. How they manipulate the “Everlasting” participants is as devious as you can imagine and I suspect, not far from the reality shows portrayed. I’m not sure how UnReal ever got renewed, as it is hard to imagine who actually watches it. For those who love these reality shows, they will not be happy at the curtain being pulled back on the seamy side of reality TV. For those like me who don’t, one episode reinforces why we don’t watch them. That being said, I can’t wait to finish Season 1, drop my HULU account like a hot potato and get started on Season 2, which I am DVRing.
Pride and Prejudice (PBS) – First “Binge” of the summer
I have seen several versions of Pride and Prejudice and loved them all but Colin Firth as Darcy is now at the top of my list. He is one of my favorite actors anyway but here he shines as the quiet and brooding Mr. Darcy. In fact for 5 ½ of the 6 episodes, he just broods while oozing sexual tension. Greatest Mr. Darcy ever! The rest of the cast is very good as well and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett is able to define this character like no other that I’ve seen. I suspect that going forward, no matter how many times I read the book or see screen versions of P&P that I will now always picture Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy as Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
This 1995 series is available for sale on PBS and ITunes and may be on Amazon Prime (I haven’t checked) but you are also likely to find it at the library. If you are a Jane Austin fan or love British TV, it is a series not to be missed.