Category Archives: TV

Will the marvelous Mrs. Maisel go Overboard? Movies and TV

THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL is the only Amazon Prime series I’ve had the urge to watch so far (I don’t count Man in the High Castle as I watched that for Now and Then We Time Travel). It was worth it, though it doesn’t give me the impulse to check out their other offerings.

Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is a Jewish 1950s housewife who seems to have a perfect life: kids, loving parents, husband Joel (Michael Zegen) is the love of her life and a good provider. His fondness for doing amateur standup comedy gives them both an excuse to hang out at Greenwich Village clubs and feel cool. Then one night Joel confesses that he’s miserable because he’s not good enough to turn pro, and that he’s been sleeping with his secretary. A drunken Midge wanders into one of the clubs they frequent and lets loose with a hysterical, profanity-laced rant on stage. Susie (Alex Borstein), the club’s booker, sees potential. Before Midge knows it, she and Joel are living apart and she’s launched on a new career as a stand-up comic.

What makes the series work is a)Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dialog is just as sharp as when she did Gilmore Girls; good actors (Tony Shalhoub as Midge’s professor father among them); lots of 1950s detail; and that stand-up comedy is portrayed as a skill Midge has to learn. There’s an annoying assumption in fiction that if you don’t have enough talent to be awesome from the start, you’re not good enough. Midge runs into this when she starts doing stand-up sober and some of her sets bomb. Susie patiently (okay, Susie’s a grouch, she’s never patient) explains that everyone bombs. The comics Midge sees on TV don’t bomb because they did all their bombing years ago; it’s part of the learning process, not proof you’re a failure (Joel didn’t get that either). That’s refreshing. I look forward to seeing how Midge does in S2 (not airing yet). “I walked in on Nichols and May screwing — even their screwing is hilarious.”

OVERBOARD (1987) is one of those movies people describe as “problematic,” meaning in this case it has its charms, but it’s also unintentionally creepy (initial reviews indicate Anna Faris’s new remake isn’t any better). Goldie Hawn plays a selfish, shallow wealthy woman who refuses to pay Kurt Russell for a carpentry job, claiming it was sub-par. When she gets amnesia, her husband (Ed Hermann) decides to leave her in the hospital so he can cat around; Russell claims her and tells her she’s his wife so that he can take out the money she owes him in cleaning and cooking. Inevitably they fall in love and when Hawn gets her memory back they become a couple for real (as happened in real life during the film).

The film’s charms are the leads, both of whom are appealing and likeable actors; Hawn does really well playing horrified at the life she’s now living. I have friends who love the film for them. But the core of the comedy is Russell taking advantage of Hawn, a helpless amnesiac, and it’s kind of creepy, particularly as he doesn’t get even a little comeuppance for it. The classism also annoyed me: Russell and his buddies make the characters in My Name Is Earl look like high society.

And unfortunately the script isn’t as good as the leads. Most of the jokes and slapstick didn’t work for me at all. Despite the creepy factor, that’s probably more of a reason for not being enchanted by the film. With Katherine Helmond as Hawn’s mother; and Roddy McDowell as a butler who I wish the film had used more.   “No, they died — they never found each other and they drowned.”

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A bad baronet, a bad novel, Dr. Mabuse and Black Lightning: the rest of my week’s media

RUDDIGORE was Gilbert and Sullivan’s parody of then-stock stage melodrama elements, but it works even if you don’t know or care about the prototypes they made fun of (the orphan who looks to the Bible for guidance is here an orphan who looks for it in an etiquette book) it’s still very funny. A young farmer romances sweet orphan Rose, concealing that he’s the rightful heir of the bad baronets of Ruddigore, who are compelled to do evil every day or die in terrible agony. But when his rival in love exposes him, he must assume the accursed title … A great job as always with the Durham Savoyards, but it had some serious sound problems (one of the actors was almost inaudible and we were in the second row). “I sometimes think that if we could hit upon some word for you to use whenever I am about to relapse – some word that teems with hidden meaning like “Basingstoke” – it might recall me to my saner self.”

I like John Brunner and the text on Jeff Jones cover for BLACK IS THE COLOR promised an interesting yarn (voodoo in 1960s Swingin’ London!). Unfortunately, the story of a dissolute twentysomething who stumbles into an international conspiracy (South Africa plans to have a black militant commit a terrorist act, figuring Britain will stop condemning them for apartheid) goes with the theory voodoo is psychosomatic (it kills people because they believe it) which isn’t as interesting as real magic (and the ending reveal Maybe It’s Real is just trite). And while Brunner’s trying to avoid it, he ends up embracing the Superstitious Darkie cliche. Overall, a very talky, slow book, and any sixties spy show could have made better use of the premise.

THE RETURN OF DR. MABUSE (1961) — was the first Mabuse film not made by Fritz Lang, and it’s surprisingly good. Police inspector Gert Frobe gets pulled off vacation to investigate a US organized-crime plot to ally with a crime kingpin in Germany (US B-actor Lex Barker plays his first role in the Mabuse series here). Could it be a certain evil genius survived his previous film? As Gert Frobe digs deeper he discovers mysterious crimes, mysterious beggars and a suspicious prison before getting to the truth (which involves a mind-control drug, the series’ first shift into SF). Better than I remembered it. “The devil doesn’t pray — on the contrary, he wants to be prayed to.”

BLACK LIGHTNING was the CW’s newest superhero show, though taking place on a separate Earth from Supergirl’s or Flash’s. Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is a retired superhero, happy to make the high school he runs the focus of his world-saving efforts. But when the 100 crime cartel kidnaps his daughters, Jefferson is forced to go back into the field — and of course, can’t quit once he does. Like Luke Cage this is a very black show, but it also stands out from the crop by making Jeff a family man whose two daughters are just discovering their own meta-powers; that opens up storytelling angles that Oliver’s fatherhood this season on Arrow simply can’t deliver. I could have done without Tobias Whale as the evil albino (he’s that in the comics, but albinism=evil is a stereotype), but overall a very satisfactory season. “The devil deals the cards.”

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Time travel, Lilliput and magic: TV, a movie and a book

One of the things I love about superhero comics is that they mash up everything — superpowers, super-science, the supernatural; Greek myths and extraterrestrials. The third season of Legends of Tomorrow gets that perfectly. As witness the final episode involves the Legends, an Amazon-trained Helen of Troy, and Jonah Hex battling a demon in 1800s North Dakota.

The overall arc of the season was the Legends fighting against a resurrected Damien Dahrk and his plan to create enough anachronisms to liberate the demon Mallus from a temporal prison. That led to several fun stories, such as Helen replacing Hedy Lamarr as a sex symbol in 1930s Hollywood (Timeless did a Hedy Lamarr story too; it wasn’t as good) or Julius Caesar leading an army of drunken frat boys to conquer Aruba. We also get a good addition to the cast in Ava, a Time Bureau agent whose button-down exterior hides a lot of passion. They even pulled off a time-loop story despite how often those have been done. I’m looking forward to seeing them back for S4 (it’s been confirmed). “A dirty hat. How … romantic.”

The Fleischer Brothers’ GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (1939) focuses entirely on the Lilliputian section of the story: Gulliver washes up on the shore, terrifying everyone (I began imagining the movie as one of Marvel’s old school monster stories — “Gulliver is loose once more! Nothing can save us now!”) until he proves himself a friend. But with a war under way, can he resolve everything happily? The story is slight, but the art is absolutely beautiful. I was amazed at how much detail the Fleischers put into the actual work of binding Gulliver. “I owned a boat, a beauty too/Fifty times as big as … your shoe!”

MAGIC: 1400 to 1950s edited by Noel Daniel traces stage magic from the days of the “cup and ball” trick (which predates the scope of the book by a millennium and then some), through card tricks and sleight-of-hand to the bigger and more elaborate illusions of Robert-Houdin, Harry Houdini’s escapology, PT Selbit’s saw-the-lady-in-half (the text notes that sawing tricks were old hat by then, but switching from a man to a lady made it a classic) and the demands of vaudeville, music-halls, world tours, night clubs and TV and movies (the latter two, of course, ultimately pushing magic back to the bush leagues). A coffee table book, lavishly illustrated with photos and posters of various acts, this was a good read.

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Wild, Wild West: In living color, with slightly less sexism

Due to Trixie being ill last weekend, I wasn’t in the mood for watching any movies. However I did recently finish the second season of Wild, Wild West, so it gets this post all to itself. The two big differences from S1 are that it’s in color, and a lot less sexist.

Not non-sexist. It’s still a show where men are men and women are eye candy. However it’s not as over-the-top sexist as I found the first season, just average sexism for 1960s TV. It also had one memorable female role: Agnes Moorehead (best known as Endora on Bewitched) as Emma Valentine, a society matchmaker with a plan to take over the United States and a biting tongue. After her steampunk computer-matchmaking system processes Jim West’s taste, Valentine sneers that “your ideal girl is a combination of Helen of Troy, Aphrodite and Lola Montez,” the latter being a well known dancer/courtesan. There’s also an enjoyable female crime boss in “Night of the Poisonous Posey.”

Racewise, there are some problematic episodes. Sammy Davis Jr. in “Night of the Colonel’s Ghost” is an early example of the Magic Negro and Nehemiah Persoff gets into yellowface for “Night of the Deadly Blossom.”

Airing the show in color is a mixed bag. It’s nice to see, but it sometimes feels too bright and pastel. That may reflect that color TV was knew and they wanted to make the most of the palette. Or maybe not.

Dr. Loveless, played by the swaggering dwarf Michael Dunn, returns for four more episodes (the scene above is from “Night of the Bogus Bandits.”). The show tried expanding the rogue’s gallery with Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono), a sinister stage magician who leads a team of circus performers turned killers. Manzeppi appears in two episodes, but he really doesn’t work for me. He’s just too arrogant, and invariably seems to be four steps ahead of Jim and Artie, and I never really bought him as believable. Emma Valentine would have been fun to reuse but even though she escapes at the end of the episode, the teaser has her recaptured off-stage.

A minor change in the show is that Jim and Artie’s status as government agents are now publicly known. They’re famous undercover men; when Jim apparently kills Artie in “Night of the Skulls,” it’s front page news.

Overall, though, the series delivers what it did the first season. Lots of action and spectacular fight scenes, strong guest stars (Moorehead, Davis, Ed Begley Sr., Boris Karloff) and plenty of steampunk science (shrinking rays, robots, mind-control drugs, difference machines [not called that]). Plus the occasional supernatural-ish episode, whether explained away (“Night of the Wolf’) or not (“Night of the Man-Eating House.”).

I’m looking forward to S3, though there’s enough to watch I haven’t started it yet.

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New Screen Rant out: Underwhelming spinoffs you forgot about

For example, The Brady Bunch Hour, which makes The Bradys look like This Is Us.

US of Archie in which the Riverdale gang’s ancestors happen to be around at turning points in American history

Getting Together, the flop spinoff of The Partridge Family

And of course, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space.

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Black Panthers, rhinos, a pregnant woman and some TV seasons

There’s really nothing I can say about BLACK PANTHER (2018) that hasn’t been said except for my personal reaction, so here goes: I loved it. A win across the board, visually, acting, storyline and as an amazing vision of an alt.Africa where everyone from the hero to the sidekicks to the science genius is black. As a comics fan I’m particularly impressed by their handling of M’Baku (way more interesting than most of his comics appearances) and Andy Sirkis’ Klaw — in the comics Klaw never shows the sense of humor he does here. Thumbs up.  “He is a problem of our own making.”

RHINOCEROS (1974) is an unsuccessful adaptation of Ionesco’s absurdist play about the one man in the world who isn’t transforming into a rhino. This suffers from the literalness of film — in the more unreal world of a stage set, the premise that everyone’s mutating except protagonist Gene Wilder would have been easier to take (this problem crops up with a lot of filmed plays). Even given that, it feels more like the creators wanted a shtick comedy than Ionesco; with Zero Mostel as Wilder’s arrogant buddy and Karen Black as his dream girl. “All cats die. Socrates is dead. Therefore Socrates was a cat.”

KNOCKED UP (2007) is the slob comedy in which pot-head slob Seth Rogen discovers he’s put a bun in Katherine Heigl’s oven, leaving the couple contemplating what sort of relationship to have and worrying it’ll turn out as bitter as their squabbling friends. I’d watched this mostly for the sexist aspect, but I was much more annoyed by what a poor movie it was — for the life of me I can’t see even a trace of romantic chemistry between Heigl and Rogen (who I found much more annoying than appealing), which is a fatal flaw in a rom-com “I didn’t make an honest woman out of her — she’s carrying my bastard child!”

The fourth season of LOST GIRL starts great as a mystery foe not only kidnaps Bo but erases her from her friend’s memory, leaving Kenzi filling Bo’s slot as Fae troubleshooter (and occasionally hooking up with Dyson). And when Bo finally escapes the Wanderer, it turns out that while she was gone (she has no memory of the period) she gave up alignment to sign with the Dark Fae. All of which sets up a promising scenario (though the show completely ignored potential fall-out from the No Bo period, but by the end of the season it was a muddled mess. We have Bo’s father, the dead rising, Bo and the Wanderer in love for some unexplained reason plus too many bad guys and too many apocalypses, like they were squeezing two season enders into one. I’m also annoyed they whacked their only black regular (apparently even among the fae the black guy buys it first) — true, death doesn’t have to be fatal in this show, but I won’t bet on that until I see it. Hopefully the next and final season improves. “To close the portal we need Bo’s heart — and that’s always been me.”

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Urgh, insomnia was just too helpful

For some reason sleep this week was really appalling, even by my standards. Can’t say it wasn’t a good, productive week but I felt quite wiped out for a lot of it. Fortunately I had a good night last night or I’d be writing something as incomprehensible as Duran Duran lyrics.

I have my Leaf articles done and a new Screen Rant submitted, on bad forgotten spinoffs. For example The Dukes, Saturday morning’s take on The Dukes of Hazzard. I also talked to the new management at And Magazine about resuming work there. I’m going to give it a shot, though I won’t have time to spare until April, when the Leaf stuff winds down.

I’m giving myself a mulligan on my “1,000 words of fiction every work day” rule, as my not doing it was a calculated choice. It was more practical to do extra fiction on Wednesday and go light Thursday, so I figure I’ll cut myself some slack. Fiction writing was still productive, as I finished the draft of Questionable Minds I’ve been working on. It still needs a couple of sections touched up, then it’ll be ready to submit, self-publish or whatever. I’ll be thrilled when it’s completely finished and I don’t have to think about it.

I worked on No One Can Slay Her, ran into some trouble, stopped. I’ve figured out the solution though, so I’ll have this draft done by the end of next week.

I sold a story, The Grass Is Always Greener, to the Strange Economics anthology (specfic stories with an economic/business element). I am very pleased with that, of course. I also realized that my list of Stories Out was off — a couple of them have been out so long at particular markets it’s obvious they’re not biting. So I have them back on the To Submit list.

And I finally resolved the problems with the hard copy of Atlas Shagged. I should have a copy next week so I can double-check it’s good to go.

Today we had some landscapers come in and spend much of the day working on our yard (trees trimmed, one cut down). It needs it, but man did the dogs freak out. After a while they became sort of resigned, or I’d not have gotten anything done. Here’s Plush in a calmer moment earlier this week.

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New Screen Rant: specfic shows we never got to see

There’s the awful pilots for Knight Rider 2o1o and (below) Bates Motel (not the recent series, a 1987 film)

There’s the much better pilots for Global Frequency (which I reviewed yesterday) and Bionic Showdown (with Sandra Bullock as the new bionic woman)

And a whole bunch more. You can read it all here.

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Some indie shorts and a couple of flop pilots

Due to my trip to Virginia last weekend, I didn’t catch any movies but I did sit through a number of shorts at Mysticon.

I love watching shorts at film festivals. They’re off-the-wall and weird and sometimes good. Among those of note:

TWINS was a cliched horror short in which a woman’s husband snatching, backstabbing twin sister turns out to be her own dark side! I saw the twist coming early.

ISOLATION had some beautiful shots of the protagonist dancing, but the plotline of her confronting a cheating husband dind’t work at all.

CLOSING TIME worked despite the Big Reveal (patron drinking at a bar is actually an angel of death picking up the bar owner) being obvious. Nevertheless the interaction of the two guys, both tired of their jobs, was effective.

PERFUNCT was amazingly creepy, as a woman begins to realize that everyone around her is in some fashion an automaton carrying out pre-scripted scenes; the moment where she pours milk over a guest without getting a reaction is really unsettling. This idea has been done before (Fritz Leiber’s You’re All Alone) but it’s a good idea. However it ended at a very unsatisfying point.

As part of my Screen Rant on unsold pilots, I watched a couple.

Michelle Forbes does a fantastic turn in 2005’s GLOBAL FREQUENCY, based on a Warren Ellis comic book. As Miranda Zero, she leads a network of 1,001 agents, specialists in everything from Russian to police work to physics. In this excellent pilot, an ex-cop accidentally gets caught up in Global Frequency’s latest operation, tracking down a mysterious human bomb. Apparently this died because WB management changed at the wrong time; a shame. Available on YouTube if you’re curious. “I save lives. No law, no border, no government will stop me from doing that.”

ELECTRA WOMAN AND DYNA GIRL was a 2001 reboot starring Markie Post as 1970s Saturday morning superhero Electra Woman. When one of her former rescues goes looking for her idol, she discover Electra is now foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking trailer trash with a drinking problem and a penchant for sleeping around. What she doesn’t have is a partner, Dyna Girl having run off with her mentor’s husband. Needless to say, the rescue becomes the new Dyna Girl and the contrast between her wholesome sunny optimism and Electra’s bad behavior would have provided what was supposed to be humor. “Look, the noble hero is actually an awful person!” is an old trope in fiction, but it’s not well used here; no loss it wasn’t picked up. Though as this too was for the WB, we get to see Flash and Aquaman in cameos. Electra-awesome! I’ve always wanted to say that.”

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New Screen Rant out

About terrible fantasy shows you forgot ever aired.  G vs. E below is probably the most obscure — even my editor didn’t know it existed.

I will admit to watching Secrets of Isis as a teen purely because I crushed on Joanna Cameron (I got crushes like I breathed). But I found the show as boring as Shazam!

And then there’s Heath Ledger’s Roar, which other than bringing the Spear of Destiny to TV has nothing to recommend it.

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