Return to Twin Peaks

I’m pretty much loving the new Twin Peaks on Showtime.  There are some bits here and there that seem awkwardly implemented or haphazardly introduced, but overall I’ve been very pleasantly surprised.  My fear was that David Lynch, having been out of the filmmaking game for so long, would have lost his mojo.  More specifically, that the series would have been little more than a re-tread of the original.  No fear: his mojo is solidly in place, and bright, novel storytelling abounds.

The New York Times has written a lot on the return of Twin Peaks, including a good amount of favorable criticism.  On episode (“Part”) 3:

Mostly though, this hour is pure, magnificent abstraction, right down to the unexplained few minutes of Dr. Jacoby’s spray-painting a rack of shovels. The rest of the series could be nothing but Kyle MacLachlan shouting “Hell-ooo-ooo!” at slot machines and this episode alone will have justified the entire “Twin Peaks” revival.

Thankfully, the other 3 hours have been equally worthwhile, which portends well for the remainder of the series: an auspicious beginning to be sure.

I’m really looking forward to this…

Seasons of Spring 3 by 3

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“She’s dead.  Wrapped in plastic…wrap.”

Three television series will see a Season 3 premiere this Spring: the Showtime redux of Twin Peaks — god I hope it’s good, Fargo on FX, and Better Call Saul on AMC.  Dates:

Twin Peaks: Sunday, May 21

Fargo: “sometime in mid-April”

Better Call Saul: Monday, April 10

Fargo will feature Ewan McGregor and be the most modern Fargo yet, set in 2010.  I hope it’s good in spite of McGregor’s presence.  Same goes for the Trainspotting sequel set to release next month (egad!).

Season 2 was entertaining, though not up to Season 1 form.  There was so much violence that the National Guard would have been called in by about episode 5, so my incredulity will be alleviated if they dial it back a bit.

If previous patterns hold, AMC will air the first two seasons of Better Call Saul in marathon style leading up to the premiere.  That same pattern dictates availability of Season 2 on Netflix one week prior to the premiere; Season 1 is available now.  Certainly hoping it continues to be (among) the most entertaining shows ever aired.  Gus Fring will be part of the story, and I’d be surprised if we don’t at some point see Walter White, as the inevitable crossover into the Breaking Bad era takes place.

As for Twin Peaks.  Without going into it, let’s just say that Twin Peaks was a revelation when it first aired.  Not only did I think it was an incredibly great, ground-breaking show, but it made a significant cultural impact on my life ever since.  The cast list is 200 miles long, including Kyle MacLachlan and a number of other original cast members, and newcomers Michael Cera, longtime Lynchite Laura Dern, Ashley Judd, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew Lillard, rock frontmen Trent Reznor and Eddie Vedder, Naomi Watts, and A-Lister Amanda Seyfried.

Such a massive cast is a lot to juggle, so I hope this doesn’t become another Dune.  David Lynch and Mark Frost are producing and writing, as they did originally, and Lynch will be directing.  My concern is that Lynch hasn’t made a film since Inland Empire, and was seemingly retired from dramatic presentation, content to make damn fine coffee and avant-garde music.

Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and Fargo have set a new standard in television.  I hope Twin Peaks can live up to that standard while capturing the spirit, and the spirits, of the original series.

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Sitcoms of the Here and Now!

I don’t post much on television shows, and even less on comedies, but I wanted to bring attention to a couple sitcoms.  I usually give new sitcoms a couple minutes of a chance — that’s all I need to decide if they’re for me, and almost always they’re not.  So I was surprised to find myself thoroughly in love with The Mick, a new Fox series airing regularly on Tuesday nights, and irregularly whenever Fox feels like it.  It stars Kaitlin Olson from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, another sitcom that didn’t gel for me.  But I like the dynamic and out-there comic sensibility of The Mick.  Olson plays Mickey, a rough-and-ready aunt to three spoiled and disrespectful rich kids.

Comedy, as I’ve noted before, is tough.  It’s also subjective, I guess.  So check it out for yourself; I recommend starting with the first episode, but it’s not critical.  You may be able to watch it free on-demand via your cable/satellite service; it’s also available on the Fox Now app, though you can’t fast-forward through the commercials.

With a show like this, who knows how long it will last… or how long it will remain funny.

From The Mick, Ep. 1

The Mick, Ep. 1

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Also from Fox, Baskets season 2 began last Thursday 1/19 on FX.

Ever since I saw Due Date (no, not The Hangover), which as a side note was the first movie I saw in San Luis Obispo, I’ve been a fan of Zach Galifianakis.  If for some reason you’re not aware of his brand of humor, watch a few of his “Between Two Ferns” segments on YouTube.

Baskets started off awkwardly, both in the comedic, intentional sense best exemplified by The Office, but also in the clumsy, this-is-not-funny way.  My initial reaction was nearly to discontinue viewing — as you can gather, I have a short fuse when it comes to sitcoms, even those starring Zach Galifianakis.  But the show was nonetheless intriguing, if not hilarious.  It grew on me, and then made a swing upward with Ep. 4, “Easter in Bakersfield,” and then Ep. 5, “Uncle Dad” pushed me into dedicated fan territory.

True the comedy is stilted, but that’s the point.  It’s a balance of humor and the melancholy, and can be quite touching at times — as evidenced so well in the first episode of Season 2.

Besides streaming options, FX airs last week’s episode of its shows, Baskets included, on the night of the new episode — so DVR both on Thursday if you missed the first one.

A magnetic, majestic, eloquent and deeply soulful talent has passed

leonard-cohen-post-text-block-1aA couple comments.  It was long ago, but I may have first become aware of Leonard Cohen by way of the great Oliver Stone picture Natural Born Killers; his songs so perfectly fit that maniacal road trip:

And now the wheels of heaven stop
You feel the devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future: it is murder

And an observation: I haven’t dug into it much, and in fact was not aware of it until yesterday, but Cohen was another artist who produced right up to his death — in that beautiful tradition laid down by Warren Zevon (with whom I’ve at times confused Cohen — inexplicable I know), the man in black Johnny Cash, David Bowie, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

leonard-cohen-post-text-block-2aEach of those musicians presaged their own death in their final works.  Leonard Cohen’s last album, released less than a month before he died: You Want It Darker.

Better Call Saul Midstream Debrief

NOTE: As with my Breaking Bad post, NO SPOILERS will be found herein.

Kettleman!

If I ever have a child, I will name him or her Kettleman.  On the other hand, Ehrmantraut has a nice ring to it…

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Better Call Saul might not be the best show ever aired, but that’s debatable.  It must be the most purely entertaining.  And though I indicated it was mere coincidence that Saul Goodman’s arrival on Breaking Bad heralded that series sweeping into the clip it would ride to the end, know now that it was more than coincidence.

As a spin-off, Better Call Saul could not be more different than Breaking Bad.  Except, possibly, in those scenes with Saul, Breaking Bad is completely devoid of humor.  Better Call Saul, on the other hand, deftly folds equal measures of comedy and taut drama.

Better Call Saul - text blockLike its progenitor, Better Call Saul suffers from moments of incredulity — a Vince Gilligan trademark perhaps.  An easy way the show could have greatly lessened this flaw: just throw out that first run-in with Tuco, and save him for later.  It’s just one too many coincidences.  Even so, this show is so fun that those few moments click by rapidly, and become even more inconsequential than in Breaking Bad.  I only bring it up, really,  as a point of comparison to Mad Men, which has no such instances.

As a counter-balance, Better Call Saul offers one of the most realistic depictions of the work lawyers actually do that I have ever seen on TV or film.  Name another show that features — time and again — the grunt-work of sifting through stacks of paper.  That essential bane of actual attorneys is rarely if ever included in courtroom dramas.

Oh and the relationships!  Between Kim and her boss, between Jimmy and Chuck, between Jimmy and Kim… oh how I adore this show!

Season 1 is available on Netflix, and if past is precedent, you’ll have to wait a week before the Season 3 premiere (i.e. another year) before Season 2 comes on board.  On that note: Vince Gilligan appeared on celebrity Jeopardy!, and was asked why there were not more episodes.  The answer was that the network would love more, but he felt the quality would suffer.  And he has a point — I think that’s another kink with Breaking Bad: things getting a little stretched out at times, something Better Call Saul never suffers from.

Breaking Bad Debrief

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NOTE: Don’t let the post title scare you off.  There will be NO SPOILERS in this post.

In the second season of Breaking Bad, a pair of junkies who can barely put one foot in front of another supposedly are able to pull off the heist of an ATM from a convenience store and ferry the cash-laden machine back to their den.  This is the most extreme example of a loss of logic that occasionally drags on the series.  Those moments — often necessary to continue the story — usually occur amidst high-tension drama and are therefore fairly easily overlooked.  And these lapses are the only negative I can mention about Breaking Bad.

Wikipedia:

Breaking Bad is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time… [and] entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time.

I certainly don’t put Breaking Bad at the top of all television series ever — the aforementioned momentary lapses of reason are enough to knock it a peg below, say, Mad Men.  But it’s way up there, certainly in the top ten.  The series Breaking Bad - Sleepingstarts off a little roughly, but coincidentally once Saul Goodman enters as a recurring character half-way through Season 2, the show falls into a highly entertaining groove and never leaves it.  It is almost always riveting, edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

In other words, I highly recommend Breaking Bad.  Unlike Mad Men, make sure to watch starting with Season 1 Episode 1.  The entire series is available on Netflix (Yay!).

PBS Comes Alive

AGAIN THIS YEAR AS LAST, our local PBS station emerged from an endless tedium of run-on pledge breaks almost as if it had something to prove.  It’s very frustrating to me that PBS completely discards all normal programming in order to convince you to support the type of programming that only occurs during pledge breaks.  Great thinking there, KPBS.  If they found a way of soliciting contributions commensurate with the level of programming I highlight today, I’d return to membership.

So first up, premiering locally on Tuesday, March 29, (March 4th I imagine they were too busy with the month-long pledge break) was a two-hour American Masters biography of Loretta Lynn.

American Masters - Loretta Lynn

I learned a lot about her life and music, having for so many years eschewed country music.  I still think that most modern mainstream country music is like most popular rap: not worth listening to.  But Loretta Lynn: now there’s talent.  I was completely enveloped by this biography, and just as I felt it drag slightly in the second hour it swept me right back in with her more recent work, including collaborations with the likes of great rock star Jack White.  I think that’s the mark of an enduring icon: like Johnny Cash, David Bowie, or Leonard Cohen, continuing to produce ever-more profound work right to the end (not that Loretta Lynn is by any means at the end).

That first line of “Portland, Oregon” gives me goose bumps.  What an eternal voice.

Frontline - Saudi ArabiaKPBS followed up the Loretta Lynn show with a jarringly different Frontline, “Saudi Arabia Uncovered.”  It’s quite clear that Saudi Arabia is a completely corrupt, morally bankrupt nation governed by those who so lack confidence in their faith that they disallow any sort of non state-sponsored journalism, women from driving, or non-Muslims from entering the city limits of Mecca, as just a few examples.  You’re talking about a country — typical for the region — that is maybe one step above Syria, Afghanistan or North Korea.  A country that makes China look like a thriving democratic fun-zone by comparison.

This episode of Frontline was as compelling as any of this gem of broadcast journalism.  It and American Masters are available to watch online or via your streaming device.