Its been awhile but I still have some things to say about 2017!

I haven’t been posting on this blog much in the last 6 months due to having been involved in a couple of very time-consuming activities that take up most of my days. As a result, my TV and movie viewing has been curtailed and my reading diminished during this period.  I resolve to change this in 2018 beginning in March but I did want to weigh in with a few posts about the best books I read and the movies and TV shows I thought were the greatest of 2017.  This first post will cover TV.

The 5 Best TV Shows of 2015 (that I watched)

  1. The Leftovers

The Leftovers had the perfect final season and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to this controversial show.  If you haven’t seen it, Season 1 is very dark, bleak and hard to get through but it becomes so worthwhile to have done so in order to watch Seasons 2 and 3.  This show about grief, loss and craziness also delivered pure joy in Season 3 with a Tasmanian sex boat and numerous other gripping episodes.  Carrie Coon was magnificent and you should watch it for just her performance.

  1. Halt and Catch Fire

This is another show that struggled a bit in its first season but just blossomed over the course of the next three seasons and its final one this fall, delivered perfectly.  While many may question whether they want to watch a show about the history of technology and the beginnings of Silicon Valley, rest assured that at its heart, this show is about the characters and particularly two women who form one of the most compelling relationships in television.  Watch this show on Netflix.  Feel free to only see the first 4 episodes and the finale of Season 1 and then savor every episode after that.

  1. The Good Place

I’m watching fewer and fewer network TV shows but this one is great.  A show that is about heaven, hell, ethics and morality delivers those messages in such a comedic way that it makes it impossible not to care deeply for a group of very flawed characters. The Season 1 finale twist and how the show runners picked it up this fall were unpredictable and executed flawlessly.  The cast is terrific and it is just a fun show with lots of meat.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale was excellent and it was worth having to pay for Hulu for a couple of months to watch it unfold each week.  It did drag occasionally but the acting chops of Elizabeth Moss and Ann Dowd made it all worthwhile and I should note the surprisingly excellent work of Alexis Bledel – who knew?  The parallels between this dystopian world and this past year, unfortunately were a little too close.

  1. Better Things

This smaller 30-minute dramedy is excellent and the second season was even better than the first.  Unfortunately, the show is linked so closely to Louis C.K. which makes for a tough decision on whether to support it or not but I don’t think it is fair to Pamela Adlon to boycott it.  Better Things is based loosely on her life and her Directing and Acting in it are very good.  This show hits to the heart of what it is like to be a single mother, struggling to keep things going at home while trying to keep a career going at the same time making many mistakes with both.  There is so much honesty and emotion in this dramedy that it is hard not to love it.

The Best of the Rest:

Jane the Virgin, Alias Grace, The Americans, Big Little Lies, Mary Kills People, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Last Week with John Oliver, Stranger Things, Catastrophe, Casual, You’re the Worst, The Young Pope, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Keepers, Billions, The Vietnam War, the Middle

Shows that I didn’t get to but I really want to see:

One Mississippi (S2), One Day at a Time, Top of the Lake China Girl, the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Sneaky Pete, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (last 2 seasons) 

Shows I’m still watching despite them not being that great:

Homeland, Fargo, the Affair, Scandal, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the Magicians and few that I’m too embarrassed to mention (and no, they aren’t reality shows!

One final thought:  There are some shows that are nearly perfect in their premier season and should end that way.  Unfortunately, good ratings, lots of buzz and some award nominations and all of a sudden, we have Season 2 of Stranger Things, Big Little Lies and worst of all, 13 Reasons Why despite the storylines being completely wrapped up in what should have been the only season.  Let them stand alone and go on to other innovative projects.

 

 

 

 

 

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TV: The Keepers, The Last Tycoon, Casual and Diana Our Mother

There isn’t much original programming on TV right now so I have mostly been streaming aside for every Sunday night when I get to watch Game of Thrones!

The Keepers (Netflix)

The Keepers isn’t the “can’t stop watching” sort of true murder mystery that say the “Jinx” is or “Making of a Murder”.  That might have to do with the lack of an arrested suspect to focus on.  It might also have to do with the fact that it is the story of two women (same high school class as myself) who are investing the murder of a beloved nun they had for a high school teacher in the late sixties.  The process of this work is slow and painstaking as is some of the TV show.  I am perfectly happy to watch women who are my peers become more effective investigators then the Baltimore police but that might not work for everyone.  Nevertheless, it is a compelling story that brings a different dimension to the Catholic Church abuse stories that we have been exposed to over the past few decades.

This seven-part series is like watching “Spotlight” only squared.  It is a deeply disturbing trip into the sexual abuse of countless girls by a priest in a Baltimore Catholic High School in the sixties. There is mystery, intrigue and even the Wire can’t compete with this true story of corruption and cover-up encompassing the Church, police, and what seems like the Who’s Who of Baltimore. The most compelling individual in this story is a woman, Jean Hargadon Wehner who suffered abuse and then blocked it from her memory for decades.  She started to recall disturbing elements of her ordeal and filed suit against the Church and the perpetrator priest in the early 90s.  “Jane Doe” as she was known as during the lawsuit is remarkably open about her experiences and every time she is on the screen, she completely owns it.

As the individuals who participated in the murder and cover-up have died, it is unclear if we will ever know for sure who committed the murder of Sister Cathy.  The dogged determination of two wonderful women, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins have opened up the case and brought the story of the abuse and murder to the forefront of many Americans.  The Keepers is a powerful TV series (although I found it dragged in parts) and it is most effective when the camera just lets the survivors tell their stories.  While other similar programs like the aforementioned “Jinx” or “Making of a Murder” might be more riveting, “The Keeper”s is well worth checking out – particularly if you are interested in the subject or just a murder mystery buff.

The Last Tycoon (Amazon)

Yes, Matt Bomer is perhaps the best-looking actor in Hollywood but he can act and he does it well in this new Amazon series based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that was unfinished at his death.  I watched the entire nine-episodes and enjoyed it.  It is a period piece that takes place in 1930s Hollywood amidst a backdrop of Nazi bankers and the Great Depression.  The strong acting and visually appealing sets will remind the viewer of Mad Men which isn’t too surprising as they share the same costume designer.  The pilot wasn’t the greatest but after that, the story of a small movie studio head (Kelsey Grammer) and his creative genius partner (Bomer) trying to keep their heads above water while attempting to make great movies was entertaining.  Bomer plays a Jewish character, Monroe Stahr, who is still in love with the ghost of his movie-star wife who perished in a fire.  Grammer’s character, Pat Brady, has several flaws, including a strong jealousy of his partner, which prove in the end that a completely immoral streak probably is required to become a great success in Hollywood.

Lily Collins plays Brady’s daughter who inexplicably is given a major movie to produce at the age of 19 with absolutely no experience.  I didn’t love this plot line nor Collin’s performance in a role which I thought required more acting ability than Collin’s is currently capable of.  Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) makes a very strong appearance in several episodes and it was great to see her back.  Grammer and Bomer were especially strong and anyone who thinks the latter is just a pretty face should watch what he does in this series.  His reaction to Brady cutting him off at the knees was magnificent as was his performance at the engagement party.  The costumes were fabulous and along with the camera work and scenery take the viewer back to a time forgotten.

It is unclear as to whether the Last Tycoon will be renewed for another season (or more) but it ended on a cliff hanger and I’m sure there is a lot more story to tell.  The novel upon which it is based was apparently only half finished so the writers could go several different directions with it.  My only fear would be that it moves toward the Lily Collin’s character running the studio, the groundwork for which has been laid.  There are several other plotlines that could be explored in more depth including the Nazi impact on the studios and the Jewish establishment in Hollywood.  The first season certainly touched on these themes but the story could get quite fascinating as WWII becomes a reality.  I don’t want to spoil the finale but I’ll just say that I need Bomer to return to the series if it goes another season.

Casual Season 3 (Hulu)

This story revolving around the completely dysfunctional members of the Meyers/Cole family spiraled into even more of a heavy drama in season 3.  The showrunners did well in physically separating the Meyers from Alex this season and it helped with the story telling.  New characters, like Judy Greer as Alex’s boss were brought in and additional plotlines established making for a more engaging season.  After all, one can only take so much of three deeply flawed characters being with each other 24×7.  Each character was strengthened and individualized as they set out on their own journey towards happiness – which of course is not ever in the cards for them.  While these were all positive changes, they created a scenario that resulted in multiple plotlines being very depressing and by the middle of the season I was ready to quit.  I did hang in there and it picked up toward the end with the finale setting the stage for Alex and Val to go back to living together in Season 4 although Laura is parked at her horrific grandmother’s house.

Casual is one of many “Dramedies” (You’re the Worst, Catastrophe etc.) that have focused on dark, topics with less and less comedic undertones.  They are tough to watch despite being excellent.  In the future, I think I may have to decrease the number of these that I follow and Casual might be the one that I ditch.   It’s nothing against Casual, it is just that I can only take so much of dysfunctional people in their 30s/40s with drug abuse, alcoholism, bi-polar disorders and other problems creating chaos in their lives.  I could use just a little more “comedy” in my dramedies.

Documentaries:

Diana Our Mother (HBO)

This documentary put together by William and Harry will appeal to anyone with an interest in Diana or the Royal family.  It is an intimate look into the woman who meant so much to so many people and it shows the deep scars her death left upon her children.  There isn’t much more in this special than has previously been made available but we do see her through her children’s eyes and are shown new family pictures. The boys discuss her sense of humor, their last call with her and the void she has left in their lives. It is worth watching for anyone interested in the Royals and as we mark the twentieth anniversary of Diana’s tragic death.