“Sometimes, this new Twin Peaks almost seems like a parody of itself. Other times, it just feels wrong, with scenes that could have been written more solidly, or eliminated entirely. But then there are times, in all four of these opening hours, when this new show feels so right — so dreamlike — so … so very Twin Peaks.”
When filmmaker Jonathan Demme died April 26 at age 73, our TV critic, David Bianculli, was reminded of one of Demme’s earliest works, which most obituaries neglected to mention. It was made for television – and, like other vintage television productions that have become forgotten, or hard to find, David says it deserves to be remembered and watched:
“Salutes to Jonathan Demme, right after his death recently at age 73, prominently, and rightly, featured his biggest movie successes and triumphs: Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Married to the Mob, Stop Making Sense, Something Wild. But almost no one celebrating his life and works mentioned an early effort, directed for television, that I consider among his very best work. It was an hour-long comedy-drama, made in 1982 for the inaugural season of a brilliant new PBS anthology series called American Playhouse. It was based on a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, its title was Who Am I This Time? – and for 35 years now, I’ve kept, and treasured, a copy of it I originally recorded the night it aired on PBS, on my Sony Betamax. Yes, it’s that old. I was shocked to learn, doing research after Demme died, that Who Am I This Time? was released on DVD 11 years ago, by a small distribution company that never even bothered to mention American Playhouse on its front or back cover. But it’s out there to be purchased, on Amazon and elsewhere. And like many TV treasures that have become harder to find, and trickier to remember, it’s well worth seeking out.”
Tonight Better Call Saul is launching its third season. This successful spin-off of AMC’s drama series, Breaking Bad was created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. Set mostly in the years prior to the Breaking Bad story line, it follows the shady lawyer played by Bob Odenkirk, who in Breaking Bad went by the name of Saul Goodman. Better Call Saul, tells the origin story of Goodman, who started out as Jimmy McGill. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, says:
It’s all character, it’s all mood – and, if you’ve been following Saul Goodman’s story all this time, it’s brilliant. Season three, like the previous seasons, opens with a black-and-white sequence set after the events of Breaking Bad, when Saul, once Jimmy, is now hiding in plain sight as a man named Gene, the manager of a Cinnabon store in Omaha. The music played during the scene is the vintage Nancy Sinatra hit “Sugar Town,” perfectly suited to a place with so much icing and sweetness. But Jimmy, Saul, Gene – none of them belongs there, and avoiding his past by toiling there will work for only so long. My dream, and my hope, is that eventually “Better Call Saul” will finish its flashback story of how Jimmy became Saul, and switch to its post-“Breaking Bad” story of what happens to the poor guy next. It could be a prequel, and a sequel, in one… and give us not only a great origin story, but a fabulous new chapter as well. But since Better Call Saul is already the best drama series on TV, just as Breaking Bad was in its time, I’ll happily settle for whatever time frame, and episodes, I can get.
For years now, The Good Wife has been the best drama series on broadcast television – but it deserves even more praise than that. Robert and Michelle King, the creators of CBS’s The Good Wife, have had to deal, from the start, with restrictive network standards, inconsistent scheduling, intrusive advertising breaks, and a production order of 22 episodes per season – almost twice that of its cable and streaming competition. Yet, from start to finish, The Good Wife has been rewarding, surprising, and delightfully unpredictable. It became one of my favorite TV series to watch – and stayed that way until the end.
David Bianculli reviews Sunday’s season premiere of #MadMen (He promises no spoilers!)—
For decades, when broadcast television called the shots and dominated the TV landscape, the biggest event of the year was “the fall season,” when networks would unveil their new shows and return with fresh episodes of old favorites. But now, because of cable and satellite TV, the fall season isn’t the only game in town.
There’s the summer season, which used to be nothing but reruns; now it’s the time when HBO brings back True Blood, and when AMC, in just a few months, is going to present the final episodes of Breaking Bad. There’s the winter season, when we get new episodes of Justified, Girls and House of Lies — and in which we just finished a batch of exciting new Walking Dead episodes.
“ Best of all, there’s AMC’s ‘Mad Men,’ which begins Season 6 on Sunday, delivering all the pleasures that today’s most ambitious drama series can bring.
Now we come to the spring TV season — which, as in nature, is a time to rejoice in the spirit of rebirth. Game of Thrones is back, with its strongest season yet, and so is Doctor Who. And best of all, there’s AMC’s Mad Men, which begins Season 6 on Sunday, delivering all the pleasures that today’s most ambitious drama series can bring.
Way, way back in the 1970s, NBC used to present a rotating series called Novels for Television, and all the networks then were big on miniseries adaptations of popular novels. These days, the best weekly drama series are the novels for television. As with the classic soap-opera form, loyal audience members get to know these characters so intimately that subtleties of plot and personality carry echoes not only of recent episodes, but of earlier seasons.
Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, has established his own narrative rules for his Emmy-winning drama series, the continuing story of advertising executive Don Draper in the 1960s. On Mad Men, the breaks between seasons sometimes take longer than a year — and when the show returns, it doesn’t pick up where it left off.
Instead it leaves a gap, and viewers have to start each season as though they’re the ones who left — they have to catch up. What year is it? What’s the status of Don’s marriage? And what’s going on with all the other people in and around Don’s life?
Those are the very basic questions that, as each season begins, Mad Men is eager to protect. And I’ll honor that, so you can tune in Sunday and figure it out for yourself. But my favorite moment from the two-hour season premiere is one that reveals something only about Don, played so sparingly and perfectly by Jon Hamm.
It’s in a setting so familiar that it could be any year, at any time: Don, with his advertising team, is pitching a new campaign to his clients. Those who have kept up with Mad Men know that this is the place where Don Draper thrives and shines — where he can come up with just the shimmery language and images necessary to seduce his clients, like a snake charmer, into seeing and raving about his vision.
This time, the clients own a luxury hotel in Hawaii, and Don has come up with an ad campaign that doesn’t show the hotel at all — just a set of footprints in the sand, leading into the water and vanishing. Don spins his magic while the clients react, and Don’s colleagues, smarmy Pete and loose-cannon Roger, chime in. But this time, for the first time, Don’s verbal seduction doesn’t have the desired result.
I’m guessing — and this is only a guess — that this will end up being the primary theme of this new season on Mad Men. It’ll be Don Draper losing his touch as the '60s march on. It’ll be Don Draper doing, in the show, what his drawn caricature does in the beginning of every episode as the opening credits play: He goes into free fall, surrounded by all the images of happiness and desire he helped create.
Holy Crikey!. I mean. I just listened to the radio interview of Michael C. Hall, by David Bianculli (much much more than the print article). And this.. this! is maybe my favorite interview EVER!!!!!!! Go listen!!! MY GOD that man is sharp. And intelligent. F******CK!!!! :).
I have been pondering for a while on David Simon’s (The Wire) comments re Dexter, and here we have a reply from MCH on that, and so much more. Awesome interview. Go Bianculli!! (who did a beautiful job interviewing).